Monday, December 24, 2007
of course, all of those guards and checkpoints and such gives the appearance of security -- but how secure are we in any airport? didn't some journalists smuggle weapons and sharp objects in their luggage a few years ago to show how sketchy the whole process can be? i didn't have a weapon in my luggage, but i did have a pastrami sandwich on rye. it was carefully triple wrapped in foil and placed in a zippered container and refrigerated overnight. when i put it in my brand new red samsonite luggage the next day, it felt like a meat bomb. my friend and i ran out the night before to the carnegie deli to get my 90 year old father's request. his implicit instructions? "find a jew." he came up with his entire family during the first wave of the great migration north when he was 12 and lived in coney island/brighton beach before settling deep in the heart of brooklyn with his mother and nine brothers and sisters. so i guess he'd know.
my first thought was eisenberg's because they've been around almost as long as he has and when it's time for me to have a pastrami sandwich on rye, they are my favorite spot. but of course i remembered to get it late at night when my only two options were katz's and the carnegie deli -- and since neither my friend or i were in the mood to deal with the lower east side and all the drunken hipsters that usually go with it on a friday night, it was a done deal.
i thought about that pastrami sandwich as the woman passed that wand almost apologetically between my legs, and other strategic parts of my body. if they really knew what they were doing, that sandwich wouldn't make it to my parents house. but i knew that it would. i had done this before with fred, the sizeable catfish that my friend caught in my uncle's pond on his farm. once cleaned and frozen, it fit neatly in my luggage. i turned fred into a fried catfish po' boy sandwich and we ate him during a weekend getaway to traipse down a memory lane in central new jersey, in a park that my friend had played in often as a child.
later, i got in line at starbucks like everybody else and told myself over and over that this was the last time i'd do it like this. the next time would be different, if only because i wouldn't be alone. who knows? maybe we'd drive. maybe we'd be somewhere else. maybe we wouldn't go. these were the thoughts that comforted me as i stood at the gate and waited to hear my name, like a lowly stand-by passenger, because they'd overbooked the flight so drastically. i can remember thinking, i knew that ticket was too cheap to be true. and then just like that, i was dozing off on the plane, wishing i'd smuggled something more than a sandwich on board. like maybe two sandwiches. wierd.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
"who would be offended by santa," joe the a.d. asked broadly.
"are you kidding me?" i blurted. "i know plenty of black people down south who would be like, 'i don't want my black child thinking some white man is going to come down our chimney and give them anything.' and i'm related to quite a few of them." strangely enough, i had just spoken to my sister-in-law who was readying her first child, a four month old boy, for his first photo with santa. over her dead body would it be a white one.
the looks on all of their faces as i said this was priceless. then came variations on the inevitable "i've never thought about it like that" remark. if i've said it once, i've said it a thousand times: tact is important, but so is honesty. don't soft-pedal it with white people. when the opportunity presents itself, let them have it -- but only if you're in the mood to do a lot of explaining. they just so happened to catch me at the right moment, probably because i love black santa a lot.
then again, i was raised in ATL and i know who matthew henson is, so black santa makes a lot of sense to me.
when i go home, i'm going to take a picture with black santa. it'll be next year's christmas card. when i told my friend, he seemed genuinely sad. "i want to take a picture with black santa," he said. hm. maybe we both will.
Some parents seek out a black Santa
Since 2003, the Mall at Prince Georges has hired a black Santa Claus to pose for pictures with children and adults. And since then, black families have traveled from across the county and from Washington, D.C., so their children can have pictures taken with a Santa who looks like them.
Keesha Crosby of Washington, D.C., has brought her 3-year-old son, Jayden, to take pictures with the Mall at Prince Georges’ Santa since he was born.
‘‘I bring him here because he identifies with a black Santa Claus,” she said at the mall on Saturday. ‘‘All the other media outlets publicize a Caucasian Santa Claus, and he doesn’t identify with that.”
Victoria Clark, marketing director for the Mall at Prince Georges, said because most Prince George’s County residents are black, the demographics most likely called for a black Santa.
She also acknowledged that the area’s demographics have been changing. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, black people make up 66.1 percent of Prince George’s County and Hispanic people accounted for 10.7 percent in 2005. In 2000, black people made up 62.7 of the county’s population and people of Hispanic origin made up 7.1 percent.
‘‘In the past we’ve had a Hispanic Santa, but we take it one year at a time,” she said. ‘‘So far there haven’t been any requests for a Latino Santa.”
However, Clark said she’s observed people of all backgrounds stop to take pictures with Santa.
‘‘I think that’s indicative of the fact that there are people who come out who aren’t necessarily seeking a black Santa,” she said.
Nicole Davis of Brandywine said she learned about the mall’s black Santa Claus from her sister, who has brought her children to the mall for the past few years.
‘‘This is the only location in the area that promotes an African-American Santa,” said Davis, who brought her daughter, 23-month-old Emma, to take pictures at the mall. ‘‘So we’re making it a tradition to come here every year. ... It’s important for a child to know that Santa Claus isn’t just one color.”
Jackie Irvine of Atlanta, who tagged along while her two grandsons waited for their turn to take their pictures, said she began the tradition of taking pictures with a black Santa when her daughter, Kelli Neptune, was young.
‘‘I started taking her as a child to a black Santa and I had to travel to do so,” Irvine said of Neptune. ‘‘As a cultural figure, Santa represents kindness ... and I always wanted her to associate those attributes with a Santa Claus who shared her ethnicity and culture.”
Neptune, a Bowie resident, said she’s passing the tradition to her children who she hopes will pass the tradition on to their own.
‘‘I want my children to celebrate a Santa Claus that looks like them,” she said.
And her mother said it’s important for her grandsons to be able to identify with Santa.
‘‘I’m very glad to see him here and I think there should be Santas of every ethnicity all over Metro D.C.,” she said.
Santa will be available for pictures at the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East West Highway, until Dec. 24. Prices range from $15.99 to $39.99.
Monday, December 10, 2007
no waiting, no lines. i was in and out in all of ten minutes. my white counterpart was a very pretty, wide-eyed mom-looking young mom, with sleeping baby in tow. the actress that came out of the audition room (a young black woman who had on a terrific "ethnic" wig, by the way) was kind enough to watch the baby while we went in. i remember thinking, this is how some people do it -- and why not bring the kid along? you're not in the room for very long and it's well worth it for the money you could make.
wow, what a crap shoot. the hardest part? i have to keep my hair like this for all of next week, until my agent knows that i didn't get a callback.
wouldn't it be the best christmas present ever, to land a commercial before the end of the year?
Sunday, December 09, 2007
immediately, i thought of my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my aunts, my mother -- the first women i ever knew and spent any real time with. none of them ever wore make-up or had regular spa visits and yet to this day, i think of them as the most beautiful women that i have ever known. my Godmother, my aunt doris, in her twentysomething/thirtysomething prime was prettier than most women i know now.
why, she asked. more thinking.
they were lean and strong and healthy, as i recall. my great-grandmother would work all day in more than an acre in her backyard that was filled with vegetables and fruit and flowers, and she would do this in that south carolina sunshine, the kind of heat that made me dizzy as a child. she did that almost every day without a tractor -- unthinkable then and now for a woman her age. and that's not all she did.
i don't come from heavy-set, overweight people, either. when my aunt doris got married, she had to be all of a size 4, if that. there's a balance and a lankyness to us physically. but that's not it, either.
there was that unaffected natural approach to beauty. i understood at an early age that i didn't need to do anything or get anything to be pretty. there was an emphasis on cleanliness, order in the home and staying close to God. everyone had such pretty brown skin -- so clean and clear -- no matter how old they were. it was almost as though they were saying, this is who i am. no apologies, no excuses. this is it. if you don't like it, whatever. there's a lot of power in that.
she also asked me what i thought about plastic surgery and what i thought about the way i look at my age. as i'm jump-cutting through all this verbiage in my head to give her a clear-cut answer and tell her what i really think, i'm also thinking, where is this going? what kind of a commercial is this going to be? .
in the end, i don't think they're going to call me because my hair was natural. heck -- i was natural. they could surprise me. we'll see. what i'm really wondering about are the kind of answers they got from everyone else. it felt like a dove campaign for real beauty ad, not a commercial audition for a product that "plumps up" your facial skin.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
i can't believe i'm saying this, but i love ligers, too.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
too bad i can't blog for a living.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
i'm listening with one ear and i'm thinking, Curves? isn't that the excercise place for, um, all those big beautiful women out there? and right on cue, he goes, "they want real women, all shapes and sizes, not just big," and then i'm thinking, what about my hair and he added, "just so you know -- your hair is fine natural, bunchie. okaaaay? call me!"
i figured why not. at this point in my on-camera life, i've figured out how to relax on camera -- no small feat. i wasn't worried about what my hair would do. it was cornrowed into a bun and therefore rendered powerless. would i oh so tame "natural" hairdo get me a callback? if i did, maybe i had a shot.
this was at house on 15th street and 10th avenue of course -- the place that cast me in my first two commercials -- so it was very much a home for me, no pun intended. i tromped through the wet sleety snow to get there. this not being my first time at the rodeo (and time being of the essence), i made a beeline for the sign-in sheet (beating three other ladies to it in the process), grabbed the lines, checked to see if someone was in the room (yup) and if there was someone ahead of me (yup again), then took off my coat and whatnot as i looked over the lines, took a picture and filled out the card it was printed on. in no time at all it was over: i was in the room, i was jovial, chatty, friendly and open. and then i was back out on the street in the snow, bewildered, not knowing how i did. i could say, i was great! but i'm not sure. i'm never sure. maybe she hated me. maybe my face wasn't relaxed enough. whatever happened in that room, i couldn't take it with me. i trudged off, and with every step, all of it mattered less and less. by the time i got home, it didn't matter at all.
here's the thing, though: my spidey sense is tingling because the palms of both my hands are itching like crazy. southern black folk, you know what that means.
i've got another audition tomorrow -- for anti-aging cream. stay tuned.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
WILLIE HORTON AND ME
I am a black man. I am a young black man, born, let's say, between Brown v. Board of Education and the murders of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. Or, in the years that followed the murder of Emmett Till, but before the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I am one of the young black Americans Dr. King sang of in his ''I Have A Dream'' speech: ''I have a dream that . . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood . . . that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. . . . I have a dream today!''
Though I have a living memory of Dr. King, I don't remember that speech. I do remember my parents, relatives, teachers and professors endlessly recounting it, exhorting me to live up to the dream, to pick up the ball of freedom, as it were, and run with it, because one day, I was assured, we would look up and the dream would be reality.
I like to think I lived up to my part of the bargain. I stayed in school and remained home many nights when I didn't have to in the interest of ''staying out of trouble.'' I endured a lonely Catholic school education because public school wasn't good enough. At Notre Dame and Brown, I endured further isolation, and burned the midnight oil, as Dr. King had urged.
I am sure that I represent one of the best efforts that Americans, black Americans particularly, have made to live up to Dr. King's dream. I have a white education, a white accent, I conform to white middle-class standards in virtually every choice, from preferring Brooks Brothers oxford cloth to religiously clutching my gold cards as the tickets to the good life. I'm not really complaining about any of that. The world, even the white world, has been, if not good, then acceptable to me. But as I get older, I feel the world closing in. I feel that I failed to notice something, or that I've been deceived. I couldn't put my finger on it until I met Willie Horton.
George Bush and his henchmen could not have invented Willie Horton. Horton, with his coal-black skin; huge, unkempt Afro, and a glare that would have given Bull Connor or Lester Maddox serious pause, had committed a brutal murder in 1974 and been sentenced to life in prison. Then, granted a weekend furlough from prison, had viciously raped a white woman in front of her fiance, who was also attacked.
Willie Horton was the perfect symbol of what happened to innocent whites when liberals (read Democrats) were on the watch, at least in the gospel according to post-Goldwater Republicans. Horton himself, in just a fuzzy mug shot, gave even the stoutest, most open, liberal heart a shiver. Even me. I thought of all the late nights I had ridden in terror on the F and A trains, while living in New York City. I thought Willie Horton must be what the wolf packs I had often heard about, but never seen, must look like. I said to myself, ''Something has got to be done about these niggers.''
Then, one night, a temporary doorman at my Greenwich Village high-rise refused to let me pass. And it occured to me that it had taken the regular doormen, black, white and Hispanic, months to adjust to my coming and going. Then a friend's landlord in Brooklyn asked if I was living in his apartment. We had been working on a screenplay under deadline and I was there several days in a row. The landlord said she didn't mind, but the neighbors. . . . Then one day, I was late for the Metroliner, heading for Harvard and a weekend with several yuppie, buppie and guppie friends. I stood, in blazer and khakis, in front of the New York University Law School for 30 minutes, unable to get a cab. As it started to rain, I realized I was not going to get a cab.
Soaking wet, I gave up on the Metroliner and trudged home. As I cleaned up, I looked in the mirror. Wet, my military haircut looked slightly unkempt. My eyes were red from the water and stress. I couldn't help thinking, ''If Willie got a haircut and cooled out. . . .'' If Willie Horton would become just a little middle-class, he would look like me.
FOR YOUNG BLACKS of my sociological cohort, racism was often an abstract thing, ancient history, at worst a stone against which to whet our combat skills as we went winging through the world proving our superiority. We were the children of the dream. Incidents in my childhood and adolescence were steadfastly, often laughingly, overcome by a combination of the fresh euphoria of the civil rights movement and the exhortations and Christian piety of my mother. Now, in retrospect, I can see that racism has always been with me, even when I was shielded by love or money, or when I chose not to see it. But I saw it in the face of Willie Horton, and I can't ignore it, because it is my face.
Willie Horton has taught me the continuing need for a skill W. E. B. DuBois outlined and perfected 100 years ago: living with the veil. I am recognizing my veil of double consciousness, my American self and my black self. I must battle, like all humans, to see myself. I must also battle, because I am black, to see myself as others see me; increasingly my life, literally, depends upon it. I might meet Bernhard Goetz on the subway; my car might break down in Howard Beach; the armed security guard might mistake me for a burglar in the lobby of my building. And they won't see a mild-mannered English major trying to get home. They will see Willie Horton.
My father was born in a tar-paper, tin-roof shack on a cotton plantation near Holly Springs, Miss. His father was a sharecropper. His father had been a slave. My father came north, and by dint of a ferocity I still find frightening, carved an economic space for himself that became a launch pad to the Ivy League, to art school, to professional school, for his children.
As the song by John Cougar Mellencamp says it, ''Ain't that America. . . .'' But a closer look reveals that each of my father's children is in some way dangerously disgruntled, perhaps irrevocably alienated from the country, their country, that 25 years ago held so much promise. And the friends of my father's children, the children of the dream Dr. King died to preserve, a collection of young people ranging from investment bankers to sidemen for Miles Davis, are, to a man and woman, actively unsatisfied.
DuBois, in ''The Souls of Black Folks,'' posed a question perhaps more painful today than in 1903: ''Training for life teaches living; but what training for the profitable living together of black men and white?''
I think we, the children of the dream, often feel as if we are holding 30-year bonds that have matured and are suddenly worthless. There is a feeling, spoken and unspoken, of having been suckered. This distaste is festering into bitterness. I know that I disregarded jeering and opposition from young blacks in adolescence as I led a ''square,'' even dreary life predicated on a coming harvest of keeping-one's-nose-clean. And now I see that I am often treated the same as a thug, that no amount of conformity, willing or unwilling, will make me the fabled American individual. I think it has something to do with Willie Horton.
BLACK YOUTH CUL-ture is increasingly an expression of alienation and disgust with any mainstream (or so-called white) values. Or notions. Cameo haircuts, rap music, outsize jewelry are merely symptoms of attitudes that are probably beyond changing. My black Ivy League friends and myself are manifesting attitudes infinitely more contemptuous and insidious; I don't know of one who is doing much more on the subject of Dr. King's dream than cynically biding his or her time, waiting for some as-yet-unidentified apocalypse that will enable us to slay the white dragon, even as we work for it, live next to it and sleep with it.
Our dissatisfaction is leading us to despise the white dragon instead of the dragon of racism, but how can we do otherwise when everywhere we look, we see Willie Horton?
And we must acknowledge progress. Even in our darkest, most paranoid moments we can acknowledge white friends and lovers. I wouldn't have survived the series of white institutions that has been my conscious life without them. But it is hard to acknowledge any progress, because whites like to use the smallest increment of change to deny what we see as the totality. And, even in the most perfect and loving interracial relationships, racism waits like a cancer, ready to wake and consume the relationship at any, even the most innocuous, time. My best friend, white and Jewish, will never understand why I was ready to start World War III over perceived slights at an American Express office. In my darker moments, I suspect he is a bit afraid of me now. In my darkest moments, I wonder if even he sees Willie Horton.
Some of you are by now, sincerely or cynically, asking yourselves, ''But what does he want?'' A friend of mine says that the complaints of today's young blacks are indeed different from those of generations ago because it is very difficult to determine whether this alienation is a clarion call for the next phase of the civil rights movement or merely the whining of spoiled and corrupted minority elites who could be placated by a larger share in the fruits of a corrupt and exploitative system that would continue to enslave the majority of their brothers and sisters.
I don't think there is any answer to that question. I also think that the very fact it can be asked points to the unique character of the American race question, and the unhealable breach that manifests itself as a result in our culture and society. I don't think, for good or bad, that in any other ethnic group the fate of an individual is so inextricably bound to that of the group, and vice-versa. To use the symbol and metaphor of Willie Horton in another way, I do not think that the lives and choices of young white males are impacted by the existence of neo-Nazi skinheads, murdering Klansmen or the ordinary thugs of Howard Beach. I also, to put it plainly, do not recall any young black man, even those who deal drugs in such places, entering a playground and spraying bullets at innocent schoolchildren as happened in Stockton, Calif. It is not my intention to place value considerations on any of these events; I want to point out that in this society it seems legitimate, from the loftiest corridors of power to the streets of New York, to imply that one black man is them all.
And I want to be extraordinarily careful not to demonize Willie Horton. He should not be a symbol or scapegoat for our sins; he is a tragically troubled man - troubled like thousands of others, black and white - who was unwittingly used by a President to further division and misunderstanding. If anything, Horton is a particularly precise example of the willingness of those in power to pit us against one another. One lately fashionable statement, about to slide from truth to truism, is that blacks have the most to fear from lawless blacks. Any clear-eyed perusal of crime statistics will prove this. But what does it avail if the media, if the President, use this ongoing tragedy merely to antagonize and further separate Americans?
I THINK THAT WHAT I am finally angry about is my realizaton of a certain hollowness at the center of American life. Earlier, I mentioned the sense of having undergone a hoax. That hoax, as I now see it, is that the American community is putatively built upon the fundamentals of liberty and justice for all, that it is to be expected that the freedom to compete will result in winners and losers, and that the goal of society is to insure fairness of opportunity. In light of the events of recent years, I begin to see that we are, competing or not, winners or not, irrevocably chained together, black and white, rich and poor. New York City is a glaring microcosm of this interrelatedness, which can be thought of as either a web of fear ensnaring and enslaving us, or as a net of mutuality that strengthens us all.
As events like the Central Park rape illustrate, the world is becoming ever smaller, and it is increasingly difficult to consign social problems to realms outside our personal arenas of concern. I see the connection between Willie Horton and me, because it affects my own liberty. It was not always an obvious connection.
Another quote from Dr. King brings the issue into focus: ''. . . most of the gains . . . were obtained at bargain rates. The desegregation of public facilities cost nothing; neither did the election and appointment of a few black public officials. . . .'' To move to the next level of progress, we must face the fact that there are going to be costs, especially economic costs. To hire two black firefighters means two white firefighters won't be hired, and this is no easy reality. Racism is ultimately based on power and greed, the twin demons of most human frailties. These demons cannot be scapegoated, as the saga of Willie Horton proves. They are more like the Hydra, and will haunt our dreams, waking and other, regardless.
Monday, December 03, 2007
here's his big moment: the commercial that cost dukakis the 1988 presidential campaign against bush the senior.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
so who was their audience, exactly? Were they letting white America in on something? When you don’t know any black people and all you get is what you see on television or at the movies, -- what pop culture programs into you or some republican feeds you (Willie Horton, anyone?) -- what are you supposed to think?
well. the title told me that this was about them (where "they" stand) not us (where "we" stand) so i wasn't too sure how many black women were responsible for putting this whole thing together, anyway. (thanks, faboo.) and that just didn' t make any sense -- having special segments about black women and not letting black women tell it, in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes. as i watched and listened, i kept wondering what the segments would have been like if black women had complete control over the entire project, from start to finish. perhaps we would have heard from some of us who are somewhat left of center, like ms. angela y. davis. but i suppose that's my edit.
White people are way too surprised to meet me (“you’re soooooo articulate!”) for me to believe that there’s any real fundamental progress between the races in that basic “why can’t we all just get along?” way. There are very real reasons why we can’t get along and no one in the media seems to be particularly interested in exploring them. Jena 6 was no surprise to me. Even Europeans are adopting this "they-all-live-in-the-ghetto-and-they're-diseased-oversexed-violent-animals-that-play-
basketball-and-spew-rap-lyrics-at-will" attitude towards African Americans. And why shouldn’t they? They’re watching the same crappy tv shows, the same sexist “BET Uncut” rump shaker videos, the same hip-hop “artists,” the same black 21st century coon show movies (like Booty Call), too – with everyone throwing around the “n” word. I will never, ever forget the shock and horror i felt when i crash-landed in my German hotel room the day before a gig, flipped on the TV to see if anything was on, and caught that ultra 70s sit-com “Good Times” – with all the inflections, all of the strutting, all of it – in German, with “black sounding” voiceovers. sometimes, i could see the people i met looking at me sideways, mentally going through their internal rolodex of "what is black" (much like The Terminator looking for an option in his database) to see how i measured up. (ps: i never did.) oh, yeah. The Europeans have definitely been indoctrinated.
if they refuse to include us, i think the answer is to go underground. delve into the black blogosphere. watch our news programs. check in on what our pop stars are up to on our own gossip rags. if i want to know what's going on in the world, i don't watch nbc/cbs/abc nightly news because they aren't fair or balanced. none of them are, really. i check in with the bbc online -- because at least they're somewhat global. and the new york times online, too. and then i watch the daily show and the corbert report, respectively. that's about all the news i can stand -- and it's more than what most people get in this country.
as black folks, underground is where we live, anyway. We are a part of the subculture that feeds the culture, gives it dimension and substance and flow. we are the perpetual alternative.
here's the real remedy: we should strive to be our own unique authentic selves at all times. i know that seems insignificant but when i do this, i am forcing the person in question -- whatever their race or culture -- to see me as an individual. and that feels right, somehow. especially when it doesn't work -- probably because it's an easy way to separate the sheep from the goats.
there are those who meet me and who see me as an individual and things move along swimmingly from there. but then there are the others. others who, once they realize that i'm not like any black girl that's in their Terminator database, well, that's when the fear sets in. fear of the unknown. i become x, an unknown factor. this makes me dangerous. they don't know what i'll say or do. and that makes me a threat. evidently, i can be a threat to absolutely anyone. i am an intelligent black woman. i have that power.
throw in some nappy hair, clothing that would hardly be considered conventional and a facial expression of complete indifference, and voila! you get the ultimate threatdown -- a 21st century uppity negress.
where's my tv special?