Category Archives: Race and Culture

I Don’t Feel Like Being Black Today

I know this post is probably going to come back to haunt me in some way, but hey, wouldn’t be the first time. Allow me to clarify that in saying I don’t feel like being black, it doesn’t mean I want to be white (or yellow or red), it’s just that right now I don’t feel like having an in-depth discussion about the complexity of who I am. I don’t feel like being critiqued. I don’t feel like being picked apart for my hair texture, my skin tone, the size of my nose, my dialect. I don’t feel like being under a myopic microscope. I don’t feel like over-thinking my behavior, and I damn sure don’t feel like explaining it either. I don’t feel like being damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I don’t feel like chronicling the type of household I grew up in or my socioeconomic status so someone can get a better glimpse of the simple life of a black women. I don’t feel like worrying about upholding stereotypes or breaking other ones down.  I don’t feel like being a statistic or trying not to become one. I don’t feel like exploring my reality or trying to downplay it. I just want to be.

When you write about black issues all day every day, it can be hard to turn off your race radar. Eventually, every time somebody looks at you sideways it’s becomes a “because your black” thing, when really they just need you to move your big ol’ purse out the way so they can grab that seat on the train.

It’s overwhelming to constantly discuss, observe, and witness so many problems plaguing the black community and not have the slightest clue how to fix any of it. Exploring race, culture, sexism, racism, discrimination, and just plain hate on a daily becomes akin to watching Roots, Rosewood, A Time to Kill, The Help, The Ghosts of Mississippi, and any other racially charged movie you could think of in one setting. It would be the saddest movie marathon ever, and by the end of it, you might find yourself in a beret pumping your black power fist ready to set some ish off, or crippled by the pessimistic view that some things are just never going to change.

Then you wonder if by writing about “the troubles of this world,” as Mahalia Jackson might say, are you making the problems bigger than they are, or constituting a necessary dialogue? Some days you write about things and think, it can’t be this deep. Other days you uncover the racial complexities of a topic and wonder how is it that nobody else cares to scratch beneath the surface? Most days you just want to put something out without the words, black, hair, misogyny, racism, discrimination, hater, bitter, or angry even coming into the discussion. You want a story about meeting a new guy to be just that, not turn into a trilogy on the estranged relationship between black men and women. You want getting your hair done not to turn into a natural versus relaxed debate. You want wearing make-up to not determine that you’ve subscribed to euro-centric standards of beauty. Alas, you want a utopian society where racial and gender differences still exist, they just don’t monopolize every aspect of your being, from what kind of food is socially acceptable to eat in the office, to who you bring home to meet the parents. You want to be black without the weight of Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, James Earl Ray, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Jim Crow, Trayvon Martin, and Barack Obama on your shoulders. But, that ain’t gone happen today.

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It’s All in a Name on the BBC

Earlier this week, I wrote an article on Madame Noire titled, “Black vs. African American: Do You Have a Preference?” The piece was basically about the resurgent movement by some in the community who think it’s time to do away with the label of African American and strictly be racially defined by the term black.

BBC noticed the article and today I was asked me to be apart of a segment on World Have Your Say discussing whether this label matters or not. I took the same stance that I voiced on Madame Noire and basically said both terms are applicable and there’s no need to try to disassociate from your African heritage by discontinuing use of this label for black/African Americans and I think I stated my point pretty well. You can listen in on the discussion here and tell me what you think. The segment starts around the 39-minute mark. Enjoy and share your thoughts!

World Have Your Say Feb 15, 2012

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Is Your Perception of the Opposite Sex Based on Reality or Internet Responses?

The more I’ve written the less faith I have in the divide between black men and women ever being repaired. The slightest mention of a black man doing X or a black woman doing Y in an article can cause a spiral of hate-filled, generalized, I-don’t-need-you comments that remove attention from the true topic being discussed and place it on what’s wrong with every member of the opposite sex. And every time I observe this situation and read the anger in these responses, all I can think is where are you getting your information, blogs or real life?

About a year or so ago I had to take a serious break from visiting black websites. Everything I read basically told me I had no chance in life, particularly when it came to relationships, and the information was honestly starting to weigh on me. Despite understanding the internet balls phenomenon, it was still clear to me that even though a person might not say in person what they were bold enough to type online, that didn’t mean they didn’t really think and feel what their message portrayed. So if a commenter used derogatory language to describe their hatred for a woman like me, in some ways I internalized it and the paranoia followed me into real-life interractions where I wondered if the people around me had the same thoughts as these internet instigators but just weren’t saying it.

It wasn’t until late last year that I had an epiphany of sorts. I had come back to my apartment after being harassed by one of my neighbors who told me he was going to keep bothering me until I gave him the time of day. That’s when I realized my real life experience just didn’t match with the hate men online said they had for women like me. Let internet trolls tell it, an educated woman who could stand to lose a few pounds and hasn’t had the best dating history in the world is trash they wouldn’t even bother to look at, but in reality, every time I left the house a man was trying to get my attention. It could have been something as simple as “hey sis” or a call for my number or someone telling me to smile. But I remember in all of my why-do-men-always-have-to-say-something-to-a-woman attitude, I thought, black men do still love black women and black men still love me.

This is why I have a hard time when the generalizations about black men and women turning their back on one another and not wanting to be with each other get under my skin. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve said before, I’m no “let’s go black man” cheerleader in the sense that they can do no wrong. I’ve been known to cue up Trina every now and then and I certainly have my issues with some of their choices, but when a nod to a black man’s success conjures up a “he’ll probably go get a white woman like the rest of them” response, or a suggestion that doing X,Y,Z, could help you attract a man is met with “I don’t need a black man to step all over me, I’m going to find a white man to put a ring on it,” something is wrong. Why so much anger? Everyone comes with a little baggage but the price for bringing that crap with you isn’t even worth the trip. At some point you have to accept the 1,2,3,4,5 men that did you wrong at some point aren’t totally representative of the whole race—particularly when evidence to the contrary is staring you in the face.  The same goes for men.

I think some of us just want to hold on to our anger or incite it in other people and unfortunately social networks and blog sites have provided a huge platform to spread it. What people don’t realize is their not just spreading anger, they’re spreading ideas and stereotypes that some readers are taking for face value and using to build grudges against the opposite sex as well. If we complain when white people do it why are we doing it to ourselves?

It’s OK to speak from the heart and from experience with passion but next time someone gets ready to throw out a negative comment about a black man or black woman, I wish they would think about whether what they’re saying really reflects the experiences they’ve had in their own lives or is what they’re about to say solely based on perceptions they’ve developed of the opposite sex as a result of internet banter.

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The Myths

In December, I had the pleasure of being interviewed along with two other women for a friend’s film project on the myths of black women. Each of us discussed some of the stereotypes that have affected us professionally—-especially the myth of the angry black woman (shout out to Michelle Obama). Below is just a rough cut of the film, but check it out anyway and tell me what you think. Hopefully I’ll have the full feature soon.

Special shout out to up and coming filmmaker Dana Butler.

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Serving Up Color

At a recent awards banquet for a group of medical professionals, I sat in the back of the room where I could observe the proceedings of the night, take notes, and not insert myself too much into the affair.

One server seemed confused by my presence. She leaned over me with a concerned look on her face and asked, “Who are you here with,” seeing that I wasn’t mingling with other guests and my table was empty. I assured her that I was in the right place and that I simply wanted to sit in the back because I was reporting on the event and didn’t know anyone there particularly well.

She walked away, unsatisfied with my answer, and came back a few minutes later to say that she thought I would’ve been sitting up front, but not to worry, she would take good care of me anyway. In her next run by my table, she proceeded to share her work history with me, noting how she’d waited on President Obama for an event in that very room and how much he said he had enjoyed her, along with other public figures and celebrities who’d paid her similar compliments but neglected to repay her for her excellent service: “If I was so great, they should’ve taken me with them when they moved on up, OK.” (Insert stereotypical black woman high five.)

A male server, sensing that the woman had outworn her welcome, or was speaking at a level that was too loud for what she was saying in that setting, lightheartedly scolded her and told her to leave me alone, while yet another waiter came by to add her two cents. And still one more woman came by with a bread basket, asking,”Hey, you want some.”

It had begun to look like a black family reunion with me at the center of a host of servers, and I quickly found myself annoyed each time they made their rounds. Although I was appreciative of the friendliness, I was keenly aware of how others in the room must have perceived not only me, but also them.

Just a month prior, I was attending a luncheon with colleagues from my office and heard a man yelling “Hello” a million times from a distance. Who is yelling, why is he so loud, and why won’t anybody answer him, I thought, as I tried to figure out where the sound was coming from. I finally realized the greeting was directed at me as I saw a man waving his arms from the security desk several feet away. “How you doing,” he asked when I looked in his direction.

I thought the look on my face as I tightly mouthed, “Fine” would have been enough to tell him that this was not the place and certainly not the time; however on the way out, he yelled “Bye” about as many times as he had when he had greeted me on the way in, and just as loudly. “When you coming back to see us,” he shouted once I finally acknowledged him. I then turned to be confronted with confused, please-explain-what-just-happened/do-you-know-him looks on my coworkers’ faces. I shrugged and shook my head. I had no explanation. Read more @ Clutch.

White Boy Fresh

It never dawned on me that a colleague asking to come to my hotel room to borrow chapstick might be trying to get fresh, although as I read that sentence I have to wonder where my antennas were that night.

When I got the text from my colleague who was attending the same meeting as I, I thought nothing of it, as we had recently parted ways after innocently having a few drinks in the hotel lobby with mutual associates. I did acknowledge what I saw as irony at the time—that if this was a black man I would’ve known he was up to something, but because he was white, I thought nothing of it.

Innocently, I opened the door to my room, let him in, and offered him what I thought he came for. Quickly I found him seated on the foot of the bed. Small talk on his agenda, I conceded, happy to have finally befriended someone in my age range at these conferences which I typically found boring.

Casual talk about post-college years turned to questions about whether I was dating, how my last relationship ended, and when I would get married because I’m “so great,” as he put it. I sat flattered in my unsuspecting naivety.

It wasn’t until a few compliments later, a stretch out on my pillows, and an invitation to join him that I became aware of other intentions. I declined, noting that I had an early meeting, although it was suggested that I wake him in the morning.

It was a struggle for me to conceal my laughter—not at his game, but at the fact that as a grown woman, I’d found myself in a situation more befitting of a high school girl. Read more @ Clutch.

Black Women Are Drinking the Kool-Aid

If I had a dollar for every time a black man made a comment along the lines of, “That’s why I date white women,” or, “If black women keep it up, I’m going to start dating white girls,” I could probably retire at 30. But with the influx of women toting similar statements about how and why white women are “winning,” I might be able to reduce that number to 29.

I was over on the site Madame Noire (Bossip’s sister site) the other day when I came across the article, White Women Are #Winning, Step Your Game Up, based on a similarly titled article published in UPTOWN Magazine, Love: Why White Women Are Winning. Both articles address black women’s perceived attitudes, unwillingness to cater to our men, declining value in the institution of marriage, hesitation to date interracially, and lack of expectation for finding a man—basically stating white women are our polar opposites and are therefore not unlucky in love as we are.

Now if you truly feel that you need insight into some possible reasons to explain why you are single (in case you haven’t heard enough already), then, by all means, take heed to the advice presented, as that is not necessarily where the problem lies. The issue is the fact that black women have jumped on the “white women are better because of x,y,z” bandwagon.

My first thought when I saw the article was that this was a case of irresponsible publishing. Why, as websites and magazines that are supposed to be a service to black people, and black women in particular, would you publish something that places white women on a pedestal?

None of the character traits mentioned in the article are true of all white women, just as not all of the negative stereotypes that are perceived to be holding black women back from finding their mate are true. Could either author not have written (another) article simply highlighting characteristics of women in effective relationships/marriages? It’s articles like these pitting black and white women against one another as two entirely different species that have the potential to revive black women’s ill feelings toward black men dating interracially—although we’ve been told time and time again to get over it or join the movement.

Read more @ Clutch

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Identity Through Ancestry

I get jealous every time I catch Henry Louis Gates’ Faces of America special—and yes I’ve watched it enough times to recite Yo Yo Ma, Eva Longoria, and Mario Batali’s family histories from memory. I’ve always been obsessed with genealogy and I’ve longed for the ability to connect with generations before me in an effort to solidify my place in the world.

You know, the way that Beyonce, Tina, and Agnèz Deréon have that whole fashion designer connection, or how the Kennedy’s have been in politics since the late 1800s, or the English acting dynasty, the Redgrave’s—I’ve longed for a blueprint that gives me the basic direction that I should move in, on top of an already established foundation of ancestral success.

I’ve wondered was there a great writer somewhere in my family’s past, or women who were, at times, unreasonably independent, or someone who had the courage to move to a new city where they didn’t know a soul—something that explains how I came to be who I am and gives me assurance that I’m on the right path.

In college I had a project in my ethnic literature course where I had to trace my roots. Diverted by family members with short-term memories (and memories they chose to forget), I took to the web. I found little, but I did come across a deposition concerning my paternal great-great-great grandfather, Church Tipton’s, attempt to get a disability pension after serving in the the US Colored Troops.

Church eventually died before the pension was granted—you can imagine the amount of bureaucracy—so a “Special Examiner” was given the task of determining whether my great-great-great grandmother Ellen (the claimant) was his legal widow.

He wrote: “This claimant is one of the cleanest neatest negro women I nearly ever saw to be living on a farm. She is honest, reliable and is believed to be virtuous by those who know her best. The evidence herewith is deemed sufficient to show that she and the soldier were married by a ceremony, but without a license, during slavery times and lived together continuously, except the time he was in the army, until he died since which time she has not remarried.” Read more

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Giving Back to the “Community”…Who Does That Mean?

When I think about giving back to the community, I mean two things—Black people and Black people who don’t have the necessary tools for success due to family life, financial difficulties, educational hurdles, etc. There are, however, African Americans from a different school of thinking in which the poor and disadvantaged are not their community, therefore when they give back, they help people from a similar background, who, frankly, could probably get along just fine without their assistance. 

I remember the disgust that I felt watching the Tuxedo Ball segment of Black in America Pt. 2 on CNN several months ago as Dr. Carlotta G. Miles discussed the need to keep privileged Black children connected. I recently brought this up, yet again, to a Black female coworker of mine, who, to my surprise, had no problem with Dr. Miles’ justification of the select group, as she plainly stated that helping the disadvantaged was simply not apart of their mission.

Personally, the premise behind their gala seemed awfully reminiscent of the old boy network among socially elite White males. Is the practice of keeping it all in the family, pulling strings for those you know, and helping those who are likely to succeed really a form of giving back? And for a people so distraughtly disenfranchised, can we really afford to exclude segments of the community from these opportunities?

 My coworker raised two questions in response to my reaction. The first was whether community is more defined by who you are or where you live? Although she lives in a predominantly White neighborhood, she feels her Black son would be better served by contributing to the community in which she lives rather than reaching out to people with whom she has nothing in common besides skin color or ethnicity.

I understand the point. If there are things that need to be done at home, so to speak, then it makes sense to share your resources there rather than the token place of volunteerism—the inner city. But what about those neighborhoods that are doing quite well and could take the fundraising money used to buy new uniforms for the basketball team yet again and really gain some perspective on what it means to not have anyone cook dinner for you, or to wear torn clothes to school, or not experience what is now the luxury of a two-parent home, and provide opportunities that never existed before?

The second, and most troubling question she asked, was how long are Black people who “beat the odds” going to be expected to pull the rest of us up? My initial response was an adamant, however long it takes! There’s a perception that Black people have gotten so complacent with their position in society that they don’t really want to thrive, and attempting to help or fix their situation is really just enabling their behavior, rather than giving back. I can understand the frustration behind this opinion, but I don’t buy it. If some margins of the Black community have become complacent, I believe it is because they don’t think that there is a better way of living or that they can achieve it.

The socioeconomic factions within the Black community are pronounced and if Black people themselves don’t feel an obligation to pull along those who need a little more help than others, then who will? We tend to get so up in arms at the depiction of the great White hope in the Hollywood movies that are based on true stories (see: The Blind Side), but if we’re not reaching back to share the wealth, can we really be mad?

Living in a Brooklyn neighborhood now that is both predominantly Black and low income, I’m not exactly torn about who my community is to give back to, but even if I found myself back in the coziness of the Midwestern middle class neighborhoods where I grew up, I don’t believe my obligation would be any different. I may not be able to fully relate to all of the struggles of the seemingly disadvantaged, but I can certainly tell that they are the ones who are in need of help.

[Originally Published Here]

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One Small Step for Me, One Giant Leap Backward for Womankind

You know the saying every little bit counts? If everyone would donate such and such amount to such and such cause, then an organization could do such and such?  Although there is no realistic expectation that everyone will donate to the cause, the point is to encourage people not to focus on the fact that they’re only donating a small amount but to see their contribution as a necessary piece of the larger pie that, combined, will have a huge impact. Lately I’ve been thinking about this interconnectedness on a more interpersonal level and frankly feeling like I have the weight of black women on my shoulders. 

Recently I came into my apartment building and a black guy from the neighborhood was talking with one of my neighbors in the hallway. My bag got caught on the outside door so it made the door accidentally slam closed. He remarked, “Somebody is in a bad mood.” Truthfully, I wasn’t in that bad of a mood, but did I smile, did I correct his statement, or even acknowledge it or him? No. I walked past him, went into my apartment and shut the door. Afterward, I sat thinking, “he probably thinks I’m just another angry black woman,” which I’m not (most days). The point is, I couldn’t tear myself away from thinking about how that one small action may have negatively influenced not only his view of me, but black women in general.

So often, we talk about perpetrators of crime on a national scale and the misogyny of women in our music and the detriment that this has on the image of the black community, but I wonder how often each of us thinks about how our little day to day interactions affect the perception of black women within our own community.

I know how to act in the office, I realize that the man is watching and I have to represent for my people, but somehow when it comes to the black man, the same rules don’t always apply. I realize at work we have to be “on” so to speak and sometimes after that 9a-7p is over, you just want to be at home in your bed, but is that an excuse to be “off” with one another? Is it that we expect the next black person to understand the unspoken frustration of white supremacy in corporate America that is written on the scowls of our faces, or are we just plain rude and nonchalant about how we interact socially?

Recently, an ex of an old friend of mine (and friend of one of my past ‘interests’-complicated, I know) approached me with a level of interest that I’m almost certain was beyond friendship. Initially, I brushed off the advances, but at some point I began to engage him, still on a respectable level, however I found myself wondering, how am I affecting men’s perception of women by even entertaining this man? Am I adding to the already-skewed mindset that all women are scandalous, sneaky, and down for whatever? Or if I accept unacceptable behavior from a man from whom I should be demanding more, am I providing men with permission to treat us all any kind of way?

Of course, my behavior has no true global impact, but it could be significant enough to sustain previously held notions about women in general. The reality is, most of us aren’t famous, what we do won’t go beyond the conversation of maybe three to five people, but when your negative behavior matches the stories of  others in the group, then we’ve got a global perception crisis. The minority that behave a certain way come to represent the whole and then statements like “all black women are like this and all black men do this” become dogma and the way that we engage one another begins to change based on these assumptions that get proven true every day.

Perhaps each of us should look at it as our personal responsibility to represent for the perceived minority of our minority. In the same way that we “put on” for black people when going up against other racial or ethnic groups on a national scale in business, media, or any other venture, we should put on for one another and not be so lax about the stereotypes that we perpetrate amongst ourselves.

A lot of people talk about feeling the weight of their ancestors on their shoulders as they face life’s challenges, but I think it’s also important to feel the burden of womankind as well. It may not feel good to immediately resist whatever urge you have to frankly not care and do whatever it is you want to do in the present moment, but if we all could think about one another before we do such and such to and with such and such, our social interactions might really be a little bit easier to navigate.

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