Monday, November 3, 2014

Why Harassment Is Never A Compliment

Photo Credit:
I was driving home listening to the radio and the topic of the recent Hollaback! video of the woman being catcalled was brought up.  The male DJ/host was truly wondering what was so bad about men complementing women on the street.  He wanted to know why the woman in the video was so rude by not acknowledging the men speaking to her and wanted callers to voice their opinions on how men  "can't speak to women" anymore because it's now considered harassment.

I swear I wasn't going to talk about this.

Not because it didn't need an extra voice, but because so any people have written about it better than I could, or would. I've seen breakdowns on how women feel being catcalled, i've seen personal stories people have shared about their experiences, the experiences of loved ones, i've seen heated debates on twitter, i've looked at heated debates in the news and to me, it all boils down to this.

Men don't really care about you women.

Let's just face it because how else can you explain it? Any time someone (this someone meaning a large body of women) can repeatedly tell you that they don't appreciate something and it gets rebutted with what amounts to "Well I don't care, i'm going to say it anyway because I like it" says to me...I don't care.  Men, do you realize the need for you to get a positive response back from women is not about making women feel good about themselves?  It's for you.  The compliment sent from you, is really about you feeling good about yourself.  It has nothing to do with the woman the comment was for.

In college we had a particular stance for walking from campus to the nearest metro station.  Eyes down or straight ahead, walk fast, look busy.  Bonus if you had a friend because you could both act like you don't notice the people catcalling you on the street.  You could not take a leisure stroll through the 7 or 8 blocks needed to walk to the metro, you had to look like you were determined to make that train from two blocks away because you could see the blinking foot lights within the station from the street.  Several times I remember hearing variations of  "Hey sexy" "Come here ma" "You gotta man?" "You need a friend?" "Can I get your number?"

 If I walked fast enough, I could pretend that I didn't hear them and they could wonder if I actually heard what they said and refrain from doing or saying anything more to me.  If I didn't, sometimes I would get touched or grabbed by the arm, sometimes I would get cursed at, sometimes I would get followed.  Luckily, none of my instances turned into this or this or this or this.

I recently told a male colleague that from the time I hit puberty I've been harassed by men. Sometimes several times a day depending on where my daily travels led me.  By the time I became a legal adult, I had been so inundated by men harassing me that I became an "Expert". An expert at being rude in return, an expert at turning men down, an expert at diverting the conversation, an expert at ignoring it, an expert at giving the bitchy resting face look or an expert at accepting the unwanted comment hoping that said person wouldn't continue.

Full disclosure: Nowadays, I personally don't care if men make comments towards my appearance.  I don't like to give people that much power over my personal feelings.  Now, I consider myself an "expert" at handling unstable men who harass women.  If it's a stranger I have found a way to not ignore them while simultaneously ignoring them.  It's a Jedi move I have crafted over the years.  If it's an acquaintance/friend i'll usually direct the conversation away from my personal looks.  If it's a good friend, I simply accept the compliment. See that?  I called the latter a compliment.  It's not harassment if the person accepting it is welcoming of the comment. This doesn't mean I don't think it's worth talking about or fighting against.  

We all know This conversation was never about paying women compliments. This is about power and entitlement.  This is about the need for men to exert that power in the belief that women should enjoy whatever they do and say even if we repeatedly tell you we don't like it.  Damon Young said it best, "If you honestly don't know how and when to approach women without making her feel unsafe, you shouldn't approach any women until you figure that out."

If this doesn't apply to you, then you are not the "men" i'm talking about.  But that means you need to join the chorus with Damon. Thank you Damon, because this just might be what we need.  Hopefully adding men's voices to the conversation will resonate with other men.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What really matters in life: A life lesson from Jessie Spano and Claire Huxtable

Lately I have been feeling a little down. Not in the “woe is me” sort of way, but in a “how did I get myself into this” sort of way. I haven't been feeling like my self and as a result, a lot of things I have wanted to write about just aren’t finished because I haven’t given them the deep thought that they need.
Which brings me to Jessie Spano.
I don’t know if you all will remember that Saved By the Bell episode, but it is etched in my head like an inserted microchip. Elizabeth Berkeley captured a moment I have been feeling for the past few months.

In trying to show my dedication to my work life, I have felt like my home life has suffered. No, I haven’t felt. I KNOW my home life has suffered. Missed Dr.’s appointments, kids being late to school or being picked up late, arriving home late, leaving no time for my husband and overall spending zero time with my kids.  All these things have happened over these last few months. Like Jessie in that Saved by the Bell episode, I keep feeling like “There isn’t enough time”. I never have enough time for the things that interest me outside of work. I’m not talking about selfishly gallivanting around town (although that would do wonders for my inner soul right now) I’m talking about spending quality time with the people I love most. I like what I do professionally, but to me, family and friends are what make your life, not what you do. This is what makes me sad.  I know I can’t get these moments with family and friends back. If I don’t keep in touch with friends with some base of regularity, they go on with their lives and close friends become distant, no matter how many drunk nights, close secrets and clothes you have shared. As we get older, those relationships need to be fed, not forgotten about.
My time with family definitely can’t be recreated. Did you ever see the movie Click?

This movie made me cry at the end. AN ADAM SANDLER MOVIE MADE ME CRY. Let’s just think about that for a moment. The point being, I love my kids. I don’t want to fast forward through their existence only to find children I don’t recognize anymore and children that don’t know me. That’s not how I grew up and it’s not how I envisioned my life as a parent to be.
So why am I referencing Saved By the Bell and The Cosby Show in the same blog post? Because they were my existence growing up, that’s why.  I don’t really need a reason other than they were two of the best shows on air as a kid.  That I would reference both in the same blog post is like a dream come true. Sorry, I digress.
The enviable and unattainable Claire Huxtable, that’s why.
She is the supermom we all aim to be.  Claire was and still is regarded by many as the epitome of womanhood.  A strong feminist, a lovely and doting wife, a supportive and caring but firm mother, She was everything. But trying to be her will kill us.

Just look at Michelle Obama.  She IS the real life, public version of Claire Huxtable.  However, if you look behind the wall, unlike Claire, Michelle has some help.  Mamma Robinson LIVES in the White House to help with raising Sasha and Malia.  There are a bevy of chefs and cleaning crews that take care of the everyday tasks of cooking and cleaning.  Unlike Claire, Michelle essentially "took one for the team".  She gave up her high powered job in Chicago because of her family responsibilities. If you read Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama touches on Michelle's reaction to him running for office and her changing responsibilities.  It wasn't the happy, doting wife reaction that I am sure Claire would have provided.
In my idealistic recollection of my own childhood, I remember my mother as the doting parent.  She was the person who dropped us off and picked us up from school. The person who attended all of our school theatrical performances, attended all of our athletic games, was part of the PTA, and even accompanied us on numerous field trips.  She was the person who helped us out with homework, talked about bullies and did our hair.
But guess what?  She was also the person who fed us TV dinners for months on end, who took us to her university classes at night so she could get her degree, and gave us Jheri curls because it made it easier to do our hair.  Those pictures are in a guarded safe and will NEVER come out.
But real moments like those that showed Claire as not being picture perfect were never aired on the Cosby show.  The kids showed up and showed out from time to time, but never Claire. Why?  Because Claire ALWAYS had time. If she didn’t, Cliff was right there to pick up the pieces.  What happens when your Cliff or Claire fails to pick up those pieces?
I’ll tell you what happens.  Resentment. Disappointment. Feeling like a Failure.
She was a black woman who was a partner at a New York law firm back in the 80’s.  I’m sorry, but if anyone knows of any black women lawyers who were partners and worked in NY back in the 80’s who had ample time to raise and impart knowledge on their 5 well adjusted children, then I will erase this blog post and everything I said in it.  But if you don’t, that would make this read by Mychal Denzel Smith at least interesting.  I don’t believe we need to kill her as Brittney Cooper suggests, but we need to give the real life Claire’s some REAL slack at work and at home.  Parents aren’t perfect, they are far from it. But dammit if we aren’t doing the best we can.  When work life and home life both demand you give your everything, something will inevitably fail.  Which is why Claire as a character made for great TV, but in real life, she can never be attained.
Let me set the record straight.  I’m not trying to set low expectations for how people see themselves or how people want to be seen.  I’m saying, in the real world, the expectations you have of your career woman who has children and ample time to devote to raising, caring, spending time and nurturing those children will quickly shatter because it’s not humanly possible to excel at both at all times.  Something will fall.  There have been ample publications that suggest this.  Trying to live up to what Claire embodied sometimes makes me want to have a Jessie Spano freak out from time to time.  Do you want your wife to have a Jessie Spano freak out because she’s trying to be Claire and “Do it all”? No. So it might be a worthy read to ingest differing opinions on how we view this mythical Cosby Show goddess, and adjust our own beliefs as partners and parents about what we can and cannot do in life.
Family is very important to me.  So if that means I might have to re-adjust my own inner Claire to tame down the Jessie. So be it.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

#Iftheygunnedmedown: What the conversation needs to turn into and Why Diversity and Inclusion need to be taught in Pre-K

I remember I was 18.  It was dark, and I was with my sister when I got pulled over by the police.  We were visiting relatives in Mississippi and had just left our cousins house and were heading back to another Aunts house where my parents were visiting.  My mother had let us drive her car around,  a Red Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Explorer and there was a certain level of freedom and prestige in driving her car.  So, being the teenagers that we were, music blasting, rehashing the good time and the nights events with each other, my sister and I headed back to the house.

We stopped at a stop sign and proceeded to go forward when police sirens from across the street sped up toward us.  Not thinking that it was me, I slowed down to let the cops pass me.  When he turned on his horn and shot his light toward our car, I immediately froze.  We were in the deep south, two teenagers in my mothers car and there were no other cars on the street.  Actually, there was no one else around.  Heart racing a mile a minute, and over my best judgement, I pulled over.

One by one police cars showed up.  All of a sudden, police surrounded us.    By the time the initial officer had gotten to my car, there were at least 5 other cars surrounding my mother's Explorer.  All for two teenage girls driving back to her aunts house after seeing their cousins.

A million thoughts raced through my head.  "What did we do wrong?" Why did he pull us over?" "Is he going to make some thing up so we go to jail?" "Are they going to beat us?" "Are we going to die?"

The officer came up to the window and told us he pulled us over because we "rolled though the stop sign".  I said "no we didn't, I made a complete stop."  Angry that he was being challenged, he asked for my license and registration and when I produced my mother's information, he incredulously asked me who's car was I driving.  I told him it was my mother's.  He came back to his car as other officer's got out of their car and headed toward my mother's.  Several officer's surrounded the car flashing their flashlight's through our window's hoping to find something.  My sister started crying.  I started to tear up.  I didn't know what was going to happen to us.  We had done nothing wrong.  The only thing that was wrong was the color of our skin.

After holding us for about an hour, he let us go that night and I was relieved.  You might think that my earlier questions were irrational.  So let me tell you another story.

I was driving to work one evening in Washington, DC.  I had graduated from college, but still retained my license plates from the state where I grew up in which is not an unusual occurrence in DC.  I stopped at a stop sign and proceeded to turn down the street where my job was, when I got pulled over by police.  Not realizing that my registration had expired, the cops pulled me over because I had "rolled through a stop sign"  I may be wrong, but I have come to understand the term "rolled through a stop sign" as code for "just being black".  When they checked my tags, they immediately handcuffed me, put me in the police car and I headed off to jail.  Yes, I was arrested and taken to jail because I had expired tags.  Now before you say, "But it's illegal to drive with expired tags"  Had I known and been given the opportunity right there, I would have paid the appropriate fees.   What sense does it make to take someone with NO history or record of any kind to jail?  This is a minor offense.  Usually you receive a ticket, are told to abandon your car and get it towed and go about your way.  I was a block away from my job, heading into work.  Embarrassed, I had to call my boss to tell him I was being arrested and taken to jail.  This punishment was excessive.  I posed no threat to society.  I did not have a criminal record.  The color of my skin gave me a criminal record.

People wonder why African American's distrust police officers.  Every run in that I have had with police has never been a good one.  And I have lived a relatively privileged life.  I went to private schools from the time I was in Pre-k to Graduate school.  I know how to defuse my persona to be non-threatening.  I comply when asked.  My general demeanor is very friendly.  And the harsh reality is that I know that still won't be able to save me if I happen upon the wrong policeman or highway patrol or mall cop, or vigilante citizen, or "homeowner".  The color of my skin apparently blocks me from being saved.

Trayvon Martin. Renisha McBride. Michael Brown. Marlene Pinnock. Eric Garner. Jordan Davis. Randolph Evans. Ezell Ford. John Crawford. Emmitt Till.

I could go on.

This is a serious issue that needs addressing.  An issue that needs refocusing.  An issue that needs to look at the root and not the leaf.  Before men and women become police officers.  Before they become judges, or jurors or executioners.  We need to combat the inherent fear that white people have of minorities.

I'm not going to rehash why black lives matter.  I have done that over and over and over again.  What I will do is talk about what needs to be done in the future for our children, and our children's children so that when they grow up and want to be police officers and law enforcement authorities or children heading off to higher education, or just children walking down the street, we will prepare them and equip them with the tools necessary to combat this fear and these stereotypes so that innocent children stop getting killed just because they are breathing.

I can remember entering Kindergarten and I knew instantly that I was different from everyone else, but I didn't know why.  What I did know is that my difference was not a quirky neat character trait, my difference was something to be repelled.  I can remember being called nigger, blackie and told I have cooties, so I should be avoided.  And this was all before the 3rd grade.

Some will write off these experiences as kids being kids, but if we were to look closely at the situation and parallel that of boys and the lessons they still need to learn from respecting women later in life, It would do us a world of good if we started early.

What many people don't know is that kids form their opinions about different races of people at a very early age through their parents teachings and through their school interactions.  Although i'm not a teacher its seems like teaching about diversity should be a main component of developing the overall intelligence of a young mind.

My son will enter Pre-K in the fall.  We've spent months trying to find a school that would meet our criteria.  A school that fostered his sense of independence, a school that had a good curriculum to enhance a child's natural ability to learn and most importantly, a school that was truly diverse.  But what good is going to a diverse school if the children themselves don't know how to interact with one another?

If a core curriculum centered around diversity and inclusion were implemented nationwide for the early formative years (Pre-K-3rd grade) then maybe we could start to truly enter a post-racial era.  These principles need to be taught early, not when we are entering, have been in or are about to retire from the workforce.

After what happened  to Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.  there has been a  concentration on teaching diversity training to police officers. That may solve the public's perception, but that wont solve the police's profiling.  You all have been to them. These mandatory training's at work that are suppose to "challenge your belief system"  and "explore looking at a co-worker differently" It's all a bunch of crap. If we were really trying to do something about diversity and inclusion why wouldn't you start young?  Why not include diversity as a core part of the early learning curriculum?  Because working on diversity as an adult works on the leaf, not the root.

Teaching these principles to children while they are young might counteract negative beliefs.  If children are given the space in school to properly navigate diversity within the peers that they interact with, imagine growing up with the notion that the color of your skin really doesn't matter.  We try earnestly to believe now that it doesn't, but these recent reports of police brutality show that we have yet to gain that gold star.  Truly living in a post-racial society.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Men, Rape and the disbelievers

Recently, I had the privilege to interview White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett on the task force to protect students from sexual assault in colleges. With the recent mass shooting in California, this brings sexual assault on campuses across the country in plain view.  So it personally irks me when men still don't believe that rape occurs at the rate that it does or what defines a rape.  Case in point:

The other day, a colleague of mine wanted to show me a video.  Now, politically, we are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Total opposites.  But professionally and personally I consider him a friend.  Looking at the relationships in Congress and the Senate, we are an anomaly, but, nevertheless it works.  The other day, he ushered me over to see this video of Glenn Beck's producer trying to debunk the notion, and say that the White House is ridiculous in stating that 1 out of every 5 girls in college is sexually assaulted.  I would have linked you to the full video, but you have to pay, and I don't want to put you through that.  I cringed as I stood in shock and awe as he laughed through this clip.  He thought it was a hilarious and ridiculous statistic.  

I was of course disheartened.  Not that he thought sexual assault was okay, (because he didn't) but that he thought the statistic is flawed.  He didn't believe the White House's assertion that 1 in 5 women were sexually assaulted in college. These numbers come from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  The White House didn't make them up.  If you don't believe an organization who's 
 main goal is to protect public health and safety  then I don't know what to tell you.  But something happened to me while I sat there, wanting to curse at the computer.  While watching this clip, while taking note of my colleagues sheer ignorance, I remembered my own sexual assault and rape.  Parts of my life that I had chosen to completely block out, as if they never happened.  I suspect this might be true for a lot of women.  I don't know if it was just a repressed memory or dissociative amnesia.  I would rather not relive traumatic events in my life over and over again.  But at that moment, it all came back to me in full color.  So let me tell you my story.  

Right now, in Washington, DC women wear dresses when they go out all the time.  But there was a time when that wasn't the case. 

In 1999, I was a junior in college.  I remember the sayings back when I was a student "Don't wear a dress when you go out, you might get raped" and I used to think, "come on, no one can rape you in an open club that's ridiculous, people are all around you someone would notice".  But I also remember back then, everyone heeded that anonymous advice and no girls would ever wear dresses out.  

I went to a party off campus one time, pants on, and as the party became packed mid-way through the night, a guy who I couldn't see or identify, grabbed my crotch and started fondling it.  It was too packed for me to move.  I tried to fight whoever was nearest to me, but I couldn't identify a specific person.  I never reported it.  The incident happened off campus and who could I have reported it to with no suspect?  Does that mean that because I didn't report it, it didn't happen?

Shortly after I graduated from college, I started talking to a guy who I'd met at a conference.  He eventually persuaded me to meet-up with him and I obliged.  I thought he was nice and we had been talking for a few weeks and established a connection, so I was fine with meeting up with him at a neutral location.  Plus I didn't want him to know where I lived.  So we met up, and he asked if I wanted to take a ride with him.   I said sure, even though I thought the meet-up was suppose to be the date.  The spontaneous spirit I was at the time said, "Go with it Andrea, just have fun."  His "ride" ended up being a ride back to his house.  He cooked dinner so I thought "what a sweet person" even though it was a cheap first date.  After we talked for awhile, I tell him that I'm glad that we finally connected and couldn't wait to do it again and if he could take me back to my car, I would greatly appreciate it.  He refuses.  I then realize the situation I am in.   Now, let me just set the stage.  This is before the age of wide cell-phone use, so at the time I had no cell phone.  I was a broke, fresh out of college student who had all of 3 dollars in her bank account.   I didn't know where I was,  I am alone and none of my immediate family knows where I am.  Every thought about girls going missing, women getting killed, raped was now going through my mind.  Panicked, I try to coerce him to take me back to my car.  That doesn't work.  He "suggests" that we just go to sleep.  I am 5,4 120 pounds on a good day.  With no way to get out of the situation, I oblige, but insist that I will sleep on the couch.  He refuses that too.  We talk ad nauseum about the sleeping arrangements until the early morning.  I finally relent to sleeping in the bed, because i'm tired, because I have to get up in the morning and go to work, and because underneath it all, I thought Andrea you still have a little bit of control in this situation,  you may not be able to leave, but you know you aren't going to have sex with him, so it's okay if you just lay down in the same bed, you'll still have all your clothes on.  

But I wasn't in control.  I said no several times that night.  I'm not going to replay them for you all, but suffice to say, did he rip my clothes and beat me? No.  But was it consensual sex? No.  I did not physically fight him, but I clearly said no several times.   I made it very clear that I did not want to have sex with him at any point in the evening.  

From Republican Rep. Todd Akin's legitimate rape comments to GOP Rep. Richard Mourdock saying "
even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen"  People think that you have to be a certain "type" of girl to get assaulted or raped.  Or that it often involves alcohol or some type of drug.  I was completely sober both times that I was assaulted.    I've had very few relationships.  I've often heard men discuss women getting raped in terms of "well what was she doing?" I can tell you right now, she didn't have to be doing anything.

The next morning, getting what he wanted, he thought we were starting a relationship.  I never wanted to see his face again.  I remember the next day, my sister, who was my roommate at the time, yelling at me for not telling her where I had gone.  I didn't know how I could have gotten myself in the situation I was in the night before.

I never reported any of these incidents of assault.  I never wanted to.  Like I said earlier, I had really blocked them out of my mind.  I remember tackling this subject on the radio program that I produce, and a colleague of mine asked me had I ever been raped.  I said no.  Selective amnesia I guess.

Wikipedia would classify my incidence as acquaintance rape.  I say rape is rape, no matter if the instance is forceful or not, no matter if it includes drugs, alcohol, or none at all.  Forced, date, acquaintance, or non-consensual rape. They are all the same.  In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease control In a nationally representative survey of adults, 37.4% of female rape victims were first raped between ages 18-24. In a study of undergraduate women, 19% experienced attempted  or completed sexual assault since entering college.   1 in 5. 

This isn't about the victims.  Let me repeat.  THIS ISN'T ABOUT THE VICTIMS.  This is about a person exerting their power and control over another.  It's not right and we need to change the mindset behind it in order to change the behavior.   I will admit I never knew what it was until it happened to me.  I, like my co-worker, didn't believe that women could get assaulted by going on a date with a guy that you liked, especially if you liked the person.  In my mind, how could it really be classified as assault if you had feelings for the person?

So to my co-worker who thinks that the statistic for sexual assault and rape is ridiculous, I implore him to challenge his ignorance.  No one walks around saying, i've been raped, I've been sexually assaulted.  Women don't carry a badge on their clothing that says "victim".  But believe me, it happens at more alarming rates than men want to believe. 

I am glad the White House is tackling sexual assault in colleges, and yes, the statistic is correct.  1 in 5 females will get sexually assaulted in college.  Is that alarming? I hope so.  Because we need to eradicate the mindset of dominance and control over women's bodies.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ain't I a Woman?

Dave Chappelle is one of my favorite comedians.  He has a knack for talking about race in a way that leaves people thinking, and is only matched by few others.  He had a stand-up bit years ago that I will never forget in which he described how black people as hostages were bad bargaining chips.  The main point being, the world dismisses terrorist demands when black people are leveraged.  Dave Chappelle, you soothsayer you.

Recently, Brittney Cooper of 
wrote a scathing piece regarding the mainstream media's lack of national attention paid to stories regarding black women.  In it, she describes how black women seem to be the only people who care about these stories.  Don't believe me? Need some context?  Let me give you a little.

In March, a little girl went missing in Washington, DC. For two and a half weeks, no one noticed. Her name is Relisha Rudd.  To this day, she has still not been found.  Is the media bursting with major reports on the latest news surrounding the search for her remains like it did 
Caylee Anthony? No.  Three weeks ago, reports of a mass abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok in northeastern Borno state, Nigeria, began to surface. Now, the international media has just begun to notice.  To this day, these girls have still not been found and returned to their families.  Yet the world collectively gasped at the ongoing coverage of the missing Malaysian plane. What do these two events, on opposite sides of a vast ocean have in common?  Their brown skin and their female bodies.

I keep wondering when black women's lives will matter to people outside of black women.  I am black.  I am a woman.   I have a 1 year old daughter who I love dearly.  I try to the best of my ability to provide a nurturing environment for her.  An environment where she feels important, and cared for and loved.  But how can that environment be sustained in an atmosphere that is directly opposite of her reality right now?

On social media, Black Twitter exploded with reports of these missing black women, these stories of Relisha Rudd, Teleka PatrickRenisha McBride, the 276 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, and countless others.   For a majority of these stories, the major networks have largely been silent.  Only recently, and through the sheer force of widespread grassroots efforts, have the media decided to pay attention to almost 300 girls being abducted.  These stories of Black women, the double minority within society, the media's silence and their collective dismissal has not been lost among us.  In fact, this collective dismissal is quite commonplace.     

Last year a piece resurfaced on R.Kelly's sex abuse allegations.  In what was suppose to be a comeback for the music legend, it was wrought with his past 
sex allegations and sex abuse of black girls.  In the piece, Jim DeRogatis, the beat reporter in Chicago who uncovered R.Kelly's abuse of young girls says,   "The saddest fact I've learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody. They have any complaint about the way they are treated: They are 'bitches, hos, and gold diggers,' plain and simple. Kelly never misbehaved with a single white girl who sued him or that we know of... No, it was young black girls and all of them settled. They settled because they felt they could get no justice whatsoever. They didn't have a chance."

Yet, through all of this, black women are suppose to withstand the pain of avoidance, dismissal and disregard.  We are suppose to ignore the oversight, inattention and negligence of the public.  "You don't need our help", the collective public cries back to us.  I hate to break it to you, but unfortunately the "Strong Black Woman" mantra will not carry us through, should we need anything.

In her piece Cooper says, "Black women’s indomitable, unyielding strength in the face of unreasonable privation is one of our most dearly held cultural and national myths. Our ability to make a way out of no way seems like magic. We invoke this fa├žade of strength as though it could actually materially replace the lack of care, the lack of outrage, the lack of social policy that could actually help black women and girls not to repeatedly succumb to severe poverty, mental illness, plain old racism and sexism, and disability." 

These stories of missing women, these stories of girls abducted, these stories of girls getting abused and 
blamed for their abuse, are women, they are people, they are me and they should be you.  They have lives and thoughts and they matter just like everyone else.  The lack of attention to these stories, the lack of societal care for black women needs a serious reformation as it is truly a problem in the collective conscious of the world.   

Monday, May 5, 2014

To spank or not to spank, that is the question

This past weekend, I received a compliment I've been waiting to hear for years. No, it wasn't on my shoes, clothes or "getting my body back" after baby.
As I was leaving a dinner party, filled with adults and kids, a lady walked up to me and said, "You have the most well behaved kids! They are so polite and have great manners; you're doing such a good job with them."
Similar to Lupita Nyong'o at the Academy Awards, I almost broke down and cried my way through an acceptance speech.
"I'd like to thank..."
But instead, with a sheepish grin, I mumbled together something like, "Oh thanks!"
I would love to say that I did this all without, as Gwyneth would say, "forcefully disciplining" my children. I would love to be a part of the chorus that believes spanking children is not the way to go and the only thing spanking does is create more aggressive, fearful children. But since I've used it on my own children, I won't.
Look, I don't believe that spanking should be the main form of punishment for a child. It shouldn't even be a go-to. What I will say is that I believe there is a right and a wrong way to discipline your children, no matter if you spank them or not.
When I was growing up, both of my parents spanked me. There was a difference, however, in the way that my mother and father carried out that punishment. Now, before I start ratting out both of my parents, I have love and respect for both of them. As an educated adult, I understand their belief that spanking would curb certain behaviors. With that said, my father was a military man. As the main enforcer of punishment, he was often reactionary, with the thought that any misbehavior would self-correct after a good swat.
My mother, on the other hand, took a different approach. She would rarely spank, but when she did, she would often stop the wrongdoing immediately and delay the punishment -- and I always wondered why. I now know the delay was so she could have time to calm down. Spankings with her usually occurred at night, after a long explanation for the reason, so that I fully understood its purpose.
It's not necessarily spankings, or timeouts, or whatever mode of discipline is new right now. What children really need is to be talked to, starting at an early age, even if they don't understand everything right away. Understanding why you are being punished goes a lot further than passing out the punishment.
I have since tried to model my own life with my children, like my mother did with me and my siblings. I'm not going to give future predictions, but judging by the world audience, so far it has worked.

This piece was originally featured on WTOP's Parenting page.
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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

AUDIO: White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault

The White House task force has come out with steps to protect students from Sexual assault.  I had the chance to interview WH Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett on Sirius XM Progress on what the administration is going to do as well as what colleges across the country need to do to end the rising statistics regarding rape and sexual assault.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Why the SNL Black Jeopardy skit misses the mark

So let me start with the good.

I love that SNL is adding new skits that have African-American characters because they add to the diversity of the dialogue that often times is left out of the general conversation.  It's important to share these stories and when told by comedians, often makes the message more absorbable by the mainstream audience.

So when I came upon a clip showcasing SNL doing Black Jeopardy, I thought to myself, oh this is gonna be amazing.  Just off the heels of Jeopardy showing college contestants avoiding Black History questions until it was the last category on the board, I thought, SNL is gonna get this right.

But there are ways to do comedy involving race correctly, and there aren't.

For me, it started at hello.  The clip immediately features stereotype after stereotype, beginning with Keenan Thompson's "Whadup, Whadup, Whadup."  Sorry Keenan, but no one really talks like that.  That's just a euphemism for the general casual nature with which African American's greet each other.  Your version is campy and staged.  Plus it sounds completely out of place as if Black people that are game show hosts wouldn't take their job seriously.  Don't say you don't have any examples.  Two of the Original Kings of Comedy are hosts of game shows.  Pair Cedric the Entertainer's mannerisms with Steve Harvey's wit and it would have been comedy gold.  Instead you took the cheap shot and came up with "Whadup, whadup, whadup".

From there it got worse.

Let's talk about the topics they chose from.

Just because #RatchetJeopardy and #GhettoJeopardy were trending topics on Twitter, doesn't mean you need to take the exact hashtag and make it a segment.  That's lazy writing.  What works for black twitter won't always work for a comedy sketch. You have comedy writers that are suppose to weed this stuff out and turn hot topics into funny sketches.  SNL did this exceptionally well during the 2008 presidential elections.  The Jeopardy show where the college students didn't want to answer Black History questions was a perfect hot topic to do a sketch from.  It's execution however, was piss poor.  It's not funny when a majority of the Black Jeopardy sketch only featured stereotypical topics that don't have any real answers.

Keenan, I personally wanted you to stop vomiting up stereotypes. This one didn't help, "As usual we started late" Really? REALLY??  That's probably the cheapest line you could have come up with and it doesn't show any breath or depth of you as a comedian, as an improv master or as an actor.

I really feel for Sasheer Zamata. So far they have only put her in supporting roles that don't have her really speaking or doing anything. This was the first time that her comedic chops could really shine through. I felt like she was physically struggling to still seem like an actual person instead of a caricature. She tried her best with the material. Oy vey.

Sometimes I like Jay Pharoah, sometimes I don't. This time I didn't. There's a way to play the subset of black people you were going for without looking contrived Jay. Kevin Hart does this excellently. Please use him as a source the next time you want to create this type of black character.

There are just so many great comedians the actors and comedy writers could draw inspiration from that I don't know why SNL is resorting to stereotypes and low hanging fruit for their sketches with black actors.

The only time a glimpse of real comedy shined through were Had that been me and Louis CK's reaction when he tried to answer questions. I would have loved to see what you did with "Rap songs that start with the letter "N", but I don't know, after that segment, I don't know if I can trust you SNL.  All I can say is, DO BETTER.

Monday, March 17, 2014

White privilege and the search for black dolls

My husband and I have finally relented to teaching our son how to pee and poop in the potty.  We're serious this time.  Our son is 3 so I know what you are thinking.  What the hell??? Why isn't that kid potty trained yet?  And if you say to me, "I understand, every child has their own timetable" don't think I didn't catch that slight side-eye.

We have tried several times before to try and potty train our son.  The first time, I had no idea what I was doing, and just sat him on the potty after reading a book about potty training to him.  I thought he would get it.  Instead, he just looked at me all strange and when I finally got him up from the potty and put his diaper on, he went in the diaper.  I did that for a couple of weeks until I finally gave up.  If he was just going to hold his pee/poop until after I change him, I decided we weren't ready and would wait a couple of months.  

The second time, I had read-up on training and decided to prepare him for the task at hand.  I got out the videos, read the books, gave words of encouragement and set him on his way.  But I still wasn't comfortable going all out and kept him in diapers.  Big mistake.  He wasn't able to tell the clues and would still pee and poop in his diaper.  After a week I just couldn't do it anymore and gave up.  

Everyone kept saying this is an easy process and should only take a week-end.  Well why was this taking more than a couple of weeks to catch on?  After I realized those people who gave that advice were DEAD WRONG, I decided to listen to my son and look for his readiness clues.  So the third time I went for the plunge.  Got out the training underwear (release the chokehold you have over me diaper!) and dedicated a week-end to potty-training.  By Sunday we were a success!!!  Going on the potty, peeing and pooping, only minor accidents! I was relieved that we had finally trained him.  But then Sunday night came.  *Cue horror music*  The thought of leaving him in another's hands to go over what we had gone over in the week-end was terrifying.  Would they follow the same procedure?  Would the praise be comparable?  Would he go pee and poop?  

The next day, I took him to my in-laws while I went to work.  It was an utter disaster.  I explained how the process would go and tried my hardest to give detail.  None of it worked.  My son learned how to pee and poop in his training pants and it was a wrap after that.  After I realized my in-laws and I weren't on the same page as far as potty-training goes, I decided to give up again.  There was no use confusing my son on a daily basis.

But now, for the fourth and hopefully final time, we are serious!!!!!  We have a training video, we're getting supplies, collecting sheets and books and my husband is even getting in on the action so I know it's a serious matter.  But one of the things that we have to collect to help him train, is a doll.  An anatomically correct doll who can go pee.  I just cough it up to being a parent, I don't really want to know why I NEED a doll with a penis.  So in this great search for a doll, with a penis, who can pee, I came upon something that, in my eyes is very strange.  There. are. no. black. boy. dolls. who. pee.

None. Zero. Zilch.  

Yep and if you looked up that ONE doll, guess what, they don't sell it anymore.

Why is this strange to me you ask?  Because there were a million websites that I viewed of white boy dolls who pee, white girl dolls who pee, and there was even a black girl doll who pees.

Do black boys just not pee?  This would explain why my son is still in pull-ups, as he is utterly confused about the entire process down there.

To those who would say, "Why don't you just buy a white doll? Duh!?!  I see your point.  It makes total sense to just buy a doll with the correct anatomic parts, whether it's a white doll, or a black doll, but see, you sir/madame, miss MY point and white privilege lends you the ability to make that statement.  The fact that black boy pee dolls aren't even sold, creates the "the white doll is the default" assumption.  I would love to create an environment where there is an equivalent black doll, asian doll, hispanic doll and white doll sold in stores, so when consumers go buy dolls for their children, they can with the satisfaction that their child can see themselves in their play toy.  When children constantly don't see his or herself in their toys, it can create a sense that they (the child) are not as good as the dolls or the real life children that they constantly play with.  This study shows how that plays out in the young psyche of children.  And if we truly want a post-racial society, then we need a black boy doll that pees.  Trust me on this one.  

I also realize i'm not alone in my search.  So what gives US?  I hate to guilt trip you, but why in 2014, with a black family in the White House (yes it's subtle-not-subtle) can we, black families not find black boy dolls who pee?  Your attention on this matter is greatly appreciated.

Seriously though, like this sister who advocated for her brother, she has a point.  We know dolls have always been geared towards and marketed to girls, but we need to advocate for companies to sell anatomically correct black dolls that pee so we create environments where ALL boys feel comfortable playing with dolls who look like them.  Toys shouldn't be discriminated against in race or gender.  So will you help me out and sign my petition?