Baby’s Most Important Connection Yet

My in-laws live almost 900 miles away from New Jersey, tucked in a two-story log cabin-style house in the foothills of the Appalachian mountain range, the part that touches the Deep South. We see them twice a year, yet my daughter has always known their faces and been familiar with them, thanks to the miracle of Skype. Hubby would carry her over to his desk when she was just weeks old, and hold her up to the camera while he chatted with his family.

This weekly Skype ritual is an extension of my in-laws’ already well-established habit of calling each other every week, to talk about … whatever. OK, it’s mostly their sharply opposing political views. (Sometimes the arguing gets to the point where I wish this family would just take up sports.)

Now it is my family’s turn to reach out and touch someone. I placed a Skype call to my mother the other day, mainly so that Baby could get an up close visual of the maternal grandmother that she doesn’t know, and whom she has been asking about lately. After Baby broke the ice in her usual manner of parading her favorite stuffed animals, they settled in for an hour to talk about school, church and extra-curricular activities. Baby even tried to show her grandmother a few of her acrobatic moves.

It was a nice little video call, and there might be many more. What my mother doesn’t know is that we already semi-regularly call my father in Canada. My daughter and Hubby get on the phone with him, and it’s a funny thing to hear this gruff-voiced Jamaican man patiently draw his shy grand-daughter into conversation.

The Skype call with my mother was a relief. I really started to feel that my daughter was losing her connection with her Jamaican and Black heritage. As it is, she doesn’t identify as Black, and barely has a concept of what it means to be mixed. She’s probably thinking, ‘Mixed with what?’ Most of the time she sees her white relatives, and I’m the exception in the mix, the one likely explanation for her tightly curly hair and dark coloring. I’ve explained over and over that her ‘Black’ grandparents are from Jamaica, but I think that without personal contact, it’s all just abstract in her mind. I do have loving and supporting cousins who live about an hour’s drive from us, and we make efforts to get together and stay in touch. In the back of my mind I always hope that Baby knows she belongs as much with them as she does with me. I think it’s important for her to understand all of she is, with careful emphasis on her Black heritage. In these United States, where the dominant culture doesn’t always celebrate her type of beauty or see as much value in her as it would her white cousins, it can be disheartening after a while. She might be tempted to respond in ways that won’t ultimately have a healthy outcome. Maybe she’ll want to change her appearance, in an attempt to go along and get along. I want her to have positive things to hold onto from my side, so that no one can make her feel less than.

All this keeping in touch is a novelty for my family. My mother, father and I have never been a family unit in any sense of the word. My parents never married and went their separate ways right after I was born. I’ve met the guy twice in my life, the first was during a long weekend, when I was seven and my mother brought me to Toronto to see him. He sat me on his lap and held my hands in his as he steered the car. He had a smooth voice back then, and maybe a short afro. The second meeting happened when I was seven months pregnant with my daughter. I rode the Amtrak for 12 hours from New York to Toronto. While the passengers disembarked the train, I noticed him right away on the crowded platform. It wasn’t because I remembered his face. He was the handsome older man smiling broadly and practically stepping over other people to get to me.

There was an opportunity, when I was pre-school aged and living in Jamaica, for me to get acquainted with my oldest half brother. But my family snuffed out that idea rather quickly.

All this distance is symbolic of the ongoing estrangement from both my parents: In my father’s case, I barely know him, because my family kept him away when I was growing up. As for my mother, it is because we have a relationship that I would call touch and go. I know that as time passes people get more and more set in their ways.

So here is to important baby steps in bridging chasms and repairing breaches. I just hope that for the sake of helping my child develop a solid sense of her identity, my parents can get over their hangups and keep making those important connections.

 

 

 

Marshana’s New Real-Life Interracial Boo?

Some women might give up on interracial love if she had a bad experience, particularly if the relationship ended in a public breakup — and I mean a nationally televised rejection like what you see on “The Bachelor.” That’s what happened to Marshana Ritchie, one of the women competing for the attention of Matthew Grant on the “London Calling” cycle of the farce TV dating reality show. Marshana, who is Black, was cut before the hometown dates, which I doubt had anything to do with him hesitating to introduce her to his white parents and brother. The Bachelor is from England, and anyone who is familiar with that country knows that mixed couples, even ones where the woman is Black, are frequent.

Well, Marshana is taking another chance at televised interracial love, in a new BravoTV “unscripted” series called “Friends to Lovers.” I did a double take on her new boo, Stephan, who looks mixed to me. I’m not sure exactly how to place his background, but I think I see a phenotype other than strictly Black in his face, complexion and even his body build.  Anyway, check out a snippet from the show here:

http://www.bravotv.com/friends-to-lovers/season-1/videos/friends-to-lovers-show-me-you-know-me?clip=2834900

When she was on The Bachelor, I Googled Marshana, and she turned out to be a far more interesting person than she was portrayed on the show. She won some kind of contest or pageant, where she represented an environmentalist group. Think Miss America and a Miss Greenpeace, only a lot more charming on the latter part. She created a blog about appearances that she was making around Portland, the Pacific Northwest and other states, educating people about ecologically sound ways to live.

So we’ll see how this pans out for Marshana. She seems smart, and more substantial than a lot of reality dating contestants, so many of whom pursue acting careers after their Unscripted” dramas wrap up. Hopefully, she’ll find happiness when the cameras stop rolling, too!

What do you think? Would you get back in the saddle and cross over again after a failed interracial relationship?

Sex and Living Single, In Accra

A few months ago a friend of mine texted me a link to a Web series, “An African City,” a scripted Web series that followed the lives of five West African women returnees. They strive to manage successful careers, balance cultural traditions with “First World” sensibilities, and of course, look for love.

I’m looking for more episodes of this series, so I hope the creators bring us a second season! The first 10 episodes were entertaining, if a little derivative of familiar TV series like “Living Single” and “Sex and the City.” My favorite character in the series so far — the outfits. Truly, the costume designer/wardrobe manager is keeping these ladies in some fine threads, and everyone looks great. To me, the epitome of style and fashion is to blend traditional prints with cutting-edge lines, a la Clara Design.

The characters leave a little to be desired, and that’s probably because the writer-director has to leave room for external and internal conflict. A character’s flaws and failings are what drive stories forward. It’s just that the flaws in these characters — like why the always seem to be offended by local customs and local men — don’t seem to make a lot of sense. For instance, in the opening scene of the first episode, NaNa Yaa takes great offense to being mistaken for a foreigner by a customs agent. She indignantly rolls her eyes at him, insisting that she is Ghanaian — yet she doesn’t speak the native language, not even enough to be passably conversant. She is rusty on essential etiquette, like passing objects with your right hand only, not your left. What else is a busy customs agent with common sense supposed to think, except that she might be an Black native of England, Canada, the U.S. or Jamaica?

And that’s pretty much the way the series works. The ladies meet up in trendy restaurants all over Accra and decry the latest affront to their feminist First World sensibilities. It just seems like the characters flew back to Ghana but never really mentally left the big cities abroad. Yes, water and electricity interruptions are aggravating. I drink lots of water. Plus, I wear my hair natural (under my wigs, ha ha) and I can’t imagine not letting a steamy shower help moisturize my hair at night. But during Ep. 9, “#TeamSade, #TeamN’gozi,” three of the women are at a social dinner with highly placed government officials, and they brought oppressive attitudes with them the whole time. Ultimately, storming off and barking at their friend to follow seemed less about empowerment and more about being self-centered and spoiled.

Many of the characters’ flaws and baffling contradictions were all on display in that episode. For instance, let’s look at:

N’gozi: She is a Christian, and I appreciate that she is counted among the group. A lot of West Africans identify as Believers. But why was she written to be so vapid and whiny? I know few Christian women who are as angst-ridden as she is, or who let her harridan “friends” boss her around so much. Also, why do the characters have to heap so much scorn on N’gozi for practicing abstinence and vegetarianism? The former lifestyle choice isn’t a ridiculous one, particularly given the high HIV infection rate in Africa. Isn’t abstinence just another wise option for a woman “empowered” top make choices for the good of her body and her health? Also, N’gozi is not a proselytizing nuisance. She is a conscientious employer, reluctant to keep her driver idling while she goes about her whims about town with her friends. It just seems like the writer is expressing a bias against piety and self-restraint, and it comes through in the form of  a tolerance deficit on the part of her friends.

Sade: I thought educated, resourceful women didn’t need to trade sex for material goods. Had Sade practiced her Accra lifestyle in Massachusetts, she would have been labeled a gold digger a long time ago.

And yet, if a new season is created and posted, I’ll be watching and looking for the same things everyone else wants. Bring on the killer fashions, the beat hair and flawless makeup, and don’t forget the cute guys. I just hope the show’s creators remembers flesh out the characters in a way that makes more rational sense. Return the returnees!

Don’t Look Now, but He’s Flirting

It’s holiday party time, and the Singletons are decking the halls, and themselves; they are gifting and mingling. I came across a childhood friend’s social media update, where she mentioned that she suspected a White guy at work was flirting with her. She said it was the oddest thing, because she hadn’t experienced anything like that before.

jourdan

Well, actually, it probably has happened to her before. I’ve known that young lady for years, and she has always been beautiful inside and out. She, her mother and her sister are all cut from the same fine, luxurious, beautiful fabric. In any case, I suggested that it had happened before, but she was just noticing it because men outside our race are being bolder about stepping to us.

Dating and flirtation have always been potentially treacherous undertakings for men and women, fraught with the dangers of misread intentions, fumbles and deflating rejections. But it seems like you hear more stories these days about White guys wanting to approach with Black women, and asking how he can get her attention. I’ve had front-row seats to the spectacle of really handsome White guys trying and failing to get the attention of Black women. Only to be totally overlooked, like she didn’t know he was there.

And the objects of their attention aren’t strictly the Mowry twins type, either. These are slim, professional, articulate and desirable Black women. And did I mention that they include the types with dark skin and short hair? Men of all cultures have always openly admired world-class women like Lupita N’yongo, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross. But for us commoners, the admiration has been less obvious.

In my case, it was a mixed bag. There was one guy who seemed supremely confident, which is attractive in and of itself, and never held back. He flirted so much that people in the office thought for sure that we were dating, even though we weren’t. And then there was the super subtle one who kept offering to make me popcorn. I think he might have been trying to break the ice in his own way. But who knows?

Ladies, here is the point: Be aware, and be polite! If you want to date, and aren’t averse to being immersed in someone else’s way of life for a spell, then pay attention to what’s going on around you. If he isn’t your cup of tea, so be it. Just be cognizant of things that are happening around you.

Let’s Be Authentic While Bucking Propaganda

Can we have a quick “family conversation?” Good. I was making my usual rounds on social media when I came across a couple of IGs featuring young Black fathers with their daughters. Needless to say, the girls were super cute. But the posts, like the one below, went slightly off track in their description.

I might have written a caption that said, “Big up Daddy!” Or, “A father and his princesses.” But to be totally honest, this one left me feeling like I was on the receiving end of propaganda, as it was written.

It was a feeling similar to the one you had in college, when one of the “conscious” brothers tried to flatter you by calling you a “Nubian Queen.” Or some other kind of royalty. Can we all agree that most Black people in North America are likely to be descended from the Ashanti, Igbo, and other West African tribes, and not the Nubian region? And also that the first wave of African slaves who came to regions like Louisiana (cough: ‘Look it up, Raven. No excuses!’) were not all snatched from their royal courts by malevolent European slavers.

The intentions are noble, and the sentiment is sweet, but scenes like this don’t dominate Black life. When looking at the state of Black men in America, the shockingly high rates of kids being raised by single parents (mostly mothers), and the state of children and of Black families, it’s clear that this is an aspirational representation of Black fatherhood. Many more fall short of this ideal. Of course this doesn’t mean we should never publish heartwarming and positive images of committed Black fathers when we find them. The Huxtables are alive and well in many enclaves of Black affluence. But we need to be realistic, and acknowledge that the markers of well-being that would get Black men to that photo are not being met in big numbers. I also want to be fair and point out that the fact sheet linked above indicates that blatant racism and economic disenfranchisement is still an obstacle for solid, stand up Black men.

Let me also point out that nobody beats up on Black men in my house. Despite what misogynist trolls tell themselves and their delusional lemmings about Black women dating out, I didn’t get into this relationship because I was running away from Black men, or had given up on them. Or that none of them would have me. This has never been about bashing Black men.

And it didn’t take a recent rash of unjustified, brutal and cold-blooded killings of unarmed Black men to bring out my respect for Black men. I’ve always regarded Black men as grown adults who should be able to take criticism as well as praise. I’m not pitying or coddling Black men, because the good ones don’t need pandering, hovering mama types to give the world the impression that Black men do no wrong.

Either way you look at it, we have flaws that need to be fixed, not sugar coated. I agree with seeing positive images like this in the media, but be authentic about it. We need to take a step back, and with an attitude of love and goodwill, endeavor to get the vast majority of Black men back to this level. The Huxtables haven’t gone away. They’re just a little harder to reach than they’ve been in the past.