Category Archives: social issues

I, Too

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I, Too by Langston Hughes

I, Too by Langston Hughes

 

Wishing each of you, and your loved ones, a safe, festive and tasty 4th of July celebration!

An Open Letter to American Girl

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My American girls

My American girls

 

As many of you may know, my girls and I are huge fans of American Girl dolls. Thing 1 and Thing 2 have several dolls in their collection, as well as books, clothing, furniture and all kinds of fun accessories.  Last week American Girl announced that it will be retiring four of its Historical Dolls: Marie-Grace, Cecile, Ruthie and Ivy.  With this announcement I am forced to focus on what has become for me a  troubling marketing practice of this doll company, which is their lack of diversity in their product offerings.  Cecile is one of only two African-American Historical Dolls and Ivy is the only Asian American Historical Doll.  While it is true that customers can walk into the store and buy a doll with different hair, skin and eye color combinations, the Girl of The Year and the Historical Dolls are very homogeneous.  These are the dolls that have built the brand.  Every year, little girls world-wide wait impatiently for the Girl of the Year to be announced and those that can head to the store January 1st to make their purchase, while others log on to the internet to place their order.    There are books, costumes, special accessories all created to develop a story…to make magic. Over time I have become increasingly uncomfortable with just who the company believes represents an American girl.

In light of my feelings on this issue, I felt that I needed to voice my concerns directly to the company.  What follows is the body of my open letter to American Girl, to the attention of Ms. Stephanie Spanos, Human Relations Manager:

Dear Ms. Spanos,

My name is Lisa Owen and I am a writer and blogger at My So Called Glamorous Life:  the Adventures of a Domestic Engineer. More importantly, I am a wife and mother to two spirited and doll loving girls, ages 6 and 7.  We are huge fans of American Girl, with 8 dolls in our collection (Bitty Babies, Bitty Twins, and My American Girl); and have attended excursions while enjoying lunch, tea, and dinner at a couple of your locations (Houston and, our favorite, Chicago).  We own several of your books including The Care and Keeping of You, 1 (an excellent book!) and the accompanying journal. Your stores are magical, tending to every detail of these dolls’ storied lives, to the delight of my girls and millions of others worldwide.  Therefore, it is with great disappointment that I write this letter.

Recently, you announced that you would retire four of your Historical Dolls: Marie – Grace, Cecile, Ruthie, and Ivy.  I, and others, have noted that once they are retired, your historical collection will include very few dolls of color.  In fact, there will be one African American doll (Addy), one Native American doll (Kaya) and one Latina doll (Josefina) out of 18 characters.  You are retiring the only Asian American doll.  Your announcement hinted at new dolls and /or marketing strategy (#BeForever) in the coming months, but your choice of which dolls to retire concerns me.  I’m sure that your decision has something to do with sales (although speaking personally, my 6-year-old has been saving money to buy Cecile for months now), but it’s hard for me to believe that the significance of retiring these particular dolls didn’t occur to you.

The truth is, I’ve been keeping an eye on you for some time now.  While I consider your brand to be overall wholesome and good for the girls, I have also noted that your offerings are not really reflective of the changing ethnic makeup of the country, particularly when it comes to the Girl of the Year.  Each year, beginning around November, my girls and their friends start to get really excited with anticipation of the release of the new doll and, inevitably, that doll is white (and oddly, overwhelmingly blonde and blue eyed).  Since the introduction of the first American Girl of the Year in 2001 only 3 have been girls of color: Knani, who is Hawaiian, Marisol, who is Latina, and Jess, who is actually mixed race (Japanese, Scottish, and Irish).  This has become increasingly frustrating and somewhat puzzling since the face of America is changing.  Currently, racial and ethnic minorities make up about half of children under the age of 5-years-old.  In five years they will represent more than half of the demographic of those 18-years-old and under.  Yet, the American Girl brand clings very closely to one narrative of who represents an American girl.

As with any business, I am sure that your sales and marketing team determine what dolls, and their accessories, will sell best and who to target with their marketing strategies.  However, consider this: more and more brown girls are being parented by white parents–parents who want to honor them and embrace their ethnicity.  Additionally, all the brown girls that I know – including, but not limited to, African American, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Korean, Vietnamese, Somalian, Ethiopian, Indian, Brazilian, Guatemalan, Mexican, Trinidadian (and the list can go on) – have American Girl dolls.  Some of these girls are first generation, but they are all, each of them, American girls.   My daughters and I are African American and while we enjoy your store and appreciate the My American Girl dolls that reflect our own ethnicity, there seems to be a disconnect between your product offerings and many of the girls, and their credit card wielding mothers, who buy them.  Additionally, even if the majority of your customers are Caucasian, is it not desirable that we would encourage our girls to expand their knowledge of people of different ethnicities?   To embrace our differences rather than focus only on those who look just like us?  My children have dolls of more than one race because it reflects their immediate social circle and the country that we live in.

If in fact the goal of American Girl is to predominantly focus on only one type of American girl, then I can accept that and I can take my business elsewhere.  However, I really would be surprised if that is the case, both for social and business reasons.  I need to tell you that your current offerings of Historical and Girl of the Year dolls scream of tokenism.  I am aware that your company has stated that often decisions made about discontinuing certain dolls are made when there are similarities between products, but surely you can see where that can’t be quite accurate?  Ivy Ling is the only Asian American Historical doll.  On the other hand, you have a plethora of white dolls, some of whom look amazingly alike.  May I ask you, when it comes to product development, do you have any people of color in key decision-making positions?  If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to diversify and develop a fresh perspective.

Ms. Spanos, I really hope that this is merely a bump in the road and that my girls, and the many American girls of color who are fans of your brand, can find a way to be represented in a meaningful way going forward.  I appreciate your careful consideration of my letter (which will be also be publicly posted on my website) and hope that this can be the beginning of open, constructive dialog as it pertains to American girls of all ethnicities.  I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Sincerely,

Lisa Owen

Things We Should Have Learned from the Dust Up between Jay and Bey’s Baby Sister

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Jay Z & Beyonce perform at Coachella  Photo Credit: vibevixen

Jay Z & Beyonce perform at Coachella
Photo Credit: vibevixen

 

The gossip mill has been positively on fire!  Thanks to Jay and Bey, with an assist from little sis, Solange, inquiring minds have been feverishly speculating and creating scenarios to fit the larger than life status of pop royalty. I’d say that we’ve learned a lot this week, haven’t we?  Social media has been in full effect and mainstream media has been not too far behind.  Even with limited information, some things were made perfectly clear.

First of all, and sadly, it is clear that a video with no sound showing a private, family altercation between a rapper and a singer will gain more attention and spread more quickly than a news story about nearly 300 hundred African school girls being abducted by terrorists.  Seriously, that video of Solange and Jay Z was all over my news feeds, as well as the network news the day that it leaked.  #whatjayzsaidtosolange went viral almost instantly.  News commentators were talking about it, bloggers were speculating (including me), search engines were searching for more information.  Absolutely everyone that I talked to, from my dry cleaner to my nail technician, had something to say about it.  However, it took weeks for any real coverage about the kidnappings in Nigeria to become news here in the United States.  Kidnappings that were a real case of life and death. Kidnappings that were tied to human trafficking. Until social media started the #bringbackourgirls movement, it was not on the public radar and even then it was slow for many to show any concern for those girls and their families (for more on this, click here ).  Yet, the nation – no, the world – was caught up in why Solange kicked Jay Z’s behind in a hotel elevator.   We should have learned that our priorities are out-of-place.

Second, it is clear that any situation involving a Black female displaying emotion and a Black male involved in any possible way will quickly dissolve into the “angry/crazy Black woman” and the “violent/abusive Black man” stereotypes.  Although I noted that Jay Z never behaved aggressively toward Solange, (even though she was beyond aggressive toward him), I heard or read time and time again speculation that her behavior was probably due to something Jay had either done or said to Beyoncé.  Does Beyoncé strike you as someone who needs her little sister to fight her battles?  After all, we are talking about the woman who, according to Time magazine, rules the world.  I’m paraphrasing here, but that’s about right.  Likewise, is it necessarily true that Solange and every other Black woman in America is labeled crazy or highly sensitive every time she becomes angry.   Is it so hard to consider that there is justifiable provocation? Admittedly, I can not think of one thing that my brother-in-law could say to me that would make me respond in the same manner as she did. However, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t say something that was deeply hurtful and personal to her.  Continuing to spin these types of stereotypes only lessens the strength of our voices.  If we continue to perpetuate these myths then it only weakens our valid complaints, as it relates to how society perceives us.  As a Black woman, sometimes I am angry and it’s justifiable.  I’m not crazy and not irrational and perfectly capable of being in control of my emotions – like most Black women I know. Likewise, I am married to a good Black man, who is not abusive, neglectful or lazy.  Who loves his family and is an excellent husband and father.  He is not an aberration or a fluke.  These Black men exist all across this country and that’s the stereotype that we should be perpetuating.  We should have learned that we need to change the narrative.

Finally, we have learned that whoever sent out the memo that said that Jay and Bey are untouchable and above reproach, forgot to include Solange on the distribution list. I have noticed that their fans tend to have a rabid need to attack anyone who dare say anything negative about them or in any way make them appear like mere mortals. I understand that the video footage was never intended to be seen by their subjects, but it did occur to me that Solange didn’t really seem to be concerned about who saw her.  Quick thinking on the part of the security guard stopped the elevator and gave them time to calm the situation before appearing in public again.  Here’s the thing: Yes, they are celebrities and yes, they have carefully constructed this public image of themselves that creates the appearance of being all things fabulous and immortal (pardon the sarcasm).  However, it’s just that…an illusion.  They are normal people just like you and I, except with way more money.  They have family trouble, relationship trouble, health concerns, etc.  The same as any other American Family.   Have we taken being a fan too far when we verbally attack people for not liking an entertainer, actor or actress?  Has this gone beyond just enjoying their music or body of work to some form of idolatry?  Let me be clear, I do not dislike Bey and Jay ( I do like Solange’s music better than her sister’s.  It’s more my vibe.) and I am a lover of all types of music. However, I recognize that these people are entertainers, out to make money.  When a performer says that they love their fans, they really don’t mean me: Lisa Owen.  They mean me, the fan that purchases their cd’s, clothing line, fragrance, video, blah, blah, blah. Make no mistake, without all of that they would be nothing.  Talented, yes, but broke and unknown.    We should have learned to keep things in perspective.

As entertaining as all of this was, we need to seriously reevaluate what role celebrities play in our society.  There are real issues that need our attention, but how a rapper deals with being beat up by his sister-in-law isn’t one of them.

#BringBackOurGirls

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Bring Back our girls

 

By now I hope that you have seen the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls and know that almost 300 Nigerian girls have been kidnapped by a terrorist group (Boko Haram) and are still missing. Boko Haram is violently opposed to educating women and has promised to sell the girls into “marriage” (i.e. slavery).  #BringBackOurGirls has become the rallying cry on behalf of those Nigerian parents whose daughters were taken from their boarding school in the middle of the night.  It is a cry for help from the Nigerian government or any other world leaders that can provide a way for their girls to get back home.  I have to say that since this story broke nearly 4 weeks ago, there has not been a day that I have not been grateful to be able to put my children to bed and feel relatively safe. Nor has there been a day that I haven’t prayed for God’s hand in guarding these girl’s minds, hearts and bodies, as well as, providing for their safe return.  Living this whole scenario is unimaginable to me and I’m simply heartbroken for their parents.

I am not going to pretend that I have any real knowledge of the cultural and political workings of country of Nigeria and its government.  Like you, I saw parents on television and in photos pleading for help and receiving what seemed like an excruciatingly slow response from their leaders.  Then the response was less than desirable.  I’m sure that there is a lot going on behind the scenes that we are not privy to and that is where I will leave it.  However, what I do want to talk about is the speculation as to why it took so long for information regarding the kidnappings to make news here in the United States.  To say that the main stream media seemed less than interested in the story would be an enormous understatement.  In fact, it was social media that started spreading the story and brought it to the public’s attention.  Only then did the networks and major cable news outlets catch on and even then it took a little while for the public to fully embrace this story.   Why? I have my theories as to why this wasn’t on the public’s radar: 1) They are brown girls, and 2) It’s not our problem.

I was reading a post by Kristen Howerton over at Rage Against the Minivan about why we, world citizens, need to care about this situation and why she thinks it was under-reported, in which she says:

“… but many (myself included) fear there is a more troubling reason for the lack of coverage: these are African girls. I feel certain that a group of American or European girls, sleeping at a boarding school and stolen by armed men in the middle of the night, would absolutely be the top story. But African girls are Other. The distance, the difference, the ongoing challenge on the continent  . . . have these things made us discount their humanity? Are we failing to identify with these parents because of racial or cultural differences? I hope that isn’t true. I fear that it is.”

Read more: http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2014/05/why-girls-in-nigeria-should-matter-to.html#ixzz31BjGwXWP

I agree.  I think that it is so much easier to distance yourself from another person when that person’s appearance, surroundings and day-to-day life is so vastly different from your own.  We can call it what we want and say that the difference isn’t race, but rather it’s the fact that, for whatever reason we have a hard time relating to those who live in Third-World countries.  However, generally speaking (and if we’re honest), when we refer to citizens of Third-World countries, the image that we see in our head is typically that of a brown person, which brings us back to race and ethnicity. I’m not saying that it is THE reason for our initial lack of interest, but I am saying that it is one contributing factor.  The question that Kristen raises is valid …have we discounted their humanity?

It’s not our problem? Yes, it really is our problem.  Boko Haram has vowed to sell these girls on the open market.  They call it marriage, but I call it slavery. Human trafficking is an approximately $32 billion dollar per year industry world-wide. It is third behind the trafficking of illegal drugs and weapons.  There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today, 70% of which are female and half of them children.  The U.S. State Department estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year; and 14,500 to 17,500 are trafficked into the United States annually.  Does that bring the problem close enough to home for you? There’s more.  There are 244,000 American children and youth estimated to be at risk of sexual exploitation.  The average U.S. teen enters the sex trade around ages 12 to 14.  The state of California has three of the FBI’s highest sex trafficking areas: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego; while the National Human Trafficking Hotline receives its highest number of calls from the State of Texas.  Really, it is our problem.

While it is true that usually children who end up in the sex trafficking trade here in the U.S. are runaways, that’s not always the case and there is some cause for alarm. College professor and author, Rebecca Hains recently wrote a piece on  the abduction of the Nigerian girls (Black Girls are Missing in Nigeria and at Home #BringBackOurGirls) and included information on a crisis on the streets of Atlanta:

“Simultaneously, I can’t help but think of their case in the context of another situation, which I learned about this week at the White House Research Conference on Girls, held by the White House Council on Women and Girls. At a discussion during the conference, several attendees spoke to the need for increased national attention to the plight of black girls in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, where reports indicate that about 200 girls go missing every month—victims of human trafficking who are essentially sold, like the Nigerian high school girls, into sexual slavery. Yet this crisis in Atlanta is also flying below the national radar.”

Again, one has to ask ourselves why is this information not more prominent in the news? This time we don’t get the opportunity to say that it’s because it’s so far away from home.  This is right here in our own back yard and consider this: The Super Bowl is the single largest human trafficking event in the United States (some say in the world) annually.  Think about that.  While you were enjoying buffalo wings and beer and grooving to the half-time show, there were young girls being sold like a piece of property.  Again, this is our problem – this is a global problem.

What can you do to help these girls make it home?  Every time you see an article on social or main stream media about the missing Nigerian girls, click “like” and share it on your social media accounts.  By doing so, this will keep it in the news feeds, thereby raising awareness and keeping the pressure on the Nigerian government, as well as, others to help get these girls back home to their families.  Unfortunately when things disappear from in front of us, we tend to lose interest.  These girls and the girls on the streets of Atlanta; and the girls in Texas; and the girls in California and the approximately 20 million victims of human trafficking world-wide deserve our attention.

#BringBackOurGirls

 

 

 

 

Profiled

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Big Box

 

This morning after I dropped the girls off at school, I donned my mom uniform (jeans, t-shirt, flip-flops, purse and sunglasses) and went out to run some errands.  I needed to get them done and get home before noon because this weekend has the potential to be just ridiculously crazy-busy.  I need to get prepared.  So, off I went.

On my list of things to get were gift bags and birthday cards for the three (yes! three!) birthday parties that we are attending this weekend. Also, laundry detergent (for my never-ending piles of laundry), a wreath for my front door, some shorts for the girls and whatever else tickled my fancy.  Clearly it was time for a stop at my favorite big box store, which I am not going to mention by name (although, if you read my blog, Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter often, I’m sure that you will be able to figure it out) because the occurrence that I’m about to describe to you isn’t specific to this store.  It just so happens that this is where it happened today.

Once in the store, I got my cart, and headed toward the gift wrap.  As I approached I noticed that they had expanded the selection to the first two aisles. I started down the second aisle and saw a male customer standing in the area that I wanted to browse so I decided to start on the other side to give him a chance to finish. I found one bag then rounded the corner to the second aisle and the man was still there.  I smiled and said “excuse me” as I walked past looking at the gift bags.  He returned the smile and said “No problem,” but he was checking me out. Noticeably…like head to toe!  For a moment I thought to myself “Yes, Chica, you still got!” I know, and by now you know, that I’m a nut.  Not to mention that once I looked at him, I realized that he was young enough to be my son younger brother, so, he probably was not there to try to pick me up; but he kept looking at me very intently. My phone rang in my purse and he looked at it very carefully; he was studying me.  I was uncomfortable.  I finally found the right sized gift bag appropriate for a soon to be 8-year-old and apologized for walking in front of him so many times.  He smiled politely and I walked away in search of birthday cards. And Starbucks.

With  my decaf, iced Americano with cream and classic in hand, I went to pick up the detergent  then strolled right down the aisle toward garbage bags and there was the guy from gift wrap again.  I picked up my garbage bags and walked past, neither of us acknowledging the other.  The girls needed shampoo and conditioner, which I picked up and then went to find them some summer shorts.  On the way, I passed the mystery shopper three times.  Apparently we were shopping for the same things?  Except, I realized that he had no cart nor any merchandise.  I had a pit in my stomach and my head was killing me.  A clear sign that I was becoming stressed.  When I got to the girl’s clothing I bent over to pick up some shorts on a lower shelf and stood up just in time to see the mystery shopper walk by and then I knew.  I knew exactly what was happening.  I was being followed by security.  I had been profiled.

This was nothing new.  It has happened before in different stores and I dare say that it happens to most people of color at some point in their life.  It’s kind of like being pulled over for Driving While Black for Black males.  It’s a fact of life.  It’s uncomfortable and infuriating,  but most of the time I ignore it.  However, today was not a day that I could ignore it.  I have no idea why, but you know how on some days somethings just gets under your skin and you can’t let it go? Today was that day.  I get it honestly, I think.  Once, when I was in elementary school, my mom and I were in an upscale store in my home town when an over zealous security guard made the mistake of making himself a little too noticeable while following us around the store. Mom was irritated, but as I recall, we were searching for something specific that I needed for Easter, shoes or a dress perhaps.  When we went up to the register with our merchandise the sales lady made it a point to tell my mother that the selection was not on sale and would be full price.  That was when my mother “blessed her soul” which is a polite way of saying that she put the sales lady in her place.. She pointed out that not only could she read, but that she could definitely afford what she was purchasing.  “Furthermore,” Mom said, “You wouldn’t have said that to a White woman and the security officer wouldn’t have followed a White woman around the store! Now do your job and ring me up, please.”  After that we left, and I felt so ashamed,  Not ashamed of my mother, but ashamed that the store employees had assumed that we were “less than”.  Being Black meant that we were “less than”.   And apparently, it also meant that we were perspective thieves.

This morning I was alone, my younger kids at school and my older ones wherever, so I didn’t have to worry about embarrassing them.  On the other hand, I did think that what was about to happen could have been a very powerful teaching moment for all of us.  You see, I had moved past just wanting to call out someone’s BS. I wanted to have a positive impact on a really negative situation.   As I headed toward the check-out, I passed by my friend and stopped directly in front of him.  I introduced myself by name and asked him how long he had been working in security.  He was genuinely flummoxed. I almost laughed because I couldn’t believe that he honestly thought that he was being sly.  I then asked him what about me made him follow me around the store waiting for me to steal something?  “Did I do something during our first encounter in the gift wrap aisle that made me seem suspicious?” He said “Not necessarily.”   “So, what about me made you follow me?” I continued. By now he was a deep shade of red and I almost felt sorry for him, but not really.  He told me that he pays close attention to all of the customers in the store to which I replied “You follow all, each and every customer around like that?”  No, not really.  He agreed with me.  Yet, I pressed on as to what about me could have made him so suspicious.  He would have rather been anywhere else, but standing there with me. That’s when I asked him to talk to the manager with me.  Not to get him in trouble, but to clarify some things.

Ultimately, what happened is that I explained how I thought that I had been profiled as a potential shoplifter based on the color of my skin, the affluent neighborhood and the time of day.  They gave some weak rebuttal, apologized profusely and eventually admitted that there was some validity to what I had just said.   I then pointed out some of the dangers in their approach, the most obvious of which is that there may be shoplifters that don’t fit that profile who go unnoticed and uncaught.   Additionally, they are perpetuating a stereotype of African-Americans not belonging in certain neighborhoods, not being able to do their shopping like any other SAHM (during the day) and just being prone to being a thief.  They saw me as being “less than”. However, unlike when I was a kid, I wasn’t ashamed.  I was angry and this time I had the opportunity and where-with-all to push back.  Momma would be proud.

Hopefully, the next time that security officer observes another potential shoplifter, it will be through new eyes and with a new approach.  I want to believe that I did some good here and that one day my young children will not be faced with this situation.  I’m doubtful, but hopeful.

 

The Problem With the Radio

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music blast

 

I love music.  I am one of those people who turns on the radio as soon as I get in the car. When I was in high school, it used to drive my father crazy not only because he loathed our “new” music (“Just sounds like a bunch of noise to me and the words are silly.”), but also because it stopped him from being able to hear the car’s engine.  He was a car guy.  Always listening just in case the timing was off or there was some unexplained rattle.  Actually, all kidding aside, some of the best advice I got from him was to sometimes just drive the car in silence.  That way, you can hear what it sounds like when it’s running well, so you can catch a little something wrong before it falls apart.  I do take his advice, but not often.  My girls are just like me and Thing 1 knows every word to every song that I will let her listen to on our favorite radio station.  I say “that I will let her listen to” because I spend a lot of time changing the stations.  I know that I’m going to sound like a prude here but, the words to some of these songs just make me blush and trust me, that’s not easy to do.  I really don’t want to hear my daughters singing most of the stuff we hear on the radio and we usually resort to throwing in a Disney CD in order to keep things rated G to PG because the radio is increasingly rated R.

You think I’m over reacting don’t you?  I know. I’ve read a lot of blog posts and commentary’s about children not really understanding the lyrics so it doesn’t matter if they listen to it. While it may be true that they don’t understand what they’re singing, I think it makes it worse to hear an innocent child singing something so sexually explicit.  Let’s be clear, today’s music is vulgar.  I am a child of the late sixties and early seventies and music has been  deteriorating evolving for some time.  No longer are love songs about love (think “My Girl” by the Temptations or “Close to You” by the Carpenters), now they are about sex (Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” or Katy Perry’s “California Girls”).  I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with sex but, really…do we have to sing about it…all of the time?

The other day I was listening to this Australian teenage boy band called 5 Seconds of Summer, who will be opening for One Direction’s upcoming tour.  No, I don’t generally like to listen to teeny-bop (do they still use that phrase?) bands, but I do like to keep up with new music.  Anyway, their new song is called “She Looks So Perfect”. The words are light weight and not too deep, but here is the chorus:

“She looks so perfect standing there
in my American Apparel underwear
and I know now, that I’m so down
I made a mixtape straight out of ’94
I’ve got your ripped skinny jeans lying on the floor
and I know now, that I’m so down…”

The band and its music, like that of One Direction, is marketed directly toward teenage girls – the very girls that we tell to keep their ripped skinny jeans on.  While the song may not be overtly sexual, I think the meaning is pretty clear. It gets worse. Jason Derulo is at #5 this week on the pop charts with his hit “Talk Dirty to Me”.  Check this out:

I’m that flight that you get on, international
First class seat on my lap girl, riding comfortable

‘Cause I know what the girl them need,
New York to Haiti
I got lipstick stamps on my passport,
You make it hard to leave

Been around the world, don’t speak the language
But your booty don’t need explaining
All I really need to understand is
When you talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me
Get jazzy on it”

How would you like to hear your little one singing that number?  Actually, I don’t want to hear anyone singing that, even Jason Derulo, because not only is it really nasty, it’s really sexist.  I think that might be another blog post.  I love Bruno Mars, but did I want to listen to him sing about making love like gorillas? Nope!   Pitbull has great dance music, but too much talk about boobs and thong wearing butts.  It’s everywhere and there seems to be no sense of appropriateness anymore. Maybe I should spend more time listening to the purr of my engine than the sexually charged lyrics of my radio.

I do know that the more pervasive this type of music is, the harder it is to keep your children from it. The harder it is to help your children (boys and girls) grow into their sexuality at a reasonable pace and not be pushed into it by a society that is obsessed with sex.  What I do want my children to desire is to know a love that grows not only from a sexual attraction, but also from friendship, mutual respect and trust.  The kind of love that isn’t sung about very often these days, but creates lasting marriages and not just lustful weekends.  Not too long ago Big Poppa sang one of our favorite songs to me and while he is no Marvin Gaye or Luther Vandross, it’s the thought that counts.  The Song is Betcha By Golly Wow by The Stylistics:

“There’s a spark of magic in your eyes
Candyland appears each time you smile
Never thought that fairy tales came true
But they come true when I’m near you[Chorus]

You’re a genie in disguise
Full of wonder and surprise and

Betcha by golly wow (wow) (wow)
You’re the one that I’ve been waiting for, forever
And ever will my love for you keep growing strong
Keep growing strong

If I could, I’d catch a falling star
To shine on you so I know where you are
Paint a rainbow in your favorite shade
To show I love you, thinking of you

Write your name across the sky
Anything you ask, I’ll try cuz

Betcha by golly wow (wow) (wow)
You’re the one that I’ve been waiting for, forever
And ever will my love for you keep growing strong
Keep growing strong”

Now that’s a love song.

Some Brief Thoughts on: Education, Gwyneth Paltrow and World Vision

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Things were very quiet here on the blog last week.  I was around but, I was quite crazy from a lack of sleep due to my 7 – year – old’s month-long bout with insomnia.  As you can imagine, when your child can’t get to sleep or stay asleep, you don’t get to sleep much either.  Some nights we slept a total of two hours and by last week it had all caught up with me.  I was pretty much incapable of carrying on a conversation for longer than five minutes so, obviously writing blog posts was out of the question.  However, I did keep up on things as they happened in social media and there were a few (just a few) that captured my attention, albeit briefly.  I’m not going to pretend that this post is going to eloquently tie all of my thoughts together because it’s not. You’re just going to have to go along for the ride, But first, a little more on Thing 1’s insomnia.

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I have to say that it is extremely frightening when a child is begging for sleep, but simply can’t get there, or stay there, night after night and week after week. My husband and I had never dealt with this before with any of our other children and were at a loss as to how to help her get some rest.  Thing 1 is an extremely active girl who dances two hours a night, three days a week and does gymnastics two days a week.  We limited sugar in her diet, changed her eating patterns and her bed time routing to help soothe her.  She would sit up and read for hours in her bed.   None of this worked.  Finally, while taking her to the doctor for her asthma check up, I found out the real source of the problem: school.  The girl was stressing out about school – in second grade.  She admitted to waking up in the middle of the night worried that she hadn’t double checked her math work.  She worried about not having enough time to finish an assignment.  She didn’t want any of her grades to suffer because of silly mistakes.  She’s a stressed out seven-year-old and I am heart-broken.  School isn’t supposed to be this way for a child so young.  Don’t worry, I’m not about to go on a tirade about Common Core, the problem with education (although I do have a few thoughts on both of those subjects) blah, blah, blah.  I will do that another time, but, what I will say is that there is less of a focus on how well students are learning and instead more of a focus on learning the right things to perform well on standardized testing.  We are pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing to the detriment of our children’s peace of mind.  And, for what? So that they can regurgitate math facts in record time.  Tell me this, when in your life (after elementary school) are you hard pressed to recite your multiplication tables up to the 12’s in less than 2 minutes?  I’ll tell you when…NEVER!  Isn’t it just more important that the student understands what she’s doing, how she get’s to the answer and how it all relates to the next level of math or science, or geography, or whatever?  Do we really need to express to their little fertile minds how important it is for them to do well on a standardized test or they may be held back in the same grade the next year?   The fact that this could be true is completely ridiculous.  Learning is supposed to be fun!  School is supposed to be an adventure!  I said as much to Thing 1 and made it clear that nothing she is doing could make me any less proud of her.  Even if she did forget to check her math before she turned it in, there’s always tomorrow to get it right.  The important thing is that we work hard and in return you get to see the fruits of your hard work.  Our efforts may not always result in an “A” or even a “B”, however we will LEARN something, which is the goal of education.  Thing 1 took it all in and relaxed a bit, then that night she slept.  She has slept all night every night for the past week.  So have I and I’m finally almost human again. Almost.

Awkward transition…I told you this wasn’t go to be easy.

I was saddened, but not necessarily surprised to hear that actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin are “consciously uncoupling” (i.e divorcing). Honestly, initially I thought that the term “consciously uncoupling” meant that they had really made an extraordinary and thoughtful effort to maintain their parental and familial devotion to their children while no longer staying in their marriage.  Then I read the real explaination and was like “Huh!  Okay.”  Anyway, shortly after the announcement of their split, Paltrow gave an interview to E!  in which she bemoans the difficulties of being a celebrity/actress parent.
She so eloquently (I’m being very sarcastic here) explains how moms who work the regular 9 to 5 grind have it easier than folks like her.  Okay, I’m pausing right now to let you stop laughing – especially those of you moms who are at your 9 to 5 reading this while you make your grocery list.  You see, to her it’s most stressful to have your family uprooted and relocated to the location of her latest movie for weeks or months at a time.  Or even, if the family doesn’t have to accompany her, she is separated from her loved ones.  Yes, I get that the separation part can be unpleasant, but really Gwyneth?  You think that your life with all of your nannies, personal chefs, private jets, personal assistants and the like is harder? Cause I know when I travel and I take our nanny and my personal assistant with us it makes things so much easier!  Wait, what am I talking about? I don’t have a nanny and personal assistant and most people don’t  either!  We do all of that $%#& ourselves! When we move for a job, we get our neighbors to pack our U-Haul, drive our selves to our new location and pray that we can afford a house in a decent school district. Come on Gwyneth, step out of that privilege that you’ve spent your life surround by and get a grip!  Working a “regular” job, with “regular” pay doesn’t provide any of the perks that you live with on a daily basis.  Before and after work (and sometimes during) we are being moms and the scheduling of our lives to accommodate our jobs is simply out of necessity.  We need these “regular” jobs to pay our “regular” bills and just a few indulgences.  Like an evening at the movies to possibly watch you…but probably not.  Gwyneth, I think that I speak for a lot of non-actress/celebrity moms when I say just stop it!

Another awkward transition…sorry this is getting long, but I have to make sure that you get me.

Last week the Christian relief agency World Vision International announced that in a dramatic change of policy, it would begin hiring Christians in same-sex marriages. The organization said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it really wasn’t stepping into the fray of whether same-sex marriage was right or wrong.  It was simply accepting the help of homosexual, committed believers who wanted to be of service in this manner.  What happened next is what I want to talk about.  In the face of the policy shift, reportedly thousands of donors who supported children in need through World Vision cancelled their sponsorship.  Just one day later, World Vision reversed its decision and rescinded its welcome to the LGBT community and apologized to any current or former donors that may have been hurt by their (brief) change in policy.  Again, my comments here are not about World Vision itself, but about the thousands of people (Christians) who dropped their sponsorship.  I have to wonder what the motivation was behind your donations in the first place if these children in need could be treated like collateral damage.  If you are unfamiliar with the term collateral damage it is damage or destruction to things that are incidental to the intended target.  Let me just be clear here, I am a Jesus lover.  A Christian. A woman after God’s own heart.  I am not ashamed to identify myself as a follower of Christ, but I am embarrassed to align myself with those who could be so callous and thoughtless that dropping the child seemed like a good idea. Nelson Mandela was a master at partnering with people with whom he may have openly disagreed with on  several issues, however, he found the one thing that they agreed on to work toward a common goal.   That’s what this is about – a humanitarian effort to work toward a common goal for people in need.  What this is NOT is a flagpole for Christianity.  You don’t participate to make yourself look good, you participate to help someone in need.

Let me ask you, if your loved one were dying and the only doctor who could provide the cure was gay, would you refuse his or her help?  If your child was in need of a blood transfusion or an organ transplant, would you say only heterosexual donors need apply?  I’ve got to tell you, there are probably already members of the LGBT community quietly working for World Vision and other organizations that we, Christians, support.  That’s the thing, gay people are human and they live and work right next to us and often, we have no idea.  I found it interesting that while World Vision was apologizing for any hurt that they may have caused to their Christian supporters by the brief change in policy, they didn’t apologize to the LGBT community for the hurt that they caused them. This is so ugly.  We are behaving so very ugly.  There has to be a better way.  I could go on and on about this, but I think you get where I’m coming from.

 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”    John 13:35

 

 

Born Strong

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Ladies, while growing up and expected to be “the weaker sex” , at what point did you feel strong and what made you feel that way?  I’m paraphrasing but, that was the question that author, college professor and fellow blogger Rebecca Hains asked her readers recently on her Facebook page.  After giving it some thought I discovered that this is a harder question to answer than I thought it should be, but I couldn’t figure out why.  Why couldn’t I think of when I felt that it was okay to be strong or that moment that made me feel strong?  I read through some of the comments and discovered that a lot of the readers apparently enjoyed climbing trees, among other things.  I’ve climbed a few trees in my lifetime, but I can’t say that it had that much of an effect on me.  Their answers were real and interesting…and totally un-relate-able to me.  Not because I didn’t do any of those things.  I did, but they didn’t make me feel the same way that they made those women feel.  I logged off and went about my day, but the question lingered and later I went back to Rebecca’s page and looked again.  This time, I looked closely at the pictures of those people who were commenting and it finally dawned on me why I couldn’t relate to this question:  I’m an African – American woman and they were not.

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Yes, race makes a difference because as an African-American woman, I have never felt that society, as well as my family, has ever allowed  or expected me to be weak.  If I may be so blunt, the idea of a perceived feminine weakness is reserved for White women.  Consider this, African women were brought into this country as slaves. Chattel. Workers.  They were bought and sold based on their physical ability to perform hard labor while still having children to produce more workers.  The stronger the slave, the higher the price that the owners could get at auction.  Therefore, physical weakness was not a desirable trait. Often when slaves were sickly or had grown too old to be useful or unable to be sold, they were left to die or killed.  Obviously, it was also necessary to be psychologically strong, as well.  Beatings, lynchings and rapes were a part of life for the women.  Families were torn apart, with children being sold as soon as they were old enough to work the fields and marriages were not allowed by slave owners.  African-American women, like men, were not treated as if they were human.  Surely that would be enough to drive anyone mad.  However, their very lives depended on their strength.

Fast forward to after slavery, to segregation and Jim Crow.  African-American women were in the trenches with our spouses.  Most of the time, we were not afforded the luxury of being stay-at-home moms. We worked…hard.  Cooking and cleaning in the homes of White families and often neglecting the care of our own children while taking care of theirs. In the South, many of us still got jobs working in the cotton fields.  There were still lynchings, beating and Night Riders.  We were still treated as if we were not human and our strength was still necessary for survival.

Enter the Civil Rights Movement when we stood as one, as a voice against racism and inequality.  We marched, protested and picketed.  We were members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as, the Black Panthers.  We were active in every level of the movement and when they released police dogs and turned fire hoses on us, we were treated just like our African – American men.  Again, as if we were not human.  We were jailed and sometimes beaten, but we did not bow down.  Our strength remained our greatest asset.

Over the years, African-American women have continued to hold it down.  More and more of us are the head of household, whether by necessity or by choice.  More of us are obtaining advanced degrees and, as quiet as it’s kept, a lot of us are doing all of this while raising good kids.  Let me take this opportunity to say that I am sick and tired of the picture that is often painted of the child raised by a Black single mother as being a menace to society.  I realize that it doesn’t make good copy so you won’t read about it in the news, but there are a whole lot of us (as a former single mom) who have good jobs, are active in PTA, Boy Scouts, athletic booster clubs and any thing else we believe will enhance the lives of our children.  We are strong women.

My mother once told me ( no, I’m sure that she told me this more than once), “You had better not expect someone to come along and take care of you.  Whatever it is that you need to get done, you better learn how to do it your damn self!”   That’s how Black women are raised.  More often than not, we are told to believe that life is unkind because, historically, it has been unkind.  We just have to learn how to roll with it. Therefore, there has never been a time in my life when I felt like I didn’t have to be strong.  I never knew that I had a choice.  So, to answer the question “At what point did I feel strong and what made me feel that way?”  I was born to it.

What Are You Doing For Others? The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

How are you planning to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King on his holiday?  Do you have any special plans?  Attending a parade, perhaps? Reading about and reflecting on his life?  Are you and your family attending a special celebration?  My husband and I have this conversation every year – how do we want to commemorate the King holiday with our family?  I don’t have to go into a lengthy conversation of who Dr. King was or why I think his life and work was so important to American society?  Or, why his dream for this nation is vital to the success of the United States on a global stage?  Surely you can see how this man embodied the spirit of a conqueror who dared to step outside the lines prescribed to him, and his people, by a government and society mired in hate?  He, and others like him, risked their lives (which he ultimately lost) because they believed that we, as a nation, could be better.  No, I don’t have to tell you all of that because you know it already, right?   However, I am worried that this holiday established for a most deserving man is becoming just another day off for most of us without causing any real reflection on just how it came to be in the first place and where we should be headed.

Before I became a stay-at-home-mom, I always chose to work on the King holiday.  It seemed a fitting tribute to a man who worked so hard to open employment opportunities for African-Americans  – back when we were known as “colored”.   In fact, he was in Memphis in support of the Black sanitary public works employees who were striking for higher wages and better treatment when he was assassinated.  With that in mind, somehow staying at home and watching daytime television or going to the mall  doesn’t seem like an appropriate way to honor this man and his work.  In order to determine what really would promote Dr. King’s dream, I guess it would be best to learn from his words.

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While it is true that Dr. King’s work gained him some personal notoriety, and some of the trappings that can come with it, the basis of his work was for the betterment of others.  He did what he did to advance an entire group of people.  And not just Black people, his focus was on the poor and disenfranchised whomever they may be.  He was a servant of the people and therein lies the key to honoring his legacy.  Personally, I think that it is a beautiful thing that the day that we remember Dr. King has been designated a National Day of Service.  There are so many opportunities in your community to help one another and they can extend far beyond just one day or  a particular event.  Food banks, homeless shelters, community gardens and mentoring programs are just a few ways in which you can get (and stay) involved.  More importantly, it is a great way to inform your children not only about Dr. King, but also the need for each of us to care for one another.   Teaching children how to be benevolent is one of the most important lessons that you will ever teach them.  And, miraculously, no matter how bad our own personal situation is, helping someone else reminds us that things can always be worse.  Helping makes you feel good and feeling good brings hope.  That’s what each and every one of us is here for – to help and to bring hope.

Since my girls are still fairly young, we will be visiting and donating to a local food pantry.  They have no concept of what it means to be without food and I really need them to know that there are people in this world, living not too far from them that go to bed hungry.  I want them to know that they have to care for mankind  and help those who are in need.    That is really the legacy of Dr. King and that’s how I want to remember him.

Philosophical Phil

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Phil Robertson

Phil Robertson

Wow!  You guys are angry, aren’t you?!  For the past couple of days I’ve been following my Twitter feed and my Facebook page and, well, there’s a really big brouhaha over Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson’s comments in the recent issue of GQ Magazine. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that I didn’t even know his real name until a couple of days ago and I have only seen the show a couple of times due to being held hostage by my niece, who is a fan.  I have read a lot of heated comments both for and against Mr. Robertson and I am aware of A&E’s actions resulting from the interview with Drew Magary of GQ (if you have not read the entire article – and I suggest that you do for context – then click here).  There are a few things that have occurred to me that I just want to discuss with you.

First of all, and let’s all be completely honest here, is any one really surprised by what this man said?  It seems to me that if you have any knowledge at all of this show, his family & their platform and take into consideration just who he is and his background, can you really be surprised? I guarantee that the interviewer wasn’t surprised by his views.  What does surprise me is the intensity of the public response. People, I think that this may fall into the “consider the source category.”  Moving on…

Apparently, there is a clear misunderstanding of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution regarding free speech.  Mr. Robertson’s right to express himself has not been infringed upon.  As long as any citizen is not using his or her words to incite violence against another person or the government, they may say what they wish. However, that doesn’t guarantee that those who receive the message will like it.  There is always the possibility of negative consequences whether it be to a personal relationship or, as in this case, an employer or just general backlash.  My guess is that Mr. Robertson knew that when he said it because it is impossible to be a public person and not understand that reality.  Having said that, what I do like is his unwillingness to alter his view depending upon his audience.  Regardless of whether or not I agree with your position, standing firm in your convictions is commendable.  I wish more of us were willing to do so, of course accepting that there may be negative repercussions.

As a Christian, I am growing increasingly concerned by the tone of the rhetoric that we are not only willing to support, but that we often spew.  Regarding the comments made in the interview, as crude and crass as they were, it could have been worse. However, if I have something so precious and wonderful that I want the world to know about it, why would I insult people that I want to draw near?  If I really believe that Christ is the answer and his love is what saved me, why would I approach others harshly.  Surely we can see how this could further push them away. I am a firm believer that you can say just about anything to someone else as long as it’s said with respect and love.  It doesn’t require you to change your beliefs, it just requires broadening of your vocabulary and your heart. So often I hear Christians complain about being portrayed as hateful, crazy and intolerant and I do agree that sometimes it is an unfair portrayal.  However, many times we, Christians, play a role in creating that impression.

Finally, “I sho’ do like workin’ in dese here cotton fields all day in the hot, hot, hot sun fo’ next to nothin’, ‘fraid that I might get a beatin’ if I don’t get my work done,”  said no Black person ever!  Mr. Robertson’s assertion that African-American’s were “happy” before civil rights is just plain ridiculous.  None of the field workers complained to him because he is white and they could have ended up being beaten or killed.  They were singing to pass the time and historically the words to those old spiritual songs were a way to communicate with one another without their slave owners knowing. Those songs have become a part of African-American culture. Equating African-Americans as being equal to him because he was self-described “white trash” and suggesting that Blacks in general have some universal link to entitlements and welfare is bigoted. There’s really no other way to look at it.  Thankfully, I recognize that Mr. Robertson is truly ignorant and deserves my pity not my ire.

So, once again, we find our selves at odds.  This seems to happen daily.  A country so deeply divided that even a reality television star could have the nation in an uproar.  Does that sound as silly to you as it does to me?