A Jealous-ly Guarded Future

This week’s edition of The Economist features a must-read about the challenges ahead for the new president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Benjamin Jealous, and I agree with their assessment: A generational divide is causing friction between the advocacy group and their younger constituents, making the organization seem ineffective. Personally, I think that if the NAACP cannot make room for new ideas, along with time-tested methods of taking up our cause, then it renders them incapable of bringing radical change to black society.

I highlighted Mr. Jealous in today’s post because of his parentage and a few other interesting reasons. His mother is black, apparently, and his father is white. Besides, he’s a kindred spirit, sort of, having been a reporter. He was also a Rhodes scholar. I also think it is important for biracial children to have a robust list of heroes to emulate, aside from entertainers and athletes.

Back to Jealous’ work. One has to admit to a fracture in the black community. You have the list of grievances that says institutional racism drives a lot of the inequalities that eventually diminish the quality of our lives. They have to be confronted and rooted out, and any corrective measures that were put in place when racist practices deprived blacks of social, educational, labor and professional advancement, should be vigilantly protected. On the other hand, you have blacks who believe so ardently in self-determination and self-reliance that they’ll argue vehemently against any whiff of governmental intervention to set wrongs right.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I will never agree that we should abandon, say, affirmative action programs, because they correct generations of horrendous wrongs inflicted on blacks, and anyone else guilty of association with us. But one would have to be willfully blind not to see that blacks were deliberately singled out, and told, as James Baldwin put it “with brutal clarity”, that we were worthless human beings. Being barred from labor unions, universities and certain jobs ensured unemployment or humiliating underemployment for a whole generation of blacks. Call it reverse affirmative action. Call it racism. Call it whatever you like. It’s wrong. I recently saw a press picture in a newspaper of a wall in Spain, scrawled with the words: ‘Unemployment is humiliation’. Well, imagine the oppressive humiliation that a generation of black men had to suffer when they were deprived of education and work that was worthy of their abilities. When, in some cases, they couldn’t provide for their families. Just because of their race.

Giving one race preferential treatment for attainment of any kind is shaky policy, and the sheer presumption that blacks always need an extended hand from a guardian government to achieve in life is pandering. But at the end of the day, I say that human nature is in a constant struggle between good and evil. For all our enlightenment, we would repeat depravities like the Middle Passage in a heartbeat. When people are purged of vicious racist tendencies, then we can declare the patient cured, remove the affirmative action crutch and move on with our lives. 

424px-bentoddjealousfamily1In the meantime, I like to enjoy simple pleasures in life. Just look at his endearing photo of his beautiful family. His wife is a professor of constitutional law at Santa Clara University, and their daughter Morgan is an absolute beauty! (If I may say so, Morgan and my daughter share a few resemblances. The voluminous curly hair, the almond eyes and the dimples. Like Morgan, Baby gets her dimples from her mother.) Look at how loving they all are. It is the ideal picture of an African-American family.  

Let’s hope that Mr. Jealous has a successful administration. Listen to his vision. Support him fully where we agree and be respectful where we disagree.

OK, You Can Have a Peek

happy-feetNormally, I wouldn’t consider putting a photo of Baby on this blog. It’s too soon to put her on display so publicly. And Hubby would get upset. But a picture of nondescript little feet during sponge bath time might be OK, I think. 

I was fortunate to get this picture. Early on, Baby detested diaper changes and bath times, and protested vehemently. She howled. Her arms flailed and pin-wheeled. She arched her back and thrashed around to escape. It seemed like all she wanted to do was sleep and eat. Actually, in her first four weeks, that probably is all that she ever wanted to do. 

Nowadays, Baby loves diaper time. And gym time on her activity mat. And time in her swing, and everything that she does at the baby sitter’s place. As for bath times, she is getting used to it more and more. Why just last week, I believe she gave me a half smile while I washed her tummy!

When people see her from time to time, they remark about how ‘big’ she is, and I am usually taken aback. Big? But she can still fit on my lap and in my arms.

circle-bassinet3And then a week and a half ago, when some of her teeny adorable outfits no longer fit comfortably, I began to understand what they meant. I took a second look at my daughter (my daughter!!!) and noticed that she was plumper and longer. Her body had more heft. I had to adjust her Bjorn carrier, and her feet began to protrude from the edge of her car seat. She has almost outgrown her bassinet, which means she’ll have to sleep in her comfy crib in her nursery overnight — away from us! This morning she drank an ounce of pear juice, and the doctor says I can start her on rice cereal tomorrow. Little Baby is growing. Next thing you know, I wailed to a co-worker via email, she’ll scramble out of my arms, into a car and off to college.  I get so sentimental at these thoughts that I almost cry. It’s silly I know. But the thought of her growing up and going away one day just chokes me up. 

Oh well. Those events are years and years away. In the meantime, there are solid foods, scrapes and cuts to be washed, torn clothes to be mended, school plays, homework drama, the Dark Years of tween and teen drama and finally high school graduation. 

My daughter is growing. But for now, she still can’t roll over, so I get to enjoy her little laughs and massive smiles and she gets her daily dose of one hundred kisses.

Smug Singletons

The salvo of emails stacked up in my “inbox” cocktailsfaster than I could read them. “Helene Got Engaged — Let’s Go for Drinks!”*  One after another, each member of my work group (about a dozen of us edit three magazines and a Web site) weighed in with increasing wit and irreverence. Giselle offered to come dressed like the groom on the wedding cake. Someone else demanded that we go to a bar that served stiff drinks. It seemed that no one could agree on a single day for a tamer, more respectable celebration, like a lunch. What made me chime in on all the hubbub, finally, was the proposal that we all go to a local bar right after work:

“Because we’re all here now,” said one editor. 

“Yes, but that excludes the working mom who has to get on a train back to New Jersey. Not enough notice, if I’m to be a part of this.”  

My argument fell on deaf ears, although it mattered little in the end, because an immediate jaunt out to a local bar didn’t seem to strike everyone as the best idea. But it was for their own reasons, not because the only person in our group with a baby at home needed more notice before socializing after work. One by one the crowd thinned out as people left to go home, or go on dates or whatever it was they had planned. I returned to my computer and checked my personal email account. I pulled up an invite for a local networking event for young professionals – it was being held at a funky new coffee bar a few doors down from my hair salon.  I hatched a quick plan: I would go home, breast feed baby, change her, cuddle for a bit and get her settled with Hubby, then walk in for a touch-up at the salon. Afterward, I could walk into the networking event all professionally done up! Now, this was my speed. Alas, when I double checked the date and start time for the event, my plan seemed improbable. It started at 9 p.m., that night.

They’ve done it again!  Those smug singletons have failed to give everyone — and by everyone I mean young married people with babies who don’t see why their careers and social lives ought to be abandoned on account of having a baby — ample notice before staging of a social/networking event that seemed inviting. 

If I were single, I might still have wanted a couple of days’ notice before taking that celebratory trip after work with my co-workers. That’s because as a single person living off of an associate editor or senior writer’s salary, I wouldn’t have dreamt of paying Manhattan prices for a little studio! It’s chic to be solvent. And as for that networking event for young professionals — it’s fine that it began at 9 p.m. My city is trying to pull off a transformation of its downtown, and it makes sense for professional networking events to be staged on an up-and-coming trendy street after work hours. But less than one days’ notice? Not enough anymore, I’m afraid. 

I think my attitude has some cultural underpinnings. Black women have always had to balance work and child rearing, mainly because their families needed the extra income. I have to make an effort to count on more than one hand the number of black women that I know who are stay-at-home moms. Obviously they exist, but the numbers are very small. For a lot of black women, choosing to continue working after having children is a luxury. And anyway, I’m from a very matriarchal family, where the women are always on the move in one way or another. When the winter weather breaks, I envision popping Baby into her Bjorn carrier and bringing her along to just about all of our outings to cultural and civic events in the future! 

Anyway, that evening, I went home with a tentative plan to nurse Baby, change her, get her settled with Hubby and take off for the networking event. Maybe one hour of glad-handing and passing my business cards around would do. Instead, Baby worked her charms on me and we ended up doing several rounds of tummy time and singing nursery rhymes until she was tired out. Considering that I hadn’t seen her during most of the day while I was at work, I think it was time well spent.  

Ah well, I guess these things can wait until after she is six months old, and her diet is more varied beyond breast milk. But after that — shape up, Smug Singletons! There are working moms who want to stay in the game and get ahead!

 

 

* Actual life events have been changed to protect the privacy of smug singletons.

It Was a Very Good Day

stvalentine-bouquet2Ladies and gentlemen gather ’round, gather ’round. This is a first-time event in the history of my relationship with Hubby. Red roses on St. Valentine’s Day! What a treat. I think I’ve mentioned before that Hubby doesn’t go for lots of fluff or marketing-driven pursuits like St. Valentine’s Day. This year was an exception, at least in terms of the flowers. In past years, Hubby has gotten me, for St. Valentine’s Day, fantastic gifts like a leather jacket, a Motorola Razr and nice dinners out. Hubby is not a superficial person. Nor is he a spendthrift or sugar daddy, so these gifts sort of underscored how he feels about me. It’s nice to know that he’d stretch himself past his curmudgeonly parameters to get me colorful, fun gifts on such a holiday.

For singletons, there are other major signs that a guy is into you. Perhaps playing off of the feature film “He’s Just Not That Into You” and St. Valentine’s Day, the editors of Betty Confidential dropped this fun list into my mailbox. Sending the opposite message as the one in the film and book, it gives women six telltale signs that a guy is interested. Whether it is scientific or not, I cannot tell, but #2 made me laugh!  I knew Hubby was serious about me when set aside his abhorrence for national retail monoliths and willingly came along with me to Target. And Costco!  The list makes for fun reading — so enjoy!

And Happy belated Valentine’s Day!

Nowhere to Hide From Unsavory Guys

chris-brown

The images flickering on my television and the news reader’s words seemed out sync. There was a clip of Rihanna twirling a staff during a dance number in a music video, while the newsman said something about Chris Brown having been arrested and Rihanna hospitalized.
I immediately thought that the two, who have been dating for some time, were involved into a car crash. Maybe Brown was arrested for reckless driving or driving under the influence. But as the details of this situation unfolded the next day, it began to look like Chris Brown was under allegations of domestic violence, that he apparently beat Rihanna so badly that her injuries had to be treated at a hospital. As far as I know, there has not been any solid confirmation that the woman Chris Brown allegedly beat up was Rihanna. But all available evidence point to that conclusion. 

This is tragic. A successful, handsome young black man with a promising future might very well have thrown his life away because of a violent temper. Worse still, yet another woman — and a black woman at that — had to suffer physical brutality at the hands of a husband or boyfriend. I decided not to read all of the news accounts of Brown’s alleged rough treatment toward his girlfriend, because I felt like doing that would have made me really angry. Instead, I mourned the loss of any hope for the hip hop and R&B genre of music. Not only is the music becoming more and more vapid and trifling, but a lot of these stars seem to think that the only way to exist, much less excel on that music scene is to be a whore or a thug. With his talent, charm, smile and wholesome handsomeness, Chris Brown had as pure an image as one could have on that scene. Who knew he was capable of beating a woman so severely that she had to be hospitalized. And I cannot accept the argument that the music scene turned him into that kind of monster. If the allegations turn out to be true, then this young man would have shown us that he is capable of terrible violence. Even if he were a regular, workaday guy, he might one day be arrested for beating his girlfriend or wife. Horrible. 

The only other “good man” left in the genre with the same prominence, charm and appeal  is Usher. And he better not lay a hand on his wife, because she looks like she would hit back. Hard. 

If this were a one-track-minded blog, this is the point at which I would launch into a poorly worded diatribe about the evils of worshipping black male celebrity figures. If this were a blog that actively encourages black women to consider dating outside their race, among other forms of empowerment, I might carry on about how horrible it is that the health and safety of yet another black woman was sacrificed, just so that she could continue in a relationship approved of by the black community. If this were a “Go Get Yours, Girl!” type blog, I might go so far as to say that Rihanna should have stuck with former sweetheart, Josh Hartnett, who would never have done this. 

christianbaleI might say all of that, but for the complication of Christian Bale. He is a rich and famous actor who is beginning to get a reputation as a hot head, unfortunately. Apparently, he was part a major ruckus involving his mother and sister, which got so heated that the police were called. No charges of battery or domestic violence were filed, if I remember reading all those stories correctly. More recently, celebrity news outlets ran a story saying that he lost his temper with a production worker on the set of the latest “Terminator” film. Question: For the Terminator film, is Bale playing one of the evil unfeeling robots from the future? I’m just saying … if he has a nasty temper … it might be a comfortable role for him. If it is true, then there goes the argument that black women like Rihanna might have been better off with a white guy. 

Readers, I hope you don’t need me to tell you this, but in case you do, here goes: Never let a man beat you or heap verbal abuse on you. Whether it’s a black man’s fist or a white man’s full-blast obscenities, abuse is abuse, and you shouldn’t tolerate it. At least hit him back if he does hit you. If he cannot learn his lesson, will not reform and cannot bring himself to treat you with respect, then you need to leave him alone and move on to a better life.

Let’s all pray for Rihanna’s speedy recovery, and that young Mr. Brown reforms and redeems himself before becoming this generation’s Ike Turner.

Making it Work

bridal-cup

This is the Bridal Cup of Nuremburg. It is a wine goblet designed to allow a couple to drink from it at the same time. The lady’s skirt serves as the main cup, and when you turn it upside down to fill it up, the bowl that she’s holding over her head swivels, allowing the second drinker to share in the experience. Hubby and I got married in Jamaica, a location that was perfect for its obvious beauty, but also because my family is originally from Jamaica. In an effort to incorporate Hubby’s German background, I found and purchased this cup.  Not only does it look like a showstopper, but it has an endearing back story, too. 

Centuries ago in Nuremberg, a noble lady named Kunigunde fell in love with a goldsmith. Kunigunde’s wealthy father did not approve of this match, but she rejected all other suitors. The nobleman even imprisoned the goldsmith and watched Kunigunde pine away for her true love. The wealthy nobleman finally said he would allow his daughter to marry the goldsmith if he could make a cup from which two people could drink at the same time without spilling any wine. The skillful goldsmith, inspired by love, created his masterpiece. He sculpted a girl with a smile as beautiful as his own true love’s. Her skirt was hollowed to serve as a cup. Her raised arms served as a bucket that swivels so that it could be filled and then swung towards a second drinker. Having done the impossible, the goldsmith was finally permitted to marry the nobleman’s daughter and the Bridal Cup became a romantic and memorable wedding tradition. — from First Dance Impressions.com

I asked my cousin Len to tell the story at our wedding reception, and when he did, he said the couple had to “come up with a system”, to overcome obstacles and make their relationship successful. 
Readers, a marriage is built on a promise to stay. There are no guarantees of prosperity, perfect health, model children or domestic felicity each and every day until death parts you. When we make promises in other areas of our lives, we go about figuring out how, exactly, to get to the end, right? The commitment to “come up with a system” is critical if you want to turn your fledgling relationships into something your grandchildren envy. In fact, the whole reason I started reading blogs about interracial relationships was because Hubby and I were arguing a lot at one point, and I wondered if our different cultural backgrounds had something to do with it. Hoping to find some insight about it, I went looking around online. What I realized was that although some things about our upbringings did influence our marriage — it was normal! All families have different traditions, personalities and leanings that might make bringing a stranger into it somewhat challenging.

Since Hubby and I have been married less than five years, I won’t presume to give anyone advice about marriage. But I am an insightful person, and a pretty solid judge of character. I’ve learned several important lessons in the last five years.

Don’t run away from arguments. Choose your battles, and when you do argue, come up with and stick to humane rules of engagement. Momentary anger is not an excuse to be plain mean and hit below the belt. Remember, you love that person and want them to enjoy your company for years to come. (Men have an especially hard time with this one, sorry. They fervently believe that a wife’s raison d’etre is to be a stabilizing force during their inexplicable mood swings and beastly social behavior.)

‘Listen’ is an action word. It involves thinking about what your beloved has just said to you – whether at full blast or a soft tone – and making any and all reasonable changes to behavior that had them slamming their head against the wall in the first place. 

Take an anniversary night to relive your engagement and wedding. I’m not suggesting that you recreate wedding planning drama with an expensive, time-consuming recommitment ceremony. Simply look through your wedding photo albums and remember all the highlights of that day. Read all the greeting cards that came in from your friends and family congratulating you and telling you both how lucky you are. And laugh out loud – I mean beat your kitchen table – about all the things that went wrong. 

Be selective about your confidantes. Now that you’re married, restrict complaining about your relationship to either very wise single people, or other married friends. I’m very serious about this one. Your relationship is not tabloid fodder, but if you play fast and loose with the details of your money and sex problems (heaven forbid that the two are related), then your business will become so warped that by the time it comes back to you, you’ll think the speaker is recounting an episode of “Gossip Girls”. Or “Cops”.     

Keep writing the story. Stay on top of scrapbooks and photo albums. You can get a real kick out of fun times, and going back to look at your handiwork can help calm your mood on tempestuous days.