Friday, January 19, 2007

compensatory blackness

i was a happy, well-behaved, well (enough)-adjusted little black girl (with a helluva country accent). this was never an issue. i've read the bluest eye; i appreciate and understand the attacks on little black girls as they try to understand and accept themselves. i've read about and talked with other black women, those who once longed for lighter skin and longer or looser hair. the thing is, that that has never been me. i've never had an issue with my skin color or the texture of my hair (well...perhaps it could be thicker). i've never longed for lighter eyes or longer hair. i've never wondered what it would be like to be white.

my comfort in my black skin i'd have to attribute to my father. my daddy is dark-skinned. his brothers are dark-skinned. the majority of his sisters are dark-skinned, with the "lightest" being my color. my father and uncles and aunts did not try to dilute their blackness; they didn't strategically mate in hopes of having children with looser hair or lighter skin. unlike so many who only give public, verbal commendation to the "black is beautiful" motto, my father's family proved that they believed it by choosing partners who were reflections of themselves.

when i was a kid, my father and uncles always bought the black doll for me. my mom bought me a dukes of hazzard nightgown with bo, luke or both on it, and my father went ape shit saying, "my daughter won't prance around with some white man on her chest." he was against my getting a perm (not my decision, more the decision of my mom and my cosmetologist cousin who lived with us at the time). there was never any reason to believe being a little black girl with nappy hair was something to be ashamed of. (perhaps if i were darker i would have felt more pressure to conform. i can recall two of my cousins being repeatedly told that they were "so pretty to be dark-skinned" when the fact is they were just pretty, period. how would i have felt if i weren't middle-skinded [ha!] and neither here nor there in the crazed color spectrum? i'll never know.)

unfortunately, not everyone has had my experience. there are so many women who recount their stories of wishing to be something other than what they are. and then there are those who are what these women longed to be, but they don't feel black enough. often many of these women become victims of what i call compensatory blackness. compensatory blackness is a staunch afrocentrism that ranges from the reasonable to the cartoonishly rabid. i liken it to those promiscuous and generally dissolute individuals who wild out in their youth then find jesus and cling to him like static electrons. often, those who rejected their blackness as adolescents or those who don't feel as if they are black enough demonstrate a dogged determination to prove to themselves and anyone watching that they are indeed black--blacker than blacker than black as a matter of fact. so, out go the suburban friends of childhood and in come the militant black friends; out go the free spirited drum circles, in come the coffee shop poetry slams; out go the wispy perms, in come the locs; out goes "love has no color," in comes "the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice."

i'm not judging (really, i'm not). i'm just making an observation and writing about it. hell, i'm not above admitting that i had an extended nihilistic period of writing angry poetry, sulking in corners, kicking it with other angry, sulky poets, and aggressively decrying all things conformist. it's a part of adolescence; we all go through extreme stages trying to figure out what makes us happy. i applaud the effort as a matter of fact. the fact that people make the effort to confront their issues shows that they're thinking and understand that growth isn't an autonomous process. i'm just gonna need all those in their compensatory blackness stages to contain their enthusiasm, at least around me. i dont need your rhetoric, and i really don't need to read your current treatise on blackness. i am black, have always been black, and will remain black; i don't need the latest disassociated academic to explain to me how to go about maximizing my blackness. that doesn't mean that i don't continue to learn about my/our history. it does mean that you need to respect that our lives do not share the same trajectory, and perhaps i've already mulled over the distinction between black and Black.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

cannonize me

I have really gotta get back to my former reading habits. Lately, I haven't read much outside of the stuff I've been teaching, and we all know about required high school reading--canonical, but not necessarily relevant or panoptic. So yeah, I think I'll actually finish my Octavia Butler (RIP) anthology.

I'd be interested in finding out who read what in high school and college in the way of black authors. I have this theory, but it can't be validated until I gather evidence. Myself, I recall Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Jamaica Kincaid--the last being a hint of cultural partiality on part of my afrophile undergrad professor. It seems to me that predominately white universities and perhaps black ones (I wouldn't know, I didn't go to an HBCU) tend to cling to those books that describe the black experience in glaringly dramatic ways. Bigger, Sethe, Lucy--all tragic figures that were representative of blackness predominately by virtue of the tragic circumstances of their lives. Now I'm sure that there is more to the black authors-worthy of-academic-study equation, but people tend to cling to very extreme depictions of black life as the most authentic, and feel as if they can finally humanize us because they've found a bit of sympathy for our downtrodden characters. (Bigger Thomas is no more the prototypical black man than Peter Keating is the prototypical white man.) I think this phenomenon is more hurtful than helpful in that whites can point to these extreme portrayals and say, "Now THAT is racism. Clearly black people do not go through these things anymore and therefore do not experience racism anymore."

The thing is, though, that these representations have never been comprehensive. One of my favorite books by Morrison, Paradise, while still dealing with racism, is much more subtle in the handling of the subject and uses it as a parenthetical remark on the lives of the book's characters. Also, because I am absolutely obsessed with gender roles, this books appeals to me for its focus on the tension between men and women when the traditional order is broken. (When are we gonna start dealing with that bullshit, huh?) I think Paradise is every bit as good as Beloved and every bit as worthy of literary consideration; and though I know I'd get a lot of argument from many, because Beloved is almost universally considered the best thing Morrison's ever written, I stand by my assessment. But it is not about Paradise or even Morrison specifically, it's about including more comprehensive representations of black life in the mainstream.

It seems as if black people always have to be struggling for there to be an emotive response from the mainstream culture. If we're not stuck in "hood movies," we're being saved from that same hood by a benevolent white with a heart of gold (hello Hilary Swank). The truth is that we laugh too, and sometimes the struggle isn't as acute as having to kill some muthaphuckas (though we should and more often), but often the struggle is how to react to an underhandedly racist comment without appearing "bitter" or when and how to express ourselves without "offending" more entitled and oblivious people with delicate sensibilities. Black people experience little dilemmas and large ones, and they are all important. There are a zillion authors who know this and deal with the many shades of us delicately and with an intimate knowledge and gift that should be supported. Check the slideshow above. All of those people knew and know that we're nasty and mean and above repute and angelic and conflicted and funny and boring and gay and straight and transgendered too. It's about time we stop allowing the media to vilify or romanticize us; we are just human after all.

Good Reads:

The Farming of Bones
(or anything, really) by Edwidge Danticat

Eva's Man by Gayl Jones

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Another Country (again, almost anything) by James Baldwin

The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara

If any of you would like to tell me about your school-related literary experiences, I'd be grateful. Also, if you've read any good books lately, let me know. I'm always looking for a new book.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

man hater!

this is isaach de bankole. he's lovely. update: i think he and cassandra wilson have split. that's sad because i do like to see black couples "make it." on the other hand, i can now groupify myself and find his 50 year old fine ass.

i am a weirdo. for the longest time, i have had this inexpressible anger toward members of the opposite sex for what i believed were very justifiable reasons. i was fortunate to have a father who loved (and still loves) me, who was a prototypical "man" in the humanist, not stereotypical and caricatured, way and uncles who, too, were good and caring individuals that this chick could be proud of; but i didn't grow up in a vacuum. i grew up around, went to school with men who were not my brothers, father or uncles, and these men were everything the racist and biased media would have you believe they are:

i learned how to ride a bike pretty late in life. at 10 or eleven i had finally somewhat mastered the concept of pedaling continually without falling to the ground. one day, i felt especially skilled and was taking a short trip around the block when i encountered lindsey (fuck it, i won't change names). let's just say that i never rode my bike around the block again;

before my grandparents died, we (my mother, youngest brother and i) would go to alabama to visit them. these were good times, admittedly made more special by the lens of nostalgia. a huge part of the family would be there--usually all of my aunts, an uncle or two, and various cousins. my oldest brother lived in alabama so he too would be there. one day, i had the special honor of being cornered by one of his clearly older and drunk friends: "i'll only be 37 when you graduate from high school," he says. lesson learned: do not trust strange men;

on the way to the corner store (the corner store that i never before or after walked to alone because i wasn't stupid), a car of dudes passed. i suppose they thought i was cute or something. to show their appreciation, one of them threw a dollar out the car window;

walking home from school one day (i think i was a freshman) on valentine's day (how ironic), i wander into the home of one of my mother's friends. unfortunately, she wasn't home...but her nephew courtney was. teen aged boys are hilariously aggressive, often too aggressive. let's just say that his balls are still reverberating from the kicking they got that day.

why share these cheerful little episodes (i've got a million of them)? because i find it interesting that though we, black women, have these stories in common, so many of us are able to forget the lessons we should have learned from them and continue being the naive, pre-pubescent girls who didn't know better well into our adulthoods. too many of us think our salvation lies in men, and will do anything to get it from men, no matter their worth. too many of us are satisfied with being subservient and forget that there are many men (i use that term loosely) who don't have our best interests in mind; however it's better to be coupled up than to be alone-right?

i primarily watch the food network, pbs and re-runs of will & grace these days. anything else runs the risk of making me angry. that means no BET, no MTV, no VH1. i don't take public transportation anymore and rarely go out to events. this self incubation means that i have very little interaction with the world, which is good. i don't have to remember dudes yelling out their cars at me, dudes hissing at me from street corners, spurned strangers calling me creative versions of bitch. i can effectively forget that there is a whole new generation of abusers and overall useless males who will rape and abuse and generally lessen the well being of somebody else's daughters. that's fucked up too.

i don't think i'm difficult. i'm generally fun-loving. i can take a joke. however, i refuse to accept the position that others are happy with--the prone woman, adam's rib, ass and titties, walking semen receptacles, here only to satisfy the whims of men. i don't do misogyny. i don't do homophobia. i don't do stupidity. i don't turn the other cheek. i don't forgive wrongdoings that could've been avoided. i don't accept apologies. i don't trust you people.

so yeah. my issue with men is really the heart of of my perceived idiosyncrasies, why i'm an atheist, why i'm not paired up, why i'm so cold, and why i'll probably never have kids or get married. i'm still working out my issues with those other people who inhabit the earth.

oh, and i feel the need to say that i'm not a man hater. it's just that i know they can do better and i'm deeply, deeply disappointed. do better, assholes; but of course they won't until we force them to.

last note: read kola boof's stuff--Proof Magazine. sometimes, she's a little extra, but she gets it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Yay me!

So I got the job.

Dude. I GOT the job.

I'll be teaching Survey Lit (again) and Creative Writing.

My load will be way heavier (five classes instead of four and no co-op teacher).

I'm both anxious and excited.

Dude, I'm a total grown-up and

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Some Break

So I could be teaching again in as little as two weeks, and while that's fantatic (cuz I won't still be unemployed and running low [super low] on funds), I'm absolutely terrified. My anxiety levels are so through the roof whenever I must do anything new. I bet medication would help. Anyway, reputation and doing good work really does pay off sometimes. The only reason I have this opportunity is because an English department thought enough of me to recommend me for a job. Not only that, but they called me, e-mailed me and had the principal call. I was actually considering trying to get out of this. It seems like too much too soon, but I have to confront my swimming upstream fears at some point, so why not do it sooner rather than later?

That's about it guys. I have been sticking to my workout schedule--alternating days of Winsor Pilates and cardio, and I've been commited to not eating after 7 p.m., but I'm not at all sure I can keep it up with a hectic teaching schedule as well. I know me. When I'm stressed, I eat. That is my way. I guess we'll see.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Aldi Rules!

So you all know that I've recently made this commitment to working out. Just a few posts ago, I had done extensive (?) research and had chosen my elliptical. Well, let me tell ya. I got a tip from a friend of a friend that Aldi had ellipticals, so, skeptically of course, I went, just to be judicious in my quest for health. So we (my colleague and I) get there, we see the elliptical. "Looks okay," we think. We hop on, just to get a "feel" for its effectiveness; "Feels okay," we think. Twenty minutes later we're loading a Jamz Fitness elliptical into the minivan care of Aldi, and get was only $179.99.

I know what you're all thinking. A one-hundred eighty dollar elliptical from Aldi can't be worth a damn. Hell, I was worried myself (I remember my completely Aldi-themed parties from childhood and feel a spot of shame that I was pissed that my mom didn't even bother to get "real" Twinkies, but I digress...), but after one increasingly frustrating night and one easy morning of putting the damned thing together (81 parts people, 81!) I feel more confident. Plus, the damned thing (what's with this 'damned'? am i a gruff caucasian man?) has a one year warranty; that's pretty good. Usually, shitty products that are doomed to fall to pieces have half-assed warranties somewhere along the 30 to 90 day mark. Even if it does miraculously stop working on the 366th day, I still will have paid way less than any gym membership anywhere. My friends, I came what they call the fuck up.

So in the spirit revering Aldi, I'm going to take some time to show you some of the great deals available from my German friends at locations around the globe. On the domestic tip, please know that you can get hella deals every day of the week. Though I'm disappointed in their recent price hike in eggs (now $1.09 a dozen), I got $8.00 easy to assemble book shelves that still hold the hell out of my crap to this day. Don't be fooled by the low prices, yo!

Check out Aldi UK. Aldi France is a delight as well. And Aldi Australia is the bomb! As of January 6, $15 shoes and computer desk/chair sets for $99; you've got to be kidding me.

Yep, good ole Aldi. You gotta love it. Soy milks, perhaps the best dry packaged cocoa mix, and ever present wine coolers, they have something for everyone--carnivores, vegans and everyone in between. Next week, Aldi US will have all sorts of bathroom fixtures and decoration on sale. If you're looking for a new faucet or shower head or maybe just a few decorative rugs, Aldi is your place. Oh, and for those who don't know, Trader Joe's and Aldi are owned by the same brothers; perhaps this will help remove some embarrassment (if you're snooty enough to have any) of shopping at Aldi.

*special thanks to my colleague for making all of this happen

Friday, January 05, 2007

do you like being single c) EBTG

i'm s.o.-less. that's generally the natural state of things, and it's not a huge deal. i am, however, beginning to become annoyed that the entire world invests so much stock in pairing (or tripling) up, but hey, let them eat cake (and no that's not meant to be derisive or condescending, though it totally sounds like it). no, *random person*, i'm not 'seeing' anybody. no, *random person*, that doesn't fill me with all-consuming fear. if people could do two things for me, 1) stop trying to fix me up because they think i'm pathetic and 2) stop championing the cause of couplehood as the superior state of being, i could stop being annoyed. anyone taking notes? good.

traditionally, i have an annual fling with some guy i've met somewhere and he sticks around for a pretty predetermined amount of time then the whole thing implodes. that is the process. last year, there must have been something wrong with the chemistry because the entire thing went kaput right in the beginning. it doesn't matter though; it (last year's near fling) served its purpose anyway. you see, i'm not a long hauler. i figure that people come into your life, you learn a lesson (and have some fun if you're lucky), and then they disappear into the void. it's very simple. there is no planning for marriage or moving in with folks, "lovin' is really my game" (all my disco heads will get that). i was lying in bed this morning thinking about the totally awful dream i had wednesday night (and boy was it awful. i woke up with a start at 6 a.m. even though i had gone to bed totally too late and needed at least three more hours of sleep. the moment i was conscious a parade of failures marched through my mind causing me to repeatedly yell expletives at the dark room. i actually had to stop myself from turning on the waterworks. what's weird is that i have had possibly THE most gruesome dreams of anyone i know since i can remember. every night, i'd wake up with some new series of gory and disturbing horror stories to tell--one of my best involving newborn babies crashing to the ground--and i was never really bothered by these. i just accepted them as part of my repressed and twisted state of mind, no big whoop. but the night before last i had a dream that really screwed me up. i had to sedate myself to fall asleep last night. anyway...) and i had to snap myself out of it. my perceived failures were starting to feel insurmountable simply because i was moving toward "the bad place" (sounds like an unnaturally precocious and creepy kid in a b horror movie, nice).

the fact is i'm not doing so bad, and the mere coincidence that everyone my age (and younger) are getting married and/or shacking up is nice for them, but that is not me. i surveyed my past flings, and i've learned some pretty valuable lessons that one shouldn't shake a stick at (don't you just love all these folksy witticisms): ambrose* taught me that being a total slut in the right context is okay; cecil* taught me that craziness can be functional; squelch* taught me that i've got to be more aggressive; and farouk* taught me that i'm not as honest and straight forward as i think i am. (there were some other people sandwiched in there, but they either reinforced lessons or i can't remember their names well enough to disguise them.) i think that's some good stuff; now i just have to internalize all of it. what is my point here since this is just starting to sound like a crazy single person's justification for being alone? well...i'm not quite sure. i just felt the need to type all that.

* names have clearly been changed simply because former interests stumbling upon your website and seeing their names is potentially uncomfortable. i mean i'm weird, but i'd try my damndest not to date someone named cecil.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Thank God That's Over

happy holidays and shit. i can't express how happy i am that the seasonal feigned interest in goodwill, joy and caring is over. i can say that i'm quite happy with the seasonal sales; i've come up on some coveted items at ridiculous prices, yay me.

anyway, i've decided to do a few things in the coming year. (these decisions have nothing to do with new year's resolutions. i just happen to be making changes at this time.) in the interest of the new me, i've decided to 1. grow my hair out and 2. purchase an elliptical to work some fat off my deceptively fat ass (and to perhaps stop these unexplainable chest pains). the first may be tough. as soon as my hair gets any longer than a half an inch, i quickly call my barber for an appointment; however, i'm kinda sick of this look, the whole mature and bald thing. it's time to take it to the "next level." the second thing, the working out, i need to do and have been needing to do for a while. some of you may know that i joined the y(mca) last january. i have not seen the inside of said 'y' since april. even worse, i was exactly across the street from said 'y' yesterday, but couldn't be bothered to go in because i had over four pounds of filet mignon, several quarts of juicy juice, five pounds of chocolate chips, 12 buttery croissants (cwah-SOWH, say it with me), and other such delights to truck home. priorities, man, priorities.

when i got home, i filled up on a medium rare, two-inch thick steak smothered in blue cheese and sour cream and chive mashed potatoes. clearly i need this elliptical in my life. the problem with leaving the house to exercise is the whole leaving the house part. i am a lazy, insular hermit. i do not like leaving the house or carousing with the locals, even it is distanced interaction and does not involve speaking; it will not do. i came to the conclusion that the only way i'll ever exercise on a regular basis is by bringing the gym to myself; hence, the home elliptical. i've found the perfect machine--sturdy, economical and hardworking. it has garnered universal praise from fitness experts, and is made by sole, who presumably makes good stuff. i look at it this way: when i was going to the 'y,' i only used the elliptical and the treadmill anyway; this thing is the price equivalent of a year's gym membership anyway (or two, depending on where you go), so i'd rather run the risk of actually using the equipment at home than paying the 'y,' bally or whomever free money. i'm probably going to need some help on this, so all of you out there who would like to see me live rather than dying an instantaneous death over a plate of artery-clogging goodies might just want to start chipping in. also, for any of you who are looking to buy home gym equipment, go here. this guy, who calls himself the Treadmill Sensei, knows his stuff.

during the christmas holiday, i found myself surprisingly unable to leave my mother's house. usually, i'm itching to get back home, but this year i really enjoyed kicking it with the fam. i suppose this is indicative of my inevitable transformation into a human. we watched movies, we went to the movies, we ate, we laughed, we cried. we also went shopping. while shopping, i forced my brother to take some blackmail-worthy photos that appear below. i don't know. i just thought the idea of the UMJ in silly hats was hilarious. so, people, for your viewing pleasure, i present....Hats on Parade. (i do acknowledge that by putting him on blast and on the internet, i run the risk of attracting the attention of some sick, smutty pedophile. i don't really provide any salient details about the UMJ, though, so i think he'll be safe. plus, he'll kick your ass.)

get a load of the look on his face...hilarious.

dude, he's rocking a church hat.

trying to look hard in a pink, textured hat...and WILDLY SUCCEEDING! touche, young man, touche!

and finally, the crown jewel of the collection. like something from dre's early career (think world class wreckin cru, but better).