Friday, January 30, 2009

Black Things I Love #1: Our Afrogeek-y President

I'm trying to institute a little writing discipline into my life, so I'm participating in Nablopomo's writing challenge. Instead of writing about this month's theme ("want"), though, I will instead observe Black History Month and Valentine's day by writing about black things I love. First up, Barack Obama: Fanboy.

Tales of Obama's comic booking collecting are almost certainly exaggerated, but I find this Onion piece, about Obama's cabinet complete cluelessness when it comes to Marvel comics, hysterical and comforting nevertheless. Here's a snippet:

While Obama has not scheduled another meeting with his cabinet this week—a respite the president hopes they will use to brush up on the 235-issue Savage Sword series—he is expected to meet with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Friday to discuss Afghanistan. A holdover from the Bush administration, Gates told reporters he may have gotten off on the wrong foot with the new president, citing an occasion when Obama asked him what he knew about 1984's Secret Wars, a 12-issue limited Marvel release. Gates then handed a visibly confused Obama 1,400 classified pages on covert CIA operations in El Salvador.

Is he really pacing up and down on the sidewalk outside his favorite comic shop every Wednesday (new comic day) hoping for the latest issue of New Avengers (my new favorite as of late)? Probably not. But the sheer geeky joy he seems to get from digging deep into the mind-numbing minutiae of political bureacracy or Keynesian economics or Medicare spending tells me he is fellow afrogeek.

Good Hair

I've written before about my own hair drama, but not about the how the drama plays out in my relationship with my daughters' hair. It's conventional wisdom (at least where I am from) that the kind of angst white girls have about their weight, black girls have about their hair. One of the parenting things I think about almost constantly is my girls' hair and whether or not their sense of worth or their own beauty will be diminished because it's not run-your-fingers-through-it straight and bouncy like their friends or women in shamppo commercials. One of the most trying moments I've recently with my older daughter is the morning she had a fit in the kitchen because I would let her wear her hair loose to school for "messy hair day." She insisted that her teacher was going to brush everybody's hair after the class took a picture. How do you explain to an 8-year old, without making her feel like the odd girl out, that brush her white firend's hair back into a ponytail is not really the same as brushing her hair?

Chris Rock apparently had the same concerns about his own daughters and made a documentary about it. Check it out.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Inappropriate Silliness on a Friday Afternoon

I had a whole post planned about my complete inability to parent the three year old who lives at my house (don't worry--that post is still coming). Instead of feeling sorry for myself, though, I'll post these instead.

First, in the tradition of Twisted Toyfare Theater, here is Barack Obama taking on Dick Cheney in costume Darth Vader, complete with light sabers.

And here is a lady talking about the Obamas' relationship. Watch and listen carefully. I think she has no idea she's being inappropriate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rev. Lowery Rocks My Socks; Praisesong for the Day

I was a weepy mess during the inauguration, and applauded several times during Obama's speech. But I have to say my favorite moments of the day didn't come from Obama, but rather from Joseph Lowery and Elizabeth Alexander.

While I continue to understand and support (mostly) Obama's pragmatic downplaying of the racial significance of his victory, it was incredibly satisfying to have Lowery, in his benediction, remind us of the racial context of the day.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen. Say Amen'...

And I also absolutely loved Alexander's poem. Here's my favorite bit

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mommy Notes

I have long held that part of what makes motherhood so difficult is the unreasonable expectations women are encouraged to live up to. (Brian could write a whole book on the pitifully low expectations of fathers, but that's another post). The idea that having a womb means that I will unequivocally, at every moment, enjoy my children and love the day-to-day task of taking care of them, for me at least, has been something I struggled with. Because, honestly, sometimes parenting is nothing more than a pain in the butt, no matter how cute my girls might be in their self-fashioned superhero costumes or playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the guitar and moroccas.

A Chronicle of Higher Education article offers us some good news and bad news about parenting, particularly the nature/nurture debate. It's a great article about what the latest in sociology and psychology tell us about parenting, but this was my favorite bit:

According to a study by a team of scholars led by the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, mothers enjoy child care just a little more than housework, and a lot less than watching television. As an economist, I have to suspect that a major reason for parents' lack of enthusiasm for their role is simply diminishing marginal utility: Average enjoyment of parenting is low because parents are overdoing it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Notes from Sabbatical, Part 2

(Hello Moxie Readers!)

The Good: I spent a guilt-free evening with Brian (it's a lot easier to enjoy date night when there aren't set of papers to be graded or class prep waiting for you at home). We saw Slumdog Millionaire, which was both heartwarming and incredibly disturbing, in part because the little kid who played the young Jamal looks a lot like my youngest kid--something about the big ears and the mischievious glint in his eyes.

The Unexpected: Everyone has an opinion about how I should spend my sabbatical and many people to seem to take it as a personal offense if they see me on or near campus. I am usually greeted by my colleagues with, "Hey. How's it going?" This week, almost everyone who's seen me on campus says, "What are you doing here?" I find that disconcerting.

The Not-So-Unexpected: I really don't want to be a stay at home mother. I am reminded again, as I am periodically, when the nature of my work allows me to spend an extended amount of time away from the office, that the care and feeding of children and the maintenance of a household alone cannot sustain me. I fully recognize that parenting is a lot easier when I haven't been at work all day. I'm not as exhausted, I have more patience, I get to go on school field trips. But I'm also fully aware that this arrangement is only temporary (my sabbatical is only a semester long), and since I'm writing and researching, I'm still working a great deal. That sustains me. This is not my life. And I'm happy about that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Notes from Sabbatical, part 1

I wish I had something profound to say about being on sabbatical, but sadly I don't. The only insights I've gleaned from my first three days is that I don't quite know what to do with unstructured time. My days stretch endlessly before me and that freaks me out a bit. Today was better than Monday (I did actual work today), but I can tell this will take some getting used to.

All that said, sabbatical does give me some time to indulge in distractions, like this:

Clearly everybody in American has already seen this video, but I'm just now seeing it from beginning to end. And while I find the politics of the song horribly bourgeois and kind of antifeminist, I can avert eyes. I love it.

I've also been thinking about this article from Bitch: Aint I a Mommy. One of the reasons I started this blog is because I was in constant search of moomy narratives that mirrored my experience. In all the talk about "mommy wars" you rest assured that the voices of women of color (not to mention single women or working class women or lesbian women) are few and far between. I wanted to hear from women like me: nerdy black women who loved their kids and their job and were happily, mostly, doing the mommy dance. I couldn't find those voices, so here we are. Now that I'm on sabbatical, I'll have some more time to reflect on the mommy dance.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Kwanzaa with the Afrogeeks

I had a long post planned defending Kwanzaa, chastising those who mocked the "made up" nature of Kwanzaa (as if all holidays weren't man-made social constructs), correcting the myth that Kwanzaa is a black separatist, socialist holiday, but instead I will share how I came to celebrate Kwanzaa.

My oldest daughter learned about Kwanzaa last year at her public school. She learned that it was an African American holiday and wanted to know why we, a family of African Americans, didn't celebrate it. In my head I had a whole list of reasons, similar to the ones found in this article and the comments on this post, but I didn't tell her any of this. Instead I set about the task of reading all I could about Kwanzaa and figuring out how our family would observe the holiday. Last year it was important to celebrate Kwanzaa not because it was a black holiday but because my daughter, who often expresses anxiety about being the only black kid in her social circle, wanted to do something "black." However contrived the whole thing might be, easing some of her anxiety would be worth it.

The funny thing is, though, the family loved it. We bought a kinara and candles, but spent money on little else. We checked out some books on Kwanzaa from the library and read about Africa. We researched black scientists on the internet. We made a bunch of African flags from construction paper and made a black, red, and green streamer for the Christmas tree. And for seven days we enjoyed being together as a black family.

This year, as we got out the Christmas decorations, my daughter reminded me that we need to get out the Kwanzaa decorations as well. She had her wish list for Santa, but she was also looking forward to the handmade/useful/culturally relevant Kwanzaa gift she would get on the sixth night of Kwanzaa. She had hopes for a necklace made with African beads to match the bracelet she already owns. She was over the moon about the quilt made from her old t-shirts that she actually received. Our observance this year consisted of talking about the way we could practice the Kwanzaa principles all year (my favorite: the girls deciding on their own they could practice unity by not fighting all the time over toys), correcting my oldest daughter's impression that African American history consists solely of slavery and emancipation, reading about famous African princesses and fierce African American women, and listening to a lot of music (the baby has developed quite the passion for Motown and Miles Davis). We also made Kwanzza pal refrigerator magnets.

All in all, it has been a pleasant way to spend seven days