Category Archives: Black history

After You

About one year ago I wrote about an incident that happened at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). It was a cool after-hours event with my bestie, Mike, and we were dressed up and having a fun. At one point we were focused on our target — a set of stairs — and like normal urban people made a straight line for them. Without realizing it, we walked between a group of people posing against an elevator wall with art on it and the person who was taking their photo. There wasn’t another way around, only the option to wait, but I didn’t see them. However, piercing my urban fog was a Black woman who suddenly appeared, draped her arm around my shoulders, and said sarcastically, “Congratulations on your white privilege!”

One million thoughts fired through my shocked brain, including, hey, why aren’t you yelling at Mike? He walked ahead of me! (Love you, Mike!) OK, fine, maybe I’m the safer target. That thought was followed by the many ways I am a person who is more racially aware. And also, have been working on to improve. One of my best friends is Bla….Oh, crap. I can’t believe I went there.

OK, how about I’m naturally clueless? My college roommates short-sheeted my bed, and I didn’t even notice. Wait, do people even do that anymore? Argh! And why didn’t you also yell at Mike? Why am I being singled out because I’m white and female…ugh and Argh!

OK, all I got at this point is shock, and so I apologized verbally, and I also bowed with my hands in prayer — maybe they thought I was being sarcastic, or maybe the Japanese people can call me out for appropriating their thing.

This shit is complicated.

But I learned from the white privilege class I took earlier this year that I can be good and racist. Although a part of me insists I was just being my normal clueless urban self. This is what city people do to stay sane. We ignore each other.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was walking with three members of my family, and I was telling them a story as we crossed a big wide open space in the Ruggles train station. It was a Saturday afternoon and fairly empty. Suddenly a Black woman appeared to my right and said loudly. “Excuse me!” She was trying to cross in front of us. Again, my first reaction was, we’re in a city! First come first serve, WTF? Also, there are four of us and one of you. Doesn’t that give us some sort of urban right-of-way? Is that even a thing? You know, democracy, majority rules, blah, blah, blah?

But I kept thinking about the woman at the MFA. Is being urban clueless a good enough excuse today? Was it ever? When I was growing up, people who had fancy boats with bathrooms could just flush their toilets into the water. That was OK then, and now it’s not. Sooo, where’s the line?

Not long ago, I was walking from one work building to another, and at one point the sidewalk narrowed to just wide enough for two people abreast. Two white people were animatedly talking in front of me, and suddenly (it seems I’m hopelessly not paying attention to people, and they are always appearing suddenly!) a Black jogger appeared next to me and behind the couple. He was speaking, but he had something over his mouth. All I can say was that it looked like the mouth part of the old timey World War II gas mask, but without the mask part. I was nearly next to him, and I was having trouble understanding him through that thing. But he must have been on repetition number 3 or 4, because he was mad, and yelling. “Move out of the way! Can’t you see me?” The white guy, on the narrow sidewalk ahead of him, said. “No, I didn’t see you.” The Black man answered, “What? Am I invisible?” Although it sounded more like, “WhamIibbibble?”

Oooooh, boy. I was kind of like, um this sidewalk is too narrow to see behind you and what in God’s name are you wearing? Is this a YouTube prank?

Was this about race? Was it about a narrow sidewalk? Was it about a weird WWII gas mask muffler thingy? Clearly Black people are pissed off, and have every right to be.

Within a few days of that encounter, I was waiting to cross at an intersection near my house. The cross walk is for pedestrians and bikes, and the three converging roads all have stop signs. I’m usually more in danger of getting clipped by the bikes than cars. This day I waited as the car came fast down the street and blew through the stop sign, only slowing down because she was turning the corner. A bike was also coming toward me and went into the street with nary a slowdown. The car jerked to a stop, and the guy on the bike pointed his finger at the driver, and yelled, “Stop sign! Stop sign!”

Now I know why we were told not to point. While it’s somewhat satisfying to point at others, it is also annoying to get pointed at. The bike passed, and the driver merely punched the gas and yelled through her window, gesturing wildly, “I’m driving! I’m driving!” Which I guess was her mistaken attempt to put herself in the right, even though, she so wasn’t.

So, both of them were white. Clearly everyone is pissed off.

It used to be that city people could just ignore each other blissfully, like at an Olympic champion level. We need to go from point A to point B with the straightest line possible. I cut you off, and that’s OK, because you will likely cut me off next time. It’s like an invisible contract we sign. I have lived here for 36 years, and I have not experienced this level of immediate reaction and being so pissed off about everything. And I’m not being all old timey and saying people were more polite back in the day. Hell no. We were rude then, and we’re rude now, it’s just that it took something really rude to get our panties in a twist enough to start yelling. Now everyone is on a hair trigger, and Black people are plain Fed Up.

A realization finally managed to penetrate my white privilege bubble: It’s not enough to look out and see Black people. I have to see everyone.

Of course, I did have my white privilege hissy fit: Why do I have to pay attention? I’m busy! I need to be places — important, urban places! Why can’t you just accept that me ignoring you is an urban thing? If you want to be treated like a princess, go live in the burbs or the country. I’m naturally clueless. Live in my head. Why do I have to change?

But I was going to have to do just that — the unthinkable. I was going to have to be calm, polite, and let other people go first. WTF?!? I told a friend my stories of pissed off people and how I was trying to be more aware in public spaces and let others go first. He asked me if it helped.

At first I said, well, I haven’t gotten yelled at lately. So, yes, it has helped. But then I realized, it also was making me feel better. I have a sensitive nervous system and can be easily be overwhelmed by certain kinds of stimulation, like talking to people, especially strangers. I thought having to always be aware of my surroundings, other than the usual woman ongoing, “strange man in vicinity” alert, would be exhausting. But as I began to do it, I noticed that I don’t have to pay attention all the time. Only at the essential times, such as getting through the train turnstile, or getting on or off the train. I’m not quite at the advanced level of giving up my seat, unless it’s really, really obvious the person needs the seat. I need to see fainting, blood, or obvious pregnancy.

I am making a conscious decision to see others and let them go first. I am trying to be extra nice to Black people — I try to smile in hopes of cancelling out any looks/comments they have gotten to this point in the day.

Is it helping improve this poisonous place we call the U.S. right now? Who knows? I have felt despair, and wanted to do some big grand gesture. That’s great, but it also smacks a bit of white privilege/white savior. It’s not one and done; it’s being there every day and being aware of others, whether I feel like it or not.

At least I haven’t gotten yelled at for past few weeks.

Let Us Now Praise Spike Lee

Today I want to sing the praises of Spike Lee. I have been a big fan of his work since I saw “She’s Gotta have It” in 1986. As I started to write this blog, I felt like I was repeating myself, which is either a sign I’ve written about him before and forgot (plausible), or I keep writing about him in my head, and I can’t access my Jedi powers well enough to just transmit that to the blog without typing (also semi-plausible and a writer’s occupational hazard). I  searched my posts, and so far I have only mentioned him a few times. So this is way overdue.

I’m so happy that he and his fellow writers (Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz, and Charlie Wachtell), won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman”; the movie is based on a true story of a Black undercover cop in the 70s who infiltrated the KKK using his white voice (echoes of “Sorry to Bother You”) and his white, Jewish partner. I never watch these award shows — they make me stay up too late for movies that I like, don’t like, or won’t be seeing. What do I care if they win a prize? And that’s not just the sour grapes talking because the movies I like don’t often win awards — like most of Spike Lee’s movies. I know some people don’t even watch it for the movies, but for the fashion, which it also lost on me. Nice dress! Weird dress! Red dress! Repeat!

I tend to tune the whole thing out, so as it happens, I learned Spike Lee won by reading about the comments about his acceptance speech. That’s kind of messed up, but here we are. This broke down in two ways: white people — He’s too political! He’s racist! (Because apparently talking about race is racist.) He’s using the platform inappropriately! And of course Cheeto flea had to tweet his illiterate nonsense. The Black people were more like: Yes! Thank you, Spike! We love you! Actually I think they said it in a cooler way, that was me white paraphrasing.

Now I was intrigued. Hmmmm. What did that fiery artist say now? He has always been outspoken about race and social justice — have you seen the pivotal scene near the end of “Do the Right Thing” where his usually non-threatening character has to decide — does he join a riot prompted by the unjust death of a Black man in his neighborhood or hold back and not destroy the pizza shop window of his white employer? As I was leaving the theater after that movie, all the black people were pumped up, and all the white people looked pale and uncomfortable. As they should. Spike has been telling us what’s what for more than 30 years now, He’s directed more than 24 movies and produced and created even more short films and documentaries. There’s even a Netflix series, based on the movie “She’s Gotta have It,” but I haven’t seen it — I’m experiencing FOMMM (fear of messing with my movie).

What does my artistic role model and inspiration have to say now in 2019, such as we are? I watched the clip, with some anticipation.

And there he was, a man of middle age, gripping a piece of paper, visibly shaking and doing his best to speak the Truth in his allotted time of almost 3 minutes. And what did he say that got some people’s panties in a twist? Calling on remembering the slave ancestors and the sacrifices they made. He named his grandmother, the daughter of a slave and graduate of Spelman College, and thanked her for saving her social security checks so he could go to Morehouse and NYU. She called him Spikey Poo. He called for remembering the genocide of the native people and said connecting with our ancestors would bring us wisdom and help us regain our humanity. Oh, and there was a bit about 2020 presidential election being right around the corner: “Make the moral choice between love versus hate.” Then he said “Do the Right Thing,” and he laughed, “You know I had to get that in there!”

So, yes, it was altogether shockingly … calm? Inspiring? Heartfelt with personal thanks to his grandma? Funny? Similar to what any non-Trump supporter is saying about 2020? Rooted in facts that are already established? Yes, Black people were brought here from Africa as slaves, Natives were definitely killed en masse, and there is documented hate going around.

I can totally see how shouting out to your grandmother is really just wasting people’s time with useless personal thanks. Thank your industry buds, your spouse, and move it along.

None of it matters. Spike Lee, after 5 nominations finally was recognized for the work he has been doing tirelessly, with integrity, honesty, and passion. Thanks Spike for your inspiration and for setting this white girl on a path of better understanding 30 years ago about what it means to be Black in America. And thank you for doing it with humor, music, clear-eyed Truth, and without apology. I’m going to watch your video again and get to work.

 

It’s Quite Vivid

I’m all about making things fun and easy, but I amaze even myself sometimes. If you are a regular reader, you may know I’m struggling with how to wrap my arms around getting more involved in social justice and learning more about racism and white privilege. You know just small, little things like that to help beat back the Cheeto flea and his turd minions.

Part of the problem is that I think I may have used up most of my intellectual curiosity and prowess in my 20s and 30s, what with my subscriptions to Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s (no, not Harper’s Bazaar, the smarty pants Harper’s). Then family duties called. Lapsed subscriptions were replaced with other reading. While I firmly believe that reading to your children gives them an excellent foundation for being a functioning adult with critical thinking skills, there is also a small part of me that also believes reading the Berenstain Bears 100 times over the course of several years causes permanent damage to a functioning adult’s critical thinking skills. You do your best to pick only the books you can stand to read that many times, but inevitably, the Berenstain Bears book and its kin come into your life, and like the dog who goes right for the person who dislikes dogs, your kid will pick the crap book every time.

So where was I? Right, fun and easy. So the related other part of the problem is that when I try to decide, should I read a depressing book about how messed up institutional racism is? Or the book for my book group, which is non-fiction and usually not quite as depressing as racism, but still serious and requires concentration? Or that trashy historical romance novel I just downloaded for free on Hoopla?

Guess who wins? I know. I’m the worst. Blame the Berenstain Bears.

But I’m nothing, if not wily and persistent. I had read the last historical novel by the white writer I liked and when I tried several new ones, based on Hoopla suggestions, I couldn’t get through them. I may read historical romance novels, but I do have some standards. The heaving bosoms need to belong to a strong female character and need to be part of an interesting historical plot that is based on truth. I went through many lists of writers, and one of the suggestions included a Black historical romance writer, Beverly Jenkins.

Well, hey now. Could I get a two-fer out of this? I need to learn more Black history anyway, and the book I’m currently reading Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, is quite educational, and I’ve been stuck on page 36 for a while now. I know, I know, I’m the absolute worst. But I have a mission to fulfill, so I downloaded a book called Vivid. Vivid is a female physician of color who travels from California to a Black community in Grayson Cove, Michigan; they need a doctor and no one else will hire her in 1876. They also only hire her because they think she’s a man–she uses the “no first names” trick.

(As a side note, I just saw “On the Basis of Sex,” the movie about the early career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who nearly 100 years later after Vivid, made it into Harvard Law School and was top of her class, only to also not get hired. So, you know, there’s that. But the movie is good, so go see it, my fellow snowflakes!)

Vivid is well-written, entertaining, and not only chock full of historical details of Black people in the 1876,  Beverly also lists pages of resource material at the end of the book. Paydirt! There really were Black women doctors in the 1800s, and there were all-Black communities being established in the U.S. Sadly for my gay friends, they are no gay characters in these books, but if I find any good gay historical romances, I’ll let you know. Most of Beverly’s books I’ve read take place in all-Black communities, or in cities like Philadelphia because, as she notes in the end of one of the books, it played an important role in the Black race’s history. I’ve read about the 1800s and the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal church, middle class households, ranching out west, poets and writers, and more. In other words, I’ve read about human beings being human and their specific struggles because of their color.

One of my favorites, Midnight, is set in Boston on the verge of the Revolutionary War. In it the main free male character talks about being captured by the British navy and being forced into naval service–it’s called impressment and was legal in Britain at the time. And you know those Brits–they like to carry their rules around with them to other countries, whether the other countries agree or not. Not long after reading about it, I was able to tear myself away from fascinating Beverly to my read book group book, Heirs of the Founders, by H.W. Brands, about the second generation of American politicians. An early chapter describes how in 1812 two elder statesman, Henry Clay and John Calhoun, were trying to persuade their congressional colleagues and President Madison to wage war against Britain in response to many transgressions against American sovereignty, including, you guessed it, impressment.

So, I rest my case. And I know I can’t be satisfied with just Beverly and her meticulously research novels and heaving bosoms, sigh. I’ve got more reading to do, and I also signed up for class in January called, “White People Challenging Racism.” But for the moment, I need to find out what is going to happen in the next installment of the Grayson Cove, Michigan town. Seems were going to learn more about Dr. Vivid’s brother-in-law, Eli.

And, thank you Beverly, for your wonderful books. Here is a brief bio from Wikipedia: “Beverly Jenkins (born 1951, Detroit) is an American author of historical and contemporary romance novels with a particular focus on 19th century African-American life.[1] Jenkins was a 2013 NAACP Image Award nominee and, in 1999, was voted one of the Top 50 Favorite African-American writers of the 20th century by the African American Literature Book Club.[2] Jenkins’s historical romances are set during a period of African-American history that she believes is often overlooked. This made it difficult to break into publishing because publishers weren’t sure what to do with stories that involved African-Americans but not slavery.[3]

150430_blog-photo_bev-jenkins

 

Top 5 for 2018, Cuz We’re All in Hurry

I usually do a top 10 or top 11, because it amuses me, but this year I just have time for 5, but I’m guessing you won’t mind. You’ve got things to do too, don’t you. I just want to say thank you for reading in 2018, thank you if you’ve been reading longer than that (check is in the mail, I swear), and thank you for continuing to read in 2019, if you are so moved. I love that two pieces I wrote eons ago continue to get readership–it cracks me up and lifts me up : Jilted by My Hairdresser—Twice and Shaving, Waxing, Electrocution: A Primer on Women’s War on Hair. I just realized they are both about hair, one flippant and one serious. So we must all have a thing about hair–hmmmm. Food for thought for 2019. Or maybe hair for thought.

Happy new year and here’s to making 2019 better than 2018. The bar is pretty low, people.

Anyway, here are the top 5 posts for 2018. I swear I’m not insulted that they aren’t all from this year. That’s cool. Really. Fine, I’ll work harder next year!

5. Wine Whine  : So I’m guessing you all like wine, and that’s why I like you. Some of you are sommeliers, and more power to you. Me? I’m a simple girl. Show me your wine rack that’s organized in a way people can decipher and no one gets hurt.

4. X-Files: The Bad Boyfriend I Can’t Leave : This one is the 2nd in the series, so I would be negligent if I didn’t  encourage you to read the first one: Christopher William Carter, You’re Grounded and then #3 X-Files, Fin. The fact that neither of those made the top 5, or the top 10 for that matter, may be an indication that it’s similar to the Star Trek movies: only the even numbered ones are any good. Whatever. If you are an X-File fan, prove it and read them! If not, you’re forgiven. There is a high probability the 2nd one is better than the other 2, but you didn’t hear that from me.

3. It’s a Cute Hamster Week : Not sure why you liked this one better than this one, which was so cute, it hurts: It’s Time for Cuteness. But maybe the cute hamster week, with the hamster hanging on is more relatable than cuteness that hurts. You can be the judge of that.

2. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: So I posted this twice, once in 2017 and again in 2018. I think that makes it a classic. (Hint: you will most likely see it in April 2019–for testing purposed only, I swear. Enjoy!

1. Alpha Flee: OK, so I’m going to pretend that the top post for 2018 is NOT a post I wrote in 2016. I’m going to be flattered you found it. Buried underneath 2.5 YEARS of OTHER FABULOUS POSTS. Did I shout? I didn’t mean to. I’m just SO EXCITED that you found it.  And now that I’ve reread it, you’re right. That is some damn good writing. So you’ve got impeccable taste. I totally knew that.

For the record, my personal favorite for 2018 was the Beocat Epic tale. Long live Sir Beocat!

Happy New Year my loves and see you in 2019.

And….Cut! Take 2

I made a commitment to get more involved in racial injustice, and I realized I needed to educate myself. Ain’t nobody need a white woman to show up with her guilt and then have to help her figure out her racial junk. That’s on me to learn about my own biases and what I do consciously or unconsciously that keeps systemic racism alive. Many years ago, I took a more straight forward route and read a number of books about the civil rights movement. I never learned that in school — we were lucky to make it to WWII, which we sped through in the final weeks of the school year. Germans invade Europe! We Americans swoop into rescue them! England kinda helps! Russians bad! We beat Hitler, yay, we’re out for the summer!

But getting back to an actual education, the civil rights movement was good for me to understand, but this time I wanted to learn more about what’s going on now in the lives and struggles of people of color. How can I be helpful now? So I have been trying to educate myself, admittedly a little randomly, with the idea that the things I need to learn will find their way to me.

That sounds soooo white hippy dippy doesn’t it? See how much work I have to do? As I learned from one of the books I read, the Black folks are giving me “shade” and “side eye.”

I have written 5 or 6 posts on the topic, and the last few kind of bothered me, and not in the good way like, “Wow, I feel defensive, I must be poking myself in the right places!” (Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and “Get Out”: A Spoonful of Sugar.)

They definitely feel too preachy, as in, “white people, let me tell you a thing or two.” My bad writing spidey sense was tingling, but I couldn’t make out why. So please forgive me for pushing the publish button anyway. The show must go on! Or at least the Monday morning post. I grant you it’s obnoxious, but far worse, it’s bad writing, which I will not tolerate…I’m fired! Wait, no, I’ll just try to do better.

I wasn’t able to put my finger on the problem until I started talking about it with my friends Becky and Susan, whose questions help clarify the issue. They are gay and have witnessed how I have been an ally for gay folks for many years now. What’s different about trying to be a Black ally?

And that is a good question. It feels different, more complicated. I told them when I first started showing up at the Gay Pride Parade and listening to my friends coming out stories, I was welcomed and appreciated for my efforts. Also, the movement was so new (compared to, say, Black history), that it didn’t take long to catch up. Hiding, hiding, hiding, Stonewall! We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it! I didn’t even have to learn about the AIDS. I witnessed it. How convenient is that? Also, there is a lot of dancing and fabulousness, and turning pain into joy. That also happens to be my main coping mechanism.

Being an ally to gay folks seemed to be a bit like going to France. Although the gay people I know are way nicer than the French. France, if you try to speak a little French, they will put you ahead of the obnoxious American tourist who makes no effort to communicate, except to speak English louder, as if that will help. Gay folks were like, hey, you listen, you want to learn, come on in!

My uncomfortable realization is that I like being praised for my efforts. I want to get the gold star, the A+ for participation. And I got that from gay people who are happy to have me and want to tell me their stores.

On the other hand, Black people seem very tired of explaining themselves, and who the heck can blame them? I’m not sure how to show my interest without, well, being white about it. Black people have turned their pain into joy too, and I like gospel music, but the church part kinda gives me the willies. Although, I have discovered we have in common our dislike/distrust of the Catholic Church, so, you know, that’s a start.

For other types of music, I don’t think you can be white and show up at a Kiss-n-Grind, which is all about dancing to soul, house, and other kinds of music and hanging out — I learned about it from the HBO show Insecure. (It’s a really good show, and I’ll write more about it, but go watch it!) Well, OK, I just Googled the real thing and there are pictures of a few white people in the crowd. But I can’t go because I’m probably too old, not cool enough, and it seems like it’s just an LA thing. And I get pretty East Coast provincial about LA, but maybe I can work on that.

More talk with Becky and Susan helped me see that this is my journey of discovery, the good, the bad, the awkward, and the difficult. I have no right to say how other white or Black people are feeling or should feel, but I can write truthfully about all the missteps and embarrassing things I’m doing while I’m finding my way. That also just so happens to make better blog material, so it’s win-win.

Bear with me as I am halfway through several books that crossed my somewhat confused path, (I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era by Ashley Farmer). Books waiting to be read like The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae (actress, writer, and producer of the aforementioned “Insecure”). There are a couple of movies on order, such as “Sorry to Bother You” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.”  Actually, Spike Lee grabbed me in the 80s with “She’s Gotta Have It,” and I need to keep pace with him, which I should get extra points for — he’s prolific!

Ah. OK. I’m doing not for the A+, but to be a better person. Right. But you know, if any Black folks out there want to think I’m hip for loving “Insecure” and following Luvvie Ajayi, that’s cool, even if I’m more like Frieda, the awkward, overly earnest white chick in the show,  I ain’t no hollaback girl. Or maybe I am. Can you wait a minute while I go look that up?

 

“Get Out”: A Spoonful of Sugar

Apologies for the title. I’m sure there is a special place in hell for white writers who use white people references when talking about Black culture, but I’m pretty sure I’m going there anyway, so what the heck. I’m still very much a newbie in my quest to be an agent of social justice and learn about Black culture , so I’ll use what I know until I can use Black culture references appropriately.

Are ya still with me? Mary Poppins! Mary Poppins! OK, that’s better.

I had seen the ads for the movie “Get Out,” but I am a big weenie when it comes to horror movies. Between the violent bloody parts and the unbearable tension created by slasher music and white teenagers always going into the creepy house to have sex or drink, I find the whole thing disturbing and annoying. That is until the crazy person/spirit/monster comes out of nowhere with an ax, and then I’m cowering in my seat,  yelling, “Is it over?”

I’m kidding, I’ve never actually sat through a horror movie; I can scare myself in the dark for free in a fraction of the time. But I made an exception when my friend Sonia said I had to see “Get Out.” The movie is the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, who, if you don’t live under a media rock like I do, you may know him from his acting work: 5 seasons as a cast member on Mad TV, starring with Keegan-Michael Key in the Comedy Central ketch series Key & Peele, and a recurring role in the first season of the FX anthology series Fargo. 

Halfway through the making of “Get Out.” Jordan Peele realized the story he wanted to tell: A horror-thriller for Black audiences that delivered a searing satirical critique of systemic racism. It is definitely a cleverly written social commentary on being black in America, and he tucks in some humor along the way while he plays with the genre. If you’re white and love horror movies, and even if you aren’t really looking for any deep meaning in your movies, I’d still encourage you to see it. It’s a quality addition to the genre; you will be entertained and surprised and terrified.

But it’s even better if you take a few minutes to see it from a Black perspective.

I put it on my viewing list, but I rarely stay awake long enough to watch movies, so I didn’t actually get to watch it until I visited Sonia a few months ago. It was 100 times better than me watching it by myself for several reasons:

  1. I would’ve missed most, if not all of the social commentary and symbolism that is embedded in the movie.
  2. I would’ve have had anyone to tell me when it was OK to unplug my ears and untuck my head from the pillow to deal with the bloody horror junk at the end.

If you’re sensitive like I am, invite a horror movie loving buddy to watch it with you, preferably one who doesn’t think it’s funny to say, “It’s safe to watch now!” just when the ax is in mid-swing.

The premise of the movie is that the main character Chris is a Black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time, of course at their house, which in typical horror movie fashion is in the middle of nowhere. He soon realizes there is something strange and creepy about their obsession with Blackness; their maid and gardener are Black, and at a party later, there is young Black man who is married to an older white woman. He tried to connect with the Black people, but they are all placid and vacant, but showing brief moments of desperation that he doesn’t understand.

This is a condensed version from “We Need to Talk About All of the Symbolism in Get Out” from VH1 News.

  1. On the way to the girlfriend’s parents’ house the couples’ car hits a deer. When the cop arrives, the scene re-enacts what happens commonly across country. The cop demands Chris’s ID, even though he wasn’t the one driving. Indignant, the girlfriend argues with the cop about why that is necessary, while Chris tries to calm her down and comply. The scene emphasizes that white privilege gets to argue with a cop without serious consequences. Chris can’t take that chance.
  2. Once at the parents’ house, Chris’s girlfriend’s mother offers to hypnotize him to help cure him of his nicotine addiction him. Of course nastier things are afoot. She actually taps into a traumatic experience from his past to put him into a psychological “Sunken Place” where he’s falling in a hole and can’t move. From the VH-1 website: “This out-of-body experience represents the greater narrative of Black America. It’s a theme we’ve seen play out again and again in American history – from slavery to the Tuskegee experiments all the way to mass incarceration…the idea that terrifying and denigrating things come from white ownership of Black bodies.”
  3. The mother uses the clinking of a silver spoon against a teacup to control when Chris goes to the sunken place. In addition to the symbolism of the being born with a “silver spoon” equating with wealth, is also calls to mind Black servants serving tea to wealthy white people.
  4. The movie is not without its funny moments. Chris’s friend Rod had misgivings for Chris’s girlfriend from the start. When Chris’s calls from the parents’ house get stranger and more worrisome, and then finally stop, he takes action. He’s a goofy TSA agent and plays his seriousness about his job and his melodramatic take on what’s happened to Chris for laughs — his theory is that some white people are kidnapping Black people and making them slaves. Which all the people in authority that he tells laugh at, so he uses his TSA training to max to launch a rescue.
  5. Chris finds himself tied to a comfy chair in the basement. The sound of the tinkling spoon puts him in and out of the sunken place, and there is seemingly no escape. However, in his anxiety, he starts picking at the arm of the chair, freeing, what else, tufts of cotton. He uses it to plug his ears so he can’t hear the hypnosis signal, and is able to free himself when they bring him food thinking he is incapacitated. As the VH-1 website perfectly said, “This might be the only time where a Black man picking cotton has been a lifesaving task.”

There are more references, so check them out. Think of it like Schoolhouse Rock — you get to be entertained and learn something at the same time. If you can’t deal with the horror, I get it. I’m working on finding other options. Stay tuned and meanwhile hum, “Conjunction, junction, what’s your function?

 

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

I’m still haunted by the 52% of white women who voted for Trump. I’m being lumped in with them, and I don’t like it, but guess what, buttercup? The Black folks are saying, “Welcome to my world of being held responsible for your race.” So, this buttercup is sucking it up.

I wrote the piece about it in the spring of 2017, and at that time, I couldn’t get the actual numbers of white women voters. The few websites that had data said the final numbers were still being calculated. So here it is, well over a year later, and you still cannot Google “How many white women voted for Trump” and get an actual number. News outlets give only repeat that depressing percentage.

This could be white guilt, or perimenopause anger talking, but I need to know the actual number.

Would you rather inherit 75% of someone’s bank account or $50,000? You’d need to know the number in the bank account, right? 75% sounds good until you learn there is $1,000 in the account. That’s why I’m obsessed with this white woman number. Yes, 52% blows me away, makes me angry, depresses the living heck out of me. How many whackadoodles are we dealing with? 1 million? 10 million? 100 million? How big is my problem?

Because no one seems to have the straight up number, Word Girl here had to do math, and that is never a good thing. And I needed the high school math I hated the most– an algebraic word problem.

If 138.8 million people voted in the election, and according to exit polls 37% of those were white women, and (according to every maddening news source) 52% of those women voted for Trump, how many white women pissed me off in 2016? According to my calculations…

trumpvotersblog

26.7 million women are not my friends. OK, so the numbers didn’t make me feel any better (and actually made me feel slightly worse) but defining how deep the hole we’re in is important.

If 22 million white women voted for Hillary, and 94% of Black women voted for her, how many Black women do I have more in common with than the Trump white whackadoodles?

9.1 million.

So, you 22 million white women, I invite you along as I try to educate myself about Black culture. If you went to France, you wouldn’t go knowing no French and asking (in English) for hot dogs and pizza, would you? Well, if you did, you would be known as the really bad stereotypical American tourist and ruin it for the rest of us. Black culture is the same. Black people have enough on their plate without having to teach whites about their culture. We need to do it ourselves. Showing up knowing a little is a sign of respect. Knowing a lot gives you more access. I’m not an expert, just going where my interest and curiosity takes me. Oh, and white men, you are welcome to come along, too, I just used all my math skills on the women, so I couldn’t quantify you. But by all means, hop on board.

Because it’s summer, and I am a big believer in the power of music to connect people, let’s talk about “Motown the Musical.” I saw it in Boston in June, at the end of its North American tour. You can now only see it in London, but it will be at the Shaftesbury Theatre through November 2019, and other parts of the UK, so you’d better get on that. That’s plenty of time to find bargain fares, and I know you want to see Princess Meghan or one of those royal babies anyway, so now you have more reasons to go.

It was on Broadway from March 2013 to January 2015 came back in July 2016, so shame on me for not knowing about it all this time. If you already know the story of Motown, then good for you — you can skip this lesson and post your favorite fact.

Motown gives you the back story to all the music you love/grew up with/heard in a meme/were embarrassed to hear your mother/child singing to. Young Berry Gordy  makes and produces music, but can’t get the white radio stations to play it. They say they don’t play Black music, but he argues that his music belongs to everyone. They won’t budge, so he borrows money to start his own label.

But the story starts before then. As a child, Berry experienced an amazing moment when his childhood hero boxer Joe Louis defeated the German boxing great Max Schmeling in 1938. It’s one of the most famous matches of all time. This occurred at a time when Black boxers were often denied championships, and the Nazi party issued statements that a Black man could not defeat Schmeling. After the fight, Berry recalled, “I saw my mother crying. I saw my father crying. Everyone was so crazy, just going mad.” Berry decided then that he wanted to do something that made people that happy.

And so he did. For the rest of the musical you get to see both the musical genius and just creative people doing their thing — arguing over creative differences, falling in love, falling out of love, working together towards a goal, feeling artistic jealousy, and making incredible music. Through it all is, for many of us, the soundtrack of our lives that wouldn’t exist without Black people. Where would you be without Diana Ross and the Supremes, Michael Jackson, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson?

Don’t take that soundtrack for granted. That music emerged from people constantly having to prove themselves. Dive a little deeper and learn more about where it came from. You love this music, you’ve danced to it, made out to it, laughed and cried to it.

Read some books about Motown, watch some movies.

Taking a deeper dive into the music of Motown is not going to solve racism. But if you are familiar with how the music flourished in spite of racism, how promoting the music in segregated towns was risky and even dangerous, maybe it provides an opportunity to connect or have a conversation. Just remember, no mansplaining, please. Black people still know way more than you do, but it’s a place to start.

I heard that through the grapevine.