Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Can We Declare a Genocide of Young Black Men in America?

I have one question for President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder:  Can we declare a genocide of young black men in America?

I don't mean to be melodramatic, and I'm not naive enough to believe that there isn't enough already in America's mean streets and hard 'hoods responsible for the deaths of young black men.

But somehow, I never hear of unarmed young white men being accidentally shot by police officers or intentionally shot by wannabe vigilantes or old people with an aversion to loud hip-hop blasting from an SUV.   I don't hear of any other race of young men in America being gunned down like dogs as often as young black men.

How many more have to die before we realize we have a problem?

Do I have to go before the U.N. to have a genocide declared?  President Obama just authorized air strikes to avert a genocide in Iraq.  Can we get an air strike or two up in the 'hood to avert the genocide of young black men in America?

I have yet to take down my "Justice for Trayvon" photo for this blog because, as soon as I think about taking it down, another young black unarmed man is shot down.

If indeed Michael Brown was shot while he had his hands in the air, that's murder. Added to all the other murders of unarmed black men (Trayvon, Oscar Grant, too many to name), this, to me, is looking like a genocide.

As someone who hopes to be the mother of at least one son, I'm at a loss of what to tell this son-to-be that he can do in the presence of police or other maniacs to make sure he doesn't get shot.  Clearly, putting your hands in the air doesn't work (Michael Brown).  Walking away doesn't work (Trayvon Martin).  Lying face down with your hands behind your back doesn't work (Oscar Grant).

How many more have to die before we declare a genocide?

I call B.S., America.  This IS a genocide.

Suicide, Depression, Forgiveness, and Robin Williams

Robin Williams starred in one of my sister's favorite films, "What Dreams May Come."  In it, he portrays a physician who marries an artist (played by Annabella Sciorra).  They later have two children, a boy and a girl, who are killed in a car accident.  Although the deaths of their children bring them to the brink of divorce, they decide to stay together.  Then the husband dies in a car accident and ascends to Heaven.  Grief-stricken and unable to continue on, the wife kills herself and ends up in Hell, not as punishment, but because the pain that brought on the suicide creates Hell for her in the afterlife.  The husband attempts what had never been achieved: Leaving Heaven to rescue a soul from Hell to bring to Heaven.  He succeeds.

This movie resonates with the African-American Protestant upbringing of my youth to a certain extent:  The idea that suicide on earth equals Hell in the afterlife.  Like many other African-American Protestants, I was taught that suicide was the one unforgivable sin for which you most certainly would be sent to Hell.  "Self-murder," my Baptist mother-in-law called it.  My husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB), tells me he learned in his new membership class at his church that suicide is indeed forgivable.  How can it not be when someone suffering from mental illness commits the act?

Whenever I hear of someone having taken their own life, I wince with the residue of the beliefs of my upbringing.  Now, I question those beliefs.   I can't believe a merciful God is incapable of forgiving someone who is so mentally wounded that he can't bear the pain of another day on this planet.

If suicide is indeed a sin and a forgivable one, I pray that God would forgive Robin Williams.  If suicide is a sin and isn't forgivable, I hope God makes an exception for Robin Williams.

Growing up, I would have put Richard Pryor at the pinnacle of comic genius.  But when you look at the versatility of Robin Williams, tie goes to Robin Williams.  He wasn't like some comedians who were only capable of comedy that appealed to those who shared their race, gender, or class; he made comedy that was funny to everyone.  His mind was so quick, so sharp, so able to bend into different characters, voices, you name it.  And then he could play a dramatic role so moving, such as his roles in "Good Will Hunting" and "The Dead Poets Society," that he reminded you that, yes, he was a top-notch acting student from Julliard.  He gave so much joy to the world and did such good works while he was here.  He deserves divine forgiveness, assuming he needs it.

What should we take away from this tragic loss?  Many things.  You never really know what a person is going through, even if you think you do.  People who are depressed don't always admit it because of shame and stigma.  What looks like addiction to drugs or alcohol may often be self-medication of depression. Depression knows no boundaries -- it strikes the rich and the poor, men and women, and people of all social classes.  Just because someone has all of the makings of success -- wealth, fame, etc. -- doesn't mean they are immune from depression or any other mental illness.

If Robin Williams' soul is in the Hell of my upbringing and of the movie "What Dreams May Come," he's worth some soul in Heaven taking a risk to save him.

Robin Williams, may your soul know the peace that eluded it on earth.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summoning The Courage To Write About Dr. Maya Angelou (The Greatesst Lesson I Learned From Her)

A friend of one of my Facebook friends posted that he saw no sizable difference in the number of comments from African-Americans and whites about the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou and concluded that, based on the number of comments, she meant no more to African-Americans than she did to whites.

What the person failed to take into account was that maybe we African-Americans were just stunned into silence.  Perhaps we could not find the words to express how we felt.

I know I couldn't.

What can any writer write about one of the most gifted writers of our generation?  What could any one writer say that hasn't already been said by the obituary writers, friends, family, and luminaries? 

With that in mind, I wrote nothing.  That is, until I summoned the courage to write this entry and share the greatest lesson Dr. Maya Angelou taught me and perhaps others.

Dr. Angelou's quote about courage being the most important virtue because, without it, you cannot practice the other virtues consistently, has been repeated a lot lately, as well as some of her other memorable lessons:  "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time," and "People may forget what you said or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel."

However, the most important lesson I think Dr. Angelou imparted upon all of us is one that she didn't speak, but instead lived:  You don't have to be just one thing in this life.  You can be many things.

How often do we limit ourselves, or allow ourselves to be limited, thinking trite aphorisms like, "Jack of all trades, master of none," or walking away from something we love because we don't have the requisite 10,000 hours supposedly needed to master it?

What if Dr. Angelou had settled on being only a cable car conductor?  Think of all the other gifts she possessed and bestowed upon the world -- writing, dancing, singing, acting, directing, writing music, teaching, and being a civil rights activist and friend to the likes of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, James Baldwin AND Oprah Winfrey!  And she could cook, too!  Oh my, what a life!  She lived many lifetimes within one lifetime.  Why?  Because she didn't limit herself to being just one thing.

I've always had a penchant for doing many things and, combined with being a Gemini, that has caused me to be branded as uncommitted, flighty, indecisive, and a "master of none."  But Dr. Angelou was writing music and working very late in her life.  She did not let her age limit her creativity and curiosity.  Even at an age when, statistically speaking, she probably didn't have 10,000 hours to master one more thing, she never stopped doing the many things about which she was passionate.  Her refusal to recognize limits on what she could be is the greatest lesson to me and, in my view, to the world.

So summon up the courage to do all the things that interest you, that fuel passion within you.  Don't care what people think.  So what if you don't master any -- you're not being graded!  Dr. Angelou believed that courage is the greatest virtue because you could not practice the other virtues consistently without it.  I believe that courage is the greatest virtue because you cannot be your most complete and realized self without it.

Thank you and Godspeed, Dr. Angelou.  And thank you, Stanford University, my alma mater, for providing me the opportunity to meet Dr. Angelou.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Different Kind of College Commencement Address (People Don't Get What They Deserve)




Here's one of many reasons I will never be invited to give a college commencement address of any kind.

If I were going to give a college commencement address, it would simply be this:  The lyrics to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings' "People Don't Get What They Deserve, " especially the chorus:

Money don't follow sweat
Money don't follow brains
Money don't follow deeds of peace
People don't get what they deserve

Cruel, eh?  Not really.

The lyrics to the beginning of the song sum up nicely the beliefs that many middle class, working class, and poor parents send their children off to college with -- work hard, do well, and you will succeed and prosper.

Not so fast, says Ms. Jones and the Dap Kings.  That equation doesn't necessarily add up in today's world.

With the wealth gap widening, the student loan debt burden breaking the backs of our young college graduates before they even drive off campus for the last time, we do a disservice to them to allow them to think that things will work out just as we were taught.  That was then, this is now. The ratio of what they owe to what they will earn is vastly different from when we Baby Boomers graduated from college.  Mind you, I'm not trying to create an existential crisis for the Class of 2014 -- indeed, without a college degree, they'd be more screwed -- but I'm honest enough to say that their newly minted degrees may not take them as far as mine did in 1986.  If, by chance, their degrees do take them far, there are equal parts achievement and grace fueling their success.

So, in the spirit of honesty, and bearing in mind that I will never be asked to give a college commencement address, not even at a diploma mill college, here are the lyrics to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings' "People Don't Get What They Deserve":

When I was a child, I believed what they told me (every word)
To each one shall come what each one shall earn
And if I worked hard, nobody could hold me (hold me)
And cheaters will fail, that's what they all learned (cheaters never prosper)

There is a man who is born with a fortune
A hard days' work he's never done (livin' on easy street)
He lives from the sweat of other men's labor
And he sips his champagne and lays in the sun

Money don't follow sweat
Money don't follow brains
Money don't follow deeds of peace
People don't get what they deserve
People don't get what they deserve

There is a man who lives like a saint
He works from daybreak to late in the night
He's never stolen, he's never been lazy (not a day in his life)
To feed his children is always a fight (work work work)

I try to do right by all of God's children
I work very hard for all I could afford
But I don't pretend for one single moment
That what I get is my just reward

Money don't follow sweat
Money don't follow brains
Money don't follow deeds of peace
People don't get what they deserve
People don't get what they deserve

Congratulations, Class of 2014!  No, I really mean it.  You can listen to the song above.  At least it has a good beat.
When I was a child I believed what they told me (every word)
To each one shall come what each one shall earn
And if I worked hard nobody could hold me (hold me)
And cheaters will fail, that's what they all learned (cheaters never prosper)
There is a man who is born with a fortune
A hard days work he's never done (livin' on easy street)
He lives from the sweat of other men's labor
As he sips his champagne and lays in the sun

Money don't follow sweat
Money don't follow brains
Money don't follow deeds of peace
(People don't get what they deserve) x2

There is a man who lives like a saint
He works from daybreak to late in the night
He's never stolen, he's never been lazy (not a day in his life)
To feed his children is always a fight (work work work)
I try to do right by all of god's children
I work very hard for all I could afford
But I don't pretend for one single moment
That what I get is my just reward

Money don't follow sweat
Money don't follow brains
Money don't follow deeds of peace
(People don't get what they deserve)
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/sharon-jones-the-dap-kings/people-don-t-get-what-they-deserve-lyrics/#CFPIEG5ieZercQRM.99
When I was a child I believed what they told me (every word)
To each one shall come what each one shall earn
And if I worked hard nobody could hold me (hold me)
And cheaters will fail, that's what they all learned (cheaters never prosper)
There is a man who is born with a fortune
A hard days work he's never done (livin' on easy street)
He lives from the sweat of other men's labor
As he sips his champagne and lays in the sun

Money don't follow sweat
Money don't follow brains
Money don't follow deeds of peace
(People don't get what they deserve) x2

There is a man who lives like a saint
He works from daybreak to late in the night
He's never stolen, he's never been lazy (not a day in his life)
To feed his children is always a fight (work work work)
I try to do right by all of god's children
I work very hard for all I could afford
But I don't pretend for one single moment
That what I get is my just reward

Money don't follow sweat
Money don't follow brains
Money don't follow deeds of peace
(People don't get what they deserve)
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/sharon-jones-the-dap-kings/people-don-t-get-what-they-deserve-lyrics/#CFPIEG5ieZercQRM.99

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Feeling LIke a Stranger to My Happiness (Happy Anniversary, BMNB, and I Want to Be a Dapette)




I'm a huge fan of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.  On this day, my eleventh wedding anniversary, their song "Stranger to My Happiness" sums up how I feel.  Not Pharrell Williams' "Happy," but "Stranger to My Happiness."  Here's why.

I've finally gotten to the point in my life where all the pieces seem to fit together pretty well, and what doesn't fit, I've discarded.  Changing jobs was a huge part of this happiness that I haven't felt in a long, long time.  I don't wake up dreading going to work, I don't hold my breath until the weekend comes, and I'm not sour and cross with my long-suffering husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB).  My stress level is much lower, I sleep better, I feel better.  I haven't felt this happy in a long time.  I have, in fact, been a stranger to my happiness.

We don't realize that when we're stressed out, we stress out the folks around us.  We take them through the same changes we're going through, and they didn't sign up for that.  I just assumed that my more-centered, Teflon-spirited better half was immune to what I was feeling. He wasn't.  Needless to say, he's happier, too, because I am.  If you're stressed out, take a moment to consider how you're affecting the people around you, and take another moment to figure out how you're going to change the situation.

I've also given achievement a hiatus, if not a permanent injunction.  After a lot of reflection, I realized I've felt like I'm an underachiever, having not lived up to the expectations I placed on myself and allowed others to place on me because of the opportunities I've had.  My dad, in his twilight years, still longs for me to be the trial lawyer he thought he was raising and paying for college and law school for.  Friends often say, "I thought you'd be on the bench by now."  Old friends are surprised that with my credentials I'm working for the State of California, not even the federal government.

There's more to life than the law brass ring.  It took time, reflection, and my career coach, Jennifer Alvey, to help me figure that out.  Now, I'm tailoring my career to the life I envision for myself at this stage of my life.  I don't want to keep achieving or attempting to achieve career success at the expense of time with my husband, connection with family and friends who have patiently waited for me to mend my neurotic ways, and fun.  The things I really enjoy?  Gardening, low-cost  home redesign (I'm a Home Depot and thrift store junkie!)  reading, hanging out with family and friends, listening to music, and writing.  Instead of trying to shoehorn those vital, spirit-building activities around my work, I'm doing it the other way around.

So, on this, my eleventh anniversary, I thank BMNB for hanging in with me and sticking it out through the hard times.  We've struggled with money, family members' health, clients we wanted to throttle, pets dying, and our own aging.  I know there are many struggles ahead, but for right now, I'm just enjoying this state of happiness with him that  I've been a stranger to, of my own making, no less.

That said, I want to be a Dapette.  Not because I'm trying to add another achievement, but because, as you will tell from the video posted above, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings know how to have a good time.  Ms. Jones has survived cancer (hence her bald head), and with an undefeated spirit and a voice that would make James Brown shout from the grave, she rocks her bald head AND their song, "Stranger to My Happiness."  I'd love to be one of the Dapettes, the background singers who make the song rise even higher.  I'd be happy just to lip-synch with them and dance to the music.  More than anything, I want whatever it is that has made Ms. Jones not only a survivor, but a happy fighter. Her music and her spirit remind me so much of my mother.

So, if you're reading, Ms. Jones, Dap Kings and Dapettes, I'm ready to go on the road . . . .

Happy Anniversary, Black Man Not Blogging.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Non-Black Biological Mothers of Biracial Black Daughters: How to Build Your Daughters' Hair Esteem

It has happened twice in my life, once when I was in my early twenties, the other last week.  The first time, I was so taken aback that I didn't respond.  Last week, I did.

What is it, you ask?  It was the following:  Having a non-black woman who was dating a black man say to my face, "I hope our kids have MY hair."  In both cases, the women were Latina.

The first time it happened, I was an exchange student in Spain speaking to one of my fellow Stanford exchange students.  She was dating an African-American Stanford student who was on the football team.  While discussing her boyfriend, and while wearing a sweater I had loaned her, she made her remark.

I was stunned.  So stunned, I didn't respond.  If she didn't want her children to have her boyfriend's hair, what did that say about what she thought of her boyfriend and his hair?  Better yet, what was she thinking saying that to my face and my very visible African hair while wearing my sweater, twirling the ends of  her long, straight brown locks while saying it, no less?

The second time was last week.  Yet again, another Latina dating another black man said the exact same words: "I hope our kids have MY hair."

This time, I sprang into action, thirty years wiser.

"Oh, no you don't.  You don't get to say that, and you don't get to think it.  You don't get to make your daughter feel bad about her hair just because it isn't like yours.  You're going to be her mother and you don't get to do that."

What I was too polite to say was this:

If you're thinking you can sleep with a black man and have kids with straight hair, you're fooling yourself.  You need to prepare yourself to send that daughter out into the world with some hair esteem, no matter the texture of her hair.

And so begins this blog entry to non-black biological mothers of biracial black daughters:  You decided to marry or sleep with a black man; you don't get to make your black daughter feel bad about her hair because it isn't like yours, precisely because you are her mother.  Her feelings of self esteem and hair esteem will depend on the words that come from you, especially since she carries your DNA and probably looks like you.

I began a frank discussion with the offending woman and another woman who is a non-black mother of a biracial black child.  Here's the jist of what I had to say:

1.  Your frustration with styling her hair is not her problem; it's yours.  You don't get to degrade her or the texture of her hair because it is harder for you to manage than your own.  Your job is to make her feel good about her hair, no matter its texture, because the world is gonna do a number on her and she's going to need all the hair esteem she can get.  Even if you don't feel that way, fake it until you make it.

2.  You don't get to call her hair "bad hair" or "good hair," even if black folks do.  Especially if black folks do.  I don't allow the use of the terms "good hair" or "bad hair" in my home.  We can discuss texture differences, but I don't allow anyone to put value judgments on texture in my home.  I refuse to perpetuate that.

That isn't to say that black folks don't do this still.  It's abhorrent.  That said, you, as a non-black mother of a black biracial daughter, don't get to do that, and you need to stop anyone from doing that in her presence.

3.  Get help.  If you don't know how to style black hair, get help.  If you see a black woman whose hair you like, ask where she gets it styled.  Ask the women in your boyfriend's/husband/'s/babydaddy's family to educate you.  And ask with humility and without disdain for your child's hair.  You come to this in a position of weakness -- you need to learn how to do your child's hair, and you're probably going to have to ask black women who may or may not be too keen on the fact that you took a black man away from black women (even if he didn't even like black women) AND can't do the hair of the daughter who resulted from your theft.  That said, a gift of flowers or some wine might not be a bad idea.

4.  You can't straighten your daughter's hair by pulling it back tight; you'll only end up pulling it out.  I've seen this time and again -- non-black mothers of black biracial daughters trying to fake the appearance of straight hair by putting tons of hair products and water in the kid's hair and pulling it back tight in rubber bands, barrettes, you name it.  Ever heard of traction alopecia?  That's when you lose your hair around the sides of your head from pulling it back too tight.  Don't do that to your daughter's hair.  Work with the texture she has, not the texture you wish she had, which leads to my next point:

5. If you don't know what you're doing, don't put any chemicals on your daughter's hair.  I'm talking kiddie perms, Brazilian blowouts, you name it.  These chemicals are usually some variation on sodium hydroxide (lye) or calcium hydroxide and can burn the child's scalp if left on too long.  I wasn't allowed to get a relaxer until shortly before I left for college; my mother didn't believe in putting chemicals on her daughters' hair when we were young.  She pressed a lot of hair for a long time, but to this day my sisters and I have full heads of hair and not a weave between us.  Thanks, Mom.

6. Instead of emphasizing what she can't do with her hair, emphasize what she can do with her hair.  There are a multitude of styles black women and girls can rock that people with straight hair can't -- braids, cornrows, twists, locks, pressed hair, relaxed hair, afros.  Make it fun for your daughter and change it up so she can take pride in her hair's versatility.  If you make getting her hair done a beauty ritual and add to it other beauty rituals like a mani-pedi, she'll feel beautiful all around.

7.  Use hair care products that are good for black hair and wash black hair less frequently than white hair.  I, for one, don't use Pantene -- it strips the crap out of my hair and leaves it feeling dry.  I've switched to Wen, which doesn't strip my hair's oils.  I've also heard good things about the Carol's Daughter line of hair care products.  I also don't wash my hair daily and neither do most of the black women I know because of the drying effect that most shampoos have on our hair.  Get advice on hair care products from your daughter's relatives on her dad's side of the family or from a stylist who specializes in black hair.  If you're in the Sacramento area, I highly recommend Miasha Helton of It's My Hair -- she has done segments on "Good Day Sacramento" on styling biracial children's hair. And finally:

8. Give your daughter permission to tell people not to touch her hair.  If she's outnumbered at school by kids with straight hair, her hair is going to be a curiosity to them.  That doesn't mean that she should be some de facto museum exhibit that they can touch and feel.  You need to empower her to tell people not to touch her hair just because it's different from theirs.  She doesn't have to be mean about it, but she shouldn't be subjected to unwanted touching because she's different and in the minority.  The analogy I make is that if you wouldn't touch Queen Elizabeth's crown, you shouldn't touch mine, and my hair is my crown.

With this, I hope I have empowered you to love your biracial black daughter and her hair, no matter it's texture.


Monday, April 28, 2014

No, Sir Charles, It Isn't a Black League; It's a Black Players' Association

In all the comments on sports shows about the alleged racist comments of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling (and yes, even old racists are entitled to due process, so until they're authenticated, they are "alleged" comments), the one that caught my attention the most was from Charles Barkley, AKA Sir Charles.  In making the argument that, if the remarks were indeed Sterling's then he shouldn't be allowed to keep his franchise, Sir Charles argued, "It's a black league."

Well, actually, Sir Charles, it isn't.  The players' association may be black, but the NBA is not a black league.  It is a majority white-owned league with a majority of black players.

A couple of things also stood out to me.  I don't think that Sterling just woke up the other day in bed with his partially black girlfriend and became a racist.  If indeed he was sued twice for housing racial discrimination while he was the owner of the Clippers, why didn't the league question his ethics and morals then?  Even better -- doesn't anyone find it the least bit troubling that he's still married and has a girlfriend?  Last I checked, married is married -- until you're divorced, you're not single.  If Sterling is doing the humpty dance with his partially black girlfriend, isn't that adultery?  Oh, but no, that's just a man thing, easily overlooked by a male-dominated sport.

Anyhoo, back to my point.  The NBA is not a black league.  If it were, the majority of the owners would be black.  Instead, it is a white league with a majority of black employees, er, players.  This raises the question:  If, as Sir Charles asserts, over 70 percent of the league's players are black, why haven't they all gotten together and pooled their money to actually own more teams?  Why haven't they played for equity stakes in their teams?  I would think that if that 70 percent got together and decided that 70 percent of the owners were going to be black or there would be no NBA, there'd be a sea change.  Hell, what would happen if that 70 percent played to the end of their contracts, all walked away at once, and started their own damn league?

But no, instead, black players have not kicked down the door to majority black ownership using their own resources and market power.  And guess what?  When you don't own shit, you can't control shit.  Sterling might be fined or suspended, but I doubt that he'll lose his franchise.  Why?

Because there are probably more than a few NBA franchise owners who have said comments they'd just as soon the public not hear and are thinking, "There but for the grace of God . . . ."