Archive for relationships

Under the Overpass: High-Tech Hollerin’


You have just walked under the overpass and, down here, we’ve been mourning the loss of a dying art form: hollerin’. To holler or not to holler was a question that froze many a young brother in my Long Beach neighborhood. When a girl, who moved you, came within hollerin’ range, anxiety appeared too. Wing-tipped butterflies emerged. You wanted to honor the feeling of being moved, but didn’t know if you could spit game that could move her too. In the LBC, your hollerin’ would fall on deaf big-hooped ears, if the macking was lacking. I’ve seen sisters laugh in brothers’ faces when verbal approaches lacked verbal dexterity. I’ve also been the laughee.

Although I’m speaking about a Black heteronormative context, I’m sure the art of hollerin’ was valued by Black same-gender lovers as well. Black Long Beach’s appreciation for charismatic wordplay was not proscribed by sexual preference.

The holler or not to holler moment was magic. An acknowledgement of the pre-rational connection between select human beings. The attraction between strangers felt a split-second before it was acknowledged. The chemical reactions given language: I’m feeling you. Chemistry’s embodiment in shared space. A sister’s spiritual presence. And, at times, her large posterior. Have mercy.

In that mystical hollering’ moment, there was a recognition: I’m about holler at my maybe-future-lady. Or not. My fear could let her pass. That’s where anxiety entered. In that shared moment.

The ubiquitous presence of social media dating sites has sounded the death knell for the holler moment. Now, Black folk are more likely to first meet in a tweet than on the street. Hollerin’ just ain’t the same when the character of your mack hand is judged by 140 characters.

On some real talk, all hollerin’ ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes the nomenclature used is not clever, respectful or appreciated. And if it is, some sisters simply don’t want any stranger on the street engaging them in unsolicited conversation. Furthermore, the art of hollerin’ can (and often does) easily devolve into trying to talk a sister into bed. A conquest sport. hollerin’ culture can also lead to casual misogyny that, along with being offensive, is destructive to Black loving relationships.

The aforementioned issues may be behind the rise of dating sites like Tinder, OK Cupid, Meet Black Christian Singles and Blacksingles.com. These social media products take away some of the initial anxiety of meeting someone new—and completely eliminates the need to holler in the moment on the corner of 21st & Lewis or 43rd & Degnan.

Tinder is the newest, most innovative and most intriguing of these products. It’s Facebook meets High School Yearbook meets If-you-like-me-mark-the-right-box-note from the 2nd grade—all on your phone. The visually-driven app uses information from your Facebook account and a GPS function to create a world where you “swipe right” on pictures of people (within a given radius) who you hope are swiping right on you. When there’s a mutual right-swipe, the app alerts the members of the match and sets up a textual meet-and-greet. Voila! You’ve reached the hollerin’ moment sans the hollerin’ anxiety. Your thumbs are doing the talking. She’s not gonna laugh in your face, unless you’re wearing a sock puppet on your thumbs.

Since Tinder matches are driven almost exclusively by appearances, the application is notorious for its hook-up potential and reality. It’s been described as a “Booty Call video game.” Call of Duty for skeeters.

Interestingly, the advertisements for Tinder feature quite a few Black folk, but they’re never with each other. This, however, has not stopped Black men from engaging in its gonad gaming function. The implication of brothers on Tinder? Follow me. Think, Change the Game. The NBA with John Havlicek, and after Michael Jordan. Comedy with Bob Hope, and after Richard Pryor. Boxing with Rocky Marciano, and after Muhammad Ali. Dance shows with American Bandstand, and after Soul Train. Twitter. Nuff said.

Gaming brothers have gone HAM swiping for the High Score.

It’s not in me to knock a player’s hustle. It’s not the Underpass way. Instead, I offer this food for thought or thought per swipe: What is the impact of Tinder on the tender-hearted?

At the other end of the spectrum is Meet Black Christian Singles. It allows brothers to holler in the name of Jeez-zuss. It’s an online dating service with an explicit “Christian-motif.” The site has users fill out an extensive questionnaire that purportedly increases the possibility of finding a “soul mate.” The commercials are compelling. They feature testimonials by people looking and sounding like they are very much in love.

Since so many African Americans are churched, Meet Black Christian Singles seems to have a special attraction for Black folk. Being explicitly hetero, it’s where church women go to meet Christian men, and where Christian men go to meet sisters they can spank on Saturday night, and thank the Lord with the same raised hand on Sunday morning. Brothers with gold crosses around their necks and Magnum condoms in their wallets. These are often cats who genuinely want a “good Christian woman”—eventually. They just need to work their way up and down a few pews until they find the right one—and the right one on the side. The drawback: it gives Black “Christian men” a bad name. Women’s faith in the church—and God—can be altered when brothers are running through sisters like undersized safeties on Fox NFL Sunday.

The true tragedy?: Ministers can be the worst. Have mercy.

Blacksingles.com and OK Cupid are the middle ground. BS.com can be just what its acronym describes, but unlike Meet Black Christian Singles, it’s more honest about its intentions. You can sign up looking for love or phone calls after 11 PM. Seek to spoon or pull ponytails. Or both (nothing like spooning after some pony tail–pulling). BS.com is the closest approximation to macking on the block. The diversity of interests. The realness. A little something for everybody in the neighborhood. A place where “What you need?” is a proposition, affirmation and confession.

OK Cupid is similar but it trends younger. Maybe because it’s a newer service. The users seem more social media savvy. Hook-ups happen here, but so do the occasional Meet Black Christian Singles-like-testimonials.

Taken collectively, these four sites are a reminder of African Americans’ need for connection. Physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual. We’re seeking ways to see ourselves in other people—and have other people see us. Recognize us and our beauty. In a world bent on showing us we’re not beautiful by shooting us. And our children. We want to be liked and not just with a thumbs up, when our drawers are down. We want someone to feel us. That’s why hollerin’ on 21st and Lewis or 43rd and Degnan is important. Even with its problematic gender dynamics. In the holler moment, you’re feeling someone so deeply that you risk being ridiculed. Risk being the laughee. But you holler anyway. Hoping your maybe-future-lady will holler back, here, under the overpass.

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Under the Overpass: Pray Gay Away? – One Man’s Journey Towards Ally

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, justice is a noun, a verb and a lifestyle. Like life, justice is evolutionary. You don’t start grown.

As a child, my Eastside Long Beach neighborhood was dominated by Crips and Jackrabbits. National sports powerhouse Long Beach Poly High was home base for both. I lived across the street. The young boys grew up idolizing the teenage Jackrabbits, who were often Crips. We watched them bounce outside and race down the sidelines. Cheered their game-winning grabs on corner-post routes. Cheered their left jabs after a rare rout loss. Mostly, we imitated their moves and behavior on the gridiron and off.

We played a popular football-oriented game called Smear the Queer. The rules were simple. The pigskin was tossed high above the crowd of boys and whoever caught it became the queer who tried to score a touchdown while the other players tried to smear him. It was a brutal game. If there were 13 boys, it was 12 boys trying to inflict bodily harm on one queer. One punk. These were the words we heard Jackrabbits and adults use to identify gay males and insult straight males. These were the words we used too. They were fighting words. Effeminate boys were called faggot before beat downs for being effeminate. Ferocious boys picked fights by calling ferocious boys faggot.

Looking back, we used this nomenclature to demonize difference. In our tough hood, males were expected to be hyper masculine. Deviation from this narrow construction of masculinity made you a target. A beat-down-in-waiting. So sensitive boys like myself, also rocked our tough pose. Spat our homophobic epithets. We visited our verbal and physical violence on those deemed different from us. Similar to the ways dominant groups had visited verbal and physical violence on our community for our perceived difference. Shadow and act.

Normalized homophobia has its roots in ignorance and the shadowing of dominant actors. I am ashamed to say that I have been the shadow who followed the actor and the actor who has been shadowed. My ignorance was not unique. There exists a population that believes that same gendered and/or transgendered loving people are less human than individuals who love people of the opposite gender. Less human, meaning not all there, meaning broken, meaning wrong. When people equate difference with wrong they are more inclined to treat the different wrongly. This wrong-headedness can manifests as verbal abuse, physical bullying, and, on a particular insidious level, preaching that same gendered love is an abomination before God -— that can be prayed away.

For same gendered lovers who prefer a Black church style of worshipping, it must be a harrowing experience to come into faithful fellowship where the leadership preaches that your very existence is wrong. Certainly, there are Black churches that are welcoming to gay brothers and sisters, but in my nonscientific polling of same gendered people, it’s difficult for our gay brethren and sistren to find an emotionally safe place to worship. This also appears to be true for gay folk who are Muslim and those who embrace traditional African-based belief systems like Ifa. A common complaint that I’ve heard across faith traditions is that in faith communities gay folk are often made to feel that who they are, who they choose to love, is wrong. A sin … that like other sins can be prayed away. Meditated away. Oracled away.

As a kid in Long Beach, I wasn’t up in church too often, but I can vividly recall hearing on several occasions from a pastor’s mouth, “God didn’t make Adam and Steve, God made Adam and Eve.” This declaration was then followed by how hot hell was going to be for the Adams and Steves of the world. In the two churches that I attended, both had a minister of music, who performed a type of presentation of sexual orientation that seemed to suggest that he was a same gender lover. Even in my own homophobic ignorance, I wondered what it must have been like for a gay minister of music to hear his pastor preach that people like him, and him in particular, were going to burn in everlasting hell unless he got fixed, got healed, got sufficient prayer to pray his gay away. A seemingly gay ministers of music had to hear all that, and then lead the congregation in song to co-sign his own hellish demise. Have mercy.

There are some hopeful signs that this type of behavior is abating. In June of 2013, Orlando-based Exodus International shut down its ministry after 37 years of being the world’s largest ministry focused on “helping those who struggle” with same sex attraction. At the time, lead minister Alan Chambers said, “More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives.”

The turning point in the Exodus International ministry’s eventual closing was a series of suicides by younger people of faith, who believed that people and God hated them for who they were, who they chose to love. For these young people, the slogan, “It get’s better” didn’t arrive in time or simply wasn’t believed.

What can get better is an ignorant state of mind. If I had my own Holy Book, and I believed in sin, I would definitely place ignorance near the top of my Thou Shalt Not List. The amount of hate, bloodshed and degradation that can be traced to ignorance could fill a 47 volume book called The History of the World. Ignorance has killed more Black men than Rollin 20s Crips and COINTELPRO combined. Ignorance (and profiteering) made the Atlantic Slave Trade possible. Ignorance is why George W. Bush was elected—twice. Ignorance is why people think you can pray gay away.

My own state of mind about gay folks began to change when I began to work on my ignorance by having openly gay folks in my life. As mentors, colleagues and eventually friends. My mind nor my homophobia changed over night. In fact, I’m still unlearning years of shadowing and acting. What has helped me is listening to the stories of these mentors, colleagues and friends. Hearing them give voice to their beauty, and at times their beautiful struggle, has made it clear to me that I have much more in common than I have things that are different with our gay brethren and sistren. But commonality learned through interpersonal exchange is not enough to change an ignorant mind. I began to seek out the history of the gay rights movement. I began to follow issues that seemed important to some members of the gay community. And mostly, I got involved. I became an ally. An imperfect ally with a homophobic background, wrestling with a past that still, at times, visits me in the present. But I’m here. Recognizing that I didn’t start grown, and I’m still growing. Listening, learning and acting for justice. Struggling to throw shade on my shadow and act, here, under the overpass.

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Marital Mondays: In Sickness …

Hannibal agreed to shave my legs for me. I’m not able to do it. In fact, even taking a shower is difficult because doing activities that require me to go from low to high cause me a great deal of dizziness. That means washing my feet has become a task that leaves me anxious. I’ve fallen twice. I have to park within 70 steps of where I’m going, or I’ll be short of breath. Other than that, my anemia makes me feel weak and achy like I have the flu.

I know that all sounds horrible, but in my opinion, none of it is as bad as having to accept help. It didn’t really dawn on me how ill I’d been feeling for the past few months until my sweet friend inboxed me on Facebook offering to mop my floors for me. As tears splashed on my knuckles, I actually typed the words “yes” and “please” instead of “no” and “thank you.” The most unusual combination of gratefulness and defeat came over me.

I’ve tried so many options (different supplements, a transfusion last year, even a meaty diet). I’ve had all the tests — no fibroids, no colon issues, light menstrual cycle, etc. Doctors don’t seem to use the scientific method anymore, so I’ve been testing hypotheses myself. A couple of weeks ago, I realized the Ibuprofen I pound for sinus headaches could be causing some problems. I initially thought it may have given me an ulcer and blood was being lost there. My nutritionist fine-tuned my guess. She said Ibuprofen does things to the intestinal tract that decrease absorption — not just of iron but of lots of other nutrients as well.

I have stopped the Ibuprofen, and I’m using the ginger and nettle tea she suggested for my sinus headaches. She also said that, unfortunately, Floradix is no longer a good iron supplement. They changed their formula, so she suggested FeraMax 150. I ordered it.

Meanwhile, Hannibal is being incredibly supportive. My body used to crash on me at 6pm when he got home. Now it gives out at 1pm, and I trudge along for the rest of the day on sheer willpower. I try to get all of the important stuff done in the morning (even cooking dinner). Then the afternoons are just driving kids here and there. I’m so exhausted. More blood should be on its way soon. Then the doctor will schedule another transfusion.

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Tuesdays With Mooch & Fuss: The Authentic Dad

When some of us think of daddies, we envision a motionless lump on the sofa, yelling at the television screen, with four fingers jammed into the waistline of a pair of slacks, while the other hand nurses a beer. As the mother tends to the children, he waves his hand demanding more from her — a sandwich or a flame thrower (true story). For others, the image is a bit different and includes bumbling babas brushing barbecue sauce on baguettes to nourish hungry babies. Fortunately, there is finally some gradient to the scale of fatherhood. While the tuned out corporate pops and the struggling newbie do exist, there are those dads who dive in authenticity first and give their kids all they have to offer. These are the fathers, who use what they know and do the best they possibly can. They listen to their kids, and they share all of themselves with their families.

Children, up until a certain age, are usually interested in what their parents are passionate about. Keeping up with the Thompsons doesn’t apply in a child’s eyes. A dad who hates Jessie and Curious George but loves Doctor Who, should watch that with his child. Explain it. Use the show to build vocabulary. Ask the little geekling what time period they’d want to travel to, and what they think they’d see there. Kids have the best bullshit radar, and they can tell when we don’t want to be coloring Strawberry Shortcake. The good news is that if it involves daddy putting away his phone/iPad, getting down on the rug, speaking enthusiastically, and laughing, Lil’ Bit doesn’t mind if the coloring book is filled with Transformers or hot wings!

Many moms and Chris Rock argue that a father, who is doing the things he is “supposed to be” doing should not be placed on a pedestal. Trust me, there are no medals being passed out here. Fathers don’t “babysit” their own kids or do chores to “help the woman out.” That would imply that dishwashing and laundry is “women’s work.” That doesn’t fit the Myshell Tabu format. When I watch my kids, I’m not babysitting, so neither is he. The dad, who truly shows up and commits to the moment, however, should be celebrated as much as a mother who does the same.

This article is about the padres who know they aren’t master chefs, but they light a fire under the skillet and make sure there is greenery on the plate. It’s the running-late-for-work-but-stop-to-read-you-a-story dads, who really make an impression. This is for the dad who spends forty-five minutes putting his daughter’s hair in a ponytail, because he remembers that time he told her “can’t” was not an option. He is a model.

Lastly, this is regarding the father who listens with the goal of true understanding. When his son says he’s hurt, he shows compassion instead of telling him to suck it up. The never-ending speech his daughter spat about her wonderful day at school goes in one ear and lands on his heart.

The dad who lies somewhere on the spectrum between idiot and apathy represents balance. He is going hard in the finger paint for his kids, and that deserves some acknowledgement. If everyone in the house is contributing their best, the kids can’t lose. In fact, everyone wins.

The outside of Fort Awesome

Hannibal and Mooch honor the fort before tearing it down.

Fuss made the sign for Fort Awesome

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Pillow Talk: Haircuts and Grooming

The pillow talk series contains conversations directly from our bedroom. When you and your partner leave the bills, scheduling, and kid talk in the emails, interesting whimsical conversations happen on the pillow.

from bed Thursday night …

M: I had a dream I could solve all of your problems with tattoos. Well, not all your problems, but your “I don’t have time to get a haircut” problem.

H:But I won’t get tattoos. I don’t care for them.

M: So what. Just hear me out.

H: (Listening)

M: We’re going to drive you to Jay and have him shave all of your hair and facial hair off. Then, I’ll pull out my eyeliner and have him draw the whole mustache Van Dyke situation on. Next, I’ll put you in the car and take you to the nearest tattoo parlor with good Yelp reviews (this is your face). The artist will tattoo over what Jay drew. Voila! No more driving all the way to Gardena to get your hair cut.

H: There’s a problem

M: You only found one problem with that? That’s awesome.

H: No, I found tons, but one is just major.

M: What?

H: I don’t like needles.

M: I had a friend who got her EYELINER tatted on. This is your chin. You’ll be fine.

H: My hair is still going to grow back. How does this eliminate haircuts?

M: We can shave you clean at home each week. Skill won’t matter, because you’ll have the necessary facial hair design underneath! We’ll have the guides, you can even leave a little hair coming out of the tattoos if you want to. It’ll look more realistic.

H: Ya think?

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