shy history book review: falling for the girl who fell

Have I mentioned how awesome my bday month has been?  There were, of course, the gifts – and the friends – and the homemade red velvet cake – all delightfully spread throughout the month to give a special savor to March, this year.  Shoot, even Psych got in on the act, saving the best episode this season (Mr. Yin Presents) for my actual birthday.

It began in February, when I inexplicably went on a book-buying frenzy [a few times a year it must be done], and randomly picked up a slim, dark blue, hardcover with a simple cover art and an intriguing title: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.  I hadn’t heard of it, but read the blurb, and paged through to get a feel for the writing.  [This is how I choose all the books I read.]  The blurb grabbed my attention, immediately:  “Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on a Chicago rooftop.  Forced to move to a new and strange city, with her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin,  startling blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way.”

Maybe it shouldn’t have – but it’s so rare that I come across a book with a biracial heroine …umm…I can’t even think of another one right now – but maybe I’ve read one…I’m sure I have…I think.  Anyway, I read this book (this month) and really enjoyed it.

The style of writing make the book an easy read, even with some heavy stuff going on – and I have to admit there was a moment when I put the book down and just cried.  That’s not normal for me.  I was crying on behalf of the father, and I couldn’t stop.  So there I sat, in the Ford reading room, as I waited for my car’s oil change/checkup to be completed, crying over a book.

There are a few similarities between the protagonist and I, considering we have white moms and black dads, and our parents met in Germany.  But this girl who fell – while I see some aspects of myself in her, her story is miles apart from my own.

I remember growing up not-quite-white.  To borrow a quote from Thea I just saw tonight:

I definitely got the “the world will be yours message!” from my white mama. Imagine how confused I was when it didn’t work out. But I digress.

This is exactly the message I got.  The message Rachel’s mama started out believing.  The message Rachel started out believing.  I’ve been muddling my way through this race-crazy world ever since I landed on solid ground.  My head sometimes still likes to take off for the clouds, but it’s different now.  When I was little, sometimes I would actually forget I was brown.  And I wasn’t prepared for the way the world worked.  I’ve always been optimistic, prone to giving people the benefit of the doubt, and willing to be friends with anyone who wanted to be friends with me.  This often lead to overlooking comments, or the trends of who my friends’ friends were.

Our ideas of what life is like – what our lives will be like – are so shaped by the pictures we get from our parents, and mine was no different.  I imagined great and wonderful things – a possible presidency even, prior to understanding the hellacious nature of the job.  And really, when I was very young, most of what my parents focused on was teaching me that no one could keep me from doing whatever I wanted to do, just because I was a girl.  We didn’t really talk about color in our house until I was older. And even then, it was only dad, saying that he wanted to prepare us for things that mom hadn’t had to go through – for a world that would see us differently that it had seen her. But by then I was unreceptive, largely because we hadn’t talked about it when I was younger, and I was inclined to disbelieve comments about prejudice inherent in the system.

I finally started catching glimmers of de facto life in seventh grade, when my best friend in school – a fellow nerd – and I were talking about people in our class we thought were cute/we’d like to date.  He suggested a 10th grade boy for me, because he was one of the only two brown guys at school [the other being in K4]. (I decided not to mention my crushes on guys that were actually in our grade.)  Then, when I called a friend from my first yr in college and she told me they’d brought another brown girl into the program to replace me/fill the quota, I laughed.  She didn’t.  She told me she was serious.  But I was just scratching the surface.

I’ve learned a lot in the meantime.  Nothing like real-world demonstrations [i.e. The School of Hard Knocks] to speed your education in the ways of privilege. And being able to talk about issues with my dad [even though his feminism is full of holes] helps me get perspective on a lot of things that I’m just beginning to understand.  But I’m still optimistic.  Hopelessly.

And I notice the girl who fell has got two long braids just like I used to – and I’m glad my daddy was there to catch me when I fell.

carnival of me

I’ve been woefully unmotivated to write, recently.  A host of reasons have contributed, not least of which the fact that I didn’t get to talk to my best friend for longer than I ever have since I was about 4 yrs old.  Never underestimate the meaning of friendship.

I’ve been following the various race@school debacles happening at UCSD and now Missouri and I don’t really have much left to say.  Other than the succint: “Post-racial, my eye!”

I actually wasn’t super-concerned about the thing at Missouri, even though they’re pursuing it as a hate crime.  But I realized that may have just been due to my own lack of context.  I spoke with a coworker about it and he was very upset.  He told me that he remembered his mother picking cotton – as her job – when he was a kid.  He also remembered her not being able to go to work one day because the Klan was burning the fields.

It’s kinda crazy to me that this stuff was happening in the last 50 yrs, but I suppose it should be, considering what’s happening today.  We haven’t come as far as we like to think we have.

My work-spouse has been gone for all of one week and I barely know what to do with myself at work.  Besides work.

Having a buddy sure makes a difference.

Speaking of buddies, I found out that a very old friend will be moving away.  Far enough that it’s likely I won’t see him…much, if at all.  We’ve been through all kinds of things together so even though we’re not as close now as we once were, it stings that he’s leaving.  Some more unenlightened acquaintances liked to imagine that we would marry.  This is highly unlikely, but I suppose I should never say never.  One of us could have a stroke and become a different person.  You never know.

Since the olympics have been on [and I’m not into the winter olympics], I’ve watched a bunch of movies.  My recommendations?

Amreeka: a great story about a Palestinian woman and her son who move to America right around the time “shock’n’awe” starts.  Realistic, but still fun, with a great heart.

Mame: Definitely read the book first [Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis], and then enjoy Lucille Ball, Bea Arthur, and Robert Preston in a musical that may have you singing along the first time you watch.  Lucille Ball *makes* this movie – and she’s at her most attractive here, I think.

Dakota Skye: indie rom-com ostensibly about a girl, but also a lot about the boys she likes.  Still, how cool would it be to actually be able to always tell when someone’s lying to you?  This one was right up my alley.

Phoebe in Wonderland: indie with some big names [Felicity Huffman, Bill Pullman, Elle Fanning (Dakota’s lil sis)] plots the story of a family with two precocious little girls.  Phoebe is enamoured with the story of Alice in Wonderland, and as the movie unfolds you begin to understand her.  Excellent!

I loved them all, and wouldn’t rank them…except for maybe Dakota Skye.  That was more of a guilty pleasure for me, but I still really liked it.  Everything else was fantastic!

I love how specific netflix is with me, now that they know me, my #1 recommended category is: Movies Featuring a Strong Female Lead.  =)

it’s not chipped, we’re not cracked: a letter to Heroes

Oh we’re shattered. [MC – Memoirs]

Dear Heroes, heroes goodbye

I’ve been a little busy lately, and it seems that you thought I was just letting it all slide.  I wasn’t.  I was just getting around to this letter, as it’s been a long time coming.

This may not mean much to you since I’m not a die-hard-fan kinda girl, but you’ve let me down.  To tease me with prospects of awesomeness and then slowly kill off almost every person of color on the show?  Even major characters?  That is NOT the way to my heart.

I loved you so much I volunteered to review your best and worst moments.  Those were good times, even when they weren’t such good times.

But as time went by, echoes of DL, Monica, and even that vortex guy only grew louder in my head.  I don’t have the time or inclination to follow web-posted storylines, just so I can keep up with characters that somehow don’t deserve to make the cut on the small screen.  Year after year, the man who came to be known as the Haitian, continued to be known as the Haitian.  Even after visiting Haiti!  Because having one magical negro wasn’t enough, Usutu got to be a plot device for a while, getting name checked on the show only after he was decapitated!  Two cute Asian guys (one a little bit hot) get to play the buffoon occasionally, while propping up what we finally found out was the MAIN storyline last year.

And I’m losing interest.

Watching the few women of color that appear, disappear – sometimes without any explanation – while the blondes almost always have their freaky coercive and inappropriate sexual assaults?  Not my idea of a good time.  There was the slight incest scare with Claire and Peter, the Puppetmaster scenes, the Sylar/Claire puppetmaster scene, various power plays with every Ali Larter character…and then of course, our good friend from the current season, carnie-tatt-girl.

You really value me so little?

Almost every woman I know who ever watched no longer does.  Why should we?  If we want to see skeevy dudes planning & executing various forms of domination over women, we can just watch the news.

When things were new and fresh, I thought this was the start of a cool show.  And it was.  And this is the end.

Men and women of color on your show continue to be use as props with little more than one-dimensional backstories.  Seriously.  Where is freaking Mohinder?

Becky and the new Usutu are not enough.  The cop and the doctor are not enough.  Angela is not enough.  Portraying your first lesbian while simultaneously painting her as an SWF stalker?  Not even close.

My head hurts when I watch, I think of better storylines when I’m half-awake, and I’m just tired.  I feel like Syfy could’ve done a much better job with the show.  Or maybe Animal Planet.  QVC even.

Good night and good luck, Heroes.  And so I say, with a yawn,

When I break – I break. (MC –  Up Out my Face)

small town life: community theatre

lion witch wardrobeLast week I went to the opening of a play here in Podunk.  The kids of Podunk were putting on a limited engagement of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, ending today.  A coworker of mine had a child in the production, and described rehearsals to us at work.  Since they sounded cute, I wanted to go.

So I walk in to the theater and take my seat and do my normal look-see.  You know, after a few moments, I look around and check out the demographics.  Podunk did not disappoint.  Grey-haired ladies, soccer moms with some kids that didn’t make the show, a thirtysomething couple on a date, probably about 120 people (~2xs the kids in the cast) – which is good.  Not a lot of brown people, which is normal.  There was an Indian family, and two other brown people besides me.  So I notice.

Other people notice, right?

There were some star performers in the roles of Mr. Tumnus, the Witch, and Lucy.  Mr. Tumnus also had the best costume – he really looked like a faun.  But he was comical and cute.  The Witch was excellent – screaming at the exactly right points.  And Lucy – from start to finish – had impeccable timing, incredible delivery, complete believability.  Yeah – I liked Lucy.

There was also a cutie-patootie in the role of one of the woodland creatures.  In one scene, some unfortunate woodland creatures [and Mr. Tumnus] were frozen in various positions in the courtyard of the Queen/Witch’s palace.  All the kids were supposed to be stationary as Edmund walked through.  But there was one little girl (probably about 6) who had struck a pose with her arms up in the air, and the scene got a little long for her.  So first one arm dropped – then the other.  And so she stood there, slouching a little, until the Queen/Witch came on stage.  [Snow starts to fall whenever the Miss Winter comes onstage, to remind us all of her coldness.]  So as the snow fell, little miss cutiepants starts raising her arms again – this time to try and catch some of the fake snow that’s falling.  Which she did.  The entire scene was hilarious, and I didn’t hear a word of the dialogue, because I was focused on this adorable child – surrounded by other woodland creatures of various ages who had all managed to be still.

Then Aslan appears and he’s one of the three cast members of color.  It’s all good until the time comes for Aslan to sacrifice himself.  The Witch and all her followers descend upon Aslan in a kind of mob scene.  He’s shaved, beaten, and tied to the Stone Table.  The tie-down and the killing part was behind a screen – for the kids in the audience, I guess.

But that scene was really awful for me to watch.  It scared me and brought tears to my eyes.  Because I wasn’t just watching Aslan being selfless – I was watching a group of white kids and teens simulate beating and killing a black teenage boy.  I knew the story – I knew he was coming back – but I still could barely bare to watch that.

And when he did reappear, everyone was hugging him and it was all lovely, and of course good triumphs in the end.

In fact, the loudest roar of applause at the end was for Aslan.  I didn’t think he was that great of an actor, but I think a lot of people just really like his character.

The play was good, overall, and I enjoyed it.  But I do wonder if it that scene affected anyone else the way it affected me.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m being too sensitive.  Should that kind of imagery have been avoided?  How?

no shortage of handbaskets

Ummmm…have people been taking crazy pills across the country?  Or is this the real Obama effect – he causes most of America to go stark, raving, …you know.

Last year, people were writing songs for him, making signs all over the world, turning his speeches into musical rallying cries.  This year, other people are calling him a racist, fascist, socialist – showing up to protest with loaded semiautomatic weapons.

I’m just not getting it.  He’s just a man.  Trying to be the POTUS.  Vilified and reified by turns, he still seems to be doing better than that last guy.

I don’t really have more to say than everyone else who has commented on this other than the fact that this is starting to scare me.  I’m not clear on the agenda of the rabid Obama opponents, but it seems like they are rabidly against brown people just on g.p.

see what other folks are saying:

@ Racialicious

@ Shakesville

@ The Root

So yeah, there’s some serious race-based crap hitting the fan right now, but let’s not forget that most of it is ostensibly because of the whole healthcare debate:

Getting less, indeed.

So, I know what the destination is – I’m just not sure which handbasket we’re riding in.

same ish, different century

My dad has been into real estate since before I was born.  It’s what he likes to do – buy a place that needs some fixing up, fix it up, and rent it out.  Well, he bought some places earlier this year, and has been fixing them up for the past several months.  The cops are all over the neighborhood in which he bought – I suspect because they had a lot of empties in the subdivision and they want to make sure they don’t turn into crack houses.  That, and, parking in front of an empty duplex makes for a good spot to nap til something’s actually up.  So he has seen and talked to a lot of the cops that patrol there.

So even though it’s been crawling with cops, the neighborhood’s still had it’s share of issues.  Dad went back to the places about a month ago, to find that one had been broken into.  He called the cops, I don’t think much was actually missing [all he had there was tile, ceiling fans, and laminate – none of which was taken], but a couple doors were badly damaged.  It took forever for the cops to come, but they did, and I think my dad filed a report.

Last week or the week before, he was there – maybe still asleep – when a cop started banging on the door.  He came to the door after getting dressed, and three cops were standing there to ask him who he was and why he was there.  He told them he’d have to go get his ID, so they barged right in after him as he went back to get it.  As he was walking, he explained that he’d bought the place and was fixing it up.  He even showed them the door that had been broken into and told them about how he’d called them himself just a few weeks prior.  They asked for proof of ownership, and so he had to go out to the car to get it – they followed again.

Apparently, they were a couple of white cops and a black cop.  Dad said that when the black cop saw him with his pants covered with paint and the stuff in the house, he backed off and was sure that he was there to fix up the place as he said.  The white cops needed the proof of ownership.

All I heard as he told me this story so matter-of-factly was that my father – who will be 65 next month – still cannot get respect from police.  Being a black man means that age/station/class/etc. don’t mean anything.  And it hurt.  Hurt, especially, that after all he’s already lived through – Jim Crow South and all – it’s 2009 and it’s the same ish.

So,

I shouldn’t have been surprised when a friend on facebook posted the story about Henry Louis Gates yesterday.  But I was.

And hurt all over again.

See, my mom called me yesterday to tell me that she was going to have to go have dinner with a woman from church last night.  It seems that she spoke at their church this past wknd, and referred to “colored churches” when discussing differences in worship style.  No one said anything at the time because they weren’t all quite sure that they’d heard it.  The next day, Mom talked to a couple other people who were there and they asked – “did we hear what we thought we heard?”  And Mom thought – I’ve got to talk to this woman…she’s got to know that was unacceptable.

And yet, with all this, and SO much more I’m not even mentioning [the BART incident, the vilification of Malia, etc] I still know people who have the nerve to say

Barack Obama has evidenced proof of the American Dream and shown that the practice of racial discrimination and oppression on a national/societal level is a closed chapter of American history.

I won’t link to that, but yeah…I know her.  And a few other people I know think the same way.

And seeing other folks comments about this HLG incident [he was at fault, too – blah blah blah] just brings me back to what macon d says here:

To think that I could really have much of any idea at all what it’s like to be black in such all-too-familiar (for black people) moments. And yet, I think we white people do that all the time.

Yeah.  Same ish.

what we see

Catching up on news over at the root this morning, I ended up reminiscing on Erin Evans’ pop-cultural survey of black preachers.  And as I watched the very last video, “Stand Up” from Polly (1989), I got tears in my eyes.

Also included in the same video survey is the opening sequence from the show Amen (1986-1991), that starred Sherman Hemsley, Clifton Davis, Anna Maria Horsford and Roz Ryan.  So I was in full “back-in-the-day” mode.

I started thinking about the network shows that we have right now, and wondering how we can call this progress.  Is there anything even close to Amen, or Family Matters, or even Martin or Living Single on network tv anymore?  Shoot, even though I’ve never watched The Game, I just learned that it and Everybody Hates Chris will be dropped from the last network to air black sitcoms CW next year.  (I actually only heard about The Game this spring, with all the talk about trying to keep it from getting canceled.  Sometimes I’m out of the loop.)

So, uh, what happened?  I’ll grant that more people are watching cable now, but there aren’t really more shows with POCs on cable, unless you’re watching children’s programming (a la Cory in the House & True Jackson), or the Tyler Perry fare on TBS.  How did things change so drastically from then [70s/80s/early 90s] to now?

And yet, I know some people will still bring up BET if I were to broach this topic in conversation.  [As in the tired: “well, you have a whole network! what do you think the NAACP would do if there was a WET?”]  Of course, I don’t really watch BET anymore, either.   Hollywood isn’t quite as liberal/all-encompassing as some would have us think it is.

Oh – and is there a petition or something to sign so we can get Polly on DVD?  Cuz I need that.

necessarily uncomfortable reading

I highly recommend it

I highly recommend it

My father has always been interested in economics/money/business issues, and being a black man, has of course dealt with those issues as they intersect with race.  So a couple months ago, when I saw that Latoya was reading a book called The Color of Wealth: the story behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide, I knew it’d be something he should read.  So I recommended it, and he bought it, read it, and loved it.  I wanted to read it, too, and by the time he was done with it – he definitely wanted me to read it.

So I started the book last month.  It’s only 291 pages, so I could get through that fairly quickly – except for the subject matter.

The book begins with an overview:  an introduction to the premise of the book, why it is important to look at the racial wealth divide in this country with a more critical gaze, and spotlights how ignorant most of us are about the facts behind the current state of US wealth.  I could totally get down with this.  I learned a lot, and got to laugh a little.

I was actually on a plane [with my mom] at the time, and I kept stopping to show her things, because it was so interesting.

Then I began to read chapter 2: Land Rich, Dirt Poor: Challenges to Asset Building in Native America. A few pages later I got to the section on colonization and treaty making, and I got tears in my eyes.  I tried to keep going, but I couldn’t.

I put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for a month.

Dad kept asking me how things were going with the book, I kept telling him that I hadn’t really looked at it in a while.  I told him how upset I was when reading about the atrocities of the US government against Native Americans.  This one chapter was bringing out a lot of uncomfortable feelings for me.

Finally, last week, I picked up the book again.  Made a little headway, and put it back down – still not done with chapter 2.  This morning, I told myself to just read it and get through it…and to write about why it was so hard to do.

Continue reading

gravity and responsibility

my *almost* cuz by marriage is on the right

The time between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and March 1st is normally America’s media foray into Black History.  I’m certain there will be a particular and peculiar focus this year because of our new president.  I’m looking forward to Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story that will be airing on TNT.  [I’m *almost* related to Ben Carson (my second cousin is married to his brother) and I’ve always thought that was cool.  Although of course, almost doesn’t count.]  Some great (or at least really good) tv movies have come out to help us celebrate the ~40days of black history we get every year.

When I was a kid, Separate But Equal gave me a look at who Thurgood Marshall was and how he became the first black Supreme Court justice.  I was a teenager when The Ernest Green Story and Ruby Bridges came out, and I got a look at the stories of people who helped integrate public schools.  My dad was around during that time, but he graduated from high school before his school was integrated.

I enjoyed Polly! for every lovely bit of fun, song, and cuteness it offered.  It remains one of my favorite movies, despite being completely unavailable (for purchase) as far as I can tell.

Last year, I had an HBO preview during Black History Month, and just happened to catch the last few minutes of a special: slave-narrativeStarring Oprah, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Vanessa L. Williams, Roscoe Lee Browne, Don Cheadle, Jasmine Guy, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg as narrator, and quite a few other actors.

I put the dvd on my Netflix queue [and recommend everyone else do the same, if you’ve not seen it] and ended up receiving it last week.  I watched it today.

As the title suggests, the subject matter is much heavier than a story about integration.   There are moments of triumph, heard in the narratives, but much is the straightforward retelling of events that demonstrate the inhumanity of slavery.  The piece that undid me was Jasmine Guy’s reading of the words of Mary Estes Peters, who spoke about her mother’s rape by the master’s three sons, ending the story with the words, “And that’s the way I came to be here.”

When I talk to my dad about things that he’s lived through, and movies that I’ve watched, depicting the struggle, sometimes he tells me how things were for him and his family.  Sometimes he just says he can’t watch that movie or doesn’t really talk about it.  He tells me that his brother, my uncle, hated white people for a long time.  Still did when my dad married my mom.  My mom was close to his age, and I guess that was part of what softened his heart.  Dad never gets into specifics about why, he just tells me that’s the way his brother was – because of how things were.  And my parents got married in the 70s.

One thing that struck me about the narratives, was the description of the treatment of slaves that had a desire to learn.  Today, it made things even more clear to me about why it’s so important to go to school.  To get all the education that is useful and beneficial for me and others.  And for everyone else to get their education.  It’s not a magic bean that necessarily changes everything – but too many people suffered, struggling just to be allowed to learn to read.  Too many people were punished for seeking knowledge.

Having this history does give one a responsibility, doesn’t it?

conflicted

My dad is semi-old.  64 this year.  So he remembers a lot, having grown up in the South.  And he generally tends to gauge the white people he meets by how they respond to him.  He has enough experience to be pretty accurate with how they are – whether they’ve got race issues that are too much to be bothered with, or seem to not have any at all.  But I think sometimes, because he grew up in the times that he did, he’s willing to deal with more people having race issues than I am.  I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but … well, see for yourself…

I’ve already talked about his one friend (Exhibit B) who has issues.  A long time ago, she wanted our church to move to the other side of town because, basically, too many black people had moved into the neighborhood.  That was me reading between the lines, but, I wasn’t the only one who came to that conclusion.  So, you get the point.

Then there’s the lady we’ve had over for Thanksgiving as long as I can remember.  She’s really old (85-ish), and single, so, she comes over to eat with us.  She’s been pretty spry for the most part, though her health seems to be starting to go, now.  Well, maybe two years ago, at the table, we were talking about something and she came out with…the n-word.  Yeah.  I was just sitting there, tilting my head in confusion.  Here, she’s been spending this holiday with us for more than 20 years, and it drips out of her mouth with a piece of the collard greens Daddy made for dinner.  It was in the course of conversation, and she seemed to go back and talk about another friend of hers, who is black, who calls this same other person/family the n-word, as some type of justification.

So, my brain was rattling around in my head, trying to make sense of what she said, and reconcile it with who she is.  Since I was pretty well flabbergasted, I didn’t really say anything, the conversation moved on, and dinner ended.  When she left, I said something to my dad about it, and he said that she was old, and so the word was more a part of her vocabulary.  OK.  I get that.  But hasn’t it been about 30 or 40 years since that word was actually acceptable?  Eh.  It was weird, but otherwise, she’s no different than before – still a family friend.  Still a …nice lady.  I basically forgot about it by the next Thanksgiving, and the word hasn’t come back up.

Now, there’s a really sweet old lady at my church here in Podunk.  She’s full of love and hugs and is generally the nicest person you ever wanna meet.  [Way, way sweeter than our Thanksgiving friend.]  She treats everyone the same – love just pours out of her.  She happens to be 84 and spry, but totally cute and grandmotherly, as opposed to the Thanksgiving friend.  Anyway, a bunch of the church ladies were invited to her house yesterday evening, and I went.  There were two young (30ish) people [me and another black woman], then there were about 8 little old white ladies (60+).  So we’re hanging out…Podunk not being a totally happening town…and I walk into the kitchen to refresh my punch.

There, on the kitchen floor, is a wooden Mammy figure. In the middle of the floor.  Not behind anything.  Staring at me.

Once again, I’m baffled.  Dad talks about this lady like the nicest white lady he’s ever known.  She seems to not be racist at all, he says.  And I would agree – she treats everyone the same as far as I can tell.  Just beautiful to everybody.

So it’s the next day, and I still don’t know what to think.  Is this another one of those things I push to the side because she’s really old?  Cuz I really do like her.