Black History: Gabby Douglas – Not just another annoying teenager

Today is February 1, which marks the start of Black History Month. Even Google came to the party, kicking off the celebration with a Google Doodle of Harriet Tubman on its homepage.  Woot!

Now, in my opinion, Black history should be celebrated and acknowledged 24/7/365, but I’m also okay with paying special attention to the contributions of black folk during the month of February. Of course black folk would be relegated to the shortest month of the year, but, hey, I’m going to make the most of it.  This month, I’ll be highlighting black folk who have made us proud.  I can’t promise I’ll write about someone every day this month or anything, but I’ll def share my thoughts on a handful of special people as the month progresses.

And, without further ado, I’m starting with Gabrielle Douglas a.k.a “The Flying Squirrel”. She might seem like an unlikely choice, but she’s on my mind because, tonight, The Gabby Douglas Story aired on Lifetime, followed by a documentary-style special about her family life. I was at home on a Saturday night, engaged in the arduous process of washing, deep-conditioning, and then 3-strand twisting Sasha (my hair). I saw someone post about the movie on Facebook and I had nothing else to occupy my time while I detangled and twisted, so I tuned in.

The movie was very… Lifetime-y. (If you’ve ever watched a Lifetime movie, then you know exactly what I mean by this.) That said, I was impressed. Not that Lifetime thought enough to make a movie about her (they make movies about all sorts of randos), but that they made an entire night out of her life story. That’s pretty dope. And her accomplishments are worth fussing over. She’s a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, having been the first American to win both the team and individual all-around gold at the same Olympics. She’s also the first African American or woman of color of any nationality to win the all-around. That’s a pretty big deal for anybody, but is especially impressive because she did it all by the age of 17. I know what I was doing when I was 17 and… well… it wasn’t that.

Gabby is a tiny little thing with a huge smile. When I watched her talking after she’d won the medal, it became very clear that she’s just a typical American teenager – she clearly had no media training in preparation for her instant celebrity. But that’s what was so refreshing about her. She’s just a regular kid who worked hard and her work ethic combined with her raw talent made her better than everyone else. In. The. World. Not too many people have had that kind of success. And that’s why I was stunned when the public started criticizing her for her hair. At the time, I found it unbelievable that anyone allow her hair to overshadow her performance at the Olympics. But people are dumb. And very, very superficial. I mean, here we go back to the politics of black hair.  This child was working her ass off on balance beams and bars and stuff and she was also expected to maintain a flawless hairdo in the process?  I mean, yes, her hair looked cray cray.

(No, actually, it doesn’t. *side eye*)

BUT… I know what my hair looks like after one of my halfhearted workouts, so I can only imagine how busted I’d look if I was working as hard as she did to win a gold medal at the freaking Olympics.  She showed them all, though, when she got herself a good (and expensive) weave.

Then she slayed in this:

Yassss! Gabby slays. Do you hear me?! SLAYS!

And, then, well… then, there wasn’t anything left to discuss other than her ability and she got the attention she deserved.  Like hanging with Barry and Shelly (the Obamas, duh!), and Mama Oprah.  Yes, lawd!

In the end, I’m proud of Gabby and what she’s accomplished. I regularly complain about how much I hate teenagers, but — would you look at that?! — here’s one I actually admire. His wonders never cease.  Bottom line, Gabby Douglas deserves shine.  She didn’t only make Black history, she made American history.  She actually seems like a reasonable role model for the next generation, and I’m excited to see what she does next.  Whatever it is, I pray that it won’t involve drugs, erratic behavior, or sex tapes.  *fingers crossed*

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BET’s Being Mary Jane — Another “broken” black woman on TV?

I literally couldn’t wait for the season premiere of “Being Mary Jane”, BET’s new one-hour drama series starring Gabrielle Union.  This summer, I watched the two-hour pilot/movie that BET aired and was so excited to see a young professional black woman on TV dealing with “real life” problems on a prime time television show.  I usually can’t do BET because, in my opinion, the programming has been crap.  What they did to “The Game” is a travesty.  And, so, when I watched the BMJ pilot and actually liked it, I was thrilled to be able to support a BET show.

It’s not often we get to see a fly Black woman anchoring a TV drama.  When Kerry Washington first showed up on our television screens as Olivia Pope in ABC’s hit-show “Scandal”, Black women everywhere did a collective happy dance.  We were doubly-ecstatic because the show is penned by Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy” fame, so there was a black woman behind the curtain writing a role for another black woman who took center-stage.  Initially, I was just as excited about “Scandal” as everyone else.  If for no other reason than to see a black woman “handling” her business on television, displaying intelligence and sex appeal in one very sharply-dressed brown body.  That said, I quickly lost interest in the show.  Why?  Because of her dysfunctional-ass relationship with Fitz, the show’s very-married President of the United States.

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(One of “Olitz’s” steamy scenes.)

At first, I was attracted to the rapid dialogue of the show, and over-the-top story lines of the “cases” that Olivia and her Gladiators “handled” every week.  But then, I couldn’t get past the fact that outside of the professional realm, Olivia was a basic side-ho.  I also couldn’t stand the hundreds of posts flooding my Facebook and Twitter feeds, hyping up this crazy-ass relationship.  People were “#Team Olitz” (an annoying combination of the names Olivia and Fitz), and swooning over the steamy love scenes in the Oval Office where this woman was banging someone else’s husband.  These same Facebook friends posting these pro-adultery posts are the same ones quoting the Bible on any other day.  I was shocked that women who claim to have morals in tact conveniently disabled their moral compasses for an hour every Thursday.  Isn’t it ironic?  Well, I’m sorry, but homewrecking hos get no love on my TV, so as much as I wanted to support Kerry and Shonda, I started changing the channel.

Fast forward to July when the BMJ pilot debuted.  I was happy to see that Mary Jane was family-oriented (even if her family presented with some extremely stereotypical issues), career-driven, and frustrated with dating.  These are all things to which I can fully-relate.  I especially understood the pressures she was under to be all things to all people.  She felt the need to be Superwoman and had no one with whom she could curl up next to after she took off her cape for the day.  I get that, and I think many other black women know just what that’s like.  We’re all forced to be so strong and to appear that we have it all together at all times.  We can’t afford to show any cracks in our veneers  because everyone is expecting us to be half a woman anyway, and so we overcompensate, which can be totally exhausting.  We’re afraid to show people that we’re vulnerable because we’ve been told all our lives that we are supposed to be strong.  And so many of us are the proverbial backbones of our family and can’t afford to take a break from saving everyone in spite of ourselves.  We are constantly putting everyone else’s needs before our own, and when we do take the focus off others and instead choose to focus on ourselves, we feel selfish and guilty.  It’s a terrible conundrum.  I felt her pain, her frustration, her loneliness, and her guilt.

So when the season premiere of BMJ aired last week, I was there for it.  I set a reminder on my phone and tuned in to BET to check it out (since I never watched BET, I had to Google to figure out which channel it is!).  It started off well, and I was sucked right in.

And then, things went south.

Mary Jane, on top of her other personality quirks (and we all have them, so no judgments here), is knowingly involved with a married man.  So… that went from sugar to shit in just under 60 minutes.

And here we go… AGAIN.

Now we’ve got yet another otherwise positive black female character sleeping with a married man.  Mind you, during the pilot movie, Mary Jane discovers that Omari Hardwick’s character, Andre, is married and she’s devastated because she mistakenly believes she’s finally found a man who’s worth her time.

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(Mary Jane and Very-Married Andre)

In the pilot, she breaks things off with him.  But in the season premiere?  She is confronted by his wife in a meeting during which she shows NO remorse for the relationship that she has had with this woman’s husband.  The wife asks her whether her husband has performed oral sex on her and, in response, Mary Jane doesn’t say “yes” or “no”… she says: “It’s required” with a very smug sneer.  Really, trick?!  I wish you would come at me like that.  Then, after she pretends that she’s going to leave the man alone, he confronts her in the gym locker room and, during their exchange, she spies a photo of his family (yes, there are children involved) that she herself describes as “beautiful”.  And, yet, she f*cks him in the public shower (after he removed her shower cap, which I found hilarious).

So, look.  As I said before, I am not here for hos.  And that’s when BMJ lost me.

I was profoundly disappointed by the turn the show took.  Discovering that a man is a cheater and then using that to become a better person yourself?  Well, that earns my respect.  So, had the show allowed Mary Jane to grow as a result of her experience, I would’ve been a proud supporter.  But to have her go from sidepiece-victim to sidepiece-sumbag turned me all the way off.

And then I had this realization: here we are with two beautiful, educated, professional, black, “independent” women as the main focus of two primetime TV shows and they are both reduced to f*cking married men.

This is problematic for me.  Here’s why:

I grew up in school districts where I was often the only black student in the class, and I learned that in those situations, I was the room representative for the entire black race.  What do I mean by that?  See, I realized that I might be the only black person that someone has the grace to encounter, so I determined that I had to be the best representation of who WE are that I can be.  We don’t have many black women on TV these days, especially not in dramatic series on major networks, and when we finally get the spotlight on us, this is the kind of garbage we put out there.  For those people who already believe in the stereotype of the Black b*tch/ho, we are affirming those beliefs by making them integral to “our” story lines.  Why is this necessary?  Both shows would be just as good without the “side-ho” twist.  Can we get one whole healthy black woman representative on TV?  Just one?  Apparently not.

A few minutes after the Andre/Mary Jane public shower sex scene aired, Madame Noire posted a Facebook comment that said “Lawd Jesus the ending of #BeingMaryJane… Do we have to care that Omari Hardwick’s character is married?”.  Lemme answer that for you Madame Noire… the answer is YES, we should care.  And with that little “tongue-in-cheek” thumbs-up to adultery, MN, we’re nurturing the next generation of homewrecking whores. Great. Just great.  Listen up, ladies who want to pretend men they’re sleeping with are not married, heed the warning of that great oracle of reality TV, Nene Leakes: and “close your legs to married men“.

And now, it seems that moral compasses will be switched off on Tuesdays AND Thursdays at 10:00 PM with two black female lead actresses leading the charge.  We’re f*cked.

Maybe someday I’ll go into why it’s ironic that Gabrielle Union is even playing a character who “has it all”, yet ends up dating a married man.  Or, you can do your own research and discover the irony for yourself.  Art imitating life?  Perhaps.

Oh, and that reminds me.  There was another “GTFOH” scene in the first episode.  Mary Jane, in addition to sleeping with Very-Married Andre, also rekindled her relationship with her college sweetheart, David, who is “affectionately” known as “Do Not Ever Answer” in her iPhone (we’ve all got one of those).  Look, we slip up and return to past mistakes — it happens to the best of us.  That said, not only is Mary Jane depicted as a desperate chick who is willing to do whatever just to have piece of a man, she is also willing to do whatever it takes to get a baby.  So, what does she do? When she and David finish doing the do, she secretly scoops the used condom up off the bedroom floor, takes it to the bathroom and uses a turkey baster to extract the sperm, puts it into a plastic container, and stashes it in the box of baking soda she keeps in the freezer.  This was a WTF moment for me.  Is it really that serious that you have to go around stealing sperm from old boyfriends?  That’s some trifling sh*t right there and shows that her judgment is clearly all the way off.

I’ve had fans of both Scandal and BMJ tell me that the characters are flawed and messy for a reason — because “real” people are flawed and messy.  Um…  *side eye*  So, these arguments actually bring me to my next thought: REAL people are flawed. A fictional character, which both Olivia and Mary Jane are, (Hellooooo?!  Is anyone home?) can be written any way we want them to be written. Since there aren’t a ton of black women on prime time TV, it would be nice if the ones we DO see weren’t all falling apart at the seams, which is what the mainstream thinks of us anyway and now here we go perpetuating that mess.

After I went all the way in on the show, I’ll leave you with this final thought.  To me, “BMJ” was another disappointing show in its representation of black women.  The pilot was great, but the season premier took Mary Jane in a direction I wasn’t expecting. It was like having a great first date and then on the second date the dude farts at the table, flirts with the waitress, and stiffs on the tip… but, believe it or not, after all that, I’m still willing to go on a third date.  It was only the first episode, so I’ll watch to see where she ultimately ends up.  I just hope her final destination is a therapist’s couch or a confessional.  She needs Jesus.

Why do we hate Black hair?

I read a post on Feministing.com today that made my blood boil.  The post, entitled “Hating black hair starts young, just ask Blue Ivy Carter”, gave voice to everything I’d been thinking about the people who’ve taken to the internet rah-rah’ing about a baby’s kinky, curly, fuzzy hair, taking shots at both the parents AND THE BABY.  Huh?!  So, enraged, I posted a link to the article on my Facebook page with the following commentary:

THIS. It infuriates me that people hate to see hair in its natural state — unstyled, unaltered. Black people especially hate to be reminded of how most of our hair REALLY looks, so we pull, prod and burn our own hair into submission and/or wear the hair of someone else. (Sounds kinda crazy when I put it that way, huh?) And I am so disgusted by people who think it’s okay to take shots at a BABY and/or her parents for not “doing” her hair. She’s a BABY, and this is what her hair looks like. It’s like y’all expected the child to be birthed out of Beyoncé with a full virgin Malaysian weave that matches her mama’s. Ridiculous. The politics of black hair. *smh*

Naturally, because I’m friends with a great group of opinionated black women both on Facebook and in real life, this post created quite a stir.  The back and forth comments evolved into a discussion about whether natural hair should be “kept”.  And what I had to say in response to that is that I don’t believe that hair — any kind of hair — needs to be “kept” anything but clean.  Had you asked me this years ago, before I went natural myself, I probably would’ve had a different opinion.  But, today, after fielding many off-the-wall, inappropriate, GTFOH comments about my hair, I truly stand behind my belief that hair is a personal choice and people should be able to wear their hair the way they want to wear it without being ridiculed for it.

But what really burns me up is that people act like Blue Ivy was going to miraculously be born with some silky straight hair flowing down her back like Beyonce.  Well, newsflash, folks… that ain’t Beyonce’s hair!  I mean, it’s hers in the sense that it’s in her possession AND she paid for it (and probably paid a pretty penny at that!), but it did not sprout from her head in that texture, in that particular shade of honey blonde, and did not grow from her scalp to that length.

This GIF accompanied the Feministing post:

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(Blue Ivy is so adorable that I don’t even notice her hair here.)

And, then, let’s look at another photo of Bey and BIC that I adore:

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So, while we sit here and debate the merits of keeping a child’s hair “done”, nobody is going to mention that mommy is wearing two pounds and twenty feet of someone else’s hair?  Why is that not an issue?  While folks are busy criticizing Bey for sending Blue out with her hair “undone”, why aren’t they also taking shots at Bey for her own hair shenanigans?  I’ll tell you why: because in our society “kept” hair means “tamed” hair.  But Black hair grows up and out, it’s wild and free, it’s difficulty to contain, and that’s deemed “messy” or “unpresentable”.

I have more questions.  Just who decides what “presentable”, “kept”, or “done” means anyway?  And what subliminal messages are we sending to ourselves and to our children when we say that the way that Black hair grows naturally out of Black heads is “unpresentable”?  I know PLENTY of white women who roll out of bed without putting comb or brush to hair, and they are considered to be not only “presentable”, but beautiful in their most natural and “undone” states (so beautiful, in fact, that “tousled curls” and “bed head” are actually desired “looks” in the white world of hairstyling).  Why can’t we be granted the same pass?  Why does unshaped, unstyled, unaltered, natural black hair evoke cries of “unkempt”, “unkept”, and “uncouth”?  It makes me so sad to see that we hate our hair in its natural state to the degree that we’re driven to think it’s acceptable and appropriate to talk trash about a innocent precious baby.  It makes me uncomfortable that we are so disgusted by our own God-given characteristics that we would vilify loving parents who choose to let their baby’s hair go free rather than conform to society’s standard of “tame” or “kept”.  It hurts me that all signs everywhere always point to the fact that who we are is not good enough to be accepted by the mainstream.

On a lighter note, the most hilarious insinuation is that Blue’s “undone” hair is a sign that Jay and Bey are in some way neglecting her.  Blue Ivy’s hair looks “that way” because that’s how they want it to look.  Don’t believe for one second that her look is an afterthought.   Believe me when I say that The Carters could hire someone to comb and moisturize each individual strand of hair on Blue’s head if that were a priority to them.  But clearly Blue’s fabulous ‘fro is not something that concerns them, and the way she looks when they take her out to meet the paps is presentable TO THEM, so it should concern us.  And, really, until Blue is old enough to voice her own opinions about how she looks, her parents’ opinions are the only ones that really matter.

Look, I’m thrilled that more black women are embracing their natural hair — that’s a beautiful thing to see.  But, what I’d love more than anything would be for us to get to a point where natural hair is not a “thing” to be discussed or embraced.  I eagerly await the day that “natural hair” — Black hair — will just be hair… because that is all it is.

Remove the kinks from your mind and not your hair.” – Marcus Garvey

The Gratitude Party

There was a period in my life that wasn’t pretty.  I was going through some things.  It may not have shown on the outside, but inside, my emotions were raging.   I felt lost, unsure of my ability to make decisions about myself and my future.  I didn’t understand why it seemed like other people had so much going for them and I still felt like I was struggling to find my place in the world.  I wasn’t happy with my job, wasn’t happy with my outward appearance (I wanted to lose weight and was frustrated that I didn’t seem to be able to stick with any real plan), and was smack-dab in the middle of a very tumultuous romantic “relationship”.  (I put relationship in quotation marks because, in actuality, it was never confirmed that we were IN a relationship, but we were definitely more than friends.  Precisely why the “relationship” was described as tumultuous.)  More than anything, I just wanted to be happy, but true genuine happiness seemed to elude me.

But then, in a conversation with my parents, one of them (I can’t remember which one!) said something profound.  My parent said “Did you know that happiness is a choice?  You can CHOOSE to be happy.”  Well, that turned my world upside down.  It was so simple, yet life-altering.  You mean, I could be happy just by making the choice to be happy?   So did that mean that all this time I’d been choosing NOT to be happy?  Why would I do that?  Why would ANYONE do that?

Well, if all I had to do was CHOOSE to be happy, then I’d get started right away.  It was then that I decided to begin my Happiness Project.  The Project was uber-simple.  No matter my circumstances, I would just choose to be happy.  I tried it out for one day just to see how things would turn out… and it worked!  So, I kept trying it and… surprise, surprise – it kept on working!  To quote a clichéd proverb, “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change.”  Now, there are a lot of ways to interpret this quote, but the way I see it is like this: always think of the glass as half-full.  Your outlook on life can literally change your circumstances.  Instead of seeing stuff as happening TO you, think of stuff as happening FOR you.  That means even if things aren’t going your way, it’s for a reason.  And that reason is meant to benefit you in some way.

It was during this time that I noticed a Facebook friend of mine – one of the few Facebook friends that I haven’t ever met in person – faithfully completed a daily exercise expressing gratitude for 5 things that she experienced every day.   She called it her “5 Grateful Things” and it’s how she signs-off Facebook for the day.   So many of us focus on all the things that went WRONG in a day.  In essence, we make it a habit to have a “pity party” everyday.  But what would happen if, instead, we focused on all the things that went RIGHT in a day?  Sometimes, we focus so steadily on the negative parts of our day, we don’t realize that something – even the most infinitesimal thing – went right!   With that in mind, I decided that rather than having a “pity party”, I’d have a “gratitude party” and give thanks for everything that went right for me in that day.  So, picking up where my Facebook friend left off, I began to post 5 things for which I was grateful each day.  Being grateful is a great way to end (or to start!) the day.  It reminded me of how blessed I really am.  And it was probably the most significant and effective aspect of my Happiness Project.

At some point, I stopped the Gratitude Parties.  I don’t remember why, but I did.  But my Facebook friend kept going with hers.  Everyday I’d see hers and think I should start again.  I decided maybe I didn’t need to write them anymore, but I’d just have them in my head at night before I went to bed.  Then, during the holidays, one of my cousins – who also happens to be my Facebook friend – said that she missed reading my 5 grateful things.  I was so touched that she had even noticed that I was writing them, and that I had stopped.  Maybe my expression of gratitude brought something to other people.  Maybe I’d found a way to use Facebook for good instead of for evil (as so many people do).  So I made a vow that I’d have Gratitude Parties more regularly this year.

On Facebook, my Gratitude Parties are concise.  After all, Facebook statuses are not blogs and nobody is trying to read the details of my Gratitude Parties.  So, I keep them short and sweet for Facebook, but I’d like to expand on them a bit here.  I hope you will enjoy reading about the things for which I’m grateful.  And I hope you consider having your own Gratitude Party… because – no matter our circumstances – we all have something for which to be grateful.

Happy New Year!

#message!

So, Kim Kardashian got a divorce from Kris Humphries. *clutching my pearls* I’m shocked! I just knew that they married for love! And the money they made on their televised wedding was just a perk that came along with marrying the person of your dreams!

… Okay, so, if you  relate to anything I wrote above, just stop reading now ’cause you’re an idiot! Kim is a dimwitted “celebrity” clearly being pimped by her mom/madame! Poor thing, she didn’t stand a chance. The second her mom realized that she, or her sisters, were remotely interesting to an audience, she started to put in work to ensure that the whole family could get fed off their shenanigans.

Apparently, Kim’s fans are in an uproar about her short-lived marriage to Humphries, saying that they “cheapened” the institution of marriage. But are they really surprised? I mean, this IS the same woman who got famous ’cause she recorded her seksi times with Brandy’s Brother, no? And you’re surprised that her actions might cast a negative light on marriage? Seriously?

C’mon, son.

Lemme put you on to something – the new synonym for “cheap” is “Kardashian”.

On the same day Kimmy Kakes filed for divorce, Jessica Simpson announced she was preggers by some NFL player she’s been dating. I remember the Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson reality show. They were the “Newlyweds” and they were in love. Part of their schtick was that Jess had saved her goodies for her wedding night. And Nick’s excuse for trading-in his bachelor card was that he gets to “bleep” Jessica Simpson every night. But, then, Nick and Jess went to Splitsville, population: 2. And Nick was linked to Vanessa Minillo and Jess was alone. Then, Jess started banging Romo and eventually ended up with some NFL bench-rider. Purportedly, they got engaged and now she’s preggers.

Soooo, lemme get this straight, girl. You skipped sex til you were mid-20s so your hubby would be the first to sex you. Then, you get a divorce, bang a couple pros only to end up fertilized out of wedlock?!

Mmmkay. Makes total sense, boo!

You should’ve just given it up to the first dude that set your loins ablaze — like the rest of us! ;)

I’d like to believe that Jess is just a victim and that nobody gets married intending to get a divorce. Unless, of course, your name is Kardashian. :)

Moral of the story: reality stars live in an alternate reality! And, as such, they should NOT be considered role models. I hope we all had this message memorized prior to Kim and Jessica’s shenanigans. But, in case we didn’t memorize the lesson prior to all this nonsense, take note… #MESSAGE!