My skin is black, my arms are long, my hair is woolly- Four Women by Nina Simone

 

Growing up as a cocoa brown child with nappy hair in the 1970’s and 80’s, I never felt very cute or pretty. Oh, it’s not that anyone told me I wasn’t, my Pops used to call me his beautiful black bunny! However society let me know that compared to my latte and peach colored friends, whatever beauty I had only existed to those who were obligated to say such niceties. Rarely did I see reflections of my type of beauty; even growing up in Chicago!  Sadly my story is the story of hundreds of thousands of cocoa colored girls with nappy hair. I would like to think things have changed since my childhood but even in my day to day life here in Maine, I see the seeds of self-hate being planted daily with little brown girls, who look at me with the same raised eye brow that I used to give me family when I tell them otherwise.

I remember as a child stumbling across one of Nina Simone’s album covers and thinking that ugly woman looked a lot like me. Childish thoughts for sure! Thankfully I grew up and found my own beauty and realized that there was not a thing wrong with being a cocoa brown nappy haired girl and Nina Simone’s music has been one of the soundtracks of my life. Along the way I saw Nina’s beauty, a beauty that in my childish and simplistic mind I was not able to see. It’s safe to say I am a huge fan of Nina Simone.

Hence when I heard news that a film about Nina Simone’s life was going to be made with the beautiful and talented Zoe Saldana playing the role of Nina, I was momentarily shocked. Zoe is an attractive and talented actress without a doubt, however she looks not a whit like Nina and to play the role of such a legend, well you do need to look like Nina.

For those not familiar with Nina Simone, she was more than just a wonderful singer and the “High Priestess of Soul” she was a force to be reckoned with! Nina Simone had many faces yet they were faces that capture her essence and beauty at a time when a dark brown woman was rarely seen to be beautiful.

Hollywood has a way of playing it safe when it comes to casting for Black roles, rarely picking actresses darker than a paper bag and when they do; well we get to be The Help. Frankly I am tired of seeing only light complexioned African American women in roles; I need the next generation of brown girls to see themselves. I need to know that a day will come when a little girl who looks like me won’t be damn near 30 before she sees her own beauty.

So Zoe, this is not personal, to play the High Priestess and capture her essence, you need to resemble her and has lovely as you are, you simply don’t.

Everything but Black

One of the subjects that I rarely ever write about on this blog is the fact that I am married inter-racially, yes the Spousal Unit is white and I am Black. I think part of the reason is that there are many far more competent bloggers who write on the subject and also that I have been married so long that we are just an old married couple as far as I am concerned. Back when I was young, I sort of got caught up in the whole we are interracial thing and honestly at this point, it just is, sort of like the way I wear my hair naturally specifically I have dreadlocks and its just a part of me. No need to dissect it…it just is.

I also raise my kids so that while they know their Pops is white, the fact is that they will be viewed as Black most likely, back in the summer and fall I wrote at one point about how elder boy who is now 17, refers to himself as an Half-frican. Yeah, that’s what he calls himself and frankly I got no beef with it. He’s old enough to know that white privilege does not extend itself to him just because his Pops is white….sorry, it just doesn’t.

That said and I will admit maybe its because I am suffering from PMS (sorry for revealing that but its my reality and I am old enough that I don’t feel the need to hide it) but it just rubs me the wrong way when I stumble across other Black women many who are partnered to white men who decide to breakdown their racial makeup.

Look, what Black person in America ain’t mixed with something? Shit, we (collective Black Americans) have not been purely Black since we were brought to this country. Otherwise how the fuck do you think we come in so many different shades? Look, we run the gamut from Whoopi Goldberg to Vanessa Williams and everything else.

Yet sometimes I encounter especially online, women of color who many might be called Black, who feel the need to tell you they are 1/4 crawfoot native, 1/8 this, 1/16 that…..look, its cool to know where we come from, in fact I wish I knew more about my own background. But I sometimes think some of these folks do that shit, to deflect from being plain old Black, after all its not exotic enough to just be Black. I know, because when I was a young woman, I did that same shit, claiming native this and that. Yeah, there is some Native American, Cherokee to be specific in my family as well as Mexican but those numbers are so small that really when I thought about it, I realized I was doing it more at that time because I was not proud to be who I am which is a Black America. Thankfully I am over that shit now. Now you ask me what I am, and I am going to tell you, I am Black. Plain and simple.

The other part of this that rubs me wrong is that many of these same folks will marry inter-racially and then have kids and tell you little Jonas is this and that, which may be true but it seems they are trying to avoid calling their kids Black in any way. Yes indeed, I have seen this too. Problem is you see the kid and even though little Jonas may be fair, half the time you can tell little Jonas is not pure white. Nope, you got Mama bringing her color issues to the kid. I’m sorry that is just wrong.

Obviously, I got no beef with interracial pairings, I truly believe love knows no color but at the same time, I think we do our kids and partners a disservice when we lack self love and instead latch onto whiteness because we are uncomfortable with blackness. For too long whiteness was the only standard of what was good and beautiful and times are changing but too many of us have not gotten the memo. Instead we choose to live withoutdated notions instead of changing the standards. I think its one of the reasons so many Black women love Michelle Obama, now that America has a Black first lady and the world stage knows she is a gorgeous we are willing to publicly acknowledge that Black is beautiful, thing is Black has always been beautiful.

Love in Black and White

Being the Internet junkie I am, I spend a lot of time avoiding client work by hanging out on discussion boards and reading blogs. During the past few months, I have started reading more and more blogs by Black women who are interested in or are involved in interracial relationships. Now I enjoy reading them since after all, my very beloved spousal unit happens to be white, even my no longer beloved ex-spousal unit is white. Yet as I like to joke the fact that when I married a second time, I married yet another white man was the universe’s way of telling me don’t ever say never..

See, when the not so beloved ex and I split up, I swore up and  down, I was done with white men and I meant that from the bottom of my heart. In fact to prove my point I immediately hooked up with a Black man in what became a roller coaster of an emotional ride. That relationship was probably the most passionate that I have ever been involved in, the highs were high and the lows were low but in the end, despite giving 250%, the relationship crashed and burned after it was learned that brotha man was not as faithful as I expect my man to be. All I will say is that his Blackness probably saved him from some of the evil shit I have done in the past to white partners that have wronged me. (I used to be a real crazy broad, like I joke I am 1/8 Mexican and handy with a blade, I will cut a motha who wrongs me).

No, I did not run back to white men after getting done wrong by brotha man, but just figured that again if I ever took that long walk down the short aisle it would be with a man who shared my cultural makeup. However fate intervened and the hubster walked into my life and despite my desire for a man of my own hue, meeting a man who shared the qualities and values that I find critical in a mate, I decided to overlook that one pesky trait he lacked and that I desired…a high melanin content.

We have been married 11 years this fall, together 13 years and its been a ride. We love each other, we don’t argue much and considering that he puts up with my perimenopausal ass without much fuss does make him a keeper. Plus any man that can change shitty diapers without being asked gets a gold star.

However race does matter and it matters even more to me as I get older and no, I am not getting rid of him anytime soon. But when I hear sistas clamor to connect with white men because they think they will have better relationships, I must admit a part of me gets sad. Then when I hear sistas bash Black men, I must admit I actually get mad. See having done this marriage thing for a long time now, I know that a man is just a man and yes white boys may initially have a few more advantages over the brothas but at the end of the day, a white man is just a man. They can break your heart in a million pieces just like a Black man and sometime say shit that will hurt you more than anything a Black man can do.

When I see young sistas catagorically reject Black men, it makes me wonder how do they feel about their fathers? Brothers? Uncles? My dad was the first man I loved and my brother the second, so if I were to say all Black men are shit, what would I be saying about my own Pops? Catch my drift?

No, its ok to want to date across the racial spectrum but at the end of the day, I say fall in love with a person for who they are inside, not because you think a certain type of man is better than another. Living in Maine, I see plenty of white women wishing they had a decent man so I know all women are looking for Mister Right.

Yet when we say no to people who look like us, I think that speaks volumes for who we are deep down. Truth is we live in a society that pretty much does not value Black women, its for us to claim our space in this place and value ourselves but if valuing ourselves means tearing down our brothas, I say fuck that shit. Thing is even when you partner with a white man and have his babies, them children will still share your Black DNA and as a sista friend and I were discussing its important that biracial kids know who they are because we live in a world that despite the lip-service we give to embracing diversity as my son can tell you, them kids are considered Black.

So love who you want sistas, just don’t forget where we come from in the process.

Just Mama- revisiting and remaking Black motherhood

I actually had another post already to roll out but for some reason being a Mama is deep on my heart today. I also suspect I am missing my own Moms a bit today more than usual. Perhaps its because despite the plethora of blogs on motherhood that exist in the blogosphere the vast majority are not written nor geared towards women of color. (Look at the recent issue of Bitch Magazine for more on this)

Anyway I have made what will be a life-changing decision today, I am taking mini-me out of daycare and instead she will go to preschool. Now to the childless who read this, you are probably laughing because I probably would be too. However at present I compress my work life into 27-30 hours a week of daycare and for some strange reason preschool is only 5 hours a week. That means Mama is about to spend a whole lot of time with baby girl. No, I have not given up work either, its just that there is an ebb and flow to my work and I know in a few months I am going to hit a slow time and frankly in a family where both spouses are self-employed its time to get serious about saving money and having her home with me will indeed save a block of money.

On the other hand I have grappled since last year when I stopped teaching with wanting to spend more meaningful time with her and 3 is a good age to start the Mama and baby girl time. I am often intrigued with how white women take motherhood so seriously, I have read enough blogs and had enough real life discussions about Moms who feel bad if they turn on the TV or if they are not fully engaged with their offspring every moment of every day. Now when I first started rolling the idea around to take her out of daycare, I was fretting over what classes to sign her up for, nervous about how I would fill up our days. Then it hit me, my Moms never took me on a single play-date or extracurricular until I was old enough to have a say and I turned out fine.

No, my Mom by the standards of today’s parenting especially the parenting that is prominent by the educated classes would have looked like a slacker, yet looking back the best times and best lessons were learned by observing my own Mama. How she carried herself, how she went about the day to day of just living. Its not the big stuff I look back on when I reminisce about Moms, no its the small shit, its Sunday dinner, how she took forever to cook a feast. How she could make miracles out of nothing in hard times. Its how when I was 14 back in the 1980′s she convinced me that thrift shop clothes were cool when all my friends were rocking the Guess and Girbaud that was so popular at that time.

Looking back I am reminded that while raising kids is serious business since if you fuck it up, that’s a human who is fucked up but if you do it well, it lasts a lifetime.

Black motherhood has always looked different, after all we didn’t need to fight for the right to work, shit we were working from day one when we landed in this country. Yet we raised kids who were good even when we had no time to spend and no money to give.

So, I think mini-me and I will be ok, yes she may end up watching too much tv when I am on a deadline but as elder boy tells me too much TV didn’t rot his brain back when I was a single parent and had to rush home to make dinner so he had to entertain himself with Rugrats and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air back in the mid-1990′s. This is a kid whose summer reading included Kurt Vonnegut and that was just for fun.

No, motherhood takes many forms and we can’t allow others to define it for us.

Girl power, do you have it?

My intent today was to write a piece about Obama, but after an impromptu family outing, I decided to scrap that plan at least for today since there are more than enough folks out in the blogosphere commenting on Barry and his changing tide.

Today’s title comes from an incident with my girl aka mini-me today. On the way back from the beach today, mini-me wanted some ice cream, so we pulled into the parking lot of a local place, now the plan had been to get the ice cream and roll but mini-me wanted to sit out in the grass and eat her ice cream. However the menfolk, spousal unit and elder child aka the boy, didn’t initially want to go with the plan; so Mama being the goofball she is said well girls rule so we are eating outside because we have girl power… I know this is corny as hell but mini-me immediately liked that phrase and decided to run around screaming girl power.

Now, some of y’all might be groaning, day-um you are pretty corny up there in Maine, sista. True, I won’t lie but as I was thinking about it just a moment ago, it dawned on me that when I was growing up I never quite got the message that girls had power and I suspect I am not the only woman of a certain age whose folks talked about girls being able to do anything but truth is they didn’t walk the walk. Don’t get me wrong my folks did not explicitly say that I was limited by my gender but honestly, actions speak louder than words and while my little brother who I love dearly, was always supported in his endeavors by my folks, truth is that I was not. I suspect some of the choices I made earlier in life were a direct result of not quite believing that as a girl I had any power.

I have often heard how in Black families girls and boys are raised in different ways and I do believe there is some truth in that, I also think the ways we are are raised or perhaps conditioned by gender also plays a role in the angst that exists today between brothas and sistas.

For me in raising my daughter, my hopes for her are that hopefully she won’t make any of the silly ass mistakes I made like seeking love instead of seeking herself nor confusing lust for love. Instead I want her rooted and grounded in knowing who she is (I also hope she comes to know the Lord to) and having the faith to know she can accomplish anything and that she is not limited by her gender but that inherent in being a woman comes with power.

So, I say to all the ladies that read this, take a moment and look for your own inner girl power, if you are raising a girl, make sure she knows she has girl power. For the men, don’t be afraid to let the ladies in your life know that they have girl power and don’t feel threatned by that power.

Whose truth?

I was not raised in a traditionally Black Christian household, basically church was something we went to every few years, would have been even less than that if it were not for my Pops. My Mom was raised by her Dad who was an atheist and my Pops was a lapsed Southern Baptist. However when I was 17, Pops was diagnosed with throat cancer and given less than 6 months to live, on what he thought was his deathbed, he had a mid-life conversion and long story short he didn’t die and went to seminary and ended up becoming a minister and pastor much to my Mom’s dismay.

By the time he became a preacher and got his own church, I was already married with my own family, however I started coming to his church and ended up becoming a born again Christian. Its been many years and while I still have a deep and personal relationship with Christ, the truth is Christians scare me. I find Christians to be some of the most insincere and hypocritical folks around, I know that is a rather blanket and possibly offensive statement but after years of faithful church attendance and bible reading I decided a year ago to skip church and set  out to gain a better understanding of the word of God sans a preacher, admittedly I have occasionally used my Pops as a reference since he is a rather unorthodox preacher.

In the year since I stopped attending church regularly and stopped searching for a church home, I have immersed myself in the works of folks like Marcus Borg and many others and honestly I feel cheated. Like most faithful church goers who never go beyond what their preacher says, I never understood the foundation of how the Christian church really came to be, how Christianity stole from Paganism to create holidays that we revere such as Christmas. While I still believe that the Bible is God’s word, I am now aware that the words were written by men and also reflect the value system of the times in which the books were written. A point that never seems to get mentioned in many traditional churches, this is why we have Paul offering rules on women in the church, yet upon deeper reflection and research is it practical to say these teachings and advice should be applied in current times? After all how many women especially in the Black community are the true workers at the church holding it down while the preacher reaps all the glory. My Granny died giving all her money to a church that did nothing for her, when she needed a furnace, medications, where was the church? I suspect she was not the only faithful attendee who gave yet when she needed her community it was not there for her.

I also have come to face that the Bible has been misused to keep down and oppress others and as a Black woman, I grapple with that daily. Don’t get me wrong I have always known the bible was used as a tool of oppression but I guess it really hit home when I set my heart to truly grow closer to God and yet studying the bible have really thought how the biblical truths have been used to justify many wrongs.

 Right now I am praying for clarity, there are moments when I think perhaps this Christianity thing is not real but there are too many things I have seen and experienced in life that lead me to know its real.

What’s not real though is how people use the bible and God to create a false truth for their own purposes, be it to sucker people into their congregation or keep people feeling bad about themselves. In an election season we don’t have to look any further than the highly regarded Evangelical Christian vote to see folks who misuse God to create their own truth. These same folks get up in arms about abortion but I ask where is the compassion that Jesus showed on earth? Instead of getting up in arms about so-called liberal issues, if Evangelicals took that same energy and used it with a spirit of compassion maybe there would be less hungry and homeless folks in America.

Right now I am pondering my own journey which may lead me to seminary (talk about irony, another family mid-life journey) but I wonder am I the only one who ponders the issue of truth every day and wonders whose truth to follow?

Are we too hard on ourselves..

I am in my second marriage, the first one lasted only half a minute, just long enough to produce my son and realize that getting married at 18 is a really bad idea for most folks. That said when I remarried at 24, I felt more or less ready. The spousal unit and I are a good fit, we are like sour cream and cheddar cheese chips, he is the sour cream and I am the cheddar.

I will admit that when I took that short walk down that aisle the second time I was nervous since second marriages have a high chance of failure, that said this is the hubby’s first and he is committed to making it work

I say all this to say that last night we had a bit of a argument, really it was about bullshit, but in the three years since our daughter was born, these nothing arguments have increased from being at best a yearly event to at least a few per month. I suppose this should not have been a surprise but for a couple that rarely argues, these past three years we have been stretched. However during last night’s argument, I uttered the words my spousal unit hates to hear “Well maybe you should leave”. Truth is I really don’t want him to leave, its just that at those moments when I am most vulnerable and feeling stressed and all I really want is to be left alone, I seem to put on my strong Black woman costume. Sistas if you reading this, you know what I am talking about.

Its in that moment, I look at him and, I hear snatches of ole songs ” I am every woman”, old sayings my Mom and Granny used to utter “You can do bad by yourself” and I get so caught up in the moment and utter the vilest shit.

After the argument I was reminded of a new blog I have been reading that deals with Black women and it hit me that I am perpetuating a lot of the negativity that interferes with relationships that Black women have generally with brothas but truthfully with men in general. The shit that keeps us from being willing to expose our vulnerability, our needs and truth is its got to stop.

Last year when I unexpectedly lost my job, I took on doing all the work around the house except for taking out garbage, thing is I am still doing it and I am working again, plus mini-me is not so little and elder child is home for the summer. Yet the funny thing is the spousal unit never asked me to do everything, but some how in my mind I started thinking I should do everything, even now. As you can imagine this causes a great deal of tension, since as I have been told I walk around with a perpetual scowl on my face.

Yet here I am getting mad as hell when in fact I put this on myself, last night after we made up, I was plagued with the thought that despite growing up in a 2 parent home, I seem to perpetuate all the negative images that many sistas in general have about men, and while some of its true the fact is I think we bring a lot of it on ourselves by not being upfront. Simple stuff like making dinner, I married a man who had been on his own for years and knows how to cook but as he jokes half heartedly it was after we married that I took away his cooking privileges yet I bitch all the time about hating to cook.

The thing is in relationships unless you are truly not well matched, its the little shit that will bring the relationship down, years of cooking when you really didn’t want to.. and so on.

No, the realization hit me this morning that if I am truly committed to making this work, its time to permanently retire my superwoman suit. I am not every woman and I can not do everything and I am not even expected to. I also must be willing to get real and as a old professor of mine in grad school said during a workshop, be prepared to get raggedy. The reality is in a loving relationship its ok to be raggedy at times, no one thinks less of you. I just need to stop thinking less of myself. I suspect I am not the only one out here who needs to ease up on herself either.