You Don’t Own Me

A couple of weeks ago I rode the elevator down 27 floors to the lobby of my office building. Just as the doors opened, I was seized by a pang of guilt. I had forgotten—yet again—to ask Hubby if it would be alright to give the evening security guard the telephone number to our home office. So when I walked past ‘Dean’, who manned the desk in the evening, I grinned sheepishly, shamefacedly, while rushing toward the door.

My feeble nonverbal apology wouldn’t work. Not that day. ‘Dean’ the security guard in my office building, is a handsome, Caribbean gentleman of about 60. He has small eyes set in an expressive face that can switch from jovial to grave in a heartbeat. And that is what happened. Dean was visibly irritated that I hadn’t come through with what he deemed a simple request, and he let me have it. He wagged his finger at me, chastising me for letting him down yet again. Because I constantly forgot to retrieve that bit of personal information, Dean made me feel like I was being standoffish and unfriendly.

To own the truth, sometimes I am standoffish and unfriendly, but benign snobbery did not apply in this case.

He’s taken up the habit of referring to several of the black women who work in the building as his cousins. Okay, that’s fine, I appreciate a good joke. Hubby worked in the building years before I did, and a couple of years ago, the daily routine for us changed drastically when: a) my Little Sister came to live with us, throwing us into parental roles immediately and b) Hubby began to freelance from home full time. Add to that the fact that Baby Silk is on the way, and it changed everything. So, Dean wanted to keep up with Hubby and me, mainly Hubby and asked for the home/office number. Several times. But my new mommy/big sister/new mommy role had become so demanding that I simply kept on forgetting to ask Hubby if giving Dean the home number was OK. Only after I walked past the security desk on the way home every day would I remember, and I dreaded having to scurry past Dean, who became increasingly irritated that I hadn’t come through with that bit of personal information. He sulked, and that friendly demeanor became a bit colder toward me for at least a couple of weeks. He’s still not as friendly as he used to be. No more jokes for me to chuckle about on my commute home. No more inquiries about Hubby. Apparently, it’s all or nothing with Dean.

I started to wonder if I was being an uppity bitch about the whole thing until one day, during a lunch excursion, I mentioned this to one of the other black women in the company. She edits a weekly financial newsletter. She knew exactly what I was talking about, because Dean had hit up two other women in the building for their home numbers, too. In one case, the woman regretted it, because his periodic calls had become a nuisance. In the other, he kept asking, through that editor I mentioned, for the number of another black woman who had left the company about a year ago. He so exasperated both of them that our former coworker conveyed the message that she is pregnant with her second baby, hoping he would get the message that she really does not have time for frequent idle chit chat.

Well, this changed everything.

I can see the comments now, especially from any black men out there. :Why can’t you just give him the number? What’s the harm in a little chat every now and then with an old coworker? Too good to keep in touch with the security guard? It’s black women like you …”

Why should that be the case? These episodes make me wonder if black men universally have an attitude of ownership toward black women. They might believe that our common African ancestry confers a common way of thinking, meaning that regardless of our inherent gender differences, cultural upbringings, creeds, etc., their social customs are our social customs. Their expectations, priorities or what have you, are ours. Every now and then, I have a run in with an African-American, Caribbean or African guy that leaves me absolutely baffled about what makes them tick. DON”T GET ME WRONG!  I love black men. If Hubby and I have a son, he will be a black biracial man, after all. And fortunes could have just as easily landed me with a brother instead of a white guy. OK?

I see no real harm in Dean’s motives, but I still think he’s lacking some graciousness and basic maturity. Why be so persistent about shaking down so many black women in the building for personal contact information. And why make us feel bad about not wanting to share that personal information?

More importantly, we all lead busy lives. I think those other black women are single moms, and we all know what tremendous responsibilities that entails. After a harried day of being the sole breadwinner, planning family meals, managing extracurricular activities for the kids, planning the finances, maintaining a civil relationship with the ex-husband or ex-boyfriend, and playing the roles of being a sister, cousin, friend and neighbor, I think these women are entitled to some peace and quiet whenever they want it. That means their personal phone numbers are off limits to anyone who, frankly, they don’t want to talk to for whatever reason.

So why can’t certain men like Dean understand that?  Do you really need to create a bad vibe by being frosty and morose just because you don’t get to hang on to all the people who passed your security desk every day? Why not just let people come in and out of your life and keep it mellow without any awkward strings attached?

Here Kitty, Kitty

Admittedly, I have been out of the blogging loop for a couple of months, barely having the energy to keep up with my daily work schedule, much less blog here and read other blogs. But the other day, I was shocked to find that my blogroll link to ‘Angry Black Cat’ doesn’t work anymore.  

This rots!  

For a while, I was nearly addicted to that Web site, checking it everyday for new posts, videos and original podcasts. I looked at the site once in June, maybe and read a post that talked about taking the blog semi-private, or private altogether. Something about wanting to make the site a more peaceful and less contentious place for folks to enjoy. Well, that doesn’t seem so bad.  My question is: what kinds of things have been slung, spat or hurled at Ken and ABC to make them want to close the site off to the public? I know that people can become nasty and unruly while posting comments to blogs, but exactly how out of control had things gotten? I mean, goodness, blogs are supposed to be, in general, pleasant past times. But some people seem to take things a bit far and pour all their latent angst and hostility on the blog hosts and guests. Sheesh. 

Let me make on thing clear (to all 5 of you who read this blog) about Lattecafe. No time will be dedicated to any of that nonsense. This is an open blog, which means everyone’s ideas get a fair airing, but there won’t be any room for name-calling, bashing of any kind, or anything to basically foul up the clear air around here. And I’m going to be firm on that. People are allowed to disagree with each other and even with me — to a reasonable extent. I’m trying to keep a mellow, enjoyable atmosphere going here, and will make all efforts to keep it that way. 

Well, if anyone knows how to get a hold of ABC and Ken, send them this way. I need to get myself a new set of keys, passwords, secret knocks — or whatever — to get back onto that site!

Why … Part Deux

So here I come to part two of the message that I began posting yesterday.  This time, I want to delve into one aspect of why black women might feel a little hostile, betrayed or let down or what have you, when they see a great black guy with a white woman.

            Maybe they’re tired of being savaged, blatantly and publicly, by men of all stripes, and having a black guy fail to put one of us on a pedestal rubs it in a little. Case in point: on the same day that I went snooping into Harold Ford, Jr.’s life, a black woman and an Asian man got into a bitter, hostile argument during my commute to work. I didn’t see what triggered the heated exchange in the first place, but based on how the black woman recounted the initial run-in while upbraiding this guy, he shoved her while making his way to one section of the train car.

            Now, pushing and shoving are a way of life on the New York area rail lines, as well as the buses and sidewalks. This guy, however, didn’t even have the decency to excuse himself politely or quietly. He proceeded to mouth off to her about how she should shut up and get over it. Well, she wasn’t going to do that, and round one began. She fruitlessly pointed out that he was too rough, too rude and that it wasn’t right. He didn’t defend his actions, simply told her to shut up and started throwing profanities at her. This exchange dragged on until he moved away from her, still mouthing off and he said in his heavy Cantonese or Mandarin (I haven’t fine-tuned my Chinese accents yet) that people like her was what was wrong with America. Several times he said this, emphatically, too, before he added ‘ni—-‘ to the end of that statement.  And then he spat on the floor in her direction. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that pipsqueak parading as a man shoved a woman, and then picked a fight with her and spat racial epithets at her. On a train. Surrounded by other black people. In the New York area. In 2008! 

            Where do I begin? I want to first say that I took out my cell phone to call the police, because this guy needed to be confronted with someone bigger than him, in uniform. Someone else went over to the woman and tried to get her to calm down and forget about this ass. When the train reached its final stop, I looked around for a cop, but couldn’t find one. The woman was out of the train and on the platform, surrounded by other passengers, who told her she handled herself well despite the circumstances. Everyone scattered, and the woman seemed intent on just getting to work, not filing a complaint. Still, I decided to call the transit agency to ask what to do in a situation like that.

            Look, I understand that rush hour can be really stressful, and we’re in the first half of summer here, but I’m starting to develop some uncomfortable ideas about how men treat black women. Also, I find myself having to FIGHT the notion that immigrant Asian men, have a special talent for being racist, misogynistic idiots. I mean, where did this man get the idea that he could behave that way toward any human being, much less a woman?  Believe me, this is not a comfortable conclusion to reach, that in some parts of the world life is so brutal and tribal that when some of those immigrants come here, they look around at the rest of us with disdain in their eyes and venom at the tips of their tongue. But when you pull back and look at all the chaos in the world, I suppose you have to confront that nasty reality.

            About Asian guys. I’m STILL more than willing to give individual Asian men (which includes East Indian and the like) the full benefit of the doubt wherever and however I meet them. I share communion with Asian Christians at church. I meet them on the job and in social situations. I’ve met too many nice Asian men and women to give into any blanket racist attitudes about them all. I can’t help but try to talk to them as individuals and treat them the way they treat me. On an individual level, I’ve had very few problems.

            Yet the behavior I see on the trains is appalling. Asian men are THE LAST ones to yield their seat to a pregnant or old woman or to someone who is infirm. I’ve stood in front of rows of guys, sometimes of differing backgrounds on a packed train, and if I do get a seat, it’s usually a white man, followed by a brother, who stands up. Not the Asian dudes.  Somehow, they overlook my belly or the fact that I might be shifting from one leg to the other uncomfortably, and they go right on texting, scrolling through their iPods, reading or napping.

Yet I’ve seen attractive blondes get seats, when these guys do get up. Who knows why, but it’s amusing!

I think that on most occasions, men follow the traditional pecking order for respecting women in public: be nicest to the women you want to sleep with. In America, that means young blondes, followed by a host of other types of women. Unfortunately, black women are treated like they are invisible, for the purposes of public courtesy, or in the case of that idiot, singled out for savage treatment. I have NEVER seen a white, Hispanic or Asian woman treated like that black woman was.

With such a blatant lack of respect from men in other cultures, it’s kind of easy to see how black women might be hurt by one of the nice black guys having someone on his arm who is not one of us. Hopefully, this is just a bad year for commuting, and this kind of behavior will be over soon enough.

Meanwhile, maybe black women can take solace in the fact that often enough, guys will behave in a civil way in public and that plenty of successful black men have secured a wife who is more than a Bergdorf blonde and status symbol. As a matter of fact, here is a brief roll call: Forest Whitaker, New York Governor David Paterson and Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Why Should I Care If He Loves Her?

This post is going to be split into two parts, probably running over two days, depending on how late I feel like staying up.  These days, I feel myself gravitating toward a stricter daily regiment to accommodate some exercise, a full day’s work interrupted only by doctor appointments, chores at home and a full night’s sleep. Ah, motherhood: bring it!   

Two separate incidents, both of which happened on Wednesday, prompted me to think about why some black women get so upset about black men who intermarry. We don’t all do it, but let’s be honest: for some black women, the thought of a polished and accomplished black man loving, cherishing and bestowing all of his worldly goods on a white woman makes us see red.

Let me start with Part I. Somehow, during the course of my workday, I needed to check up on Harold Ford, Jr., the former congressman from Tennessee who made an unsuccessful run for a Senate seat two years ago. He comes from a prominent political family and until last April, was one of America’s most eligible bachelors – at least in the political circles.

            Well, his bride is Emily Threlkeld, an obvious cutie who caught his eye, kept his attention and if she hasn’t already done so, will most likely quit her job at Caroline Herrera to keep his house and provide more Ford heirs. Sorry to be cynical, but isn’t that the eventual outcome for women who marry guys like Ford? Even Michelle Obama and Silda Spitzer, the latter being the wife of disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, with their Ivy League law degrees and six-figure, influential careers stepped off of those tracks to support their husbands’ political careers. No offense to young Emily, but in the grand scheme of things, her job for a fashion brand is far less important than what Michelle or Silda did for a living. Their careers were high powered, whereas Emily’s is high gloss.

            At any rate, they got married last April and there was a round of griping from southern Blacks who were inevitably peeved at his choice. Not to mention the rumors about her being a beard and all. (It’s I good thing I was too tired to read all about that). I didn’t have to read far past headlines or lead paragraphs to get the gist of their arguments: Ford’s choice was a slight against black women, he’s not black enough, blah, blah.  I’m not here to talk about the latter, but I do want to ask readers about the former.

            I have noticed that successful black men on Ford’s level have a tendency to marry white women. That’s called choosing a trophy wife and it’s not unusual. All things being equal, meaning that his chosen bride is smart, industrious and is a nice person on some level, what else would you expect from a guy in a prominent political family with aspirations for national office? Although the preference for marrying only for love has been around for ages, we all have to admit that in elite circles, there is an element of convenience and propriety in a lot of marriages, and when you are a guy like Harold Ford, Jr., black or white, you are thrown together with women whose families might be well-connected in business, society or politics – or all three. If the woman lacks those connections, then at least she is well-to-do and has the looks to play the part. Knowing the history of this country, she will very likely be white or a very light-skinned black woman. Maybe that’s the source of black women’s angst. When an accomplished man does not choose a black woman as his wife, then maybe it’s a reminder of the ways in which mainstream American society has shut us out, or more importantly, how hard it would be for us to get an equal footing in American society and not always suffer as the underdog. I guess if I dwelt on things in that way, seeing a black man with a white woman would sting a little.

            Even so, I don’t see why anyone should get upset, feel slighted, pushed aside, dumped on, betrayed or what have you. Only if she were an outright ding-dong would I look at him with the face: ‘What in the blazes do you see in her?’ Any black woman who decides to take Harold Ford, Jr.’s marriage as a personal affront should ask herself: was he yours first? Did Emily conjure any hussy charms to work on him just as he was about to pick out your ring and your house? And are you willing to put up with the Tennessee heat and that boatload of Ford family drama? If the answer is no then settle down, already. And look at the bright side: if he gets back into mainstream politics as governor of Tennessee or Senator or whatever and makes a complete and public ass of himself, it will be her – not you – who has to stand there with a smile plastered on her overly made up face to conceal the previous sleepless, emotional nights. She, not you, will draw the looks of sympathy as she watches her husband make a semi-contrite canned speech about how he’s ashamed of his actions and now pleads for all to respect his family’s privacy.  She will be the subject of post-modern feminist essays on why, in this day and age, women keep falling back into the traditional role of the good wife, even when her husband has behaved like a scoundrel. And you won’t have to be the one who plays – for the whole country to gawk at – the role of the sassy black woman who backs her man into a corner for a tongue-lashing the whole neighborhood can hear!  And let’s not even talk about how you’d keep the news cameras from filming you as you turn all of his belongings into a raging inferno.

Is This a Mirage or What?

I have never studied psychology (although in my family, the practice could prove itself to be quite useful), so I’m not sure if what I’m about to describe has been codified or not. Lately, I’ve been seeing more BW/WM or WM/non-black male couples in the street, and I’m wondering if it’s because I’m more aware of the subject because I talk about it on this blog. If anyone has made a study of this sort of thing and can come up with a name for ‘invoking examples of a reality after discussing the topic’, then I’d like to know. I wonder if this is happening because these couplings are becoming more frequent, or because I’ve noticed it more. If it’s the former, then a sociologist might find that interesting. If it’s the latter, then maybe it’s happening because I’m blogging about the subject. (Almost like the time I caught a caucasian then-boyfriend looking as Asian porn Web sites and gave him a really hard time about it. After that, it seemed to me like the city’s streets were strewn with white guys who were either hand holding, married to or burbing babies with Asian women — or looking to do so.) 

These couples are not doing anything special. They are just waiting on subway platforms or navigating dense rush-hour crowds in downtown Manhattan. Or angling their digital cameras through holes in the fence surrounding the WTC construction site, as their biracial kids waiting patiently in their strollers. I will say that I noticed these folks during particularly hot days, when the Northeast was in the grip of an icky heat wave. So, it could all just have been a series of heat-induced hallucinations.