Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Afrogeek A-Z Film Meme: A-G

So I was reading over at Graphic Engine Bob Rehak's A-Z list of his favorite movies. As always happens when someone makes a list, I am compelled to make my own. And as always happens, when I ask Brian to help make such a list, we spend so much time disagreeing on the premise of the list, not to mention the actual contents, that we wind up with two lists.

In the end I decided to list the movies I find compulsively watchable. Brian decided to list movies he thinks everyone should see at least once.

Brian: Akira--the movie that introduced him to anime
Conseula: I originally picked Prisoner of Azkaban as my A movie because Azkaban is clearly the most important name in that title, but Brian called me a cheater. So I have instead chose Armageddon because I love every bit of the cheese-tastic goodness of this film and will watch it whenever it's on.

Brian: Bladerunner--one of the best made sf movies ever
Conseula: Big Fish--just the thought of this movie gives me a warm fuzzy

Brian: Chasing Amy (an excellent choice on Brian's part)
Conseula: Casino Royale (with Daniel Craig), tied closely with Color Purple

Brian: a tie between Dr. Strangelove, about which Brian says, "You should see this movie or even if it harelips everyone on Bear Creek" (those who know, know) and The Duelist
Conseula: Desperado--for the music alone; tied with Kevin Smith's Dogma

Brian: Excalibur--the first treatment of the Arthurian mythos that Brian actually enjoyed
Conseula: Empire Strikes Back--this is a placeholder for the original Star Wars trilogy. I have been watching these movies since I was a kid and will never tire of them.

Brian: Fail Safe--a Cold War nail-baiter. 'Nuff said
Conseula: Freak Friday (with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis)--Frances and I love this movie

Brian: Glory--Brian's a sucker for suicidal sacrifice. Seriously.
Conseula: Get on the Bus--my favorite Spike Lee joint. It made me a lot less annoyed with the Million Man March.

More to follow...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mommification of Michelle Obama: More Parenting in Public

This Salon article on Michelle Obama's decision to be Mom-in-Chief in the new Obama administration and the writer's dismay that this is a retrograde decision on the part of the Obamas has been making the rounds the my corner of the blogosphere. I've been thinking about it for a few days, trying to figure out why, though I fully recognize the concerted effort that has gone into softening Michelle's public image, I am in no way bothered by her desire to focus on the children's transition to White House.

Maybe it's because I believe her when she says this is her choice, that the most important thing to her right now is that her children maintain has much normalcy as is possible when your father is leader of the free world. Brian spent the last two years being the primary caregiver of our children, being the one who is always here, the one who maintained their routine. Now that he is back in school and working full-time and no one is filling that stay-at-home parent role, the change is noticeable. We have created more chaos and unpredictability in our children's lives. While I think we're handling it fine and that our children are perfectly okay, I can only manage the chaos that's about to descend upon the Obama girls. What parent wouldn't want to dedicate as much time as they can to help their kids navigate that?

Maybe I also like the way Michelle's decision foregrounds just how hard and time-consuming caring for children is. And if you are committed to doing it well, to really making sure you end up with healthy, well-adjusted children, you're going to want to devote as much time to it as possible. Again, Michelle didn't quit her job to twiddle her thumbs while her kids are at school. She's decided to be responsible for creating the cocoon around her children that will help them come out the other side of this okay. That's a full time job.

Maybe I'm not convinced that Hilary Clinton was good model for First Lady. This article, and others like it, make the comparison to Clinton and imply that we're taking a step backward with Michelle Obama. Clinton's insistence on being involved in her husband's administration, her clear desire to be involved in politics are held up as the model for how to be First Lady. But, truthfully, I think that's bullshit. Because First Lady is not really a job. It's just a bullshit bourgeous title we give to wives of powerful men in a jacked up attempt to acknowledge the "importance" of these women. Why do we assume that Michelle Obama can replace her $273,618 a year job, a career she clearly loved and worked really hard for, and a support system she'd built over 20 years with some bullshit First Lady project? Would we really feel better if she dedicated the next four years to literacy or land mines or underprivileged youth? Do we really think the First Lady's agenda matters in any way at all? You know what matters? Making sure growing up in the White House doesn't fuck up your kids. I think Michelle Obama gets that as well.

And maybe I believe that Michelle Obama isn't really an extension of her husband, despite what it may look like in public. I always got the sense from both Bush wives that they were women of certain class who understood that marrying well meant becoming a reflection of your husband's ambitions and accomplishments. In that respect, First Lady was not a role change, just the role they've accepted writ large. The Bush marriages seem clearly not marriages of equals. And my impression of Hilary Clinton was, and remains, that she also isn't in a marriage of equals. She seems constantly fighting to prove to us, and perhaps herself, that she isn't an extension of Bill. The Obamas seems to deeply love and respect each other. Michelle has certainly sacrificed a lot in these last two years so that Barack can pursue this dream of being president, but there is every indication that he recognizes and understands and acknowledges that sacrifice. And I suspect there are things he's doing to make up for that sacrifice that are just none of our business.

And, finally, maybe Michelle doesn't feel it necessary or appropriate to bitch to the general public about how annoyed she may be feeling about this major change in her life. As I said a couple of posts back, private decisions made in public take on a whole different tenor. It may seems to all of us that she's putting a nail in feminism's coffin, but she might also be choosing to keep some of her life to herself. Would I like it if she sat down with Katie Couric for a heartfelt interview about how hard it is to be Mrs. Obama all the time, instead of just Michelle, or about how she manages to still be Michelle despite having to be Mrs. Obama in public? Sure. But I'm also fine if she's decided that, right now, she owes more to her children than she does to me.

Michelle Obama on Display

Here are two great responses to the Salon article First Lady Got Back: An Appreciation of Michelle Obama's Beauty and Booty.

Over at Michelle Obama Watch Gina invokes the image of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and says:

Erin Aubry “Balrog” Kaplan, handmaiden of misogyny, your foolishness and chicanery shall not pass. In the name of Sarah Baartman we rebuke your intellectually-challenged, historically-ignorant, self-hating assault on the dignity of our new first lady! ( Yes, its hyperbole, but so was that crappy article on Salon.com. I guess any Black person with a byline can get paid these days if they are “sensational” enough.)

And Mark Anthony Neal reminds us:

Underlying this notion of "realness" that Michelle Obama embodies are notions of accessibility and availability. If there is anything that the history of black women in this country should teach us, is that the idea that black women's bodies were accessible and available to any--and all--concretely frames our understandings of black women's histories whether it be the spectacle of the "Hottentot Venus" (Saartjie Baartman), the tragedy of Crystal Mangum or the nameless and faceless victims of sexual violence and rape.

While it is useful to remember that this kind of scrutiny and obsession with the hair, clothes, and body of women in the public is par for the misogynist course (can you imagine a Salon article speculating on the size and shape of Obama's black penis?), I find Neal's argument compelling. Maybe it's because I am a black woman and I parent two little black girls, but there is something especially disturbing about the way the figure (in all senses of that term) of Michelle Obama is available to the public. Yes, all First Ladies have their clothes choices and hairstyles dissected ad nauseum, but I find it difficult to imagine that we would ever be talking about Laura Bush's, or even Hilary Clinton's, breasts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mom- and Dad-in-Chief

I am a little bit obsessed with the Obamas' transition to the White House. So obsessed, in fact, that I fear I'm becoming one of those people who might actually order commemorative White House plates, or who knows every detail there is to know about the White House Christmas tree. I used to make fun of those people.

I am particularly obsessed with the Obamas as parents, primarily because they seem to be handling with great grace a situation I would find almost wholly intolerable--parenting in public. I mean, yes, we all parent in public because our kids have interactions with the public and those interactions reveal something about our parenting (much to our horror sometimes). But, ultimately the decisions I make about how I parent (like not breastfeeding, attachment parenting the first kid but not the second, choosing a magnet school over a neighborhood school, letting them watch more TV than is probably healthy) are made in private, with the input of the entire world.

When you are parenting in public, private parenting decisions take on a whole new life. I read recently that now that Barack Obama and Malia have finished all the Harry Potter books and Obama is home more, they've started the Twilight books. That's a private parenting decision, but he's making it in public. I've written before about my love of the first book, but not about how dismayed I was at the second, and how kind of horrified I am by what I hear about the third and fourth. I would never ever ever read these books to my daughter. I'm a little appalled that Obama is reading them to Malia. The construction of young womanhood in these books is atrocious. I imagine (I hope!) that Obama will come to this same conclusion, but, of course, we'll never know. He's not exactly going to hold a press conference to tell us that he's banned Twilight from his house because of it's jacked up gender politics. But he should, because some of us now are really concerned about his parenting, even though it's really none of our business.

Michelle Obama, too, is having some trouble in the public parenting department. Some object to her wasting her Ivy League education and law degree by becoming Mom-in-Chief rather than...actually, I don't know what else people expect her to be doing. She's soon-to-be First Lady, which, despite what Hilary Clinton would have you believe, is not actually a real job. But this too is a private parenting decision being made in public. The Obamas have clearly decided that Barack Obama will dedicate his life to public service and that Michelle Obama will do the heavy lifting in terms of parenting. In Chicago, with the amazing support system she built around her, she was able to have a high-profile, high-powered career and be a very hands-on parent to two young daughters. That support system isn't following them to Chicago, but those children still need taking care of. It makes perfect sense that Michelle Obama would spend this first year at least making sure her children are okay. I don't envy her having to juggle being everyone's symbol contemporary womanhood (there's no way to live up to everyone's expectations) with being an actual mother to real children, all while smiling pretty for the cameras.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You know you're being raised in a feminist community when...

Here's a recent conversation with Frances:

Frances: What's Aunt T's last name?

Me: Green

Frances: Isn't that Uncle Houston's last name?

Me: Yeah, honey. They have the same last name.

Frances: (sincerely curious) How did that happen?

Me: Well, some women change their name and take their husband's last name when they get married.

Frances: (completely incredulous) Really?

In the circle of adult women she interacts with regularly, there are no women who share their husbands' last names. In fact, not changing your name is such a regular occurence in our social circle that it's easy to forget that we are the ones who are doing something out of the ordinary. As Frances gets older and starts to interact more and more with people and institutions that don't have anything at all to do with us, we are reminded more and more that the decisions we have made in our own lives and in our parenting are very deliberate and, some times, quite at odds with those we love and thos we come into frequent contact with. The name change thing is minor in this regard, but something like not insisting that she preface a grown-up's name with "Miss" or "Mister" is a big deal, especially when we are back home or at church. I have become so adept at moving between worlds (I of course always address my elders at church as "Miss" or "Mister") that I forget that this is a skill I learned. I sometimes fear that we aren't doing a good job of teaching Frances that skill.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Promise of My Great Grandmother

Here's an excerpt of the essay I wrote for the Post & Courier:

When I watched Barack Obama's election night speech, I watched as any other American. I was heartened by the multiracial crowd in Grant Park, a crowd that looks like the America I live in. I was inspired by our ability to come together across gender, racial, sexual, class, geographic, educational and religious divides for the common good. I felt proud as I witnessed Obama's humility, as he declared this a victory for the people of the United States and reiterated his desire to serve us, not just lead us.

But, if I'm being honest, I also watched as a black woman. I can't even begin to describe the joy I feel that little black boys have in Obama a model of black masculinity that has nothing to do with machismo or athletic prowess and everything to do with intelligence and moral resolve; or that our next first lady looks like the women who raised me; or that for the last 21 months the Obama family has made black love rather than black pathology front-page news.

Read the rest at the Post & Courier

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Forgive the long absence. I've been thinking about how to get this blog back to afrogeek parenting and way from political rants (though they do have their uses), but this election has been all-consuming.

This morning Frances and I got up before the sun to stand in line and vote for Barack Obama. I think maybe Frances was more excited than I was. She kept reminding me that we said she could stay up late to watch election returns. She was giddy as she pressed the blinking vote button.

Frances's enthusiasm about this election and the death of Obama's grandmother has me thinking about my own great-grandmother who used to deliver regular lectures about the importance of voting. We'd be pulling weeds in her garden (a chore I absolutely detested and that she seemed all too eager to have me perform) and she'd be telling me about all the people who literally died so that I can vote. She never wanted to hear that I skipped out on any opportunity to participate in the democratic process. She lived just down the road from another great-grandmother who hoped that she would live long enough to have me take her own a cruise. She'd never been on a big boat or seen the Gulf of Mexico, much a less an ocean, and believed, of all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, that I would be the one to help her realize that dream.

It's all so corny and every black person has a million of these stories, but it's still so true. The women who helped raise me had such simple, yet profound, dreams for me and for themselves--to vote, to ride in a big boat, to marry someone I love rather than someone who can take care of me--that it seems almost unbelievable that I got to vote for a major party black candidate for president this morning. These women cleaned white people's houses all their lives and never did get to see that I grew up to be a college professor and the first black women to do a lot of things (a surprising number of things, really, considering that I was born in 1973, not 1903). But I hope they were watching somewhere this morning as I took their great-great-granddaughter into vote.