Feb 12 2014

Phenomenal On So Many Levels

Wow! This was an awesome read. It was recommended by a book club, so this was my first time reading any of Ms. Cross’ work. And may I say that I have TRULY been missing out. Skin Deep was absolutely PHENOMENAL. No doubt. Period. The story was well crafted. The characters were well-developed. There is symbolism galore, as well as drama and suspense. (With a HUGE twist at the end! I never saw that coming.)

Now to the story: Nina was a complex character, with an interesting perspective on things. She was a beautiful, strong-willed, well-educated woman who came from a strong support system. Her “cross to bear” (if you call it that) is that in addition to her flawless beauty, she is a very fair skinned Black woman with blue eyes. Nina is aware of the special treatment and privileges she receives because of her fair skin, blue eyes, beautiful hair and body, etc. So much so, that she strives for equal opportunities and treatment for herself and others. Her father is a famous African-American musician. But her biological mother, who she knows is white, is a huge secret. A secret that she has spent years trying to find out about; even though she has a wonderful relationship with her Mama who raised her.

While on her crusade for equal minority relations and a MLK holiday at the college campus where she teaches and volunteers, she meets an interesting man named Ahmed and his beautiful daughter, Ebony. She is intrigued by Ahmed, who is totally rude and obnoxious towards her. And she instantly bonds with Ebony- who is desperate for stability and unconditional love, attention and guidance from a woman. The only problem is that Ahmed loathes Nina and what he feels that she is and she represents.

I won’t give away anything additional, because I want you to read the book and follow their journey yourself. As other reviews have said, this is a complex but beautiful story. Even though Ms. Cross wrote it many years ago, I believe that the themes and sub-plots are still prevalent today. Outstanding job Ms. Cross! (It was so good that I purchased her second book before I was half way finished with this one.)


Jan 13 2012

Joshua Bennett’s ’10 Things I Want to Say to a Black Woman’ — To Click or Not to Click?

Spoken word artist Joshua Bennett has ten things he wants to say to a black woman, and I’m not sure I want to hear it.

I’ve happened upon Bennett’s YouTube video and I see that hundreds of thousands of viewers have already clicked play.

I’m curious, and dubious. Haven’t I seen more than enough of these user submitted monologues and their hurtful diatribe masquerading as “advice” on how black women can become less flawed?

Yes, I’m defensive, despite the fact that whatever Bennett’s message is, it is probably not directed at me.

As a “mixed” woman who did not inherit my black father’s genetic code for brown skin, I exist in a narrow category of African Americans for whom the “racial” identifier “black” is hesitantly (at times begrudgingly) applied. Despite my stubborn insistence on claiming my “blackness,” the truth is, I have walked through life experiencing the privileges white skin affords one in America. Privileges I am acutely aware of due to my proximity to brown-skinned family and friends whose social interactions differ so greatly from mine.

I’m sure there are some privileges I’m clueless about because they are conferred when I’m not paying attention to how brown I am not.

But sometimes I am paying attention.

Like recently when I sat with two four-year-old brown girls to watch Disney’s latest princess movie, Tangled. And, no, this won’t be a rant about popular culture’s preoccupation with the pretty white girl and her extra-long glistening blonde hair. I can discuss that image with my girls, no problem. I can confirm to my little ones that Rapunzel is bright, brave and beautiful under her blonde tresses, and in the next breath I will rave about how smart, sweet and stunning my girls are beneath their brunette twists and braids.

As a mother of four brown-skinned daughters, I have become quite adept at explaining how the Creator made us all with varied skin tones and physical features that are a perfect reflection of the Universe’s awesome diversity. In our discussions, brunette does not trump blonde. Long and straight isn’t more perfect than tightly kinked. Vanilla is delicious. Chocolate is delectable. It’s all good. It’s all beautiful. 

I can do that conversation. No sweat.

But there are times when the Media are so blatant and brutal in their bias against black women that it knocks me back a few paces and I have to regroup.

Like when Psychology Today publishes “scientific” findings on why black women are the least attractive on earth.

Or when the Los Angeles Times Magazine honors the 50 Most Beautiful Women in Film, and omits stunning black women who apparently are too brown to be visible.

Or when First Lady Michelle Obama must publicly defend herself against accusations she’s an “angry black woman.”

Or when filmmaker George Lucas spends his own money to make an amazing film about the black Tuskegee airmen of WWII, omits the black wives, and focuses instead on a love story featuring a Portuguese woman. (By the way, George, there were Tuskeegee Airwomen, too.)

With the exception of a rare few (most of whom are very light skinned), black women are not celebrated in mainstream American culture, or held up as role models for American children to cherish, respect and emulate.

Having said that…

We are twenty minutes into Tangled, these two little brown girls and I, and we are getting to know and love this feisty Rapunzel, and we are celebrating her escape from the tower, and she is led by prince-to-be Flynn Rider into a dark den of disgusting, mean , lawless outcasts, and…

Disney flings this dagger at my little loves:

Flynn Rider: You smell that? Take a deep breath through the nose. (He inhales.) Really let that seep in. What are you getting? Because to me, that’s part man-smell, and the other part is really bad man-smell. I don’t know why, but overall it just smells like the color brown.

Really, Disney?

There wasn’t one human being among the hundreds who worked on this picture who read/saw that scene and said something like,

“Um, won’t there be little brown children watching this? Won’t this movie be around, like, forever, and should we equate the skin color of millions of children who will watch this with ‘really bad man smell’?”

*blink*

Seriously?

And, what might this moment have to do with white privilege?

Everything.

It has everything to do with having the privilege (or not having it) of raising daughters in a society where their skin color will be publicly celebrated. Where it will be held up as something beautiful and worthy of admiration and protection. Where it will not be referred to, even indirectly, as something really bad smelling.

Before you watch Joshua Bennett’s poem, watch this excerpt from Kiri Davis’s brilliant film A Girl Like Me, and ask yourself what is going on in the heart and soul of this little girl at marker 1:36. What messages has she already received about being a black girl, and from where are they coming? Who will counter those messages with beautiful truth?

I must admit, when I clicked on Bennett’s YouTube video, “10 Things I Want to Say to a Black Woman,” I steeled myself for what I suspected would be another disgruntled man giving “advice” to black women on how to be less “angry” and more “lovable.”

Not even close.


Jul 30 2012

1968 Olympics Black Power Salute: Ever Wonder What that White Guy Was Thinking?

Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, 1968 Olympics

When American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black fists in protest and solidarity at the Mexico City Olympic games in 1968, I was much too young to understand the significance of the moment. I do remember the controversy it stirred.

I have vague recollections of the negative and positive opinions voiced over the years by the adults in my world regarding whether the two men were heroes or fools. I recall that most of my people were of the opinion that it took immense courage for those two young men to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

What I don’t remember is anyone ever discussing the white guy who stood there with them.

Ever.

He was the second fastest man in the world. Was he too stunned to move? Did he know in advance that this “political” statement would be made in his moment of glory? Was he as appalled by the black power symbolism as much of white America seemed to be? Was he just a bystander, or did he know in advance that he would be a participant in a civil rights protest of world-reaching proportions?

That white guy’s name was Peter Norman. On that day at the summer games Norman had just earned the 200 meter dash silver medal for his home country, Australia, and yes, he was well aware of the protest in advance. Peter spoke with his co-medalists about their plan, told them he believed in what they were doing, and wore a button on his jacket identical to the ones worn by Smith and Carlos which read “Olympic Project for Human Rights,” a black American organization formed in 1967 by amateur athletes.

The founding statement of OPHR read (in part):

We must no longer allow this country to use…a few “Negroes” to point out to the world how much progress she has made in solving her racial problems when the oppression of Afro-Americans is greater than it ever was. We must no longer allow the Sports World to pat itself on the back as a citadel of racial justice when the racial injustices of the sports industry are infamously legendary…[A]ny black person who allows himself to be used in the above matter… is a traitor to his country because he allows racist whites the luxury of resting assured that those black people in the ghettos are there because that is where they want to be… So we ask why should we run in Mexico only to crawl home?

Norman agreed with that premise, stood proudly with Smith and Carlos, and like them, he paid a heavy price for it.

Most people who are knowledgeable about that moment in history know Smith and Carlos were ejected from the games immediately and stripped of their medals. Though some in the black community hailed the men as heroes, their “official” reception back in the U.S. was beyond frigid. Both men had difficulty finding jobs and Smith was dishonorably discharged from the Army Reserve for “UnAmerican activities.” Both received death threats.

The Los Angeles Times described the raised fists of Smith and Carlos as a “Nazi-like salute.” Time magazine replaced the Olympic logo’s motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” with “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier” in their scathing version of the event. The Chicago Tribune called the act “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” Sports writer Brent Musberger, in another reference to Nazis, called the two men “a pair of dark-skinned storm troopers” who were “airing dirty clothing before the entire world.”

And then there was Peter.

He returned to Australia to suffer a lifetime of sanction and ridicule. Though no Australian to date has ever been clocked running faster than him, Norman was never invited to represent his country in the Olympics again.

“As soon as he got home he was hated,” explains his nephew Matt Norman, director of the film “Salute!” a documentary Matt filmed about Peter’s life before and after the 1968 Olympics.

After hearing he’d been cut from Australia’s Munich team (despite qualifying) Norman quit running, and in 2000, when his country hosted the Olympic games in Sydney, he was not invited.

“At the Sydney Olympics he wasn’t invited in any capacity,” says Matt Norman. ”There was no outcry. He was the greatest Olympic sprinter in our history…He suffered to the day he died.”

Though Carlos and Smith were eventually restored to their proper place as activists and heroes in the struggle for civil rights in America, and both were honored in 2008 at the ESPN Espy awards, Norman died an unsung hero in his homeland on October 9, 2006.

At the funeral both Smith and Carlos gave the eulogy, announcing to the mourners that the U.S. Track and Field association had declared the day of his death “Peter Norman Day” — the only time in the organization’s history that such an honor had been bestowed on a foreign athlete.

Carlos & Smith carrying Peter Norman’s coffin in 2006. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Both men helped carry Peter Norman’s coffin before it was lowered into the ground. For them, Norman was a hero.

Carlos referred to him as “A lone soldier,” for his determined stand against racism.

“Peter Norman is my brother from another mother…” said Carlos. “I’d die for him…”

For more information about the film visit Salute the Movie.

To read an excellent article about the Olympic black power salute and the events surrounding it, DO NOT MISS this informative piece by Dave Zirin, who is also the co-author of The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World.

 

Awesome trailer for the film Salute, the Movie. Glad I watched it. Inspiring:

“I believe in human rights…” – Peter Norman, 6/16/1942 – 10/3/2006

 

UPDATE:

“Salute” the Movie is now available for streaming on Netflix!


May 25 2013

European_Douchebag and the Bearded Sikh Girl: When Cyberbullying Goes Terribly Right

I’m not sure how much attention you’re willing to pay to the ramblings of a Reddit poster named “european_douchebag,” but the guy has sparked a conversation that has led many, myself included, to examine the impromptu judgments we make about how other humans choose to present themselves to the world—and about how the concept of “beauty” so effectively divides us.

Balpreet Kaur, “a baptized Sikh woman.”

It seems “douchebag” caught sight of the young lady pictured here and, without her knowledge, snapped this photo of her. He proceeded to post the photo on Reddit and tagged it “funny,” along with the caption, “i’m not sure what to conclude from this.”

On the cyberbullying meanness scale, I’d give douche’s caption a 2.5, but the message he not-so-subtly conveyed about his photo’s subject was, What’s wrong with this picture? The photo elicited hundreds of responses, many of them considerably more cruel than Douche’s original caption.

Of course, with the virtual world being as small as it is, a friend eventually alerted the photo’s subject that she was being ridiculed online, and, well,  I’ll give you four wild guesses how the “victim” responded:

A. She contacted an attorney and issued an immediate cease and desist letter to Douche and Reddit.
B. She combed through Douche’s Reddit ramblings and found several posts with which to embarrass him.
C. She took the high (ignore that insensitive jerk) road.
D. None of the above.

The answer is “D” —and then some.

Against the advice of cyberbullying experts, who warn bullying targets to “never reply to cyberbullies -even though you may really want to,” the young lady posted this response to Douchebag’s photo share: (The paragraph breaks are mine)

Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn’t know about this until one of my friends told on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled :) However, I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am.

Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will.

Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us.

By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.

So, to me, my face isn’t important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. :-) So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I’ve gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this.

Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together tshirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. :) I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.

*blink*

Ahem.

Can we say SCHOOLED?

Geez.

Balpreet really took it there. And by there I mean LOVING, PATIENT, COMPASSIONATE WISDOM.

Did she really say, “By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions.” ?

Well, damn. I’m so humbled by that line (and simultaneously knocked back into my own history to examine the many many many apparel and grooming choices I’ve made in my life that in NO WAY added value to my life’s purpose, and probably inadvertently  (?)  created a carnal distraction for some poor soul struggling to stay on a spiritual path.)

But, I digress.

So,

I’ll give you four wild guesses as to how Douche responded to this very (clearly) loving message Balpreet directed at him which was the essence of peaceful, thoughtful, kind, and mature.

A. He photoshopped the picture with creative cruelty–ratcheting up the ridicule factor.
B. He responded to her message with vicious insults.
C. He shut down his Reddit account and disappeared from the conversation.
D. None of the above.

The answer is, of course, “D” —with an unexpected twist.

Douche apologized:

I know that this post ISN’T a funny post but I felt the need to apologize to the Sikhs, Balpreet, and anyone else I offended when I posted that picture. Put simply it was stupid. Making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you’re making fun of. It was an incredibly rude, judgmental, and ignorant thing to post.

/r/Funny wasn’t the proper place to post this. Maybe /r/racism or /r/douchebagsofreddit or /r/intolerance would have been more appropriate. Reddit shouldn’t be about putting people down, but a group of people sending cool, interesting, or funny things. Reddit’s been in the news alot lately about a lot of cool things we’ve done, like a freaking AMA by the president. I’m sorry for being the part of reddit that is intolerant and douchebaggy. This isn’t 4chan, or 9gag, or some other stupid website where people post things like I did. It’s fucking reddit. Where some pretty amazing stuff has happened.

I’ve read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant.

So reddit I’m sorry for being an asshole and for giving you negative publicity.
Balpreet, I’m sorry for being a closed minded individual. You are a much better person than I am
Sikhs, I’m sorry for insulting your culture and way of life.
Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.

“Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.”

I concur.

And, I would add that she stands as a magnificent role model for those who would be victimized by cyberbullying–not necessarily in her amazingly humble and instructive written response (which not everyone is mature or literate enough to effectively pull off), but in her INTERNAL response to the criticism itself. She decided not to be embarrassed or humiliated, and she clearly wasn’t, because she knows who she is. She knows where her value lies. And since that value is not related to anything material, nothing material can touch it.

Love that.

I can only honor Balpreet for how far ahead of us she is in recognizing how so-called physical beauty (determined by whom?) is a stumbling block to spiritual evolution and often impedes us in living a life that adds true value to the world, though I must admit I won’t be letting my body hairs have their way in homage to her.

Having been raised in the Baha’i Faith, with “unity in diversity” as the watchwords for human interactions, it is not difficult for me to admire Balpreet and respect her choices.

On the subject of dress and appearance, the Baha’i writings advise:

“Let there be naught in your demeanor of which sound and upright minds would disapprove, and make not yourselves the playthings of the ignorant.  Well is it with him who hath adorned himself with the vesture of seemly conduct and a praiseworthy character.”  (Bahá’u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ¶ 159 p. 76)

Who, exactly, possesses “sound and upright minds” raises a deeper question, of course, but the concept makes so much sense to me that any extreme in dress or grooming that provides fodder for “the ignorant” can turn one’s own individual freedom of expression into another’s spiritual, emotional and moral distraction.

Some folks reading that are like, “So what?! I’m going to dress however I want to, and how it’s perceived by others is not my problem.” Which is how you might respond if you don’t believe the spiritual lives of others have anything to do with you, and if you don’t believe that cause and effect carry any significant consequences.

I am still pondering this incident and the conversations it has inspired, and I am still deciding how it applies to my own life and choices.

No, I won’t be letting my body hairs do their own thing, but I will be asking myself in what ways my individual freedom of expression is impacting my own spiritual growth, and how it might impact the spiritual lives of others.


Dec 26 2013

Liked This So Much…

When you’re an author, it is always a great feeling to know something you’ve written touched a reader in a positive way.

This 5-star review of my novel Schooling Carmen was posted recently on Amazon.com and I thought I’d share it with my blog readers:

 

Thank you, Sabrina, for sharing your reaction. All reviews by readers are appreciated (even the critical ones).

If any of my friends/fam/readers have been on the fence about reading Carmen’s story, I hope you’ll come on over to the purchasing side:)

Also, if you’ve already read either of my books, please consider sharing your review. I will post new ones here in the future.

PEace and AbundanCE to you and yours in the coming year!

 

 


May 27 2013

Help Me Understand Why Cannes Winner “Blue is the Warmest Color” is a Triumph for Lesbians

I was a late bloomer. I was a tree-climbing, pet-menagerie-loving, book-devouring tomboy my entire childhood. At 14 years old I still had not reached puberty, and I had begun to wonder if something might be physically wrong with me, since most of my girl-friends had been bona fide sanitary-pad-carrying “women” for many years.

When “womanhood” did finally strike me at 15, it hit with a vengeance. I went from stick-thin to hourglass in a matter of weeks, and I had stretchmarks on my new C-cup breasts to show for it.

I struggled a bit with the transition. The sudden attention. And, as I became increasingly attracted to boys, and they to me, I began to discover that my new womanly parts were some sort of an asset.

Still a virgin and halfway to 16, I met a 21-year-old man who shared a house with his brother in my cousin’s neighborhood. He was gorgeous. He was intelligent. He was chivalrous. He was single.

We got to know each other over neighborhood spades and domino games and we traded flirtations, though we both knew he was too old for me.

It was a sweet fall for me. Uninitiated virgin meets worldly, independent, philosophical  man-friend. After a first  kiss, we decided to be “a couple,” though I made it clear to him that I did not intend to “lose my virginity” until my wedding night. It was the stuff of Disney movies.

We “went steady” for a few months. He picked me up on his motorcycle and took me on mountain hikes and picnics. He wrote me romantic letters and professed his love for me.

He may have really loved me. Or, he may have been grooming me for sex. Arousal is a powerful force, and a body will want what it wants.

But, I was still a child. And, he knew it.

The brief love affair ended in his car one night in my driveway. We were kissing (and suffering from the arousal of it all) and he suddenly stopped and said. “I really care about you, but I can’t do this. I respect you. I respect that you’re not ready to have sex, but I’m a man, and I do want to have sex. I don’t want to hurt you in any way, but I can’t do this.”

And, that was the end of that. I cried for a couple of weeks then moved on to a relationship with a boy my age.

Now, let’s imagine for a moment an alternate universe in which that conversation ended instead with the passionate sexual consummation of our “young love.” Let’s pretend that our subsequent increasingly explicit and adventurous sexual cavorting was captured on camera and displayed to the public as the artistic exploration of an adult man initiating a 15-year-old girl into the physical expression of their “forbidden” love. That, legally, would not be considered art. That would be considered child pornography and my man-friend would have likely been arrested and would now be a registered sex offender.

I suspect a major motion picture about said grown man seducing a child that contains lengthy and pornographic sex scenes would never make it to pre-production, let alone be lauded as artistic.

Which brings me to my admittedly sight-unseen judgments about “Blue is the Warmest Color.”

Here is the description of the film: 15-year-old, Adèle has no doubt : a girl must date boys. Her life is turned upside down when she meets Emma, a blue haired young woman who allows her to discover desire and to assert herself as a woman and an adult. (They left out the part about how Emma is a sexually experienced graduate student in her twenties.)

In the many reviews of this film I have seen online, no one is discussing the age gap between these characters.

Brokeback Mountain was a monumental film about two consenting adults that won accolades for its courage and sensitivity, but had one of those characters been a 15-year-old boy, would that film have been made?

When it comes to sexual exploitation, should it matter that the one doing the exploiting doesn’t have a penis? Does Adele need to be 14 for us to view Emma as a molester? Thirteen?  When adult men do this to young boys, a cry for their prosecution is loud and immediate.

Being a woman and a mother of women, and having been a 15-year-old myself, it’s impossible for me to appreciate or applaud a film in which an adult seduces a child–and that seduction is offered up in graphic detail for voyeuristic mass consumption.

Being a woman it is difficult for me to trust the motives of a male film maker whose 3-hour movie contains long segments of what has been described by reviewers as “extremely graphic” and “absolutely not simulated” lesbian sex. (His red carpet walk with the teen women who starred in the film gave me the creeps.)

Not being a lesbian, I ‘m wondering why this film is being discussed all over the Internet (mostly by men) as a “triumph” for lesbians of which to be “proud.”

Please know that I am not being facetious or sarcastic when I ask for help understanding why those applauding this film do not feel compelled to protect the world’s Adeles from the sexual advances of “loving” adults, regardless of whether the adults are male or female, straight or LGBTQ.

BLOGGER’S NOTE: I have not seen Blue is the Warmest Color and do not want to after reading the reviews. I did not read 50 Shades of Grey for the same reason–because, though it is likely to be titillating, my personal preference is to not be “entertained” by the sexual exploitation of innocents  (and I don’t want those images in my head forever). This has admittedly influenced my opinions about this movie. I welcome other points of view.