Monday, October 16, 2023

Romantic Tragedies

One of my favorite romantic comedies (rom-coms) of all time is When Harry Met Sally, a movie that I especially love to watch this time of year. Not sure why it is my fall favorite (or why Sleepless in Seattle is my Winter favorite, or why You've Got Mail is my Spring go-to, and now that I am thinking about this, why I'm not sure if I have a summer favorite or why all of these movies feature Meg Ryan). I digress...

I recently re-watched WHMS a few weeks ago and thought of it as I was recently reading some epic foolishness on X (yeah, I concede and will no longer refer to it as Twitter since that was a happier platform). It was late at night, I was not in the mood for any of the heavier political debates of the day, so I decided to see what was trending on Black Twitter (which I will not rebrand). And baybee, y'all delivered!

So how does this relate to WHMS? Because the chatter was about first dates, and one of the running themes in that movie is disastrous first dates. In my old-married-lady mind, all I can say is WOW, not even close anymore. These days, I can't imagine if I would even get asked out on a date, let alone go through with one the way y'all act. 

Apparently, there were two disastrous first date videos that were being discussed, so your Busy Black Auntie has questions: why and WHET???

Chain, Chain, Chain of Fools

Why is the Cheesecake Factory not appropriate for a first date? Did somebody pass a law? Because back in the day when my BFF and I stumbled across this place while in high school, we marveled at its menu booklet and extensive cheesecake offerings. At the time, there was only one of these in our area, so it was quite the treat to go there and to come home with one of their decadent desserts.

Now I know you are thinking, that was 30+ years ago and well, you can find a Cheesecake Factory at almost any suburban mall that is still standing. Heck, I just learned that there is one in Downtown DC, so I get that the shine has kind of worn off. It isn't as special, and if you get all dressed up to go out on a date, perhaps you would like for the restaurant selection to be one where you can't just pull up to any mall that is still standing. I assume that same hesitance would be expected at other well-known, so-called high-end chain establishments, such as The Capital Grille, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Maggiano's, McCormick & Schmick's, or any other place that offers loyalty points and curbside pickup. I'm guessing that no one goes to Houston's like that anymore either...(and that was my joint too). Times change.

So tell me, where else would you go? You see, the entire point of a place like the Cheesecake Factory is to offer patrons a bunch of choices that don't adhere to one particular cuisine. It tries to be all things to all people so that anyone can find something to eat. It ain't fine dining, but it ain't Applebee's. It is safe, which is a reasonable choice to make if you don't know the person that well, but anticipate the possibility of what could develop from a dinner date as opposed to drinks...

Does it require much thought? No. So does that mean that the new outfit, manicure/pedicure, fresh hairdo, and high heels are being wasted on some dude in a polo shirt, khakis, and docksiders? Perhaps. Would that piss me off enough to whip out my phone to make a video to document the disaster-in-the-making for my single girlfriends on TikTok?

No. Because I would at least wait until after the date to put him on blast.

However, and this is important to highlight, I haven't been on a first date since the late 1990s. Not only were there no cellphone cameras or social media, but like I said in the set-up, once upon a time the Cheesecake Factory would have won him cool points for making an impressive and thoughtful choice. I was a broke-ass college/law student dating other broke-ass college/law students, so I realize that alters my perspective of what is considered to be a well-planned and thoughtful first date. Not only would I have been impressed by the choice of restaurant, but I would also have been thrilled that he offered to pick me up and drive. That is downright chivalrous! 

But here's the part that really got me--the complaint that the restaurant is a chain, as if most restaurants in most major cities aren't part of a corporate restaurant group or some Mom and Pop watering hole in the wall. Here in DC, every restaurant is either owned by José Andrés or some former Top Chef contestant, so what other options are there? If he had taken her to some suburban strip mall spot, I imagine her complaint would have been that he took her to some dinky checkered laminated tablecloth joint where they serve tacos or pasta. Which leads me back to the premise that the Cheesecake Factory is at least a safe choice because if it doesn't require a lot of thought, and that means fewer worries. That menu has options to accommodate food allergies, dietary restrictions, spicy or bland palates, a variety of drink preferences, and almost any cuisine you could imagine. If you can't find something to eat on their menu, then there's a reason why you're still going out on first dates.

You Say Oyster; I Say Hasta La Vista

Now this one had me crying, because whew chile, the ghetto! The audacity! The sheer ridiculousness! The fact that this warranted an article in Rolling Stones, so there goes my free articles for this month...(in case you've used your allotment too, you can read it here.)

I am not on TikTok, so forgive me for not knowing that there is an entire genre of videos where people film themselves eating called mukbang, and folks tune in to watch. I cannot even wrap my head around such foolishness, because that sounds like the very definition of food porn, but people have their various kinks, so we'll just leave it at that.

However, because I was clueless and unaware, it now makes sense why the woman mentioned that she agreed to the date because she needed "content". I could go on a rant about why this type of booshay is exactly why I refuse to refer to myself as a "content creator"--because I'm an artist, and I'm sensitive about my shit...(and that would take us too far off-topic). But at least now I understand a few things, such as why the future of humanity is in doubt if y'all find this entertaining.

The gist is that some woman in Atlanta videotaped herself on a date during which she consumed 48 oysters, a plate of potatoes, crab cakes, and then washed it all down with a few cocktails. The gentleman who invited her out apparently watched this, and during a lull in the action, excused himself and left her there with the bill and a pile of dishes. He must have had a slight change of heart because he texted her and offered to pay for his one drink, which appeared to be a glass of wine or some sparkling water in a goblet that looked untouched. Y'all, I can't even write about this without laughing. What in the world???

And folks had jokes, good ones, so there isn't any additional spin I can offer to make this any more or less ridiculous. I can't imagine that there is even a legitimate side to be taken because who da fuq doesn't realize that entire scenario was a future SNL skit? I mean, dude sat there and watched her eat four trays of oysters and didn't try one? If this was in fact a real date, at what point didn't she realize that they weren't having any conversation because she was too busy slurping oysters or adjusting her camera? Where is his video, because surely, there is alternative plate-by-plate commentary? Was he gone for a lot longer than she realized, as in hours? What kind of cheap reject oysters are they serving for $15/dozen in a city that isn't on the water (we don't have deals like that and I live in a coastal city)? 

And how can we be sure that this was NOT just an elaborate set-up for one of those food porn videos because according to the article, dude came back and they left together!!! You know what, nevermind.

Ice Scream, You Screen?

Ok, this one is a bonus I recall seeing from the summer, when somebody's spoiled child got on Blue Ivy's internet to complain that a meeting for ice cream was a waste of her time. I'm wondering if this was the same chick who scoffed at the Cheesecake Factory; but it doesn't matter because she's still out here kissing frogs and wishing on stars as if this is all some Disney movie.

Or she's lactose intolerant, because I cannot imagine that someone would pass on an ice cream date after this hotter than July summer we just had. Some guy offers to meet you and treat you to some ice cream and you decline because you would have preferred that he put more thought into planning your first meeting? A first meeting at Starbuck's or Applebee's involves more effort and planning? Okay.

You could have worn a sundress with pockets on a first date, but you said no thanks I would rather go all out with the nails, hair, and heels because all of that involves e-f-f-o-r-t. Sis, you do know that if the issue really was lactose intolerance, you could have had sorbet...with sprinkles! GTFOHWTBS

It's a Date, Not a Trip to the Dry Cleaners

Lest you think I only have smoke for these whiny women, Imma need these baby boys to grow up and to stop itemizing their actions as if anybody other than your little friends are keeping score. Courtship requires much more of you than just expressing interest in a woman, and at the end of the night, no one owes you anything. Which, ironically, is one of the reasons why WHMS is such a great film to use as a frame of reference for modern dating and romance. Too many of you are out here thinking like Harry--that women are only worthy of your time if you can get some (or as you young people like to describe having sex, if you think you can smash).

And throughout the movie, it is clear that sex isn't that hard to get. According to Harry, sex is the singular reason why most men interact with women and why platonic male/female friendships are impossible to maintain. It's a persuasive thought bubble, even when he runs into Sally for a second time and talks about his pending nuptials. He admits to wanting to settle down because he had grown tired of the single life. However, when he meets Sally a third time five years later while in the process of getting divorced, he makes the choice to befriend her, which allows him to have a more meaningful relationship with her while reverting to his earlier stance of only dating to pursue sex. Becoming friends with her exposes him to developing genuine feelings, which finally breaks him of his pursuit of superficial and unfulfilling dalliances with women. 

In other words, these transactional situationships that y'all brag about on social media for clicks and comments are similarly unfulfilling and inadequate. Some of these women who are down to smash after your bare minimal effort will reciprocate by giving you next to nothing in return. Because you ain't nobody special to her either; yet y'all want to get on social media to complain that you can't write love songs about these women. No, and they aren't willing to sign onto becoming your maid and mama for as long as you both shall live, so there's that.

And one more thing, because some of you who describe yourselves as "nice guys" don't seem to understand that not being a psychopath still doesn't entitle you to anything. Rejection happens, but you don't stop applying for jobs, so why stop dating? As the old folks used to say (and I guess I am now old folks as well), there are a lot more fish in the sea. There are plenty of women out there who will appreciate your effort. 

A Jerry Springer Moment: Final Thoughts

Auntie isn't suggesting that anybody should settle, but instead of being disappointed that your date took you to the Cheesecake Factory, you might try to get past that and find out more about the IT guy who probably built up the courage for weeks to ask you out. I bet he doesn't live in his mother's basement nor does he have to pick up his kids in the McDonald's parking lot every other weekend. But you do you. To every dude who thinks that women are only agreeing to dates with you for the free meal, you do know that having an adult conversation in advance of making the date can save you a LOT in the long run. That means that instead of exchanging a bunch of text messages or DMs, you might need to press this green button to communicate. Imagine that!

I said this a few months ago but will repeat it here in case you missed it: relationships are between the two people involved, not the spectators who have gathered to see how the car crashes. If you are more concerned about posting your every move and expressing every profound thought you have on social media, then your engagement isn't with that other person, it is with your audience. No wonder why y'all are so bitter and disillusioned. You spend more time "creating content" for these elaborately staged encounters instead of experiencing life.

Once the people get their fill of you and your Truman Show drama, what comes next? Because some of you are so needy for attention, I worry that losing followers or engagement is a bigger deal than having an embarrassing viral story written about you. By next weekend, we will have someone else's dating disaster to how do you plan to top that?

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Projectile Vomit

These days, social media can seem a lot like that iconic scene from the original first Star Wars movie where our heroes are caught in the trash compacting room. In essence, we are all swimming in garbage, desperately trying to keep ourselves from being crushed by garbage, or perhaps we have just enough time to escape...

I am referring specifically to X, the site formerly known as Twitter, and what it has become of it since the Muskrat took over nearly a year ago. Like many people, I have remained out of a morbid sense of curiosity to see just how bad things could get. Well, if you recognize my Star Wars analogy, then we might be at the point in the scene where the walls are closing in but C-3PO wants Luke to listen to his misadventures with R2-D2 evading storm troopers. In other words, democracy has only a slim chance of survival while we are fretting over foolishness. 

Every now and then, since I won't pay for a blue check, I say something on that platform that gets noticed and I have to admit, it gives me a thrill to think that for a brief, shining moment, I'm not just some random person shouting into the cyberverse. That was, until last Sunday when I spoke out against the tirade posted by Keith Olbermann prior to the debut of Kristen Welker as the new moderator of Meet the Press. From that one tweet came a variety of responses, the kind where people unwittingly tell on themselves, particularly those who claim to be allies.

To recap, I was scrolling Twitter early Sunday morning on the 17th. I saw a series of tweets posted by the aforementioned Olbermann, whom I follow because I used to be a fan of his now-defunct show, Countdown, when it aired nightly on MSNBC in the early aughts. Back then I looked forward to his bombastic and hyperbolic rants against the Bush Administration, especially his nightly Worst Person in the World segment (framed by Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor). His most recent incarnation in media is as host of a podcast of the same name, which I assume follows the same format of ranting and raving about whatever annoys him on any given day.

Now, it is significant to highlight how this is Olbermann's latest incarnation having had a long broadcast career that has involved stints at ESPN, FOX Sports, MSNBC, Current TV, and TBS. At the conclusion of these high-profile media gigs, Olbermann has often left in a blaze of inglorious self-immolating and obnoxious defiance (and I'm using all of these SAT words in homage to this brilliant SNL skit). In simpler terms, he's a blowhard who gleefully juggles lit matches that burn everything and everyone in his wake. We all know people like him, brilliant yet dangerously toxic, so while I found his schtick entertaining 20 years ago, hubris isn't what one would call an endearing personal quality.

Yet, I still follow him, and even after last week, I haven't gone so far as to mute or block him because as long as we're all still using Musky's platform, we're all just wading in a galactic trash heap on a doomed Death Star. I know that KO's rhetoric is over the top, and there are instances when he can be: (a) hypocritical; (b) sexist; and (c) wrong. He's now leaning into stereotypical podcast bro territory, while I'm another long-winded mommy blogger (so make of those caricatures whatever you want). Once upon a time, people like us were on the same side, shouting into the void.

To be clear, my issue with Olbermann's tirade was that of all people who have been extended grace throughout their career (and he's been at this for 30+ years), he ought to be willing to do the same. He could have let the interview air before denouncing Welker as a failure on her first day on the job. If you read any of his tweets from last Sunday (and the week prior), he had a LOT to say. FWIW, I have an opinion on that interview which I most certainly plan to express without conducting a Salem witch-level trial and execution. Read on.

I hit send on my tweet and gathered my things. You see, those of us who live in the real world have more important isht to do than scroll Twitter all day. I headed over to my parents' house, so that meant that I wouldn't be at church that morning. Thus, I had time to actually watch the interview in real time to judge for myself whether it was as bad as it appeared from the pre-released clips circulating on social media. In the meantime, my tweet stirred up a little dust, beginning with some lady demanding to know who I was.

Now here's where this all got interesting because I could have ignored her and kept living my best life, but I was feeling froggy and decided that her snarky so-who-do-you-think-you-are deserved a clapback. Because I think that it is rather ironic to be confronted by a fellow unverified "nobody" on Twitter as if that question is supposed to make me feel ashamed for daring to call out someone's bullshit. I am who I am, I replied, to which this KO groupie responded that I was probably just some desperate clout-chaser. At that point, I got curious, checked her profile, and saw that we were ideologically aligned. In the real world, one might even say that we would be protest allies, so I decided to end the exchange with a go forth and #BeBest. 

I went about the rest of my day and came back to Twitter several hours later. There were a few more responses to my tweet, some aghast that I had deigned to challenge the wisdom that had erupted from Mt. Olbermann. One twit hit back at me three times with commentary about Welker's inadequacies for the role that went from 0 to sexist/racist in 60 characters. I stretched my Twitter fingers, took a deep sigh, and calmly replied that I had never mentioned Welker's race or gender in my original tweet. Because the point of my tweet to Olbermann had been to point out the hypocrisy that he who had been given numerous chances to screw up and piss folks off throughout his career would come down so hard against someone barely into her first day on the job. 

Nevertheless, they persisted in suggesting that I was making excuses for Welker because she was a Black woman, so again, I reiterated that I had not mentioned race or gender, nor had I defended Welker. I went to bed and woke up to more of their nonsense, so as I had done with the first KO groupie, I peeped this person's profile and determined that they were probably another so-called ally. Yeah, go feed your cats and #BeBest.

All week, what nagged at me about these petty skirmishes was how these attacks were coming from the same pink pussy hat, safety pin, middle management, pumpkin spice coffee club folks who walk their dogs past my house but don't speak. We're allegedly on the same side, until I dare to express an opinion that goes against their community standards. Suddenly, they can see my nearly 6-foot-tall frame to clearly glean enough of what I said to tell me what they thought I meant to say.

No bish, you said that. 

However, since you raised the topic of Welker's race and gender and her ability to perform the job, let's discuss. Because y'all are good for propping women of color up for failure by setting impossible expectations and then demeaning their achievements as unearned. Kristen Welker is only the most recent example in a long line of Black women who find themselves targeted and undermined by so-called allies. For when else is it acceptable to denounce someone's job performance before they even show up for work?

Before I bring out any CVS receipts, I need to emphasize that these attacks don't just come from our suburban athleisure clad fellow keyboard warriors. Sometimes the loudest haters are the men who fight alongside us while secretly listening to and agreeing with Charlamagne tha God.

Days before the interview aired, I expressed skepticism whether this was the right move for Welker's maiden show. I was concerned that her bosses at NBC were using this interview to ensure high ratings for her debut, but also setting her up for the predictable fallout that followed. I believe that platforming Donald Trump is always irresponsible and dangerous, regardless of the newsworthiness of his position in the polls. I imagine that back in 1939 when TIME Magazine designated Adolph Hitler as its Man of the Year, they thought they were doing the world a service by publicizing his views because he too was a compelling public figure. The difference as I see it is multifaceted--not only did we learn our lesson by legitimizing Hitler, but we should have known better than to underestimate Trump's appeal after 2016. We now know what manner of destruction he can instigate after January 6. He could have held a rally to broadcast his lies and spew the same poison, so why put a Black woman in the position of facilitating our demise?

I watched the interview (twice) and was dismayed that the edit we saw did not put Trump on the defense; instead, it allowed him to prate on unchallenged and unrestrained. He has posted many of the same fabulist boasts and dubious claims on his Truth Social without the imprimatur of NBC News. That Welker showed deference to the office he previously held didn't bother me (because every former President is addressed as 'Mr. President') as much as there appeared to be some manner of deference to him personally as well. The fact that I had to go look for the full fact-checked edit and potentially sit through that booshay a third time annoys me. It is unlikely that any of that previously unaired footage will get replayed or reposted as a rebuttal to his mendacity. Furthermore, it shouldn't be our responsibility to discern whether he was lying when the entire point of interviewing him should have been for us to see in real time how much of a prevaricating huckster he is. 

Yet, I'm clear that the network's goal was achieved--Welker's debut drew more viewers than her competitors. Whether that will continue is yet to be determined, but the gamble paid off and folks watched either to affirm their pre-emptive biases or like me out of curiosity. That doesn't mean she deserves any high fives, and I'm not dapping her up because that first Sunday was a stunt. The real work of retaining viewers and proving her chops starts this week.

Notice how I did not argue that she deserves a pass because she happens to be the first woman of color in the Sunday morning news anchor chair. Nope, I'm saying that she deserves the opportunity to prove that she can do this job the same as the others who preceded her. David Gregory served as the moderator for six miserable years before the job went to Chuck Todd who dragged us through nine more. To suggest that Welker is a failure as compared to her predecessors after one show is...I need to think of a more appropriate word than ridiculous. Furthermore, to argue that she deserves the same chance to sink or swim isn't making an excuse for her race or gender; it is consistent with what has been the pattern and practice prior to her assuming the job.

And because it was discussed on Twitter, Welker is qualified for the job. So are any number of other journalists who may have been considered. To assume that she only got the job because of her race and gender, but not on the merit of the work she had done to get to this point is an affront to EVERY woman of color in journalism. To say that she is qualified is not the same as saying she is the right fit to host this show, but she deserves the chance to convince us. Or not.

Which brings me back to Olbermann and his groupies who seem to think that his past role as a voice for our left-leaning frustrations against the system were supposed to buy him perpetual loyalty. Umm, no he can catch these Twitter fingers just like anybody else. He's hardly on the level of elder news-statesmen Dan Rather or Ted Koppel--he's a former sports anchor with strongly held political opinions and a perpetual axe to grind. If he's baying at the moon in the wee hours of a Sunday morning about someone else's job performance at the network where he used to work (and to which he was willing to return as recently as a year ago) I'm not the one who is desperate for attention.

Finally, off the top of my head, I said I could produce receipts on the biases shown against Black women in visible positions, so let's start off with none other than Vice President Kamala Harris and the calls to replace her as Biden's running mate. I took note of how my Spelman sister Roz Brewer, the only Black woman serving as a CEO in the Fortune 500 until last month, was ousted from that position after less than two years. If we thought they had run out of tiki torches for the mob that organized to keep Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones from receiving honorary tenure at her alma mater, they had sufficiently re-stocked to prevent the appointment of journalist Kathleen McElroy at Texas A&M University. In Georgia, the legislature passed a law intended to reign in prosecutors who pursue criminal justice reform with designs to test it out against DA Fani Willis just as she is about to try her biggest case. 

But those are just coincidences, right? According to that second twitter heckler, this is just another day of playing BINGO for me, because I can't imagine a world wherein a Black woman might be judged fairly on her job performance and come up short. Okay, cat lady, I can produce more than a paragraph of receipts: I wrote this and this, and this when y'all were traumatized by a Black actress being cast as the heroine in a children's movie. You're probably still bitter about your pancake mix. So yeah, it is exhausting because sexism with a chaser of racism feels like a relentless deluge when allyship is so transactional and performative.

I said what I said, and so did Maya Angelou. I didn't accuse Olbermann of bias; I called him a hypocrite. If you insist on reading more into what I twote, comprehension is just one of your problems.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Lionesses, and Tabloids, and Heirs (Oh My)

I know this is two weeks after the fact, but I could not resist jumping into the fray...because for this most recent installment of #RoyalNewsYouCantUse, the refrain shall be: You had ONE job!

I am referring to the PR debacle that is the British Royal Family under the almost year-long reign of King Charles III. Maybe it's me, but for someone who waited 70 years for this particular opening, he shouldn't keep having these kinds of amateur hiccups. I know he isn't the one mucking things up, but his royal handlers should be better at doing their jobs...unless they want us to think of King Midas with donkey ears whenever we hear God Save the King. As for Prince William the Favorite, he sure seems to be stumbling through this on-the-job apprenticeship, so things don't look that promising for his eventual ascension to the throne.

And you can't even blame this one on Harry and Meghan, although I'm sure someone will try.

Before we entertain those potential headlines, allow me to set the stage for what took place in the real world. The Women's World Cup Games were played in Australia on August 20, with the final match between England and Spain (definitely an ancient rivalry). Since soccer is a big deal everywhere else in the world except America, and our team had been eliminated several rounds ago, all eyes were on them. I had stopped paying attention, and don't know much about the history of either team, but I did notice an uptick in chatter on the social media app formerly known as Twitter. Prior to the game, some people were expressing concern that there would be no high-profile cheering section of spectators for the English Lady Lionesses, namely no one from Downing Street and no one representing the newly coronated King. However, to demonstrate their support of the team, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak posted several messages including a picture of himself at a pub; King Charles dictated a few words of well wishes; and Prince William took 15 seconds to post this video with his daughter, Princess Charlotte. Problem solved, right?

No. Because we keep forgetting that there are other royal families in the world, the Spanish Queen Letizia attended the game in person with her daughter, Infanta (Princess) Sofia. Her presence caused quite a bit of excitement, especially since she got to celebrate her team's win after she had been photographed congratulating the English team. Meanwhile King Charles commissioned someone to scribble his congratulations on an official notecard, and Prince William posted this tweet

As an American, the optics of this ain't none of my business, but I'm going to talk about it anyway! There isn't much happening on this side of the pond these days (unless you think the fourth round of indictments for our former game show host con man wannabe DESPOTUS is news you can use.)

Therefore, yes, I'm picking on the Prince of Woes because among his various assorted titles and honors, he is the President of the English Football Association (FA). And as we have already established, football (called soccer only here in the US), is a very big global deal. Even if his leadership of that organization has been a ceremonial formality since 2006, it would seem to me that once the British team advanced to the final rounds, someone should have made travel plans. Even the President of the Spanish Football Federation was there, kicking up his own PR disaster in Australia. I've seen the various explanations excuses for Prince William's absence, and each one is a gem. He was on holiday (vacation) with his family. It is asking much of him to jump on a plane to fly 20 hours for a game. It would have been a breach of royal protocol to visit Australia before the King. It isn't like anyone else was paying that much attention once the Americans got eliminated. It is the women's game and nobody cares...wait, isn't there some nonsense we can make up about Harry and Meghan to keep you all distracted?

Well, let's go through these one-by-one. It was August and summer is almost over, so the Prince and his family are entitled to spend time away before their kids go back to school. I'm sure that they deserve a break from all of their duties: garden parties, charity dinners, handing out medals at military parades, and gosh, what else do they do on a daily basis??? Not that I don't understand how it would have been a logistical nightmare to pack up the Princess, three children, nannies and attendants, and security for a plane ride to the other side of the world, especially on a mere three days advance notice. It takes at least that long to get just the right tone on a message from King Charles. Perhaps after His Junior Majesty compared fares and found that he would have to pay extra for everyone to be seated together, it wouldn't look right to fly solo. And though he might have been able to catch a ride with Queen Letizia and her daughter to share that carbon footprint, there is that pesky matter of British Royal Protocol.

Which means the future King of England couldn't so much as share a carriage ride through the streets of London in a gilded pumpkin carcass with his father, let alone share an airplane with a rival royal family. It would be against protocol, or am I conflating that with the edict that he can't visit any of their realms before an official visit from the reigning monarch? Is that why the Prince can come to America later this month, because we're no longer part of the British empire? He's coming to New York for a two-day trip to attend an environmental summit...

Before I get stuck in a room full of Prunellas reciting rules and arcane rituals associated with the Crown, I noted that their foreign trips are formally announced at least a month in advance. So perhaps the future King, ceremonial President of the FA, had reason to believe back in July that the Lady Lionesses (still ranked 4th by FIFA since 2019) would not have finished high enough to warrant any effort. Even though this had been dubbed the most successful women's sporting event in history, his women's national team made the finals for the first time, so everybody was anticipating the final match, it wasn't like protocol dictated the presence of royal family members at these kinds of event. Merely a coincidence that his late grandparents (at the 2:50 mark) were in attendance at England's last World Cup appearance at the finals in 1966.

If the U.S. had stayed in the tournament, we wouldn't have expected President Biden to have flown halfway around the world; instead, we might have dispatched the First Lady, who seems perfectly willing to fly off to spread goodwill anywhere they tell her it is needed. However, around that same time, we were dealing with wildfires in Hawaii and a hurriquake in California. Therefore, the next person in our delegation of official goodwill ambassadors would have been Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, whom I bet would have gleefully turned the plane around to be that Dad on the sidelines. You know, the one who does the absolute most for his girls? Like that time he didn't wait on the Secret Service to jump in to protect his wife from a heckler...

Before anyone derides women's sports as unimportant or insignificant enough to plan a state visit, feel free to continue to argue amongst yourselves why women's sports have become ground zero in our culture wars over identity and patriotism. But I digress. 

Prince William has ONE job. 

The job of the Prince of Wales is to ensure the continuity of the Crown that he hopes to inherit. Part of that is to stay alive along enough to get married and have children, which he has done. Another aspect of his job is to show up at all of those fancy garden parties, ribbon cuttings, charity dinners, military ceremonies, etc., but also to comfort and console the nation in times of grief and tragedy. Attending a soccer game doesn't fit into either of those columns, but neither did having tea with Paddington Bear or jumping out of a plane with James Bond. Nobody expected him to have his face painted with the Union Jack, but cheering for your home team ought to feign more enthusiasm.

That this generation of British Royals keeps getting tripped up over protocol, all of these years after the tragic death of Princess Diana exposed most of those rules as arbitrary and superfluous, just fuels the anti-monarchist point. It is an archaic and excessive institution that serves no real purpose other than to perpetuate itself. These rules about flags and travel protocols aren't chiseled in stone, yet they have become part of a number of convenient excuses whenever someone is called out for hypocrisy. Is it "royal protocol" that keeps Prince Andrew from facing trial or any culpability for his inappropriate sexual fetish for young girls? I have to know, what tightly coiled chignon-wearing society matron from the Australian outback would have had her girdle twisted that she had to settle for tea with the future Queen instead of the current Queen consort? 

All of this brings us to the matter of Harry and Meghan, who have been quietly living their best lives in sunny California doing yoga, meditating, and staying hydrated. My search algorithms tend to reflect whatever I have been researching, so guess what has been trending in my feed since I clicked on a few articles about the World Cup and the Lady Lionesses? Would you believe just as many articles about the Sussexes as escándalo engulfing the Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales accused of inappropriately kissing a player? Call it a coincidence or confirmation bias that there are always more negative headlines about Harry and Meghan whenever the working British Royals get into some kind of PR mess.

Imagine how relentless the British tabloids would have been if this had been a faux pas committed by the Spare instead of the Heir. There would have been news panels of Royal experts assembled to dissect every misstep by the spoiled Duke and the entitled American commoner he married if they had allowed themselves to be upstaged by a royal from another country who visited one of their realms and got feted like she was the Queen. Oh wait, that actually happened back when the Sussexes visited Australia when they were still working royals...

This is where my petty impulses kick into a higher gear. It sure does look like the peak of ironic hypocrisy to invoke protocol as an excuse for someone not doing their job when that same excuse became a reason to criticize someone else for doing their job too well. You might recall that in 2018, the late Queen Elizabeth sent Meghan and Harry to Australia on an official visit. After it was deemed a success, they returned home to some resentment from the rest of the Royal family. Then the tabloids began ripping the Duchess over everything from her attire and nail polish, to her collaboration with British VOGUE, and eventually her love of avocado toast.

It must suck to be Prince William, caught in that eternal damned if he does or doesn't place between a rock and a hard place. Heavy is the head that awaits the crown, especially when the one person who could have shut down all of this criticism has remained conspicuously silent. King Charles put more effort into the announcement of his forthcoming state visit with his frenemies in France, thus signaling to the press that it was fine to accuse William of shirking his royal duties. Notice how everything for the Prince changed the moment he donned that ridiculous costume, bowed, and pledged his everlasting loyalty in front of the entire world?

As the British are about to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, we can all imagine that Prince William is feeling it because what a difference this year without his grandmother has been! She was beloved and as long as she was alive, so was he. However, since her death he has received more scrutiny and bad press over just about everything. Remember when he was the favorite? How quickly the tides have turned...

So I just have one more observation to make, since it is clear after all of these years that Prince William hadn't been made aware of this most important aspect of his job: do NOT upstage the King! Neither with too much gushing positive press, and certainly not with this kind of embarrassing negative press. As far as KC3 is concerned, he fulfilled his royal duty in siring an heir; raising, loving, and protecting his son was someone else's job. That man waited all of his life for that Crown, so if need be, there will be blood. 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Barbie, Beyonce, and Bucket Lists

If someone asked me to provide a description of my first weekend of August 2023, those would be the words I would use. 

I know that I said that I wouldn't do a recap or review of the Barbie movie, and while this is kind of a cheat, I do feel compelled to offer a brief paragraph or two of my perspective. Because I have seen all kinds of opinions and weird takes, and I swear, some of you just want to something to complain about. Which is ridiculous since it is a movie based on a toy.

Perhaps everyone is used to movies about toys being overly sentimental or centered on the ones that explode or destroy things, I guess the very non-violent and only mildly dystopian premise of a Barbie doll that gains sentience and crosses over from a land of make-believe into the real world really warped your sense of things for a minute or so. I mean, it must have been really hard to fathom a world in which a fictional depiction of the Mattel corporate boardroom as men in suits or warring factions of Ken dolls fighting for relevance in a music video wasn't intended to convince your daughters to challenge the patriarchy. Of course it was, but then again, was it? 

Think about this way: Mattel is pre-selling Weird Barbie for $50, which is more than what I've paid for every Inspiring Women series Barbie doll that I won't let my Kid touch. Now, there are various collectible dolls selling for many times that amount, but the point was and still is that this film is nothing more than a 2-hour commercial meant to sell grown women! Because the audience for this film is not your rebellious teenage daughter who stopped playing with her Barbies right after you built her that Dream House that takes up too much space in the garage.

Now we're going to do an abrupt pivot to the Beyonce concert (because I have a lot more to say about that, and I'm bursting at the seams to share)! I realize that even revealing the details of how I decided to get tickets will polarize people into various factions: those who think it was crazy to spend that kind of money to see Beyonce; those who wish they had that kind of money to spend on Beyonce tickets; and those who enjoyed the show because seeing Beyonce live is a BFD!

Let's start with the latter group. In February, I floated a query to a group of friends regarding tickets and for the most part, most of them responded with disinterest. So it was on a far-fetched whim that I even put my bid into the lottery system to purchase tickets because I figured it was a long shot in the dark. Worst case scenario, I wouldn't make the lottery; best case scenario, I would get a chance, see the prices, and get a good laugh once my credit card got declined. Welp...

A week later I got notification that I was in the lottery and suddenly, I felt like this was akin to playing high stakes poker with a Bond villain. I logged into my Ticketmaster account an hour earlier than the appointed time and made it clear to everyone in the house that I was not to be disturbed. I refreshed my screen and dove into the queue, where I was informed that I would have to wait behind at least a thousand people. But that process went very quickly and within half an hour, I was clicking around the seating chart to see what seats were affordable and still available. As it turns out, I got pretty good seats for someone who approached this on a whim and a long shot (four tickets plus fees for less than my monthly mortgage). 

I decided that I would reserve one ticket for the Niece, and I think she had a good time (as you can see from this picture, it's hard to tell with teenagers). My friend AH claimed the other two tickets for her and her daughter. Several people asked, but no, the Kid was never in my plan because of her age and my belief that it all would have been way too much for both of us, so I took videos to share with her afterwards. My other Niece, same age as the Kid, made me pinky-swear promise to take her the next time, so God willing and the creek don't rise, I've got at least two more companions for the next Beyonce show that comes our way. So yes, that answers your next question.

To answer your third question, YES, it is worth making such a promise to make plans to see the next Beyonce show, even if that means I need to start saving my pennies now. Beyonce is worth ALL of the hype, similar to how many of us felt when Michael Jackson and Prince were alive. I can say that I saw both of them perform live and those experiences were unforgettable. She is definitely on that level. I am sure that there are others (Elton John comes to mind) and I wish that I hadn't missed that boat when it came sailing through. No matter though, because I have a bucket list of performers and will make it my business to be blessed to see each one. To be totally honest though, Beyonce wasn't even on that original list.

So let's address the desires of those who wish they could have been there. Several years back, an acquaintance posted on Facebook about folks needing to be ready with their Beyonce ticket money at a moment's notice, and I thought, hmm easy to say when one doesn't have responsibilities. At the time, I believe my Kid was still a Toddlersaurus and the Niece was about her age now. I didn't bother to look into getting tickets nor did I survey any of my friends, even though several people I knew ended up going. In one case, someone had an extra ticket and asked a friend if he wanted it. Sometimes we get blessed at random when someone decides to cast their bread upon the waters.

For the rest of us who want to see Beyonce or check off some adventure from our bucket lists, we've got to just decide to do it. That isn't just about concerts, but about most things in life. A lot of people assumed that the ticket prices would be beyond reach, so they didn't try, but it wasn't like that at all. Some people even bought tickets the day of the show for pretty reasonable regular prices, and I'm happy for them. Broadway tickets are sometimes sold at a same-day discount, so maybe one day the Kid and I will stumble into Hamilton or some other fabulous show she wants to see (such as The Six). Most times, however, fortune favors the brave; therefore, make up your mind now that you do have Beyonce ticket money. Decide that if the opportunity presents itself, you will just throw caution to the wind, throw your shit into a bag, and just go for it! 

Mind you, I am not always that impulsive, but as I have gotten older, I've accepted that sometimes it makes so much more sense to roll the dice than to play it safe. I'm not saying that I was too cautious when I was younger (actually, yes I am), but I think that if I had been a little less so, I wouldn't feel like I missed out on so much. I only saw MJ once, in 1984 because that's the only time an effort was made. I was blessed with free Prince tickets in 2004, but that was random luck. Looking back, maybe I should have been more willing to venture outside of my comfort zone instead of telling myself that I might not succeed so why try...

I know, we were talking about Beyonce tickets, so to those who think it was crazy, you are right! And I've already declared that I would do it again, so there's that. So as not to provoke too much social media envy, I have been very mindful about over-sharing because it feels like the exact opposite of a humble brag. Yet at the same time, I'm not sure why I should feel any kind of way considering how many of y'all post pictures of your vacations on Martha's Vinyard and Dubai. I've never been to either of those places, but now I'm thinking of a master plan.

I'm not mad at you...YOLO so Carpe diem!

Which brings us to the topic of bucket lists. Last year, many of my friends turned 50 and as some of you are aware, the Busy Black Woman will reach that golden shore later this year. I am all over the place with various emotions. There are days when I think YAY, and then there are days when I look back and wonder where the years went and how did I get here. Actually, my thoughts use more colorful language, but the end result is the same. Not only are these gray hairs hella disrespectful, but so are these hot flashes and the accompanying brain fog. I cannot believe I have lived almost 50 years!

With four months to go, I have no idea how to celebrate. I think the Hub had plans, but then our bedroom ceiling collapsed, and the Kid keeps growing taller. So that means being practical...but is that how I want to start my next half century? What did Barbie do? I think she changed her hair and stopped wearing heels, but she's a toy, so maybe a better question is what will Beyonce do? I'm pretty sure I'll get my answer when I take the girls to see her on her next world tour.

Since I don't have Mattel or Jay-Z money, I believe a viable alternative to renting the Louvre or opening my own amusement park is to just say Yes. I have already alluded to that with respect to having your ticket money ready, but this is about more than just going to shows. This is about being open to living and experiencing more than what you have been doing. It means setting intentions--not just of the things you want to do before you kick some metaphorical bucket (because we know not the day nor the hour), but what things do you want to have done that will fill your bucket with memorable experiences? Did you want to backpack across Europe at some point? Did you want to go on Safari in some African country? Did you want to drive cross-country in an RV? Did you want to ride every wooden roller coaster that you were too young to ride as a child? Did you take a language and wish you had become fluent? Did you play an instrument?

Are you getting the point? 

Now back to the Barbie movie, because the ending offers the perfect message for concluding this piece: once you get a taste of living, it is hard to go back to just existing. It becomes an existential dilemma to return to your box or your imaginary world where things seemed perfect. You've got to make moves, decisions, take action. You went to see Beyonce and now you're thinking as you are preparing and packing for a week at the same beach where you've been going for about ten years that maybe next summer you'll go somewhere different.

It's time to go back to Homecoming for the first time in years. It's time to put that passport to use, even if you're not crossing the ocean, just playing in it. When was the last time you went to an amusement park and rode an old wooden roller coaster? Now that you've gone out into the real world, it's hard to go back to being stereotypical Barbie. Or to being a predictable, practical Busy Black Woman.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Who's Grooming Who?

I started this piece the weekend the documentary premiered on Amazon Prime, but got distracted by a variety of things, including the rather traumatic collapse of my bedroom ceiling...which is now the story of how I spent my summer in case you were wondering 😩

Since y'all have been saying it LOUD and PROUD (how much you hate the rainbow people) and June is almost done, tell me why you haven't descended on the Duggar Family compound and burned it down to ashes? Because after the documentary I watched earlier this month...

A few weeks ago in a rare instance of me sitting down to watch whatever happened to be trending in real time, I saw #ShinyHappyPeople trending on Twitter, and I thought, oh really so now y'all hate R.E.M. and the B-52s??? Or just the Sesame Street parody (since it took about 6 hours for the backlash to this post to get underway). Then I clicked, and oh my, where to begin?

Let's start with the fact that I was skeptical about the Duggars from the very beginning. Call it my spidey senses for whenever certain shows on cable tend to glorify a particular kind of family structure that reinforces "values" that would have been labeled as dysfunctional or pathological had those families come from my hood. In other words, of course a suburban white family from Arkansas with 19 children (and counting) would star in a hit reality show whereas a Black or Latinx family would have been derided as irresponsible drains on societal resources. (I can only imagine if the Duggars weren't white, y'all would have been complaining about your tax dollars going to support all of those children, regardless of their economic situation. Furthermore, someone would have either called Child Protective Services or found some way to launch a criminal investigation to catch the family engaged in welfare or immigration fraud.)

So no, I was never interested in anything about them. I knew what I knew about the way that certain themes could be sold as wholesome depending on how blonde and blue-eyed and All-American it was packaged to appeal to certain demographics. In that same vein, a show like Teen Mom (originally called 16 and Pregnant) could become a hit on MTV, but if it had aired a single promo on BET, Black Church Mothers United™ would have demanded Bob Johnson's head on a platter.

The Duggars offered a twist on Eight is Enough with the prairie ethos of Little House on the Prairie. I imagine it was the kind of stuff that folks who reminisce about the good old days eat up like a dessert with whipped cream and a cherry on top. We heard a lot about family values in the early aughts, perhaps as a response to the social changes brought by the 90s (racial and ethnic diversity, women changing the modern workplace, expansion of LGBT rights before more letters were added to the acronym). For my part, I had declared my refusal to watch any reality TV programs that gave off even the slightest stench of resembling a circus act, so I had no interest in watching these modern-day Waltons

Instead of focusing on them (right now), I want to talk a bit about their subliminal proselytizing for the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP), the religious organization that was referenced throughout the docuseries. Because whew, I had more than a few flashbacks to some of the stuff I was exposed to while growing up. Now, before anyone gets upset and suggests that I am mis-remembering or mischaracterizing things, I want to issue this important disclaimer: I was NEVER sexually abused, nor am I accusing anyone of doing that to me or anyone I knew. What I will address is how the ideology I encountered parallels some of the teachings that the Duggars followed and as was represented in the documentary. Thus, the second part of my disclaimer: I was NOT raised in a cult.

I was raised in the Baptist church in the 1980s and many of those churches, particularly in the South, tended to be evangelical. Although that was not our official affiliation due to the historical racism of the Southern Baptist Convention, I would characterize the theological leanings of my church as influenced by many of the same traditional fundamentalist teachings. While I don't believe that any of the material developed by the IBLP was formally incorporated into what was offered to us in our youth-centered fellowship, it is accurate to suggest that we were exposed to teachings that were consistent with its more conservative leanings with respect to the role of women and girls.

For example, as teenagers we spent our Friday nights in fellowship with like-minded church kids in chaperoned activities. We were encouraged to date the young men in our peer group (and in hindsight it is ironic to recall that not a one of those church-arranged couples ever married each other). Young women from our church who did get married were expected to include the word obey in their wedding vows. Those who got pregnant out-of-wedlock were brought in front of the congregation to apologize for their promiscuity and fornication (never saw where any young men were similarly punished). It was expected that the girls would serve as ushers, in the choir, and as the youth clerk (which I did), but never as the worship leader. 

Women served under similar restrictions as most churches did not ordain women or allow them to preach. My pastor did not allow women in the pulpit except on Women's Day, and those speakers were never licensed ministers. Women who felt they were called for more than teaching Sunday School typically left for progressive congregations. Or they stifled their ambitions, accepted honorary titles, and channeled their spiritual gifts to other forms of service to the Lord as assigned.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are older than I am, but we grew up in the same era. Obviously, their upbringing in small town Arkansas differed from mine, but I'm assuming that they had access to the same pop culture that I did in the 70s and 80s. In church we were constantly told that what we enjoyed as entertainment contained demonic messages and inappropriate themes; therefore, they would show these Christian movies at our youth retreats and gatherings. They were terrible, more akin to Christian horror even though they were packaged like Afterschool Specials. Imagine being eight years old and watching a film that claimed barcodes were the mark of the beast (Satan) and that half the people you knew were going to Hell

Even worse, I had relatives who held the same strong opinions against pop culture, so if I was allowed to watch television at their homes, it was only Praise The Lord (PTL) or some other televangelist (ditto for listening to the radio--only Christian radio programs). You want to know what was more traumatic than missing The Superfriends or Looney Tunes on a Saturday morning? Having to sit through hours of Tammy Faye Bakker's singing, Jimmy Swaggert's histrionics, or watching some preacher speak in tongues (because that was supposed to make more sense than talking cartoon rabbits and ducks). 

Thankfully, my parents didn't impose restrictions on our entertainment options based on religious beliefs. In fact, I don't believe they even knew some of the extremes of what we were being exposed to, and I certainly don't plan to tell them now! In particular, my Dad would have objected to any whiff of fundamentalism even as a previously lapsed Catholic, now ordained Deacon. Any objections he had to aspects of popular culture were always political or ideological (because he's been woke since the 60s). As for my Mom, I think she conveniently ignored certain things in order to keep the peace since the fundamentalists were her kin and she was a Preacher's Kid. Perhaps she figured that a little fire and brimstone would keep us appreciative and humble, a clever manipulation tactic in case we thought the grass was greener elsewhere.

The key word here is exposure, as opposed to indoctrination. No one ever said, this is how you must live, and these are the rules that you must follow in order to make it into Heaven. Instead, these were general ideas and concepts that even the most holy and supposedly sanctified folks were willing to ignore if they were impractical. Most of the women worked outside of the home. There were only a handful of families where there were more than four children. Rarely did anyone come to church dressed like Laura Ingalls and no one was sent home for wearing a short skirt (ask me how I know). For all of the talk about demonic influences in the secular world, no one was home-schooled. In fact, at least half of us attended Catholic school, but that is a rabbit hole for another time.

My point is, for people who were raised in a biome of wholesomeness as opposed to those of us who were living in the city, there were always people who had similar concerns about our mortal souls. The divergence in our paths came down to the choices that we were allowed to make for ourselves. No one expressed any qualms about me choosing college instead of marriage after high school, nor did anyone object to my choice to pursue a profession in a male-dominated field. The social changes that came as the decades progressed were disruptive for some of the people in my orbit, but most of them adjusted. I can only surmise that for those who reluctantly had to accept the reality of women having the agency of choice (and not just with respect to having children), the Duggars were the embodiment of their nostalgia for simpler times. 

From my perspective, however, the Duggars are no more authentic than the characters on most TV sitcoms. Even a classic show like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was scripted--it starred the Nelson family of actors in various fictional situations. We all know that reality television is staged to maximize interest, so even if the Duggars were this wholesome ideal family on camera, the truth behind the scenes is far from what they portrayed. Half of their children were raising each other while the others were shooting footage for the show for little or no pay. It is rather convenient that the network "found" them right after Jim Bob's political ambitions had been derailed; lucky for him to have had an heir-apparent in eldest son Josh.

It was also lucky that Josh's sexual assault victims, his SISTERS, weren't in a position to demand that he be prosecuted. Instead, they smiled for the cameras and helped him plan his wedding, with the promise that they would soon be of age to be courted and married off* to the delight of millions. By the time the full story of his transgressions against them would be brought to light, the statute of limitations had run. The very idea that a subsequent derivation of the show kept going as if writing Josh off in lieu of getting him therapy or until he finally got convicted for much worse, is...

Exactly the kind of "family values" we ought to exemplify??? Forgive me for regarding Michelle Duggar as the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe instead of some kind of paragon of ideal motherhood. In fact, judge me for wrinkling up my nose and changing the channel when she announced baby #20 on the TODAY Show. And remind me why these people deserve anything other than scorn for the way they trapped Anna Duggar, their own daughters, and are trying to ensnare other young women in their Cult of True Womanhood!

Since you're not reading this in June at the height of the hysteria against the celebration of PRIDE, you've had more than enough time to consider an honest answer to the question posed by my title. Who is being 'groomed' if the worst thing that happens after a drag story hour is your child having questions about makeup? How does being exposed to someone different translate into vandalizing clothing displays at Target? Meanwhile, after watching the Duggars scam that poor girl into marrying their child molester son who also happened to be a used car salesman...

* For research purposes, I went searching for footage of Josh Duggar's wedding to Anna Keller and came across this first video linked above of their wedding planning. I didn't notice the name of the account until after I had watched about 10 minutes, and then noted that there was a second part of the wedding planning and a betrothal video. I am posting those here without comment. Until I sat down to watch the documentary, I had no idea that the Duggars popular enough to fuel an entire cottage industry of tabloid media interest, much like Hollywood celebrities and the British Royals. But also so that everyone is clear, I am not judging their beliefs since I recognize that how God speaks to each of us is personal. The fact that the Duggars and I are on opposite ideological ends of the political spectrum and hold different views on the function of our faith isn't surprising. What did surprise me is what prompted this piece--how exposure and choice impact our outcomes in this life. Regardless of what I was exposed to as a child, I was ultimately free to choose my path in life, and that would be true for most people.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

When Our Children Cry Wolf

All of us are familiar with the story of the boy who cried wolf. For those who aren't, it was about a boy who was tending sheep in the pasture, got bored, so he cried "wolf" to see what would happen. The villagers came running to save him but found him doubled over in laughter at his prank. He did this a second time, so later, when a wolf did appear and the boy called out a third time, the villagers did not come to his rescue and his flock was eaten. In some versions of the tale, the boy was also eaten by the wolf.

Therefore, I understand the various reactions to the story of what might have happened to Carlethia "Carlee" Russell--was she abducted as she claimed, or was this some elaborate cry for attention? Are we entitled to demand an explanation from her, or should we just move on with our lives like those villagers and not come running when the next woman of color goes missing?

I have a lot of conflicting thoughts, some that I shared on social media in response to a post by a classmate that this had been a hoax from the outset. I saw his posts and initially ignored them (because he tends to be provocative), but I also did wonder if there was more to this story than was being reported. What about the wandering toddler on the side of the highway, did no one else who was driving along at that same time see him? Was there any video surveillance that could assist? And once it was reported that she had returned home, when could we expect a statement issued or an interview with Gayle King to warn other young women who might similarly be vulnerable?

Because I was attending a conference, I could not follow the chatter, but I happened to be scrolling my Twitter feed when the news of her return was released. At the time, I just sent up a prayer of thanksgiving that she was found, but I must admit that the details provided regarding her return were suspicious. So I waited patiently for some kind of update that would quiet my skepticism. That didn't happen, because as I watched the briefing offered by the Hoover Police in real time, my heart sank without hearing much of what they had to say. The presser wasn't even finished when I saw the first wave of "I told you so" vindication posts and the inappropriate memes. 

Since quite a few comments referenced him, I thought back to a few years ago when the Jussie Smollett saga generated a lot of righteous outrage due to its perfectly scripted homophobia and violence fueled by Trumpism. While everyone was offering messages of support, I recall sitting on my Twitter fingers waiting for a new twist. As his story unraveled, I was actually relieved (not because of the resulting fallout that destroyed his acting career and threatened the career of Cook County State's Attorney), but because such a brazen attack in Chicago at 2AM that no one heard or saw was too ridiculous to be true.

Thus, as Russell's disappearance was initially shared on social media and calls were made to amplify details to ensure that her case would be treated with urgency, I will simply say that I was praying for her safe return. And I still am praying for her, even if she was not the victim of some predatory crime as we were led to believe. 

This story hit a lot of my buttons, especially as I prepared to take another solo road trip down South this past week (more details to share soon). It was upsetting to think that she could have been possibly lured into a trap that involved using a small child as bait. I fretted that I would have to add this to my ever-growing list of concerns about raising girl-children without the wisdom of my own village mothers. I mourned the potential devastation that would have overwhelmed this young woman's family and community if there had been an alternative unhappy ending. And I was frustrated that just weeks ago we sent the Coast Guard to search for five people on a private joy ride to see an underwater graveyard, whereas a minimal dispatch of resources deployed to find an adult runaway would most assuredly be deemed a waste.

While there has been no definitive pronouncement, public sympathy has decidedly shifted. The villagers have extinguished their torches, put away their weapons, called off the hounds, and are grumbling on social media. It upsets me that the loudest voices of condemnation are coming from within the Black community. And not just from men, so what should we call it when we are determined to disbelieve one of our children unless the outcome of her peril had turned tragic? Why are we so quick to dismiss this as merely the actions of an attention-seeking narcissist instead of as a very public plea for help?

Do we really need her to explain herself, or do we need to give Russell the space to heal herself? I'm not convinced that we need to know everything if the point of inquiry is to subject her to more ridicule. That doesn't mean I am against her facing consequences, but I believe that once it crosses the line to irredeemable public shame, no lessons will be taught or learned. A lot of people act out for attention, and we don't respond with this level of indignation, not even when their antics are fueled by mental illness, substance abuse, a toxic -ism or phobia, or just immaturity. In most cases, we accept that the matter will be addressed privately and move on.

For example, in my area Amber Alerts go out whenever a young person goes missing (Silver Alerts for senior citizens with dementia). In three cases where I have personal knowledge of the outcome of a local Amber Alert, there were no demands for public accountability because we were just relieved that each child was returned home. In one case, the girl who was a classmate of my Niece, was transferred to a new school. In another instance, the mother, whom I knew online through a FB group, updated us and then deactivated her social media account. And in the case where I actively took part in a search, the girl's family expressed their gratitude for our community efforts, but I haven't seen them since. 

Someone reading this might assume that by referring to Russell as an adult runaway and inferring from the title that she is a child, I am infantilizing her to absolve or excuse her behavior. I assure you that I am well aware that she is a grown ass woman who had a job, a car, a concerned boyfriend (ex?), and two loving parents who went on national television to elicit sympathy for what now appears to be a tall tale. Unlike the three young girls I described, Russell is not some impulsive child who ran away to escape some parental restriction or punishment. 

So what.

People from her community and across the nation were invested in finding her, including Angela Harris, who mobilized volunteers and dedicated resources from her nonprofit to search for Russell because she lost her own daughter under tragic circumstances. Instead of responding in anger, Ms. Harris modeled the kind of community response that we ought to emulate in this instance--determination and resolve. We ought to be ready to search under every rock and comb through every field for our missing loved ones, not just because they are well-connected or because their stories get media attention, but because it is the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do is to adopt the attitude of the villagers in the fable and let the wolves have their fill.

My fellow Gen Xers remember when almost every TV sitcom aired a runaway episode. The plot centered on the main character and/or a best friend who made a pact to do something crazy that a parent explicitly forbade, like Vanessa Huxtable (part one and two) sneaking off to have BIG Fun with the Wretched. Of course, the outcome of that episode was unforgettable hilarity, as were other light-hearted runaway storylines such as twins Tia and Tamera plotting to run away in order to stay together (Sister Sister); or baby sister Jennifer Keaton slipping away while big brother Alex isn't paying attention to her (Family Ties). 

There were also the kind of very special episodes that were intended to caution/scare us such as the runaway episode from The Facts of Life that seems most analogous to this situation. Tootie disobeys her parents and Mrs. Garrett by running away to visit New York City on her own. She gets robbed and retreats to a coffee shop where she meets a friendly girl named Kristi who chats her up and buys her lunch. Tootie doesn't realize that this is all part of a set up to recruit her into prostitution. Right before she gets duped into joining Kristi and her pimp, a waitress tips her off to the scam. Mrs. Garrett arrives just in time to whisk her home to safety.

That episode aired 40 years ago, and the message is as poignant today as it was when I was in the fourth grade. There are wolves in these woods, and we need to be vigilant and wary. It isn't a waste of effort or resources to protect our sheep. Furthermore, to mix in another metaphor from Peter and the Wolf (a different fable), we can't barricade our children in the house and expect that simply warning them against venturing out into the world will be sufficient. Due to their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness, some of them will stray, so they need to be equipped with the right tools to defend themselves when we aren't there to prevent disaster. And a good arsenal of tools should include discernment and common sense. Shame and ridicule are useless as they are intended to humiliate and break people, not correct and build them up.

Carlee is home. She has a family who can address her needs in private. There are others who have gone missing who still haven't been found. Still others languishing in foster care or who have just aged out of the system are vulnerable to being exploited in the very manner we feared Russell would be; hence, there are gaping holes in the safety net that don't catch everyone. Several nonprofits such as Angela Harris' nonprofit Aniah's Heart, the Black and Missing Foundation, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women could use more support and visibility. If it takes crying wolf to get us to come running, then we should ask ourselves why these children have everything else but our attention...