Thursday, May 29, 2014


I couldn't breathe
So I grabbed for my inhaler
Two puffs to bring the breath back
Only, still the air didn't fit in my lungs
Puff after puff, but I couldn't squeeze it in
Like I couldn't squeeze enough time in my day
Like I couldn't squeeze enough thigh in my jeans
I began to realize it was about fit
Fitting the air into my lungs
Fitting the clothes around my body
Fitting in

Fitting in with the hood I left behind
and the friends I've made
Fitting into cubicles
and timetables
Squeezing into dinner parties
and dollars out of my wallet
Squeezing my voice into tight spaces
Fitting my color onto white walls
I mean my culture
My culture of down home Black
My culture of educated America
Fitting that vegan at my dinner table

I can't breathe!
Puff on my inhaler
Huff out my thoughts
To people who can't squeeze me in
Friends whose colorblindness
-whose blindness-
Means I have to squeeze into their lives
But there's no room for mine
I can't breathe because
I can't be what they are
I can't be what I was

And they tell me to squeeze in
To fit in
The time to see things their way
But I can't breathe and they can't see that seeing is breathing and breathing is being
And even if they don't
I gotta have room for me

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Leaving Home

I recently had a talk with my mother about the things parents never tell their children because they want their children to be better than themselves, but are true, nonetheless.  An example, the vast majority of romantic relationships start with physical attraction, and the ones that don't, start with something equally as shallow.  She agreed that that is true and you do not tell your children that.  For some reason, this past year has been full of realizations like that for me.  One thing my mother never taught me or talked to me about was what it's like when you leave home. I don't mean when you leave your mother's house, but when you leave home, the city, the state, and all of your loved ones behind. My mother never told me about it because she never did it.

It seems like once many people hit their mid-thirties, they do not have a cadre of friends back home that they really talk to on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I do, and we did not reunite through Facebook, we never stopped talking. So, I have a fair amount of friends who I know well who never left home. When I go home, not only do I have family, but I also have close friends who have become my family, waiting for me.  Although that sounds wonderful and beautiful, it doesn't quite pan out that way.

I didn't move far away from home to the big city by force. I was super excited about it and ready. When I got here, I wasn't afraid of getting mugged, or getting lost, or the general hustle and bustle of it all. I felt like I was where I supposed to be. This place seemed made for me! Now, I will admit, I didn't know how to get around well for quite some time.  My internal map had the neighborhoods all mixed up, but whenever I was given a chance to correct this - usually on foot, it turned into an awesome adventure.  I also met a lot of new people, which is always fun at first ... it seems like I always have to meet a handful of crazies before I settle on some goodies. Happily, I did find quite a few goodies and I now have friends that I will have forever after.  Besides living in a great city with great friends, there's also the fact that I'm gainfully (well sorta) employed and I love my apartment. Had I stayed home, I might have gotten much more space for much less cost, but gainful employment would be in question, so...

As time passes, you acquire two homes, the one where you live and the one where your heart lives - with your mother, sister, nephew, family and oldest friends.  And it's so exciting, every time it's time to go home. I can't wait! I can't wait to see everybody, to go back to old and new haunts, and to eat lots of food (home is so good for that!).  But there's another side to it.  Every time you go back, you feel as though you've been gone too long. You feel as though you belong a little less. You feel as though your heart is being given back to you piece by piece.

The last time I went home, it was for my grandmother's funeral.  I'll get to that in a bit.  My cousin passed about 5 1/2 years ago now, and at his funeral I cried uncontrollably.  This sounds normal, but I rarely cry, let alone uncontrollably, in front of anybody else, so I was even surprised by how much the tears poured and my body heaved.  My cousin's step dad (his mom and the guy were married for a few years about 35 years ago, and he is the father of my cousin's younger brother), spoke at one point. He looked at us on the front row, all crying, me clutching onto my surviving cousin with all my might, and as he spoke of our grief, he named us off one by one.  When he got to me, I was my cousin's "companion."  I barely recognized this man, so I'm not surprised he didn't recognize me (or remember my existence, for that matter), but it's something you never forget.  At my grandmother's funeral, everybody knew my name, and quite a few of my close friends, their parents, and even some old teachers showed up.  I went around the room hugging and kissing folks for 10 minutes before I could even join my family in the front of the room. The thing is, I didn't actually join them.  I didn't ride in the car to the funeral home with them because my sister told me it wasn't a big deal and didn't want me to be hassled since we were all coming from different directions.  So, when I got to the front of the room to join my family I was seated on the second row.  In the first row were my grandfather, mother, sister, aunt, and some woman I didn't even recognize.  Surely, she was a good friend of my aunt, but I didn't even recognize her. She was on the first row, and I was not.  I was confused, and internally fuming, but then there was all the uncontrollable crying, so it didn't seem to matter so much - at the time.

But, to be honest, I feel completely betrayed by that. I feel betrayed by the fact that my sister had to get up and leave her seat to come to the second row to console me, the forgotten prodigal daughter. I appreciate that my cousin's husband put his arm around me and let me sob on him, even though I don't know his name, because I don't live at home.  As much as I will resent that day, probably until I die (I'll pray about it), I understand that that's what happens when you leave home.  When you're not there, you miss things and people forget you.  Then people die, and soon, there's nothing to go home to. 

The great thing about going home is that everyone is extremely happy to see you.  They hug you, kiss you, cook for you, stuff bills into your hands, they really love you.  And it's great, but then you have this nagging feeling that if you were there all the time, the love would be lost. Not that I doubt my family and friends' love for me. I don't at all, but we don't know what we miss until it's gone.  Although the fanfare can be great, it can also be a stinging reminder of the fact that when you become a celebrity to your family, you've also become a stranger, if only a little bit.

When I first came here, I would watch The Wiz from time to time. I love that movie. I don't always watch the whole thing, but if you have the version of the DVD that I have, you know that each scene begins with a song, so you can hit the "next" button and hear all of the great songs without worrying about the plot.  After Dorothy leaves Miss One and the Munchkins, she gets lost on her way to the yellow brick road, and begins to sing, of course.  There's a line that she tearfully sings that for many watchings of the movie I tearfully sang along with her: "I don't want to be afraid, I just don't want to be here. I wish I was home."  That was when I was having a hard time in graduate school or just feeling lonely and missing my family.  As time goes on, I put the movie on and sing just as tearfully,  but not because I am particularly missing my family.  Now, my definition of home has changed.  Now, I am missing something, but it is something I have yet to find.  Now, I understand that when we become adults, we create our own homes. It doesn't mean that we love and miss our family and friends any less, it just means that we understand that our presence with them is only and forever will be temporary.  We all know that a temporary home may be wonderful and just what we need when we need it, but in the end, it's not home.  So, now, I search for my home. I don't know if it's in a person I have yet to meet or the people I've already found. I don't know if it's in a career or voluntary work.  I don't know if it's already inside of me just waiting to be discovered. What I do know, is that while I have left home, I can find comfort in the knowledge that even if I'm not quite sure where I'm going, I am finally finding myself and coming home.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Trying Not to Lose My Happy

Somehow Mondays always manage to suck. I'm not sure why, for me personally, at least.  I spent the weekend painting my apartment, which was totally exhausting, and I didn't quite finish everything I wanted to do, but I ended up laid out on my couch by 8pm, so that should have given me plenty of rest to be ready for today. Somehow, not so.  Then, as I slowly get around to actually doing work, I read about the racist reactions to the new Indian American Miss America (racist and ridiculously dumb - she's a every brown skinned person with straight hair is a terrorist, and every brown skinned man with curly hair should be shot - got it!), and I happen to read this blog about Black folks and dating that says what every other post, article, book, comic strip says about Black folks dating, and now my Monday sucks even more.

I have to admit something - I believe in The Man. If you're not sure, The Man is the body of White folks that run the world and uses every opportunity to oppress Black, Brown, Red and Yellow people.  Let me be clear: when I say the body of White folks, I mean ALL White folks. Let me be clearer: I do NOT think that all White folks are bad or oppressive on purpose. I do believe that all White folks enjoy White privilege at some point or other, which is the counterpoint to oppression. And I do believe ALL people are racist.  I do. At some point we've all had a racist thought. What makes some of us better than bad people is that we don't let those stray thoughts inform our actions. Anyway, I've said all that to say that I sometimes wonder if there is some group of White, mostly men, somewhere who have a hand in or at least revel in the hardships of non-White folks. I wonder this when the minimum wage is not a living wage. I wonder this when Black men and boys get shot for nothing, repeatedly. I wonder this when the punishment for crack possession is harsher than the punishment for cocaine possession, and I even wonder this when a well-to-do Black man insists that an equally deserving Black woman should treat him like a king because she's a dime a dozen.

And it's depressing.  Generally, right now, I'm happy. My apartment looks really awesome - it's been my project for the last couple of weeks. I've been going to church, which has been really great. I've been working out like a fiend, which is so much fun. I do a lot of dance workouts, so now I find myself dancing around the house to do everything - take laundry to the washer, make dinner, pick up things off the floor - which I find makes mundane chores kinda hilarious. But, probably, most importantly, I have great relationships with so many wonderful family and friends.  So, I'm happy. But, one look at my Facebook wall and it's so easy for all of that to come crashing down.  Even as I do my thing day in and day out and find some happiness in it, I don't feel like what I'm seeing in the world is removed from me.  Racism is thrown my direction just about every single day; I try my best not to see it (at least not all of it).  The evidence of a lack of a living wage in my area is in the faces of people I see on my way to work everyday; I'm not sure what to do other than feel guilty.  Every time a man is shot, I think of my nephew and his future.  Even while I wait for a text from what could be that special someone, I wonder if he's waiting for me to text him because he's the shit and I should know and appreciate that.  In the mist of my everyday routine - a job that's pretty comfy, a workout that leaves me feeling accomplished, cooking a healthy meal, straightening up an awesome apartment, and talking/texting/skyping with someone I love, a routine that makes me so happy, I am bombarded with the ways in which the world is so depressing. So, I wonder if there are some old White guys on high pulling some strings, pushing some buttons, stirring some pots to steal my happy. I wonder if there are some old White guys who understand that to make me feel small is to make me small. I wonder if there are some old White guys who know the key to my downfall is to steal my happy. I wonder if I'm just one target out of billions and if all this unhappy is a way to keep things just the (horrible) way they are. I wonder if all of this unhappy is a way to ensure that the ones on top stay on top while the ones on bottom keep pulling each other down. 

I don't know. I wouldn't argue too hard if you told me I was crazy, or way more racist than I think I am.  I wouldn't argue too hard if you told me I was paranoid. I wouldn't argue too hard if you told me my imagination has gotten the best of me.  So, all I can do is try my best to not lose my happy and try my best to help others find theirs.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why Hot Single Black Women Think We're Single

A dear friend of mine recently wrote a blog about why he thinks his single, educated, hot, Black female friends are single.  I told him that if we'd been in the same room when I read that blog, I would have smacked him. When I spoke with a coworker about it, she said she wanted to read something that broached that subject without telling Black women that they are doing something wrong, what about the other reasons? Well, it's all in good fun, but I'm going to tell you why we think we're single.  Please, feel free to comment (on the page) and add your two cents.  Oh, and if you want to know what my friend said, you'll have to read his blog:

Here's goes:

1. Many of the men we attract are undereducated.
I've heard on more than one occasion that I need to give the bus driver a chance.  Here's the problem with that. I'm not worried about how much money the bus driver makes (I know of one who works so many hours, he pulls in $80k/year). I'm more concerned about whether or not we share the same values in regards to education and ambition. Yes, there are some men with only high school diplomas who devour entire libraries on their down time, but there are many who do not. It turns out, it's safer to assume someone who is similar to you in educational attainment or career would have the same values concerning educational attainment or career. It's not a diss, it's a time saver. You don't go to a steakhouse when you especially want fish.  They might have excellent fish, but it just makes sense to go to a seafood restaurant, right?

2. I speculate that we might attract undereducated men because many of us have those traditional African features that have been routinely frown upon in American society - big butts, hips, full lips, wide noses, and sometimes natural (not chemically straightened) hair, and these men like that. The other group of men who like that are old.  These men are used to the idea that a sistah looks like a sistah, big ol' legs and all. Many (educated) Black men right now seem to want women who are less African and more European in their features if their skin is any shade of brown, and conversely, women with lighter/whiter shades of skin to have more traditional 'round the way girl bodies (L.A. face with an Oakland booty).  Older men have not bought into these physical beauty standards, so they are all about us. Only problem is, we don't want old men.

3. We intimidate (Black) men who seem to have more in common with us. 
One friend wondered if her advanced degree made some men feel like their advanced degrees weren't special enough.  Although we definitely appreciate a man with a good job and education, we don't swoon when they drive up in their BMWs/Jags/Lexuses and announce that they are electrical engineers/lawyers/doctors/businessmen.  This is a jumping off point, but it doesn't mean the deal is done. We think, okay, great, he and I probably have a few things in common, let's see where we go from here. (We think) they think that we're supposed to drop everything and be willing to give them and deal with whatever they want because they are educated and have a good job.  We are not, which means it is a whole lot harder to run game on us, or just be selfish because you've gotten away with being selfish before. Then there are the debates. When men get in each other's faces, it's considered dick measuring, we don't have dicks, so we're not interesting in debating politics/religion/what women need to learn to do for their men on our down time. We want to have FUN on our down time.

4. White men aren't attracted to us.
For the most part, we look like sistahs (see above) and American society frowns upon that (see above, again).

5. When White men are attracted to us, they are afraid to approach us.
Let me get this out of the way: I once read that White men assume all Black men have extremely huge penises and don't bother to approach Black women because Black women are used to these extremely large penises that they do not have. I do not know if there is truth in (any part of) this statement, but it's ridiculous and fascinating, so I thought I'd put it out there. Moving away from that, there are a ton of negative stereotypes about Black women, from being too sexual, to not being sexual at all, to being emasculating, to being extremely uneducated and poor. So, even when a White guy finds one of us attractive, we think he won't approach us with all of those terrible thoughts in mind.

6. When White men do approach us, they just think we are exotic sex toys that they have to try at least once. And nobody wants to be a toy.

7. Everything I said about White men is also true for other non-White/non-Black men, except, men from historically misogynistic cultures will try to dominate us, and we're not having it.

The above might suggest that we pretty much feel as though we are doomed to stay single forever because men are evil or worthless, but that's not true. Most of us believe our princes are going to come, but that it may take a little longer than it has for others because of the reasons above.  I also do not mean to imply that there aren't Black women with a ton of issues that keep them from having successful, healthy relationships. What I am saying is that for those of us who do not have those issues, have open minds, and are doing all those things people are constantly charging us to do when faced with our singledom, here are some reasons we think we are single.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Black Men in America

At this point, some of you might be wondering why I haven't or when I'm going to speak on the Trayvon Martin murder trial and verdict.  The main reason I haven't said anything until this point is because I don't feel like I have anything new to add to the conversation. At this point, I don't think anyone does. Also, I don't feel like the murder of Trayvon Martin is an isolated event. And if you're on Facebook right now, you're seeing all of these links to other instances of the current murders of young Black men.  But besides that, we live in a country that only exists because of the African slave trade. This is not an exaggeration. Centuries of free labor enabled the country to build an economy that allowed it to survive. This probably could lead to a few angry debates, but it's a historical fact that is super logical. If you began a business, it would be really easy to make a profit and sustain if creating and selling your product was almost completely free to you, right? Added to this, Michael Moore made the connection between the demise of slavery and the rise of the KKK and the NRA very clear.  Finally, if you're African American, it's likely that you know of an African American male directly or indirectly that has been murdered, and not due to media coverage.   Of course, Trayvon's murder was perpetrated by a non-Black person, but when someone is lost, it doesn't matter so much who took them away. On the other hand, the fact that this man was not Black aided in his being acquitted, which is clearly the problem.  But that's as far as I'm going to get into that, like I said, there's not much more I feel I can say.  What I feel I can add to the conversation is my own personal experiences with Black men in America.

A little about me. I have a doctorate, I live in a major city in the United States, I have a career, and I live comfortably. I'm not yet "well off," but for now, I'm comfortable. On the path I'm on now, I will one day be "well off." That being said, I'm from a smaller city in the United States from a working class background. I had a really great childhood. I was really into school and had a lot of fun winning competitions and getting involved in things like Talented and Gifted. My elementary school principal was amazing; somehow he managed to get Dexter King to come to one of our assemblies.   At my school, we got to learn a ton of Black history, and were rewarded for doing well. I was in the Junior Optimist Club and other stuff I can't really remember right now. I constantly won awards and competitions.  I also had a loving family. Both grandmothers knew how to cook and probably would have won any number of the reality cooking competitions, we spent a lot of time with them, and with our cousins on my fathers side. My cousins on my mother's side were either older, or traveled the world with my military uncle, but when they came to town it was a blast. One set of grandparents also owned a small house in a small town in the Ozarks, so we got to go there in the summer.  I was a chubby, but well-rounded kid. I probably got teased by my cousins more than my classmates, because I was running it at school! Oh, and my dad worked for Pepsi, so right after MJ underwent his first major plastic surgery, he got the local branch of Pepsi to sponsor a contest at the school. Don't ask me the details, I have no idea, I just remember that one of the prizes was a life-size cutout of MJ is his Bad cover pose. There were two cutouts, but my sis and I got one because it was our Daddy who started the whole thing, and I was in love with MJ, of course.

So, we were working class folks living in the hood, and it was awesome. Daddy tried to teach us how to swim, walked the bike trail with us, and even helped us play dress up in Mama's clothes, shoes, and makeup.  He worked nights, so he was there during the day. He was also the better cook, so he cooked, cleaned, played with us, then went to work, Monday through  Friday.  Then I hit the third grade and it became not awesome. At that point, my mother told my sister and me that our father was a drug addict. After that things got scary. First, I'd say about 50% of my personality comes from my father, 30% from my mother, and 20% from me (I can't really make any strong claims on the awesomeness that is me, I know where it really comes from). So, my father was my first best friend. I mean, like I was stuck to him anytime he was near me. He even told me that he would never again shave his moustache because, when I was a baby, he shaved it and I cried and wouldn't go to him.  When I say things got scary, I don't mean a 24/7 scary, there were still good times after that, but our lives definitely changed - a lot. Daddy lost his job, he was in and out of rehab, and during the "good" times, there was a countdown to meltdown in the back of my mind at all times. But, still, my father was the one who explained "romantic" love to me, explained that when I went to middle school I'd embarked on a new stage in life, but still had to be nice to my sister, and kept things a little fair; my Mama tended to side with the baby of the house (who is only 18 months younger than me). Oh, and he was my Nintendo partner. So, things became scarier, and harder, but they went on, until my father died. He was fatally shot by my cousin while breaking into my grandparents' home. That was 9/11/92, right before I turned 13.  To this day, despite the hard parts, I have many more good memories of my father than bad, and there are so many qualities he had that I thank God I have, and my future husband will have to have.  Clearly, he wasn't perfect, and there are many other not great things I could tell you, but I am blessed he was my dad.

You know how there seems to be a theme in movies and on tv that every family has that uncle in prison?  My family wasn't any different. For the first ten years or so of my life, my dad's older brother was that uncle.  I remember visiting him in prison, except I don't much remember him, I remember the family road trips, the yummy lunches my grandmother would make, and the sandbox we'd play in at the prison.  But, I do remember when he got out. He became an electrician, started to buy and flip houses, got married, acquired a step daughter and had his second daughter (he also had a daughter that was a few years older than me), and became the Successful One. He eventually got divorced and raised his youngest daughter as a single father, and would have kept his stepdaughter if her family hadn't intervened.  He also did a lot for my sister and me. After our father passed, he helped us out financially, but he also was just fun and cool. He let us have parties in his flipped houses - my 16th was the kind of 16th birthday party girls dream of (before that MTV show). He was silly and a little crazy, and seemed to always be excited about something.  My senior year in college, my mother told me he was a drug addict. I was SOOO angry! How could he do this to his daughter, especially after my dad?! All those times he'd been "sick" became clear. He then went back and forth to rehab, but for the most part was a "functioning addict." Until he went into my grandparents basement and shot himself in the head. His letter said he just couldn't take being an addict anymore and he didn't know what else to do. I wasn't able to go home for the funeral.

Remember when Atari first came out?  I barely remember, but I remember my older cousins had it, and my oldest cousin used to play it all the time, until Nintendo came out. Whenever we went over my cousins' house, two boys, I remember my oldest cousin just sorta in the background playing video games, while his younger brother would terrorize my sister and me (we loved it). My older cousin was a pretty cool guy, he was just old enough to not really be around much. I do remember that he used to have all the cool hairstyles and clothes when he was in high school, if one would argue that late eighties/early nineties styles were cool. Then, when he turned 18, he went off to the military. As his plane flew off, his younger brother began to cry. My sister and I were shocked. When we asked why he was crying, he said it was because he and his brother said they would always take their first flight together. My cousin wasn't gone too long before he was back, well first, he sent his baby daughter. He elected to raise her on his own when he and her mother didn't stay together; she was also in the military.  He was discharged because he developed a disorder that damaged his kidneys beyond repair. He was then on disability and raised his daughter with the help of his mom and grandmother.  She was a baby doll and I'll always remember holding her and singing to her.  My cousin once told his mother that he believed his disorder was his punishment for shooting his "Uncle Buddy", my father. My mother, sister, and I NEVER blamed him. His baby was in the house when it happened. As the years went by, he continued to raise my baby cousin and work on his health. He needed a new kidney and I was ready to give him one. We never went through anything formal, but I was serious, he was my big cousin and I loved him.  In general, he was great to just talk to whenever I was home from school, but he also did "nice big cousin things" like give me a wad of cash before I left for grad school. (He and the whole fam also packed up my college apartment in one fell swoop when I graduated from undergrad.)  One year, I missed him, so I called. We talked for a minute and he asked why I called, I said just to talk to him. He asked again, and it hit me, it was his birthday! He appreciated that I called, even if it was just 'cause.  Then there was a big accident where I live. He called to see if I was okay. I was at work, so I had my pinched, I can't talk voice. For some reason, his number wasn't in my phone. By the end of the conversation, my voice wasn't too pinched, but I always felt like it took me too long to get unpinched. I really appreciated him checking on me. That was our last conversation. After years of dialysis and never getting to the point where he was ready for a new kidney, his body gave out.  I heard the news just before a birthday dinner. I blurted it out to the birthday girl, then fled. I'm not one to cry in public, but I couldn't stop as I walked down the street, not sure where I was going. I was able to attend his funeral and I couldn't stop crying. Couldn't. Stop.

So, how does this connect to Trayvon's murder?  There's not much there directly, I admit. But, I think Trayvon's story became the story of what it means to be a Black man/boy in America, so I wanted to share with you the part of this story I've witnessed. I'm not saying that each man in my story didn't have his own flaws and didn't make his own mistakes, because that would be preposterous. What I am saying is that sometimes America isn't a place that is safe for Black men; whether it be how they have been targets and victims of the drug culture of this country pretty much since The Civil Rights Movement or how they are steeped in poverty that makes it difficult for them to get the healthcare they need. Sometimes, America leads you to believe that these men with all their flaws and problems are only their flaws and problems, and doesn't tell you how they can be the most amazing fathers, uncles, cousins, and sons.  Sometimes, America forgets to tell you how it kept telling them to give up, because all they had to look forward to was hopelessness. And sometimes, America leads you to believe that a man is not a man when he needs help, so when he cries out for it, America stifles his voice, slams the door, and walks away.

I'm not saying that America is all bad, or that Black men are all good. All I'm saying is that in America, what seems to be forgotten over and over again is that Black men are not all bad.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Token ... Person

Last night I happened to watch a part of an episode of Hollywood Exes and I noticed something. The first two exes that graced the screen were Prince's ex and Will Smith's ex. Then came the rest of the exes until it just so happened that R. Kelly's Ex was the last one I saw. Looking around the room of exes, they were having a get together, I noticed that there was one woman with dark brown skin and less aquiline features. In other words, she didn't look like she had non-Black parents or grandparents. So, I wondered, is she the token dark girl? Is that a thing, the token dark girl? One of my guilty pleasures is the VH1 series, Single Ladies. The show is horrible, but I love it! During the last season, they introduced what may have been a token dark girl. During season one, Stacey Dash was one of the main characters, and I never thought of her as light-skinned, per se, but her light eyes and aquiline features sorta kept her from being a "dark girl" as I'm defining it right now. The woman who took her place is a smidge lighter and has bright blue eyes. She's not the one I'm referring to. The woman I'm referring to, has more traditional dark girl features and short hair as well. The woman is gorgeous, but interestingly, she's the only single mom of the crew, and has a loud mouth. There was an episode in which she insulted people left and right. With all of the VH1 shows with Black women, alone, I know that we're seeing more and more dark girls, even if they are portrayed in a frightening light, but this token thing has definitely got me to thinking.

I think the catch phrase is "token Black person", but as we see more and more people of color on television, that is becoming less and less the case. First let me say that it doesn't bother me when there are no people of color to be found on some TV shows. Friends is a good example. Yes, it was ridiculous for them to rarely encounter Black folks in New York, but the show was so damn funny, and the characters in their White skin all reminded me of my close Black friends (by the way, I am Monica; I am sooo Monica. It's weird how much I am Monica), that I barely even noticed the lack of Black people. But, there is also this fear that when a TV show is really good in all it's Whiteness, the introduction of a Black character might bring about some awkwardness as the least and offensiveness at the most that would ruin the entire show. So, instead of demanding the possibility of a fail at writing Black characters, I was okay with them just not being there, me not being offended, and the show remaining hilarious. Two Black women were introduced (kudos for that, you rarely see Black women when you do see Black characters thrown in), and they weren't offensive (or all that ethnic, in other words, nothing about them implied that had any connection to a history that was Black history),  they were beautiful dark brown women (Gabrielle Union (one episode) and Aisha Tyler (several)), so it was fine, but their is no doubt they were tokens because the public demanded it.

When it comes to tokens, my question has always been: Well, how much do groups of White folks encounter and befriend non-White folks? I have no idea what the answer to this question is. Clearly, my White friends have at least one Black friend, but they actually have more than one Black friend, and then their are the Asians and Latino/as, too. When it comes to my Black friends, there is no token color, we tend to extend from sable to tan (I thought about going the food colors route, but makeup shades felt easier), so clearly, my life does not imitate television, nor does television imitate my life. My next question is, what does it mean for us people of color when like Neo or the Highlander, there can be only One? (I guess Neo was actually a reincarnation...) When there is only one token, that means that either we consider ourselves People of Color and relate to whichever color is on the screen, or we don't. Which brings us to the more important question, what does the token do for us, People of Color, anyway?

When it comes to media depictions of Black folks, you always take the good with the bad, there is no choice. So, when Lisa Turtle is only desired by the freaky looking, weird food eating, odd noise making dork, who then goes on to find his own blonde dorkette, and only appears to have one actual date for whom she tried to change everything about herself, you just shrug and are happy that there is a(n upper-middle class, vapid) Lisa Turtle. (She and Zach might have kissed during one episode, but he was a womanizer who kissed pretty much every single chick on the show and that was one of those weird out of place summertime episodes that seemed to exist in another dimension (like the love affair Wolverine had with Storm).) So, ultimately, even though the Black tokens are asexual and usually unimportant, they're generally okay people and you're happy they're there.

So, even though Black tokens kinda just suck, they were like our sucky family, and now we see that things are starting to change. Two of my beloved television shows have Indian tokens. Big Bang is one. Raj is a cutie, who turns out to be pretty funny, but he gets the shitty end of the stick hardcore. *Spoiler alert* Until recently, he could not speak to women without drinking, he didn't have a girlfriend, when even Sheldon, who prides himself on his asexuality, found a serious relationship, and he is extremely effeminate, and frequently picked on because of this. On the other hand, Royal Pains has Divya. She is gorgeous, educated, witty, her clothing is to steal and die for, and of course, she is kind, gentle and lovable. What these tokens do for Indians or Asians as a whole, I have no idea. I know that for me, although it's nice to see brown people, I don't really relate. I love that both characters have a culture and family, but they are nothing like my culture or my family. And while I can relate to gorgeous Gabrielle Union, I cannot relate to gorgeous Reshma Shetty (Divya).

I can't write this without giving a shout out to Mindy. It's hard to call her a token when it's her show, but even though she calls herself a 'woman of color' repeatedly, she's the only one on the show and her character actually resented the other Indian woman (a romantic rival) who guest starred. Added to that, all of her best friends are White women and I believe every man she's dated has been White, even though she was looking for an NBA player in one episode (because "Black guys love Indian girls! It's not racist, it's true!" I laughed because I agreed, but that's a different post). Her favorite movies are Meg Ryan romcoms and her character is from Boston with a Boston accent that she worked hard to get rid of. That being said, Mindy is awesome, I do relate to her, and I didn't mention any of that in a spirit of resentment, I'm just pointing out the facts about the character.

Back to the point: I'm not sure what a token is supposed to do for me. I'm not sure what they are supposed to do for Indians or Asians who are not Indian, and I'm not sure why I haven't seen many who were Hispanic (was "A.C. Slater" even supposed to be Hispanic?).  What I do know, is that as a woman of color, I don't relate to Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or Aboriginal women or men of color just because their skin is not white, and I'm more likely to relate to women because they are women, despite their color, if I relate at all. So, who are the tokens for and what are they supposed to mean? Is the token dark girl just another way to portray the Sapphire while pretending that you're not because she's surrounded by race-neutral women of color? Happily, women like Shonda Rhimes are changing the game, and we're beginning to see, not only different kinds of Black women, but we get to see Black women and Asian women and Hispanic women and White women all in the same room at the same time, speaking the same language, and loving the same stuff. Yes, Shonda takes it too far when her shows only allow one couple to be a same race couple per race, with every other couple being bi-racial, but Shonda is showing a world that's a little bit more like my world, which is admittedly a bit over educated in a bustling city, so therefore, not really your average world in America. Even if Shonda's world doesn't look like your average Latina, Black, or Asian woman's world, she's showing little girls that they don't have to be tokens.  And I think that matters the most. 

I'm not saying that there aren't People of Color out there who don't only have a group of White (or whatever) friends, and I'm not trying to negate the experiences of those folks, because they aren't tokens - asexual and unimportant, and if they are, they need to remedy that situation quick, fast, and in a hurry. I'm saying that we all need to remember as we watch and make TV, that characters shouldn't be there for color's sake. If race-neutral women of color tend to only hang out with race neutral women of color, then it's fine for that to be on TV. Friends can be both homogeneous and heterogeneous, but no one should be there to represent a color or stereotype. That brown face at the back of the screen (and yes, the Person of Color is always the furthest from center and/or farthest back) needs to actually be a person, a person with a life, a culture, a family, a sex-life, and ridiculous flaws and perfections, not a representation of nothing to keep the masses happy.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why I Envy Amy Acker

I have a few television series that I own. I really love these series and all of them are sci-fi or fantasy (if that is the correct genre). I have some friends who also own some of them, some who wished they did, and some who find them all absurd. I love them. All. They have become my blankie. When I need comfort, a dose of the familiar, I pop in a DVD or click on a file, and I can relax and forget my troubles.

One of these series is Angel. Yes, the series about the moody vampire who once terrorized all of Europe, but now has become a dark avenger because gypsies restored his soul to ensure he lived in eternal torment for his crimes against humanity.  It's not my favorite of the bunch, but I do love it and what surprises me is the season I love the most is the final one. Its surprising because there were so many changes during this season. One character died (after half a season in a coma), another was transplanted from Buffy (I refuse to explain this), and we saw disturbing, but extremely intriguing personality changes in every single character.  One character was Fred Burkle, played by Amy Acker.  Fred was short for Winifred, and in season five, Fred died. Fred was this tiny, physics grad student who had been pulled into another dimension. In this other dimension humans were "cows" who did menial labor. Fred, the badass that she was, escaped from her captors and lived in the caves of this other place practically starving to death, but mostly surviving. In the final season of Angel, Fred is a kickass scientist at an evil law firm the Angel crew has inherited and are trying to use for good. As such, she encounters some evil that kills her. And even though it seemed impossible, Fred was really dead, all the way gone. But Amy Acker was not. Now she was Illyria, an even badder badass "Old One." A god(dess). Illyria was a couple shades of blue and wrapped in a maroon battle suit. Of course, she was disgusted with humanity and was bent on destroying us. Illyria was amazing as a god because she was unchanging - she was neither good nor evil; she was infinite and unapologetic. As a god in a human body, Illyria saw the truth, even the truth of her weakened state with crystal clarity. This means, that in all of her awesomeness, Illyria said some of the greatest lines I've heard on TV: "In my time, nightmares walked among us. Walked and danced, skewering victims in plan sight, laying their fears and worst desires out for everyone to see. This to make us laugh." And my very favorite: "Your opinion of me weighs less than sunlight."

Fred was badass, but Illyria was amazeballs! She was incredibly different from Fred, but just as Fred had to readjust to the world after her unfortunate time as a "cow", Illyria had to adjust to a world that humans ("Motes of dust. Mayflies who die so soon after they're born they might as well not live at all.") ruled, in a body that could not even contain all of her power and left her diminished. And still, Illyria remains one of the most powerful and fantastic characters I've ever seen!

I don't think I will ever stop watching that final season of Angel every once in awhile to hear Illyria's imperial and damning judgments of humanity coming from Winifred Burkle's now bluish body. And I'm envious of Amy Acker because she got to be both Fred and Illyria separately and simultaneously. Specifically Amy and not any other actor, because she got to be two masterfully written characters that were one. And, I think it's not just me. I think there are times when we all wish we could be two (or more) people. Two people that in some ways have nothing to do with each other, but at the core remain us - remain me.

I know that I am extremely blessed in this life, but there are definitely times when I wonder if this is "real" life. There are times when I'm astounded that (according to my religion), I won't get a do-over when this turn is finished.  I am on a particular path right now, and although I've encountered too many obstacles, I like where this path is going. It's a pretty decent path. But there are times when I wish I could drop everything, travel to some foreign country and just walk the streets photographing everything I see. Or drop everything and head somewhere suffering people could use my help. Sometimes I wish I'd gone to film school and now lived in L.A. making much better movies than are available right now. Hell, I'd love to be making cheesy horror movies that would never be recognized for any semblance of artistry. Sounds like a blast!

I wonder what it would be like to get married and have a few kids or to never get married, not have kids, and therefore have money. But creating a family may or may not be on my current path. That is yet to be seen. Whether it be different paths I could have taken, or the uncertainties that lie ahead, I can't help but wonder, providing the multiverse theory is correct, what the infinite number of ME is doing in the infinite universes in which I reside.  What lives am I living? It would be awesome to just get a taste of what a different life could be. And this isn't a grass is greener on the other side type of thing. I don't want to become a different me for all time, I'd just like to take a peak. Maybe slip into my different life like a new dress. And women rarely like to wear any one outfit too often.

This isn't to say that one day I won't just take off and do something completely different with my life. Maybe I will. Maybe when my bills are all paid, I'll quietly disappear and be some other version of me for awhile. Maybe the next time I vacation, I'll try on a new accent and history and see where that takes me. In the meantime, I will continue to read books, watch sci-fi/fantasy, and gaze out of windows watching people pass wondering what it would be like to know them, love them, hate them. In the meantime, I'll gaze out of windows wondering if any other MEs are gazing out of windows, or laying on yachts, or scaling mountains, or flying planes, or sleeping under bridges, or walking red carpets. In the meantime, I'll continue to follow this path that brings me joy and pain, confidence and uncertainty. I'll continue to follow this path that God and I chose together to see where He leads me and how far I can take me.