Monday, March 30, 2009

Act Like A Woman, Think Like A Woman

Steve Harvey tells us to “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.”

In her upcoming novel, Zane tells us, “Women are the new men.”

What gives?

I think the truth of women’s lives is somewhere in the middle.

I’m reading Steve Harvey’s wildly popular New York Times bestseller, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” I’m reading it because I saw it featured on Oprah and I’m wondering what all the buzz is about. I haven’t finished reading it, so it probably isn’t fair to write about it, but I think I get the gist of this self-help book because it’s been written many times before.

So, here’s what I gather to be the gist (spoiler alert): Single women, you’re not married because you don’t understand men. If you read this book, you will understand men, and then you’ll be better prepared to get a man to marry you.

The problem is, what if you don’t want a man to marry you? No, I’m not talking about my lesbian sisters; I’m talking about women who have made the decision that they’re not looking for marriage, and maybe not even a committed relationship.

I know, because I was once one of them.

I’m not saying that now that I’m married, I would have been unhappy had I remained single. Nor am I saying that now that I’m married I know the secret to men and having relationships with them. I don’t. Far from it. There are times when I look at Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB)and wonder what planet he comes from and whether I can put him on the next mothership out. There are times when I’m having a conversation with him and I realize which of his heads is really doing the thinking, and, to save time and energy, I’ll just speak directly to his crotch. I don’t pretend to understand men.

But I do understand myself. And I know that, before I married BMNB, I reached a point where I decided that marriage was no longer a goal of mine. Happiness was. And marriage didn’t necessary entail happiness.

The last guy I dated with anything approaching seriousness before I married BMNB was just about all that any woman could have ordered up from heaven – handsome, intelligent, generous, educated, well-employed, chivalrous, God-loving. I wasn’t looking for a relationship at the time. He, however, ratcheted things up, and I followed along blissfully. And when I finally started asking questions about where the relationship was headed, he told me that I was going too fast, that he felt that he couldn’t catch up to where I was.

And all I could think was, “But. . . . how could we be going too fast if you’ve been doing all the driving? You stepped to me. I wasn’t even looking for a relationship. I was fine by myself.”

It was at that point that I declared myself through with men. In other words, I no longer had marriage as a goal. Happiness was my goal. I made a list of the things that would make me happy that I could have some control over – a stable and intellectually engaging career, a house of my own, a child, learning to surf. And I set out to get these things with the idea that if a man came along who fit into my own plans for happiness, well fine. If not, well, I could be just as happy with or without – ignoring men, or just having sex with them had I been so inclined. Why buy the bull if you can . . . . well, you know what I mean.

And for a short period after that, it seemed like once I decided that I was done with men, I was getting hit on left and right. And I declined, left and right. It was heady, empowering even, to hear a guy trying to kick his best game and to tell him, “I really appreciate the compliment, but I’m just not dating now.” They’d usually follow up with, “No, you can’t mean that!” Or, “Aw, sistah, don’t give up on us!” Or, “Here’s my number; let me know when you start back up.”

I think the “problem,” as Steve Harvey might describe it, is that I’ve never believed that a woman needed marriage, a man, and/or children to be happy. I’ve never believed that marriage equaled happiness, and I definitely don’t believe that marriage equals commitment. Marriage is the ring, the dress, and the promise you make that day; commitment, on the other hand, is coming home each day to continue the journey you started with your partner even when you’ve got money in the bank, gas in your tank, and a map. Commitment is renewed on a daily basis. Marriage doesn’t equal commitment, and commitment doesn’t equal marriage. I can tell you there were many times when I was living with BMNB prior to our marriage when I thought, “I’ve got enough in the bank, and if I get started driving now, I can make it to Albuquerque by daybreak.” Yeah, I thought it, but I never acted on it. I made the decision to come home and continue the journey I had started with my fiancĂ©. That’s commitment, and you don’t need a ring and a ceremony to have it because I didn’t. I’ve always believed that the only reason to get married is to provide security for the children you intend to have. Mind you, BMNB couldn’t disagree with me more, which is why we’re married. He’s a Baptist and a Southerner, so he couldn’t tolerate shackin’ up for a long period of time. I, on the other hand, would have been perfectly fine shackin’ up but for the fact that I didn’t want to raise children in a relationship that wasn’t a marriage, more for their sake than mine.

So I understand women who value their independence and think in terms of whether marrying a particular man – not just a man, but a particular man – is going to improve their lives any more than if they didn’t marry at all. For most women, marriage means becoming the CEO of a household and giving far more than you get. And most of us do this willingly because we believe the rewards of helping a good man become great and nurturing kids far outweigh everything else.

Me, not so much.

For instance, I insisted that, before marrying BMNB, we live together because our relationship with each other had always been a long-distance relationship. I had never really dealt with him on a consistent day-to-day basis in all the years we were together. And, as my late mother had always admonished, “You wouldn’t buy shoes without trying them on first. Girl, you better try on them shoes.”

And in “trying on the shoes,” I found myself making most of the money, doing all the cooking, doing all the cleaning, and being expected to be the “hostess with the mostess” when his friends came by. In no short time I was exhausted and bitter. We started arguing about his slacking in the shared labor department, and, in tears and sitting on the toilet (I get a weak bladder when I’m emotional), I wailed, “If this is marriage, why would I choose this? I don’t need to work this hard to be happy. I was happy by myself, and I got to keep all of my money. Why on God’s earth would I choose this?”

He replied with a sly grin and a look downward. I had to set him straight.

“Let’s be clear. I have never lacked for sex. Never! I lived in Oakland, damn it! And I didn’t have to cook and clean to get it!

It was then that I started dictating the terms of my own happiness. Shared responsibility was one of them. Instead of doing as Steve Harvey instructs and trying to “figure out” BMNB and men in general, I instead helped him figure me out and what he had to do to keep me on track to marriage. At that point, I didn’t care about what his needs were and what made him tick because my needs weren’t being met and I didn’t need him to be happy. To his credit, BMNB listened. And changed. I always tell people that I married BMNB the person, and, if we were to part, I don’t see myself ever marrying again because I’m not willing to do all that society tells me I should do to get and keep a man.

Steve Harvey tells us women that men show their love by professing their relationship with us, providing for us, and protecting us, and we need to provide them the space to do that to be men in the relationship. I didn’t need any of that. I needed someone who would do his fair share of cooking and cleaning, earn his fair share -- not all the money, just his fair share, and hold up his end of an intelligent conversation. The things that Steve Harvey says men need to do for us in order to be men, I don’t and haven’t needed. I think he describes me and women like me in the chapter in his book I haven’t gotten to yet, “Independent. And Lonely.” But I was never lonely. Alone, but not lonely.

And I’m not alone. There are a lot of women out there – I know because I know some – who have constructed their lives in a manner such they don’t need men, but wouldn’t mind having one in their lives on their terms. But they're not hunting them down. And those terms? They don’t necessarily include acting like they want a man to profess, protect, and provide for them. Sometimes you just want someone to go to the theater with or discuss a book with. Sometimes you just want sex – maybe not in the vein of the protagonists in Zane’s upcoming book, “Headbangers,” (need I say more?) where she proclaims in the first sentence of the book, “Women are the new men,” but in the sense that you know who you are and what you want, even if that’s not what society tells you you should want. Regardless, you’ll still live a happy life because your happiness isn’t conditioned on having a committed relationship with a man.

So, I disagree with both Steve Harvey (at least at this point) and Zane. Women don’t need to think like men in order to be happy or be the new men. Women just need to know themselves and take control over those things which will make them happy in their lives. And a man isn’t necessarily one of them.

Friday, March 27, 2009

History Repeating Itself: John Hope Franklin, The Voting Rights Act, and Officer Robert Powell

This week I finished reading Helene Cooper’s memoir about her pre-Samuel K. Doe childhood in Liberia, “The House at Sugar Beach.” In it, Ms. Cooper describes and then mourns the loss of her privileged childhood as part of the “Congo People” – Liberians descended from freed African American slaves who settled there – at the hands of a coup d’etat engineered by Samuel K. Doe. She also traces her ancestors on both sides of her elite family to some of the original African American settlers. I felt both proud and jealous of Ms. Cooper, proud because she could trace her ancestors back that far; jealous because I couldn’t. I thought to myself, “They may have stolen your childhood, but at least they didn’t steal your history.” I personally cannot trace my family back more than three generations.

For the rest of us of African American descent whose history was stolen, it was given back to us in the form of a gift: John Hope Franklin’s 1947 seminal work, “From Slavery to Freedom.” This week we lost this great American historian upon whose shoulders all African Americans stand today. His work with Thurgood Marshall’s team to craft the arguments that would ultimately prevail in Brown v. Board of Education would only be the starting point for other barriers he would break down: The first African American to chair a department in a predominantly white university; the Presidential Medal of Freedom; his chairmanship of President Clinton’s Initiative on Race, among many. I can’t even begin to list all his accomplishments which lifted up all African Americans. I just know he can’t be replaced.

And then there are those who would attempt to "erase" our racism in subtle, law-encoated ways. Conservatives are now mounting a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which gives the federal government oversight of changes to state election laws in states that traditionally discriminated against minorities. An Austin, Texas utility district has challenged this “pre-clearance” section as unconstitutional and no longer needed, saying that the election of the nation’s first African American president is evidence that Section 5 pre-clearance is no longer needed. “The America that has elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president is far different than when Section 5 was first enacted in 1965,” wrote Gregory S. Coleman, a former Texas solicitor general who brought the suit on behalf of a tiny utilities district in Austin, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1, that is covered by the law. The pre-clearance requirements of Section 5 apply to nine states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – as well as counties and towns in other states.

Mind you, the America that elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president is still the same America that has Texas in it, last I checked. And just as Mr. Coleman and other conservatives mount their effort to erase the racism of the past that still runs into the present, Officer Robert Powell of the Dallas Police Department served up quite a healthy reminder that racism is alive and well in, of all places, Texas, where black men get dragged to their deaths – remember James Byrd?

Officer Powell came to the public’s attention yesterday as the officer who detained African American NFL player Ryan Moats for running a red light on the way to take his wife and father-in-law to his mother-in-law’s death bed at a hospital. While Moats pleaded the exigency of his circumstances – his mother-in-law was dying and he was running out of time to see her, Officer Powell, who is white, decided that he would exert his power and chastise Moats for his “bad attitude.” I think Officer Powell’s words should just speak for themselves:

Excerpts from Officer Robert Powell and Ryan Moats:

Moats: You really want to go through this right now? My mother-in-law is dying. Right now! ... I got seconds before she's dying, man!

Powell: If my mom was dying I'd probably be a little upset too, but when I saw flashing red and blues, I would stop.

Moats: Did I not stop at the red light?

Powell: You stopped, then you drove through the red light.

Moats: I stopped, I checked the traffic, I waved the traffic off, then I turned.

Powell: This is not an emergency vehicle. You do not have the right to control the traffic.

Moats: OK. All right ... just go ahead and check my insurance so I can go ahead and go. If you're gonna give me a ticket, give me a ticket. I really don't care, just ...

Powell: Your attitude says that you need one.

Moats: I don't have an attitude. All I'm asking you is just to hurry up. Cause you're standing here talking to me...

Powell: Shut your mouth and listen.

Moats: Shut my mouth? Is that how you talk to me, too?

Powell: Shut your mouth and listen. If you want to keep this going, I'll just put you in handcuffs, and I'll take you to jail for running a red light.

Moats: OK. All right.

Powell: I can do that.

Moats: OK.

Powell: State law says I can.

Moats: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

Powell: If you don't settle down that's what I'm gonna do.

Moats: Yes, sir.

Powell: All right, If you don't settle down, your truck's illegally parked – I'll tow that as well.

Moats: Yes, sir.

Powell: OK, I can screw you over. I'd rather not do that. Your attitude will dictate everything that happens, and right now, your attitude sucks.

Moats: Yes, sir.

Powell: OK, I turned my red and blues on as you were going over the bridge ...

Moats: You think I'm gonna stop when my wife's mother is dying?

Powell: You are required to stop. What you're doing does not matter. Red and blues, you have to stop. I can charge you with fleeing right now.

Moats: Yes, sir. ...

Powell: I can take you to jail. I can tow your truck. I can charge you with fleeing.

Moats: Yes, sir, you can. I understand.

Powell: I can make your night very difficult.

Moats: I hope you'll be a great person and not do that.

And the funny thing is, Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle not only apologized for Officer Powell’s behavior, but praised Moats for his, noting, "At no time did Mr. Moats identify himself as an NFL football player or expect any kind of special consideration. He handled himself very, very well." In other words, by not availing himself of his status, which I’m sure any white Southerner would have done in a heartbeat in the same situation, e.g., “Do you know who I am?”, Moats was to be commended for remaining subservient, although he had little choice since it is reported that Powell had at one point drawn his gun.

And they don’t need Section 5 pre-clearance down in Texas anymore. Yeah, right.

I know better because I know my history. Because of John Hope Franklin.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Professor in Chief

The pundits are weighing in on President Obama’s second press conference. Gee, isn’t that one more press conference than President Bush had during his second term? Anyhoo, the responses have ranged from a “not a good night at all” rating from William Bennett (as if I expected anything else) to the folks on MSNBC calling his performance that of the “Professor in Chief.”

Bingo!

As I watched the press conference with BMNB (my husband, Black Man Not Blogging), I told him, “You know, he’s had the best preparation for this press conference that there could ever be – being a law professor.” As a former law professor, I couldn’t help but smile.

As a law professor, you have to be knowledgeable about your subject matter, yet humble and confident enough to say when you don’t know something and get back to your students with an answer. You know that not all questions posed by your students will be for the purpose of seeking knowledge. If you’re a rookie professor or, depending on what part of the country you’re in, a professor of color, you know that many questions will be asked by students to test you, to demean you, to marginalize you. The key is to give every question equal respect and tone lest you be perceived as arrogant, cold (the adjective most often applied to women law professors, as if we’re supposed to be warm and fuzzy by virtue of possessing ovaries), or angry. You can, if you're as skillful as President Obama, phrase your answer in a tone that is respectful but with words that smack down your offending questioners, e.g, "I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak." And like the press corps, law students will ask follow-up questions if they think you’ve dodged their question. President Obama handled the press corps like a class of first-year law students, and, unlike the wide latitude they gave President Bush’s rambling filibusters, I don’t think the press corps knew quite what to make of or do with President Obama.

Like a law professor, a president in a press conference is, ultimately, in control. You choose whom to call on, and the power to ignore someone – and in the case of a class of law students, to publicly ignore someone with a hand raised for a substantial amount of time – is a source of control. Law professors have even more power in that they can defer questions you think aren’t germane to the day’s lecture to the time when that subject will be discussed, or explain, ever so tactfully, why the question isn’t relevant. But like a president in a press conference, you can never, ever lose your cool, because then the lecture or press conference becomes less about the information you’re trying to impart and more about you and your performance. If the message gets lost in the medium, you’ve lost the game and given your potential critics a legitimate criticism – you’re unclear, unfocused, or emotional. Kinda like President Bush.

I think President Obama played it like a pro – a professor, that is.

But I did detect a slight saunter, a bit of a “pimp roll,” shall we say, when he departed the East Room.

He’s cool like that.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Oakland, My Oakland

It saddens me so to hear of the recent tragic events in Oakland. Three officers dead, one on life support, and a young man who should have had more years ahead of him gone because of a terrible, terrible decision. It reminds me of the movie “Crash” : A horrific confluence of events, but this time, without a good ending. It hurts my heart.

Oakland, my Oakland.

I’m fond of Oakland. I spent almost eight years of my life there, right after graduating law school. I had planned from childhood to live there because that’s were all the successful black folks lived, or so I thought at the time during my Sacramento childhood. I grew up and longed for a house in the Oakland hills with vistas of the San Francisco Bay, or even a cute cottage near Mills College, an enclave of a campus with an Ivy League-type timeless beauty all its own. Whether you wanted a sprawling ranch-style house with views, a cutesy cottage, a vintage Victorian, or an arts and crafts-inspired Rockridge bungalow, you could find what you wanted in Oakland, housing or otherwise.

Oakland, my Oakland.

Oakland, like my hometown of Sacramento, always seemed to live in the shadow of San Francisco. Unlike Sacramento, which lives on the verge of a renaissance but never seems to get there, Oakland was a contender. When I lived there in the 90’s, it was ona move, so to speak. It was vibrant, reinventing itself, even with the burdens of most urban places – crime, unemployment, underperforming schools.

It seems that, as evidenced by the killing of Oscar Grant by BART police and this most recent tragedy, progress in Oakland has not only crashed to a halt, but the city is regressing, or so it seems. Maybe it’s not fair for me to criticize or opine since I haven’t lived there in eleven years, but I guess I’m just trying to find an explanation for my disappointment, for my profound sense of loss and hopelessness for a city that occupies a special place in my heart.

Oakland, my Oakland.

It hurts me to think that the young man who fired the first shot did so to avoid going back to prison, that he had been depressed because, with a criminal record, he could not find a job. I wonder what support had been available to him prior to his release from prison to prepare him for the outside. Or is it just that he was in the job market at a really bad time, since folks without criminal records are having a hard time finding jobs, too? I don’t know if we’ll ever know, but we need to before another four families are left without a father, a son, a brother.

Oakland, my Oakland.

Please keep the families – all the families - affected in this tragedy in your hearts and lifted in prayer.

And say a prayer for Oakland, my Oakland.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Power of a Lie: Rest in Peace, Cousin

Today I attended the funeral of one of my older cousins. He was very sweet and kind, the kind of person who was always happy to see you and always had a smile for you. Loving and non-judgmental, he was an easy-going guy who had had some hard times -- drugs, prison, you name it. And on this, the day of his funeral, we celebrated his release not just from these earthly bounds, but from a lie, a lie about him that burdened not only him but our entire family.

You see, I'm on the tail end in terms of birth order among us first cousins on my mom's side of the family. There is so much history between my older siblings and older cousins that I only know through stories passed down. And one of these stories was that, as a teenager, my cousin had burned down a school. This is no small matter. If you burn down a school in the suburbs, people rush to rebuild it; in the ghetto, not so much. And he had reputedly burned down a school in the ghetto. There was no rush to rebuild. Children and families were affected.

I don't even know if I was born when this school burned down, but whenever I mentioned to old-timers in the black community where I grew up who my "people" were -- and where I'm from, it's all about who your "people" are -- they would sometimes make the connection between me and this cousin and would get a look on their faces as if they'd just swallowed sour milk. Even an older friend of mine recently told me when she "made the connection", so to speak, "I'm not too fond of your cousin. You know he burned down that school." There wasn't much I could say - all I ever knew was what was quietly whispered about this cousin -- that he had supposedly burned down this school. I didn't know what the truth was, and I couldn't defend him.

It's sad that it took a funeral to set him free, spiritually and otherwise.

My cousin's youngest brother, God bless him, preached the eulogy today and, once and for all, put to death the the lie that my cousin had burned down the school. Yes, he was trying to rob the school, but he didn't light the match that lit the paper in the garbage can that caught fire to the drapes that burned down the school. He didn't burn down the school; he just happened to be there when other partners in crime did.

It all goes to show the power of a lie. That unless someone steps forward to clear your name, or you clear it yourself, a lie can follow you to your grave. Even worse -- it can jump right in the grave with you. But my cousin wasn't concerned with the lie. He was too busy just being kind and always having a smile and a kind word to offer to little cousins like me.

Rest in peace, Cousin. And if someone ever again blames your for that school fire in my presence, I WILL tell the truth and shame the Devil.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

AIG and Citigroup: Obama's Problem Children

Not every child is the same. When you are a mother cooking dinner and you run out of a certain ingredient, this is important to know. There are some children you can send to the grocery store, give them cash, and they’ll come back with what you wanted and your exact change.

Some children will come back with what you wanted and will make some excuse about the change being short, such as “I lost some quarters in the storm drain.”

Some children will not only come back without what you wanted but will also make some excuse about why they don’t have the money, either, such as “I was robbed on the way to the store.”

Mothers, being mothers, know which kids to send to the store and which ones should, well, just continue watching Star Trek until dinner is done.

President Obama needs to start thinking like a mom, because Citigroup and AIG are most like the third type of child – you can’t send them to the store to accomplish a mission and you damn sure can’t give them cash with which to do it. You’ll just get some excuse like, “We were contractually obligated to pay bonuses.”

They are Obama's problem children.

AIG’s latest bonus debacle is not a testament to their lack of judgment – if they had any judgment, they wouldn’t be in the mess they’re in – but to the lack of judgment displayed by the Obama administration. Why would the Obama administration give huge sums of money to failing corporations that have already shown their hubris and sense of entitlement without having any strings attached to the money? Did anyone in the Obama administration actually review AIG’s contractual obligations to give bonuses – or even ask about them – before handing them yet another wad of cash?

Or better yet, why not structure the payment of cash to the issuance of loans or other appropriate economic stimulus activities such that the government pays out the money on behalf of AIG directly to the intended recipient?

The larger issue is, why did we allow corporations such as Citigroup and AIG to become “too big to fail” in the first place? Isn’t that the point of antitrust law – to maintain competition in the marketplace such that no one corporation can dominate and, as a result, become “too big to fail”?

The American people will give President Obama and his administration a pass on this one, but if it happens again, their anger won’t be directed toward the Citigroups and the AIGs of the world, but towards him and his administration. Hope got President Obama into the White House, but strategy (or, if you’re President Bush, “strategery”) will keep him there.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Citigroup Must Die

Citigroup must die.

I’m not just saying this because they hold my mortgage (which I originated with Wells Fargo, only to have Wells Fargo sell it to Citigroup – bastards!).

I’m saying this because, despite receiving government assistance, despite being told on the down-low that they probably shouldn’t take delivery of new corporate jets after receiving TARP money (see my blog entry, “The Big Pimpin’ Awards, January 30, 2009), Citigroup or Citibank or Citifailure – pick a name – continues to operate as if they were a successful going concern for which its employees should be rewarded, to wit:

(Reuters) - Citigroup Inc (C.N) is paying about $13 million to compensate employees who had been expected to go on various trips that were later canceled, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The bank is paying 1,900 employees of its Primerica Financial Services unit $5,000 each, after canceling a February trip for top agents to a Bahamas resort, according to the person, who declined to be named because the information is not public.

Citigroup also awarded employees of its Smith Barney unit $3.5 million of debit cards in lieu of trips, the person said.

Banks that received taxpayer money have been slashing expenses for events and perks amid growing criticism from politicians about costs they deem wasteful.

Some banks have argued that eliminating certain expenses hurts morale and can put them at a competitive disadvantage.

"During this difficult environment, we have deeply cut employee recognition-based costs, in some instances by 80 percent," Citigroup said in a statement. "We need to reward, retain and develop the best employees of these profitable Citi businesses. In the instance of Primerica, we we're legally obligated to do so."

Hold up, Citiplayas. Slow your roll.

For starters, if you have received any government assistance of any kind to stay in business, you have failed. No one in the organization should be rewarded when the entire organization has failed, whether it’s Smith Barney, Primerica, whoever. When a company is on the ropes, it needs to act conservatively to preserve cash – especially when it’s come out of my taxpaying pocket, HELLOOOOO! In times of crisis, there are no trips, no payouts, nada. You hunker down and try to survive. Just ask any furloughed California state worker. The entire state government has failed, and we furloughed folks are taking in the shorts even though we don’t run a damn thing. It’s the way it goes. We’re supposed to be happy that we even have jobs, and I am.

Second, as you can imagine, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about hurting employee morale at these corporate behemoths. Don’t like it that you’re not getting a trip or a debit card payout? Well, walk then. Try your luck down the street with all the other failing banks. Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split ya. My employee morale is down about 9.3 percent – the amount of the pay cut I took just for the privilege of keeping my job. I sure as hell don’t want to subsidize the employee morale for companies that helped start this whole mortgage debacle in the first place.

What I need from my President is that he stop playing nice. He needs to make like a pimp and get these corporate hos in check. From where I stand, they’re up in my pocket, and they’re out of pocket. Nothing like making an example of the worst one to get the others in line.

That, my friends, is why Citigroup must die.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

99 Problems (But Rush Ain't One)

So, Rush Limbaugh has challenged President Obama to a debate about his economic policies. The RNC Chair has spent the week distancing the party from and then embracing (re-embracing?) Rush Limbaugh. And the President's surrogates have actually gone beyond just taking note and getting in the fray, perhaps in an attempt to whip up Democratic frenzy.

Am I missing something here?

For starters, if Rush Limbaugh were a Haitian from Liberty City instead of a white man from Palm Beach, he'd probably still be doing time behind that whole oxycontin/doctor shopping mess. A combination of white privilege and wealth privilege is responsible for the fact that he's still contributing nothing more than nitrogen to any intellectual discourse about the direction of this country.

That said, the President and/or his surrogates need not take the bait. To borrow from Jay-Z, they got "99 problems but Rush ain't one." Let's see: Four straight months of job losses; GM is about to bite the dust (wish they'd said that BEFORE taking the TARP money); AIG doesn't seem to know the meaning of the phrase "wretched excess"; the Dow dipped below 7,000 and isn't headed back up anytime soon; and there's a race between the banks foreclosing on homeowners and the mortgage bailout money assistance to those homeowners, with both vying for second place. We won't even get on which dog to choose for the First Daughters.

So, Mr. President, feel free to call up your Democratic surrogates, Congress, and anyone else who is wasting precious time on what Rush Limbaugh thinks and tell them:

I don't know what you take me as,
Or understand the intelligence this President has
I'm from rags to riches, GOP I ain't dumb
I got 99 problems but Rush ain't one

(with apologies to Jay-Z)

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Devastating Beauty

She’s a Miss Beautiful Supreme
A girl that others wish that they could be
If there’s seven wonders of the world
Then I know she’s gotta be number one

She’s a girl that can’t be beat
Born and raised on ghetto streets
She’s a devastating beauty
A pretty girl with ebony eyes . . . .

“Ebony Eyes” by Stevie Wonder


I was eating dinner when Anderson Cooper revealed the First Lady’s official portrait on CNN. When I saw it, I gasped. It was a breathtakingly stunning portrait. Mrs. Obama, wearing a sleeveless black Michael Kors sheath dress and a double strand of pearls, was the picture of grace, elegance, and beauty. She is a First Lady like no other. I thought to myself, “She’s reppin’ us sisters so well.” Before a smile of appreciation could spread across my face, the criticisms rolled in courtesy of Cooper’s sidekick, Erica Hill.

Ms. Hill deigned to inform us that critics of Mrs. Obama deemed her exposure of her arms too informal for an official portrait and for her husband’s first address to Congress. It was too “cocktail-y,” if I recall her words correctly.

Indeed. If I had Mrs. Obama’s arms, I’d be wearing sleeveless sheath dresses, halter tops, you name it. In fact, if I had Mrs. Obama’s body, I’d have done the official portrait butt naked with a string of pearls, copped a pose like those guys in the Captain Morgan Rum commercials with one leg perched on an ottoman, and asked the photographer, “How ya like me now?”. This is why I will never be the First Lady.

That said, I was disappointed by the criticism. It seemed so, so petty. “Was that the best they could do?” I thought to myself about Mrs. Obama’s critics as I returned to my dinner.

Let the hateration begin, as the young folks say.

No matter what, Mrs. Obama can never, ever be like any of her predecessors because of the fact that she is the first African American First Lady. She will always have her share of detractors – those who don’t want to see an African American woman in the White House unless she’s cleaning it; those who don’t want Mrs. Obama to stray too far from the well-worn and worn-out path of other First Ladies. But she and President Obama didn’t get to the White House by following the tried-and-true formulae of their predecessors. There was no rule book for what they accomplished; they had to write their own rules and make their own way. They had to be true to themselves. This is why they were never off-message, unlike the McCain-Palin camp.

And, race aside, she’s nothing like our other First Ladies. She doesn’t look like her husband’s mother, she doesn’t look like Marian the Librarian, she doesn’t look like she just came up from the peanut farm, and she’s height and weight proportional. She’s probably the first First Lady since Jacqueline Kennedy who could wear a bikini and not make the viewing public cringe.

There is indeed much to hate about Mrs. Obama if you’re not happy with yourself. She’s smart and good-looking. Her kids are smart and good-looking. Her husband is smart, good-looking, and the President of the United States. If you’re looking to hate, there’s a lot there. By why bother?

I thought about the portrait again yesterday while I was washing dishes, and the lyrics from a Stevie Wonder song came to me and stuck in my head:

She’s a devastating beauty, a pretty girl with ebony eyes.

It’s almost as if this song from Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” was written just for Mrs. Obama and the many young girls with ebony eyes coming up behind her.

So, my hope for Mrs. Obama is that, in the words of a great social philosopher, Sheree from “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” she “lets her haters be her motivators.” I hope that she continues to be who she is because she’s going to be criticized, fairly or unfairly, no matter what. She might as well be true to herself in the process.

I hope her kids remain smart and good-looking.

I hope her husband succeeds against all odds.

And, although it’s none of my business or yours, I hope she’s having the best mind-blowing, toe-curling sex the White House has ever seen. Better than Bill and Monica. Yeah, I said it: Better than Bill and Monica. Good enough to make the ghost of Lincoln blush and go on to Glory like he needs to.

Because the best revenge against your critics is living well, especially if you’re a devastating beauty, a pretty girl with ebony eyes . . . .