First-World Address, Third-World Problems

We were all shocked and grieved by recent news accounts of the death of Mary Spears, a 27-year-old Detroit mother of three who was shot, ultimately, because she turned down romantic advances from a stranger.

It’s a tragedy that tears at all our hearts, or should, not only because it was an unspeakable act of cruelty, but also because it’s an example of the kind of dangerous and backward existence so many Black women face in this country. Black women are routinely treated with moral depravity at the hands of Black men – the very ones who should defend them the most in our society. It is the kind of misogyny and casual violence that we associate with the rough and remote warlord territories of Afghanistan or the repressive regimes of the emirates.

Now here is my pandering and obligatory disclaimer, for the oversensitive types who will rush to pan this post as a Black male-bashing effort: I’m not bashing or vilifying Black men. Ms. Spears’ fiancé tried to intervene before the shooting happened, so clearly he is a shining example of: a Black man who deplores violence; a Black man who is responsible enough to marry his girlfriend and give three Black children a full-time, attentive and protective father; and a Black man who thinks Black women should be able to move through society without being harassed and threatened with bodily harm. 

Yet the late Ms. Spears’ fiancé is a figure whose job in Black society is hindered by the troublemakers, and we all know this. How many communities are in the grip of violence, which shaped the mentality of that shooting suspect? How many times have I complained on this blog about Black men who I encounter in public who become enraged when I don’t feel like making idle chit chat with them? Clearly the shooting suspect is unstable, but I’m not willing to brush it under the rug of mental instability, or slap a bandage of “hurt people hurt people” on the situation. He has no impulse control, no anger management abilities, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a psychiatric or clinical psychological assessment revealed a dangerous personality disorder. It’s unclear as to what really drove this man to a murderous rage: Does a mental imbalance perhaps stem from untreated trauma from his youth; are his impulses unchecked because a father was never there to help him control them; or did he have a good upbringing but simply made poor decisions and looks down on women as less than him?

This is the kind of violence that we read about in dispatches from Third World nations, mainly Asia and the Middle East, where many of the men feel that women don’t have rights or feelings that need to be respected. She must keep her place and not seek betterment through education, and she has to submit to the desires of his id on demand, regardless of what place, if any, he has in her life. Over there, we call it backwardness and misogyny. Here, or London, Kingston or anywhere else Blacks of the diaspora are assembled, we call it Blackistan.

We have known that for a long time American Blacks have been socially and economically disenfranchised. Over time, social scientists believe or fear that it has relegated us to second-class status. I disagree. We’ve fallen well below second-class to third world. If researchers with the CIA World Factbook, the CDC, or the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Pew Center were to assess the well being of Blacks as a separate society unto itself from Whites, the results would tell us that we are far behind the mainstream Whites in terms overall wellness. We can either become defensive about it, lapse into pro-Black denials, while ranting about the white supremacist systems that thwart all of our efforts to do better, and try to censor the message (I’m looking at you, Lisa McDonald), or we can take action. That does not always mean marrying out, and I’ll tell you why: I married a White man with Liberal (or Pluralistic, if you ask him) ideologies, and we jointly decided to live in an aging urban city in the Northeast. You can call it a “transitional neighborhood” or “pre-gentrified” all you want. The nearest high street has too many liquor stores, too many used condoms that litter the sidewalk, and so many idle riff-raff that when I used to send my little sister on errands to the local bodega, I strictly timed her and promised to come looking if she wasn’t back within the grace period. The next high street has too many drug-addled wraiths of people who used to be young with bright prospects, too many prostitutes and too many abandoned buildings. We didn’t escape the challenges of living in the inner cities, so I have to confront these issues as much as any other woman living in a distressed neighborhood.

There are too many, far too many, Black men who become violently, irrationally enraged when a woman tries to walk away from a relationship, or when she refuses to engage with him in public. We are not a Taliban-controlled society. We are Americans, and women are supposed to enjoy a world-class standard of living here. This kind of extreme violence, enabled by broken families, personal failings and yes, the irrational prevalence of military-grade guns, undercuts what we aim to be as a civil society. We need to deal with this problem and do so from all angles, and we need to be committed about it, not letting bruised egos suck us down into censorship tactics, or be stymied by squabbling among different factions in the Black community.

When it comes to my only child, a good-natured and polite girl who is growing up beautiful – I grow more fearful of what she will encounter in the days when she moves through our city unattended. As a matter of fact, Hubby and I had to deal with a situation at her school recently where she tried to ignore the inappropriate advances of a boy classmate. None of our suggested tactics or teacher intervention worked, until one day we were preparing dinner in the kitchen and she told us that the boy had touched her on her privates, and when she moved to correct him, she was detained by the teacher. We did eventually bring this up with the teacher and have since worked out an acceptable solution. We are still happy with the school, but I am concerned about that little boy. Which older sibling or older male relative taught him invalidate a woman’s ‘no,’ to pester her, and overstep boundaries to get what he wants anyway? Someone is failing him, and if steps are not taken to correct his behavior, I fear we’ll read about his arrest, trial and sentencing — or worse — one day in the newspaper.

Mary Spears’ experience is not unheard of in cities that have a Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard – and what a heartbreaking irony! It’s another failing on our part to get a grip on these issues and stop losing young people to such violence. Somewhere in America right now an attractive young Black woman is rejecting the advances of a paramour. May God watch over and protect her until we get it right.

Must-See TV: The Good, the Bad, but Never Ugly

Readers will remember that I announced my intention to go natural a couple of weeks ago. I’ve worn natural hair before, after a long stint of texturizing my short hair, which followed braiding my hair, which followed a period of wearing the cutest darn permed boyish haircut you ever did see!

Of all my styles, I got the most compliments and felt the most confident about my texturized hair. After my braiding stint, I reaped a head of thick, black, shoulder-length hair. I loved the length, and the fact that it was all mine! But I didn’t know how to take care of natural hair. I also had a demanding job. Being perpetually short on time, I kept pressing it. Without proper maintenance, it quickly became unhealthy and broke off.

As a matter of fact, the only reason I permed my natural hair  three years ago was because—once again—I had a demanding job, had just had a baby, and couldn’t dedicate the time to reading blogs, forums, watching videos and meandering through the aisles at natural food stores to find the essential oils that my natural roots like so much. As for texturizing and going bone straight, the knowledgeable stylists I relied on to help me maintain strong, thick hair became unavailable to me, either because they moved on, or I moved out of town. Same thing with the braids. My favorite stylist was harder to get to, once I moved out of her town, and I couldn’t find a replacement as talented as her within an easy distance of me.

I was actually inspired to explore natural Black hair care after a white woman told me about naturallycurly.com, which I used as a resource to find out why my biracial daughter’s hair was falling out. Otherwise, I had resigned myself to being one of the unlucky Black women with ‘bad’ hair. Hard to grow, dry like chip, impossible to maintain, just ‘cream it and done’ hair as Jamaicans might say!

It is different now. There is an amazing wealth of natural hair care resources on the Internet, ranging from dark-skinned Black women working it with their teeny weeny pretty Afros to dark-skinned, no-I’m-not-mixed, in fact I’m Nigerian, women with hair past their shoulders and damned near their waists.

Most of them are committed to growing and grooming natural hair for the foreseeable future, even if it requires putting in tons of time and effort. Of course, you have the bandwagon-jumpers on the natural kick, who go grow out their unpermed roots mainly to experiment for a few years. Some are quite enamored with seeing themselves in Web videos, but have little to offer in the way of concise, instructive well-edited videos. They get bored and perm again, and they are perfectly entitled to do that, enough said. I steer toward the women with hair textures in the 4 grouping, because my hair is similar. Not ‘a one’ of them has expressed the slightest intention of going back to perms. JoStylin’ the YouTuber, even posted a clever rant (mild as rants go) about her natural hair fatigue. She’s not about relapse into using the creamy crack, but her admonition that maintaining natural hair—long natural hair—requires a lot of work was refreshing.

So, after a day at work, settling Baby for bed, maybe a little work I’ve brought home, or writing out checks for bills, I click onto my favorite blogs and YouTube pages to see what some of these ingenious women have come up with next. At this point, I am voracious for information, so I check the Internet almost daily to get the tips and information I want to sustain my coming leap back into natural.

One last thing: Big ups to you talented artists, fashion designers, and hair stylists whose information I’ve sopped up with a biscuit these last five months! Not only does your hair look amazing, but your generosity of spirit has vastly expanded my knowledge of and appreciation for holistic and purpose-driven living. TruKinks for instance, has started a charity to help provide easy access to clean potable water to citizens of developing countries. TruWater is a worthy humanitarian cause that I encourage other naturalistas to check it out at: http://www.youtube.com/user/TruKinks#p/u/4/jsLn7zDI0m4

Also, treat your eyes and senses to Fourborne Art’s blog. The link is in my blogroll. I supported TruKinks’ charity, and I’ll support the small Black women-owned businesses I’ve stumbled across as I’ve explored this option for my hair. Some might scoff at the notion that it took something superficial like hair care to enlighten me to all of the small Black businesses out there, but here is my comeback: Our hair, this fine-stranded, thickly cropped fiber we are just coming to fully appreciate is not frivolous. Neither are we. Our hair, like us, been misunderstood, called course and uncivil, enslaved in a Euro-Asian beauty standard, and written off in some cases. Actually, it is as shiny, bright, fine, and delicate as hair—and women—you’ll find anywhere else in the world. Quite natural that it would bind us, too, no?

A World Trade Center Valentine

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For once, I'm happy to be a packrat.

Memorial ribbons outside St. Paul's Chapel

More than 11 years ago, on St. Valentine’s Day, I started my commute home from my magazine job in Manhattan. I headed toward the World Trade Center, marching past the clumps of sleek and fashionably dressed people rushing to their restaurant reservations. Some were headed home to change into even more stylish ensembles for the evening. All the while, I silently ranted about my curmudgeonly boyfriend.

“Everyone else is in the mood for St. Valentine’s Day, but not him,” I mumbled. And then I sank into a miserable reverie. Hubby, then Boyfriend, had effectively driven all hopes of a nice St. Valentine’s Day out of my mind, with his disapproving speeches about what a “marketing vehicle,” St. Valentine’s Day was. Just another excuse for celebrity worship; a chance to foolishly try to emulate them; an occasion to separate people from their hard-earned money. So instead of maybe eating out in the city that evening, I would head back to my little apartment in New Jersey, and he’d go back to his walk-up in Brooklyn. It was just another evening.

There was no doubt about it. My boyfriend was the Grinch of St. Valentine’s Day. Then I savaged the guy in my mind. He’s the biggest grouch who ever lived! Every other lady with a significant other will be getting flowers today. But not me, oh no! I have to be content with a lousy phone call, at 9:30 pm, as usual. And why can’t he ever wait until after “Girlfriends” or “Half & Half” or whatever other Black sitcom that might be on that evening wraps up before calling me? It’s bad enough I get bupkus on St. Valentine’s Day, but to interrupt my Me Time, too?! Ugh!!

I tramped into the station, and practically tore my train pass out of my purse as I headed to the turnstiles. Then I stopped. There he was, standing in front of one of the gates, with gifts for me. He held a bag from Crabtree & Evelyn and a bouquet of the prettiest pale pink French tulips. No one had ever given me presents like those before. People all around us looked as I walked up to him, gave him a kiss, and he gave me my presents. He explained that he really did have a lot of work to do, and needed to go back to Brooklyn, but he wanted to give me something nice for St. Valentine’s Day. In usual Hubby fashion, he went into some detail about conversations with the sales ladies and other patrons at the Crabtree & Evelyn shop, and at the florist. But he didn’t tell me what was in the Crabtree & Evelyn package.

Who cared about them, anyway?!

I was holding the best St. Valentine’s Day present ever. From the world’s nicest boyfriend. He wasn’t a Grinch, he was a prankster, that’s what he was. Had me believing I would go home empty handed while every other sweetheart at least got something. When all along, this was coming. After another long, warm hug and a smooch, I traipsed onto my train. Everything was so pretty around me. People on the train admired the gifts. One woman told me that French tulips are very rare, and told me how to cut, arrange and water them to extend their lives. More than a year after later, the whole place was a massive crime scene, the site of nearly 3,000 murders.

From Canada, a country whose citizens opened their homes and hosted stranded Americans during a no-fly order over U.S. skies after the attacks.

Everyone else is commemorating the World Trade Center today by remembering the victims of the attacks 10 years ago. But none of my friends or relatives died in any of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks anywhere. My way of remembering was to just leave money at St. Paul’s Chapel, across the street from the site. I’ve enjoyed the building and grounds, so why not? When I walk the perimeter of Ground Zero each day during my commute, I remember what the site used to look like, and the role it played in my everyday life. I frequented the concourse shops, covered press conferences and banking conferences on the site, right up until one month before the attacks. Hubby and I once had dinner at the Windows on the World, and I had a job interview at a news service on one of the upper floors of the south tower. As I rode the high-speed elevator to the company’s offices that day, my ears—and everyone else’s—popped as if we were on a jet liner taking flight. Being in the World Trade Center carried that mystique, of being on really important business or mingling with a crowd that seemed to exist on a higher social plane than those in my everyday life.

I heard a commentator say this morning that with the 10th anniversary, Americans will begin to put the memories of that day—the passenger jets striking the buildings, of the streets below being filled with falling buildings and plumes of poisonous smoke—into an historical context, instead of a recent trauma. For me, the attacks 10 years ago have already passed into history; a living, instructive history that admonishes me about monstrous dangers lurking in our world. I watched the remnants of the first plane smolder in the first tower that day, from my workplace in Rockefeller Center, then panicked like everyone else as we watched the second plane strike, only to learn that the Pentagon had been hit, and another airliner had crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania. That transformation started when I stepped onto a ferry with hundreds of other New Jersey commuters, and watched the smoky remains of the north and south towers drift across the harbor as we made our escape from the island. It is hastened by the architecture of the new buildings, whose jagged angles slightly convey shattered glass and splintered lives.

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Now the Law Professors Say ‘Marry Out’

This blog will never proselytize Black women to marry interacially. It is purely for entrainment purposes, and I Have no interest in getting into overly political discussions about who people should marry. It would be bad enough for me to come across like I defaulted to men outside my race because there weren’t enough Black guys to go around, however true or untrue that may be. Other patterns I’ve seen out there almost arrange guys into some kind of hierarchy where white guys are big hunting game.

Some bloggers, though, are all about it. Right now, they are probably feeling quite vindicated and gleefully tapping away about news of an upcoming book by Stanford Law School professor Ralph Richard Banks, which ultimately suggests that black women should shift the relationship power balance by considering interracial marriage. It’s titled: “Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone.” Banks’ book comes out in September, so I haven’t read a copy. (The Latte Cafe is not an official, accredited news/opinion outlet with a book review staff. Sorry.) The Root is a big enough organization for that, and you can find the review here.

This is an important development, whatever your views are about interracial relationships. It’s one thing for a clumsily worded blog to evangelize Black women to the ranks of interracial couples. But when a Stanford Law School professor puts his seal of approval on the idea? Well, now the concept has more credibility, a chance to go mainstream. Maybe Black women might finally listen. All the same, I’ll keep away from telling Black women to consider  marrying interracially like I have. As we all know, there are lots of examples of successful intra-racial marriages and long-term relationships. And if hordes of Black women would rather remain single than intermarry, what it is to me or anyone else?

Of course, Banks’ book has already stirred up a catfight on comment boards. But that’s probably only going to work in his favor and rack up hearty pre-order sales on Amazon. Good for him, I say. His ideas pose no real harm to anyone, and some people might even expand their minds. Plus, the older I get the more I love the idea of generating income independent of full-time job slavery.

Aside from the usual scenario playing out here—Black racial purists and Black men who feel slighted (for some odd reason) will complain about the book—I can’t envision any major social or cultural shift stemming from it. Most Black women want to marry Black men and that’s that. I’m sure Banks’ book is well-researched and well-written, but our general dating preferences will ensure that most of us stay single.

 

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.

Wading in with Chris the Aquaman

My interracial relationship has never caused me a lot of angst or anxiety, which makes me think I am either blessed to live in a socially progressive part of the United States, or I am oblivious to cold disapproving stares of strangers might be giving Hubby, Baby and me whenever we are out and about. Usually Baby makes women gush and coo, so I think she would shield us from hard feelings if there were any!

Either way, I think this blogtalkradio show from host “Chris the Aquaman,” is worth listening to, so I’m passing on a link. In this program, Chris plays host to Black women guests who discuss interracial dating from their different points of view. There is Latoya, who is in an interracial marriage; Stephanie, who shared her experiences from that season in her life; and Jordan, a Black woman who prefers not to date outside her race.

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

• Latoya says American society has put a premium on the white standard of beauty, which creates insecurity among Black women and spurs competition between us and white women for male attention.

• Jordan says those who date within their respective cultures are not racist or biased in any way. She also thinks there is a potential match for everyone.

• Stephanie says Black women get offended by interracial dating mainly when Black men who have dated outside their race openly say that other types of women are superior to Black women. If they didn’t cut Black women down that way, the issue might be benign.

Chris deserves kudos for providing a civil and friendly forum for women to discuss an issue that has a lot of emotional nuances. I couldn’t help notice that, for whatever reason, no Black men ended up on that guest list! It would have been interesting to hear what they think about the issue, or if they care at all.

This is a one-hour episode, so make sure you shut out all distractions if you want to listen to the whole program in one sitting. By the time I posted this, I had only listened to half of the presentation. Also, it is an amateur program. You’ll have to overlook production snafus like poor phone connections and train whistles in the background.

Listen to internet radio with chris the aquaman on Blog Talk Radio

A Burning Issue

As my train pulled away from the platform this morning, I kept thinking about pepper. Not cayenne, scotch bonnet or any other variety to season foods, the sort to go on a grocery list. I wanted the kind delivered from a hand-held canister to stop menacing, belligerent men from harassing me and setting my morning commute on the wrong foot.

If I had brought some pepper spray with me this morning, I might have put a swift end to an argument that a hostile older man had picked with me. Maybe he would have understood that he had, indeed, crossed the line of decency. I would have let at least one badly brought up guy know that just because we are both black, it doesn’t give him the license to accost me, and then when I rebuff him, act like a pig.

After I had stamped my ticket in the validator, I stood on the platform, adjusting my tote bag and handbag, awaiting the train. The older guy who would offended me minutes later came up to me, leaned far in and started gesturing, asking me to operate the ticket machine for him and buy his ticket.  He didn’t say good morning, he didn’t take off the baseball hat pulled low over his brow, and he didn’t remove his dark glasses. Typical of a lot of black men with less education and polish, regardless of their age, he was pushy and acted like he was entitled to my time and goodwill. He asked a second time, and I shrugged, saying the machine was easy to use.

He got offended and walked off. I walked away, too, only half expecting him to drop it. He had more success with a young girl, who bought his ticket for him. Just like I figured he would, he emphatically thanked the young girl, his gratitude little more than a showy rebuke of my refusal to pay him any mind. But yahoos like him are easily set off, and don’t know how to stop the verbal incontinence after it starts, even after they get what they want and even after they sound foolish. He set on me again, berating me for not helping him and calling me names. Gentle readers, I don’t put up with that garbage from anyone. So after a short rant, I told him to stop raising his voice at me.

A gaggle of teenage boys who were crowded on a bench, themselves with very little home training, obviously, guffawed at all of this. Who knows what they were thinking, but in an instant I pitied my younger sister and daughter, who will probably face the same public harassment from a generation of inadequately raised ‘men’ like them, some of whom will stand by without a clue as to what to do except laugh.

The exchange went back and forth briefly until he started acting like a baboon, with the chest beating: “I’m 51 years old!”

“Then act like it. Grow up, stop talking and leave me alone.”

“B*tch!” At that point, everyone on the platform, even the little pups on the bench, fell quiet.

“My name is not B*tch,” I said loudly, and looked him square in his ridiculous sunshades.

Taking a dig at my regular glasses, he said, “well, blind then.” Oh, we’re in the 5th grade now, are we? That’s a different story altogether.

“Stupid-assed, 51-year-old loser. That’s you!”

That seemed to take the wind out of him a bit. Shut him up long enough for everyone to notice that the train had come. As everyone boarded the train, I didn’t flinch. I went straight to the spot where I usually like to sit, without trying to scurry out of his way or anything. Why should I? He didn’t go out of his way to approach me in any halfway decent way. For a guy born in 1959, he should have had the upbringing to know that when you approach a woman standing by herself anywhere, you make yourself pleasant before you ask her to do something for you. That might have induced me to help him. The young girl who did help him was probably in her late teens and is still naive enough to believe that everyone who asks a favor should be indulged, even coarse, pushy men who run up on you in public. I used to buy into the thinking that says always give every wanderer some change or a helping hand, because they might be an angel in disguise.

But time and common sense have taught me that simple-looking black men sometimes will lash out the hardest at black women in public and in demonic ways. I think I’ve said it before on this blog, that I doubt if any of the yahoos who have behaved toward me the way that they have would have done the same to a white woman. There is a deeply ingrained sense, and I don’t know where it comes from, that says they need to be treated differently. Perhaps black men think the weight and power of society is more on their side than ours. Maybe a white woman is resourceful and connected enough, either by way of a boyfriend, husband or father, to marshal forces to ‘whup’ his @ass and make his life miserable if he gets out of line with her.

But black women, apparently, can be abused with impunity. This sort of thing happened to a cousin of mine, but the ending was different, and I think there is a lesson to be learned. She was on her way to work in Manhattan. An unbalanced guy accosted her and let loose with a stream of profanities. A passerby, a white man, came to her aid. He stood sentry between my cousin and this fool, telling him to leave her alone, and the attacker quickly simmered down and went about his foolish way. After it was safe, my cousin thanked the Samaritan and kept making her way to her office. How interesting, that the abuser lost his marbles just long enough to pester someone he thought was defenseless, but when he was confronted with the force of a man, he backed down.

It’s too bad that morons like the guy on the train platform this morning and the one who rushed up on my cousin don’t read blogs. Otherwise, I’d let them know that black women in this country have been undergoing an awakening for quite some time. For years, our mothers, aunts, decent stepfathers, uncles and brothers have been telling us, training us, not to accept being treated like trash. We’ve been told to push back, speak up and stick up for ourselves. Tragically, it is because everyday heroic black men—men period—are scarce. But I’m noticing that when guys are on hand to speak up and not let a black woman be treated poorly, they are white. I’m not going to pander to a brother’s sensibilities and get into all of the soci-economic reasons for this, the subtleties on account of geography or any other circumstance, and the stories about hot-tempered white actors like Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe.

We need to confront the serious problem that there are two lost generations of black men in this country. They are represented by the leathery old fool on the platform, and the pups on the bench. My public humiliation, and the other macro ways in which black men let black women down, should not be a ritual for one, and entertainment for the other.

Black women are noticing that on an everyday level, there are not enough brothers treating them with basic decency and respect. As much as I love and regard the solid, upstanding, accomplished black men that I know, there are not enough of them to go around. There are others outside our race who value us as people, and think we deserve better than what our ‘own kind’ has to offer all too often. It’s only a matter of time before black women let go of the dream of the Ideal Black Man and think of themselves as valuable women who deserve equally good men.

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.

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.