Something New: Awkward Black Girl Made Her Choice

Ever since I read an item about Issa Rae in Essence magazine, I’ve been following the ups and downs, victories and defeats of J, the central character on the hit Web series “Awkward Black Girl.” J is an appealing character, the type of woman who is intelligent, pretty, sensitive and operates with empathy for others. Despite her great qualities, she is still unsure of herself. The series follows her lie from her perspective.

SPOILERS AHEAD. If you would rather watch the episodes yourself to find out what happened, start here, and STOP reading!

J works at a call center for a company that markets a diet pill. While listening to her character narrate the goings-on of her daily life, I can’t help thinking that J is an intelligent, articulate woman who is sharing the ethos of her life and self with us. She should be doing a lot more with herself than selling diet pills. But the premiere season isn’t a story about how J lifts herself to a higher personal or professional plane. Goodness knows that awkwardness sometimes springs from, or perpetuates, a type of shyness and lack of social poise that can hold back people’s progress and future for years. For the moment, J figures out whether Fred, her Ideal Black Man whom she has had a crush on for a long time, or White J, a cute, sensitive counselor, is her match.

SERIOUSLY, SPOILER DEAD AHEAD

The White J character wins J’s heart at the end of the first season, and it all unfolds without too many embarrassing love scenes, which awkward people seem to avoid whenever possible. Actually, for a romantic comedy the series kind of fell flat in the area of chemistry. I was neither Team Fred nor White J, because I never saw sparks fly with either couple. Love stories are supposed to have a little more warmth than what I thought I saw, even ones embedded in a comedy series populated by lovable geeks and oddballs. That’s a shame too, because by the time I stopped laughing at those charming alternate reality sequences, which had part “Sliding Door” and “Russell Simmons Presents” to them, I realized I didn’t really care who J picked. Neither storyline excited me.

If I am fastidious about the chemistry thing, it’s because those pesky Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker people made that endearing “Something New” a few years ago and nailed it. Had they only been a couple of script-reading cold fish I wouldn’t expect to be charmed every time other entertainers come along and purport to tell a love story. A few years ago I saw a ‘Something New’ type of film, but it starred two ill-matched actors who seemed lost and undisciplined in the piece, which disappointed me considering their obvious talents and accomplishments in other movies. And it was made in coastal France, for goodness’ sake! The perfect place to fall for someone.

Well, I’ll forgive J, White J and all the rest. There is a lot to like about Awkward Black Girl, a lot to root for as she embarks on other life journeys. It’s a yummy treat after a trying day, and I’ve seen every episode, some of them twice. I’m just not clicking through to find out if J and White J go the distance.

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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

Underground in Memphis

This year’s Broadway season blew past me and left me coughing in a plume of smoke. It was only after the Tony Awards, the New York City theater community’s highest honor, had been handed out in June that I noticed a vibrant new production that I should share with you all. The show, Memphis, is about an ambitious young black singer who makes her way through underground clubs in Memphis in the 1950s, and who falls for a white DJ. Here is a preview clip from the show’s own Web site.

I only realized what a big impact this musical was having on Broadway after I read a business article in The New York Times about how productions with black casts, producers and investors were helping prop up ticket sales in the district. I went to a fine and performing arts high school, a magnet school, so I’m used to visiting major and minor artistic venues, and I knew Phylicia Rashad was a seasoned a regal stage actress way before the all black revival “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” for the 2008-2009 season. Hubby and I (and Baby in the womb, kicking) had the pleasure of watching Ms. Rashad, James Earl Jones and Terrence Howard in that production. Anika Noni Rose, who played Maggie, did not perform the night we saw it. I was disappointed, because the critics said she pretty much ran the show whenever she took the stage. Marja Harmon, her understudy, performed instead. Harmon was amazing in her Broadway debut and more than held up her part of the stage considering who her cast mates were!

Maybe Hubby and I will check out Memphis, because I love a musical as much as a play. And if you all ever find yourselves on vacation in New York City, pop in and see what the fuss is about.

Minority Within a Minority

Bloggers like me have been discussing interracial marriage for years now. What happens inside the relationships, and we attempt to explain why. One trend that we’ve all observed has now been expressed in hard numbers by the Pew Research Center, a respected think tank. Several weeks ago the group published a study that found the rate of interracial marriage had spiked in the United States in 2008. In that year, 14.6% of new marriages were between members of different races or ethnic groups—double the rate in 1980, and more than six times the rate in 1960. You can see the executive summary here, as well as download a copy of the PDF.

Pew also zeroed in one something we’ve been saying for years, that for whatever reason, black women are far less likely to date outside their race than black men, and that Asians don’t have the same hang-ups and peeves that we seem to have about interracial dating.

• Gender patterns in intermarriage vary widely. Some 22% of all black male newlyweds in 2008 married outside their race, compared with just 9% of black female newlyweds. Among Asians, the gender pattern runs the other way. Some 40% of Asian female newlyweds married outside their race in 2008, compared with just 20% of Asian male newlyweds. Among whites and Hispanics, by contrast, there are no gender differences in intermarriage rates.

I read this part to Hubby, and joked that we were real freaks. There are very low rates of intermarriage among black women and white men. How in the world did we pull it off? He just chuckled and quickly dove back into serious paying work. So I went back to reading, quietly, some of its other interesting findings:

• Among all newlyweds in 2008, 9% of whites, 16% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 31% of Asians married someone whose race or ethnicity was different from their own.
•  There is a strong regional pattern to intermarriage. Among all new marriages in 2008, 22% in the West were interracial or interethnic, compared with 13% in both the South and Northeast and 11% in the Midwest.
•  Most Americans say they approve of racial or ethnic intermarriage — not just in the abstract, but also in their own families. More than six-in-ten say it “would be fine” with them if a family member told them they were going to marry someone from any of three major race/ethnic groups other than their own.
•  More than a third of adults (35%) say they have a family member who is married to someone of a different race. Blacks say this at higher rates than do whites; younger adults at higher rates than older adults; and Westerners at higher rates than people living in other regions of the country.

I hope the study suggests this country is becoming more comfortable talking about and dealing with race, and that we can all maintain our racial and cultural richness, while treating each other with respect. Feel free to talk about what you think the study means; I’d like to hear what you think. Please, just be respectful. This is a family program!

Am I His Type?

Before I met Hubby, I thought I knew what sort of black woman a white guy would date. She would have light skin, straight hair or wavy hair, and an educational, professional or social background in common with him. This post by blogger Julian Abagond caught my eye a while ago, and I’ve just gotten around to putting down my thoughts on this. For the most part, I agree with Abagond’s observations about the type of black woman that would attract a white guy’s attention. But I want to push his theories beyond ideas based on surface beauty.
A woman’s bearings go a long way in determining the kind of guy she will attract, and it is especially true of black women. Since whites are far less likely than any other group to date outside their race, I think it’s fair to say, allowing for exceptions, that white guys are going to go for someone who fits a certain mold. She has her head on straight, might have as much education as he does, plays a big role in her family and community, and is the no-nonsense type who doesn’t play a lot of games. That’s not to say she isn’t fun. In fact, they probably do share a lot of the same interests, making it really easy for them to have good times and be at ease around each other. On his side, I think persistence helps, because a lot of black women just don’t know when a guy outside her race is hitting on her, and even if they do, they don’t respond readily. Maybe Gen Y and children of the millennium are more open to dating outside their race and behave differently, but sisters in their 30s and up seem to give the white guys a tougher time. This seems to be true of all the interracially married black women I know, and I see hints of the same among those I see from afar.

I like the picture he chose to illustrate his point, too. There a sister sits, absorbed in a book, while the guy, presumably her boyfriend, has his arm around her and is glancing in the opposite direction. Or maybe he’s a paramour peeved that she won’t pay him any mind and is about to quit trying to ask her out.

As for me, I never considered dating anyone outside my race. Actually, a relationship was the last thing on my mind when I was in my early 20s, because I was trying to manage a new job at a daily newspaper, and a taxing church life. I also come from a large, clannish and pious family that was heavily involved in church life. The pressures from one compounded expectations from the other. I was too busy trying to make everyone at home, church and work happy, much less think about what I wanted, so I never would have sought out white guys even if I had the time and energy to see anyone. But I seemed to attract them. One guy in particular had a really hard time getting my attention, because none of his flirtations registered with me at all. For months, none of his compliments, hints, etc., penetrated that thick fog of duty and obligation over my head. In retrospect, I feel a little bad. He was (and probably still is) tall, handsome, charming, a talented musician, he had principles I liked and was funny. He was also someone I thought could have his pick of women any place, any time, so I didn’t get why he was trying to talk to me.
Maybe he liked the fact that I was quieter, slimmer, was reasonably friendly and didn’t give him a brush-off worthy of a brutally honest sister from Brooklyn, Detroit or Chicago’s south side. Who knows? I don’t know for sure if we would have gone the distance. No one ever knows those things.  But had we dated, we would have had a great time and if we had broken up, would have separated on good terms. That’s how much basic respect we had for each other as people.

A Guy’s (Nostalgic) Take on Things

My clutter bug tendencies have one great benefit—a great collection of old editions of Essence magazine, which published a terrific 25th anniversary issue in February 1995. It led off with a magnificent cover shot of Tyson Beckford embracing a beautiful woman. There was a bangin’ recipe for sweet-potato pie, a luscious photo spread featuring the cast of the old Fox sitcom Living Single in ethnic wedding fashions and a tribute to Bob Marley (whose mother was black and father was white, by the way) written by his widow Rita Marley.

It also ran a feature article about an interracial BW/WM couple. This piece steered clear of discussions about whether black women should open their hearts to the possibility of dating outside their race. There were no statistics detailing the higher rates at which we were dating across color lines. (Blah, blah, blah) In a pair of companion essays, it simply laid out the husband’s and wife’s perspectives of their union. They described their courtship, marriage, parenting a bi-racial child, and the ways in which the social scene in Oakland, Calif., responded to them.

Shimon-Craig—the husband—had a great essay. We don’t often hear from guys on the other side of this issue (probably because they would rather watch old episodes of Lost or 24 than talk about relationships), so his essay provided refreshing insights into the dynamics of their relationship. He talked about why Katrina LaThrop made his heart flutter. I also felt a bit bad for him when he recounted some of the hostile reactions he got from blacks in public whenever the family was out shopping or were trying to enjoy a cultural event. You would think blacks would understand why he and Katrina made a point of educating their son about his mixed heritage. But no. According to his anecdotes, some people went out of their way to be obnoxious and unkind. I expect the social scene in Oakland, Calif., to be much more welcoming for all interracial couples. And I hope he and his wife are still going strong after another 15 years (from publication of that article).

Back in the 1990s, when Susan Taylor was still editor-in-chief and the magazine had not lost its way, it used to run occasional, sometimes annual, write ups about interracial dating. People were just getting around to talking about the issue, and Essence did it’s share to deliver classy, well-thought out discourse on the topic. At this point, I hope that we can talk less about whether interracial dating is alright for black women, and start talking about how, like other married couples, we make it work.

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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.

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!

A ‘Something New’ Preview: I Can Do Bad

For better or worse, Tyler Perry is making his mark on the American entertainment industry and cutting a new path for African-Americans in film. We can sit around and debate where that path is taking us, but I’d rather not. I’ve said it in a previous ‘Guess Who?’ movie review that I personally think Perry’s films leave a lot to be desired: plausible plot lines, well-drawn and charismatic characters, elegance. But like it or not, his stories appeal to a lot of African-Americans, enough to give him the financial independence and influence it takes to get his feature films distributed broadly. Each success has a multiplier effect on his film production career and his genre of filmmaking. I wish Perry could make that creative leap and produce a story without predictable, soap opera-like narratives. But maybe he doesn’t want to. I’m sure that in everyday life, there are people who carry on like the over-the-top characters in his films. And maybe that’s his point: Here are their stories. Learn from them or leave them alone.

With that, you should know that previews of Perry’s new movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” are circulating on the Internet. It’s due in theaters on Sept. 11, 2009, and I hope that’s not a bad omen. That I am mentioning the movie here ought to tell you that there is a ‘Guess Who?’ romance embedded in the bigger story. Basically the protagonist, April, is a heavy drinking nightclub singer who lives off of her married boyfriend. When her sister’s three kids are caught burglarizing a house, Madea’s house, the matriarch basically drops the kids at April’s feet with the message: ‘Get your life together and help your family.’ Sandino is a Mexican immigrant and handyman who … can’t you tell where this is going? Take a look at the trailer. I’ve included it so at least I won’t be held directly responsible for giving anything away.

This story originated in 2000 as one of Perry’s stage plays, according to Wikipedia. As far as I can tell from the previews for the movie version, there are five reasons to go see the film:

1. Gladys Knight!

2. Pastor Marvin Winans. Just put a Winans in a decent performing arts venue and I’ll probably show up.

3. I won’t be pretentious. The Madea character cracks me up—that is, when I’m not shrugging and acknowledging her homespun sagacity.

4. Mary J. Blige!  And for good measure, here is her music video based on the song in the movie.

5. Taraji P. Henson has pipes. She can blow. The chile cu’ saaang almost just like Gladys n’ them.

A ‘Something New’ Preview: Bollywood Hero

It looks like Maya Rudolph, child of singer Minni Riperton (“Loving You”) is going to be featured in a cable television miniseries called “Bollywood Hero.”  While this story is not about an interracial relationship involving a black woman, it does feature a black/biracial actress. I don’t have cable — are you aghast?— so I won’t be able to see this movie when it premieres on August 6 on the IFC, but judging by the premise and the one trailer I was able to catch on YouTube, it seems funny. I love comedies and satires, and I think Chris Kattan is really entertaining. This is the YouTube trailer. I didn’t see Maya that much in this reel, but she is listed among the major cast members in the iMDB listing. If anyone does get around to watching this movie, definitely let me know what you think about it!