Better Late Than Never!

It is Black History Month, readers, or it was. This year all of my best intentions to express some form of racial pride and civic awareness flew out the window, do you hear me? Although this is the 28th, which means Black History Month is gasping its last breath, I still want to give my two cents and talk about a couple of high-achieving Blacks whom you might want to remember.

How do you spell s-u-c-c-e-s-s?

Jody-Anne Maxwell. This young lady is from Kingston, Jamaica, the island where both my parents were born. At 12 years old, in 1998, Miss Maxwell won the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She became the first—and only—Black competitor to win the honor. Thirteen years later, Maxwell is a practicing attorney in Jamaica, a national hero for her country and a living piece of Black history. I was a general assignment reporter at my city’s newspaper when Miss Maxwell won that competition, and I was on shift the morning that the winners were announced in the paper. Unfortunately, our newspaper decided to run a photo of the local competitor, a young Caucasian girl. One of the readers, who happened to be an old friend of my mother’s, was livid when she saw the paper. She called up, and who should answer but little old me? I knew she was right: the logic of running the losing competitor’s photo, and none at all of the winner, did not stick. In previous years, the winners had been pictured. I was so embarrassed that my editors have committed such an obvious slight. In the future, I hope they decided to run a normal size photo of the winner and a small one of the local competitor.

A little hyberbole anyone?

Roi Ottley. He was a foreign correspondent, journalist and best-selling author of “New World A-Coming: Inside Black America.” He had a seriously accomplished career. Ottley was the first African-American journalist to be employed as a working war correspondent for a nationally known magazine and a major white daily newspaper. He later became a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and broadcasted reports for both the Columbia Broadcasting System and the British Broadcasting System. In 1943, he served as publicity director for the National CIO War Relief Committee. Of course, I had to try to highlight a writer! Read more about Ottley at:


Update: A Dangerous Truth Concealed

If you’re a New Yorker, or just like talking current affairs in Black communities, you know that Live Always pulled down a massive billboard in New York City’s SoHo section. It offended hordes of pro-choice, progressive people who thought it was wrong to put Black women on blast like that.

Although I don’t think Black women should be publicly hammered, I think this whole controversy says more about our inability to have a much-needed talk about Black women’s reproductive health. We have far too many abortions, as I stated before. The reasons could stem from economics or social isolation. Whatever the reasons are, we need to show women how to effectively deal with them, instead of telling women that it’s OK to destroy the pregnancy.

Abortions could have lasting effects, like scar tissue on the uterine wall that hinders future fertilized eggs from attaching. A cervix that starts to dilate prematurely during a later pregnancy.
Isn’t it better for a woman to delay a pregnancy (abstinence or birth control is up to the woman), or considet adoption than undergo a procedure with so many awful consequences? I think so.

Most of all, New Yorkers really surprised me with their shrill reactionary response to this. Apparently, they’re not ready to talk about it, either. One of these broadcast stories interviewed a guy, of all people, about this. Considering that loads of women abort because their relationship to a boyfriend or husband is shaky, I thought his pro-choice stance was ultimately self-serving.

I support women’s rights in all forms, but when we are talking about such extreme measures for manageable issues, it makes me pause.

A Dangerous Truth

Confronting a squeamish truthLike most Black women everywhere across the country, this story had me engrossed in the morning newspaper. An advocacy group called Life Always hung a three-story billboard on the side of a building in SoHo, New York City. It screams: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”  Unfortunately for us, this billboard does the job and tells the truth. We can squabble about what the real leading causes of mortality are among African-Americans. But facts—incontrovertible facts—push an uncomfortable truth right into our faces. Black women in this country have some of the highest abortion rates compared with women from other racial and ethnic groups. Take a look at some of these numbers from the Guttmacher Institute.

Eighteen percent of U.S. women obtaining abortions are teenagers; those aged 15-17 obtain 6% of all abortions, teens aged 18-19 obtain 11%, and teens under age 15 obtain 0.4%.

Women in their twenties account for more than half of all abortions; women aged 20–24 obtain 33% of all abortions, and women aged 25-29 obtain 24%.

Thirty percent of abortions occur to non-Hispanic black women, 36% to non-Hispanic white women, 25% to Hispanic women and 9% to women of other races.

Thirty-seven percent of women obtaining abortions identify as Protestant and 28% as Catholic.

Women who have never married and are not cohabiting account for 45% of all abortions.

About 61% of abortions are obtained by women who have one or more children.

Forty-two percent of women obtaining abortions have incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level ($10,830 for a single woman with no children).

Twenty-seven percent of women obtaining abortions have incomes between 100-199% of the federal poverty level.*

The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.

It says we are often unprepared for motherhood, or for an additional child, for one reason or another. If we took the time to get to the root cause of high abortion rates among Black women, then all of the peripheral comments that inevitably froth up at a time like this—about a woman’s choice, and how Christian groups should not force their opinions on others—will fall away. As they should. The real issue here is not whether a Christian group is crossing the line of decency and respect by publicly pointing out statistics. It should be: Why are so many Black women aborting their children? Where are the Black fathers and support systems to help her carry that responsibility? Are the support systems being strained beyond their capacity? Shouldn’t more Black women wait until they are educated and self-sufficient before getting pregnant?

I respect all sorts of family units. It is not my style to condemn anyone for not getting the ring, wedding, house and babies in that order with one man only until they die. Inevitably, well-meaning men and women on the street, bloggers, or whoever will say that no group should try to override a woman’s right to choose. My counter argument is this: Blacks are annihilating themselves with these rates of abortion.  If women want to be really empowered, wouldn’t it be better to try to make better choices about their lives leading up to the positive pregnancy test? Choose responsible, stand-up men as partners. Choose to avoid pregnancy for as long as it takes to get a degree, a comfortable apartment and money saved. After that, the way a woman chooses to structure her family unit is between her, the man and her Creator.

One last thing: African-Americans are not the first to have their abortion secrets aired publicly like that. India and China have had longstanding practices of discarding baby girls through infanticide and abortions, mainly due to cultural preferences for boys and population control. This has been discussed at length in documentaries, national newspapers, magazines and even dramatized on television. As societies, they had to talk about their ugly truths, and will be doing so for generations to come. Would it be so bad if Blacks shone a light on our own issues and cleaned house a bit?

You’ve probably seen the offending billboard by now. If not, here is a link: Metro – Uproar over abortion billboard.

Here We Go A-gain!


A snowy day for Jamaican pursuits.

I woke up this morning to see several inches of snow on the ground. And it is still coming down. Ugh! There is so much to do today, including driving to my aunt’s house and cooking curried chicken. I also want her to give me, if she consents, a sewing tutorial. She is an excellent seamstress, and I want to absorb a lot of what she knows. I wish I could sew proficiently. I think that if a set of curtains or a duvet needs to be altered, I should at least know how to do it myself, so that only the lack of time to do it myself would force me to bring those jobs to a dry cleaner/tailor. Years ago, I brought two sets of curtains, purchased from Target, to a local dry cleaner/tailor for altering. I thought he looked at me thinking: ‘Wow, this is really simple, but if you want to pay, I’ll do it.’ 🙂

Cooking and sewing are the two things that many well brought up Jamaican/Caribbean women can do, especially those who are in my aunt’s generation. In my 20s and 30s, I spent so much time trying to juggle expectations from family, church and editors that little time was left to slow down and really learn something like sewing. My life is still busy, but it doesn’t matter. Now that I also have a house and two growing girls, think it’s high time I advanced past stitching a crooked hem. LOL. We’ll see what happens.

Fertile Ground

She let me style it this morning.

Oh boy, dear readers. Look at this mane of hair! This morning I managed—just barely—to style Baby’s hair in a way that shows off her adorable face, and I did it without provoking an all-out battle. How does it look?

I can only show the top, because her dad is uneasy about her images being on the Internet. I think this shot shows just how lush and ample her new head of hair is, and how much work is ahead of me!

I tried and tried to get a 3/4 view shot from the back that would show off the twists (nicely done, if I might add), but which would conceal her face. I got one, but for whatever reason my computer keeps rotating the image. One would have to do neck contortions to see the photo, and I don’t think it’s worth it.

Although Baby has a beautiful head of hair, she wasn’t blessed with a mother who can pull off creative, intricate hair styles. Just enough to be presentable and neat. My strengths are reading children’s books in animated ways, coming up with cultural activities and devising art projects. Every now and then, though, the mood will hit and we’ll come up with something cute and neat. And I’ll share what I can without making her Dad irate with me!  😉

Bussing on Valentine’s Day

A buss is still a kiss ...

I remember being a brash youngster in the 1980s. Wherever my friends I gathered—be it in our parents’ living rooms or in the church’s fellowship hall—we would engage in raucous sessions when we took light-hearted jabs at each other. They were like roasts, and we called the whole thing “bussing.”  I think it’s spelled that way, but who’s really the authority on urban slang from the 1980s?

Decades later, my inner literary geek took a much larger role in my life, thankfully, and I’ve taken to checking the Web site frequently, for the word of the day. (I even have the app on my iPod touch.) Wouldn’t you know it, but Sunday’s word was “buss,” as in “to kiss.”

The word bridges cultures in an interesting way, I think. First the word “buss” develops somewhere along the line in the English language and then falls out of popular use. Then a bunch of Black kids from north Jersey resurrect it, only they use it to express the way they sometimes rag on each other.

When I explained the word to Hubby this morning, we had to share a smooch in honor of our favorite noun of the moment. (OK, so we are both word geeks. There are worse things to be in life!) It is also perfect for St. Valentine’s Day. For all of today, therefore, and maybe a while afterward, Hubby and I won’t kiss like almost everyone else. We’ll buss instead.

Black Like Mom

Making headlines on race and identity.

Ever notice that no matter how much cream or milk is added to coffee, we still call it coffee?  That’s probably why famous people of Black and mixed racial backgrounds often identify themselves as Black—with a little something extra. It’s a very simple, direct and efficient point of view to take in life.

It’s almost a non event, unless you are a Halle Berry, who is at the center of another media feeding frenzy. She appears on the cover of Ebony magazine’s March issue, in which she discusses her daughter’s racial identity, among other things. Here are a couple of quotes you’ll see splashed unkindly on the Web for the next few weeks. These come from The Daily News:

“I feel like she’s black,” the actress told the magazine. “I’m black and I’m her mother, and I believe in the one-drop theory,” Berry said, referencing the 20th-century law that classified anyone as black if they had any African ancestry. The “Frankie and Alice” star, who like her daughter is mixed-race, admitted to Ebony that Nahla will one day “have to decide” for herself how she wants to be labeled. “If you’re of multiple races, you have a different challenge, a unique challenge of embracing all of who you are but still finding a way to identify yourself, and I think that’s often hard for us to do,” she said.

It’s great that Ms. Berry has a direct definition of who her daughter is, while giving her child room to describe her identity in her own way. Berry not the first mother—Black, White or biracial—to do so. In fact, the actress once gave an interview, to a magazine, I think, where she described the grounding that her mother gave her. Her mom sat her down in front of  a mirror one day and explained that although she comes from a White mother, the world sees her as Black. And off you go!

I just updated a post about Paula Patton’s interview in the May 2010 issue of Ebony magazine, wherein she a similar “big talk” from her White mother, but from the perspective of the child, not the mom. You have to hand it to these White women who FULLY committed themselves to raising Black women who are absolutely clear about who they are. In Ms. Berry’s case, she is blessing her own child with that certainty. I haven’t come across any interviews where Ms. Patton addresses that for her son, but I assume he’ll be well-adjusted like his mom.

My those cheeks are Thicke!

Baby is going to get a similar education about her racial identity, but I’m taking a different approach than the Berrys and Pattons. My daughter will be taught that she is Black and bi-racial. With a lot of emphasis on Black first. In fact, when Baby was about four or five months old, I was holding her and chatting with a friend of mine. During a quiet pause, my friend looked at Baby, smiled meaningfully and said: “You a sister.”

And she’s right. Baby is a sister, with a little something extra, of course. She is a complete Daddy’s girl, so she won’t be willing to ignore her White background. She sees more of the White grandparents than my parents (totally their fault), so what’s she supposed to do? Just ignore her German last name and the cute overbite she gets from her White grandmother? She’ll also come of age in a society that has made a lot of room for blended racial identities and experiences. The federal government allows her to check more than one box on the Census if she likes, and I’m sure that she’ll have a lot of mixed-race playmates. These are all positive changes in society, and I hope kids like Nahla, and Baby enjoy all the best benefits from them.

Poor Christina

The Pittsburgh Steelers were ultimately defeated in last night’s Super Bowl game against the Green Bay Packers, but it was poor Christina Aguilera who took the real thrashing. The woman incurred the wrath of patriots and music fans alike when she flubbed our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. It is a notoriously difficult song, tripping up seasoned professionals and phenomenal young talent alike. In Christina’s case, she changed the wording of two lines, totally leaving out the bit about ramparts. I saw videos of her performance, as I’m sure the whole country has by now. After a couple of days, people will forgive her and remember that she attempted it respectfully, unlike a certain sitcom mom who grabbed her crotch and spat.

In the end, I don’t think it’s fair to expect ANYONE to surpass what Whitney Houston did at the Super Bowl in 1991. Good HEAVENS, that woman is blessed with a strong, distinctive, expressive, silvery, vibrant—and to most other singers in her peak—threatening. It is beyond words. Or was, if you are scrutinizing her post-recovery performances. I’m rooting for Whitney to regain her former glory. Even if she never, ever sings in concert or records another album, I just want her to be well again.

Hubby once told me that when Whitney Houston burst onto the pop music scene, he didn’t take her seriously as a singer, because she was too pretty. OK, Mr, Cynical. Ms. Houston woman KILLED this song. Twice. She set the high mark that others have to aim for, if they want to be remembered for performing it at all.

Jennifer Hudson did that, coming  a very, very close third (see below) in my eyes, because she gave the song a completely different quality and expression that will also be very hard for anyone to match. Beyonce—as much as I respect her—gets an honorable mention. Mariah Carey tore the roof off an arena when she performed it at an NBA game, but beyond that, I don’t remember any other performances of the Star-Spangled Banner. But I’m open to listening.

Oh, and for those who say Whitney’s Super Bowl rendition was pre-recorded, here is a video of a live performance during a concert to welcome home troops. Still massively impressive, and I think this version takes second.

So let Christina live this one down, America. Whitney owns this song and until another miraculous voice comes along, very little can be done about it. And you know what? I’ll set the example by not even posting links to any story, video or other content documenting her very human mistake.

But Is It Manageable?

After Easter, a fresh start.

Believe me readers, I meant no harm when I cut Baby’s hair last year. The idea was to even out the length and start afresh, after the front and sides had thinned out dramatically.

Now I have a feeling that Raven Locks and I are on the cusp of trauma, drama and melodrama on her journey with her hair. Since last Easter, my daughter has grown an afro so thick and black, that I can’t even see her scalp anymore. Now I have to employ several tactics if I want to get through a washing or styling session sans the all-out chase around our house—French Connection style—ending in a wrestling match, with her limbs swinging everywhere! I lay out some toys and books while detangling and combing, or put a dab of product into Baby’s chubby palm and let her rub it into her hair herself. Sometimes, I set her up to brush her teeth—she now has about 16—while I stand behind her and gently comb or brush the coils into smooth shiny loops.

Months ago, I thought I could resume putting in ponytail holders. Not so. She’s at the age where she knows how to remove them, and she has taken to putting them into her mouth. I suppose I really will have to wait until she is three years old to safely use them in her hair again without them posing a potential choking hazard. But waiting just delays the inevitable. At some point, I’ll have to figure out a way to manage her mane as it gets longer. And fuller.

It's almost as warm as a winter hat!

The upshot to all of this is that I didn’t have to do much to Baby’s hair while it grew back, and I expect future maintenance to be fairly easy. I used products from Curly Q specifically the Curlie Cutie Cleansing Cream, Coconut Dream Conditioner, Moist Curls Moisturizer and Curly Q Custard. I started with the sample kit and loved them all so much that I ordered all the full-sized components. At nights, I kept her hair moist and largely tangle-free with a light shea butter moisturizer cream from Cantu. I still maintain that routine these days, brushing or coming a dime-size amount into her hair before reading her a story and settling her into bed.

As I listen at her door as she drifts off, I know it’s just the calm before the storm in the morning when I’ll have to brush her hair again.