No, Not That Rice

susanriceWhen I read about Dr. Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, I rested the newspaper on my lap and started to sort out my emotions. She is impressive. Her educational credentials are second to none, with an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a graduate degree in international relations from Oxford University. Dr. Rice is also a Rhodes Scholar. And how coincidental is it, I thought at the time, that she shares a surname and Stanford alum status with Condoleeza Rice, another admirable and influential black woman?

Anyway, it’s much more important — for the purposes of this blog — that Dr. Rice has intermarried. Her husband is Ian Cameron, a Canadian and executive producer of ABC News’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”.

How exhausting it was to read about her many accomplishments! Especially when I’m over here working full time, nursing an infant, trying to put my bad relationship with my mother on the back burner and trying to be a wife and big sister to a teenage girl sometimes leave me feeling exhausted. And let’s not factor in expectations from my family and friends to produce a novel. (Yeah, I’ll just work on that instead of sleeping!)

Where in the world did she and does she get the energy to be so accomplished?! And then I decided that it doesn’t matter. We all do whatever we can. So long as we are productive members of society and are good to our families, I think we can be satisfied with ourselves.

susan-ian-maris Let us skip all the debate about whether there are any conflicts of interest here, that a senior administration official is married to a high-level media executive for one of the most popular political news shows currently on the air. And don’t even read the nasty Internet comments about how hard it is to tell whether the ‘Northeastern elites’ are intermarried, because so few of them (including yours truly, although I’m not one of the elites) change their surnames after marriage. I hope this beautiful family (I think she has a son, not pictured here) gets all the health, affection and happiness that they can manage to hold in their arms.

Guess Who’s Not Welcome at Dinner?

I was an avid moviegoer when I was single and childless. Having well-rounded interests in cinematic storytelling, my tastes put me somewhere between art house goon and chick flick junkie. Movies about cross-cultural romance, of course, make my list of must-sees — but only for sheer entertainment purposes. With the exception of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” I generally don’t like stories that deliberately try to convey some sort of noble message about cross-cultural romance. They come across as bland, preachy and pandering somehow. To me, all a director has to do to make a quality film about interracial romance is to focus on the strengths, weaknesses and complexities of each character, and make the story about something bigger, not just the couple. 

Two recent films “The Family that Preys” and “Lakeview Terrace” each embed the issue of interracial romance inside stories with bigger themes. I picked up and watched both last week, and here is what I think. 

Tyler Perry wrote and directed “The Family that Preys”, a glossy, big-budget soap opera that follows the business and personal sagas of two interconnected Atlanta families — one white and one black — over four years. The interracial ‘romance’ is actually, in this case, a tawdry extramarital hookup between Andrea (Sanaa Lathan), a sneering iceberg and William (Cole Hauser), the lecherous mercenary in line to inherit his mother’s commercial real estate development firm. The story doesn’t explain why Andrea and William are attracted to each other in the first place, or how their four-year affair happened, during which they supposedly have a son together. Or why, given the boy’s mixed parentage, her husband remained clueless about her betrayal. Or why Chris, the Ultimate Good Black Man, loves her. 

But here is my biggest problem with Tyler Perry’s movie: He chose to portray an interracial romance as a shady, slave-row romp by two despicable characters. He seems to visit extreme and harsh punishments on Andrea for being with a white man. If you’re familiar with Tyler Perry’s stage plays and feature films, you’ll notice that his plots are allegorical and he has a tendency toward preachy dialogue. His characters are either avatars of good or evil, stripped of the complexity or dynamism that comes from being human, making mistakes and still journeying on. Andrea is just another extreme character, at bat for The Baddies. Except for her beauty, there is nothing likeable about this woman. She sneers at her husband, mother and sister. She supposedly is Harvard educated but is naive enough to believe that good ol’ boy William is going to leave his blond trophy wife to marry her and set up a comfortable domestic life for her and their out-of-wedlock son. And she foolishly decides to conceal sugar daddy money from William in an account at the same bank where she keeps a joint account with her husband. Dumb, right? Is Perry trying to say that any black woman who allows a white man to romance her is nothing more than a sniping, delusional, trifling heifer, dumb as a box of rocks and who deserves to get back-slapped across a countertop and then reduced to living in a crappy apartment after her good black man dumps her?

Perhaps Perry was trying to convey a different message with this subplot. Maybe the Andrea-William story line was merely an allegory about the dangers of greed and reckless disregard for other people’s feelings. And true, not every interracial romance is carried on by good people with noble motives.  Still, there is something about that plot that rubs me the wrong way.  I saw “Preys” after watching “Madea’s Family Reunion”. That movie’s version of Cruella handed her young daughter over to her child rapist of a husband, and by the end of the movie, she got the makings of a touching reconciliation with the daughter that she allowed to be violated!! But a black woman in a consenting adult relationship with a white man? Smack down!!  

This is a great ensemble cast, each of whom does a respectable job, despite the preposterous script and dead-on-arrival dialogue. Watch it especially for the interactions between Alfre Woodard, who plays Andrea’s straight-laced mom, and Charlotte Cartwright, played with irresistible zest by Cathy Bates. Actually, Bates and Woodard are the best things about this movie, but other than that, wait until it comes out on HBO.

** Major coincidence among Lathan, Taraji P. Henson and Woodard. Not only is Woodard’s husband white, but they all starred together in a much more merciful movie involving interracial romance, the romantic comedy “Something New”. Woodard cracked me up during the dinner scene when she became hysterical with joy at the prospect of her daughter (played by Lathan) marrying Blair Underwood’s character. (Now c’mon. Who would object to that?)  

I’ll talk about “Lakeview Terrace” in my next post, because this one has run long enough.

Magnificent Measha

measha-markus2This is why I am loathe to throw away any old issue of Essence magazine. I pulled out the May 2008 edition hoping to show my hair stylist an example of a cut and style that I wanted, and while flipping past a feature of Laila Ali and an interesting makeover spread, came across a one-page feature on Canadian classical soprano Measha Brueggergosman.

If you like classical and operatic music, then you’ve probably heard of Measha. Perhaps you’ve even seen her in concert. Sorry to say this, but I had not heard of her before reading that article, despite the fact that I do like classical music and I did enjoy my one excursion to an opera, to see Carmen. After reading about her in Essence, I did a little searching and found out all kinds of things about her in various magazine profiles, like this one from Toronto Life. This black Canadian woman can trace her lineage all the way back to a runaway African slave from America. She is a global citizen, having lived in places like Germany. She is a committed Christian, something that I’ve always thought was irreconcilable with the pressures of international stardom, but whatever. But one of my favorite things about her is her appearance. She seems to be very tall and physically striking, as well as beautiful, and look at that lioness’ corona of a hairdo! 

Oh, and her husband is a Swiss dude named Markus, which is one reason that I’ve mentioned her here. It’s strange, but I found out all sorts of things about this woman, but had to do at least two Internet searches on this internationally famous singer before scrounging up one measly photo of her with her hubby.  One!

Anyway, they look like a cute couple.  As Measha soars to newer heights with her craft, I hope they enjoy a long and happy life together. And maybe a couple of kids??

The Supermoms

garcelle-jaid-jax1I consider myself, because of my slightly advanced age, a mature mom. How can I help but see it that way, when kids that I used to help with their homework have had their kids before I had Baby?  In speaking about her own experience as a mature mother, Garcelle said she feels more grounded and sweats the small stuff a lot less. That might be the case, but I can’t imagine anything ‘small’ about carrying twins in two arms like that. Just the sight of this picture makes me break out into a mild sweat and reach for a tall glass of cool water. Do you suppose she has hydraulic lift systems in her biceps or something? 

My other major question is: does Garcelle breast feed her sons? If so, then maybe she could pass on some advice to women like me on how to work full time and nourish your child without feeling completely zapped. Let me explain something about breast feeding, people: it unites women like nothing else. Women from all walks of life are bound to be either prolific producers, or have to work a bit harder (like me) in order to keep up with their little ones.  We pass along advice and encouragements across all lines of race, nationality and creed. 

In my case, I fear that I might have gotten off on the wrong foot with Baby, and that I’m paying the price for it now. You see , my milk did not come in until the fifth day after her birth, so I began supplementing with bottle-fed formula. Hey, I didn’t want to starve my poor child on account of some heroic attempt to get her through the first six months without a drop of man-made stuff!  Well, in week two, she got nipple confusion, and a half day’s worth of drama ensued, as I worked to re-establish a steady nursing routine. It was tough, but I dropped bottles and formula completely for at least two months — until I had to get back to work. 

Folks, that is when the real workout began. I sling a hefty Medela electric pump onto my shoulders and commute back and forth between downtown Manhattan five days a week. I try to pump at least twice a day at the office, but that task is long and arduous, because — the girls don’t respond to breast pumps that well. I don’t know what it is, and believe me, I’ve prowled the La Leche League Web site for answers. The pump will allow me to express the first 2 or 3 ounces without a problem, maybe even 4 ounces. But then, I have to unscrew the pump from the bottle and hand express the rest, usually a bottle full, in order to really empty out and ensure adequate supply for the next day’s meals. 

I tell you, folks. Breast feeding while working full time is hard. I used to shake my head at women who quit working to stay home after having their children, thinking: you’re not a bad or absent or detached mother for working. Go ahead and get that paycheck and benefits package!  Well, those intrepid thoughts are nowhere to be found when I find myself in a windowless room hunched over a plastic bottle and basically wringing myself out. 

It’s madness, people, absolute madness. So everytime I think: &^%$#! Time to unhook from the pump and start squeezing, I take heart that if Garcelle can pump two armloads of cutie iron, then I can hang in there for Baby’s sake.

A Different Way to Worship

Church life can be tough for Christians like me — the serial joiner types. We see an area of ministry that doesn’t have enough volunteer staff, feel bad that others have to pull double duty to keep things running smoothly and we lend a hand. Next thing you know, we’ve signed up for four ministries and spend enough time at church and church-related events to constitute part-time work hours. It can be exhausting. 

That’s why when my church, a nondenominational megachurch in North Jersey, announced plans to spin off a ‘daughter’ church in Newark, N.J., I breathed a sigh of … trepidation. I couldn’t help but feel anxious about what would be expected of me if I decided to become a founding member of that church. I’ve done that before. About 18 years ago, Mary’s husband left his main church to launch a daughter church, which began with services in downtown Newark, coincidentally. I hesitated to leave the main church when they left, joining months later, because the first few years of a church’s existence are transient and potentially exhausting. You have to set up a worship sanctuary, complete with rows of folding chairs and kneeling pillows for prayer, before each service and pull down the whole thing afterward — all within a rigid time slot. The church leaders are constantly trying to find a permanent home, and because many cities are loathe to relinquish prime real estate and potential property tax revenue to a charitable organization like a church, the certificate of occupancy and permitting process can be long, discouraging and rancorous. Much is demanded of the congregants, too, not the least of which is money. Many times, people put off buying houses, taking trips or financing other big plans to donate the money to a building fund drive. And by the way, those building fund drives never really end. 

Yet on Saturday morning, I peeled myself away from my adorable newborn daughter, got dressed and drove to my church for an informational breakfast meeting about the church planting. What I heard  was somewhat comforting. The church launch process takes two years, during which time the spinoff organization shares the main church’s 501(c)(3) designation while it’s application for its own designation is processed. The church leaders get extensive training, as to the founding members, so the initial separation is less jarring for the fledgling church. The members are also allowed, and encouraged to continue to participate in the main church’s marquee events, like conferences, concerts and trips.

Yet I couldn’t shake memories of the first church planting that I had been through, or the insular church community in which I grew up. Don’t get me wrong: I think I was brought up well, but I noticed that, at least in my case, family life always took a back seat to church life. Birthdays often were upstaged by church conventions. My mother didn’t make a lot of time in her life for trips abroad, unless they were piggybacked onto a church bus trip. Every spare financial resource was earmarked for the church. Weekends were harried, because after a day of domestic chores on Saturdays, we sometimes went to services at other sister churches in South Jersey, Delaware or New York state. We did this for at least two Saturdays out of the month, only to get home late and get up early on Sunday morning to make dinner preparations. During my early to mid-twenties, this routine wore me out along with the demands of my job at a daily newspaper. It also didn’t help that most of my fellow church members worked such jobs as accountants, nurses, teachers or computer techies.  No one else worked as a full-time journalist, so they couldn’t relate to my long, unpredictable hours or the need, an increasingly pressing need in my case, to be less insular and be keenly aware of relevant and interesting things going on around me, to spend after-work hours networking, so that I could generate good stories and move up on my publications. Eventually, feeling like a fish out of water, I left the church.

Yet because I am a committed Christian, I had to find another place that would nurture me and not tax my strength, physically.  Sometimes I tell Hubby: Italian immigrants come here and open restaurants. Jamaican immigrants come here and open churches’. Instead of laughing like he’s supposed to, Hubby points out, in his peck sniff intellectual way, that it must have been Italian Roman Catholic immigrants who built all those lovely cathedrals in urban places like Newark. My point is that church life is often indispensible for Caribbean immigrants. The only trouble with that was my church community was very, very insular. Young people, especially girls, were often discouraged from going away to college. I am one of only a handful of people from my childhood church who went away to college. Many others commuted to Rutgers in Newark. Yet even when we attended colleges within driving distance, The very idea of attaining college and post-graduate degrees was looked upon with wariness, out of our parents’ and church elders’ fears that we would turn our backs on them and their values. Of course, you had many rebels who drifted far away from the regimented lifestyle that the church demanded, but for the most part, a lot of people maintained very close ties with the church. 

I often see differences in the way Hubby and I approach faith and church life. If his family does belong to a denomination, it is lapsed Baptist, with the exception of his mother. Hubby has got a hearty skepticism about organized religion, and I tease him because he’s just now getting around to blessing the food in a decent way. Whenever I bring him to a service at my childhood church, he looks on in subtle amazement at the jubilant worship style, and he will later express true white boy appreciation for our music: upbeat ska delivered by an organ, rythm guitar, bass and drums. 

 I don’t think I’ll repeat my mother’s or my elder’s choices for myself and my family. I want to cherish time with my daughter (and other kids, if I’m so lucky) during her infant, toddler and childhood years, which everyone tells me are very fleeting. My goal is to be there for as many breast feedings, walks, games, recitals, trips and parties as possible. As much as it will pain me to see her go one day, Baby has got to spread her wings and venture out into the world. That’s the only way she’ll blossom into a self-assured, solid woman, and if I do my job well, she’ll enjoy coming around to see me and tell me about her eventful life. 

I wish my fellow Christians well, because I believe their motives are sincere. The homeless, destitute, forgotten and abused of Newark are about to get another strong champion for their cause. But in those early years of establishing the church, while the congregants are bustin’ Newark sod, I’d rather watch my daughter take her first steps, speak her first words and throw her first fistful of spaghetti across the kitchen.