Black Woman Blogging

One black woman's views on race, gender, politics, family, life and the world.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seasons of Noes, With Apologies to Jonathon Larson

Fifty thousand six hundred forty words
How do you measure, measure a month . . .

Measure in Noes . . . . .

Adapted from "Seasons of Love" from the Broadway musical "Rent" (With apologies to Jonathon Larson)

Well, I did it. With 50,640 words, I crossed the National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org) finish line. I completed the competition, like thousands of others, winning nothing more than a PDF'd certificate and bragging rights.

But I won so much more.

This is my first "Nanowrimo," and, in my estimation, you cannot finish Nanowrimo unless you fully embrace the second syllable of the quasi-acronym -- that is, the word "no." In order to make time to work on my novel, which has been kicking around my head and in various short stories for more than nine years, I had to say a lot of "noes" to a lot of people and things:

No, I won't be cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, but I'll bring a bottle of wine to yours if you invite me.

No, I can't attend the neighborhood association ordinance committee meeting.

No, I won't be coming to family games night -- but I'll catch you the next time around.

No, I won't be driving to Oregon with you for your birthday, but here are the car keys -- knock yourself out with the satellite radio.

And with each "no," I became a more conscious consumer of my own life. For the past few years, I've carried more than my fair share of the burdens that come from living connected to others, through calamitous events, occurrences not of my choosing, and some bad choices I made. With each moment that I failed to say "no" and reclaim some of my life for the pursuit of my own goals and dreams, I started living less consciously, less aware of the choice I had effectively made to trade off time from my life to make others happy, even if I didn't achieve my own goals and dreams. Not acceptable.

I found that once I started saying "no," not only did it get easier to say "no" more often, people starting respecting my "no." They stopped trying to negotiate with me or reason me out of my "no." The more often I said it, the less I had to say anything more than "no."

I also found that when you state your goals and dreams to others, they often will put aside what they're doing to help you. Let them. Lord knows you've probably done more than your fair share for them. Once I explained Nanowrimo to BMNB and why finishing it mattered so much for me, he put aside some of the things he was doing in order to pitch in and keep the household running in my absence. Because he knew it mattered to me. He's a gem, I tell you.

Finally, I learned not to "waste my pretty." I came across this aphorism from the MySpace page of actress Terri J. Vaughn, whom you may remember from the "Steve Harvey Show." Her website features a documentary she directed on black actresses entitled, "Angels Can't Help But Laugh," and in it, one the actresses dispenses this advice she received from one of her elders: Don't waste your pretty. Whatever your "pretty" is -- a gift with children, sculpture, dance, corporate mergers, whatever, don't waste it. Don't waste your pretty. I think writing is my gift, and I'm determined not to waste it.

So, how many of you are "wasting your pretty" because you can't seem to say "no" and make your dreams and goals a priority? And don't give me that "I'm too old" excuse. Anna Julia Cooper, the noted African American woman scholar, earned her Ph.D. from the Sorbonne at the age of 65! She then had the audacity to live for another 40 years, leaving this world at the ripe old age of 105. No matter your age, don't waste your pretty, even if it means saying "no" to things that get in the way and don't really serve you.

I received the following message from the folks at Nanowrimo upon completion of the competition:

So it's official.

Our word-counting robots have analyzed your November novel, and they've delivered their final, binding assessment: Winner.


You did it! You did it! You did it!

This was, without a doubt, one of the hardest years on record for NaNoWriMo participants. At some point in the literary marathon, most of your fellow writers fell by the wayside. They lost their books to work, to family, to school, and to the hundreds of other distractions and interruptions that tend to shutter creative undertakings like NaNoWriMo.

But not you. Not this year.

This November, you set out with the ridiculously ambitious goal of bringing an entire world into existence in just 30 days. When the going got tough, you got writing. Now you're one of the few souls who can look back on 2007 as the year you were brave enough to enter the world's largest writing contest, and disciplined enough to emerge a winner.

We salute your imagination and perseverance. The question we ask you now is this: If you were able to write a not-horrible novel in 30 days, what else can you do? The book you wrote this month is just the beginning.

From here on out, the sky's the limit.

Indeed, it is. With a trail of "noes" behind me and my goals and dreams ahead of me. I'm thinking of doing "Scriptfrenzy," the television and stage script version of Nanowrimo, held each April.

Whatever your pretty is, don't waste it. Even if you have to tell a whole lot of people "no."

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Scuse Me While I Nanowrimo (With Apologies to Jimi Hendrix)

Dialogue haze all in my brain
Lately things don't seem the same
Packed my laptop, gotta go
Scuse me while I Nanowrimo . . .

(Adapted from the lyrics to Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix)

There are a ton of things I could blog about today:

*Why I think Sen. Dianne Feinstein has gone nucking futs by voting to confirm Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Mississippi Judge Leslie Southwick to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

*Sen. John McCain's failure to respond adequately to a South Carolinian's entreaty, "How do we beat the b(*&^?" (in reference to Sen. Hillary Clinton)

* What's your mojo dance?

* Why I'm not feeling Hillary Clinton. Two words: Lani Guinier

* Why my political contributions are the kiss of death (Harold Ford, anyone?)

But I can't. I'm too busy doing Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo.org), is a writing competition in which the only thing you win is the satisfaction of completion. The objective is simple: 50,000 words in thirty days starting November 1. If you finish, you win. That simple. The goal of the kind folks at the Office of Letters and Light, which sponsors Nanowrimo, is to get every aspiring writer started on that novel they've been kicking around for, say, nine years or so (at least in my case).

I even planned my Thanksgiving holiday around Nanowrimo. I'm at 40,000+ words, and I'm determined to finish in the name of the late Bebe Moore Campbell, author of several novels and a contributing editor to Essence magazine. She died last year of a brain tumor, and she was very encouraging to African American writers.

My novel is about an African American woman attorney who moves from California to teach law in Mississippi. It deals with race, class, and and whole lot of other issues. And I'm having an absolute ball writing it. If I had known I was going to have this much fun, I would have plunked my behind in my chair and started writing in earnest a long time ago.

Even BMNB has gotten into it, sending me off to Starbucks with my laptop and money for coffee and having dinner ready when I get home. He's a gem, I tell you.

So, to borrow from Jimi Hendrix: Scuse me while I Nanowrimo.

And next year, I encourage you to do the same.

Below is an excerpt of "Happier Than A Runaway Slave," where my protagonist, Angela, is surveying the scene after the moving van which was supposed to move her belongings has rolled down the hill and crushed her car.

Happy Nanowrimo!

I stood staring at the scene, somewhat in shock. Gary came from behind and slipped his arm around my waist. I leaned my head on his shoulder.

"Maybe this is a sign, dearest. Maybe I'm not supposed to go. Mom's getting worse, Pru offered my a raise and I turned it down, no one wants me to go . . . . " The tears started rolling down my cheeks. The stress of packing up the last seven years of my life was starting to get to me. I had spent the last week visiting friends and saying goodbye to all my Piedmont Avenue haunts -- Zati's Restaurant, the Piedmont Avenue Yoga Studio, Piedmont Springs (for hot tubbing), Piedmont Spa (for massages), the bookstore, the theater. As much as I pretended that I was ready to move forward, I wasn't. Gary knew that, despite my many moves, I didn't handle change well.

"I want you to go."

"What?" I lifted my head and stared at his cheek. He kept staring forward.

"I want you to go," he repeated, staring forward.

"Uh, why, may I ask?"

"Because I want you to see what we could have if you were open to the possibility."

Aw, sh*&. Here we go again.

"Pray tell, what could we have and how am I going to see that in Mississippi?"

Gary turned and placed his hands squarely on my shoulders. He looked me dead in the eye.

"Anj, you say you want marriage, family, a stable life. But everything you've ever done works against that. You work these jobs with insane hours, you run through men like water, dismissing them as "not this enough" or "not that enough," and you've lived in more places than anyone I know. The sad thing is that you're surrounded by people who do the same damn thing, willing to move across the country for a two thousand dollar promotion and thinking that approval from The Man is the end-all and be-all. Black Southerners don't live like that. I can bet you dollars to doughnuts that, to the extent that Mississippi is like Texas, you're going to meet more black folks who have been happily married since the age of eighteen than anyplace else in the United States. Why? Because we put God, family and marriage first. The other sh** you keep running behind -- law firm diversity, job satisfaction, leading black organizations -- that sh** comes in second for us, if at all.

"What Black Southerners know that you California black folks don't is that if you're not at peace with God and your home life ain't right, none of this other sh** matters. At the end of the day, you always have to come home and you always have to account to your Maker. You don't even come home to the same place year after year, much less the same man. You need to be surrounded by people who do."

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What's Your Mojo Song?

Everybody has what I would call a "mojo song." You know -- that song that, when it comes on the radio, you greet it with a heartfelt "Hey!" like you're reuniting with an old friend. You start bobbin' your head and doing a little booty shaking (not to be confused with booty poppin', which is best left to professionals -- strippers and Beyonce). Your mojo song is what gets your mojo (or your inner spirit, your chi, or whatever you'd like to call it) going. It's the song you sing at the top of your lungs, no matter how bad you sound. I have a lot of mojo songs, and today is as good a day as any to reflect on them. Today is International No Music Day (nomusicday.com), during which we are supposed to abandon music and contemplate our relation to it. Well, I can definitely contemplate my relationship to music, but asking me to abandon it for even a day is like asking me to hold my breath for a day. Can't do it, wouldn't want to.

For me, I have different categories of mojo songs. I even have guilty pleasure mojo songs, songs I'm a bit ashamed to admit get my mojo going. One thing most of my mojo songs have in common is a funky bass line. I have this thing for bass -- I like it loud and lots of it. Throw in some horns -- and I mean funky Tower of Power/Earth Wind and Fire/Average White Band/Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns kind of horns, and you really get my mojo going.

Some of my mojo songs are kinda cultish. For example, I think Tina Weymouth, the bassist for the Talking Heads, is one of the best bassists ever. If ever I were allowed to play in any band of any kind, I'd want to be the bass player. I even have a weakness for male bass players. But don't tell BMNB.

So, in the spirit of contemplating my relationship with music, here's my list of mojo songs, by category:

Women Empowerment Mojo Songs

These are the songs that just make me proud to be a woman, not necessarily because of the lyrics, but because of the powerful women singing the songs:

"I'm Every Woman," Chaka Khan. No, not Whitney Houston's version. I said Chaka Khan and I meant it.

"Respect," Aretha Franklin. For obvious reasons. And let me digress: If I had my way, there'd be a law that no one -- and I mean no one -- could remake or publicly perform an Aretha Franklin song, especially this one, without getting a license, and they'd have to sing before a panel of soul music experts in order to get that license . What many of our young black female singers don't get when it comes to Aretha's songs is this: Aretha did it right the first time. And you can't make it any better. So just back away from the microphone and leave it along. That means you, Mary J. Blige. I love you, girl, but you can't improve perfection.

"Since You've Been Gone, "Aretha Franklin. If the bass and the horns added to Aretha's powerhouse vocals don't get you, you're just deaf. Get a hearing aid.

"To Be Real," Cheryl Lynn. And not the short version, either. "Swoo hoo, Swoo hoo, Swoo hoo, I gotta have ya, baby . . . " Ever since the movie "Paris is Burning," I tend to associate this song with drag queens. That makes it all the more fun. You don't have to be a woman to be empowered to want to dress like them. Throw in "Star Love," and it's the 70's all over again for me. Where are my Famolare's?

"My Love Don't Cost A Thing," Jennifer Lopez. The only J-Lo song I really like.

"Independent Woman, Part whatever," Destiny's Child. The shoes on my feet, I bought them. Don't you forget it, either, BMNB.

"Finally," CeCe Peniston. One of the best voices out there. She doesn't seem to get her due.

"Golden, " Jill Scott. BMNB says Jill Scott can do no wrong. I think he's right. I'm living my life like it's golden . . .

"I Am Not My Hair" and "There's Hope," India.Arie. India truly is Stevie Wonder's musical daughter. "I Am Not My Hair" is my cellphone ringtone. I think India's going to be around long after the Keyshia's and Rihanna's and all them are gone.


Songs So Funky That Your Computer Screen Will Stink After Reading This

Again, the bass line rules on these songs:

"One Nation Under a Groove, " "Freak of the Week," and "Flashlight," Parliament/Funkadelics

"Fire," Ohio Players

"The Big Payback," James Brown. I don't know karate, but I know ka-razor! This song brings back happy childhood memories of riding in the back of my cousin's red Buick Electra 225 (lovingly referred to as a "Deuce and a Quarter"), where I first heard this song on his eight-track player on the way to get ice cream with the 20 or so other cousins piled in the back seat. Yeah, it was that big, that Deuce and a Quarter. The folks at GM need to forget about the Lucerne; they need to bring back the Deuce and a Quarter. But I digress. This bass line, along with the wah-wah guitar strokes, is one of the most sampled pieces of music in hip-hop.

"Candy," by Cameo, although this song reminds me of strippers because of the movie "The Best Man." Still like it though, even if it makes me want to put a stipper pole in my bedroom. Again, don't telll BMNB.

"Funkin' for Jamaica" and "Thighs High," Tom Browne. Quite frankly, I don't know whether Tom Browne ever did anything else noteworthy, but it doesn't matter. If your wedding reception is starting to die down and go stale, run -- not walk -- to your DJ and have him put on "Funkin' for Jamaica." Only the arthritic will remain in their seats. Trust me.

"Bon Bon Vie," T.S. Monk. So what he's the son of THE Monk. Can't he funk, too?

"Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swingin'," Kool and the Gang. I like how the trumpets in "Jungle Boogie" sound like elephants.

"Fantastic Voyage," Lakeside. Now this groove's so funky, hey, what do you think? What is it called, let's call it Lakeside stank!


My Rock Side

Good bassists come in all colors, to wit, Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads.

"Once in a Lifetime," Talking Heads. Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down . . . . If Tina's bass on this one doesn't get you, well, you just need to have a lifetime of No Music days.

"Start Me Up," The Rolling Stones. Long before Microsoft ruined it for everyone. Plus, the Stones, unlike many American artists, are unabashed in their admission of admiration for, and thievery from, black soul artists. Rock on.


No Category -- I Just Like Them

"Freeway of Love," Aretha Franklin. Don't ask. My mom used to like it, and it makes me happy thinking of her doing her mojo dance to it.

"Shout" and "Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)," The Isley Brothers. Before the whole Mr. Big persona. When they were fresh out of church and acted like it, too.

"Genius of Love," Tom Tom Club. What you gonna do when you get out of jail? I'm gonna have some fun. . . ." I guess Scooter Libby will never have to answer that question. Again, Tina Weymouth at her best, plus she does the vocals this time. Anyone who can fit Bohannon and James Brown into the same song is a genius.

"Square Biz," Teena Marie. A funky bass beat and vocals that introduced legions of young folks to Sassy Sarah Vaughn's vocal style via synthesizer. Add to that "Behind The Groove" and "I Need Your Lovin'." One of my friends, Sheila, said the best concert she'd ever seen was Teena Marie and Rick James at the Orange Bowl. Lightening in a bottle, y'all. Won't ever happen again.

"Crazy in Love," Beyonce. What I didn't get when I first heard this song was that there was little to it that was original. The horns I fell in love with? Sampled from a Chi-Lites song. See, this is what happens when you haven't lived long enough. My older sister had to tell me that those horns were sampled. Similarly, I've had to point out all the funk samples in hip-hop for my nephew, who is too young to know his favorite hip-hop artists sample heavily. However, the way this song was produced -- with the layers upon layers of Beyonce's own vocals that blend seemlessly into the sampled horns, along with the fact that the verse parts have very little instumentals with them -- is just magic, pure magic. This is why Jay-Z makes the big bucks.

"Working Day and Night" "Starting Something," and "Remember the Time," Michael Jackson. I like Michael best when he sings dance songs. I especially like "Remember the Time" because of the video. You will never see Iman, Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson and Michael Jackson together in a video ever again. And I know Michael gets mad props for the choreography in "Thriller," but for me, the Egyptian dancers in this video worked it out! Plus, when Michael wails, "What about us? What about us?," you feel it like you did back in the seventies when he hit that high note in "Who's Lovin' You." I miss the old Michael. America's loss, the U.A.E.'s gain.

"Control," Janet Jackson. I used to run Lake Merritt in Oakland listening to this song. That was forty pounds ago . . . .

"One Love" and "Three Little Birds," Bob Marley. I'm from the Central Valley, which means I'm real late to the whole reggae thing.

"This Is How We Do It, " Montel Jordan. Hey, I'm from California. Which leads to my next choice:

Guilty Pleasures -- I Know I Shouldn't Love These Songs, But Tell That To My Butt

"California Love," Dr. Dre and Tupac. Singing about hoochies alone should have been enough to turn me off. But who can resist Roger?

"I Get Around," Tupac. The Underground just don't stop for . . . you know the rest. And you should be ashamed, too.

"Miss You," The Rolling Stones. To Puerto Rican girls everywhere, I apologize. Lo siento mucho.

Just Plain Nasty

"Nasty Girl," Vanity Six. What real woman needs seven inches or more, or has the cojones to sing about it?

"Give It To Me Baby," Rick James. Now, as the old folks say, he needed to have his mouth washed out for singing about "that sweet, funky stuff." That's just nasty, which leads me to my last song:

"Head," Prince. This song's so nasty, Prince won't even sing it in concert anymore. Definitely not for the under-35 crowd. But perhaps I'm being naive in the post-Monica Lewinsky era. If you get past the lyrics, the fact that he plays all the instruments and that the synthesizer, not any real bass, carries the bass line, is worthy of reluctant admiration.

Happy No Music Day, everyone. Now, where's my IPod? (Just kidding)

And Happy Thanksgiving. This Black Woman is taking the rest of the week off. :-)

PS And how could I forget? "It Takes Two," Rob Base and D.J. E-Z Rock. When this song comes on, I get like Randy from the sitcom, "My Name is Earl": Oh no they didn't!!!!

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Avoiding the Holiday Woman Olympics

It's coming on Christmas

They're cutting down trees

They're putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

"River," Joni Mitchell


Too bad they don't have a song like this for Thanksgiving or the entire holiday season.

Thanksgiving. The beginning of the Woman Olympics.

Don't act like you don't know. In the run-up to Thanksgiving and through New Year's Day, women all across America will be going into hyperdrive to put perfect meals on perfectly set tables for their imperfect, dysfunctional families, as if they will have a place on an Olympic medal stand somewhere if they succeed, whatever success means.

Somehow, somewhere, the ability to put six or more dishes and a perfectly browned turkey (and, in some places, a ham, too) on the table at the same time and temperature on Thanksgiving became a measure of one's womanliness. All hail the holiday cooks, for they shall inherit . . . a bunch of critics. Because you know and I know that no matter how well a woman cooks something, she will be criticized by others, usually other women, who think they can do a better job and who measure their own womanliness by their cooking and other indicia of domesticity. Like your aunt never criticized your mom's sweet potato pie, or your mom never criticized your grandmother's Sock-It-To-Me cake. And, to make it worse, we women do it to ourselves: My gravy isn't as good as so-and-so's; my pie crust isn't as flaky as my mom's; my dinner rolls aren't as light as Aunt Suzie's.

Here's my response, so pay attention:

So what.

Yeah, I said it.

Considering how tight budgets are (and how many of us are on the verge of not even having a home in which to eat Thanksgiving dinner), anyone who gets an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner needs to be extremely grateful, no matter the ability of the cook. Considering that it can costs hundreds of dollars to buy the ingredients for a large (12+) family Thanksgiving (especially if you include liquor), if all someone has to do is bring a bottle of wine in exchange for what is essentially a multi-course free meal, they need to shut up. No criticisms, no suggestions on how the cook, who, more likely than not is a woman, could have "made it better." They need to sit there, eat that dry turkey, and wash it down with that cheap bottle of wine they brought that could never pay for their share of the meal. But, above all, they need to just shut up.

If you're the cook, you should brook no criticism. If someone makes a snarky comment about your dinner, fire up your computer, go to Google maps, and print out a map to the nearest homeless shelter and give it to your ungrateful guest.

And, for you women who, by virtue of hosting Thanksgiving Dinner this year, are effectively competing in this year's Woman Olympics, here's food for thought:

Next year, opt out.

Yeah, I said it.

I'd be willing to bet that, if you're this year's cook, you were probably last year's cook and the year-before-last's cook. Somehow, the person who is willing and able to put on a Thanksgiving dinner will more than likely be expected to put on the next Thanksgiving dinner. And so it goes, and you get stuck, year in, year out.

Opt out. Yes, I know you have children. Yes, I know your parents expect you to do it because your sisters can't cook worth a damn (and more power to them, since they don't define themselves by their cooking) and your brothers would probably never even envision cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

Opt out. Give notice a year in advance. Make alternative plans to take your kids to someone else's house next year and YOU bring the bottle of wine instead. Let your siblings host the dinner for your parents, or take your parents out for dinner. Or, if your kids are grown, let THEM host Thanksgiving Dinner. If they can read, they can cook. Let them have a chance to see how hard it is to do Thanksgiving. They'll be a whole lot more thankful in the future.

Above all, we women need to stop defining ourselves by how well we do Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and all the attendant domestic fanfare, especially when men are measuring their masculinity by how well they belch and fart during bowl games.

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Divide Over Values Splitting Black Identity -- Ethnicity, Anyone?

From the Washington Post:


Conventional wisdom about black America is being turned on its head. Nearly two out of five black people (37 percent) surveyed in a new Pew poll, done in association with NPR, said that blacks "can no longer be thought of as a single race."

Only half of all black people in the country (53 percent) say it is possible to think of blacks as one race. And young black Americans -- ages 18 to 29 -- are more likely than older blacks to say that blacks are no longer a single race.

The growing perception of two races is really a divide over values.

More than half of all Americans -- people of all colors -- believe that the values of poor and middle class blacks are becoming more different. When the question is limited to black people, the answer is even more definitive: 61 percent say values are now more different between middle-class and poor blacks. The perception of a class divide in black America has increased nearly 20 points since a similar question was asked of black people in 1986.


This poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center in consultation with NPR political analyst Juan Williams, as reported in the mainstream media, doesn't address one significant variable: ethnicity.

Black america does not share one ethnicity. And with differences in ethnicity come differences in values.

The idea that all American blacks are descendants of slaves imported to the American south no longer holds. In large cities and in the east, American blacks are very likely to have roots in Jamaica, Haiti, the Bahamas, Cape Verde, Panama, Guyana, Nigeria, Ghana, Puerto Rico, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, you name it. Since I am not a demographer, I can only speak anecdotally. Perhaps what the poll captured as middle-class values are in fact recent immigrant values?

In order to maintain the privacy and anonymity of my friends, for purposes of this blog, I will refer to all my male friends as "Trevor" and all my female friends as "Sheila." (Thank you, Jill Connor Browne, for this literary device).

I have a friend, Trevor, whose parents are from Jamaica. He doesn't consider himself Jamaican because he wasn't born there, but he does consider himself West Indian. My friend Sheila considers herself Bahamian because her father was born there and her mother's family is from there.

When Trevor and I were young, just-out-of-law-school attorneys in the Bay Area, one thing I noticed was that Trevor took great pride in being West Indian, and he would always point out to me which African Americans, dead or alive, had Jamaican roots. Colin Powell -- Jamaican. Patrick Ewing -- Jamaican. Biggie -- Jamaican. Marcus Garvey -- Jamaican. I think he once tried to claim Michael Jordan as Jamaican, but I had to put my foot down. And when he would introduce me to one of his friends, if the friend was Jamaican, he would say, "He's good people. He's a Yardie."

A Yardie?

Basically, a Jamaican homeboy.

Trevor was sent to the U.S. to be educated, and he succeeded wildly. But to this day I can't say he considers himself African American as we think of the term. He often said that one of the worst things you could say about a Jamaican was to call him or her "lazy." Hard work and self-sufficiency were their ethic, and Trevor despises laziness.

A value difference based on ethnicity instead of class? Perhaps.

Then there's Sheila. Her father was born in the Bahamas, and he worked four jobs -- yes, four -- to put his three children through private k-12 schools and private universities. Despite his successes, Sheila said that, in the Bahamas, her father would not have been considered successful because he didn't own his own business. Entrepreneurship was the hallmark of success among Bahamians, not how many jobs you worked to educate your children.

A value difference based on ethnicity instead of class? Perhaps.

It took me a while after I arrived at college to realize that not all of my black friends were rooted in the South as I am (on one side of my family; my mother's people go back four generations in California, but that's an entry for another day). Many were only one to two generations removed from -- you guessed it -- Jamaica or the Bahamas. But you wouldn't have know it from looking at them. They wore the same jeans (Jordache -- it was 1981, y'all), the same hair styles, etc. Unless you got to know them, you wouldn't have known. And I would have never met black people like them but for leaving the California Central Valley for college. I can attest to never having attended elementary, junior or high school with blacks whose family had recent roots in the West Indies, Cape Verde, Africa, or South America. But my experience isn't the experience of most blacks my age who grew up in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, D.C. or Philly. IMHO, at my college, blacks with recent roots in other countries were probably overrepresented relative to their numbers among all blacks and, if I may be so bold as to hypothesize, they may be overrepresented now in the black American middle class. Again, I'm not a demographer, but that's my hunch.

It would have been nice if the Pew/NPR folks had addressed whether ethnicity played any role in the values difference. And I would have expected a little more analysis of ethnicity from a black man whose first name is Juan.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend, or Why OJ Won't Have Black Support

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Ah, that wonderful saying that describes the geopolitical terrain of the Middle East as well as, IMHO, support from the black community for O.J. Simpson. Looks like O.J. is back at it again, going to trial again, without benefit of a Johnnie Cochran, or a Willie Gary, John Burris (at least Barry Bonds had the good sense to hire Burris), or Johnny Griffin for that matter. And this time, I doubt that black folks will utter a peep about "squeezing The Juice" because, unlike last time, there is no common enemy (read: LAPD).

Mind you, I grew up with a terrible crush on O.J. Simpson. I adored his swagger, his undeniable excellence, you name it. I even adored his first wife Marguerite because I thought, in my warped teenage logic, that if a black woman like Marguerite Simpson could get a man like O.J., she had to be worthy of emulation.

Then I grew up. And, after law school, the "Trial of the Century" happened.

If anyone of the prosecution's team members had spent any significant time in a black barber shop or beauty shop, they would have known what they were up against. IMHO, for most black folks, the issue wasn't O.J. -- by that time, he had rendered himself irrelevant to most of us -- it was about the LAPD and its long, tired history of abuse in the black community. Even more, for black Angelinos and black lawyers, it was about having our knight in shining armor, Johnnie Cochran, sticking it to the LAPD, especially after Mark Fuhrman substantiated what many black Angelinos had experienced or suspected but could not prove: That the LAPD was downright racist. I knew more than a few black men who admitted to me (but would not admit to anyone white) that they thought O.J. was guilty as sin, but that this trial wasn't about O.J. anyway -- it was about The System. That if The System could get away with railroading O.J., who had money and the best lawyers it could buy at his disposal, then your average brother on an L.A. street was more doomed than we knew.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Many black attorneys cheered Cochran, not O.J. (heck, for criminal defense attorneys, guilt or innocence is not the issue; if it were, there'd be far fewer of them. It's about keeping the system straight), because his reputation had preceded him. Long before he represented Michael Jackson or O.J. Simpson, Cochran was known for his successes in going up against the LAPD at trial, his intense preparation, the respect he showed for everyone in the courtroom regardless of status, and the many cases he took pro bono on behalf of black folks. That part of his life seemed to get lost in the klieg lights that were part and parcel of the "Trial of the Century." In fact, the work of which he was most proud involved neither Michael Jackson nor O.J. Simpson: It was his representation of Geronimo Pratt. But Cochran had long established his bona fides with the black community and his willingness to stand up to injustice long before troubled black celebrities came calling.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

So, in 1995, when I was standing in the lobby of a San Francisco Fortune 500 company while the reading of the verdict played on a security guard's black and white TV, I saw what many black folks saw: That justice had been served -- not in the acquittal of O.J., because O.J. was only a symbol -- but in the implicit conviction of the LAPD at the hands of one of the most skilled trial attorneys, black, white or whatever, in the nation, who had been fighting many good fights for blacks all along. Even when one of the black female jurors stated that "this case wasn't about domestic violence," in referring to O.J.'s history of domestic violence, I disagreed (since prior bad acts are admissible to prove guilt) but thought, hey, if the prosecution didn't connect the dots for the jury, that's not the defense's problem. For many black Angelinos, I would imagine that verdict was the equivalent of dedicating Johnnie Guitar Watson's "It's A Real Mutha For Ya" over the radio to the LAPD. Or rather, NWA's "F*&^ the Police."

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

This time around, there is no common enemy such as the LAPD, no knight in shining armor such as Johnnie Cochran, and no more love for O.J. by most black folks than there was at his first trial. At this point, he symbolizes little more than what the old folks call "foolishness." He'll have to go it alone. I don't see him getting out of this one.

But, man, do I miss Johnnie Cochran.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pessimism, Depression, and Motherlessness

Today's themes are Black Pessimism, Black Women's Depression, and Motherlessness. Grab your Paxil, light a cigarette, and kick back a triple-shot, extra hot, venti caramel macchiato. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

From USA Today (Nov. 14)

Poll: Blacks Grow More Pessimistic

Black Americans are more dissatisfied with their progress than at any time in the past 20 years, and less than half say life will get better for them in the future.

A poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that one in five blacks say things are better for them now than five years ago. In 1984, almost two in five blacks said things were better than they were five years earlier.

Less than half of blacks surveyed say they think life will get better, compared with 57% in 1986.

"There's a great deal of anxiety, cynicism, and pessimism today," says Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. He says growing rates of crime, unemployment and mortgage foreclosures are shrinking wealth in black communities, which contributes to dissatisfaction.

He adds, "Incidents like the 'Jena Six,' and all of the noose incidents and how they've been handled, plays into the fact that African-Americans feel that they may be victims and no one will stand up to defend them."

Ya think?

I don't know about everyone else, but it appears to me that the subprime mortgage debacle is going to result in the one of the largest fleecings of burgeoning black wealth ever. I don't know which is more cruel -- denying us access to wealth and capital acquisition, or providing us access only to take it away with adjustible rate mortgages and foreclosure proceedings. Mind you, I do not support a government bailout for those people who bought homes as speculative investments or for those who were not defrauded. But for those working class families who were trying to do what we've been trained to do -- acquire a home in a good neighborhood to give your kids a shot at a good education and stay in that home until you retire -- if they were defrauded by unscrupulous mortgage brokers, lenders, appraisers, etc., I think there should be legislation that would freeze their interest rates and stop foreclosure proceedings until everything is sorted out. Not being secure in your own home is cause enough for pessimism. If you're not feeling financially secure, as I'm sure most of us aren't these days with gas hitting $3.50 a gallon in some areas (like mine), then of course you're going to feel a little pessimistic. Whatever hits the nation financially usually hits black america even harder, IMHO.

From Pessimism to Depression: Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting by Terrie M. Williams

I am looking forward to the January 8, 2008 publication of public relations powerhouse Terrie William's book, "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting." I don't know of too many prominent African American women who have owned up to or addressed the issue of depression among African American women, but it's more common than what we talk about (along with suicide, HIV, and other black taboos). Other than the late Bebe Moore Campbell's "72 Hour Hold," IMHO, we don't tend to address issues of mental health in the black community. But you know and I know that these issues are real, and our stresses as black women are compounded by issues of race, gender, and socioeconomic inequality. Heck, I almost had to throw down at a car dealership when some "closer" tried to strong-arm me into a bad loan and yelled at me and my husband, "Do you want to buy a car or what?" I doubt this kind of treatment was equally distributed across racial lines, and it only added to what is already a stressful transaction for reasons I think were related to race and gender. And if I'm catching hell just trying to buy a car, I can imagine what other sisters are going through just trying to put food on the table and keep their kids on the straight and narrow. I would encourage everyone to support the book and Ms. William's book tour, because she's putting her personal business out there on front street so that we may all come to grips with our own issues and enjoy good mental as well as physical health. I would also encourage anyone who even thinks they may be experiencing depression to seek help and be screened. God bless you, Terrie Williams.

And finally, motherlessness.

I can't say I'm a fan of Kanye West. I don't listen to too much hip-hop these days because of the misogyny, etc. But, as someone who lost her own mom nine years ago and isn't over it yet (my dad tells me you never get over losing your mother), my prayers and heart go out to Kanye West. I can imagine he's feeling a great deal of guilt over the loss of his mom to something as unnecessary as complications from plastic surgery, which probably wouldn't have happened but for their fame and wealth. (And no, I'm not feeling the whole Dr. Jan/Oprah conspiracy folks seem to want to dig up. Yes, Dr. Jan has a malpractice judgment against him, but I wonder whether that isn't the norm for most surgeons. And please back up off Oprah. She's rich, but to have most folks tell it, you would think she's more powerful than the Creator).

When you lose your mom, you lose a large part of yourself. You lose someone who can explain the others in your family (like your dad, your grandparents, etc.). You lose a confidant, a cheerleader, a friend (well, sort of; my mom used to always tell us, "I ain't your friend; I'm your momma. You're going to have a lot of friends during your life, but you ain't gonna get but one momma.), and someone who unconditionally wants the best for you and has your back. To lose that at the age of 30, especially when he has so much of his future ahead of him, can't be anything else but hard. The only consolation is that at least he made his momma proud while she was alive to see it. God bless you, Dr. West and Kanye.

Peace, y'all.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

One Black Woman's Voice

Welcome to my blog!

What a cheesy opening. Oh well. I'm new at this blogging thing, so here are the ground rules (Yes, I have control issues):

1. I do not speak for all black people. Here's a newsflash: No one does. So, the next time some talking head reporter interviews Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jessie Jackson, or someone else for the "black point of view," listen with a critical mind. We're not monolithic. But if I were going to nominate someone to speak for all black people, it would be a black woman, not a man. Probably Johnetta Cole or Julianne Malveaux, although I would give Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson honorary Black Female status.

2. The views expressed on this blog do not reflect the views of my family, friends, employer(s) or dog. My husband doesn't even read blogs and uses the Internet only for retrieving e-mail and paying bills online. He shall be referred to as Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB).

3. If you can't engage in civil, reasoned discourse, move on. I'm tired of the Ann Coulter-esque types of dialogues going on in our society. It is possible to disagree and do so respectfully. I'm still trying to figure out where Ann Coulter even came from.

4. Check your stereotypes at the door. I'm not angry at the world, I don't have a baby daddy, I'm very well educated, I'm married, I came from a two-parent working class family, and although I'm not wealthy (wealthy people are those who don't have to work for a living), I'm not poor, either, and I vote and listen to NPR more than hip-hop stations (although I'm really digging reggaeton these days, especially on XM). What you see on BET videos does not represent all of black america.

So why am I blogging? Because, like everyone else, I see stuff on the news and in the media in general, and my response ranges from, "Oh no they didn't" (Jena 6), to "Ain't that some . . . " (nooses used to intimidate and insult African American workers). What I don't see as much is a diversity in the voices commenting on these happenings. For instance, would it kill George Stephanopoulos to add a sister to his Sunday morning punditfest on a regular basis instead of occasional appearances by Donna Brazile? I know . . . we need to get out own Sunday morning talkfest. That will be a constant issue on this blog -- black self-empowerment.

Well, consider this my own personal punditfest. If you're read this far, I'm feeding a need in you, too, for more diversity of views in our national discourse. I'm hoping that everyone of all races will feel welcome here and learn something from each other, but I also want to make this a special place for black women in particular to commune and comment on events in the media and life in general and to find understanding.

Please be patient with me and the blog. I'm really nervous about this blogging stuff. Most of the technology involved in doing this is beyond my understanding, but I'm hoping that I'll become more proficient with time.

Again, welcome. And if you're a black woman, welcome to our world.

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