Tuesday, July 29, 2008

You Can't Go Home Again

I guess I'm stepping back onto my soap box. This fall's tv lineup will include the new 90210. The new 90210! Do we need another 90210? Do we even need another teen drama series? Isn't there enough sex and deception and angst on tv in the form of One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl and The Hills? On the promos the creators said that this 90210 will be edgier, sexier, more controversial than the first. How much edgier can you get it? Why is it entertaining to watch high schoolers sluttin' it up? Really, I find it a little disturbing that adults would be watching high scoolers sluttin' it up. I know you may say that adults are not the target demographic, but the creators did say that they expect the original show's fans to watch also. And the fact that they have Jennie Garth reprising her role as Kelly Taylor says that they are trying to pull in old fans (who are definitely no longer teenagers).

As I watched the cast members (only a few; I couldn't get through all of the intros) talk about their characters, I just didn't care. I did not care that Silver would be the atypical high schooler who is a free spirit type (sadly, she does not sound like an atypical high school tv character). I did not care that Naomi is the hot rich girl with the on-again/off again relationship with sexy Ethan and she gets whatever she wants. I just didn't care. As I watched, I was thinking, "Been there, done that."

I know the next generation has not been there, done that (actually they have--One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, The Hills), but people, COME UP WITH NEW IDEAS! Stop trying to make us relive yesterday. 90210 is Generation X's memory; not Gen Yers'. Hollywood will suck the life out of anything, then revive it and suck the life back out. They didn't even bother to come up with a new premise--a wholsome, nuclear family with one boy, one girl (both teenagers) from the heart of America comes to rich, wild Beverly Hills and tries to adjust.

Okay, I am just venting. But we should demand more out of the film and tv industry. We're smarter; we deserve more. Steel Magnolia, you like to write letters. Write them a letter. I will do my part--I'm not going to watch. Do you think they'll get the message?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

History in the Making

How interesting! Cynthia McKinney just chose Rosa Clemente as her running mate for the 2008 Presidential race. Her selection has created the first all-women-of-color presidential ticket in America's history. This presidential race is truly historic! I wonder if all those Hillary supporters who seemed to only be voting Democrat because they wanted a woman to win will cast their vote for the Green party.
Here's a link to an interview with McKinney and Clemente about the race:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What's Wrong with Elisabeth ?!?

Last week on The View, Elisabeth Hasselbeck started crying when the women discussed the use of the word "nigger." Apparently, she was confused as to how the word can be used and who can use it. When Whoopi Goldberg explained (yet again) that as a white person, she cannot acceptably use the word, Elisabeth became upset and started crying, babbling something about everyone living in the same world.

Here is my issue: After Whoopi said that we live in different worlds, who is Elisabeth to dismiss that and say that we live in the same world? I don't presume to speak for all black people as no one person can (for instance, I disagree with Whoopi's assessment that Blacks can use the word acceptably), but I believe most black people would agree that we do live in different worlds in America. They would agree that black people see the world through different eyes than white people. That's not to say that we have no similarities. At our core, regardless of culture or race, we want to be happy, we want the best for our families, we want connection with others. Even beyond the core, we can laugh at some of the same jokes, we can find the same people attractive, we share the same hobbies. But none of these things negates the fact that as a black person in America, one's experiences will be shaped and viewed differently from a white person's because he/she is black in America. And it is the height of arrogance to tell that person that his/her experience is not different! That is like a rich person telling a poor person that his life is no different or a thin person telling a fat person to stop imagining mistreatment. You can't tell another person what his/hers experience is!

The thing is, there cannot be a meeting of the minds or even the possibility that we can live in the same world as Elisabeth insists we already do, until everyone is willing to admit that people have different experiences and we all start to respect those experiences rather than trying to negate them.

If there's one thing black people have learned throughout history, shedding tears won't change things.

Note: Don't forget to check out Black in America tonight on CNN.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Past is Prologue

This week in Washington, DC, approximately 35,000 women participated in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.'s centennial celebration. Often, when I think about the stability and endurance of this sorority, I am amazed. One hundred years ago, in the face of discrimination, Jim Crow, lynchings and educational apartheid among other life-changing struggles, young women like Ethel Hedgeman Lyle, Lillie Burke, and Lucy Diggs Slowe had the courage and insight to start an organization that would ultimately attract over 200,000 college-educated women. Not only that, the organization would last for an hundred years. In a Women's Studies course I once took, I learned that men respect the things that men build because they are lasting--buildings, bridges, societies--but not so much what women produce because it is temporal--life, for example. AKA is an example of women producing that which lasts. And when one considers that these were young women--college students--the age of those that I teach and sometimes throw my hands up and wonder about, I am humbled. Steel Magnolia says that we should not count out the young. AKA's founders are examples of why we shouldn't.

This achievement gives me pause and at this pivotal point in our history, I am honored to be a part of this legacy.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How to Get Your Baby to Walk

So I discovered something tonight: All people are motivated by their grandest desires. My daughter's favorite plaything at one year old? Her Elmo doll. My son's? His member.

He started walking about month ago, so he's still unsteady on his feet and would rather crawl when he's in a hurry. My husband thinks it's hilarious and freeing to let him go commando, and he was having just such a moment a little while ago. He wanted to follow his sister, who was moving much faster down the hall. He was holding his favorite item with one hand and trying to crawl. Realizing that crawling with one hand doesn't quite work, he finally decides to get up and walk. Thus, he did not have to let go of his favorite toy.

I have no words. Only laughter.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mommy Dearest

So, I'm trying not to cry. That's a challenge. I cry at commercials. And weddings. And funerals. And movies. And the opening of a can of soup. I'm a crier. But the point today is that I just left my beautiful, cuddly son at daycare. And, like his mother, he was crying. Actually, he was screaming. Like he was in the third circle of Dante's Inferno. Let me tell you, this was not a good feeling. He put a death grip on me as I kissed him goodbye and I had to pry his little hand from my blouse. I offered to stay with him for a while. In fact, I had planned to stay with him to help him get comfortable. But the teacher told me that the sooner I left, the better. I don't feel that silly, working mother guilt that women keep describing because I know that I have to continue to do what I need to do. (And because fathers are rarely subject to that guilt, either externally or internally). But leaving him crying and afraid and missing me feels exceptionally crappy.

This moment comes on the heels of another less than stellar parenting moment. Yesterday was bike day and I lugged my 2 year old daughter's scooter--the kind you push with your feet--into her classroom. All of the children were lined up on their bikes to go outside. Then I realize that all of the other children have tricycles with pedals. My daughter scoots down the hall with her class, but she's the only one pushing with her feet. She has two bikes with pedals at home, but she doesn't know how to ride them alone because the last time we tried her legs were too short. And because it's hot as all get out and we haven't been spending much time outdoors. So, ultimately, I've been holding her back. I sent her to school with this little baby toy and she should have been on a big kid bike. What's wrong with me?! I haven't been reading all the books like I should have so that I would know her developmental stage. AND last week I forgot to bring her ball for ball day.

Are these the things that will send my children to therapy?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Dirty Little (TV) Secret

I don't watch reality shows except for the occasional season of American Idol. And a show or two on TLC, which aren't really reality shows--they're life unscripted. I don't watch them because I believe television and film are the domain of writers and actors and reality shows eliminate a significant need for them. I believe I read recently on Yahoo that acting is one of the top 20 jobs in decline this year. Give me Cashmere Mafia over reality tv any day.

That said, I do not understand my fascination with Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood. Why am I enthralled by this show? I didn't hate Tori Spelling when I used to (religiously) watch Beverly Hills, 90210, but she was my least favorite main character (although I did like that she played a virgin for most of the series). If I had to guess, I would not have thought that I would care about her life. But there is just something about her show, something I cannot explain. It started with Tori and Dean: Inn Love. I couldn't get enough of her preparation for and running of a bed and breakfast. When she and the show moved to Hollywood, I knew I wouldn't watch anymore because I don't care about the day-to-day lives of the rich and famous. But I do care! At least enough to watch. Maybe it's because her relationship with her mom is mad fascinating and her interactions with her husband are certainly interesting. Perhaps it's because I find that she does pretty much the same things I do: I recently went looking for a house; I was pregnant (for awhile, but that's another post); I hope to have a book tour. It's not that I'm surprised that she's a real person. I'm surprised that I care.

I guess now the question is, since I like to read, will I be buying Stori Telling? (That title is just so clever!)

I need help.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

And the Search Goes On

My husband (let's call him Diva's Husband or DH) is reading Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith which deals with how white evangelical religion reinforces the racialization of society. In the book there's a story about a couple who moves around a lot because of their job and must find a new church home in each city. Because of this constant movement, they have created a system to help them find a church home. They call the domination's state organization and ask for all the churches in the area. Then they call the churches and ask specific questions about the church. Based on the answers, they narrow the churches down to three. Next they visit the churches and invite people from the church to their house for dinner and interviews. Based on the interviews, they visit the churches again and decide which one they want to join. All of this takes two months. We have been in Biblebelt for three years, and we are still searching. Their methods seem like a pretty good idea.

When we were looking for a house, we had certain criteria that helped us refine our search. We had to have a separate dining room or we would not buy the house. We didn't even want to look at houses with garages in the front. We were willing to give in on whether we had three or four bedrooms. Having such standards helped a lot and we were able to find a house that makes us happy in a fairly short amount of time. Considering this, and the couple from above, we have decided to come up with criteria to help in our church search.

These criteria are in no particular order:

1. The pastor should be politically and culturally aware. He/she has to understand that the world outside of the church affects the way that people view the world and their spirituality and he/she must allow that knowledge to bear on the sermons and teachings. Don't tell me, for instance, that the prisons are full simply because people are sinful. Understand that there may be some social, political, and/or economic factors at play.

2. The church must be financially secure. This may sound elitist, but we don't want a church that has three offering periods every Sunday followed by a sermon that talks about sowing seeds. At one church we attended, I kid you not, the entire service was dedicated to raising money, from the songs sung to the testimonies given to the pastor's sermon. Plus, when a church has resources, they have the freedom to actually focus on ministry.

3. The pastor must respect education and be engaged in his/her own scholarship. The African-American church gives a lot of lip service to education, congratulating people when they graduate from any school and telling people that it's a good thing to go to college. But in the next breath the preacher will get up and say "I don't care what kind of degree you have, if you don't have a BA (Born Again) degree, you ain't got nothing." I get that our relationship to God is of the utmost importance, but statements like this devalue education. And as someone who has spent years in school to earn a Ph.D., with God's help, it's hard for me to appreciate such sentiments. Also, I need to know that as a pastor, you respect the enterprise of learning so that I can trust that you will constantly be reading and studying more than just the scripture itself. I need for you to understand history and society and human nature. If you're going to lead me, you should be equipped. I mean, no one will let me get up and teach my students without education, why should I accept less from someone who is supposed to be my spiritual leader? DH thinks the pastor should be seminary-trained. This quality is not as important to me, but he/she must be reading and studying.

4. The Sunday School must be challenging and engaged with contemporary issues. We don't want a class that talks to us only about Daniel's stint in the lion's den. How many times have we heard this story? We need a class that is going to help us live in 2008, in America, in a world that is racist and sexist and classist, in a place where people can be overflowing with the milk of kindness and at the same time fearful and intolerant as they were after 9/11. I don't need religious cliches.

5. There should be young adults (I think I still am) who are active in the church. It's just disheartening when you attend a church and all you find are older members and their grandchildren, who are literally children.

6. The church should not be far away. Because most of the churches around us in Biblebelt are white, we have to be negotiable on this one. It can't be so far away, however, that it will take me an hour to get to it. I would never go to that church at any time other than Sunday morning.

7. It should be African American. We like the music, the preaching style, the comfort of just being understood without explanation that we get at a Black church. At work and other places, we don't have this comfort. Church should be a place in which we can be ourselves. Also, discussing how the gospel speaks to who we are as Black people and affirming our Blackness is probably not discussed at White churches. At least, that's what I assume.

8. It should have an 8:00 am service. Okay, this is not a deal breaker, but it is nice.

9. The church should be progressive in its stance on women's issues. This is not a deal breaker for me either, but it will color the way I hear things in the church. At the White church we attended, the minister talked about sexism from the pulpit and I nearly fell off the pew. At no other church have I heard a pastor mention the word "sexism;" forget discussing the phenomenon. What I hear essentially is that I should be quiet and accept my place in the hierarchy of God, Jesus, Man, Woman, Dog, Cat. Yeah, okay.

10. It should be racially affirming. I know this is not popular in our politically correct world of diversity, but I'm not ashamed of being Black and my church should not be either. On yesterday we attended a church where the pastor made a point to say that people often got tripped up because of the color the artists have painted Jesus. However, it doesn't matter to him what color Jesus is. Well, obviously it does matter to some people and you should deal with that and what it means that people are asked to identify with a God who is consistently painted as being completely different from who they are. You can't just brush that away. In Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Celie says God is an old white man and white folks nor men have ever paid attention to what she has to say. Now why would she be interested in a white male God? (See, here is where being politically and socially aware and critically engaged comes in to play.) Then the pastor went on to say that all he cares is that Jesus's red blood washed his brown soul white as snow. That is replete with racist imagery. Subconsciously, it reaffirms that white is good and black is bad. And this preacher said brown, which is a little worse because at least black is the generic for soiled. Brown speaks specifically to his coloring as a Black man. And, really, that line has been used so often it's cliche. Just say, Jesus's blood made my sinful soul pure. See, we need a church that will not say things like that. We don't have any children yet, but when we have them, I want them to go to a church that will help them love themselves as Black people as well as children of God.

11. The pastor must be humble. He/she doesn't know everything and he/she ain't God. We need a pastor who recognizes this. The pastor should be open to learning and seeing ideas from different perspectives. For instance, if I bring it to your attention that saying Jesus turned your black soul white is racist, be open to considering that. Maybe you'll decide after careful thought that I am wrong, but be open.

12. There should be a good music ministry. Again, this is not a deal breaker.

13. The church should be either Baptist, United Methodist, African Methodist, United Church of Christ or Non-Denominational. I grew up Baptist all of my life except for the 2 years in college when I was AME. DH is mostly Baptist, but has some Methodist history. We are open to other denominations, but not many others. We disagree with some of the doctrines of other denominations that are posited as essential fundamentals to their faith.

14. The church should be active in the community. A church should go beyond its walls and be engaged in making the community better. DH prefers that the church be politically engaged, such as advocating for educational policies that will effect positive change for its members who usually find themselves on the wrong side of the achievement gap.

15. The sermons should be thought-provoking and challenging. We're tired of hearing the same ol' same ole. Yes, I know that Jesus is bringing me through the storm and I should praise him because he is a doctor in the sick room and I promise that I will immediately stop shacking and make my husband pull up his pants and, of course, we will praise Jesus. Preach about something else already! Is there nothing else going on in the world? Is there nothing else going on in the Bible? When the Gospel of Judas was in the news, I listened to see if any preachers would even mention it. None did. There are stories in the Bible that tell us about how to live under oppression, how to parent, how to respond to global warming, how to treat people in business dealings. I have yet to hear a sermon in a church in Biblebelt that deals with any of this (except at the White church). The Bible is filled with so many topics, but all the sermons ever seem to deal with are praising Jesus and coming through hard times and praising Jesus for bringing you through hard times. Challenge us to view our faith in new and powerful ways. Not doing this is a deal breaker.

I don't know if we will find a church that meets all of these criteria. In fact, I don't think we will in Biblebelt. Some things we can negotiate on, but we are having the hardest time finding the must-haves. Often, the churches trip up on #15 probably because they don't meet #1 and #3. But we'll keep searching. And praying. There are hundreds of churches here.

One of These Sunday Mornings

This morning in bed, my husband nudged me, waking me up the same way he does almost every Sunday morning--asking "Where are we going to church?"

I am not kidding. Every Sunday morning, except the times when we are out of town, that same question is asked. Although we have been in the same Bible belt city for the last three years, we have not found a church home. It's not because we have not been looking. We have. We grew up in the church--we even met there--so we know how important having a strong spiritual life is and how integral having a church home is to that life.

The first church we went to when we arrived in Biblebelt was near our home which made me happy. I prefer close proximity so that I can be active in something other than Sunday morning service. When we walked in I knew almost immediately that I was not coming back. They had a Texas wallet-sized portrait of the pastor on the wall of the sanctuary! I can understand having a picture of the pastor somewhere in the church, but I'm gon' need for it to be in the vestibule or the fellowship hall, not in the sanctuary. This smacked of pastor-worship to me. But I was willing to give the church a chance. We sat through service, which was fairly standard for a Black baptist church, until it was offering time. Someone gave a tithing testimony from the podium, which seems to also be standard, and directed our attention to the three baskets on the offering table. He then proceeded to tell the congregation that we must stop choosing which basket we are going to contribute to and get used to giving to all three funds, one of which was the pastor love fund. See, right then, I was ready to go. Why is the congregation being told we have to give our money to the pastor love fund? There was pastor worship going on!

It didn't get much better than that. At one church we walked in on a congregant giving a testimony about her failing marriage and telling the congregation to pray for her husband. We thought he wasn't there the way she kept calling his name and talking about him. But he was. He was an associate minister at the church. She went on to tell us that she saw Sgt. Strife walk down the hall of their house and slide under their bed. Then the pastor took the mic from her and told us to stay out of people's business, after which he told us about his philandering brother, also a preacher. There was the church that had the guest speaker who got up and talked about how illegal immigrants bring all the crime to the city, take all of our jobs and drive up welfare rolls. Then there's the country church that had the sign in the vestibule which told women they could not wear pants. There was also Morning Glory Harvest of the Noon Day church that had the blind pastor (which is not objectionable, just memorable) who talked about doing things his way and he wasn't going to tolerate the mess that had been going on before he got there. That church had obviously been messy. There was another church that seemed okay, but in the middle of the pastor's service, we noticed that one of the congregants got up and threw something in the pulpit. A little while later, someone in the choir stand behind him threw something at him. Then some more people did the same. We finally realized they were throwing money at him! Just like he was a stripper! He tried to explain it, but it didn't make sense. I can't go to a strip club church.

These were the more egregious churches. There have been others that were not close enough to our home or they did not have a healthy respect for education or they bordered on prosperity preaching. We found one that we liked which had a pastor who was thoughtful and progressive; sermons that were inspired and inspiring; a close proximity to our jobs if not our homes; and excellent teaching and outreach ministries. Although hard to ignore, each Sunday we overlooked the fact that it was a Methodist church and a predominately white church. We stopped attending when the pastor returned home to South Africa. We gave the new pastors a chance, but they had a different agenda (it wasn't wrong; it just did not help us overlook the fact that this was a white church.)

I want a church home. I want to be in a community that will help me grow and that will be a part of my life through all of its triumphs and tragedies. It shouldn't be this hard, but it is. The search is very tiring. It's gotten to the point that on some Sunday mornings when he asks, I just turn over and tell him we're going back to sleep.

Monday, July 7, 2008

I Hate Young People

I’ve just read a series of articles about, first, the astronomical suckiness of college students, and, second, the plethora of reasons for it. Then, I heard about a website solely dedicated to the wretchedness failures of young people and why they deserve our collective ire. I’m not so sure that I can still consider myself a young person (especially given my creaky knees and the unwelcome layer of fat showing up around my waist), but I feel offended and sad. I do, however, freely attest that there are some drawbacks to youth. Chief among those drawbacks is the way in which we really don’t know what we think we know. It’s a cruel joke of the universe because young adulthood is the time when we begin to feel that we have things figured out. We think we know how this life thing works and have a list of the answers to life’s questions. Of course, time has an (un)funny way of teaching us that there are footnotes to nearly all the answers, qualifiers that throw off our neatly drawn portraits of life. The fine print is impossibly small and young people don’t bother to read fine print anyway; they’re too busy squandering sleep and doing fun things with their flat stomachs and flexible knees. That said, being a young adult is like being a toddler. They feel the need to remind people that they are not babies and they know how to do lots of things all by themselves and don’t want your help. Then they fall down or put their shoes on the wrong feet. But it doesn’t really matter to them because they are in the process of figuring it out. That’s what young adulthood is about, too.

I’m putting my money on the fact that young people “today” are very much like young people of days gone by. They act without thinking, they pursue what makes them feel good, and they can’t see past the noses on their faces. In many ways, the stakes today are higher; sex can kill you, and there are thousands of ways to be distracted from the business of adulthood. Youtube and myspace won’t let anyone forget about our youthful stupidity. Still, it’s not okay to forget that, as Malcolm X said, young people change things. Old people don’t. The problem is that some of us are already old when we’re still young.

Don’t get me wrong, now. Young people get on my nerves, too. I wish almost every day that students would bring their behinds to class—on time—and actually complete assignments without spending an hour coming up with a sob story. I wish that they would say “please” and be grateful for other people’s time and attention. But, for me, it’s too depressing to leave the discussion there. Youth is only the beginning of the evolution. They might deserve our disgust sometimes, but they also deserve our mercy and—sometimes—our pity. They’ll get past this all too brief moment in their lives and turn into the fabulous caregivers, workers, or jerks they intend to be. It’s a process. And it’s fun to watch because, eventually, they’ll probably hate young people, too.