Archive for September, 2014

Tuesdays With Mooch & Fuss: My Kids Don’t Always Pick Up Their Clothes

The most common question I get asked is, “If your parenting style is so relaxed, how do you make the kids brush their teeth, pick up their clothes, practice piano, and such?

Let’s get this part out of the way. I wouldn’t call my parenting style relaxed. I’m not laid up with coffee while my kids run amok. I’m scheduling, driving, teaching, helping, cheerleading, cooking, counseling, and loving all day every day.

The short answer is: I don’t make them do those things. I don’t like nagging. The girls do things for us, and we do things for them. I don’t keep track of how many socks I’ve picked up or books I’ve put away any more than the kids keep track of how many times they’ve made me breakfast (almost everyday), brought me my iron to take, or cleaned out my car. We all work together. I’m instilling the idea that if you see it needs to be done, please do it. We’re a team.

I remind occasionally about toothbrushing, but ultimately it is a choice. They know the consequences of not brushing their teeth. The youngest came and asked me to have a turn at brushing her teeth the other night because she didn’t feel she had done it well enough. They haven’t had cavities, but if they did, they’d be paying the co-pay for those visits. Responsibility and accountability are huge in this house.

I told the eldest when she was six to please wear socks with her tennis shoes. I explained what would happen if she didn’t. She chose not to and got a foot fungus that smelled disgusting. After spray and powder, it went away, but the lesson will never disappear. She’s worn socks in all the four years since until recently when she started losing socks (or the dryer ate them … we can’t tell). I told her if she kept misplacing socks she would have to wash them in the sink, buy her own new ones, or go without. It is in my job description to provide food, clothing, shelter, education, and love — not to fund carelessness. She chose to go without once she had used up her laundry. Her fungus is back and *she* bought spray the other day to treat it. I hope the smell didn’t knock out her friends at dance class yesterday.

The girls don’t do any extracurricular activities that they didn’t choose themselves. If they don’t practice, the money for the subsequent lesson comes out of their own pockets. If it continues, that activity goes bye-bye, unless they’ve made a commitment to a team or are under contract. I refuse to hound kids to do something they claim they love.

These are not fights that I want to have with the girls. If I inform them, model good behavior, and remind them occasionally, they’re smart enough to make the right decisions. If they don’t, that’s fine! I’d rather them make mistakes now while they’re under my care and tutelage than later when the damage could be irreversible.

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Black-ish is Necessary. Deal With It.

We interrupt this Marital Mondays to bring you my Black-ish rant.

This past April, my daughters’ dance school was preparing for their May recital. The lobby was bustling with sequin-covered kids and parents purchasing last minute jazz shoes on their smartphones. In a cozy little nook, three Jewish girls sat complaining to their mothers about their bread cravings. They were fasting for Passover, and they made sure everyone in the small space knew about it. The 4:30pm classes ended, and a charismatic little boy (the only boy at the whole studio) walked out of hip-hop smiling. Noticing the Star of David on his necklace, the girls asked, “How can you be so happy right now?”

“I had a great class. Why?” he asked, with confusion tying his eyebrows into a knot. The girls grabbed at their stomachs moaning.

“You’re fasting for Passover, right?”

“Oh, honey, I’m not that Jewish.” he answered with a smirk as he exited the studio. It was awkward for some, funny to others, and offensive to the hungry girls in the corner.

Cultural imperialism is in the very DNA of America. Every little kid in this country wants to know who the large white dude in the red suit at the mall is. Media brainwashing is watering down the cultures of most minorities in this country. Some yellow folks want their eyelids surgically creased. I’ve met brown people who don’t know what elders in their family are saying, because they don’t speak a lick of Spanish. Our Jewish friends have a Christmas tree. Black people are certainly not exempt from this culture sapping, and that is why the show Black-ish is necessary. The show is a comedic depiction of a wealthy black family living in a white neighborhood. It is a new humorous reminder to go back to the source, remember our history, and remain in discussion about the damage being done.

I’m pro-dialogue, and Black-ish definitely has people talking about race. I’ve seen people online, who never have anything to say about racism, complaining about this show. They don’t have anything to say about freeing Palestine, but they took the Ice Bucket Challenge. They don’t discuss domestic violence unless it involves their favorite running back. Likewise, people want to go hard on this comedy show that is addressing issues, but they have “reality” shows, like Real Housewives of Atlanta and Love and Hip-Hop, that are perpetuating sooooo many horrible stereotypes saved in their DVRs. We don’t get to pick and choose when to be socially responsible. Moreover, to paraphrase my brother, Brandon Easton, if you own every season of Martin on DVD, and you’re saying this show is buffoonery, power all of your devices down and stop communicating with the rest of the world (Also Known As: You and Sheneneh need to have a few seats).

There are inevitable comparisons to The Cosby Show. “How can two professionals have kids who are that stupid or uninformed?” *clears throat* Enter: Theo Huxtable. One of Cliff’s most famous lines was, “Theo, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” Most Americans (myself NOT included) send their kids to school for eight hours per day, so if they both work, they have little time outside of dinner to supplement their children’s educations. School is an institution with its own agenda. It is highly believable that the child characters on Black-ish are lacking in areas that the parents haven’t noticed for a few years. How much can one really know about their child if they spend approximately two and a half hours with them each day? I had a friend on Facebook who didn’t know that her child lacked good directional sense until last month. She’s in the eleventh grade! Moreover, it’s comedy. Hyperbole will be used for comedic effect.

Black-ish also highlights the ignorance that gets perpetuated every day. I practice traditional African spirituality and I have for over ten years now. I can’t count on two hands, ten toes, and two titties how many times a fellow African-American has asked or said something ignorant about it. I’ve heard “Ya’ll throw rocks at the ground?” “Do you drink period blood?” “What are the chickens for?” “Do you eat cowrie shells?” Some of the questions have been sincere inquiries, but most people were mocking African traditions the same way the father on the show did when he threw sticks in his son’s face during the “rights of passage” ceremony. It’s particularly irksome when people who have adopted the religion of the oppressor throw shade at those who go back to the source. Ignorance needs to be addressed, and I’m all for using humor to do it. Much of my website is satire. Scenes like this are no reason to show a throw away. I’m willing to keep the bones in the salmon croquette.

People need to see this show. Some folks don’t know how ridiculous they sound when they tell a biracial person that they aren’t “really black.” The scene between the mother (Tracee Elis Ross) and father in Black-ish addressed it in a simple, comedic way. The mother’s comment, “If I’m not black, could somebody please tell my hair and my ass” showed that she is clear that she is black, and she gently put the husband in his place for it. It is a sitcom (read: situation comedy). It has to be funny. It’s not a documentary on the History Channel. They have thirty minutes to get it in. If you expected wifey to pull out a crate, stand on it, and start preaching like Malcolm X, you were tuned into the wrong show. I know there is a fine line between comedy and “cooning,” and that line is thinner where race is involved. I don’t, however, consider highlighting racial inequality in the workplace or showcasing the ills of sending a black child to a predominantly white school (been there done that) equivalent to wearing blackface while doing a shuffle-ball-change.

I’m not interested in nitpicking at the details of one episode, because I’m in it for the series. If I agonized over every individual day with Hannibal, we would not still be happily married. This was a promising pilot for a show that plans to cover a lot of ground in a funny way. Stick with it. I’ll be there every week with a handful of Azzizah’s Herbal Green Popcorn (regular popcorn = Monsanto) tuning in to Tracee Ellis Ross’ shenanigans.

I’ll concede that the writers may need to decide who will be the conscious character(s) in the show. It’s difficult to reconcile a character who understands that his job is being racist and his kid is assimilating a little too far with the fact that he wouldn’t address the divisive comment that Lawrence Fishburne’s character, the grandfather, made — “Africans don’t like us anyway.” After brief reflection, however, I wasn’t surprised that Andre (Anthony Anderson’s character) didn’t “check” his father. It is not culturally typical for an African-American to go around putting their elders in their places. My father says all kind of things I don’t agree with. He’s old. I just let it ride.

Yes, the statement was divisive, but it is tossed around in black barbershops and on back porches all the time, so the show was correct in putting it up for discussion. We know that no group is a monolith. It is never safe to say “All African-Americans hate Africans” or vice versa, but it is not common in comedy to spell everything out either. That’s not funny. That’s dry. The audience was supposed to view grandpa’s comment as satire not as relatable. Sadly, so many people still agree with what the character said, that the statement became the impetus for an Amen chorus for some people (my daddy included) and defense cue for others (Mostly black Facebook. Black Twitter seemed to get the show).

Meanwhile, my ten-year-old completely understood each joke, knows the difference between satire and reality, and gets that literally and figuratively are two different things. She also knows her history and knows how to spot micro-aggressions when she encounters them. She didn’t feel awkward in the waiting room of the dance studio during Passover last April. The comment from a charismatic Jewish boy in the lobby, like Black-ish, simply served as a funny reminder that we aren’t the only group of people whose culture is slowly being washed away.

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Traveling in Black: What Do You Mean I’m Not Black? One Woman’s Voyage Through the Global South

The “Traveling in Black” series will share the experiences of people of color when traveling abroad. You’ll find out all sorts of cool places to go and fun things to see. Each article will specifically touch on how you may be treated internationally, what the culture is like, and how to prepare for your visit.  

My affinity for the term Black goes back to my childhood. I can remember being about seven years old and explaining to my older sister that when you mix all the crayon colors together, you get the color black (I know it’s more like a dark brown, but just humor my seven year old logic for a moment). I, miraculously, had somehow been shielded from the negative connotation attached to the word black. On the contrary, I felt a sense of pride, even specialness, in being identified as Black. I thought that Black people must be the result of the mixing of all the races and therefore the crème de la crème of humanity. Of course, as I got older I realized my Crayola melting pot theory was a bit inaccurate, but I still never wavered from self-identifying as Black. I joined Young Black Scholars and the Black Student Union. I applied to historically Black universities. Even when the Black vs. African-American debate hit a fever pitch around the millennium, I held fast this terminology. But when I decided to participate in the Semester at Sea program and embarked on a 100-day voyage around the world and through the global south, my Blackness was called into question for the first time. I traveled to ten ports of call in nine countries on three continents. My experiences with Blackness in Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brazil, Cuba, and on the ship were certainly eye-opening and at times uncomfortable, but the exchanges I had in India, Kenya, and South Africa with other “Black” people (and people of darker hues) had the most profound and paradigm-shifting effects on me.

Sentinelese Indians

If you are a Black American, or African-American, or American African, or New Afrikan, or however you choose to name yourself as a person of African descent whose immediate ancestors were born in the United States (pause to breathe), I want you to think about how you would answer the following question: So you’re a Negro? This was the question my traveling companions (three other young women and one young man of African descent) and I were faced with as we attempted to mail postcards in a post office in Chennai (Madras), India. The young man who asked me this question said it with all seriousness and no hint of animosity or condescension. He genuinely wanted to know if we were Negroes. This was the follow up question to the typical “Where are you from?” all travelers hear as they attempt to navigate a foreign system all the while sticking out like a sore thumb. Upon responding that we were from the US, I could see the young man’s eyes dart back and forth as he searched for meaning in what I had said. It was almost like the light bulb went off in his head when he asked, “So you’re a Negro?” Stunned into silence for a moment, my response went something like this, “Uhhhh…..noooo…..well…..I think I know what you…..but we don’t use that term anymore. You can say we’re Black or African-American.” Having meant no disrespect, the man quickly apologized. He went on to explain that “Negro” was the word he had learned in school to describe Blacks in America. Now mind you, he was a young man, maybe in his mid-twenties, and not more than 10 years out of school. I’m sure that better educated Indians would have been familiar with the proper terminology, but it appeared that this average Indian Joe in 2002 had little knowledge of contemporary Blacks in America. This wasn’t the first time during this voyage that I found the person I was talking to had never met a Black American in real life, but I felt something of a sad irony in southern India where most people where 6 or 7 shades darker than me and many were downright Black-skinned. At this half-way point in my journey, it became clear that Black Americans were like unicorns to some people in the world – “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one with my own eyes.”

After India, the next stop was the Motherland. Mombasa, Kenya to be exact, then on to Cape Town, South Africa. Surely, I would be welcomed home as the long lost cousin on my ancestors’ continent. My response to that assumption is similar to the answer I gave the young man in the Chennai post office, “Uhhh….noooo…..well…..sorta.” In one conversation I had in Kenya, the follow up to the question, “Where are you from?” was “No, where are you from?” After answering with “the US”, “America”, and “The United States of America”, the man we were talking to finally asked, “Before that, where are you from?” Of course I already knew what I didn’t know, but I had never had it called out like that before. As Black Americans, we just know our ancestors are from Africa. If you’ve studied at least a bit of our history then you know your ancestors were probably from West Africa, and it usually ends there (this was before mail-order DNA testing and all that). As we attempted to explain why as an African American we didn’t know exactly where our ancestors were from, another young Kenyan man in the conversation leans in and casually says, “Black Americans don’t know where they’re from because they don’t care. That kind of stuff is not important to them.” Wait, what?! We figured it was time to let ‘em know what Black folks were all about. My friends and I proceeded to school him on the experience of Black people in the Americas, making sure he understood the relentless attempts to strip us of our history and culture and of the pride we feel in our African ancestry, however nebulous that may be. All this, of course, with my best educated sister-girl delivery. Again, I know that this one man’s comment was not representative of all Kenyans or all anybody. It was his misguided assumption. But, that experience kept me thinking once we were back on the ship. There, in the fabled birthplace of our ancestors, it wasn’t that the people didn’t know Black people existed, but that they had a woefully inaccurate image and understanding of us. This was made all the more disheartening by that fact that these were people who looked like me. When you see your own reflection in the mirror, you should recognize it. This time, there was a prickly sense of unfamiliarity.

Leaving Kenya for South Africa, I was decidedly more cautious with my assumptions. But even with my expectations in check, nothing could have prepared me for being told that I wasn’t Black. Yep. Just like that. During my visit to Cape Town I was unofficially adopted by a Colored woman that I met in the Bo Kaap Museum and her family. I visited with them every day I was there and the topic of race eventually came up (How could it not in South Africa?). My Colored “mom” explained to me that she did not consider me Black. “Black,” she explained, “means you know what tribe you are from, you speak that language, like Zulu or Xhosa or Ndebele. Black Americans are more like us because you don’t have a tribe, you don’t speak the language, and you’re mixed with other things.” After thinking about her explanation of it all, I’ll admit that I did feel a certain kinship with this family and by extension the Colored people of South Africa. And while I was there, my interaction with the other racial groups, including Black South Africans, was limited. The longing for a lost history I sensed from my Colored companions, however slight, stirred a kindred feeling in me as a Black American. But even with that, I still felt some kinda way about being told I wasn’t Black. And it wasn’t like I was being called Colored either. Like “Black” in South Africa, “Colored” carries a very specific definition and historical reference. For some people in South Africa, there was no proper term for those that call themselves Black in America. I came to understand that the word can have a different connotation, significance, even sociopolitical reference depending on where you are. There, in the city jokingly called “the southernmost European city”, my blackness, or lack thereof, had again been defined for me.

During the final month of the voyage, I would cross the Atlantic Ocean to dock in Brazil and Cuba before returning stateside. Blackness, or negritud, is probably even more complicated in Latin America, and I would have my Blackness questioned, challenged, negated, and affirmed many more times before I stepped foot on American soil again. But all of the weird, uncomfortable, and down-right rude exchanges I had around race and identity were dwarfed by the soul-stirring experiences and connections I made with people who look like me all over the world. In a Dalit (Untouchable) Education Center outside of Chennai, I was moved to see a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King hanging next to the Indian hero and champion of the untouchables Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. In Kenya I went to a hip-hop club where Tupac t-shirts and Maasai beaded bracelets blended perfectly. I played with kids that look like my nieces and nephews at Ile Ife Afonja in Salvador, Brazil. In the end though, I realized that I must define who I am and the terms by which I am identified. I realized that even though we use a variety of terms to claim our Blackness, it’s there in us all, in the way we dance, in the way we eat, in the way we worship, in the way we speak. That’s what I found my Black to be: a way to describe all of that in all people whose ancestors came from the soil of Africa. So I guess the Crayon wisdom of little seven year old Saudeka was not that far off. When we mix all the light browns, and blue-blacks, and high yellows, and mochas that make up our people all around the world, we get Black.

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Under the Overpass: Ethnic External Validation

Under the Overpass focuses on politics, current events, and social commentary from a black, crunchy, granola perspective. Myshell chooses the topics. Michael writes the commentary.

You have just walked under the overpass and, down here, we’ve been sitting in a cypher philosophizing about soul. The soul in Phillips Bar-B-Que sauce caressing a stingy rib. The way Tupac spit, “Come with me/Hail Mary/run quick see.” Fat Luther Vandross. The conviction of Peter J. Harris’ line, “Put down your gun, pick up your baby.” The acute angle of my mama’s hand-on-hip arm when checking the salty neighbor, “Don’t let the smooth taste fool you.” Pre-rehab Jodeci. Horace Silver’s right hand. LeBron James going home. Lower case bell hooks. Barbara Christian on my case. The opening bars of Contrane’s “Blue Train.” Al Green.

African-descended people don’t own the patent on soul. I know some white folk who got plenty. Some African-American folk who came up short. But there is enough socio-cultural evidence to suggest that African-American people are the spirit of soul. Or to get SAT with it: African-American is to soul as navy bean is to bean pie.

Well, if we’ve got so much soul, if we’ve got so much full, rich humanity, why does it seem like so many of us are looking for white folk to affirm our humanity? To affirm our nomenclature and coiffure. Why do we look to European-Americans to tell us which music is classical and classic? Which hand shake is appropriate among African-American folk, even when no white folk are around?

When I was an incoming freshmen in my super-competitive undergraduate institution, African-American faculty, staff and administrators convened an academic version of Scared Straight. They opened the meeting by having the 50 of us students form a large circle. One of the administrators stepped into the circle and fiercely informed us that the attrition rate at the university was 88 percent for African-American students, meaning of 100 African American students admitted, only 12 percent graduated. Then he said, “Look to your left, look to your right and look inside your soul. Of you three, two of you will not make it to graduation, one of you will not make it past your first year.”

I was scared straight to the library.

The experience was so moving for me (because that first year I saw African-American students dropping like an iPhone 4 without an OtterBox), that I walked the freshman dorms at the start of my sophomore year, talking to African-American students about study strategies and the various academic services available to them. I knocked on an open door of an African-American freshman (most freshman dorm rooms are open the first week of class because the new students are trying to meet people) and introduced myself, and explained what I was doing. When he invited me in to chat, I reached out to give him a brotherly “soul handshake.” He repositioned my sliding, angled, hand into a 90 degreed, up and down, Mr. Bob Dobalina special and literally took a giant step back, like I was handing him the wrong end of a dukey-stick, and the following conversation unfolded:

“I only shake hands the correct way.”
“Who determines the correct way to shake hands?”
“There’s just a right way and a wrong way to shake hands.”
“What makes a soul shake wrong?”
“It’s not professional.”
“Are we in a professional setting or did I just casually come in here to put you up on game about how to thrive on campus?”
“It’s a casual setting but you never know who might be around, so I like to just shake hands the correct way.”
“There goes that word again.”

As we continued to speak, the African-American freshman eventually copped to the fact that white folk define what is correct behavior and he was rolling with them. I was not surprised to hear this perspective. I had encountered it before in the lives of others —- and in my own life —- but it still hurt to hear the passion with which he embraced this ideology.

What hurt more was that he was implementing this “white-is-right” ideology even though we were alone in his dorm room. He was self-policing in case a white person happened to walk by his open door and catch him in an illicit soul shake. Non-right-angled hands and fingers sliding sideways across a palm and curving into finger popping release—snap! Like Sir Nose wouldn’t dance, Dobalina Brown wouldn’t snap. Even though it was clear that I came into his room in the brotherly spirit of love, support and assistance. To curve, slide and snap his fingers would have gotten him in trouble—with the white folk—in his mind.

The African-American freshman was seeking white affirmation for his behavior in their absence. It was hard to witness this phenomena in action. Worse, to be party to it. The African-American freshman’s desire to have his humanity affirmed by white folk turned my loving African-American brotherly gesture into something that was wrong. Something that he had to take a giant step back from. I was the Boogie Man with snapping fingers. His inner Dobalina said I was wrong, so by George, it must be so.

“I only shake hands the correct way.”

In junior high school, I got bused to a white magnet school across town. I was like, “Damn, yall living like this?” I started to become aware of patterns in the world around. I became aware of power. Before this time, I was conscious of the fact that African-American people seemed to be treated differently than non-African Americans, but I didn’t start connecting the ink spots until junior high. I began to watch the news (and not just the 5 minutes of sports on the news). It didn’t take long to make the following assessment: white people run everything.

White people have power.

It was as if someone had pulled the dripping California Curl from my eyes. Curl activator-free vision allowed me to see the path that I must take if I, too, wanted power: I had to learn the ways of white folks.

Along with watching the news, I began to read the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Los Angeles Times. I was especially drawn to opinion pieces and editorials. I reasoned that if white folks run everything, the way they’re handling their business must work. White must be right because it sure was working pretty well for them. All the presidents had been white. Almost all of the CEOs of the top corporations were white. The police chiefs. The fire chiefs. The N.B.A owners. The N.F.L. owners. I was like, “Damn, these mugs got everything.” I wanted to break me off some. I was trying to imagine a future path for myself and I wanted that path to be lit by power switches along the way. So I studied. Learned about what seemed to be important to white folk. Imitated their use of language. Their conjugation of the verb “to be.” Tried to figure out the role of the noisy guitar in their music. The right angle of their handshake. I did all of this because I was certain that in order for me to get some power in this world, I was gonna have to deal with white folks.

What saved me from the plight of the African-American Freshman was my first year of college. Sociology 3 with Dr. Harry Edwards. Reading about slavery in my English comp class. Reading history on my own for no class —- just cause a player wanted to know. Getting heavily involved in the South African Divestment movement. Buying a gang of vinyl at Rasputin’s Records. Inhaling the music that I used to hate growing up because my mama played it so much: Al Green, Millie Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass, Johnny Guitar Watson, James Brown, Bobby Blue Bland. And along the way falling oh so very deeply in love with African-American people. Our history. Our style. Our struggle. Our full rich humanity.

The African-American Freshman of this story clearly had not fallen in love with African-American people. Or himself. Bob was spittin too much Dobalina-game in his ear. He is not alone. Among the reasons, why so many African-Americans go outside the self looking for white folks to affirm their humanity, is that they haven’t developed enough love of African-American humanity. Their own history. Their own cultural production. Their own style. When they say, “I do me,” it’s a subjectivity Booty Call; they haven’t taken the time to build the nest, to self-pleasure on the beauty of being African-American and Human. Now, excuse me while I kiss the sky and my African-American soul, here, under the overpass.

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Tuesdays With Mooch & Fuss: Why I Don’t Need Curriculum [Plus Random Videos]

Why I don’t really worry about coming up with (or buying) curriculum for the six and under …

Fuss (4yrs): I want to take the book Grand gave me with me to my school, so my friend’s can hear her voice.
Me: You keep wanting to share stuff. Did you ask about the show and tell?
Fuss: No, I keep forgetting once I start playing.
Me: Oh.
Fuss: I should write my teacher a letter!
Me: You could.
Fuss: I’m going to go get a pencil and paper and a clipboard. Ooh, and crayons.

… and there’s our handwriting, spelling, grammar, and language arts for the day.

Writing her letter requesting show and tell

Fuss Writes a Letter

Letter From The Four-Year-Old

In case you aren’t on Facebook (my mother-in-law), here is Mma-Syrai’s most recent commercial:

And here is the girls in their spare time rapping about GMOs:

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