Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Afrogeek-y Question

Frances, our six year old, can recognize Stan Lee on sight and did a happy dance for the 12-inch black suit Spiderman action figure we saw in Target on Sunday. Is it safe to assume she's an afrogeek in training? Is she going to get beat up a lot in high school? Poor kid.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

James Baldwin is kicking my ass

I was going to write a long post about the Michael Richards thing--about the absurdity of his apology tour, the irrelevance of Jesse Jackson, the misguided focused on the 'n' word (did we all miss the part where he threatened lynching and sodomy?)--but alas, I have been hard at work on my book on James Baldwin. I feel completely overwhelmed by this project and spend most of my free time whining about it. I do so much whining, in fact, that when my dear friend Jody sent me a copy of his book (an edited collection of essays on Radiohead), Frances said to me "Mommy you lose. Jody finished his book and you're still complaining about yours." Ah, the joys of motherhood.

Anyway, I've been grumpy about this book until recently when the project forced me to go back and read Baldwin (I hadn't actually read any Baldwin in two years; I have, however, read every book review and critical article written about his work). I leave you with one of my favorite passages from "Autobiographical Notes" in Notes of a Native Son. I fell in love with Baldwin the first time I read this:

"I do not like people who like me because I am a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.

I want to be an honest man and a good writer."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fun with Frances at the AME church/Voting with Frances

Before we get to the fun can I justt say how much of a surrpise it is not to have Brian pop up his head on this blog, say "Lex Luthor" and "underaged hookers" and cause a flurry of activity. Just once I'd like to be the fun one in the couple.

Anyhoo, on to Frances. After flirting with the idea of converting to Judaism (as much as one can at the age of 6) after finding out about Hanukhah's eight nights of presents, Frances has moved on. She has decided now to abandon Catholicism for the AME church. Her choir sang at Morris Brown AME on Sunday (they were host to Meminger Elem's pageant), along with choirs and dancers from other black churches. Needless to say, the protestant choirs (including one that perfomed in sign language) were much more animated and given to letting the spirit move them than was our little Catholic choir. Frances (and Cate for that matter) loved it. Frances wants to know when we can go back. It seems the somber music and reserved montone of the Catholic church just isn't doing it for her.

On Tuesday I took Frances with me to vote. She asked what we were voting on and I told her about he governor and the school board and the Family Discrimination Act. When I said we were voting to see whether or not a two men or two women could make a family together, Frances, with an adorably serious face, said, "We don't have to vote on that. That's already an 'I Can Do' law." She was very disappointed that 77% of South Carolinians apparently don't feel the same way.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

1st Blog Post. Here Goes Nuthin'! Part I

Last spring semester, Conseula taught Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. For some reason, I guess to serve as some sort of introduction to the Batman character, she also showed her class Hanna-Barbera's SuperFriends. I'd already read The Dark Knight a thousand times, but the SuperFriends, I hadn't seen them in years, and being a child of the sixties, I totally (afro)geeked out and watched the entire season in a single sitting. This is what I learned. The writers had to have been licking tabs of acid off of underaged hookers asses before they sat down to write. There is no other reasonable explanation for what happened on screen.

I'm sure that most of you are already familiar with the premise of the show: The SuperFriends hang out in their Hall of Justice, waiting for the TroubleAlert to notify them of ... well ... trouble. Said trouble usually comes in the form of one of the Legion of Doom's weekly plans to take over ... wait for it ... the ENTIRE FREAKIN' UNIVERSE.

Okay, I get that Lex Luthor and his band of merry misfits are supposed to be crazy. I understand crazy. Normal crazy is when you wait in the cold all night outside of Walmart to get an Xbox on the first day they're released. Comic book crazy is when you clench your armored fist and vow to do away with the heroes who stand in your way of conquering the world. Even the most fargone, foaming at the mouth inmate, strapped to a bed in a drooling academy never dreams of taking over the universe.

How in the hell does the Legion of Doom plan to carry this off? The edges of the known universe extend so far out that there's no point in measuring it. It must (even in reality, let alone in the minds of peyote chewing Hanna-Barbera writers) contain untold numbers of civilizations at technological levels ranging from low-browed brutes wielding pointy sticks and stones knives to hydrocephalic greys with god-like powers. It would take forever just to go from one end to the other (does the universe actually have an end?). Luthor and his idiotic ensemble intend to conquer it? WTF?!

More to follow.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Things They Say to Me #1

A little background--I grew in Lafayette, LA, a town of about 90,000 two hours west of New Orleans. It's nicknamed "Hub City" because so many oil-industry related businesses operate from there and "Acadiana" because the Acadians banished from Nova Scotia settled there in the 18th century. While many things about Lafayette sets it apart (like most of south Louisiana) from the rest of the south (it's strong and persistent French and Spanish Catholic culture, a system of laws based on the Napoleonic code rather than English civil law, a widely acknowledged history of consensual (more or less) interracial coupling), it's still a southern city in a typically southern state. The Knights of the White Camelia, for instance, recruited on my college campus, taking full advantage of the racial tensions running high, a result of David Duke's run for governor and the neo-nationalist fervor running rampant through the black student population. (A side note--does anybody else miss rap music that was smart, complicated, committed, artful? As catchy as "Golddigger" is, Kanye West's got nothing on the Native Tongues.) This is all to say, when I got this job and knew I'd be moving to Charleston, I figured I was well prepared to live in a southern city. Even though I'd lived in Seattle for six years prior to moving here, I was born and raised in the south. I love the south. I figured I was ready for anything Charleston had to throw at me.

But then I got here. And discovered that I couldn't even begin to imagine what Charleston had to throw at me. Consider this:

In the summer of 2003, Brian and I, our then 3 year old daughter, and two white friends from grad school decided it'd be a lark to go on a plantation tour. We'd been out to Ft. Sumter and that was relatively painless. And a plantation would be cool, right? (I can hear you all laughing now.)

We decided to go to Boone Hall because it's famous and has been in movies and has still-standing slave cabins that you can actually visit. When we get there, there's already a group inside the house, so we have to amuse ourselves on the grounds until it's our turn. I immediately sense that this is whole plantation tour idea is a mistake. My kid, in her typically uninhibited way, is darting back and forth between the slave cabins that line one side of the drive leading up to the house. She's giggling and having fun, doing exactly what three year olds should be doing, and all I can do is try not to break down in tears because my brain keeps flashing to images of my baby being snatched up and sold away to god knows who for god knows what. I talk myself down from this potential freak out, reconnect with the rational part of my brain and hang out on the porch of the house until it's time to go in.

When it's our turn, Brian and I notice that we are the only black people in the group (and as often as this happens to us in so many parts of our lives, we are still surprised when we find ourselves the only black people in the room--it's as if we forget we're afrogeeks). The guide, in colonial dress and full-on southern twang, shows us around and does the typical, what-you'd-expect spiel about the house and the family and furnishings. It's all interesting enough, but more interesting is the way the guide keeps eyeing Brian and I nervously, tripping over her words now and again. I felt sorry for her. I had no intention of causing her any kind of strife or discomfort. It probably is disconcerting to have black people show up on a plantation tour.

She takes us in to the game room, the last room we'll see before the we go out into the gardens. The game room houses dozens of photographs from films that have been shot at Boone Hall. It also, as the guide pleasantly told us, houses a framed shopping list that instructs the buyer to pick up, along with milk and eggs, "one slave girl." The list is on the wall right next to the doorway, so my husband and I stop to look at it, before we go to the gardens. It's not everyday you see something like that and it stands in such startling contrast to the pictures from the film productions. We had to stop and look. The spirits of all those black people who lived and died there would never forgive us if we didn't look.

The rest of the group moved out to the garden. The guide stands just outside the doorway, clearly waiting to catch our attention. When she does, she says: "If that gives you any ideas [gesturing to the list], she[gesturing to my beautiful brown three year old daughter] looks like she'd get a good price." The guide then promptly turns around and heads out to the gardens, while my husband and I stand there, shocked, not quite believing that we'd really heard what we thought we heard.

By the time we collect ourselves, the garden part of the tour is in full swing. We learn there is no offical tour of the slave cabins.

I wish I could say we made a big stink about the incident, that we demanded to see the person in charge, that we wrote angry letters to everyone we could, that we confronted the guide. But we didn't. We floated through the rest of the tour in semi-shock, trying to fathom what could prevent someone from knowing that that was offensive. And this is what's so insidious about this place: the palmetto trees and the wrought iron and the brick sidewalks and the horse drawn carriages and the beach and the manners--it all works to lull you into this freaky state of politeness where your goal becomes trying not to disturb anyone's day. We ended that day thinking, "well, this is Charleston and she was probably just trying to say that our kid is cute and just got all nervous because our being black freaked her out." Of course, we should have been thinking, "this is Charleston. Of course she said something deeply offensive. No one ever calls these people on their racist bullshit. Of course she thought it was okay to suggest we buy our daughter."

23 years of living in the south didn't prepare me for Charleston.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Seriously? "Certain People Time"?

I never read the paper here. I rarely watch the local news. If something of note happens, Brian will fill me in, or I'll hear my students talking about it, or it'll show up in the City Paper. But today, because of near catastrophic car trouble (which is exacerbating Brian and I's already complete inability to manage money), I was stuck at a gas station for nearly three hours. There was nothing to do but read the paper. Today's top story: School Board member Sandi Engleman accusing school superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson of being on CPT.

Of course, she says she didn't mean "colored people's time." She meant "certain people's time," a phrase referring to self-important people. What do you say to something like that?

I should start another blog called, "The Things People To Say To Me." While this wouldn't qualify because I wasn't actually part of the conversation, I have an ever increasing number of similar stories, of people saying the most inane, racially offensive stuff, while insisting, as Engleman did, that they "have never been" and "will never be" racist.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Because I Like Silly Blog Things (and Alison was doing it too)

You're an ISFJ

The Nurturer
You have a strong need to belong, and you are very loyal.A good listener, you excel at helping others in practical ways.In your spare time, you enjoy engaging your senses through art, cooking, and music.You find it easy to be devoted to one person, who you do special things for.
You would make a good interior designer, chef, or child psychologist.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Title Change and Maternal Infanticide

As you can see above, the blog has a title change. Afrogeek Dad (known to some as Brian) has decided to jump on the blog bandwagon. Apparently the response to Walter's question from the last post is quite long-winded and requires it's own post. Alas, Brian's fallen asleep before getting around to posting. Maybe tomorrow.

On tonight's local newscast, a story ran about a black mother smothering her newborn twins and then going to sleep next to them. When questioned by police, she confessed, saying that she smothered them because they were crying and she was sleepy. Now, when I heard this, I thought, "classic post-partum." Apaprently, though, I'm mistaken. The expert from MUSC informed the viewing audience that mothers often kill out of "resentment." They resent that, because of the pregnancy and childbirth and the kids, they can't live the life they want to, so they kill.

It's staggering the number of things wrong with that statement. First, isn't not getting to live the life you want the very definition of parenting? Would anyone really, without kids, choose to spend their Saturday mornings at pee wee soccer games or playing endless, repetitive games of Disney Princesses Monopoly of Dora Candyland? Am I the only who can think of other things to do with my Saturday mornings? Second, pinning this woman's actions on resentment, without even considering the deep ambivalence many women feel about their newborn babies is damaging for all women. Everyone expects you to be immediately and wholly in love with your infant as soon as you lay eyes on them, to want to spend every waking moment simply staring at them, to be all aglow with the wonders and mysteries of motherhood. (While some women do indeed lay claim to these feelings, I'm convinced they're lying or still loopy from the epidural. Is that harsh?) If you dare express anything else, any trepidation, any fear or anxiety or ambivalence, then you're "resentful" or unfit or unnatural.

I don't know this women who killed her kids. I have no idea why she did it. But she deserves better than to be written off as "resentful."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Would my marriage survive $1.67 billion?

Brian and I saw on the news this morning that the guys who own YouTube are selling to Google for $1.67 billion. This kind of news always prompts Brian and I too consider what we'd do with that kind of money. In my mind, I'm buying a house in Hampton Park, I'm getting a red F-150, hiring a nanny, starting a charitable organization. Important is what I'm not doing--quitting my job, spending a years traipsing about the globe.

Brian, on the other hand, is sailing the Pacific in a boat he's built himself, buying WWII airplanes and restoring them, bribing unversity administrators so that I can work where ever I want to, making the Captain America movie he really wants to see.

Brian says I don't really know how to play the "if I had a billion dollars" game. It is possible, though, that I really am just that dull.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Weekends at my house

Alison says I should go for the mundane (maybe opening with my crying fit over the Civil Rights Movement isn't the best way to draw people in). How's this for mundane:

I find one of the more challenging parts of parenting is filling the time. Neither of the girls have anything going on this weekend--no Girl Scouts, or soccer, or parties, or sleepovers, or anything. Which means that I have to fill up 48 hours (minus the sleeping time, of course). What do we do? The Aquarium? The Children's Museum? Staples, sure, but do I really have to shell out cash every time I leave the house with my children? We could go to the park, but that's really not as much fun as one would hope. Cate can't really play with Frances because she's too small and I can't really play with Frances because I'm chasing behind Cate. We really need another kid(s) (and, ideally, another adult) to make the park a good time. There's always baking cookies or coloring or videos. heh.

The problem here, clearly, is I lack imagination. There are other mommies out there right now, I'm sure, who are planning fabulous, entertaining, educational, economical weekend activities, while I sit here thinking none of this would be a problem for my own mother who gave me a book of logic puzzles and a sandwich and fully expected me to entertain myself.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Eyes on the Prize...Or how being a parent screws with your ability to be a badass

So I'm watching the re-broadcast of the Eyes on the Prize series (PBS is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the original broadcast). I caught the middle of the second episode, which was all about school desegregation after the Brown decision. Two things struck me:

1. Hardly a day goes by when I don't encounter some version of the "leave the past in the past" sentiment with relation to people of color and racism. Upset that people at school think your brown kid is lazy and stupid and violent? That's not racism. Racism is in the past. You must be mistaken. Some elected official suggests spaying women whose brown kids get into trouble? That's not racism. Racism was a long time ago. Let's not overreact. But here's the problem. I was watching people who participated in the riots at Ole Miss and in Arkansas talk about that day. I was looking at the students who integrated those schools talk about their experiences. It isn't in the past. These people are still alive. Those experiences are clearly still present for them. It's hard to look into that crowd of screaming white faces, a crowd gathered to defend segregation and southern "heritage" with violence if necessary, and not believe that some vestige of those feelings exist today. Or it could be that living in Charleston has colored (excuse the pun) my view of the whole matter.

2. The episode also featured the integration of New Orleans public schools. Norman Rockwell immortalized that historical moment in this painting:

Four black girls entered first grade at four different all-white schools. As I watched the footage of one little girl, her hair done up beautifully, her white socks folded neatly, her cute little coat (clearly her mother had spent a great deal of time getting her ready that morning), I just burst into tears. My own daughter is six, a first grader. And I just can't imagine sending her through a crowd of angry, irrational, racist white adults into a school where she would be harassed daily, endlessly by teachers and students. I use to think I'd be on the front lines of the movement, fighting for what's right, risking life and limb to make the world a better place. Maybe I still would. I don't know. I do know this though: I couldn't give my kid over to the movement. I wouldn't.

Strangely, this makes me all sympathetic with Condoleeza Rice's father, who kept his family completely out of the civil rights movement and was critical of those who used children in protests. But that's a post for another day.

So what is this all about?

Every time I'm online looking for other parents to talk to, I think, "Why don't nerdy black feminists who like comic books and Star Wars write about parenting?" Clearly a void is waiting to be filled.What am I going to write about? Stuff that comes up. Right now I'm composing a post about blackness and children's books. Watch this space. Oh--one more thing. What's an afrogeek, you ask? Check out this blog, whose name I've shamelessly stolen for this blog.