October 31, 2007

Chicken or Ham

Trick or Treat
Smelly Feet
Chicken or Ham
In a red and green can

I thought I'd throw in a little Halloween humor (okay, maybe humor is a stretch). since today is October 31 (otherwise known as Halloween in the US). My kids are out of school today. Teacher workday, the school system is calling it. To the kids, I'm sure it feels like a holiday. In my house, we don't celebrate Halloween. Okay, we are going to a fall festival tonight but I've convinced myself that by going out at night to collect candy and play carnival games is not celebrating the day as holiday.

Halloween has always been a strange 'holiday' to me. I didn't grow up celebrating Halloween (or going to fall festivals on October 31st). That's right, I never dressed up in a costume on the last day of October and begged for candy in the dark.

In my little girl mind, only white folks celebrated Halloween. Black folks didn't do such foolishness. Now Halloween is totally integrated. Equal opportunity. Fully reconciled!

There must be something about the costumes or the candy that brings folks around the table of brotherhood. Maybe this is the key to reconciling American Christians.

Okay folks, dress up in your favorite (non-threatening) sitcom, blockbuster movie, or Bible character, grab a sturdy (reflective) plastic container, and go door-to-door collecting food. Then go back to your homes, dump everything on the kitchen table and split it up evenly.

Everyone would be filled with awe and many wonders and miracles of multiplication would be witnessed. They would have everything in common. And everyone who have what they needed for months and months. Steak, potatoes, corn, beans. Chicken and ham ... you name it.

Yes, it would be great. The First Church of Halloween.

October 29, 2007

Get Back, Black

"If you're black, get back.
If you're brown, get down.
If you're yellow, you're mellow.
If you're white, you're right."

Those are the words of a little jingle I learned when I was young. I shared it with a white Alabama woman, maybe ten years younger than me, and her jaw dropped. She'd never heard the ditty and she was appalled. One, that she as a product of the Deep South, had never heard the tune. And two, that there was such a tune.

Honey, I said to myself, there's probably a lot more you don't know about what black folks have to deal with in the South. Not having to deal with things like that is one of the benefits of white privilege.

I saw something on BET yesterday (yes, Reggie R., I do watch BET TV sometimes). It was part of BET's Meet the Faith program. Their topic, Anything But Black, stirred up some facinatingly old school results.

Here's a quote from the show's transcript (italics mine):
Following a montage of interviews about challenges some young mixed-race New Yorkers face and a review of a social experiment that observed young black children choosing White dolls over Black dolls because the children said White was good and Black was bad prompted another lively discussion. Reverend Bryant says he’s troubled more people don’t realize men, all men, originate from the same continent. ”I’m absolutely African American and the reality is if man originates from Africa whether you are from Ireland, Switzerland or Greenland there is African inside you.” Coleman added, “Race isn’t biological, race is political”

Ahh, the black doll, white doll experiment, I remember it well. Sadly, so do too many black mothers and fathers. I was shocked to see the little black boys and girls choose the white doll again and again. Dressed exactly like the black doll, made from the same mold, but considered ugly, bad, undesirable.

I don't agree with everything the minister (Rev. Bryant, quoted above) said about racial origins, but one thing is for sure, race isn't biological (and it's not biblical either). Unfortunately, in America, the results of the human genome experiment came a few generations too late.

How will the damage to the self image of black children be repaired? I really don't know. But it's clear we need another ditty to which to march. And it wouldn't hurt to start a few conversations of reconciliaton across the color line--speaking the truth (about my American life, my children, my hopes, my disappointments ...) in love and with commitment.

October 20, 2007

American Nightmare

The other night I went to this major going-out-of-business sale at an old warehouse downtown. The place was chock full of framed artwork, fine linens, and designer shoes. Even the sidewalks were spilling over. And then I woke up and my great dream evaporated into a tangle of hot bedclothes. What a nightmare! I had labored hard over each selection (whether it was it a need or a want?). The things I thought were real had been taken away in a blink of an eye.

So it is for so many people of color with the so-called American Dream. The freedoms and privileges that looked so real crumble so easily in times of adversity. We have seen it in heart-ripping color during the weeks following the terrorists' attacks on America. With the rising of the September 12th sun, a new group of American residents have been victims of profiling, threats, and plots of murder.

Sadly, though, it is not a new nightmare. It has happened to Japanese-Americans (six years of internment for looking like a kamikaze pilot), Native Americans (the Trail of Tears, the forced westward migration of all eastern tribes in 1840), black Americans (the Dred Scott decision, countless lynchings, Jim Crow laws, and on and on). Sadly, these terrors will continue in some form or another to peoples of color in the US. This is America, after all -- a sometimes Christian, sometimes humanistic, always volatile experiment in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

The next time you sing “God Bless America,” replace the name of our country with Americans that don't look like you, maybe even some that were born on other soil. If you don't know any names, then take that as a wake up call to expand your concept of our God-blessed land. It has taken more than mountains and prairies and foamy seas to make it lovely and sweet.

.August 2005.

October 18, 2007

Pretty Woman

I wrote this in 2004

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater.
Had a wife but couldn't keep her.
Put her in a pumpkin shell;
And there he kept her very well.

That's the way the nursery rhyme goes. Many may say, poor Peter. Why didn't he just get rid of that contentious woman? I see it differently. Looks to me like he would still have a happy wife if he could stay away from that gourd. It had obviously taken over his life, distorted his value system.

Speaking of value systems. I've been going through a hair discovery thing for the last five years or so. I didn't realize it until recently just how much black woman value their hair. The term "good hair" takes on a life of its own in the black community. You can get into a knock down drag out over talking about someone's weave (she swears it's her own good, straight hair).

Why is that, I wonder? It doesn't keep me awake at night but it keeps me turning my head wondering why sister girl's hair is more blonde and waxy-looking than Marilyn Monroe's. Okay, a lot of women (regardless of skin color) like to change their look. I'll give you that. And having bone straight hair can be convenient. But for most women of color going natural means being anything from Iman wavy to Buckwheat nappy. (I think I'm related to Buckwheat).

I wouldn't have thought any more about this hair thing but lately a lot of black women have been coming to me - almost secretly - confessing that they would like to go natural (afro, dred locs, wavy, etc.) but they feared they wouldn't be accepted on the job. I could relate to that, I kept mine pulled back during the almost five years that I worked for the State. Some women though, had another fear. "I wouldn't look pretty with natural hair."

I realize now that my own dissatisfaction with self years ago was linked to my inability to accept the Buckwheat in me. A hair relaxer only magnified what I thought was my ugly bad hair life.

Now, each time I oil and palm roll my shoulder-length locs, I say to myself that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:14). I pray that more women of color will be able to look in the mirror and say, "I am pretty because God did a marvelous work in making my hair and me."

October 16, 2007

Once Upon a Time When I was Black

There was a tap on my shoulder as I lifted my son to the monkey bars. I turned to face a white woman, brown hair, slight build, friendly smile.

She gestured with her hand toward a small boy playing in the sand behind her and explained, "I just had to tell you this. My son and I have been studying about people's origins. We're planning to adopt a child from Korea soon." She giggled.

I thought, trying to keep my smile genuine, why is she telling me this and why is she giggling.

She continued, "My son just asked if your son was African-American like in his book?"
She smiled some more; I smiled back and said something inoffensive, all the while thinking, "Whoa, who flipped the script!"

I was born a cute little bundle with light brown skin. The nurses took one look at me and wrote 'black' on their forms. Now, more than three decades later, little three year old white kids are being taught to call me African-American. I can only imagine the images that label conjures up in their little minds. For this little white guy at the playground about to get a Korean sibling, I'm sure he looked at my son and me and saw us arriving from Nigeria only a few days ago, happy to be making a new life in America.

I'm not sure who fought for this African-American label, but my name was not on the petition. To say the least, the label is confusing. There are Africans in my church who have made America their home in the last decade. Some of them are brown-skinned, some of them are white. To me, these families are the true African-Americans.

I'm Black. My father was Colored. His father was a Negro. His father was a slave, fresh off the boat from Edenton, NC. I'm a product of an illegitimate union of the west coast of Africa and the craggy hills of Scotland. That is my legacy, my reality. I'm not ashamed of it. No new label's going to change that.

I hope and pray, that deep down, the changing of the race label for blacks in America is not an effort to find purpose or purity. There is only one pure blood available to all mankind through Christ, the Prince of Purpose for all the colored people (even the peach-colored ones).

Written in 2004