About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

Friday, December 30, 2011

My World Has Changed: Revisiting the "About" Section

So it's been almost seven months since my last post...but I've been a little busy. See, I was preparing for, welcoming, and now taking care of the cutest kid in my world: my new daughter, "Mini Mo." I had plans--such plans!!!--for discussing the notion that black children were better off as slaves; controversies surrounding The Help, the book and the movie; the inspiring feature article on Michelle Obama in Essence's October issue; and more. But, my world was busy changing and is still in the process of doing so. And I couldn't be more excited--or scared. This child is the sweetest, smiliest (yes, I made that up), funniest little girl. She's a dream, but she's also very much real, as are the ideas that prompted me to start this blog in the first place.

Mini Mo and I during Thanksgiving weekend, 2011
I was just re-reading my "About" section here. (Feel free to do the same.) I realized that I've felt the imperative to take care of my "village" by loving my nieces and nephews, uplifting my friends and family, helping to raise my stepson (the Kid), and taking advantage of teachable moments beyond the classroom with my students. However, now that I have a daughter, her self-esteem, her body, her images, her hair, and her (future) men are now part of my world. The ideas that inspired my very first post will be tested and challenged in raising her. This is the deepest thing I'll know, apart from marriage, and that awesome task is something I'm still trying to wrap my brain around. I hear that doesn't really change...Lol.

From now on, I imagine my posts will be conceived with Mini Mo in mind, in some way, shape or form. In a way, she makes my purpose for this outlet even more real. Cheers to that. *Clink* Happy New Year, folks. I'm looking forward to this one for more reasons than I can count, but Mini Mo is at the top.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Seriously? We're Still Playing the "Black" Card?

Photo via yFrog
 When I read about the heavily tweeted, racist McDonald's photo that turned out to be a hoax, I didn't have the same gut reaction as most others that I saw posted/blogged--essentially, "Whoever believed this was real is an idiot." Instead, I thought, If the goal is to make McD's look bad, why does it have to involve racist sentiments against African-Americans? Is that the way to stick it to them?

It reminded me of Susan's Smith's 1994 (false) claim that a black man car-jacked her and abducted her children, whom she of course killed. It reminded me of Ashley Todd's pre-2008 election (false) claim that a black male Obama supporter robbed her at knifepoint and carved a B into her face. And then we come to find that she mutilated herself for political purposes. The idea that there's something a bit sinister about black people still plays. Hey, as silly as each of these lies were, people believed them.

These examples aren't identical to the McD's hoax. After all, the prankster's goal was to make the company, not African-Americans, look bad. Yet, that end involved the well established caricatures of black people as untrustworthy, potentially criminal, roguish--exactly the ideas Smith and Todd relied on when hiding their own demons. More than anything, it reminded me that, even in 2011, people out there still believe that they can get over on the next guy simply by vilifying black folks, whether that hope is realistic or not. Yes, these pitiful people are found out, but the attempt apparently hasn't gotten stale. To channel novice criminal Linus Caldwell's refrain from Ocean's 13, "The 'black' card plays." Dang.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dark Girls: The Legacy of Colorism

She's pretty - for a dark-skinned girl. I hope my baby doesn't come out with dark skin. The dark drawing represents the dumb girl. I thought my dark skin was dirt.

These are just a few of the ideas brought to light in the upcoming film Dark Girls. Please, pretty puh-lease watch this preview of the film:

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

There are people out there who don't understand why some people - people like me! - keep preaching about the need for black people to love the way they look and to teach their children to do the same. There are people who don't see this as an issue any more. People don't still bleach their skin! Darkness isn't even an issue any more! Think again. The females in this video represent a tiny drop of black females who are made to feel lesser because of their complexions. As someone with caramel-type coloring, I haven't experienced this personally, but I've seen its effects on close relatives and on some of my dearest friends. It's real, and it doesn't seem to be going away. 

And while I am very passionate about the effects of these racist ideas (both extrinsic and internalized) on black females' emotional well-being and self-esteem, I've seen these effects on black males too. I personally know little black boys who wish they had been born with lighter skin and lighter eyes, who hate to see photos of themselves because they look "too dark." Many of these boys grow up to be dark-skinned men who will never date or marry dark-skinned women, who won't hang out at the beach because they don't want to become "blacker" (carcenogic UV rays notwithstanding).

Black children's equations of darkness with all things negative has been proven time and time again throughout the years in recreations of and variations on the famous doll experiment conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s, an experiment so influential that it helped to secure the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. I encourage you to look up videos on contemporary versions of this experiment - maybe have a box of tissues handy, too.

How do these ideas continue to exist, though? I imagine it's a combination of various media - that continue to hold up light skin (and other features) as ideally beautiful while relegating darkness to the margins through virtual absence - and the passing on of internalized racism. In other words, these ideas continue to be taught. Education, then, about the seemingly simple idea of self-love is essential to reversing the centuries-old stigmas placed on dark skin. It's a task I'm engaged in right now, and I hope more and more parents, teachers, siblings, aunties, and uncles will take up the task as well.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Talking White": Teaching Our Kids about Race

I thought “talking white” was an old-school concept. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s—maybe earlier?—as a black child who could speak articulately, you might have been told by your peers a time or two that you “talked white.” Such a statement might have been an insult, or it might have been simply an “observation,” but the point was clear: white folks spoke “clearly” or “well,” and black folks…didn’t.

Whatever the case was back then, I was surprised to discover that it’s still a thing among kids in 2011. After picking the Kid, an 8th-grader, up from school today, I engaged him in a conversation about his day. In the process, he told me how he often reads books for leisure when “[they] don’t be doin’ nothin’ in math class.” “Why are you suddenly talking like that?” I respond, to which he replies, “Oh, I’ve been hanging around a lot of black people today.” When I tell him that such language is not a “black” thing, that people of all races speak that way, he tells me a story:

Over the weekend, while on a band trip, he and one of his white female classmates were checking out their Facebook pages. After reading a post, the young lady says to the Kid, “I don’t understand this. Here. You’re black. Tell me what this means.” The Kid humorously replies with something like, “I’m not so fluent in English, but I’m attempting to become more fluent in this language [“Ebonics”?] so that I can better communicate with my people.” The young lady laughingly responds, “That was so white.” The Kid also found this funny.

This whole thing struck me as odd on one hand but not so surprising on the other. On one hand, we supposedly live in a “post-racial” society, which I never really believed in but once thought was somewhat the case for children of the 2000s. On the other hand, I know good and well that racism is alive and well, as are prejudices and firmly established stereotypes, one of which is the notion that blacks and whites “talk differently.”

There’s another matter at work here, though, and it involves the very construction of race itself. I told the Kid that he’s got to stop thinking that there is a “black” way of being and a “white” way of being, that people of all races speak the way he and his friend were mocking—it’s not a “black” thing, nor is his being articulate a “white” thing. I then told him that it reminded me of President Obama’s run for office—remember his being called “articulate and clean”?—when the Kid quickly interrupted,

“But he’s not black.”

“Well, he’s identified himself that way, and plenty of people identify him as such.”

“But his mom is white. He has her white genes!”

“What are ‘white genes’?!” I laugh. “Kid, race is a construction created by people a long time ago to create division. Now, you think you’re “black” because your mom is “black” and your dad is “black,” but you have non-black people in your blood line, in your ancestry. Does that mean you’re not black?”

“Well, not fully black.”

“So what does black mean? What makes you so different from the President? Do you see that race isn’t a fixed concept? It’s very complex and doesn’t have any one meaning.”

“Yeah, it really is complex…I’m confused…”

I could tell as much. Hey, who isn’t? He wanted to make race about skin color at times and about blood and genetics at other times. Either way, he couldn’t sustain his ideas. Sound familiar? Whatever race is or isn’t, I hope this is a more solid beginning to getting him to see the socially manufactured ways we think about race and to question the stereotypes that he’s been accepting as factual.

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Music Shout-Out: Noel Gourdin's "Beautiful"

As a twenty-something who isn't usually up on the latest music, as evidenced by the old-school R&B stations and CDs I referred to in an earlier post, I'm rarely impressed by new music. However, I was driving from work today when I heard a voice singing about being a man, growing up, and respecting a woman with his words: no more "shawty," "dimepiece," or "thickums." It brought a smile to my face, a "You betta say that!" from my lips. Plus, the beat's pretty nice too.

It was Noel Gourdin's "Beautiful," a single off his forthcoming album Fresh: The Definition. You might remember Gourdin from his very first single, "The River," which got lots of attention from his 2008 debut, After My Time. I like what he's doing. He's a real soul singer in an age that leaves them few and far between.

"Beautiful" in particular communicates a message that so many men and women need to hear: that it's neither cute nor acceptable to identify a woman by her body parts or some objectifying nickname. So, ladies, know that you're beautiful! Enjoy the video. :-)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Michelle Can't Eat Some Ribs?

"Rush Limbaugh says First Lady is no swimsuit model"? Really, Rush? Kudos on the significant weight loss, but don't get life twisted. You're not looking like model material yourself. I'm just sayin', Glass House.

People have been talking about Michelle's figure since early in the 2008 campaign days, from her supposedly too muscular arms to her outfits that were too form-fitting. This is really nothing new, but now she's apparently "no swimsuit model" and therefore can't encourage healthy living. And while we're on the subject of Michelle's physique, let's do a little comparison:

Official White House photo, Feb. 2009

Speaking about Let's Move's partnership with Wal-Mart, Jan. 2011
 Maybe there's the slightest inkling of a thicker middle in the latter photo (maybe). Even so, Michelle is FINE. Look at that shape! I'm sorry, but that does not look like an "unhealthy" physique to me--not even close. I hope I look like that when I'm well into my 40s. What's up with all the haterism, then?

Well, I do understand part of what Limbaugh, Palin, Bachmann and others are trying to suggest. For Michelle to spearhead a campaign like Let's Move!, which promotes healthy eating and regular physical activity, it's important that she walk the walk. Yet, does eating some ribs qualify as not walking the walk? Since when is a healthy lifestyle and an occasional rib or burger mutually exclusive? As the Let's Move! campaign advocates, a good combination of healthier eating and exercise makes for a healthier lifestyle, as opposed to a primarily non-nutritional, sedentary one.

All this talk about Michelle being a hypocrite, then, comes off as more of the anything-anti-Obama-is-right mantra that has been circling around since day one. While the argument regarding Michelle's eating could have some merit, it's predicated on the idea that she should eat like a rabbit all the time. That wouldn't necessarily make her lifestyle a healthier one, and it wouldn't take into account an exercise routine. Then again, I guess it's not like a hater to be logical.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

First, let me thank all the little people...

Folks, this post is all about a fun, silly little blogging award that is making the rounds, and I am so lucky that I got it! Lol. The first "little" person I have to thank for the most awesome award ever made is the person who gave it to me, Mrs. H. of A.Hab.'s View of the World, and a special shout-out goes to Jillsmo for creating this silliness in the first place.

According to the rules, my acceptance of this award comes with certain duties. I must:

* Link back to the blogger who awarded you
* Display the graphic from award creator Jillsmo
* Post 5 statements, 4 of which must be lies
* Pass the award on to 5 other bloggers, who must also follow the rules
* Link the post back to "Memetastic Hop" so that Jillsmo can keep track of recipients

Now, for the next order of business, my 5 "facts":

1. After having stalked me for over a year, my now-hubby finally asked me out and proposed marriage on our first date.

2. Growing up, my twin and I had best friends who were twins. Their father is a twin who also had twins.

3. During my senior year in high school, I tried break-dancing between classes, strained a muscle in my back, and had to walk bent over at about a 90-degree angle to my car so that my sis could take me to the doctor.

4. In my second year of M.A. studies, I got the opportunity to appear on Wheel of Fortune, one of my all-time favorite shows, but it conflicted with my M.A. exams.

5. I once got barbecue sauce in my left eye. FYI: barbecue sauce stings.

Good luck, and I'll post the correct answer soon! Bwahahahaha!

On to the next order of business, choosing the next recipients of the Memetastic Award. These recipients have inspired me in various ways, with their friendship, wit, and/or intelligence. In any case, I've certainly been inspired by the stories and insights they've shared in their blogs! :-) And the award goes to (in no particular order)...

1. Diving into the Wreck: Writer and travel addict Lacy Marschalk merges her two loves in a heartfelt blog about her journeys to pursue these two loves of hers. You might get jealous reading about her adventures, but I really enjoy reading about her ups and downs as she seeks to realize her dreams because I can see them coming true. :-)

2. The Sistah Cafe: As The SistahChick states in her blog description, her blog's name says it all! A warm, lively woman who encourages sisterhood, The SistahChick shares her experiences with striving to live a healthy lifestyle: cooking, hairstyling, skin cleansing, the works. I love her positive energy, and I hope you will too!

3. Love Is, Love Ain't: Sista Outsider and M-Boogie share their insights as single ladies on the dating scene, lesbian and heterosexual, in very real and very humorous ways. Whether you're single, in a relationship, gay or straight, you'll definitely take away some nuggets of wisdom and some laughs.

4. Stony Places: Cristine gives us an honest look at her observations and feelings about her everyday life, from her hopes and goals to her fears and reservations. I really love her willingness to be real about what she's experiencing, which is so hard for many of us to do at times. Enjoy following Cristine on her next journey.

5. The Crunk Feminist Collective: The CFC, as its name indicates, is actually authored by a group of folks who share their individual thoughts about feminist-related issues concerning TV, books, the news, movies, dating life, domestic violence, marriage, you name it. It's "where crunk meets conscious and feminism meets cool." I personally know blogger Susiemaye and love her deeply intelligent, crunk takes on so many subjects. I hope you'll check out the CFC for the smart, fresh dialogue it always inspires. I don't know how this nomination will work with a collective, but I hope Susiemaye will take up the challenge!

Awardees, I hope you'll go forth and fulfill your new duties (and please don't hate me!). For everyone, let's see how you do with the 5 "facts"! Thanks for indulging. :-)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Loc Appreciation Day!

Do you love locs? I do! If you're like me, then you may be interested in Loc Appreciation Day, which is tenatively scheduled for June 25, 2011. My girl MeroĆ« Khalia is publicizing it, as are others, and I'm helping to spread the word. You don't have to have locs to appreciate them--I don't have locs, but I almost did about a year ago. Check the profile pic! :-) This day will be about a collective celebration of a beautiful hair/life style. See MeroĆ«'s video below for more details.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"I Don't Really Care": Ruminations on History-Apathy Among the Young

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. You know, the I-don’t-understand-what’s-wrong-with-kids-these-days type. Arguably, the biggest issue with this way of thinking is the lack of consideration for upbringing. “Kids these days” are the way they are for a reason (or reasons). “The way they are” being, for many people, lazy, entitled, spoiled, addicted to cell phones and other technologies, etc. Of course, someone allowed the kids to be lazy, someone entitled them, someone spoiled them, and someone gave them cell phones at eight years old so that they became anatomical attachments by third grade.

In my own home, I’ve been guilty of some of this finger-pointing toward the child, and I’ve been trying various methods to point that finger where it belongs. My latest idea? Embrace the cool, little known bits of history that make Black History Month so much fun. Of course, I know black history is important every day of the year, but February offers a way to make my new idea especially festive—so I thought.

Upon sharing the news with the kid that I want him to find out about some new people this month, the following exchange ensues (or something like it):

Kid: If I do the Black History Bowl [annual trivia competition at school], do I get a pass?

Me: No.

Kid: But I’m not interested in any of the people.

Me: You don’t even know who they are. How can you already know you’re not interested?

Kid: I’ll only be interested if they’re from Africa. If it’s anybody else, I don’t really care.

Me: What do you mean by “anybody else”?

Kid: I don’t really care about hearing about people getting the right to vote. Or like Jackie Robinson, the one who was the first black guy to play baseball in the majors. I don’t really care.

Me: How can you not care about the things people did that allow you to go to the school you attend or that allow us to live in our neighborhood? How can you not care about your own history?

I’ll stop there. I don’t know if this is a generational thing, and I used to say that younger parents have got to do a better job of making sure our kids know and appreciate their history, which is why I was inspired to go forward with my idea in the first place. What do I get? Apathy. Jadedness. Over-it-ness.

I tried to understand why. Is it that the kid is so privileged that he can’t conceive of identifying with any struggles that would have precluded that privilege? Is it that our world is becoming increasingly “global” so that young people have a hard time appreciating their differences and the histories related to those differences (not to be confused with being preoccupied about race or engaging in superiority/inferiority complexes)? Is it because the kid is a teen now, and this “appreciation boat” has sailed?

I’m not gonna lie. I’m disappointed. My hopes for this month are shattered. Do I make him do it because he should know this stuff, or do I let it go until he’s reached a point where he can appreciate it? Do I force-feed him or wait for him to come to the table? I honestly don’t know. I want him to be proud of his heritage and to be eager to explore it. Is it too much/too late to ask?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Teach--Don't Delete

Huck and Jim sharing stories
You might have heard about the Auburn University-Montgomery Twain Scholar, Alan Gribben, whose forthcoming edition of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn replaces the word nigger with “slave.” (It does the same with Injun.) Gribben’s rationale, after teaching the text for years and finding that many students dismiss the text because of the word, is that this revision will open more students, parents, and school districts up to a text whose richness is being ignored because of one slur. He’s probably right.

He’s drawing criticism, though, from a number of sources. One of the main gripes is that this edit removes an important aspect of the text’s historical context, specifically America’s spotty past, and precludes an important teaching moment about racism and slavery in this country. As University of Virginia professor Stephen Railton puts it, “If we can’t do that in the classroom, we can’t do it anywhere.”

After all, is the classroom a place to avoid the hard lessons or to teach them? That’s not to say that it’s entirely up to teachers to convey the lessons of history to our children. Parents have to step in and educate their children about their heritage and America’s past. However, if teachers aren’t teaching these lessons, what are they doing instead? Huck Finn isn’t just about a boy’s adventure with an escaped slave. It’s a very mature tale about a poor white boy who can see past the prejudices around him to view a black man as a man and a friend.

Of course, it’s not all that sweet and pretty. Huck is definitely a product of his environment and the times, but he’s much more evolved than the adults who try to tell him what to do. And his use of nigger both highlights the idiocy of racism and undermines the social structure that would allow a friend to use the word in the first place.

I didn’t read Huck Finn until I had reached college—in many ways, it’s a very grown-up book—but young people could stand to confront the issues of racism that plagued our country way back when and that still plague our country today. By allowing children to compare and contrast their own world with that of Huck’s, teachers can have them grapple with these tough issues in (hopefully) a safe space centered on learning instead of avoidance.