Sunday, October 19, 2008

Breaking My Silence

For over a month I haven't had much to say in the blog world. I was and am a bit tired of the demise of the political debate, so much so that I reflected on my wave of different emotions over the course of the election. Early on I was very excited to just learn more about the overall process. I've always voted, but I haven't always had an emotional tie to the issues, the candidates, the particulars of the contest and then some. A lot has changed over the last year.

About a week ago I received an email forward to an entire distribution list which left a really bad taste in my mouth. I didn't respond, I just made "a mental note to self" that forwards are really the death of smart communication. Shortly thereafter I received another forward, once again spouting a mix of half truths about the record of Barack Obama. Voting record and stance on core issues is not lost on me, the emails also had some clear facts sprinkled in race bated material about "how frightening" the thought of him becoming president was.

I decided to respond to the entire distribution list of the person who originated the forward, and I knew that I was most assuredly walking a slippery slope when I hit send. I had considered the person a friend, but I realized that no friend of mine could be responsible for the level of ignorance that was being shared openly without thought. At least, that was what I determined after I read both emails again. The result - a few additional forwards, a challenge email directly to me, and then being copied on subsequent notes to her email list about "those people" who had responded to her entire list unnecessarily. I responded purposefully, realizing that if I said nothing it might mean that the information would stand as acceptable and fact. I thought the poorly substantiated and openly refuted emails deserved a response. I probably lost an acquaintance or two (three, four maybe five) in the process. I got some new peers along the way though - not everyone agreed with the tactic and tone that still makes my skin crawl.

The moment that I mentioned race two people wrote me back and said, "you just must not know her," she's the furthest thing from a racist. I actually didn't call her a racist, and I didn't say that the information was racist - I said that the emails were race-bating - because code words are intertwined to catch the emotion of the reader, with regard to race. It makes me think of the word associations that we used to do in school...or at least that is what they did in my independent private school in Ohio. Here, the word association is both with regard to race, stereotypes, socio-economic differences, and the widening gap between those who have and those who have not.

The messages captured enough stereotypes for a great SNL routine, or a really irritated Black professional at the very least. I was treated to a MLK quote, rants about "conservative values", implications about "helping those undeserving people get houses they couldn't afford", "our taxes", references to name, religion, and political affiliations - as if there is a candidate in existence that doesn't have any history. I have not been in the Obama Choir from day one, even my excitement was buried in concerns about exactly how he could impact the policies and procedures which have led us down this road. Yet, I have up until recently had very civil conversations with people along all political affiliations. I helped elect Bush, I have plenty of reflection to do.

Contrary to the respondents on the list who questioned my Christianity, I am a Christian. I do believe that the same advocacy for life at inception should translate into concern about what happens to life when it gets here, needs an education, needs health care, needs a solid start in life...but that would be ridiculous. To challenge someone to think about the financial implications of the war, the military strategy and the failed weapons of mass destruction argument - it is getting harder and harder to do. My Republican spouse has been treated to all types of nasty little rants on the conservative sites he frequents, I don't even spend that much time surfing nowadays. If we can't disagree with some degree of respect - what does that say about us as individuals, often individuals raising another generation.

I pondered whether or not to respond to the emails point by point, the Muslim references, the Bill Ayers saga, the inexperience issue, and the implication that those who support him are somehow waiting for a government ride. It isn't my life, or the life of those nearest and dearest to me - but I'm starting to wonder if it should matter at all. The assumptions and stereotypes aren't going to be changed with my reality, in fact not facing reality seems to be a prerequisite for some of the vicious lies and urban legends that are distributed. The inability to see this election with any balance is becoming an increasing concern. The inability to understand the difference between minimum and living wage - well, when the originator of the forward highlighted this as scary - I started to wonder about the different worlds we live in. The negativity has reached an all time high, where lynching pictures, racial slurs, and calls for even worse behavior become a rallying cry. I don't want to be part of that dialog - it is the worst common denominator for our lowest selves. I want more.

So, I haven't been writing much. I spent most of the last few days exchanging emails with the half dozen people who quietly applauded my efforts to respond to the ridiculous forwards. I have enjoyed creating an Internet relationship with people of diverse backgrounds, who supported the idea of "knocking it off." Getting past our own comfort zones and mis-information in order to be more responsible for the paradigm that we operate within, that should be the call that we each have. I stumbled on a few posts of mine that made me think, smile or reflect - some passionate, some posted well before their time. One of my favorites though isn't one of mine at all, it was an Open Letter to "Mr. President" whomever, the president will be. I have a great regard for a 40 year old man drinking 38 year port, deciding to capture his thoughts, because it was the first post in recent weeks to make me think that there is an ounce of sanity still in existence. We don't have to like 100% of a persons politics to have a high regard for the office of president....(now check this out) REGARDLESS of who is elected.

I don't believe that you have to butcher someone to elevate your own case, or trash someone endlessly to instigate a reply. I think you can agree to disagree - but I think you have to be mindful of the challenges that rest in front of you. Most people speak in soundbites and political generalities. Unfortunately, our bumber sticker days are pretty much in full swing and the education process for voters (registration, early voting, clothing selection, facts vs. fiction) is tilted at best. When you stand up against crazy, you might become an army of 1.

I am thankful for the opportunity to live at such a time as this. I'll be relieved when the election is over - but I have come to believe, the foolishness probably has a long, long way to go.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Running Scared - Double Talk in Identity Politics



Kwame Kilpatrick held his support of Obama hostage, and it was the talk of the blog world that he was being coy about who he'd support at the heart of the Democratic Primary Season. Eventually, he finally supported Obama, as if he was testing his electability, cultural acceptance and leadership all at the same time. It was irritating. Now it may be costly. As Obama accepted his support to ensure the "Get Out the Vote" in metro-Detroit, he uttered a few phrases of support for Kwame that will live in attack ads for the next 2 months. The implication - birds of a feather. The reality, Obama and Kwame couldn't be further from each other in many many ways. They have three unfortunate things in common. So now being black and male, and in leadership will serve as fuel for fear politics and further distance those who were already scared of black men. The correlation - Obama will do to our nation what Kwame did to Detroit.

For starters, Kwame may be a lot of things, but responsible for the status of Detroit isn't one of them. He may have added to it, he may have taken advantage of it, he may have benefited from it - but Kwame didn't create the Detroit that exists today. Suburban flight started long before Kwame took office, as the riots and the race tensions further distanced people from each other. In the center of the city we have Greek Town, Mexican Town, cultural districts - but to have a black anything scares people. Well, it scares the kind of people who stop at first glance, and don't dig any further. Detroit is a mess for many reasons, poverty and socio-economic factors far outrank race. The public school system, coupled with the death of the automotive industry, has led to a less educated workforce with more unemployment, more foreclosure and more strife than other areas. Yet, there are marvelous things happening there as well - they just don't make the headlines. Economic development, community collaboration, the arts district - they're growing. The downtown corridors are starting to look like a thriving place to be, and it took the 10 years that I was there to realize that there was life being breathed into the city, however slowly.

It is easier to link Obama to Kwame for fear, than to have some view of the situation steeped in reality. Obama is a smart man at his core, I've come to believe this based on the last 2 years of a savvy and strategic campaign. He was as clear about Kwame's liability factors as anyone. Yet the fear of Black People will be enough to help some voters link the two together. Michelle is not Carlita, and Obama is not Kwame, but that's no different than people tearing Obama down because of his race and lifting him up because of his multicultural appeal. It makes no good sense, but it makes headlines.

Meanwhile, Palin is in a political bubble, and the McCain campaign is going through every hoop imaginable to ensure no interviews, no press access, no access to her education records, no access to the non-vetting process that took place in Alaska. The more sensational dirt that comes out about Palin, the more people defend her. The more moral mayhem that the party reveals (Giuliani, McCain and Palin combined are pathetic), the more people sign on as if they'd accept this mess in any other situation. The reality is that this election is based between those For Obama,and those Against Obama. It frankly is starting no to matter who's on the other side, its ABO - anyone but Obama. And, as long as the Republican party, hate groups and the 527's supporting him can paint Obama as everything he is not - they stand a great likelihood of winning. At the core of many people, they already think the worse. The ads are just confirming what they already believer.

We've come far as a country, but we believe in double talk still. Its okay for McCain to flip flop, neither of them to live the values they'll try to place on the Supreme Court, and be void of any responsibility for the worst war investment ever - but that's because they're not Obama. If he had Palin on his ticket, everyone on this side of the sun would question his political sense, judgement and management. If McCain had Obama's fundraising, grassroots organization, campaign infrastructure or a solid family life representative of the average middle class - he'd be the second coming. Obama's educational pedigree at face value speaks to his decision to play by the rules of the game that the majority culture created. The difference, at its core - race. McCain is patriotic and loyal, Obama - well, uppity. And the Right will use code words and linkages to further divide our nation and imply what we already know many believe - he's disqualified from leadership, not due to experience, or work history, or decisions, or judgment. In the views of many Americans, Obama won't make the grade, because he's black. (1/2 black, but that's all it takes.)

Now, we sing "We are the World" and ignore the role color plays in the minds of everyday people. And we forget, that hardworking everyday people, in every shade, color and hue - they're prone to believe false advertising and sick stereotyping too. It captures the interest of bloggers because we live it, and for our ancestors, they died because of it.

Thandie Plays Condelezza Rice



I'm admittedly skiddish about the discussion that has been front and center as of late, in regards to the role of women in politics. I was sickened by the Palin selection because I wondered who else might have more accurately filled in the Republican gap. I guess we'll know in a few months how savvy, savage or sanguine that pick really was - but it was the final nail in the coffin for me. The Religious Right, although I share a smattering of views with them, doesn't represent me. I have suggested more than once that maybe Dr. Condi could give dear beauty queen Palin a clue. Proximity to Russia will never define international prowess for me.

So I was just delighted to learn that Thandie Newton will play Condi in an upcoming portrayal of George W. Bush's life. I'm not interested in his story, but I've been waiting for hers. A British Cambridge graduate, Thandie doesn't immediately come to mind as the person to play Condi. The more that I thought about it though - she's a perfect fit. There's always been a question about Thandie's background, everyone wants to know her background, her race, her culture...as they question the depth and breath of her selected roles. Although race has been an assumed factor for Condi, people have loved and hated her for much different reasons. The role that she has taken as Secretary of State has been filled with more questions than answers and an admitted curiosity about her loyalty to Bush and her fierce decision to stay. We know that she is a survivor, but it seems as if Thandie is too.

Maybe I like Thandie because of her tendency to cuss like a sailor, she does it really well. I have tried to release my mouth from twisting phrases that need not be uttered, but I am still a work in progress. I first admired Thandie's portrayal in Beloved, when I fell in love with her quirkiness. Her role in Crash was just one step further in solidifying how much I admire her. She's a disciplined actress that selects projects based on her role as mother, not for hollywood fame. I imagine that both fame and fortune have both come with time. Like wine, I think they are both aging beautifully into the people they are - different, distinct, and defining.

Likewise, I admire Condi too - she's a survivor. If there was any woman that would have made me think about the Republican ticket, it would have been her. Even when I don't agree with all of her decisions, I respect her path and her resilience. I can't imagine how small her inner sanctum must be to maintain her sanity. Meanwhile, she follows her convictions and stands strong in the midst of storm. after storm. after storm. She commands attention even when you are on the other side of the position, something that Palin doesn't seem to get. These iconic figures continue to capture my attention, and during a week of Palin, Christine Beatty, and more - I'm surely glad they exist. In a culture that savages women daily though, through both word and image, I'm just happy to be talking about two I admire. The media spends way too much time on the sensational and the sad, but I think history will affirm lives well lived - in a time when so many seem to be barely living at all.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin - Not the Republican Obama

The Blog World is filled with opinions and posts about Palin, some of which have crossed the line in personal attacks. Many people have taken a play from Palin and McCain on simply tearing people down as a way to avoid talking about what you offer. Other blogposts, like one at A Political Season, are just a glimpse into the misguided world of Republican dreaming. Palin is not the Republican Obama, and I shutter that someone might think that she is.

Identity Politics
Palin is using gender as her primary stump speech, looking to attract & excite like minded members of the Republican base. She understands her role clearly and has offered to play it well to politically advance. Many Republicans and Alaska natives tout her qualified success as timing and politically savvy decisions, approval that is linked directly to the individual gains resulting from the Oil Company benefits based on location.

Barack has never campaigned as a Black Man, although he recognizes that he is one. He has spent the last 2 years talking about everyday people and everyday issues, the ones that you see clearly as a community organizer - although most of us decide at some point we want to affect change in a different way. He has not excited and motivated the Democratic Base, so much as he has changed the Democratic base to include those who were not an active part of the process. He has reached out to people who's view, opinion, action and interest were never solicited seriously on a grassroots level.

Character Bashing
Palin took a play out of old politics, and walked in synch with McCain in working to market fear politics. They have not simply said we disagree with Obama's stances - they have told those who support him and endorse him - you're dillusioned and caught up in celebrity. You are a fanatic not based in reality. They have clearly articulated, " he has been nothing, has done nothing, has decided nothing, has mananaged nothing, and you are stupid for getting caught up in the hype."

On the flip side, Barack has talked about continuing the politics of what got us here in the first place. He has focused his attention on approaching the challenges within our society by the power of the people, not just his ideals. He has openly disagreed with McCain and said that McCain can't relate to everyday people. He has not said that McCain is a womanizer, Palin is a token, and anyone who supports them has lost their mind.

Motivation vs. Fear
Palin has implied that Barack didn't think her town was "cosmopolitan enough", ensuring that small town folks and even more important, small minded folks, get scared about race. She has not motivated and inspired, she has continued a message of fear. She could have easily said last night "be affraid, be very affraid. he is not like you at all. i represent you." With the diversity of a Starbucks experience, she will guarantee those who quietly fear differences and are uncomfortable about race - you'll never have to worry about that with me.

Meanwhile, Obama has given one of the most clear speeches about race in my lifetime. As a Black woman, it simply is what it is. I don't use it to dictate or justify who I am, nor do I avoid it or exploit. In our nation we have failed to mobilize a national dialog about race into anything more than scary definitions of Affirmative Action, piting people and interests against each other. The reality still stands clear, America has been built on the backs of a class of cultures, and we will not be healed overnight. Nor should we.

Proven and Tested
Palin has been asked to prove nothing. The media circuit of the right is touting McCain's judgement and selection. They are not educating people about her record, they are pitting her record against Barack's. People who said ready to lead on day 1, have now said she has ample time to learn and be taught at McCain's knees.

For 2 years Barack has been scrutinized, belittled, laughed at, reviewed, interviewed, rated, evaluated and more. This isn't an issue of "if Palin had been around for two years," the reality is that she will not have to prove herself in the same way. Any child born to a family of color within the last century has encountered one shared parental truth, "You MUST out perform racism, because it will always exist." From birth, we are taught that you must be better, work harder, dig deeper, be more resilient - not to win, but to even have the opportunity to compete.

In my house the debate will go something like this, "well his resume is weak, you have to admit that." My response will go something like this, "you have yet to review her resume, because the one liners about being a mayor and a govenor have been enough."

Meanwhile, she inherited half of her accomplishments in office, and hasn't been asked to account for not even knowing what the Vice President does - as expressed in her own words. She says, I'm a hard worker. Well, is that enough?

Following the Script
Palin is following McCain's Script and the desperation of the so called Religious Right.
Obama wrote his own script - and is paying dearly because of it.

When Obama gave one speech at a convention - he was paying his dues as a junior senator.
When Palin gave one speech at a convention - she became a national hero qualified for Vice President.

Collaboration across Party Lines
Palin has said that the do nothing legislature has failed America. These are the same people that any leader must work with and through to accomplish what needs to happen in our country. When she worked across party lines in her political career, it was an occassion not a signature style. She has argued herself that she will do whatever is necessary for what she believes is right. That gets her closer to her agenda, but it doesn't qualify as a life of working together for greater good.

Obama has demonstrated and stood on the basis of working across party lines. When he advocated and authored legislation about campaign finance reform, he didn't do it from the security of his party - he worked with other people to make it happen. He has been acknowledged time and time again for embracing this approach as the core of who he is, not just what he does. The Right has painted this as being naive, unseasoned, not ready. They'd rather go to war than have a conversation.

World View
The mis-steps will be countless on both sides when all is said and done. But for an advocate of War, proximity to Russia should not be a qualification for international affairs. What we know about Palin is not much in this area.

While you may disagree about the removal of troops, the approach to Israel, his tactics about Afghanistan, and the belief that the United States of America should be restored to a better standing with our world partners - you do know where he stands. And while he has created advisors, think tanks and running mates that have a longer track record in these areas - he does have a track record with his view - right or wrong.

McCain got caught - and as a result the same service provided as thousands of men and women - he has been touted as a National hero and the picture of patriotism. I respect his service, but that's it. His character is no more defined by that one act, than it should be defined by his angry rants, wife trade ups, or any other sole act. He selected ovaries who will learn at his side, but she has said little else, other than, "drill, baby drill" and "fight, baby fight."

Attack Politics
If she attacks - she's a self-described Pitbull.
If McCain attacks - he's a maverick.
If the Right attacks - they are rejuvenated.
If a Woman attacks - she's a feminist making history.
If a Black Republican attacks - they're on television as a scholar or party leader because there are so few.

If Obama attacks - he's an angry Black man.
If Biden attacks - he's belittling a woman.
If a Democrat attacks - they are misguided and part of the Obama cult.
If a Woman attacks - she's bitter that Hillary couldn't do it.
If a Black Democrat attacks - they are voting for Obama because he's Black. They don't know the issues, didn't make a choice, aren't using their voice. They're the non-hard working folks who always vote democratic.


Palin delivered a solid attack speech well. She's a pill and a pit, but Obama she is not. For the majority of Republican's that makes her amazing, exciting, and inspirational. For an independent, I wonder if it just increases the garabage you have to hear instead of real issues and real policies. But isn't that why McCain picked her after 8 years of Bush? Identity not issues, and the change that could give him the Whitehouse after all.

Palin's Failure for Everday People

I watched the speech last night. I argued with my Republican husband about the lack of substance in the McCain't Palin ticket. He promptly suggested I was not being strategic in thought, overly emotional and sited my response as evidence of why the "Democrats might not win because they don't understand the real issues at hand." I had openly avoided any blogging about this issue, swept into a focus on back to school and back to the routines that guide our family. However, after my true introduction to Pitbull Palin last night, my thoughts are incredibly clear. I have been Independent for the last decade in my voting, and last night I was clear that if I must pick a party affiliation - it will be to proclaim I am a Democrat.

No Solutions - Rhetoric
Palin offered no solutions about the issues that matter to me most. There was no mention of health care and a summary statement about "parents being able to choose" the education option for their child. The problem with that education theory, is that the only families that truly experience choice are those that are able to afford houses above $250,000 in value, so that they can buy a school district that offers a competitive education. Although I support Charter School options and applaud parents seeking immediate remedies to their local schools, I see what those options are everyday. I also know that most schools in the infancy of their development (Charter Schools included) are not able to provided the systems and tools that an above average Suburban school district provides.

My prescriptions with full health care for my children have been about $150 this month, including office co-pays. Palin and McCain don't have to address these issues, it doesn't even matter to them. The problem, however, is that more American people face my reality than Palin's Mr. Mom husband, and McCain's decision to marry up, wealthy and clueless.

A Moral Mess
We can talk about policy prescriptions and detailed plans, but at its core the Republican Party has been offering a moral solution to life for as long as I can remember. I myself use the term conservative to clarify that regardless of my political affiliation I have morals and standards that are clear for my family and our lives. The Right has taken faith and religion and stood on top of hills and mountains to proclaim the lack of moral compass in anyone who disagree with them. And what do we get from their example:

Giuliani was responsible for the build up last night. Someone who moved his mistress into the home with his wife, openly cheated, and does not have the respect and support of his children. The Giuliani sons are Obama supporters.

McCain returned from his POW experience which he openly pimps in what has become a disgraceful manner - to cheat on his wife, divorce her after she suffered terribly from a life altering accident, and then married the wealthy bimbo he cheated with.

Palin has the ability to reach out openly to parents of disabled children, white women, those who aspire to a "less cosmopolitan world", while Barack has to dance around his culture, all racial issues and any reference to what he might be an advocate for if he gets the nod. Her mother in law said she didn't know what Palin brings to the ticket. I would love to clarify what she brings - she's white. she's female. she's void of any documented position on race and equity issues. she's gender politics at its finest.

It remains more acceptable to be a white woman soliciting for female empathy, and asking women to vote with their ovaries, while gently flirting with the no family is perfect theme - than to be firmly rooted in family values and Black. If Barack had a teenage daughter that was pregnant, left a newborn child to return to work in 72 hours, and prioritized a speech over a pending birth - we'd be citing the problems with Black male leadership in the home. I am resisting the desire to fully editorialize what I feel about having Palin represent women as a whole - but what I'm clear about is the changing standards. It isn't about character if we can be beat on character, it isn't about experience if we can be beat back about experience, it isn't about issues if we can make it about personality.

We are on the eve of electing war mongers and our media dialog is about how inspiring Palin is. Well, she's clean, articulate and the first viable female candidate - but that doesn't mean we want her at all. Jesse Jackson didn't motivate my support because I didn't believe he was the best candidate. Lets be clear, I'd love to make history voting for a woman. I will grieve the day she was born if that woman is painted in Palin. Offer me someone who has worked hard, paid their dues, has something this Soccer Mom can relate to - and I'd be thinking long and hard. Hell, I don't want more taxes. But the thought that anyone believes Palin, the VICE Presidential candidate is that person- it is simply a false hope. The men who stayed up all night writing her speech should be proud. I'm more convinced of her drama and her acting ability than I am of her political prowess, and for a woman of color she offers nothing. I don't want my 8 year old daughter looking to her, Giuliani or McCain't for anything. ever.

No Perspective on Community Based Issues
The dig at being a community organizer shouldn't just be about Barack. The truth is, Barack Obama was a community organizer, but there are millions of us who are an active part of the community development industry. As professionals who work through community based organizations to affect change, we should be collectively asking the question - then what does Palin think about the real everyday work that we do?

You see, if Barack's experience is fluff to her and she doesn't believe that real decisions were being made - her implication is that government leadership is real work, and community based work is not. For everyone who has mobilized a group of people for collective action, worked to leverage investment for community and central city development, shifted the paradigm about affordable housing to an action about socio-economic integration for diverse communities - Palin thinks you don't make real decisions.

In the world of Palin, telling government officials and departments how to spend the budget and "drill, baby drill" is more important than change that is created from the ground up. In her world grassroots is as foreign as diversity, race and accountability. McCain doesn't have a lock on patriotism because he survived War - half of the men in my family served as well. The picture painted at the Republican convention doesn't capture the sacrifice and service of the men in my family - men who universally believe that the war was a MISTAKE. They - McCain/Palin believe leadership comes from the top down, not from the bottom up. And what will you tell your children when they have to interview more times for a minimum wage job, than she did for the 2nd highest position in the land - with a 72 year old with heart and anger management issues. Please. Let me assure you the same standards will not apply.

While she spent her 15 minutes of fame showing how clearly she can be a pit bull, what she didn't tell you is what she can offer for you. Did you get a sense of what is happening with Social Security, Healthcare and Education? Did you get a clear understanding of who she will put on the Supreme Court - or wasn't that pretty obvious ladies. Palin made HER CHOICE based on her personal circumstances, but do you trust her to make decisions for you.
She's advocating for her 17 year old to get married and we believe this to be a responsible choice for the sake of doing what's right. Angelina and Brad could introduce them to the concept of ADOPTION if her Right Wing Fanatics can't help her there.

Did you get misty eyed in thinking that we'd be at war for the next 100 years, with an economy as strong as McCain thinks it is today. I mean really, you all have $5 million to work with, right? We're watching the stage shift before our eyes and the dialog still remains hinged on identity politics.

I don't identify with Palin. With the escalating foreclosure rates that are crippling communities at their core - Palin had no words regarding housing. She didn't offer any solutions with her criticism of what celebrity brings. If 80,000 people in a stadium is celebrity - being lifted from obscurity for the Vice President selection because you have ovaries should be too.

Reality Check
Barack and Michelle offer for my children a substantive example of the beliefs we have tried to instill in them. At very young ages they have been introduced to racism in ways that grieve my heart and spirit. When they see people who are touchable in their eyes, people who have had to work hard for everything they have every gotten, people who played by the rules and leveraged education for success, people who got married - had children - and then had the audacity to stay together, people who have dared to dream bigger than anyone thought they should, people who gave back to their community and used the channels available to them to pay off student loans and credit cards that subsidized making ends meet, they see a future.

When they see McCain and Palin they see more of the nothing they see every day here. People who don't view race as an issue. People who don't view class as an issue. People who don't see neighborhood based work as real work. People who believe the proximity to Russia gives credit for foreign affairs experience. (Condi would you please help them with that fallacy.) People who support war at any cost and educational opportunity for a few, not the masses. People who throw the first stone, as they flip flop on immigration, tax cuts, and more. People who don't prioritize health care, and will never make a decision where to live on how much money they earn. People who get a pass for moral mayhem, but want to tell the world how to live their lives.

I was an Independent. In 2008, I cannot afford to be silent.
I am a Democrat by issues - because they live where I live. I am conservative and I am troubled by some of the views that Barack holds. Yet, I contrast that with my reality. I am concerned about each and every view held by McCain and Palin, grieved that they might one day represent me, horrified by the example they set for my children, and motivated to ensure that their closeted view of the world doesn't become my reality.

Palin may be a PitBull, by her own admission. My mother taught me that a female dog was nothing to aspire to. Palin is a failure for everyday people. She is not a case of the American Dream. Her reality only works if you offer to the Republican party more of the same. I will never be white. I will never inherit my wealth. I will never be the "in crowd" because of my ovaries, my race and my religion. I am not the voter she was trying to reach last night - and I am proud that I will never be that.

And for my Republican husband, my dear...I'm strategic enough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Truth About Back to School

(Fond end of school award rituals captured from years gone by...)

The time honored tradition of back to school holds a variety of emotions for most people I know. With a strong belief that a good education is the key to a better life, we dutifully prepare children for the schedule and routine that will dictate the next nine months of their lives and ours. We do everything that we can to make their life ready for learning - or do we? Today I ponder the truth about "Back to School."

Our entire family was not ready to go back to school. My Real Simple magazine highlights the ritual of one group of mothers who collectively toast the start of a new year, but most of my friends dread it. Literally, at the last possible minute we're cross checking book lists, supply demands and uniform codes - as if life depended on it. Doesn't it though? For our children to be prepared, don't we have to ensure that all of their needs are met? Well, common sense tells me yes. Snarky end of summer blues tells me no.

I secretly look at every person in the mall and wonder if their children can read or write. I know that they will be dressed to meet a fashion standard regardless of uniform code - but I don't know how much this has to do with true learning. I believe in being prepared to learn but I've come to resent the need for new tennis shoes, a new fall wardrobe, or the inevitable list of supplies that could teach a small village I'm sure. My resentment may come because our finances are so tight, or maybe because I hear the coded language that follows the observations that I share. Sometimes I share the observations - wondering is it racism, a matter of class, or both.

1. Why does a child who needs tennis shoes from the donation program get picked up in a Lexus?

2. Why does the backpack drive come complete with parents who have a fresh manicure, pedicure and hair appointment within the last 7 business days?

3. Why does a child who can go 3 weeks without duplicating clothes not carry books home at all? (He did indeed attend the event in #2)

4. Why does a child with free or reduced lunch get dropped off in a late model car?

5. Why are there voucher programs accepted signs now proudly posted on every store I shopped at in the last month - where the average home value is $300K?

You can tell me about the stereotypes I'm making if you want to, but the conversation is starting to bother me too. My neighbor is a school administrator and sighed in disbelief after he told me story after story of the child that they helped...when it seemed as if the parents had not made a better decision - that they could have easily made. Maybe its because I had to listen to a woman tell me why she understood my private school decision because of the lack of "serious rigor" in my Suburban School district that had evolved from "working class people to the west." She was surely serious as I looked at her clueless behind with disbelief. Hello...I would be one of those working class people. The local school performs well, but the lack of diversity just grieved my spirit for my children - couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. It either makes me really dedicated to their education - or a fool for buying what I could get for free. The later is real high on my list some days.

We didn't buy all new school shoes this year - we worked with what we had and supplemented the obvious gaps. We brought new backpacks because the old ones had holes, not because we were excited about this years' selection. We scrambled like crazy people today looking for the components of the "dress uniform" which is worn one day a week - and why you might ask. Because the children who have clothes rolling out of their drawers and closets - have 1 dress uniform each, because we paid 3 sets of tuition in the last month. And although they have what they need to make it through each day - school started on August 11th. We have yet to make the shift from sun and fun to "back to school" - we managed tears with less than a full week of homework completed. Transferring to a new school means new uniforms and countless clothes without a purpose nowadays. Sigh. Hiss. Sigh.

Although no one has come forth to organize the mother's social for my peer group, our networking has begun. Can you pick up the children next week? Can you feed mine on Thursday of this week? Will you tell me the assignment from last Friday? What time is the PTO meeting and who had the audacity to think the dinner hour was smart? So as I see the umpteenth request for donated school supplies, or I see the line at the check out counter for back-to-school essentials, it isn't lost on me that this is only one aspect of preparedness for learning. What about listing good parental guidance and common sense on the list - can we get some of that? I doubt it. Last year I dealt with bullying, mean girl syndrome, racism, and a boatload of things I thought my private Christian school would handle better. Nope. In a true false test you'd be in trouble I tell myself.

1. Breakfast - did I make it? Will they eat it?
2. Sleep - are they showered? How fast can they get in bed? How many hours did they get?
3. Homework - is it written down? Is it completed? Is it correct? What needs to be studied?
4. Activities - are they relevant? Is the time commitment reasonable? Am I asking too much of them? me? husband?
5. Clothing - does it fit? Is it where it needs to be? Is it in the closet, drawer, basket, washing machine, dryer?

I'm astutely aware that the Back to School ritual means different things to different people. I've started my own snarky observations of those around me. School for some is daycare at best. I'm concerned at the core for latch key children, followed by my own reality check that if I'm not careful I'll have kids splattered around the city in aftercare. (Also known as no care in many mom circles.)

As we set the course for this year, ever so slowly, I've got to wonder what will we all learn and what will we all accomplish by the time June rolls around. We do a lot of busy work - but are we teaching the skills, values and lessons that we need to? I feel it every time we put gas in the van, assess the soles on those tennis shoes, write 1 of 3 checks for the privilege of learning...but the real preparation, is that financial at all? Just maybe we should be teaching high expectations, study routines, and cooperative parenting 101, while our children are sent off to learn the state mandated concepts we so aptly do in the few waking hours they have now that Summer is officially over. The Truth about Back to School .... it is starting to appeal to my cynical side for the difference between being "prepared to learn" and capitalism 101, fashionetta 214B, and remedial priorities.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Celebrate Today!

There are no little events in life, those we think of no consequence may be full of fate, and it is at our own risk if we neglect the acquaintances and opportunities that seem to be casually offered, and of small importance.
~ Amelia Barr

I was feeling the pressure to write, produce, and be more today... I settled on the simple reminder that 4 is only four once - and it lives not within my fingertips, at the command of my computer or in the never ending schedule
of obligations contained within my mind.

And for one who believes herself to be one who encourages, lifts, embraces,
and befriends fiercely - the cheerleaders for everyday motherhood and the ability to simply be - are a dying breed. Unlike a "vacation" reminder in my email options, maybe my life should often read - "busy today. trying to live it. life." But affairs of the heart are rarely as succinct as their authors lonely attempts to capture them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bernie Mac and Cosby...Something In Common

On a recent road trip I brought breakfast for 5 at Cracker Barrel and encountered a Box Set of the first season of the Cosby Show. We weren't making good time, we had already stopped twice, and I figured the DVD's couldn't hurt. The fact that they were $14.99 didn't hurt either, so I decided to give them a chance and test out the kids interest. We have success!

The fact that I found the Cosby show at a rural Indiana Cracker Barrel speaks to what happens when stores are caught behaving badly...all of sudden there are opportunities that never existed before. Cracker Barrel isn't the only culprit, there are a variety of restaurants and stores tired of being sued, so they have embraced, well tolerated, diversity. No, not really. It's all about the bottom line...and in this case I believe, great move.

My 4, 6 and 8 year old have practically memorized the season 1 episodes, inquiring dutifully about whether my husband and I would respond the same way or wanting to know where are they now. I have had several discussions about the role that the Cosby Show played in the formative years of many, many children...when I also thought about the less talked about side of the show. Cosby was not the perfect husband off screen, Claire ended up with a real life divorce, Vanessa struggled to have a career thereafter, and poor Denise went from nude vixen to recluse. None of it takes anything away from what they did magically on screen.

Fast forward, to when I learned of the death of Bernie Mac. I heard many stories about his comedy routines. I know that he gained much fame from those legendary shows - but it is not what I will remember him for. When I think about shows that I can watch with my children, the Cosby Show isn't the only one. The Bernie Mac Show had me laughing out loud more than once as a parent, as I sat with my children and cracked up over the plot of the day. With a particular affection for Vanessa, I remember being so thankful to see a beautiful dark brown child on screen, a comfort to my daughter. I think to myself about the numerous episodes that revolved around private school, fitting in, trying to make the team, etc. and the issues parallel my universe as a parent. I have a lot of respect for the writing, the stories and the family life that was on screen - and will add Season 1 to my video library as my own Bernie Mac tribute.

For some reason I think I was more reluctant to forgive Bernie Mac's missteps - like the Ho joke at an Obama fundraiser. I'm not sure why, because based on the criteria I try to use in guiding my family entertainment and investment - he surely fits the bill. Beyond adult entertainment, his television show touched many a family with current scenarios and challenges ripe for laughs and discussion. He was a devoted husband for 30 years, and while some play a good husband - I assume that some really are able to survive the Hollywood scrutiny. With 13 years of marriage under my belt, 30 speaks volumes of his life off screen, as well as on. And now, as I think about the shows that bring the most laughter to my children who memorize every word of every show they are allowed to watch...the Bernie Mac show will give us new fuel for trips, even those just down memory lane.

R.I.P. Bernie Mac 2008

"In order for us to live as a family, we need to set down a few 'house' rules. First rule: It's my house. Don't get me wrong, this is our home. But it's my house. Mi casa es mi casa. Second rule: In my house is all my stuff, and you are not to touch my stuff without my permission" -Bernie Mac

Back to School BLUES.....

I have a paper and pen fetish so I understand with no lack of clarity that my children like school supplies. I'm trying to renew their interest in school as well.

The kids see the ritual of securing Wide Rule Paper, spiral notebooks and an assortment of writing utensils in the same way I used to have "Trapper Keeper Envy" as I walked the aisles of the stores in the 70's. I can remember 30 some years ago, praying that my grandmother would take me school shopping - because she believed in new everything. Toss out the list sent by the school - my grandmother brought new underwear, slips, socks, undershirts, multiple versions of all school supplies imaginable and an assortment of hosiery, purses, hair supplies and earrings too. She didn't believe in new schools too much though, she picked a team and stuck with it. Being prepared meant something very different for my grandmother, as my mother figured out how to pay tuition. (A tradition my grandmother started with private schooling...)

I would hope for my mom to embrace the basics, but I relied on my grandmother for all of the cool choices, including my 2 pair of back of school shoes. I had a difficult elementary life after all - one had to be prepared. On this year's shopping list for said 4, 6 and 8 year olds... a Brand New School. A Black one this time! Thus, I break my week long silence for the Back to School Blues.

We attended a predominately white Christian school for two years, and I must have said 1,001 times, "at least we have the love of God in common." Well, not quite so fast - after two years and a boat load of heartache, we made the switch back to what we know. Our only reason for ever changing schools was a relocation that meant we had to make a new selection. Prior to that we would annually do a cursory scan of the environment in our home state, check test scores, compare tuition, and confirm in our mind that we had made the best possible choice. My husband from a public school background and my lifetime in private schools makes for a great combination. One new realization that we've added to the mix - Diversity does Matter, and saying we have God in common doesn't really cut it when you're alone, isolated and repeatedly subjected to the Caucasian Card. (Yep, when race cards really don't apply and cluelessness rules good sense.)

Anna Quindlen writes an intriguing fact of life article regarding being Black in American, in the latest edition of Newsweek - something that my 8 year old daughter can relate to. It is really pretty bad when a 4th grader understands the peculiar challenges of being Black in a white world, something lost completely on her clueless teacher for the last year.

The tough stuff builds character the article goes on to say, but how much character do you need to build at age 8? We went through more than tough stuff, we went through a regression of resilience, high performance and a strong resolve for science achievement spiraling down the drain. For what? Teasing, lowered expectations, why doesn't your hair (just fill in the blank), you can't be my friend, "I don't see anything wrong", MESS! I was hoping for a great command of the English language, the ability to multiply 3 digit numbers, a practical application of the Scientific Theory...but what we got was a crash course in the difference between being white and financially elite, and being working class and invested. We didn't fit in. The two are not the same

We value diversity and made the mistake in thinking everyone appreciates the value of a classroom more representative of the real world - false assumption. We have effectively traded in the joy of "don't label anything, drive through drop-off and pick-up, room moms akin to the mafia hierarchy, and more 1/2 days than the world knows what to do with" for a starkly different experience. The private Black School experience merits a blog post. Imagine that...they actually want our children. They want our volunteerism. They are invested in keeping us there. We like that change - but there are differences.

1. There will be lots, and lots, and lots of homework. Why? Because the Black private school ethic is different. There is an urgency in good education. They believe that children can, should, will and better learn. I was used to being told that children should play and be children...but it didn't work. While my daughter was busy being a child, she was regressing from a teacher who expected nothing from her and rewarded her occasional compliance.

2. Expectations are different. When a child who scores phenomenally on standardized tests and receives a final term grade of a C with a crack pot - well it makes you wonder. Communication at a parent level is different when the school has a partnership with you - when you are a number that doesn't really matter - you are told, "no one has ever looked at a 3rd grade report card in real life." I still wonder if that is something any intelligent person should tell a parent paying for education.

3. You label, well everything and the kitchen sink. No lie, we labeled for more than an hour on Sunday and I'm still believing there is a pencil, folder or paper clip that escaped our home without a Sharpie or label imprint. This is definitely in stark contrast to the "group supplies" approach. But, I think I'd rather label all of my Target, Walmart and Staples loot - than have my child labeled, or be labeled as "one of those troublemaker parents." (My pic is probably in their office!)

4. Electronic prowess. I have landed where there is a clear and consistent expectation that my children will believe in their value, their ability to learn, their level of excellence and their obligation to show it. We'll just have to do it sending SOS signals. When I got a supply list that included a disposable camera, I was grieving the days of digital camera access for every administrator and staff member in each classroom. I may have to do just 1 PTO fundraiser, just 1.

And although I could easily go on - it has led to Back to School Blues. Not because I mourn the routine or being away from my kids - I don't. I mourn the experience of families like ours in environments where their children are not encouraged, educated or esteemed. Sure, I know that there are failing school systems everywhere - we moved from Detroit mind you. But, there are still others, paying for and seeking alternative education with marginal success. Although we paid to attend one of the schools perceived to be a tremendous community asset, we'll be countering the negative impact for years to come. I wonder how many others are in the same boat?

We teach our children, embrace being their first teacher, pay for access to the "best and the most recognized" ...only to realize all that glitters is not gold. I'll sacrifice some of the nuances that I will admittedly miss, to eliminate the nuisances that were slowly eroding the potential of a tremendous kidlet. I am thinking simultaneously about Akeelah and the Bee and the swim movie Pride - and I believe that both will serve as entertainment this week. Before we prepare children for this wonderful "melting pot" of experiences that will await them - we must invest in their demonstrated understanding that they are high achievers, wonderfully gifted, capable of all things. As Anna Quindlen noted - they get tougher because of what they go through - but they shouldn't have to be battered black and blue by insensitive and unskilled teachers to learn. For some child and his/her family this school year - they'll be battling more than academic achievement this year. They'll be battling for their esteem - and I wouldn't wish that on anyone - no matter what race, socio-economic group, religion, whatever. (except the haint that tried to steal my daughters' esteem...I can think of a few choice battles she rightfully earned.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Express - Stories in Living Color



I have a friend (yep, I did mean to imply one) who keeps me on my toes and has been simultaneously responsible for many a blog post. She's in prayer right now trying to ensure that her non-biological children end up enrolled in some school this week, and don't show up on her doorstep. How does this relate to the upcoming movie, The Express?

I was working on my own made for television movie, starring my children, in a movie just like this. In fact, it was the modern day version - a 2008 write up of what happens when smart, articulate, curious, outspoken African-American children go to a non-diverse school and lose themselves. I'm a fan of Remember the Titans...I think about Denzel in that movie and I get ready to have waterworks when it occurs to me, Disney. The movie is written by Disney. Not that many of the experiences are not portrayed in some accuracy, but its the movie version.

My children, however, are not actors. The things that they internalize are real. So, after a year of racist teachers, name calling in the lunch room, being alone at recess, tears after school, racist comments at camp...we're writing a different story. In my heart, I just thought we'd conquer the cruel world. In my reality, my children are 8, 6 and 4 - and what we have conquered is a belief that all is fair in life, or education.

Today, I guess, I'll start writing my own Pride. Great Debaters. Or some other story about African-American children who have to be twice as good, twice as fast, twice as disciplined, twice as motivated - just to compete. Problem with that script, it's not original at all. It's life. And I'll add The Express to my collection when it comes out, as yet another example of life as it was - and life as it is - because our children still go through it each and every day. This isn't Disney - our stories are true, and our kids are daily "Living in Color" for the world to see.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

People who Can - Do. (Thomas Cannon)



I work with non-profit groups to build their capacity, raise resources, increase the effectiveness of their governance - and to do so through small incremental steps. I was struck by a story I recently read about Thomas Cannon, a retired postal worker who has given in excess of $150,000 to worthy people and causes, while never earning more than $30,000 a year. This speaks to the reality of what people can do when they make the decision to actually "do something." I share with non-profit board members the importance of a legacy, but the Cannon family's investments in lives speak volumes.

When asked about his ability to give so generously, Mr. Cannon clarifies that his money comes from the same places where the public gets money for their fashion, vehicles, and material possessions. His frank and honest assessment struck a cord with me. We need people who are willing and able to make a difference by what they say and do. Encourage someone to invest in what they believe in with simple steps that speak volumes about the inner character of a person.

I was tired, frankly, of hearing about Barack. McCain. Omarosa. Being Black in America. Race. Racism. Racial Comments. Coded Words. To humor myself, I thought I would do a little research about simple people who live extraordinary lives, and happen to be Black. After this week of media and canned stories, I needed something more. He would qualify for a "Cool Black Man" cover in my book. When people with so little do so much - it makes me wonder about the rest of us. What is our problem?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ludacris - Foe not Friend of Obama

He's all dressed up but looks are deceptive. In his song "Politics. Obama is Here." Ludacris proves that we need not worry about what other people think of us - we clearly demonstrate we don't care for ourselves. There has been a clear pattern of character revelation by evaluating associations in this primary election - Hillary and Ferraro. Obama and Wright. And now this.

His lyrics are unacceptable - written with no political agenda, intelligence, insight, or innovation. He is predictable and a detriment. With his support, Obama doesn't need any enemies on the right. In a fragile election, with many people undecided, decisions will be made by association. People will look at Ludacris' fascination with Obama's possible success and distance themselves, not from Ludacris, rap and what he represents - but from Obama. I am releasing a collective sigh for ignorance. The polls will surely reflect this latest gaff.

Although I try not to find myself responsible for the behavior of all Black people. I am an individual but my spirit is grieved. embarrassed. pissed. I think he was selfish and stupid - and I thought he was brighter. more artistic. worthy of an occasional listen, sway or groove. I have absolutely no respect for someone who is so clearly talented and chooses to operate in 110% stupidity. I am not a supporter of Hillary, McCain, or Jesse Jackson - but I still understand fully the outrage about this foolishness.

While we can not and should not judge a person by someone who writes a song in their support - in this case we're talking about another man, another Black man, another fear factor that will undoubtedly send a new spiral into a tightening race. In a politically charged climate with people having no true understanding of other cultures and things that are different from themselves - I saw this election as a dialog starter. I don't have any sincere interest or regard for rap - I can take it or leave it in most instances, and the industry has long sucked the joy out of the original intent and originality. Today's rap fails to be more than a money machine of weak lyrics and less than talented stand ins for the original genre.

With all of this, we should check Ludacris' - a self proclaimed rapper extraordinaire- supposed politics - if he has any at all. Seems like McCain actually does have something to be thankful for in the Black community. Our own inability to be politically savvy enough to use our skills, talent and voice for something worth while. The leverage from this will be ridiculous - McCain will use more coded racist images and attacks to play into the fears of those who don't know any better.

Change the Question - Why isn't McCain Winning at all?



Stop and think about the political banter of today- "Why isn't Obama winning this by more?" I've seen a variety of articles and posts, mainly bored journalists writing about why in this current state of affairs, Obama is not winning by more. I've seen the latest pulse on the American people, and the numbers theoretically indicate that he has yet to reach more than 50% of the American people - not enough people are really invested in what he has to offer yet. Couple that with random coverage of Hillary supporters who won't support him and threaten to vote for McCain, the 1,234th review of his trip abroad, random Michelle bashing and then a few email posts with the same false stereotypes we had 12 months ago. What do you get? A slow news day.

I have a different question at hand, Why isn't McCain winning at all? I mean, the cards have long been stacked in his favor. He's the American dream as we know it, wealth marries even wealthier, defines oneself as unique, makes money the old fashioned way (oil ties, political interests, inheritance, 2nd marriage bonanza), gets adoring media attention for years, wraps up the primaries handily and has several months as a lead before the Democrats relent for a presumptive nominee. Shouldn't McCain really have it all wrapped up at this point?

I mean, we live in America. We split right down the racial divide in believing whether or not our country has a race issue. Race has been used to distance people who should be politically and socioeconomically aligned - but we fight. We fight long and hard - in part, because we see race differently. We say, "Barack is a new leader, he's articulate, capable, inspiring, a credit to what our country can be." They say, "He's arrogant, untested, mistaken about hope in a time when we need experience, Black." With a daily need to defend one's patriotism, family background, educational achievements, poised ability to float within the Ivy League sect, recreational drug dabble, religion, minister, faith, bowling ability - "Why isn't McCain winning at all?"

I mean really, how can Barack have a 5% lead when he's so - new, unknown, scary, Brown. Shouldn't the American Dream absent any hint of Affirmative Action sail right into the hearts of the American people and have a slam dunk. I mean he's got the wealthy, the right, the hard working whites - correct? Why isn't he winning?
We haven't declared a blog war on his ice cold heiress of a wife, she's gotten a free pass with her charitable work in Africa and non-released tax returns. Why isn't McCain winning?

If we stop and think about the role of the media in this election, we should all spend a lot more time stopping and thinking - than reading what they write. Daily, the mass media paints a picture that they want us to sip slowly, like its right, righteous or true. (Did you have your dose of kool-aid - or CNN, FOX News, etc., today?) Often the media, our treasured elite, are publishing just a really really well paid, often read, blog of sorts. They spout about what matters to them (like me), how they see it (like me), add in a few polls and numbers (like me)- and walla - paint a problem for those who stop at the headline. Today... Barack should be winning by more - since he's not, he's in trouble. News at 11......

Well, I have no idea how my neighbors will vote. Yet, when I look at the economy (as measured by my savings and checking account), when I look at the credit crisis (defined by my late fees and 1-800 calls), as I examine the state of education (while I wrestle between sending the kids to public school for the first time, paying some unGodly amount in tuition I can't afford, or being able to afford a non-diverse environment which was toxic to my bright, beautiful daughter), as I ponder health care (and the $100 co-pay for orthodontic work, coupled with enough allergy, exczema and asthma medicine to fill nurses offices for each child) - I scientifically suggest - there's a big decision to be made by each of us. McCain who can't win at all or Obama who isn't winning by enough. You decide.

As for me, this time I'll be voting with my pocketh. Thou shalt not elect a similar successor (McCain the patriotic - with no lease on normal lifeth) to the first Affirmative Action president (Bush the warrior, underachiever with pedigree and oil pumping out of his boots). And with all that his experience has to offer I still ask, "Why isn't McCain - author of false ads, bully of foreign travel, whiner of lost media coverage, proven leave them while they are down member of the second marriage club- Winning? (and he's white...) Let's tell that story!




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Personal disclaimer - could care less than a darn that McCain is white. Although somewhere around 70% of people polled out of the voting booth admit that race troubled them as they cast their vote. If a Black man or woman, represented the same things as he does - I wouldn't vote for them either.

Shhh! (Abstinence Is Not Sexy)

Across the nation, in 4th grade classrooms this year, they will have the "talk" with young girls about their development, their body and their cycle. This is known as the magical year. (Who knows how that got decided when girls are developing at warp speed.) In Christian education, this is largely a health conversation about what to expect when the time comes for "Aunt Flo" to visit. The comparable boys conversation amounts to a discussion about deodorant, bathing and the joy of toothpaste. Meanwhile, the girls are treated to conversations about hormones and emotion, being prepared for all circumstances, pads vs. tampax. Why then, can't we figure out a way to talk about abstinence? I don't mean abstinence as a choice - I mean abstinence as THE CHOICE. This is one way we can help young girls, Black girls, females in general - understand their value.

In America, half of all AIDS/HIV cases belong to someone Black, although we are only 8% of the population. In Washington, 80% of the HIV population is a Black population. (Can I say celibacy is the only option here folks.) I really can't even imagine the need to explain how very scary that statistic is - and I can manipulate numbers with the best of them. We need to be teaching the reality of sexual activity, and the necessity for abstinence. This is now a life and death matter. Call me naive, conservative, a Jesus freak, or simply call me right. Less sex = less risk of HIV/AIDs.

Earlier in my career I worked in the field of Hemophilia - a blood disorder that impacts a growing segment of our population. As a result of my work I had the opportunity to learn more about HIV and AIDS during the early days of the disease, at a time where you were labeled either homosexual or other. We, as a society, acted as if there were good and bad ways to catch this deadly disease. A decade and a half later - the largest population is now African or African-American. I watched a cousin die from the disease when no one would say what we all knew for the most part - he had died from advanced complications from AIDS. From a research, medical intervention, and attention standpoint - nobody cares about this as a leading cause of death for young African-American women under 34, or the second leading cause for African-American men under 44. If we, as African-Americans don't merit media coverage, recognition, respect or equal billing in this society (Katrina anyone? the Primary season anyone?) for everyday reasons - we surely can't wait for the greater majority to consider this a top priority. We are losing lives - and the numbers are scary. Time to actually stop talking about it and do something.

I have a friend who works in education at a swanky foundation, where she funds programs geared at increasing educational opportunities for children. With a very high teen pregnancy rate in her area, she relayed the discussion at a meeting about Safe Sex needs of the high school and investment in early childhood education and prenatal programs. People - can someone tell me why abstinence is the step child in this discussion? Don't tell me everyone is already doing it - uh, they are not. I know from personal experience that not everyone tastes the forbidden fruit before they have put on their cap and gown or wedding gown. And for those who have, they'll often share if they knew then....what they know now. No need to move full speed ahead - sex can and should wait.

My mother didn't handle the topic with a focus on our Christian beliefs - although we had them. She focused on a much more pointed issue in her mind (my selfish character and personality flaws)- "Girlfriend, you are selfish. Once you give that away, you can't get it back." The crude conversation still lingers in my mind, but, it worked for the most part. I had no interest in having a shared sexual history with the entire college campus, or some moron of non-importance. It isn't to imply that I walked on water - but I see very little focus on abstinence as the most viable choice for survival nowadays. For the sake of our current and future generations we have a lot of educating to do.

As a culture we have to get beyond our own frailties and insecurities to deal with the impact of AIDS/HIV in our community. We need to rally behind those who need us most - largely to wake up, and be accepting. We need to be openly talking about the latest numbers and statistics and see what we are doing (in our church, social groups, sororities/fraternities, peer cliques, etc.) to ensure that people get and understand the reality of this disease. I believe we have to be more dedicated to the provision of medical support, counseling and public awareness - and measure our impact for effectiveness. But most of all, as the mother of three children, I believe we have to teach abstinence. Pure and simple in my book - it is the best option to curve the numbers that astound us today.

And for all those who would tell me the value of safe sex, I agree. I just believe our children ought to understand the safest sex, and nowadays - that's frankly, none at all. While we explore how we can help, support, educate and inform - can we figure out how to fund, mandate and encourage abstinence as THE most viable option moving forward. Decreasing the rate of HIV/AIDS we can all agree with. My solution may not be sexy, but hey, we're dealing with epidemic numbers and a silence that can be deadly. Unprotected sex one time, that's all it takes. And my cliff notes for the 4th grade speech - they just doubled in size. Makes you wonder - how can we spend countless hours majoring in pop culture madness and lose sight of what is right in front of us? An issue of epidemic proportions - where are all of us going to make a difference for the sake of a generation - and those generations to come?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Being Female, Black and Valued

I heard an interview with Carolyn Mosely Braun recently where she talked about leaving politics behind, and returning to her first love - agriculture. As I listened intently to the story, the issue of politics was of course brought up again and again. I was surprised to hear Carolyn indicate that she felt gender had been a bigger barrier than race in her own political career - as I had all but drowned out the rants of the Hillary Clinton supporters that I had heard sling mud on Barack for the entire Primary race. Yet, the more I discuss the issues with my counterparts and my peers, the greater concern I have that I have simply lost my ability to see what life should be like - vs. exactly what it is like.

As a community organizer early in my career, I learned about the power of people. That simple lesson has guided the work that I do in organizational and resource development, and has been as important as my formal education and advanced degree. So, I was struck again about the plight of being Black and Female and Valued when I learned about the case of LaVena Johnson. She was a 19 year old private in the Army, serving in Iraq, when she was raped, murdered, and her body was burned--by someone from her own military base. As my own children grow older I see how precious each day is, and I realize just how young 19 is. Although she made the commitment to serve her country and to wear the Army uniform for the United States of America- her life was certainly not valued.

Despite overwhelming physical evidence in the LaVena Johnson case, the Army called her death a suicide and has closed the case. It is becoming less and less hard for me to believe how little we value life in our country the older that I get. When I look at my 8 year old daughter and the battles that we've encountered ensuring that she realizes her value, her worth, her God given beauty and intelligence - we know that Indiana and the lack of diverse educational options are only part of what we battle. We battle the stereotypes, poor home training, intentional blinders and a society that plays favorites. While we have the opportunity to continually groom our daughter for when she leaves home, we know that she can settle in to unconditional love at the end of each day while she is with us. For the Johnson family, they sent their child to serve her country, and her country has failed her miserably.

Color of Change has done a good job using technology to mobilize people. I have been heartened that almost every time I'm contacted by the group they strike a cord in the level of grassroots action that could be taken to make a difference. There most recent request is simple:

Will you join Mr. and Mrs. Johnson in calling on Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, to mount a real investigation into LaVena Johnson's death and the Army's cover-up2? Will you ask your friends and family to do the same? If so, take action today.

What would being female, Black and valued look like in our society?

1. Young women would see images of themselves reflected throughout our society, in vehicles other than men magazine covers, videos and neglected posters about how long they have been missing.

2. Media coverage on the nightly news and primetime news shows would be representative of the demographics of our society, or better yet representative of the issue or topic being covered.

3. Those that say they represent our community would actual do so - covering topics, issues, people and action steps that matter - without regard to their personal image, fame or wealth.

4. There would be a focused effort to mentor, motivate, groom, direct and advance the life choices for young women - and it would start by reaching beyond those who are related to us by blood.

5. The countless stories that are told about our community would speak to everyday people and everyday issues - depriving pop stars who are turning 50 or cat fights between the least of us from any news attention.


And for me, every child within our nation would be introduced to the only correct image of their value and their life, through Christ. As much as I believe in collective action and the power of people, I know that God has already clarified our individual worth. So as I go about typing about what I would like to see, I have to go back to what I truly know. We have to take on a dual responsibility - educating, informing and changing our society is second, to raising our daughters to understand their value before they encounter what this world has to offer. LaVena Johnson deserved/deserves better.

What can we do? Maybe a society that values black females would look like each and every one of us spending a fraction of the time devoted to nonsense, to helping each other reach their fullest potential. The Johnson family won't have that opportunity - but what would you want to happen if it was you? your child? your daughter? We should have the right to live, and die, in dignity. Take action today.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Moving beyond "the Box" - A fight with conforming


Heaven Sent - Keyshia Cole


So I have fallen in love with this Keyshia Cole song and video, and I just need to admit it. I believe in honesty and transparency and from time to time I can be a little snobby about my taste in stuff. I don't want what everybody has, and I truly don't want to respond to the society hand fed meal of what you should have, buy and like...I fight it all of the time.

I had this experience with perfume lately too. I saw a fragrance by P. Diddy (Unforgivable Woman) and I rolled my eyes. Then, I smelled the perfume and was mad about it - I thought it was just beautiful. Largely because I have 3 children and I think our media obsessed society (with a jones for fame and creating entertainment icons) is bad for the soul. I try to teach the kids to have their own style and taste and to ignore what the media says you have to have. I am recovering from a mutual love of all things formulaic - but lately my guard is down.

A few weeks ago I listened to this song and decided I was having a Mary J moment. I didn't start truly listening to MJB until I was good and grown and now, I'm a big unapologetic fan. Same for Keyshia, who shares a name with my sister, and I can't help thinking about her every time I hear her music or songs. When I first started hearing about her - I shook my head and thought about all of the women in RB/Hip Hop with forgettable careers. I have been saddened, both by their music, image and plastic surgery.

I tell myself I really don't care for the Pop Princess antics of our society, which tell us the type of music and people we should like. But, I'd be lying if I didn't check out the blonde hair on Keyshia and smile...as I just started experimenting with highlights. (I'm dang near 40.) I fight against too much megahit enthusiasm from Disney, High School Musical and Camp Rock to ensure that my daughter has some images before her that are reasonable. As Christians, we find some songs we like and try to ensure our children are surrounded by life affirming lyrics. But... I've also had to introduce KeKe Palmer, The Cheetah Girls and Raven to ensure that Miley doesn't take over the thought processes of an otherwise wonderful little lady. Here's where it gets a bit tricky though...I'm liking a few of the things that are mainstream and the lyrics to Heaven are just one example.

That being said, I hope Keyshia Cole has more songs that grown adult women can sway to without being boxed into a hiphop era which is uninspiring at best. I have always been a little slow and methodical about my music taste - but I admit this one threw me for a loop. All the radio favorites I can skip, I think Keyshia was singing out of the box with this choice. I purchased this single and a few others from Itunes, and I'm just living with that decision as I realize "they" the mediagods, got me. As for Unforgivable Woman, I'm still spraying my testers...but I just might have to move beyond my box, and buy a bit of that too.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Let Disney Be Disney

I've shared my thoughts (thanks to News and Notes on NPR) about Disney's Black "Princess to be" quite a few times, but I'm starting to understand that my friends and family think I should be more vocal. I don't want to see Madame Tiana fall in love with a prince that doesn't share her heritage...but, um, well...it's Disney. I expect Disney to act like Disney.

The folks who kill off mommies in 82.87% of their stories (Belle, Jasmine, Nemo, Cinderella to name a few) aren't the people I'm relying on to get "it" right. The princess experience is one that we will forever be shaping as mothers and as families, and that job in a culture that is assaulted by the media daily is a very intense one.

In fact, I want Disney to get it right for their audience - the millions of little girls across the nation who aspire to be a princess - all of them. Regardless of color, culture, shade, religion, creed. I'm fine with Disney getting more rich and wealthy from this experience. Why? Then they'll make more movies and play with this topic over and over, and just maybe...one of the Black princesses will steal my heart.

There is a part of me that wants to stand on my soapbox and talk about the need for us to produce our own stories, write about princesses, create the images we want for our daughters to see. Yet, when Matel released a beautiful Barbie in honor of the 100th Anniversary of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, we quickly started debates of color and complexion - not of affirmation and beauty. I think its the same with telling our stories, we should, some of us do, but many, many of us simply wag our fingers at every creative idea that comes to light. Is a Black princess overdue from Disney? Yes. Will there be errors in the story that challenge our since of culture? Yes. I would dare say that anyone who has seen a Disney film has realized that Disney fails, often - in a magnificent way. I loved Lilo and Stitch and remember all the scuttlebutt about the depection of the main characters - which my daughter and I just loved. Historically, physically, anatomically correct? Probably not. But, they make entertaining stories.

The name of the character has changed. The prince - changed. The fairy GodMother - changed. The images of the character - changed. Let's not think we can rewrite the Disney approach and guarantee that everyone is happy. They are using real pen/ink drawings, a true return to the graphic beginnings of the Disney Empire - and I can't wait to see them. There are many things worth exploring with Disney's attempt to diversify their line of beauties, and Anika Noni Rose promises to bring depth and voice to a young woman long overdue. As for me and mine - we'll enjoy whatever we can from this adventure. In the meantime, we'll be trying our hand at writing a few princess stories of our own too.

I introduce to you...land of the beautiful and darling - Princess Lydia. I've got a lot to work with for stories, and maybe a few about the handsome Black prince too. (smile)

Obama is NOT the Messiah...but

I had the chance to read an article at the TimesOnline, He ventured forth to bring light to the world. A satirical piece by Gerard Baker, it made me think about the opposition and how they really think of those who support Obama. While getting away for a few days I couldn't help but get wind of the prayer that Obama placed at the wall - which was of course removed and published in print moments after he left. And what strikes me continuously, is that he is so very human, but Good at what he does. (and the media is bored with reporting real life....)

I'm pretty conservative by nature, although I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm Republican by any means (I have a wayward spouse to carry that torch). I have been irritated and inspired by Obama quite a bit since this race began. Baker paints him as a messiah, which really only makes me think more about what did people think about JFKennedy or MLKing? More of the same. Here come these attractive, non-traditional, heroes of sorts...attracting attention about stuff we don't want to talk about as a society. They all struck a cord with the American people - and not just one segment of the people.

It bares mentioning that Gerard had plenty of Biblical accuracy in his satire, which means that in our society the Republicans believe what is written (but don't act on it) and Democrats say they can change the world (and become lost in their own hype). I do pray Barack is different. On track record alone, Bush (who garnered my vote once) should clearly demonstrate that entitlement, trackrecord and the Religious Right is crazy. They would say in McCain that they are voting for the less of two evils, or one mildly funny comment in the blogosphere, that Barack is the biggest example of Affirmative Action gone wrong. Well - if by Affirmative Action we understood their comments to mean people who are undeserving, getting privilege and opportunity above more qualified candidates...George W. Bush is surely the only recent history example of that. Dear Al Gore of Oscar knows it all too well. Yet, he simply reinvented his life, and stopped living in the past.

My Bible tells me there is only one Messiah, and Barack ain't it. But, he's beautiful to watch in action and he's managed to make more of us pay attention to politics than anything in my lifetime. And a child shall lead them.... so even when he makes rookie mistakes or makes me shake my head with great concern, I consider the other option. I could once again be contrary and vote for someone like McCain - thinking when elected, he'll do the right thing. Tried that once, nope. As far as I can see the man isn't really interested in diversifying his support anyway - although he believes he can peel off some of the brown vote. I think to myself what will happen with education, health care, gas prices, and the election of judges under his reign...and its scary enough to confirm my support of Barack once again!

I find it irritating to be placed in groups. I can't stand the thought that all Black people are voting for Barack because he's Black - because it always makes me wonder the contrary. Does that mean that his White supporters are supporting him because he's White in their eyes? (Ior their color - too?) I know the answer to that. Or...when someone assumes that because I support the man that no critical dialog can happen - give me a break. Taxes are scary when I think of Barack, because his middle class lines are a little too blurry for me. He's liable to raise taxes just as we get over the hump - and I believe we're more accurately considered the elite poor. We have just enough to guarantee we can't be considered poor - but not enough days w/out stresss to be considered heavily middle class. We're more middle of the road, multiple degree, average. It ain't all bad - but it surely is not clouding our support for Barack. He's a man. A delightfully attractive, articulate, married man - with children. For any woman, we know the inherent limits of that. The real Bible gives us lots of food for thought on placing your faith in God and not in man.

In some circles they talk about Tavis Smiley learning a bit about criticizing Barack, but I think people understand the issue wrong. Tavis, as he does quite often, has the ability to criticize anyone he chooses. But when that scrutiny doesn't line up w/the reality that most people see - there is a backlash. The Republicans are simply getting beat at their own game nowadays - and its a bad game - but Barack is playing it. The idea that the media itself has lost all focus and is now blindly following "a new Political messiah" - that doesn't wash either. If there was something worth saying about McCain, he'd be saying it himself. He has openly said that he has had a great relationship with the media in the last 10 years - the Maverick just has garnered some competition. From the Right's version of the messiah the Maverick has some competition - but they haven't been doing to well in interpreting any messiah lately - so this (and the satire that reveals the false heart perceptions of many Americans) is all to be expected.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Out of this World

The Chicago Tribune recently published an article about undercover comments and subtle racial slurs in the workplace. While the article was interesting, the comments from the readers were more so. I was just a bit surprised to read the number of comments that confirm what I have long known in my heart - people are not operating on the same planet that I am. It is one thing to talk about Free Speech, but purely another to fail to understand why the workplace should be free from slurs, intimidation, hostile work environments, and other acknowledged aliens.

I work hard to teach my children that not everyone will like them, and the sooner they learn that lesson the better off they will be. I have dealt with early lessons of, "you don't fit in, you aren't as pretty as us, you aren't neat and polite like us" and random other comments that are taught to the littlest of alien children who have no home training in appropriate etiquette. Yet, the more I read the more I'm certain that they (my children) will inherit a work world where - like always - they'll have to out perform, out work, out credential, out talk, out articulate, out write, out shine....the entire workforce, in order to be treated with any dignity and respect. And even then, I pray their self-esteem and dignity will not rely on acceptance from people who don't get what civil and respectable treatment is - regardless of the freedom of speech. My husband and I will teach them to use every weapon they have, and when all is said and done - we'll handle the topic by talking about the aliens. Those folks in our society that are foreign to good and common sense. I believe that the point of the article was to bring attention to the subtle nature of coded prejudice, but there isn't anything subtle about the world going to full steam ahead to an environment when people who voice an opinion about wrong are whiners, and when reverse discrimination is more politically correct than demanding from people the dignity and respect earned by the vast majority of hardworking citizens.

It's easier to wrap an entire culture in a stereotyped bow, than to give every person the respect of judging them by the content of their character. Problem is...very few people have character any more, removing the ability to judge it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

In Living Color - the Alpha Kappa Alpha Barbie

I am a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I grew up looking to the examples of tremendous women who made a wonderful impact on their community, their church and their family. Of the many, many role models that I had - my Aunt Katherine may have been by far one of the clearest reasons why I understood that the women of AKA were indeed the best of the best. I am heartened that my daughter has had the privilege of growing up with "Great Aunt Katherine" - another generation that gets to admire her tremendous influence.

So, the woman who introduced my daughter to American Girls and the story of Addy, will also squeal (skee-wee, actually) to know that we are waiting anxiously for our very own AKA Barbie. Revealed at our 100th anniversary celebration at the Boule in Washington, D.C. I was just a bit surprised at the hoopla over AKA Barbie's complexion. I'm not sure why I should be surprised, but I was.

When I read blog posts and other feedback about the hue of this beautiful black woman's skin, I shook my head for the umpteenth time. Why do we feel that in order to be African American, we must somehow hit a certain hue on the color spectrum? I read a comment by a self-identified member of Delta Sigma Theta on the NPR Tell Me More site, which indicated that she looked forward to a more brown Barbie when they reach their centennial. Dear God, are we talking about adult women debating in 2008 (especially when it has nothing at all to do with them) the color of a doll designed to honor women who have dedicated 100 years to serving their community. My friends, my sorors, my sista's in general come in every shade and the debate about complexion is non-sense. This is not School Daze and Spike Lee isn't writing a narrative about undergraduate life. Don't like it, don't buy it. Can't see this as a beautiful Black doll, then it isn't for you. No discussion merited in my book, unless you are not happy with your own skin color.

I'm not blindly drinking kool-aid, there are things that I do not like about the image or stereotype of Greek letter organizations, and a myriad of actions and activities I wish were not part of our history. The whole brown bag mess has been laughable for decades in my household, where my mother - a Soror and cocoa brown woman - raised me with the values, expectations and guidance to become who I am today. When I heard my dear sorors chanting about being conceited during a taping of a NPR segment, I was saddened for my entire sisterhood. Beyond stepping and childhood chants when I was still an undergrad - my dear Sorority means so much more. Not only does it mean more to me, it means more to the millions of people who have been served by each of our members so faithfully.

I have read comments that question Christian character, leadership, dignity and blackness...all associated with coverage of 100 years of service. To then read random craziness about the color of Barbie's skin...let all of the caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, cream, and every other assortment of skin color collectively say - "Get a Life." I regret some people have been limited by the first 8 colors in their crayon box, that they have failed to embrace a life much bigger and more meaningful, then wasting time talking about is she "Black Enough." My daughter, with the smooth chocolate tones of her dad, has said only one word, "Beautiful."

Further, I'm so glad that I had the chance to be guided by an Aunt who taught Sunday School every Sunday, brought snacks for the students she tutored after she had taught all day at a different school, took care of hundreds of children each year - even though she never gave birth to one of her own, participated in every reading/mentor/make a kid better program held in our community, guided me through standardized testing when it was not a part of what everyone understood as critical to higher education, encouraged and mentored regarding every fashion woe growing up, recruited men from the far corners of the world to teach her students about health/fitness/finance and education, and all of this to say....Barbie did just fine creating a likeness for her legacy. I guess, we'll be raising daughters for the next 100 years to understand - let no one group, no one word, no one experience, no one affiliation, define you.

And yes, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. has done just fine in our 100 years of service - we're more than a collection of monotone or monochrome women. I just pray that one day we'll get past the trading of stereotypes and insults, and have a bit of gratitude for those who regardless of their affiliation serve their neighborhoods, community, country, churches, shelters, libraries, schools, young women, etc. no matter what their tone.

Frankly, I'm glad I'm woman enough to recognize excellence wherever I see it. On most days...I wish their were more actions worthy of being noted as excellent, no matter who was responsible or credited for it. Congratulations, Aunt Katherine, AKA, and Mattel/Barbie...for a job well done. God help us all.