One Test We Cannot Afford to Fail

Ever since I got the typical trappings of middle-class, married life—the house, the cars and the kids—I’ve been more pre-occupied with money. How do I acquire enough of it to live comfortably while giving to charity, saving for various future expenses and investing? Apparently, there is a trade group out there that is interested in how much Americans know about money, and whether we are savvy enough to make the right moves concerning our finances. Judging by the results of their survey, we are way too ignorant on this subject. Read ’em and weep, folks.

Although the survey pool was controlled to represent all demographics in the United States, it got me to thinking about Black women in particular. More than any other group, I think, we need to be sharp about money matters. Most of us are single, and are raising children, too. Who’s going to be there to ensure that we enjoy comfortable and dignified retirement years?  I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that before we can each craft our individual plans for the future, we need to know where we currently stand.

Americans Nearly Flunk Financial Literacy Test – FOXBusinesscom

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Around the World on Christmas Day

Our house is going to be buzzing with activity today, as Hubby and I host the Christmas feast. Our family is multi-cultural, with Jamaican immigrants and second-generation Americans on my side and the two white guys who were brave enough to marry into our raucous clan. There is Hubby, of Scottish and German descent and my cousin Melinda’s husband Jeff, who is French-Canadian. With all of these influences, our Christmas dinner will be a culinary tour of the Commonwealth and Europe, plus whatever else this adventurous lot can conjure up. We are roasting two Long Island ducks, seven pounds of ribs and brewing about a gallon of sorrel. Aunt Mary is bringing escovitched fish, and her daughter Nia is baking a beer-marinated ham. Melinda is bringing roasted veggies and egg nog. Oh! And Aunt Mary is also bringing black cake. (This feast is going to exact a steep short-term price, i.e. serious gym and purging rituals.)

And because I had to be all Type-A about things, we’re skipping the stocking stuffers. Instead, we’ll be putting treats into Victorian-esque paper cones and hanging them from a seven-foot balsa tree. Each cone will be stamped with a guest’s name on it, so they can pick through the boughs, probably while balancing Melinda’s egg nog, to find their cone.

I can count up to five interracial marriages in my family (including extended family), and all involving the women. As far as I know, all the married men in my family chose black women as wives. Strangely, I don’t think that trend makes us special. I’ve never seriously asked myself why that has happened. Perhaps I feel really comfortable about our cultural makeup, because I’m used to being in very diverse social surroundings. I’ve lived in Northern New Jersey almost my whole life, and here  you can’t move this way or that without practically tripping over people from far afield. It’s practically Queens over here! Naturally, all of these people living, working and playing right next to each other will occasionally intermarry. It would be more unusual—and suspect to some—if cross-cultural pairings rarely or never happened.

Well, Hubby and Jeff fit right into our family. Melinda and Jeff have such an irreverent zest for life that I call them Mad-and-Cap. And Hubby’s first-child seriousness foils my spacey only-child tendencies (a long story for another blog). And our family loves both of these guys, so Melinda and I had better take good care of them! Today we’ll underscore our domestic felicity with a relaxing Christmas dinner over fine china laden with goodies of every kind. And then we’ll dissolve into generally silly and uproarious behavior. Merry Christmas everyone. I’ll try to post another couple of entertaining updates to get you through the rest of this holiday season.

She Has Gone Home Satisfied

If you watched President Barack Obama deliver his election night victory speech, you might remember the story he told about Mrs. Ann Nixon Cooper, an African-American centenarian who lived through vast changes in American history, and who notably lived to vote in an election wherein a Black (and biracial) man was a very strong contender for the office. She lived to see a Black man elected president of the United States! This cannot be understated, because this was the same country that for much of her youth had withheld her basic human rights. I am always impressed with people of Mrs. Cooper’s generation, who endured many hardships, but did not allow themselves to be destroyed by the kind of racial hatred that was directed at them for so long. It sounds like she was one of those people who left this world better than they found it. Mrs. Cooper and others like her had to fight to get American society to recognize their inalienable rights, but it was worth it. She lived to see America grow and change. I hope that by the time she died, she was more heartened than distressed by what she saw in modern American society, and that she felt we were ever more enlightened.

In his words, President Obama issued this statement on Tuesday about the passing of Mrs. Ann Nixon Cooper:

“Michelle and I wish to express our deepest condolences on the passing of Mrs. Ann Nixon Cooper. From her beginnings in Shelbyville and Nashville, Tennessee to her many years as a pillar of the Atlanta community, Ann lived a life of service. Whether it was helping to found the Girls Club for African American Youth, serving on the board of directors for the Gate City Nursery, working as a tutor at Ebenezer Baptist Church or registering voters, Ann had a broad and lasting impact on her community.  I also understand that as a wife, mother and grandmother, Ann was a source of strength for her entire family, and that she always put them first.

Over the course of her extraordinary 107 years, Ann saw both the brightest lights of our nation’s history and some of its darkest hours as well. It is especially meaningful for me that she lived to cast a vote on Election Day 2008, and it was a deep honor for me to mark her life in the speech I delivered that night. It was a life that captured the spirit of community and change and progress that is at the heart of the American experience; a life that inspired – and will continue to inspire – me in the years to come. During this time of sadness, Michelle and I offer our deepest condolences to all who loved Ann Nixon Cooper. But even as we mourn her loss, we will also be rejoicing in all that she meant for her family, her community, and so many Americans.”

As the Decade Turns

It’s holiday party time. Black cocktail dress? Check. Strappy heels? Got ’em. Stylishly warm coat? You bet!  Engaging conversation topics?  Well …

That’s not always so easy. I think these festivities can get trite and tiresome pretty quickly, unless you think on your feet, or you are a very quirky person and are prone to say things that turn people’s heads. Before you head out for this year’s holiday party circuit, let’s take a look back at some of the major stories that caught my attention while tending the Latte Cafe. Not all of these stories highlight intermarriage and cross-cultural dating involving black women. But they are worth noting, because they touch on race and black culture, and ought to be discussed among black women. While holding an egg nog or a mock-tail, depending on your taste.

1. November 2008—Change Has Come! The election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, a black (and biracial) man as U.S. president was a moment that an entire generation of black Americans never thought would come. Their viewpoint is legitimate, considering all of the racial prejudice and attendant injustices that their generation had to endure. Jim Crow laws, segregation, cronyism, fraternalism in trade unions and a host of other factors conspired against blacks to render them unable to reach their potential either individually or collectively. Thankfully this man teamed up with his advisors and close friends to be a game changer of political campaigns. He played the rules differently and figured out a way to get around all the wily little tricks that would otherwise have ended his candidacy.

2. October 2009—Keith Bardwell, a former justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, made headlines when he refused to grant an interracial couple a marriage license. The couple was made up of a black man and a white woman, but it could have easily been the other way around. That a siting judge in these modern times was willing to go on the record with his views about why interracial marriages should not happen was incredible enough, but he topped that by saying he opposed those unions for the sake of the offspring. Yep. He eventually resigned from the bench.

3. October 2009 — “Good Hair,” the documentary film by Chris Rock opened in theaters nationwide. Everyone knows what this was about. Just walk into a party attended by sisters from a range of backgrounds, walk up to one of them and say something like: ‘Wow, you have really good hair!’ That should get things going. We discussed the movie briefly in a related post.

4. July 2009 — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested outside his own home in Cambridge, Mass. For all his trouble, he got a beer at the White House with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. If I get pulled over and harassed outside my house, can I go shoe shopping with First Lady Michelle Obama?

5. February 2009 — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. remains a nation of cowards when it comes to openly discussing issues of race. I heartily agree with him on this point. Even within my interracial marriage, Hubby and I rarely delve into the topic of race. There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is that Hubby has often taken political and social discussions way too seriously and has gone off the deep end with the things that have come out of his mouth. (At some point in our courtship, I put an end to political discussions full stop. Now he inflicts his curmudgeonly populist, anti-corporate America rants on his conservative Republican brothers and parents.) And I’ve noticed that even so-called enlightened, progressive left-leaning white Americans will sometimes bury their heads in the sand on this issue.  They’ll shrug and say things like ‘race doesn’t matter any more’, or ‘we’ve come a long way.’ Ha! Not far enough. (And you can ask Mr. Gates about how ‘far’ we’ve come on that issue.) No matter how sophisticated and superficially integrated our society becomes, we cannot outrun our basic human nature, which compels us to group ourselves into tribes and ascribe superiority or inferiority to others, depending on how much like us they are. Holder was right: we need to discuss race in open and healthy ways. If we don’t acknowledge the subject of race head on and maintain well-adjusted attitudes about our differences, then little slights and minor situations will compound and escalate until they explode. We try to man up on the subject of race round here, and I thank Mr. Holder for challenging all other Americans to do the same.

Hot on the Trail of History

A local political firestorm is brewing in New York City over the possible nomination of Mylan Denerstein, a high-powered lawyer in the New York attorney general’s office, as commissioner of the New York City fire department. The tabloids say that she is on a short list of candidates, but faces a heated uphill battle for the job. Apparently some people don’t like the fact that Denerstein has never been a fire fighter, or smoke eater, in New York lingo. The bigger issue is how a black woman will effectively run a department in which only 3% of the force is black and a pathetic 0.29% are women, if I’ve done the math right. If she does get appointed as commissioner, she will be the first black woman to hold that post. That’s quite a task ahead of her. But as a Brooklyn resident who was a federal prosecutor, it doesn’t sound like Denerstein is afraid of a challenge. (By the way, I never buy The New York Post. Too much trashy reporting on its pages. Tonight’s copy was lying around in the train station on my way home, so I picked it up.)

Since this is the Latte Cafe, and we like to acknowledge people’s mixed backgrounds, let’s set at least one thing straight. Denerstein is obviously biracial. You can say she’s black, because those features dominate her appearance, but don’t stop there. Acknowledge the other half of the woman’s heritage. Apparently, her mother is black and her father is (presumably) white and Jewish. If Denerstein is the right fit for the job and she wants the post, let’s wish her great success in the next phase of her career.

What if Your Prince is Not Black?

At my station in life, I would have to conjure up a reason to go see “The Princess and the Frog.” There are no girls in our house who are at the age to appreciate the movie, because my little sister is 16, and Baby is only 13 months. But I am curious about how Disney will treat this retelling of the classic fairy tale. Judging my the trailers and the clips, it looks like a fun and entertaining film.

There are many ways to look at this, starting with the interracial romance in the story. I hadn’t checked out all of the marketing for the movie before my friend from work told me that the prince turns out to be Creole (or something else, but definitely not black). I know that black love diehards will take that one personally, thinking that Hollywood just can’t give black couples a chance to shine. Dang! They will be heartily offended that black men were slighted and rejected in favor of some off-black dude who spent a huge chunk of his life as a slimy, swamp-running frog. No doubt they will ask whether the makers of this movie subconsciously are telling little black girls that they shouldn’t hope for a black prince of their very own.

I would hope that wouldn’t happen, but in this age of short news cycles, this movie has been on the marketing circuit long enough for every imaginable subtext to be sliced, diced and analyzed to death.

Although it’s hard for me to get seriously worked up about that sort of thing, I do think the movie reflects a vast change in American attitudes about our diverse ethnic heritage. New Orleans, with its music, food, and history, counts as our most culturally exotic city. Mixed marriages are more commonplace there and it figures that the makers of “The Princess and the Frog” would tap into that heritage to create a home-grown couple. That they did it for a major feature film with broad distribution all over the U.S. says that Americans are more willing to openly acknowledge and embrace our cultural past than they ever have been. Little white girls and little black girls who are friends can go and see this movie together and root for Tiana and the prince to beat all the odds and get together. And then they can proceed to argue over which one of them has the bigger crush in Prince Naveen and should be his girlfriend, or something sweetly juvenile like that.

Grown black women (especially here, at Latte Cafe) might see the mixed match as symbolic: it is possible to have everything in life, except the IBM, the ideal black man. You can be educated, accomplished, well-connected and even be a princess. But it’s a fact of life that you might not get to share all of this with a black man. Thousands upon thousands of black women everywhere from all walks of life are single. What if your match is from a different church, state, social class, culture, nation or race? If you cross paths with this man, are you going to turn away, looking past him like he’s a lower creature or will you slow down, give him the time of day and have a nice dinner or coffee or what have you? One thing that always amuses me, even these days, is how oblivious many black women are to the admirations of a guy who is not black. Not leering, admiring. Some of these guys will go so far as to try to draw you into a conversation, only to be overlooked. They’re white, not translucent! Pay attention. You might not end up with the carriage and royal title per se, but you could very well end up with more down-to-earth trappings of happiness, like a house, a baby and year after year of happy memories.

Well, maybe all this discussion is unnecessary. It is just a movie right? Well, no. Movies are products of our culture, reflections of our societies, and this one means something to a lot of people. These things should be discussed in open and healthy ways. But first see the movie for what it is, laugh-out-loud entertainment. I say take your daughter, niece, goddaughter or whomever, buy her a nice dinner with a milkshake, laugh at that ‘gator, tap your toes to the music and have a great night.

A Class Act

The latter part of this video, in which President Barack Obama toasted his mother during the Nobel banquet almost moved me to tears. It’s really wonderful to have a president that I can be proud of, again, after such a drought of inspiration at the turn of this century. Honestly, I cringed a little when the Nobel committee decided to award Obama the prize, because I felt like it was too soon and he would come under a barrage of criticism. Many Americans believe that he does not deserve the honor, so one can imagine all the cynical remarks that would be shot his way. I just can’t it gracefully or with maturity when people criticize him. And haven’t a few Peace Prize laureates soon after been, you know, sent to meet their makers? Why accelerate this man’s life when we just got him?! But I find his reaction and his humility in accepting the prize to be signs of real class, and a testament to his depth of character. I know he’ll endeavor to shape his life in the mold of what the Nobel Peace Prize represents, and he will live up to it. I just don’t want anyone beat, jail or martyr him ever, okay?

Also, I don’t want to take away from the fact that the evening was about him, but First Lady Michelle Obama was stunning!  I liked her gown on the spot, and that’s not usually the case with her fashion choices for functions on the world stage. Everything was perfect: the color, fabric and fit. I loved the sparkly shoulder straps, would love to have arms like that, and her hair and jewelry harmonized with everything perfectly.  If I haven’t said this ad nauseum, I’ll say it again: Between the brains, the accomplishments, her daughters and her beauty, she’s a role model for us all.

Where to Soak Up the (Diverse) Culture

Life is definitely more savory when you live in a relatively progressive state like New Jersey. Having lived in north New Jersey my whole life almost, I’ve met people from many different ethnic and social backgrounds. You’ll find many different combinations of interracial marriages here. It’s so common that Hubby and I barely turn heads anymore. Or maybe I’ve stopped noticing. Either way, I like having access to places with a rich cultural mix. That brings me to the Ironbound, a thriving neighborhood in the east section of Newark. Traditionally, the Ironbound is known as a Portuguese and Brazilian neighborhood. It’s one of my favorite places to hang out, with its blend of cosmopolitan bistros and old-fashioned European-style dessert shops. In this video clip, you’ll see a shot of Mompou (1:29), where my friends and I gathered for my 35th birthday dinner. The main artery of the neighborhood, Ferry Street, is loaded with beautiful stores, including a chic European baby’s clothing boutique where I spent a lot of money on Baby’s christening gown. Hubby loves the place. There is a great fish store, Mexican restaurant and wine shop. He says the vibe in the Ironbound reminds him of some of the little European towns he remembers from the part of his childhood that his family spent in Italy. His family lived in Milan, I think, for seven years, so they saw a lot of Spain and other parts of Europe.

And while it seems like the handful of Portuguese families that dominate the business landscape there are still pillars of the community, the central American is steadily increasing. It suggests the neighborhood is about to undergo a substantial cultural change. I do hope the Portuguese maintain their stronghold, to be honest. Much of the Ironbound is well-kept, the bigger families and business owners bring in a lot of money, maintain a cohesive business community and they do a lot to promote the Ironbound brand, making the neighborhood a great place to kick back and enjoy a night out. During the sultry days of summer the merchants put on a week long cultural celebration called Portugal Day. One Christmas season, the local business association piped Christmas carols through outdoor sound systems, creating a fantastic atmosphere for strolling and shopping.

Another great thing about the Ironbound: the people there are used to being in diverse surroundings, especially the Brazilians, whose native country really is a cultural melting pot. Hubby and I never got lingering stares or glares while having dinner or shopping in that district, and nowadays we barely register a glance from passersby.

Uncomfortable Bargains

I love to browse for books at Amazon, and lately I’ve been spending a lot more time on that Web site, pining about the Kindle digital reader. I gotta have a Kindle! Whether it’s a Christmas or birthday present to myself, I’m getting one. And when I get that reader, I will probably load up on books by African-American authors, as well as the classics and modern-day must reads, of course.

On the way to my latest rendezvous with the Kindle testimonial videos, I came across a preview of “Wench”, a first novel by established published short fiction writer Dolen Perkins Valdez. The synopsis is intriguing: it follows the developments of friendships between enslaved black women and the White men who keep them as mistresses, as these “couples” meet at a resort in Ohio every summer. Weird. Plain weird, but it sounds too good to pass up. Personally, I can’t imagine myself making that kind of a bargain, even under tough circumstances. If a white plantation owner did have a tortured selfish case of half love for me, I still wouldn’t be okay with him bringing me to a free state, using me and bring me back to the backward deep South in chains!! Ugh. I’d have to take my chances on the underground railroad or something.

This can’t be anything close to love, even in its most complicated form. This is an uncomfortable bargain that these black women made with themselves and their bodies as a form of survival. But it sounds like one of these women wants to break out, and that’s when a lot of these issues blow up. I’m with her on this issue. I look forward to reading it. First in print and then … on my Kindle!

Poor Behavior

Michaele Salahi, wife of businessman Tareq Salahi is right about one thing concerning this party crasher mess. Whoever shows up at a White House state dinner uninvited displays an incredible amount of audacity and ‘poor behavior’. What I disagree with is the notion that they have a great amount of respect for President Barack Obama and his administration.  By all accounts from highly placed people with access to documents and emails, they were not supposed to be at that state dinner. Why are they contradicting that fact so vehemently, going so far as to appear on national television to add further confusion to the situation? You have White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs saying that they were not on any guest list at the White House for the event. Another credible source, for now it seems, is Michele S. Jones, special assistant to the Secretary of Defense and the Pentagon’s White House liaison. She emphatically denies telling them that it was okay for them to come to the event. Yet the Salahis sit there on television implying that everyone else is lying and that they had the right to walk into the White House and mingle with dignitaries as invited guests. You call that respect?

I don’t trust people who operate this way, who try to convince you that cold hard facts implying their guilt shouldn’t be believed. They say you should wait for more information to ‘come out’ and drastically change your perceptions about the situation at hand. What else is there to say about this? Either you have proof of your status as invited guests or you don’t.  Our Secret Service has been made to look like a fumbling night watchman’s service, which cannot even keep tacky gate crashers from touching the president. For goodness sake! This stunt the Salahis pulled just showed the whole world how vulnerable our president and first lady are to personal attacks.

So for the Salahis to get on TV and complain that their lives have been devastated and destroyed by all the rumors is grotesque. Here’s my opinion: They should stop thinking about themselves, their chances of appearing on “Real Housewives of D.C.” and how their memory of the night at the White  House has been ruined. Think about how worried Michelle Obama might be for the safety of her husband and her daughters. You can be sure that social secretary Desiree Rogers is in the hot seat, and that someone in the Secret Service will lose their job and see their reputation damaged after all this. Instead of letting their alliterate publicist foul up the media outlets with her ghastly written responses, have the elegance and breeding to prove your point silently and stop mugging for the cameras. This is a matter of our president’s safety, not your personal photo opportunity

Normally, I would embed a video or post a link to the source material related to my blog, but I don’t want to perpetuate this story too much on the Latte Cafe. And I think that Americans need to stop being so hung up on attaining fame and notoriety that we give air time to rude, classless people who came into the public light for this egregious form of trespassing.