I am a proud Floridian. I love of our orange groves. I enjoy sunbathing on our pristine beaches that kiss the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, I love Tampa Bay Buccaneers football and Tampa Bay Rays baseball. Alas, the recent comments by Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer made me want to banish him from our great state and revoke his “Sunshine state license”. Politics aside, lies are lies. While, I’m not necessarily upset or surprised that a political leader would fabricate a story to give his party leverage, I’m appalled that he sparked off a frenzy that used our nation’s children as political footballs.
A few months ago i watched the TVOne documentary Black Don’t Crack: The Cosmetic Surgery Debate. It disturbed me, to say the least. It mostly chronicled the stories of Black women (and i believe, one man) who choose to undergo cosmetic plastic surgery, noting that in the past, cosmetic procedures have been stigmatized in the Black community. However, since 2005 there has been an increase in the number of Black men and women who undergo elective cosmetic surgery. Most popular amongst patients of color are rhinoplasty (nose jobs), breast augmentation and liposuction of the buttocks and thighs. And indeed, this was mirrored in the subjects of the documentary, the gorgeous women who were convinced that they could “finally be beautiful” if their noses or lips were a little thinner.
It was the news heard around the world, heard in every black café, posted on every Facebook mini feed, screamed in abject horror in every black theater class, whispered in body stealing tones in every black feminist mind that Tyler Perry also known as Medea also known as He Who Has Oprah’s Seal of Approval meaning it’s safe for white suburban soccer moms will direct, produce, and perhaps even star as the woman in red in a film adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.
When I heard the news a part of me laughed and said, “Seriously you’re kidding right. How can a black man who always portrays black women as prostitutes (i.e. Madea Goes to Jail), drug addicts (i.e. Diary of Angry Black Woman), controlling spouses (i.e. Why Did I get Married), abused women, psychopathic black mothers (i.e. Family Reunion), and emasculating black women (i.e. Daddy’s Girls) direct and produce a film about black women finding and owning their voices?” And of course, the answer to my question is that unless he works with Julie Dash or Aishah Simmons his work is doomed to silence black women.
Okay, I will admit I’m no saint. I’ve watched some of Tyler Perry’s movies because I can’t afford HBO so I watch TBS the home of all things Tyler Perry. And sometimes family gatherings entail a Tyler Perry’s Marathon where my great aunt proclaims in her best evangelist voice, “You can talk about my Jesus, and perhaps my momma, but nobody better talk about my Tyler Perry.” I say all this to say I’ve seen his movies to know their limitations. Meaning, I cannot fathom let alone imagine how Tyler Perry can cinematically enrich Shange’s play whose very origin was a critique of black male violence against black women.
Perhaps, he has not read the play therefore he’s unaware of this critique or perhaps he has read it and assumes that the character, Madea, can throw hot grits on all the violent black men in Shange’s play and that will end violence against black women. If it was only that easy then Quaker Grits would be in every domestic violence handbook around the world. So, once again I ask the question, how can Tyler Perry produce and direct a film that speaks to the souls of black women? And the simple answer is he can’t. To say the least, I am pissed. Furthermore, I find myself ruminating on how he will adapt my favorite line from the play, “I found God in myself and I loved her I loved her fiercely.” Perhaps, it will become Vickie Winans’ gospel song, “I found King Jesus and I don’t need nobody else.” Perhaps it will become, “I found da lorde in dis good black man and I loved him, I loved him fiercely.” Or, perhaps it will become, “I did not find enuf in myself as a colored girl so I committed suicide.” Yes, the last translation is wee bit dramatic, but given Tyler Perry’s track record it seems quite probable. So, for those who love the play, For Colored Girls what are your sentiments about Tyler Perry producing and directing the play?
So, I decided to end this blog with pictures from various performances of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Sucide When the Rainbow is Enuf to show how powerful this play is and how Tyler Perry cannot do it justice.
In the above clip, we discover that in 2000 roughly 95, 000 black women were married to white men. By 2006, the numbers had grown to 117,000 black women are married to white men. Anchor person Mara Schiavocampo of NBC poses the following:
“One reason for the increase in interracial relationships may simply be access. As black women continue to make strives in the workplace they often move into new social circles. Some black women say they have a hard time meeting black men who can match their professional accomplishments. That imbalance is foreshadowed in the classroom where 64% percent of black college students are women [, and] at some schools, they [women] out number black men seven to one.”
I am lucky, or at the least very fortunate that in my life I have been on both sides of the “fence” or in this case all three sides of the fence. I have lived in suburban, urban, and rural areas. I have lived in very nice areas of the country (Diamond Bar in LA County and Alpharetta in North Fulton near Atlanta ), I have lived in some of the worse areas of the country (Southwest side of Chicago and East Cleveland) and also spent time in some of the most rural areas of the country (Tupelo, MS). I have some familiarity with various types of people, places and things.
I am lucky, but most do not get the opportunity to see and actively experience the different sides of this fence, especially the impoverished demographic in America. In a world that still assumes things should be separate, when isolation of difference is easier than integration of diversity, and where socially many choose to “stay with their own kind”, there is still hope brought from non-profits organizations like Ohio Youth Voices (OYV). This organization brings high school students of different racial and socio-economic backgrounds together to fight for youth to have a voice in government. I was very fortunate to be apart of this group in high school.
On the very first OYV meeting, back when I was in 11th grade, I encountered this “difference” in a very interesting way. Students from across the state gathered in Columbus, Ohio to create the very first Ohio Youth Agenda for economic and educational success. Once this isolation between different types of people is broken down, people will then realize proper etiquette when interacting with each other. One teenage white girl from southern Ohio called a black friend of mine “colored.” The white girl was not racist and did not mean to offend anyone; she simply was ignorant to the fact that African Americans in the 21st century do not generally label themselves as “colored.” This is one small example of how Ohio Youth Voices brings students together and begins to break down racial divides.
When people are isolated, and not given a chance to interact with different types of individuals, then racial, cultural, and societal ignorance will inevitably continue to exist. OYV brings all different types of students to one place and encourages them to talk openly about their lives and the issues they face.
Another aspect to OYV is their urban-rural area visits. In this process, students from urban areas visit the schools and neighborhoods of students from rural areas and vice-versa. These visits are geared towards breaking down stereotypes and creating an open discussion between students of different backgrounds who would usually never interact with each other. The most popular response to all the students is realizing that we are all more alike than we are different. Through the issues on the youth agenda, young people from around the state realize a lot of the problems that they encounter, are the same problems that other students go through in different parts of the state.
I am convinced that Non-Profit organizations are one of the very few hopes for the future. Ohio Youth Voices continues to be a beacon of hope, by breaking down this racial divide that has soiled our country for far too many decades.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve seen the ubiquity of the health care skirmish. I refuse to recognize it as a debate because debates are civil. While I don’t believe the raucous town hall meetings are an indicator of the overall American sentiment regarding healthcare, I do believe it illustrates the looming strength and cohesiveness of the conservative wing. Ultra-conservatives don’t even make up half of the Republican base however they are vociferous and unrelenting. Those are the only traits you need to make the news cycle. Because we see Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (D) getting shouted at by an elderly man or Representative Kathy Castor of Florida (D) being silenced by an unruly mob, it’s easy to believe that the prospects for health care reform are dead. Not quite.
Yesterday, my mom sent me a text message proclaiming her excitement for Whitney Houston’s newest album, which was released yesterday. In her “I’m fifty years old” text message shorthand, Ma said she loved every song on I Look to You, Nippy’s first solo effort in years. The reviews are mixed. Though I haven’t *technically* heard it, I’ll just go ahead and say I love Whitney’s new album, too. I’ll hold my tongue re: Akon’s appearance. (Alvin Seville does want his job back, though.) I do think the latest single, “Million Dollar Bill” will make a killer house remix. Maybe it’s my mother’s fault, maybe it’s because I’m getting soft, but I’m rooting for Whitney. I’m glad she’s here.
A few years ago during Ms. Houston’s nadir, I wrote a blog about her. On this the first leg of her comeback and on the eve of her appearance on the divine’s Ms. O’s (you can’t spell God without an o) season premiere–no jumping on the couch!–I want to return to what I said. I’ve posted it below, with very few edits.
I think most of the stuff I said holds up. Well, I hope it does.
Like many loyal fans of Keyshia Cole’s show, The Way It Is, I watched the premiere of Frankie and Neffe with bated breath hoping to see black reality drama at its finest. Of course, when people learn of my guilty pleasure many people are downright appalled that I, black feminist girl advocate Fallon, would want to watch these shows because of how they pathologize black mothers as absent, drug addicted, selfish, sexually promiscuous, and at the end of the day simply irresponsible. And my response is I watch these shows because in many ways Frankie and Neffe remind me more of my mother and sister than Claire Huxtable and Denise or Claire Huxtable and Rudy or Claire Huxtable and Vanessa. Furthermore, where else on television am I able to see a black mother and daughter tear into each other driven by their love for each other. Yes, sometime their love is explosive, like when Neffe is ready to fight Frankie’s new lover because he mistreats her and sometimes it is downright toxic like when Frankie becomes jealous and angry at the other women who have mothered Neffe and Keyshia because she was strung out on drugs for 20 years.
Of course, this is not to say that Frankie and Neffe are “perfect” models for talking about black mother-daughter relationships. But it is to say that their story is important even if it reifies dominant notions of black mothers because at the end of the day it’s my story. Unlike Frankie, my mother did not leave us for long periods of time to get high. But, she did spend a considerable amount of time psychologically not present and at times physically absent from us because she like the wife in the Selkie (Seal) Myth was never meant to live on land and wed. You see the Selkie is a mythical creature who lives in the sea. However, sometimes the Selkie would shed its seal skin to walk on land as a woman. Well, one day as she walked on the beach a fisherman stole her seal skin making her forget who she was and where she lived. So, to make a long story short she married the fisherman and had several children, it was not until she accidentally found her seal skin that she remembered who she was and where she belonged. I say all of this to say that my mother was created to swim in the sea. However, she like many women was tricked by the belief that one could live happily ever after on land by simply being a good black mother and a good black wife. Yes, living away from your home (i.e. the sea), your center, and your purpose could drive any woman crazy even the beloved and iconic Claire Huxtable.
So, Frankie and my mother are not that dissimilar meaning they are the causalities of an unjust system that privileges whiteness, wealth, maleness, and heterosexuality forcing them and their daughters into a type of land locked madness a madness that shapes how they love and struggle with each other. Ya know, I think Alice Walker understood this idea of land locked madness when she wrote the essay In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. She states that our mothers were “driven to a numb and bleeding madness by the springs of creativity in them for which there was no release. They were creators who lived lives of spiritual waste, because they were so rich in spirituality—which is the basis of art—that the strain of enduring their unused and unwanted talent drove them insane.” And, by default shaped how they mothered their daughters. I say all of this not to render black mothers without agency as if systems of oppression are just acting upon them because there is always an element of choice.
But, I mention these systems—racism, patriarchy and heteronormativity—to shed light on why Frankie and my mother, Sandy, have trouble understanding why their daughters are angry with them and also angry with themselves. It hurts Neffe to see her mother, Frankie, used by men and it doubly hurts my older sister and me to see our mother at the mercy of some man because she needs his help financially. But the hurt goes both ways because our mothers are deeply wounded when we are closer to other women who have stepped into our lives to mother us when they were seeking short-lived freedoms to compensate for the soul enriching freedom that was stolen away when they took off or was forced to take off their Seal Skins to walk on man’s land.
At this point, many of you are thinking that this reality is only true for a certain class of black women. But, it’s also evident in Alice Walker’s and Rebecca Walker’s mother-daughter relationship. All one has to do is read Rebecca Walker’s Baby Love and see how even a mother’s adamant critique and rebel against patriarchy (i.e. resisting being land-locked) can also create difficulties when relating and loving her daughter. In many ways, this shows how pervasive and enduring patriarchy is that even a mother’s resistance of it can still create pain for both parties.
All in all, there are few shows on television now where I can see black mothers and daughters dealing with the difficulties of being in relationship with each other. It is the intensity of Neffe’s love for her mother that sears my heart. It is Frankie’s wavering desire for her daughters’ acceptance and forgiveness that makes me think of my mother. As much as I want to celebrate the happiness of our mother and daughter relationships I have to be conscientious of the hurt and pain that comes from living in a society that forces our mothers to live their lives metaphorically on land when they are destined to swim in the sea.
Let’s begin the conversation with the clip by the chocolate enthusiast herself, Kyla. She starts this clip with an ode to chocolaty goodness. She says, “Hi, I like chocolate, and I am not talking about the candy, ok.” Kyla, goes on to say, “I love chocolate; I love chocolate men; I love them.” I think Kyla’s statements are somewhat problematic, but Kyla’s comments aren’t alien to my ears. I hear black women using the same metaphors and implicit implications. Regardless of the person’s race, there is a problem with the idea of a person being like a purchasable item for consumption.
I got a chance to go back to one of my community high schools and perform poetry. One of the poems that I performed in the national poetry competition was about a women being barren. When performing this piece at the high school, one of the girls—no more than 16—started to cry. After the program, I approached her and started a conversation.
“Are you ok?”
“No”, she exclaimed trying to dry tears in what seem like embarrassment.
“What’s wrong?”, I asked.
The girl was silent.
I told her “I might be able to help.”
She said, “I don’t think so.”
After a couple minutes of probing, she dumped her life onto my shoulders. And I welcomed every word. I wanted her story to be my burden, so possibly, even for a second she would feel that her life was a little easier.
She started by saying she wishes she could be the barren women in the poem. She went on to say that she was 16, pregnant, and the 19 year old father of her baby just went to jail for armed robbery. She finished her story by saying she doesn’t want to go home because her mom (who is only 15 years older than she is) cares more about her boyfriend, who recently was released from jail, than she does about her own children.
I don’t know if the similarities between her and her mom can be called a generational curse, the cycle of poverty, or just a coincidence, but I know the different aspects in this situation are not rare to hear in my neighborhood. As a matter of fact, in East Cleveland (AKA EC) stories like this are quite normal. I’m not a fan of phrases like “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” or “everyone is just a victim of their environment,” but when this girl was sitting in front of me crying in a room full of screaming students, both of these phrases were regretfully stuck on my mind. All I felt I could do is encourage her to be strong.
Anytime a baby is created, I consider it a blessing from God, but this girl considered it to be a curse. I can only imagine her thinking how much her life would change with this baby. How the baby would be born into a world surrounded by graffiti walls, boarded up houses, and a broken home. Inherently born into poverty.
I never want to pretend as if I understand what a woman goes through when she is pregnant, but seeing this girl’s tears and pain unveiled from her face forced me to think about the whole process. Nevertheless, primarily I am concerned with “this cycle.” It starts with grandparents in poverty, producing children that remain in poverty, who produce grandchildren who stay in poverty. In a world where education is usually the only way to break out of this cycle, it is just our luck that usually those of us who live in poverty have some of the worse education systems in our neighborhoods.
This is my plug to stress the importance of teachers in our inner city school systems. The teachers that go far beyond their obligations because they care about the students they encounter. The teachers who see potential in the 14-year-old student that is starting to sell drugs and skip school. The teachers who encourage the 15-year-old gang members to join their after school debate practice to keep them off the streets, and the teachers who give hope to the 16 year old pregnant black girl who is afraid that she is going to turn out like her mother. Teachers like this are rare, but in a world that throws kids away, they are pivotal. When parents can’t, good teachers get students out of poverty. This is the story of my life.