Monday, December 20, 2010

Why I Don't Celebrate Kwanzaa

I'm willing to admit that, in the past, my jocular attitude about Kwanzaa was insensitive. I apologized then and I'm doing it again, publicly. Sorry! I remember learning about it in Sunday School as a child, and wondering why we didn't celebrate it at home. But then, I learned that my family wasn't an anomaly; most African-Americans don't celebrate Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday. Are we shunning a holiday created specifically for us in favor of Western traditions and holidays that were created without our unique cultural needs in mind? I say, no, and before you crucify me, here's why.

What is Kwanzaa?
As most of those who are passively familiar with Kwanzaa know, it is a holiday created by Dr. Karenga to reaffirm African-Americans' rootedness in African culture, to reinforce the bonds between them as a people, and to introduce and reaffirm the value of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. It is recognized between Dec 26 - Jan 1st. So, in all fairness, one could celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa without trampling on each others holiday. How convenient!
(Source: The History of Kwanzaa, Click Here for more info.)

Why I'm Not Down
1. Language Barrier - African-Americans have ancestors in a continent with over 2000 languages. Granted, a good portion of us came from targeted, specific regions, but even those regions represent a cornucopia of divergent and differing cultures.
The only language one can truly consider representative of people that identify as "African-Americans" is English. So to create a holiday using Swahili terms, a language spoken in 10 of Africa's 54 countries, but in fewer than 1% of African-American households, doesn't make sense.

2. Africa's A Country... Right? Remember when the (unproven) rumor leaked that Sarah Palin "didn't know Africa was a continent, not a country"? It's a common yet dangerous myth that Africa is one big country comprised of folks in various shades of dark chocolate, overrun with HIV, drums, lions, and people whose names include clicks. This myth is perpetuated by multiple factors, many we can't control, such as Black Americans' collective yet relatively ambiguous ancestry in a huge land with no specific country to point to. The idea of creating a holiday based in "African tradition" seems to trivialize Africa's diversity. I find it disrespectful, to be honest. It has the potential to make Black Americans feel as if they've grasped an idea of their ancestors, when Kwanzaa doesn't even come close to scratching the surface.

3. Misses The Mark. Dr. Karenga said his goal was to do the following:
a. "give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday..." What is the existing holiday that we need an alternative to? Christmas, for example is a Christian holiday, not a White one, and is celebrated even amongst the most fervent atheists and agnostics. I need no alternative.
b. "give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and our history... ." Wait... wait.. this is starting to sound like Black History Month. I think Carter G. Woodson (and later McDonald's) beat him to the punch on the Celebrating Black History Movement. I'm all for celebrating Black History 365 days a year. But do we really need Kwanzaa to do so? And how does learning about principles that represent "the best of African thought" really do that? The principles of Kwanzaa (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith) are all admirable. But a true dedication to African-American history, would teach us, I don't know... history.
c. "...rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." Dominant society. Hmmm. America has made, and continues to make, a lot of heinous mistakes and gaffes in its 234-year long history. It was built by many hands, many of them brown and black. But there's no denying that Black Americans' history is America's history. There's no separating the two. I'm the first to rail against the dominant society and its ills, but I refuse to say that society at large is not ours to celebrate and be a part of. We can't be  accused of "imitating society" if we created it! We earned the right to be a part of the mainstream and its society. I will celebrate Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Day, because they resonate with me. Kwanzaa does not.

As an American with African ancestry, it's my right to be both American and seek to learn more about my African roots. No shade to people who recognize Kwanzaa and its 'creator, Dr. Karenga. I admire all the work Karenga's done. Kwanzaa just isn't giving me what I need.

What about you? Are you part of the 1.4 million to 30 million that celebrate Kwanzaa? (Broad range I know, the numbers vary, depending on who you ask). If you don't, why not? Please share!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Office Theft & Chitterlings (Life in the Office)

When unemployment is at 9.7% in the United States, it may seem insensitive to criticize a 1st World Problem like "Poor Office Etiquette," but the reality is... folks in Ann Taylor and Brooks Brothers suits have given me more trouble than rowdy 6th graders and rude restaurant guests. (I've also been a teacher and server.) I did an extremely unscientific poll on Facebook and Twitter, and it's clear... this is a problem across America. Maybe you, YES YOU, are doing something extremely annoying, and you don't even realize that your incessant tapping of your pen is analogous to Chinese Water Torture. I'm here to help. Below are some common complaints and solutions:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

3 Things That Will End Racism (of the Black & White Variety)

Racism shapes our politics, interactions with others, and seating arrangements on the bus. For example, after our country elected the first president of African descent, he was attacked about 17 hours into his presidency for not doing enough. (Look at my eyes... roll em. - (c) Kevin Hart.) Some of it was because people are desperate for jobs, decent health care, and an end to the conflicts overseas. But for some, it was because they just don't like the idea of the most powerful position in the world being held by an African-American.

I have a solution! I know you're thinking, "Who does she think she is?" I agree... I too was surprised at my wisdom. But just listen up. And if you think my solution is controversial, consider the alternative... racism!!! Here goes:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Don't See Color is Hogwash and Here's Why

People Are Like Eggs

A few years ago, I overheard a woman talking to her son. She said, "People are like these eggs. Some of them are brown, some of them are white, but they're all the same on the inside." At the time, I was truly awed by this mother's wisdom. What a great way to explain different races to a child! But for adults the whole "We're all the same, just different colors" is dangerous and ignores the ongoing, complex race relations issues in our country.

How Inconvenient!
The first time I heard someone say "I don't see color", I thought, "Well, that has to be an inconvenience." How does one go about life not recognizing someone's skin color? Martin Luther King proclaimed, "I have a dream 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." Not once did he mention them being stripped of their color, an integral part of who we are.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

5 Reasons to Date a Black Man

I was a little conflicted about writing this, because people often assume that when you proclaim your love for one thing, you are simultaneously stating your hate or dislike for another. But, the article written by Lashaun Williams forced it out of me. She wrote an article entitled. "8 Reasons to Date A White Man." I don't disagree with the premise; I am open to more than just my own ethnicity/racial background. But the "reasons" she listed are an explicit summation of gross, hyperbolic, and racist generalizations about a rather large demographic.

Here's a brief overview of why Ms. Lashaun Williams believes Black Women should date White Men (direct quotes!):

  • 1. Gay White men are more forthcoming about their homosexuality. (Translation: More Black men hide their sexuality than White men.)
  • 2. Black men have backwards expectations when it comes to romantic relationships, and are looking for someone to take care of them. White men come from "stronger family structures."
  • 3. In White culture, education is valued and expected, while Black men continue to drop out.
  • 4. White men at least attempt marriage before making babies; "White men don't have children sprinkled around the world like Black men."
  • 5. "White men have a firmer grasp on what really defines manhood.They are smart enough not to act out rap music."
  • 6. Black men are always trying to shine, spend more money than they have. White men make better decisions when it comes to managing money.
  • 7. White men have no problem turning a ho into a housewife. They have the ability to look beyond our past.
  • 8. White men don't take everything as a challenge to their masculinity. As a result of their insecurities and low self-esteem, Black men are intimidated by the strength of an educated and ambitious Black woman.

Whew. Is your blood pressure up? Mine is! But despite what Mrs. Williams thinks, I was raised to fight ignorance with eloquence and a touch of wit.

So here we are...
5 Reasons A Sister Should Date A Black Man.
(Or at least not be opposed to the idea)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Please Stand on the Right (And other Public Transit Etiquette)

As the capital of the United States and home to over 60 museums, dozens of monuments, and 954,327 skinny jeans, Washington DC is a tourist town. And I'm fine with that. I like discovering cool things in the city too. However, tourists are a huge proponent of my Angry Woman Syndrome that usually comes into effect when I ride Metro. Here are a few guidelines for tourists and DC residents who just don't know any better.

1) STAND ON THE RIGHT. And walk on the left. (During rush hour, please jog on the left). I know... the view of DC from inside the metro is spell-binding (blatant sarcasm), and you just want to leisurely take it all in, but... the rest of us have a job! We scheduled just enough time to stop for fruit and a bagel, grab an Express newspaper, and slide into a seat headed towards Metro Center. So for you to stand directly in front of me on the escalator, and take a photograph of my train as it flies past (THANKS, I JUST MISSED MY RIDE TO WORK), drives me wild. I can't deal. Do all your dawdling, amateur photography, and mock awe on the right side of the escalator.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Freedom of Speech for All (Except the Gays!)

What is Don't Ask, Don't Tell?The full name is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Harrass, Don't Pursue." It is commonly referred to as "DADT" and is a policy barring openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from serving in the military. You can be a closeted homosexual, but you can't "demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts." Yes, we are still talking about the United States. I promise!

Don't Ask: The military will not ask you if you're straight or gay. This is the only part of the law that makes sense. Someone's sexuality is no one's business but their own and their partner's.
Don't Tell: You most certainly will not tell them. You will not chat with your bunkmates about your partner, although they are more than welcome to chat about their husbands/wives/boyfriends/girlfriends/lovers. You will not even mention intent to engage in homosexual acts.
Don't Harass
: This part of the law was enacted after Barry Winchell was killed because his fellow service members thought he was gay, and after Winchell sufficiently beat the brakes out of one of them for harassing him, Calvin Glover attacked and killed Winchell in his sleep with a baseball bat. Some people may say, "Seee! This is what happens when people in the military are gay!" Nooooo, this is what happens when the ridiculous DADT law creates a Salem Witch Trials type atmosphere for people seeking to find out who's gay and who's not. For the record, Barry Winchell never said he was gay, it was just a rumor, and he was infuriated by the accusations. But who wouldn't be? If the accusation had been made to the appropriate person, Winchell would have been discharged. #epicdontaskdonttellfail
Don't Pursue: This part establishes what is minimally required for an investigation to be initiated. The Army and other branches even provide a training guide on how to report homosexuals and what qualifies as credible information. In other words, they say, "Hey just because someone has a light pink polo
doesn't mean they're gay, but... if a lady says, "Me and my girlfriend are in a flag football league," then report her!

In short...
You are more than welcome to be gay and serve. Just keep it a secret. You are more than welcome to defend my heterosexual right to the freedom of speech, but you may not practice it yourself, when discussing your love life. (This sounds familiar huh? Like when Blacks were fighting for freedom for others in previous World Wars, but had no freedom here in the States, and were liable to be lynched if they looked at a white woman for too long.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why DC is Cooler Than Your Town

As the child of two parents in the Army, I've lived in several states and overseas. I went to high school in the booming metropolis of Boiling Springs, a suburb of Spartanburg, South Carolina. (Sidenote - we were just in the news!) I went to college in DC, spent over a year in Los Angeles, a summer in Chicago, a summer in Philadelphia, and visited a lot of major cities in the U.S. (Minneapolis is extremely underrated by the way.)

I think it's safe for me to say that I know a little bit about places in DC and outside of DC. I've come to the conclusion that aside from Los Angeles, Washington, DC might be the coolest place ever. And the only reason LA trumps DC is because LA is not susceptible to things like Snowpocalypse and Nike boots.

Why does DC rock? So glad you asked.

1) The diversity of the nightlife here. On any given night, yes, including Monday - Marvin Mondays!, you can find live music, spoken word, an open club, several bars, 24 hour diners, great food, and a stimulating conversation. The South has great sweet tea, but so does Eatonville on U Street and Horace and Dickies in NE.

2) It is the cheapest place to go on a great date. And when I say cheap, I mean FREE. Especially in the summer. Between Screen on the Green, (free movies on the National Mall, Jazz in the Gardens, countless exhibits in the many Smithsonian museums (there is not one Smithsonian, tourists, the Smithsonian is an Empire of Museums), cute coffeehouses and cafes in every other corner, the monuments, and parks galore just begging you to lay out a blanket and whisper David Banner and Ying Yang Twin tracks into a lady's ear, DC is the winner for free things to do.

3) It's a college town. And who doesn't love a college town? They bring a certain vitality to any city and ensure that there are always drink specials, impressionable men and women with the desire to change the world, and a free "intern" to make copies at your office. Just kidding.... (I love you Sarah! Just leave them on my desk, I'm at lunch.) The colleges include American, Catholic, Georgetown, George Washington (with an Ivy League price tag for reasons I don't understand), Howard, Gallaudet, and the University of the District of Columbia. There's also a few others just outside the District like the University of Maryland and George Mason.

4) Barry and 'Chelle's live here. Excuse me, the President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle live here. I can call them Barry and 'Chelles 'cause we're neighbors.

5) Driving is a luxury you don't need. Public transit here is great! Even though the trains aren't 24 hours, many of the buses are 24 hours, and plus... I'm glad they shut down the train system to clean it. It's pretty safe - even the cursed Red Line- and it goes almost anywhere you need to go. Everyone rides the trains from engineers to lawyers to students.

6) It's a big small city. Similarly to LA, DC is made up of a lot of smaller neighborhoods. Eastern Market, the U Street Corridor, Dupont Circle, H St Corridor, Chinatown, Capitol Hill, the Waterfront, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Georgetown, etc..... The difference is you could walk from one neighborhood to another without catching a charley horse. DC is pretty small, geographically speaking, which makes it convenient when meeting up with friends. (Try telling someone in Pasadena to meet you in Santa Monica... they'll look you at like you're crazy).

6b) Everyone knows everybody. Or, everyone knows someone who knows someone. I doubt that there are more than 3 degrees of separation between most folks in DC, outside of the hermits and members of the Secret Service who aren't allowed to make friends. This is goo, if you like to network but bad if you're promiscuous. You will get caught.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm Liberal Because Jesus Said So

A few weeks ago, a person dear to me suggested that I write about being a liberal and being a Christian. I thought it was a great idea, but I didn't know where to start, and because it's something important to me, (my faith and my political beliefs), I wanted to do it right. So I waited for the right moment.

Interestingly enough, the inspiration came over the past couple days. Before I share my story, I'd like to say something extremely important:

No political party, entity, or leaning has the exclusive rights to a specific religion. More specifically, the "Religious Right" or supposed "Moral Majority" does not even come close to representing all Christians. In many ways, I believe it operates in direct contradiction to what the Bible calls us to do. More on that later, right now... back to my anecdote:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why I Chose an HBCU

I recently read an article that asked the question, "Do We Still Need HBCUs?"

If you had asked me this question prior to 2003, I would have boldly proclaimed, "No! We's all free, now!"
Thankfully, I know better now. How did I go from AntiHBCU to Faithful Howard Alum and Donor? Glad you asked.


HBCUs are not for everyone. Just like every man doesn't look good in skinny jeans, the HBCU setting isn't a conducive learning environment for all.This isn't an argument that HBCUs are better than PWIs. It simply comes in response to people who fail to see the advantages of attending an HBCU!

Why Did I Go to Howard?
I was an Army brat and attended a whole lot of schools growing up. The single common denominator: My peers = all white bricks . I worked hard to get out of state scholarships because I attended high school in South Carolina, and I knew I wouldn't last in a place that offered one sushi place in the entire county, sweet tea that reminded me of syrup, and a stubborn pride in any and everything Strom Thurmond. I was blessed to be accepted everywhere I applied. When my mom bribed me with gas for my purple Altima, I decided to check Howard out. After all, what's the harm in a visit? I was already memorizing the NY Public transit system, and had made a non-refundable (darn it!!!) housing deposit for Columbia U.

Weekend at the Mecca
I landed on Howard's campus on Thursday in the middle of a snow blizzard. The very last weekend of February and the first couple days of March. I'm thinking "Snow in March!?!?" However, more importantly, it was the 1st time I was surrounded by Blacks who were serious about their education. Talking with them I was humbled. They gave shining reviews of Howard and its ability to attract the strongest minds from across the world. I gingerly asked during a Q and A, “is it tough to get a job with a Howard degree?” The recruiter responded, “Ma’am, are you interested in working for a company that doesn’t recognize that Black institutions are perfectly capable of producing well-educated graduates?” I was stunned into silence. I knew Howard was where I needed to be.

Perks of an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) versus a PWI (Predominantly White Institution)
  • The pressure's gone. When you say something stupid in class, you're not making Black people in general look bad. Just people from Chicago.
  • Although more than 2/3 of the world can be defined as "people of color" or "brown people", in America, especially in corporate settings, blacks are the minority. At an HBCU, you are the majority, and for many it's the first time. The confidence one gains from being part of a majority even for 4 5, 6, 8 even years, is remarkable. And believe me, you carry that air with you beyond the campus. It's not pompous, but not to be cliche or too Jesse Jackson, you really believe I Am Somebody! Everyone needs a chance to be a part of the majority to see how white people, particularly, WASP men feel every day.
  • Quick Test. What's the capital of Spain? The capital of France? The capital of Switzerland? I bet you got at least 2 out of 3 right. Ok now... what's the capital of Nigeria? Ethiopia? Kenya? I'm willing to bet that was a little tougher. The American education system has done a great job at educating us about Western civilization and what they've got going on, and a horrible job at teaching us about Africa. HBCUs to the rescue! My professors found a way to throw some Black History in philosophy, literature, and even calculus! It was needed. We learned their history from K-12. Now for OUR history.
  • You learn the diversity that is... Black people. We listen to John Legend, John Coltrane and John Mayer. We hail from Marcy Project, Prince George's County, MD, Kenya, Poland, Belize, and the Bay. We skateboard, freestyle, pontificate, design buildings, teach generations, chemically engineer (whatever that means), and write web pages. We are not a monolithic culture. To those who question the diversity of Howard, because most of us have brown skin, I ask that they click here.
  • While learning our diversity, you also learn about our common struggle in finding Bibles with a Black Moses for our children and finding hair products in our suburbs' CVS.
  • 1st round draft picks for quota fillers. Say you're a prestigious law firm in New York, and you need to hire at least 3 minorities to keep the feds off you. Where will you find 3 qualified minorities at the top of their class? If you look hard, you'll find them at Harvard or Columbia. Or... you can go to Howard, and choose from your pick of dozens of qualified Black (female and male) candidates. It happens all the time.
  • You become friends with folks based on a common interest, not a common color. At my high school, all of us Blacks knew each other and were for the most part friends. Did we like all the same stuff? Maybe, maybe not. But we stuck together, because we were 7% of the school, and were instantly drawn to each other's Blackness. Just like, as adults when you see another Black person in a grocery store in a white neighborhood, you give them the nod. At an HBCU, you become friends with someone because you both like... I don't know... organic food. It's a more organic, if you will friendship, relationship.
  • Homecoming. That's it.
  • The faculty is genuinely vested in your future. My professors at Howard were strict like a tough parent. 10 minutes after class began, if you were late, you weren't coming in. But they also called or expressed concern if you missed a few classes. I was invited to many of my professors' homes, offered a real home-cooked meal from one of my favorite theatre professors, and to this day, the former chair of the psych department is available to dole out advice to me. It's a family atmosphere. They'll be tough because you need it, but supportive because you need that too.
  • The Huxtables will appreciate you. Bill Cosby was a huge fan of wearing Howard and other HBCU paraphernalia. And who doesn't want to be like the Huxtables!?!?
I definitely believe there are perks to attending a PWI, (like on time registration). I also recognize the disadvantages to attending an HBCU. I believe all of those things are overrepresented in these conversations however, and that the perks of an HBCU should be highlighted. Did I miss any? What are your thoughts?