All Black Everything

Uh, and I know it’s just a fantasy
I cordially invite you to ask why can’t it be

Now we can do nothing bout the past
But we can do something about the future that we have
We can make it fast or we can make it last
Every woman queen and every man a king and
When those color lines come we can’t see between

We just close our eyes till its all black everything

Last weekend, I found out that I can’t move to Oakland when I finish my degrees. This was huge news for me; I’ve been at Stanford, in Palo Alto, for the last seven years. I’ve brought two children into the world here, and placed my firstborn in schools here. I have a love-hate relationship with Palo Alto. For for all its suburban beauty and safety, I feel like I am missing something. A piece of who I am. I hate the looks I get. I feel like an alien in this community. The peninsula doesn’t have a lot of us. 

See, I grew up in Philly. I lived around all black folks. I went to school with all black folks in elementary and went to an integrated high school where everyone was “gifted.” I have always knew I was black without anyone having to tell me. I’ve never felt any shame about being black. LaToya was smart, and funny, and cute, and black. None of those things felt like a contradiction in terms.

My kids don’t have that. “Mommy, why am I the only black boy in my class?” I hate to tell him he’s the only black boy in his GRADE. “Mommy, I think my white dolls are cuter than my black dolls.” “But you’re beautiful. You look like me!”

So, for them, I desperately wanted to get out. But, I soon found out, race is not the only thing that matters. So does money.

Continue reading “All Black Everything”

“Beautiful.” The Single Best Word My Daughter Said Last Night.

Lupita. Lupita. Lupita.

We can’t stop saying her name. Can’t stop commenting on how gorgeous she is. Can’t stop focusing on how glamourous she is. Can’t stop raving about her every fashionchoice. I love her. I can’t find any reason to not think she’s as fabulous as she seems.

We can’t stop saying her name. You get the feeling that a lot of time was put into news broadcasters and red-carpet-watchers practicing Nyong’o. (If you don’t know, you can hear her say it here.) After last year’s catastrophe over Quvenzhane’s, it would have been a crying shame for anyone to have gotten it wrong.

But one thing I haven’t heard people talking about is her acting, at least not as much as they talk about her looks.

Continue reading ““Beautiful.” The Single Best Word My Daughter Said Last Night.”

Put on your dancing shoes

by cocoa mama contributor rlb08863/mamatiti

I know that seems like an odd title given the events of the past year. We are coming fresh off the state sanctioned murder of Troy Davis. The anguish, pain, frustration and rage are still right under the surface. There was the trial and conviction of Raquel Nelson* who was senselessly charged with the vehicular manslaughter of her son despite the fact she was not driving and did not even own a car. There were the racist anti-abortion ads that cropped up in urban areas across the country, with a keen interest in black and Latino neighborhoods. There was the day of national shame when our President had to produce his birth certificate to the nation to prove he was in fact born here, a real American and thus fit to serve in a position that he was elected to. Across our great, post-racial nation, there are laws that seem to be in competition to see who can be the most xenophobic, the most anti-woman, the harshest against the poor and working class, the most draconian against sex workers, all in an effort it seems to prove who is the most American. The year started off horribly with the news out of Cleveland, Texas where an 11 year old Latina girl was gang raped by at least 20 black boys and men. The response by that community, in particular the women, seemed to confirm that the world was in fact going to hell in a handbasket.

So it would seem frivolous at least and idiotic at the most to ask any of you to dance. For many of us, myself included, dance brings to mind images of joy, abandonment, of lightness and exhilaration. We think of proms, weddings, birthday parties, and summer barbeques. It is a time of celebration and validation. It is more though than just a good time.

Our foremothers and forefathers understood  this. They knew dance, movement whether in harmony with other bodies or swaying on its own, was a way of communicating with their homeland. It was a way of connecting with the earth, sky, smells and sounds that had been so cruelly and irrevocably taken away from them. When they got together with a drum, all of the day events, the degradation, the pain, the suffering, the blood, the sweat, the anguish was expelled just for a moment. So long as their bodies were in motion, no matter the amount of time, the dance was the spike in the eye of those who thought they owned their minds and spirits along with their bodies. As arms, legs, torsos, necks, breasts moved, they became birds, antelope, fish, butterflies, and snakes. For that moment, they were free.  Lest you think this is trivial, think to many black churches who still understand the power of dance – yes “a shout” is a dance. The transformative nature of movement still has a place after all this time.

We need to dance by ourselves, with our children, our partners, and our families. We need to put the good foot down so that our sons and daughters will see that the world has not defeated us, has not taken away our joy. We need to throw our heads back and lift our hands while we shake our tail feathers so that we can get it all out. All of the disappointments, inequalities, the setbacks, the downgrades and the layoffs. If the sweat gets in your eye, wipe it away and keep dancing. The world, the Tea Party, Republicans, those on Wall Street, the rich and elite, want us to be defeated so that we can’t fight. They do not know about our ancestors and the power of movement. They forgot – or never knew that slave revolts were started by drums.

When you dance, laugh, cry, shout, twirl. Hold your children. Be silly. Jump on the furniture. Do a conga line around the kitchen table. Do a dougie in the family room. Hell, do the Macerna.  Just don’t be still.

After you are good and worn out, rest. Eat. Laugh some more. Snuggle or meditate alone. Call someone you haven’t in a long time and tell them you love them.  Take a nice hot bath or shower.  After you put your children to bed, if you are able make love to someone you love. Sleep as much as you can. In the morning, you will be clear-eyed, determined, steadfast and most of all, ready to fight like hell.

* Because of the power of  black blogs,social justice blogs, Facebook, Twitter, other forms of social media and ordinary citizens who were rightly outraged by her plight, Ms. Nelson was offered a chance for a new trial.

Hair Weaves For Little Girls

I don’t know if it rises to the level of an epidemic, but lately I’ve seen a number of little girls – as in, girls under the age of 12 – wearing hair weaves, wigs and lacefronts.

As black women, our hair issues begin at birth. We black mothers study our girls’ hair texture, waiting to see if those fine baby curls are going to “nap up.” Some of us start putting that baby hair into plaits, cornrows and ponytails as soon as our baby girls are able to sit up. If there’s not enough hair to comb, we brush it as best we can and put a headband on our girls’ heads, so everyone will know the baby is a girl and not a boy (strangers still get it confused, though).

I didn’t really know how to take care of a girl’s hair when my daughter was born. My mother did my hair until I graduated from high school. Although I didn’t relax my hair until law school, I wore it pressed from age 12. I had decided my girl’s hair would stay natural, but I had no idea how to style natural hair.

I was lucky to find a wonderful babysitter, a Mexican woman who taught herself how to care for my daughter’s hair. She styled my daughter’s hair in elaborate beaded cornrows and two-strand twists. Even after my daughter started school and we no longer needed her babysitting services, our former nanny still styled my daughter’s hair.

It never occurred to me to consider letting my daughter wear her hair out, loose, free. I was brought up that only white girls and girls with a certain hair texture – what we used to call “good hair” – could wear their hair out all the time. I shunned the term “good hair” but was still trapped in its mindset. I believed not combing my daughter’s hair would result in it getting tangled, matted, and eventually falling out.

I said complimentary things to my girl about her hair. I told her how wonderfully thick and curly her hair was and how much she should admire it. I bought all the right books and said all the right things to combat my girl’s jealous feelings towards classmates whose blonde and brunette locks swung down their backs. But my actions spoke to a different belief – that her hair wasn’t the right texture.

My daughter and I began having hair battles. I kept her hair washed, conditioned, combed and braided, but I could no longer fit trips to the nanny into our schedule, and I didn’t know enough cute natural hairstyles.

I gave up and took her to the African braiding shop. I thought I’d found the answer to all my prayers. Their cornrows were so perfect! Even without extension hair braided in, the style would last at least two weeks. With extension hair braided in, they would last even longer.

And so we continued down that steep, slippery slope of “your hair isn’t good enough.”

Continue reading “Hair Weaves For Little Girls”

on baldy-heads and aliens

“Did Big A get a haircut?”

I look over at my precious boy, fresh from the barbershop. His experience with getting a haircut so different at five than it was at three, when her would scream the entire time. Once, there was an entire patch of hair, the size of a quarter that just wasn’t cut cause the barber couldn’t take it anymore! But now, he loves getting his hair cut. It tickles around the ears, he tells me, but getting a haircut is no big deal. And getting to go to McDonald’s afterwards…well, that makes up for any unpleasantness.

So when a preschool “friend,” and I use the term begrudgingly, asked me this afternoon whether Big A had gotten a haircut yesterday, I happily said, “Why yes he did! And doesn’t it look lovely?” Because, of course, I think it does. I love the way the close cut makes little black boys look all grown up by allowing you to focus on their faces. I love how I can really stare into my angel’s eyes, with his long eyelashes and deep brown irises that really seem to look into his gentle soul.

But apparently, I’m alone in this appraisal. For this little girl said, “No. He has no hair. He looks like an alien.”

I was shocked. Taken aback. Then outraged. Angry.

For it dawned on me that this was not the first time some child had said something disparaging about Big A and his haircuts. I remembered him telling me how the kids at the other school called him “baldy-head” whenever he got a haircut, and how they were not saying it in a nice way. I remember him telling me that it hurt his feelings when they said that. I remember him telling me that he was never going to get a haircut again.

As I thought about this, I looked around the playground. As much as we lament what little black girls go through with regards to their hair, I never thought about the fact that little black boys face their own hair issue when surrounded by boys who are not black like them. As the only black boy on the playground, Big A was also the boy who has the least amount of hair. In relation to all the other children, even the boys, he WAS bald. All of the other little boys had a significant amount of hair on their heads – hair that flopped in bangs on their forehead, around their ears, on the nape of their necks. Some boys had more closely cropped hair, but enough to run a little gel in it and make it stand up or lay down. Certainly not bald. And, as we all know, kids DO have funny-shaped heads. When all the hair is removed, things can look a bit…well…strange.

Of course, though, to me, I didn’t see it the way this little girl did. All my life I’ve seen black men get haircuts, from high top fades to taking it all off. It’s normal to me to see men and boys with hair of all different lengths, from locs like my father’s to the floppiness of these little boys to the boxes that were popular in the 90s to Big A’s curly Qs when he was a baby to the close cut he gets today. I’ve seen it all, so none of it shocks me.

But these kids, raised in elite suburbia, have not. They don’t live around people who are different than them who do other things with their hair. So a little black boy with a close cut is a novelty to them. And when something is strange, they ridicule and “otherize” it.

Even when it is as beautiful as this.

peep this: in case you thought we were post-racial

There really isn’t much to say, as the video speaks for itself. Colorism in the black community is as much a symptom of racism as is white privilege; both stem from a belief that the whiter, the better. While we can applaud that more black faces are being heralded as beautiful, the truth is that lighter skinned black women with longer, less nappy hair is considered to be more beautiful than darker-skinned black women with shorter and nappier hair.

If you don’t believe me, watch the video again.

The question becomes: what do we do about it? Do light-skinned black folks have some affirmative duty, like we call on white folks, to call attention to their privilege in order to denounce it? I don’t know if I “qualify” as light-skinned (that sounds so ridiculous); at various points in my life people have said yes, and others have said no. But I’ve experienced some of what these kids are talking about in the video. I remember a boy saying that he liked my knees because they weren’t dark!

Whatever my classification, I’m pretty sure, according to my sources, that my children are considered light-skinned. And they have less nappy hair (although you wouldn’t know if the way they carry on.) And I already see the privilege that is conferred on them because of it. I’ve heard the comments about their “good grade of hair” and how “beautiful” they are; I don’t remember anyone saying I was beautiful as a child. And while I can’t really stop what other people say, I’m trying hard to make sure they don’t internalize the messages; I try to have every shade of black represented in their books and toys, and talk about how gorgeous all the colors of black are. Both of their grandfathers are darker-skinned, but it doesn’t help that we aren’t particularly close to those sides of the family.

Yet on the other hand, I want to be able to tell my daughter that she’s beautiful. I want to be able to do her hair in her ponytails and say, Little A, your hair is so pretty. I hope that she understands that I am making an individual judgment about her, and that my hair being loc’d reinforces that black hair in its many configurations can be beautiful. But I also don’t want her to grow up with a complex about the whole light-skinned thing either, just like I’m sure white folks don’t want their kids to grow up with a complex about being white.

Ya feel me?

this belly

When I’m pregnant, I love my belly. I love the soft, gentle roll of it, how it perfectly comes to resemble a watermelon, Big A’s favorite food, complete with the stretch marks that look like the rind. I love the ligna negra that extends from the public bone, a dark reminder of being connected to all other women, especially Cocoa women, who have traveled this road before me. I love how the extended curve in my lower back accentuates the swell, making what is usually a malformation of my spine that yoga teachers seek to “correct” a beautifully natural and perfect “S.”

I marvel at how the body can stand the imbalance by perfectly balancing it all, how other matter shifts to accommodate the growing miracle inside. When I’m pregnant, I love my body. Every single piece of it, and especially my belly.

But…

In the entire rest of my life, the 28+ years that comprise the 30 years less the 18 months I’ve been pregnant, I’ve come to hate this belly. I hate the way it looks, with stretch marks that used to be stretched now just emaciated and weak, shriveled and wrinkly. It’s a potbelly – bloated and big, with people often asking if I’m pregnant. It sucks to have that happen almost three-and-a-half years after your last baby. And with small breasts and hips, and that curvy lower back, the belly just sticks out all that much more. I hate to touch it, a handful of skin and flesh that rolls through my hand like cookie dough.

Mostly, I hate the way it feels, on the inside. My belly holds all of my stress, and it’s been this way since I was a little girl. When the cops raided the drug dealer’s house next door, I couldn’t eat for days afterward, the indigestion was so bad. When there was tension in my house, the first thing to go was my ability to pass my bowels – I was forever constipated. When I worked as an investment banker, I was in constant pain due to gas. Today, things are much the same. My stress is manifested in my belly – gas, bloating, constipation, nausea, indigestion, and even my bladder is now involved due to chronic inflammation in the entire abdominal region. My head is starting to hold some stress too, now; although I think I like my forehead 🙂

It seems to only make sense that the part of my body that I hate the most is the part that gives me the most trouble; it’s hard to know which came first – the hate or the hurt. Either way, I deal by covering it up – the hate with my flowing scarves, tied artfully around my neck, the ends covering the shame of my big, non-pregnant belly and the hurt in whatever way I can – I’ve developed a unconscious fear of eating, one that few people know about. Shame and pain – it seems they are always inextricably linked.

Careless Whispers

The sound of her fingertips was staccato on the keyboard and the breathless muttering was barely audible over the tapping
“…stupid…Ugh! Not again!…”
tap tap tap tap tap
“G, you are such an idiot!”

“Excuse me”
She looked up, a little exasperated at the intrusion. her eyes wanted to know why I interrupted but her mouth didn’t move.
“Would you let someone else do that?”
“What?”
“Call you stupid” And I took a sip of coffee, waiting for the answer that I already knew.
She was adamant. “Of course not!”
“Then why is it OK for you to do it?”

And so began my conversation with a co-worker about negative self talk. So often we are unaware of the things that we say to ourselves. She might not have been made aware if I hadn’t listened to her go on and on as we temporarily shared an office.
“I didn’t realize I’d been talking out loud, that was the running commentary in my head…just pointing out my own mistakes, so that I can fix them and improve.”

Many of us would never smoke, knowing the damage it can do to our bodies. We protect ourselves from physical harm and try to make choices that are positive & beneficial…for ourselves and for our children.

Think of negative self talk  as second-hand smoke. We’d never let a co-worker criticize us so blatantly, calling names and making personal judgements. But somehow it’s alright to criticize ourselves and use words that we wouldn’t tolerate from others. Just as second-hand smoke gets into our lungs and weakens them, those cutting words get into our heads and feed doubts and insecurities. The damage may not be as acute as with smoking directly but the lungs are never the same.

Holiday Time!

I’m just regular and plain, Black people brown #3. My hair is natural though my curls are inconsistent. I don’t have light eyes or big breasts, not overweight or thin. I am really just average and normal and unremarkable. I dress conservatively, though I love a sexy shoe. The only thing that might grab your attention if you passed me on the street is my height, which I had nothing to do with. My teeth aren’t perfectly straight nor have they been professionally whitened. While I’d love to have First Lady Obama arms I do nothing to tone mine. I’m sure I had a waist before becoming a mom, now a muffin top is my reality. I’m not down playing any attributes I have; only confirming the simplicity of my existence and my complete alrightness with it. I haven’t always been so accepting.

Like many people, I played the compare & contrast game relentlessly, oftentimes coming up short. Even though everybody does it, self-judgment is a wickedly personal game – without a winner. The feeling of not measuring up is certainly easy to luxuriate in as there are so many opportunities to learn how to improve yourself or get the latest on who has it better than you. TV shows and magazines bombard us with information about who is wearing what, what her trinket cost, how many cars he has. We get advice 24/7 on where to shop, vacation, get educated…how to have sex, when to have sex, what kind of socks keep you warmest….no matter the topic there is always a better (possible) way.

Does this obsessive focus inward serve us? I think not. America seems to have a national do-it-yourself psychosis where the number one project is self. We spend so much time and energy focused on getting better that our time spent BEING

  • happy that your plant is still alive
  • excited about getting a close parking space
  • comfortable in a bed with fresh, clean sheets
  • relaxed, enjoying a glass of wine
  • enchanted with snowflakes

    is limited.

Of course I understand that not every day is giggle worthy and that people can be a pain in the ass. I could certainly lose weight, eat healthier, meditate and rearrange my closet. There is so much improvement possible!

Right now though? I’m declaring myself satisfied. On this day, I’m good. I’m giving myself a break from the pursuit of possibility, the wonderings of what if. I am exactly what I need right now and my offering to the world is complete in this package, nary a bell nor whistle in sight. I accept my regular self and invite you to give it a rest and just BE.
Celebrate with me! December 9th is I’m Good Day.

Inspired by an excellent article on the price of the (obsessive) pursuit of happiness, found here

What the Holy Hell?!

When should you “know better”? How old is too old to lose innocence? I’ve been thinking about these things and the coercion that I feel was involved with the young men who were involved with Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Mostly because I know that those four young men are not the only ones harmed in this manner on a daily basis.

The summer after my freshman year in college my mother thought it would a great idea for me to volunteer at our church, helping out in the office. Since she’d already said I would, what choice did I have? I’d pledged my sorority during the spring of that year and the Sr. Pastor was a member of our brother fraternity. He was delighted with my neophyte self! We also had two junior pastors who were pledging grad chapter of his fraternity. Rev. Sr. took great delight in having my “little brothers” greet me and do little tasks. One of them took his pledging quite seriously; let’s call him Rev. Jr. – the youth minister. He was handsome and not too much older than me, funny and liked to flirt (in a church appropriate way of course). I didn’t take it too seriously but I was flattered and assumed his attention meant he was …interested in me. As a person.

We were in an office on the 2nd floor of the church that had a long countertop with selves above it. He asked me to sit on the countertop and talk to him. So we talked about school, being in the sorority, dating. I was sitting on the counter and he stood up, right in front of me, leaning on my knees. So I sat up straighter. In the movies, this is where the guy kisses the girl. But he didn’t kiss me. He moved my knees apart and grabbed my hips, pulling me forward.

 “What if your boyfriend did this? How would you react?”

I couldn’t move because there were cabinets behind me so I was stuck between him and wooden doors. I didn’t know how to answer his question or where to put my hands. I guess he read the confusion on my face, because he laughed as he let go and took a step back.

“I’m just looking out for you, little Big Sister… letting you know what men think about when they see you. You better get back down to the office.”

And so I was dismissed. And utterly confused. After that he took every opportunity to touch me when he saw me. I tried to make sure that I wasn’t alone with him upstairs anymore but he managed a hug or a squeeze quite frequently. I‘d had one boyfriend in high school, was a nerd to my heart (with great clothes, shoutout to my shopaholic mom) so my experience with dating and men was quite limited. I read a lot into the attention that was paid to me so when he said he wanted to take me to lunch for my birthday of course I accepted.

There was a Red Lobster near the church so we decided to go there. He wanted to stop by his apartment first, to get something. I didn’t want to be trapped there (ha!) so I followed in my car. We got there, he ran in then came right back out.

“Can you come in for a  second? It’s gonna take a minute to do what I need to do but we’ll still have time for lunch”

So I followed him in. He asked me to have a seat, went down the hall and was back a few minutes later. With champagne glasses in one hand and a bottle of something. Did I mention that this was my 18th birthday?

“Surprise! I thought we’d start celebrating here, and then get something to eat later”

“Oh, well…” and I didn’t know what to say. So I reached for the glass that was being offered and got pulled into a hug.

“Happy birthday to you…happy birthday to you…Happy birthday Dear Andrea…Happy birthday to you”, as sung in my ear.

“Let me pour you some bubbly”

I guess I looked at my watch one time too many, or sat too stiffly on the couch. At some point it became apparent that I wasn’t going to lunch and he wasn’t getting what he’d anticipated either. I declined the second glass and made a hasty exit. Now my mind was occupied with going back to work (at the church!) with alcohol on my breath and whether I would still smell like it by the time I saw my mom.

So nothing terrible happened, thankfully. Just some confusion, a little anger, mixed with the hopes of an 18 year old girl thinking she’d being pursued by a handsome older man. I never told anyone about it, went back to work that day, then school later that month. I skipped church for a few years (maybe a decade, don’t judge). But imagine that my relationship had become physical. Imagine that I’d known Rev. Jr. for more than a few months, shared intimate talks of hopes and dreams, fears and wishes. Imagine that he told me how special and chosen I was, showed his concern and support by listening and buying gifts…how devastating would it have been to learn that I was disposable?

This is what I thought of when I saw the young man talking about taking showers for hours, never being able to forget the scent of Long’s cologne. How alone and confused and heartbroken he must have been. Just as I’m confident that others knew of Long’s activities, I’m sure Rev. Jr. showed his “special interest” to other girls. What do you do as a teenager or young adult, charged with making your own decisions, being mature…when those you respect and admire give you terrible choices?

I owe my Twitter BFF @aaw1976 another round of drinks for her editing help 🙂