Just An Innocent Question

I was born and raised in America, have a college degree and English is my first language. My 3rd grade educated grandfather felt that grammar and enunciation were important so I am, in fact, articulate. Thanks to a flat iron my natural hair is often straight and when it isn’t my fro earns me the exotic label more often than not. Perhaps the straightness of my nose contributes to that characterization; I guess I owe that and my love of a good drink to my Scottish heritage.

Why is origin of my genes a pressing concern in 2011? Why is the “Mixed” question asked with a tinge of hopefulness, as if a certain combination of racial pieces will somehow unlock a treasure trove of American post-racial goodies? It is so tiring to hear people run down the list of bits and pieces that comprise a broken whole. We are all brown Americans at varying levels of consciousness (or lack thereof). Investigating my ancestry in an attempt to reconcile my face with your perception of beauty makes me feel tired and sad for your limited vision. Maybe it’s just innocent curiosity, and you are a student of faces, an artist. It’s just that I’ve been a Black woman in America for decades so I’m skeptical/jaded/over it.

I’ll answer the question though…
 
I’m mixed with
Angst & fury
Melanin & moxie
Tenderness & tenacity
Hardheaded sensibility and cool logic
Fiery passions and childlike wonder
By turns memorable and able to move without being seen
All of these traits and the unspeakable longing of my ancestors
Combine in the greatest chemistry experiment ever.
 
Explosions
                Fusion
                                Synthesis
                                                Transformation of the highest order has taken place…
 
Every time I do not respond to provocation.
             Each tear that I hold back when I witness a hungry child.
             As I stifle screams, knowing that Black men are jailed for profit
             When I don’t give in to the lightheadedness that washes over me when I hear a mother’s screams, her child a victim of circumstance.
 
The fact that I am able to sit still and appreciate the color variations of a flower’s petals
Experience it with all my senses, and pick up on music playing softly in the background
 
…while Rome, in the form of my community, burns to a crisp
 
Is a testament to the perfection that is possibility
 
And what is a remix but a combination of possibilities?
 
So yeah, I’m mixed…

Joy!

I am somewhat newly inducted into the official celebration of Christmas. I was born in the Middle East where Christmas, if it was at all celebrated, was a small affair, mostly in people’s homes here and there. Oddly I don’t have specific memories of Christmas in Europe, where I spent a few years as child, aside from some references to Papa Noel, and special cookies and chocolates.

Christmas fully entered my consciousness in the 1980s when I came to America, and how! I love everything about Christmas. I love the decorations, the reds, the greens, the luminescent whites. I love the lights adorning streets and houses. I love the store fronts and hot chocolate and the smell of spiced apple and cinnamon. I love the nativity scenes, the dolls, the elves, the Santas, the reindeer. I love the way people seem warmer and kinder.

I mostly enjoyed all this as an outsider until about ten years ago when I met my husband, who is Catholic and in whose family Christmas is a big deal with family members traveling, sometimes cross-country, to be with each other.

I took to Christmas like fish to water, with one exception: the whole gift thing. The buying just to buy; the mountains of gifts for some and very little to nothing for others; the thank you for my ceramic buxom, blonde angel in a bikini statue that plays the muzak version of All the Single Ladies when you wind it up. All my gift apprehensions came to a head last year when my then-3-year-old stood before what seemed to me to be an obscenely huge pile of goodies and lamented in his lisp: “Thanta never bringth me anyfing!”

Since I recognize that this issue is the subject of long-time debate among the good people who have been celebrating Christmas their entire lives and for generations, and that anything I, Janey-come-lately, have to say about it has probably already been said before ad nauseam, I will now stop and instead let you know how grateful I am for the beauty and magic of the celebration surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ—that feast of tastes and scents and sights, and joy, love and service.

Merry Christmas, our beloved readers. May your lives be blessed with peace, health, abundance, and the gifts of spirit.

Mind and Belly in Motion

Although class is conducted in front of a mirrored wall, my eyes are usually steadily trained on my instructor, not only because I am trying desperately to mimic her dancing, but also because I don’t want to see how awkward I look trying the new movements.  After initial timidity, I embraced the mid-section baring “Is Your Belly in Motion?” T-shirt I had purchased for class.  But it’s still hard to watch.

Sometimes while dancing, my mind wanders.  I think back to the first time I ever wore a bodysuit, those ridiculous snap-at-the-crotch shirts that my friends and I started wearing in the eighth grade.  My first bodysuit was purple, and although I had been excited to wear it to school that morning, I lost my confidence when I walked through the doors of my middle school.  I made a bee-line for my best friend’s locker and said, “do I look like a slut in this?,” suddenly uncomfortable with the small breasts that the top was made to show off.  “No!,” she answered; “you look really nice.”  I was relieved, although it was several class periods until I was comfortable enough to take my jacket off.  For many girls at that age, there is both a sense of shame and pride at burgeoning sexuality; you’re proud that you (finally) have breasts, but you’re also ashamed at the attention they attract.

In contrast, I’ve been more comfortable with my body in athletic settings.  When my high school volleyball team moved to the short, tight, spandex shorts that had become popular for the sport, I didn’t bat an eyelash, even as my teammates bemoaned the way the pants molded to their hips, thighs, and butts.  I was proud of my body on the court.  I was not a natural athlete, but I had long legs and arms that made me a valuable team member despite my difficulty learning new skills.  When I did master a skill, I felt powerful.  There was no shame because the attention I attracted was on account of something I had learned to do, unlike my sexuality, the development of and attraction to which seemed largely out of my control.

This love-hate relationship with my body has continued into adulthood.  I’m not embarrassed to wear tiny tanks and shorts when playing sports; the activity is less about what my body looks like, and more about what my body can do.  In other parts of my life, I’m more conservative.  It’s unlikely that I’ll play up my breasts with a low-cleavage shirt, or highlight my behind with a tight dress.  My preferred skirt length is right at the knee.  A large part of this is just maturity: at my age, I know that some things are best left to the imagination; that classy and sexy are not mutually exclusive.  Admittedly, though, a part of it is still a lingering discomfort with this aspect of my sexuality.  When my shirt is low-cut, or my skirt a little tight, I become that 13-year old girl again, wondering if I “look like a slut,” proud of my figure, but unable to shake the feeling that my sexuality is on display for others and out of my control.  I realize that these conflicting feelings are the result of growing up in a society where women are taught that their bodies normatively belong to men, and the shaming that results when women either fail to perform as expected or choose to control and enjoy their sexuality for themselves.

Bellydancing, however, has been a different experience.  Although it is undeniable that the movements celebrate female sexuality, the performance is not necessarily for men.  Rather, bellydancing is a folk dance passed down from mothers to daughters, learned in the company of women, and often performed for other women.  Bellydancing teaches that a woman’s strength is in her stomach and hips, not because these are the areas that are most attractive to men, but because these are the areas that house miraculous child-bearing abilities possessed only by women.  In learning the dance, I am encouraged to embrace my body in a place other than an athletic court.  Yes, I am baring my stomach, moving my hips, and rolling my body in ways that connote sexuality.  And, people passing by may enjoy it, as the young men who often stop to peer into the classroom on their way to the bathroom do.  But I dance for me, and for the women around me.  I control this display of sexuality, and for the first time, I like it.

The words of my instructor snap me out of my reverie, and my focus returns to the studio.  I steal furtive glances at myself in the mirror, and actually think, “not too bad.”  For a second I see that 13-year  old girl in the mirror as she confidently smiles at me, totally at ease with her body.  Right before my eyes dart back to my instructor, I smile back.

The F Word

I like to think of fall as a season for renewal and this year I am focused on making it fabulous.

The word I’m referring to is FIRST. That’s the position I’m putting myself in and I encourage you to do the same. CocoaMamas readers are some of the more self-actualized folks I know. I’m proud of the way we share, inspire and support each other. As a CocoaMama, it is easy to find something to do. Between work, school, being a wife/partner, daughter, sister, boss, employee, and 100 other things there is always opportunity for engagement. I’ve decided that I need to do more for me.

 The change of seasons is inspiring to me this year. The transformation of the leaves is beautiful and the chill in the air means a change in fashion too. I like to think of fall as a season for renewal and this year I am focused on making it fabulous. Since I skipped the summer shape up I’ve decided to get fit for fall. I don’t make time to go to the gym but I am able to squeeze in some plies when I go to the bathroom. Since I’m drinking more water, I make frequent trips. TMI? Perhaps. I’m learning (finally!) that little things add up to big improvements over time.

I’m also taking a closer look at my diet, working hard to eat less processed food and be mindful that 40 may be the new 20…but physically it’s still 40, and things have changed. That one little hair that popped up on my chin in my 30s? Now it is GRAY and has company! Glowing skin? No problem – as long as I follow the multi-product system my drier 42 year old skin requires. I had a blood pressure scare last month and I want to do my part to make sure there are no repeats. I make sure that my kids drink organic milk and always have fruit available, but I eat on the run, drink sodas and don’t sleep enough. I’m sure that the stress of knowing what to do and not doing it doesn’t help my blood pressure. As I’ve gotten older I also feel a certain anxiety about what I haven’t done, often failing to acknowledge my accomplishments. This of course produces more stress, which leads to ice cream and potato chips, high blood pressure and sleeplessness. Enough of that! I have a plan…

My Focused on First plan includes:

  • Going to the doctor (internal medicine and GYN) and dentist
  • Buying fabulous glasses, giving my eyes a rest from contacts
  • Listening to live music
  • Saving money, getting fiscally fit
  • Updating my fall wardrobe so I can look as fabulous as I feel
  • Sleeping more

What does your me first plan look like?

First focused links:

Woman First – great song by Kindred the Family Soul

Need beauty info? Check out AfroBella

DASH diet ebook

DASH diet overview

*I have to give a shout out to one of  my Twitter BFFs, the lovely & talented @aaw1976 for her feedback and encouragement (turn off the TV!).

Politics of Black Hair

When rocking my daughter to sleep, I often spend time delighting in the patterns her hair makes on her head.  Like many people, her curl pattern is not uniform; it’s looser in the front and top, creating a soft crown of hair that I love to touch.  The hair in the back is more tightly wound, creating beautiful coils that dot her scalp.  The hair on the sides gently fan out in little waves, framing her tiny ears.

When I take her out in public, however, I sometimes forget to see the beauty of her hair, scanning as I am for the disapproval of others.  I find myself apologizing for the lint that her curls tend to trap.  If she’s just come from her father’s care, I interrogate him: “did you brush it before you left?!?”  In response to suggestions that her hair is short, I tensely explain, “it is growing; it’s just curly, so you can’t tell.”  The well-intentioned offers by relatives to “cornrow it so that it can grow” do not help.  In response, my back stiffens, and I plaster a smile on my face: “oh no; she’ll never sit for that.”

And, she won’t sit for it.  My 15-month old doesn’t like to be restrained, and since learning to walk and run, she doesn’t have to be.  But the truth is, I don’t want her hair braided or corn-rowed, because I like her poofy little afro.  Her short hair isn’t bothering her none, and it certainly doesn’t bother me.  My daughter is beautiful every day, whether her hair is long or short, lint-speckled or fresh from a washing, curled tight or billowed around her head like a halo.

I wish I could tell people this.  Tell white folks who have no experience with black hair that her coils are near perfect in their uniformity; that although more complicated to handle, black hair is the most versatile in the world.  Tell black folks who should know better that black hair needs moisture, not grease; gentle detangling, not too-tight cornrows; that every kink, standing for itself, does not have to be brushed out.  I’d like to tell everyone to abandon their obsession with long locks for my girl; stop teaching her at such an early age that she is less beautiful with tightly coiled hair.

But mostly I just smile and nod; it seems like such an uphill battle, and at this point in my life, I’m used to it.  After having worn locs for 2 years, a cousin asked me before I got married, “you’re gonna perm your hair for the wedding, right???”  When I go to the salon to get my hair re-tightened, the other stylists insist on standing near my chair, staring at my hair, and asking inane questions like “how does it stay???” Just yesterday, I thumbed through the pages of Essence magazine, and found not one article on natural hair care.  There was no end, however, of articles offering maintenance tips for chemically straightened hair.

I don’t begrudge other women the opportunity to make hair choices that are right for them.  But it saddens me that my family and friends don’t always appreciate the beauty of textured hair.  I don’t understand how you can be a licensed hair stylist but have absolutely no understanding of the basic mechanics of dreadlocs.  It’d be nice if acknowledgment and celebration of natural hair on black women went beyond a superficial pop-culture fixation on larger-than-life afros and perfectly groomed locs.

Until that day comes, I continue trying to shield my daughter from an onslaught of messages that undervalue her beauty, while navigating an aesthetic landmine of my own.  I’ve been talking about cutting off my locs and rockin’ a short afro for 2 years now, but I can’t work up the courage to do it; it seems I, too, am invested in a white beauty standard that prizes long hair.  Taking scissors to it all, however, just might be what liberates me from all this hair oppression, finally freeing me to delight in my child’s hair–and my own–whether we’re inside the house or out.

A Weighty Issue

I took my kids to the pediatrician for their back-to-school checkups recently.  Health-wise, both kids checked out just fine.

But as is the case every year, my kids’ doctor pulled me to the side to mention my daughter’s weight.

“She’s gained 12 pounds,” her pediatrician mentioned in a whisper.  She showed me the height/weight charts for her age, showing her weight hovering slightly above the top line for her age group.  Oh, she said in passing, she also grew an inch.

I did my best not to Kanye shrug.  “Did she mention to you that she’s doing yoga?”  I asked.

“Yes,” the doctor said, then gave me the name of a nutritionist.  She also ordered some blood work to check my daughter’s blood sugar/insulin and cholesterol levels, among other things.

Everything came back normal, as it always does.

My daughter is a muscular girl.  She always has been.  She is as strong as an ox.  I outweigh her by a good thirty pounds, and she picks me up like it’s nothing.

She doesn’t play any sports now, but was heavily into gymnastics for about four years.  She has tried every sport from soccer to softball.  She swims, ice skates and bikes.  Last year, at 12, she did adult aerial acrobatics classes.  This year, she is taking adult yoga classes with me.

And did I mention she’s a size 6?  Hardly a size worn by the clinically obese.

Yet, ever since she was a baby, doctors have plotted her weight on a graph and told me, in hushed tones, that her weight was in the upper percentiles for children her age. 

Her plots on the height/weight graphs have remained remarkably consistent since birth.  She’s of average height and above-average weight, according to the “official” weight charts. 

For some reason I can’t fathom, her doctors have equated “above average” with “abnormal” and “weight problem.”  This infuriates me.  Humans come in a range of shapes and sizes, heights and weights.  The fact that my daughter’s weight has plotted consistently on the height/weight graphs since birth strongly indicates that this is just how she’s built, period. 

I always feel like there’s some implicit indictment of my parenting involved in these discussions.  Every year, the doctor grills me about what the kids eat.  “Do they drink soda and processed juice?  Do they drink milk?  Do they eat vegetables?  Do they eat fried foods or fast food?  Do they eat sweets and candy?”

My answers always seem to surprise her.  The kids get soda only when we go out to eat at restaurants.  The only juice I buy is orange juice, which they drink mixed with seltzer.  My daughter drinks fat-free milk, and my son prefers rice milk.  They love vegetables, especially spinach.  Fried foods are rare, and they mostly can’t stand fast food.  You’d have to force-feed them McDonald’s, which they’d promptly regurgitate.

The doctor always looks at me like she doesn’t quite trust these answers, even when the kids give consistent responses.  For many years, I was also overweight.  In these questions, I saw the assumption that here we were, this fat black family, greasing it up on Popeye’s and ribs and fries with nary a veggie in sight. 

Except the kids weren’t, and still aren’t, fat.   The reality that we have a healthy diet, that we generally don’t eat “soul food,” and that my kids are quite physically active, doesn’t jibe with the chronic-obesity-in-the-black-community stereotype.

This year, it annoyed me a bit that my daughter’s doctor hasn’t seemed to notice my own fairly dramatic weight loss.  Hey, I wanted to shout, I’ve dropped close to 70 pounds in the last two years.  Can you stop looking at us as a bunch of fat black folks now?

Apparently not.

Before we left the doctor’s office, I told my daughter, as I do every year, not to worry about the doctor’s comments about her weight and to just keep doing what she’s been doing.  

I said to her, “I know how and what you eat.  You have a very healthy diet.  You eat very little junk food, and only as an occasional treat.  You work out.  Whatever your weight, you haven’t gone up in size at all in the last two years.  Don’t worry about what they’re saying.”

I am trying to raise a teen black girl with a healthy body image.  If my daughter were in fact in danger of having a real weight problem, I would be on the case.  I struggled with my own weight for most of my life, and I feel like I have finally figured out how to maintain control.  If I were concerned about her weight, I would be working with her to count her calories, to honestly assess her food intake, and to balance it against her activity level.  She would be drinking more water and getting more daily exercise.

She’s already doing all of that.  My own weight loss efforts have provided her with good examples of how to lose weight and keep it off the right way.  Her body type is what it is.   The last thing she needs is to become insecure and anorexic because she’s not tall and thin.  She will never be tall and thin.  And that’s OK.

As long as she remains within her own range of normal, I’m not worried about her weight.  In my opinion, as long as that remains the case, her doctors shouldn’t be worried, either.

Pre-teen Bean

When my niece, who we affectionately call Sydni Bean, was born, I released all the built up anticipation and excitement of being a first-time Auntie by writing on my high-school classroom board, “I’M AN AUNT,” along with all of her vital statistics in perfect bubble-letters. It has been nearly 13 years since then and I am still in awe of her beauty and brilliance. She is perfectly cool, much more like me, than she realizes. She has all of her mother’s intellect, and her father’s bravado, but she gets her unwavering sensitivity from me.

This past Thanksgiving as her father was projecting images of all the kids onto my  livingroom wall he came across a picture that she said she didn’t want shown. She said, “I don’t like that picture, it looks like I have an afro.” So I ask, “like that would be the worst thing in the world?”  And she piped back, “yeah, it would!” I think I would have been able to more effectively articulate the “Black is Beautiful!” discourse that I know I have in me, if I wasn’t hurt personally as I stood there, with my afro, poised to affirm my niece’s beauty. Hurt, not as much by her desire to disassociate herself with the fro, as I was by the smile I also noticed on my husband’s face when she said it. It would have been funny to me too I guess, if I wasn’t so “sensitive.” (That being said I have also had a heart-to-heart with my husband where he admitted he likes my hair “straight-er.”)

My family, like many black families, has some ugly hair politics. I too, am to blame. I have not consistently worn my hair natural and I think it is because I fall in and out of love with my natural hair. I do not love my hair in either state, truthfully, and I’m also just not a hair person, but when I periodically “loved my hair,” it was either in a permed, short, precision cut, or in a perfectly unruly head of natural twists. Go figure?

Recently, my niece has expressed a desire to her mother to wear her hair natural. (She has never had a perm, but by natural she just means curly, not flat-ironed) She also, cut it in a bob. My sister sent out the pictures, and asked the troops (my mom, me, her other aunts, etc.) to be affirming. My mom responded by stating something like, “where is the flat-iron?” 😦 which I now understand she believes was only because she presumed when my sister said a “bob” that she meant a straight-bob. I saw the first pic and said it was cute . . .

though I secretly could not understand why it looked so overproducted and wet. 😦

I saw the second pic, and i FELL IN LOVE . . .

I thought it was not possible for it to be any cutter and immediately responded by sending her other pics of women with fros and was so stinking delighted that i had someone else on the fro team. 🙂 Then i got the pics from a Bar Mitzvah she attended post-poof . . .

and I’m like what happened??????!!!!!!!?????????

I know that being a pre-teen is hard, cause let’s face it, it’s just not our best moment as women. But isn’t it supposed to be easier when we get older? Aren’t we supposed to “know better,” and love ourselves more?

Tanji is a wife and mother of three. She has two boys and one girl. She lives in Philadelphia, her favorite chocolate city. She is an educator and her first “baby” is now a Howard University graduate and a Cocoa Mama.

Who is the “Fairest” of the Them All?

Don’t want to beat a dead horse here. But last month’s issue of Vanity Fair with the nine lily-skinned–albeit lovely and talented–young women with the banner declaring them the acting talent for the next decade really pissed me off. And I’m just not over it. 

The whole decade?

The last time I was this bitter was back in 2000 when Vogue featured Gwyneth Paltrow with a headline that screamed something about her being the “It-girl for the Millennium.” I’m sure that Ms. Paltrow is a fine human being but wasn’t the last millennium the millennium of the blonde, blue-eyed beauties? Do they get this one too?

Just so that we are clear: I am committed to the principle of unity. I believe at my core that at the end of the day there is only one race and that is the human race. And everything in my life bears witness to this belief.

Here is what I don’t love: Unfairness. Injustice. And piles of crap handed to me like it’s chocolate cake.

Have you ever heard of the doll experiments conducted in Harlem by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark back in the late 1930s? These series of experiments found that black children often preferred to play with white dolls over black ones. That when asked to fill in a human figure with the color of their own skin, they frequently chose a lighter shade than was accurate. And most devastatingly, that when asked, African American children gave the color “white” attributes such as good and pretty, and the color “black,” bad and ugly. These experiments caused an uproar back in the 30s and contributed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.   

Oh no, you say! That was eighty years ago! These are different times! This is the age of Obama, Winfrey and … I don’t know … lots of other folks. Well, sure, some things are different. There has no doubt been progress. But consider this: in 2006 a filmmaker recreated the doll study and documented it in a film entitled A Girl Like Me. In spite of everything that has changed, she found the same results that the Drs. Clark did in the 1930s and 40s.

I could have told you that watching my five year old and her friends these past few years, in spite of very explicit lessons that my friends and I have attempted to instill in our children of color. I myself have seen and heard things that have triggered a hysterical phone call or two to my girlfriends.

We don’t know exactly why children attribute negative characteristics to their beautiful brown and black skin. But many of us have our suspicions. And somewhere at the top of my personal list sits the images and messages they are bombarded with every day of their lives–very much like the one on the cover of Vanity Fair last month. Yes, Disney, you do get credit for Tiana and we do appreciate the bone you threw us but how about a true reflection of who we are and what we look like as a human family every single day and not just on special occasions? How about it, Hollywood? Are you in?

When I arrived in America on the cusp of my teens 30 years ago, I didn’t NOT feel beautiful. But I wised up very quickly. The message was loud and clear and explicit! Not only was I hearing: “You’re not pretty” (actually what I heard was: “You’re ugly” but … tomatoes, tom-ah-toes …), I also never saw anyone on TV, in the movies, in the magazines, anywhere, that looked like me (and who was considered beautiful). Remember, there was no bevy of ethnic beauties like Eva Mendes or Salma Hayek or Shohreh Aghdashloo back then. There was, however, Iman and Naomi and Tyra and a handful of Huxtable women. Oh and Diann Carroll.

Reflecting back, I realize that at some point I developed a coping mechanism: I started to interpret select images I saw in the media very literally as evidence of the possibility that I, too, may be beautiful. Here’s the short version of how it went:

I’m hearing some very negative messages about my beauty.

I’m not seeing anyone who looks like me who is considered beautiful.

I do see a few black women on TV and in the movies.

Black women have brown skin.

I have brown skin.

They’re brown like me.

These women are beautiful.

Maybe I’m beautiful too.

The bottom line is that our brown and black girls and boys need to see people who look like them achieving, inventing, excelling, curing, leading, creating, thinking, innovating, writing, being lauded, being recognized. They deserve it. They are entitled to it. (There, I said it! The word that makes so many people so uncomfortable. But I don’t understand why entitlement is treated like a natural-born right of some and as a favor for others.)

Our Caucasian children need to see people of color achieving, inventing, excelling, curing, leading, creating, thinking, innovating, writing, being lauded, being recognized.

You are doing every last one of our kids–no matter what race they are–a disservice. That includes you, Vanity Fair, and every one of your brethren across all media.

Stop barraging our children with the nonstop madness. Really! Because you might have gotten away with robbing us of our ability to feel beautiful–and comfortable–in our own skins but we have no intention of letting you do it to our sons and daughters too.

A Hot CocoaMama

I said I was going to do better. Since the new year I’ve been waking up my eyes with my favorite Lash Extract mascara and some black eyeliner. I found a new “formula” for my hair that includes Miss Jessie’s curly pudding, and Carol’s Daughter’s Hair Milk and Twi Leave-In Conditioner. It is, admittedly, the first time my natural hair hasn’t looked (as) dry since my Momma was doing my twists, lovingly and meticulously, with B&B.

I’ve been hot recently 🙂 I presented a paper at MLA in some cute black leggings, my favorite purple dress and the mandatory tweed blazer; my version of the academic staple was fitted, and had the cutest coordinated hues of purple, pink and white. I even rocked my purple snakeskin pumps just to shake the boys up a bit.

Truth is I’ve been back and forth lately about how to “dress the part.” I spent the last three years on my feet/game in D.C. public schools, where jeans and sneaks often get you in the mood. Comfortable and relaxed I approached my day, energized, organized and with my sleeves rolled up, getting dirty with the best of ‘em. I was never as fly as my artsy, fashionista students, male and female, or as “professional” as my suited up veteran colleagues, but my look got the job done.

Over the winter break, in anticipation of my first class as “Dr. Me,” I cashed in on a merchandise credit at Tiffany’s and bought “everyday jewelry,” because I’ve found that looking plain has its perks. I am often the younger teacher that gets “mistaken,” for the student at work. Furthermore, the Plain Jane mommy routine does numbers when you are trying to get medical professionals to class you as warm, caring, educated and motivated, and you really need them to stop stigmatizing you and give the expertise your children need. I know . . . crazy!

All that being said I wish I was still turning heads, particularly mine, and then my husband’s, in that order 🙂 I have this homegirl who has been putting me to shame for years!!!!! The other day I needed her bad, and she always comes through. My daughter was admitted to the hospital for “failure to thrive,” my two-year-old son was tearing up the place with “failure to stop cutting the f*%K up,” and my husband and I needed him gone! She came and rescued both of us on green stiletto pumps, in cute tight jeans, and with a full face of perfectly applied/neutral makeup. Her hair was in an upsweep, cause she knew she didn’t have that kind of time, but even the upsweep was still as eye-catching as the A-line on her trendy, grey coat.

She and I have talked about this!!! A few months ago, while driving cross-country, I confessed how boring and tired I think I look, and told her truthfully how I admired how absolutely flawless she always is, even though I have known for forever that it takes her waayyyy tooooooooo long in the bathroom. She told me, like a true friend, that I needed to take more time to care for myself, and that I was probably putting too much time into caring for my kids and my book project. She also told me what the hell she does for that long in the bathroom, and though the details are now fuzzy, it had something to do with exfoliating and pumice stones.

Often when I go to the barbershop to take years off my face with a razor blade eyebrow arch I tell my barber, Omar, and longtime friend, that I remember when I was cute. It’s normally couched in some conversation about how adorable his new wash girl is, or a tender quip at his receding hairline. He tells me that I’m still cute, which I know is to make me feel better, but thank God it works. I would love to feel that good all that time, and know that I really brought it on.


To The Left

“Every mother deserves a daughter.”

– Melissa Harris-Lacewell

I had already heard some of the criticisms, feminist and otherwise. “Why does the princess have to turn into a frog?,” “Why do the character’s sound like that?,” and my personal favorite, “Where is her magical kingdom?” If any little black girls deserve their own hometown princess, Post-Katrina New Orleans black girls do.

I know, I know, I know . . . this is the moment of the black girl. Indicated first and foremost by the “hope,” and eventual realization, of a black First Lady and two black First Daughters, and followed by several Vogue covers with black women, including the controversial Vogue Italia . . . hell, even Pottery Barn Kids had more varieties of black dolls in Holliday 2009 than I could find at my local Target. However, I went to see the movie anyway, with my little princess in tow.

Two and a half-decades and running/supposedly ending? Oprah, voices Tiana’s mother in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. Is this our mother’s fairy tale? She wants her daughter to marry, give her some grandkids, stop “dreaming” and start courting. Tiana solely desires to open her own swanky New Orleans restaurant instead. She starts off the movie with savings (as well as a penchant for her profession)! This is not a Cinderella story.

All the men in the movie, at least those survived by Tiana’s late father, are uninspiring. Dr. Facilier, the villain, is a capitalist conjurer who wants to run the city. The Prince himself is “lazy,” as Tiana rightfully admonishes. Even Bruford, Tiana’s dayshift co-worker riffs, “You have about as much chance of getting that restaurant as I do of winning the Kentucky Derby.” However, Tiana puts on her superwoman cape and keeps truckin’, believing firmly, “the only way to get what you want in this world is through hard work.”

Is Tiana truckin’ or trickin’? After all, she only kisses the frog because she wants him to turn human, marry someone else with money and share the wealth. Though she does wish upon a Disney star, she also digs into some deep pockets. Her mother is a seamstress, her daddy is dead. According to Mark Henn, supervising animator, “A lot of times in fairy tales the leading character is a little more reactive, things happen to them, with Tiana, and some of our other leading ladies, they were more proactive.”

The “problem” with Tiana is that she wasn’t loving, as her fairy godmother, Mama Odie, instructs. If she can find it in herself to follow in the footsteps of her father, who was both a dreamer (however unrealized) and a devoted father/husband, then she can live happily ever after. Of course she gets married at the end of the movie. However, her running her own restaurant is the final scene.

Legend has it that actress Anika Noni Rose, voice of Princess Tiana, asked the animators for her character to be left-handed like her. Let’s here it for “left-brained” learners/creatives! This may very well be my daughter’s feminism, a little to the left.