Untitled, because there are no words to define this grief

“We always had a problem with him and pools. The people who own the pool upstairs said they caught him walking around it when I already told him not to. I gave him a hiding. He said he wouldn’t do it again. And then just 5 days later, he came back to report to me about how excited he was to touch the pool water upstairs. I said, ‘Ah! So I have to give you another hiding again because you didn’t learn the first time?’”

She laughed ruefully as she recalled the memory of her son telling on himself. Another memory came back to her.

“And you remember the first time he came to your house, he peed in your pool when he had to use the toilet?” She chuckled a bit.

“I remember,” I answered, laughing lightly. “My whole yard was his toilet that day.”

“Yeah, neh? I guess it was meant to be the pool…”

The levity in the room evaporated as quickly as its unexpected entrance. We five women – the grieving mother and we her friends and family who had come to grieve with her – enveloped ourselves in silence once again. The constant pinging of her phone from the incessant stream of WhatsApp messages swallowed the otherwise quiet. The memory of Matthew was everywhere. There was so much to say and not enough strength to say it.

I met Thandi* in 2016 at a local spa. After months of ignoring the follicle forest that had sprouted on my chin, I went to a local spa to have it waxed away. Thandi was a new employee – new to Plett – and I was one of her first clients. I have always been self-conscious about my facial hair (one of the strange consequences of carrying and bearing a son) and cope with it by being self-depreciating. Thandi put me at ease by taking to focus away from my imperfection and focusing on what had caused it.

“I have a son too,” she said. “Matthew. He’s four.”

“Oh really? Mine is seven. His name is Stone.”

“They don’t stay with me. I’m working to bring them home. Maybe next year.”

Within days we would transition from a client-service provider relationship to becoming sisters.

Matthew lived with his older sister with their grandmother in a township 5 hours away by bus. Like many South African women – single mothers in particular- Thandi had to leave them in the care of family in order to find work wherever she could and care for them as best she can. As a consequence of a failed education system that stretches back generations, many women labor as domestic workers (a term I dislike greatly) and come from a long line of women who have had the thankless job of cleaning up after and caring for other people’s children. Thandi’s life took a different path when she made a decision a divorce and decade ago: she would study beauty therapy. This is how she’s earned money to care for her children, her mother and her son, and recently her former mother-in-law who had charge of the kids. Three households are dependent on her check and occasional tips, a pittance when you consider the long hours and shocking indignities she and other women have to endure in the massage industry. But if she had learned anything in this life, Thandi has learned to endure.

Matthews sudden, silent passing is yet another.

No one saw it happen. At the largest and most popular hotel in Plettenberg Bay, during one of the busiest weekends of the year, no one took notice of a little boy who scurried from the toddler wading pool into the deeper pool just feet away. He had already been told to stay put by his older sister who’d swum off to play with her age mates…but if you know anything about five year old boys, and five year old boys in particular…they are not very good at staying put or being excluded from big kid fun.

I’ve seen the pool at that hotel. It’s designed to allure you, to invite you in. I imagine he was thrilled as he descended onto the shallow steps. Saturday, January 6th 2018 was a hot day in Plett. I imagine the water in the larger pool felt cooler against his skin, which must have delighted him and bolstered his confidence. I imagine he took more steps downward and slipped under unseen. I don’t care to imagine much more after that.

Matthew was discovered at the very bottom of the pool. It was a group of children – no one will say who – that dove under and pulled him to the surface.

We don’t discuss these details as Thandi sits on the floor, supported by a mattress and covered in plain cloth. We talk about my kids’ recent return from Ghana, about the weather and about the precious moments shared with the little boy whose absence had brought us all into that pink bedroom a day after his passing.

His presence is everywhere; reminders that he not only lived, but as most preschoolers do, dominated his domain.

Thandi glances in the corner and takes note of a soccer ball that has been sitting by the bedroom door. It’s blue. Captain America, Iron Man and few of the other Avengers stare determinedly into space from its globular surface. Thandi recalls how Matthew loved to kick that ball with her. Her bully auntie who has been sitting on the mattress with her gets up and takes the ball away. This too I suppose is her right.

Nothing prepares you for the moment you become a mother. It’s just something you learn to do. When a woman becomes a mother, the birth of her child does not change her life alone. The ripple affects go deep and wide. Suddenly, in one moment, we who are her friends and sisters become aunties and godmothers. Her mother earns a grand title. We all have new responsibilities. Life is never the same after the birth of a child.

Life is never the same when you lose him either. Nothing prepares you for the moment you lose your child. It’s just something you learn to do.

There is a grief that is unspeakable, almost incomprehensible. The questions come, in a trickle at first, and finally in a deluge. After the deluge, a steady dribble, echoing the rhythm of your beating heart.

Why…

Why…

Why…

And when there are no answers, at least none that can satisfy, then comes the silence. And it’s the silence that’s the hardest to bear.

We’ve lost children in our family before through miscarriages, within hours of birth, through tragic accidents similar to what happened at the pool. This is an ancient pain, experienced by the First Woman herself. This does not make this moment any easier to carry. It’s something that we must all carry together if we’re to get through it.

 

On the night it happened, we wearily came home to tell our kids. They sat in stunned silence. Aya covered her mouth, as though afraid to breathe. Stone – who was watching YouTube when we arrived home – was back on his computer moments after the announcement. I wondered if he grasped what was being said to him.

“Matthew was one of the 10 people who drowned in South Africa this weekend.”

“What?”

He held up his laptop to me and pointed to the screen. He had been searching for details on his “annoying little brother” and friend. It was a natural reaction for a child of his generation – to seek answers from the Internet… answers that adults could not provide. He took back his device and gave me a blank look before retreating back to the steps and staring into the inky, uncertain night that stretched out before us all.

I don’t want to end this post. I don’t want this to be the end. And though we all have to accept that this is the end of Matthew’s life as we have known it, we will always cherish and give praise that he existed. His life mattered. You had to see him. You would’ve loved him too. The last time we saw him was on New Years Eve where our families watched fireworks from the top floor. Long before midnight, he’d given everyone in the room a big hug that night, something he’d never done before. He was so tiny, but he was a force. A tornado. He’s wrecked our house (and my nerves) on many a weekend. I’d give almost anything to pick up after that wreckage again. I can’t help but wonder if those exuberant, unexpected hugs were his way of saying goodbye.

Fly with the angels, sweet Matthew.

 

What’s On Your Plate in 2018?

Do you make New Year resolutions? I don’t. Not any more. I don’t even make goals. Murphy’s Law operates in my life with the efficiency of a bicycle and the ferocity of Eddy Merckx on the pedals. Whether horrific or splendid, every event in my life is a surprise. It’s all very New Age – this living in the moment thing. I don’t recommend it for everyone, however.

Anyway… Resolutions.

Now that we are four days deep into a new year, you may have put down as one of your goals/hopes a desire to eat healthier. Making better financial decisions, travel, and going to the gym are among the top resolutions made by people who have been blessed to see the beginnings of a new solar cycle. As you know, most people fall off the proverbial wagon by the time the first 30 days are up. Changing one’s eating habits is one of the most difficult tasks one can undertake, as it requires unlearning decades of indoctrination on how to feed oneself. For instance, I’m on my second salad of the year, and I’m already over it!

The conversation around food has taken dynamic turns over the last few decades. With the introduction of GMOs, aquaponics and the shrinking of arable land upon which to farm, there is less talk about what we eat and grow and more about WHO determines what we consume. The food supply chain has been taking on an acute pyramid shape, to the benefit of a core group of providers. The merits and impact of this model is something better debated platforms like the Journal of Agricultural Economics. What I really want to talk about is the aftermarket aspect of your trip to the market: what got onto your plate and how.

I’m a bear. I eat ’cause I must.

On SABC’s radio program today, there was a social psychologist that spoke about the manner in which human beings eat. She noted that we are the only beings on the planet who eat not just for nourishment, but for posturing and show as well. It’s true. A bear doesn’t forage the undergrowth of his woodland home looking for clusters of berries defined by perfect symmetry, nor does the bat reject a mosquito because its not the right hue of black. They eat because hunger drives them to. Aesthetics form no part of that equation. To boot, neither the bear nor the bat is concerned about what other bears or bats might think if they were seen eating fruits that looked like they came off the back of a turnip truck rather than the glossy aisles of Trader Joe’s. We are the only species that consumes food with the judgments of other humans in mind.

Food is a very powerful tool. What one has on their plate has the ability to speak volumes before one has the chance to utter a word. Those hasty projections, whether negative or positive, are often heaved on the shoulders of the poor and economically disenfranchised. Sometimes, these groups will take the burden of ‘posh’ eating upon themselves for myriad, personal reasons.

What does your plate say about you? Well, if you start your day with a bowl of yogurt and rye toast, it might say that you’re cosmopolitan, health conscious and upwardly mobile. If you began your day with a cup of amasi and brown bread, it connotes poverty. In reality, both amasi and yogurt provide the same nutritional value but only one has an aura of prestige around it. In this same radio program, the psychologist noted that there were subjects in her study who after moving into the city from the rural farm areas admitted that they loved amasi, but would never drink it in their new urban areas. They would rather save money and buy yogurt instead, so as not to be perceived as inferior in their new environment. Amasi – for them – is negatively associated with poverty and backwardness.

Upon reflection, this is not a peculiarity that is unique to South Africa. When I reached a certain age of awareness living in the United States, I understood that eating watermelon in public (meaning wherever white people were likely to pass by) was ill advised. A Black person slurping down watermelon was associated with slavery and/or coonery.

We still can’t eat fried chicken in peace, despite the fact that literally every race, creed and culture of bipedal humanoids prepares and consumes chicken in one fried form or another. But see, there is a difference between putting a flat wing in your mouth and pulling out a clean bone, and slicing into a garlic and herb infused chicken breast. They’re both chicken, but only eating one will earn you the label country & coon before you can say, Pass the Durkee’s.

Take a look in your cupboards and refrigerator. What – if anything – has changed about the types of food you’ve bought over the years? Have the changes in location or earning altered what you eat and what kind of food you seek out on shelves? For instance, now that I’m firmly middle class, I won’t touch baloney…despite the fact that fried baloney sandwiches kept me full on many an after school afternoon with their salty bouquet and springy texture. I have a friend who won’t go near a can of soup because they trigger memories of extreme poverty. (Which is odd because at today’s prices, a single can of Progresso will set you back $3-4, taking it out of the category of “poor people’s food. You can probably get more fried chicken at those prices.)

What are you going to eat this year? Are you going to let the judge-y eyes of others prevent you from eating that plate of pig’s feet/quinoa/beets or are you gonna dive right in? Discuss!

Goodbye With Gratitude, 2017

The year is drawing to a close and we are in the homestretch! 2018 is peering back at us over the horizon. 2017 has been a bizarre year, much of it in a good way. After the horrors that 2016 wrought upon us, it was good to catch some semblance of a breather over these past 12 months.

I know quite a few of us sustained heavy personal losses with friends and heroes passing away, many in their prime. I’ve had to console myself with the theory that Prince once espoused in the ballad, Gold and trust that if they’ve lived a good life heaven will take their soul. I’d rather live with the hope that I will see their faces again than to dwell on the cynic’s supposition that this Earth is the end of the line for all of us. With the passing of these loved ones, I am reminded that whether we are entering this world or taking leave of it, pain is an integral part of the experience. That we are left behind to mourn them is a testament to their positive impact, and one can find joy in that, albeit rueful.

2016 was such a relentless series of horrific events that I made a conscious decision at the beginning of this year to make one resolution and one only: To abstain from bad news wherever possible. For the most part that meant straying as far away from politics and the absolute dumpster fire that is the entirety of the Drumpf administration, and I admit: that was hard. I didn’t do a very good job of it the first 40 days of the year. The discovery of the golf-ball sized tumor in my brain forced a shift in my focus, another misfortune for which I found myself grateful. It was in those moments and the months that followed that I was shown extreme kindness and generosity from friends and strangers and had the opportunity to meet denizens of my Facebook feed (shout out to Monique!) in real life.

2017 was the first time in seven years that I had not written or published a book. It was an unsettling sensation…beyond that. Not producing any tangible work felt like I was sacrificing a limb, but I knew that the longevity of my health necessitated a break from extensive writing. I read a lot this year, all of it for pleasure; an indulgence I hadn’t partaken in since I was a sixth grader. Some of the work I read was transformative, magical and lyrical. Others were just a tad better than mediocre. Each of them provided their own instruction on what makes for interesting, compelling composition.

Reading aside, the one extravagance I gave myself over to was watching for and celebrating the wins of others…wins that unfurled like the sails of an ancient armada. Since I had committed myself to looking for good news, you can imagine I found it at every turn. For the benefit of time, I will list my picks for the best moments of 2017, in no particular order.

 

The release of ‘Get Out’

Jordan Peele’s first film as a solo director tapped into a peculiar fear that most Black people keep hidden and shut away from the prying eyes of the mainstream: Being kidnapped by white people. The possibility haunts our collective subconscious -because although we know that Europeans can no longer legally pack us onto 100 foot long death traps made of wood for their economic benefit, we all know that the imaginations of whypipo know no bounds when it comes to Black destruction. In the era of 45, this movie was an important reminder of that fact. I’m looking forward to the sequel, ‘Stay Woke’.

Daixy makes soap

Maame Aba Daisie (@D41XY) is one of the few virtual friends I have a tangible, 3D connection to. That makes her a real person, with real emotions and real dreams. One of those dreams was to make soap for profit. Maame Aba Daisie is a talented woman, and like many talented people suffers from the occasional bout of self-doubt. She overcame her uncertainties and launched a line of organic soaps this year. She was good enough to mail me some from Accra and boy, are they yummy! You could cut her excitement at launch like a bar of soap. (Sorry. Couldn’t help it.)

Robert E Kelly’s kids interrupt him on BBC

 The mom dive is still gold! LOL!

Josiah Eyison amps up new initiatives at iSpace

Josh Eyison, CEO of iSpace. Image source ghanama.com

Josh is one of my favorite people in the whole, wide, wonderful world. We’ve only met twice in person, but I knew he was my spiritual twin the instant we met. He reminds me of a young Mr. Miyagi. He is an entrepreneur who grooms other entrepreneurs to be better entrepreneurs. And he’s also the CEO and co-Founder of iSpace, which is this dope hub in Accra. This year, he launched a tech a women-centered initiative to push women into untapped avenues in the tech space. He realized that tech needs African women, so he provided a platform to give them entry into the space. Not all heroes wear capes… or have a full head of lustrous locks.

Tosinger Opens Terra Cotta in Atlanta

You all know Tosinger, the voice behind the hit single Ile and Atlanta’s original Naija flower child. When I could get the night off, I used to run the ATL art/music scene with Tosinger and whistle encouragingly from the audience as she would belt Afro-folk songs to crowds who often didn’t get her music or style. She never let a tepid reception get her down though. She would work the crowd, handing out her demos and smiling like she was Nefertiti come to life. Sometimes she would struggle to get stage time at a venue; and my girl is too big for that kind of struggle. So guess what she did? She built her own stage. Boom.

Naija never, ever go carry last!

Reading The Shack and The Alchemist

These are the two most impactful books I’ve read this year. I return to the Author’s Note of ‘The Alchemist’ at least once a month for encouragement, and since I don’t own a copy of ‘The Shack’, I tap into the memory of those written words to experience the sensations of forgiveness and awe whenever the need arises. The lessons in each book are very different and very necessary.

Ariatu PR increases represents a staggering number of clients

Ronke Lawal is the founder of Ariatu PR. She’s represented dozens of brands and helped pushed them to prominence in the UK and beyond. When I was a new novelist and had no clue about marketing or the power of social media, Ronke would amplify any tweets I published about my book (The Daughters of Swallows) to my utter confusion. Why was she re-tweeting ALL THE TIME? This was back when we were fairly new at taking a shot at each of our dream disciplines. I’ve never forgotten that. I am so pleased that her heart of gold and penchant for hard work is paying off with new clients and dividends!

Tokunbo ‘Toksyk’ Koiki is featured on BBC and Beyond!

Baba God! You have given this woman a gift eh? See her soup. See her stew. Like a bubbling pot of triumph and jubilation. From the stove in her flat to this? 2017 has been a banner year for my friend, Tokunbo. She’s been featured on BBC, she’s fed multitudes with rave reviews, she’s earned all her accolades for bringing West African food to the fore. It’s been my pleasure to watch the Universe open up new doors for her. Very soon John Boyega will be begging for seconds at your table, wai? *Seals this word with a broken egg*

Kristin Freudenthal debuts a book by accident

To call it an ‘accident’ is a gross misnomer, but that’s what this whirlwind felt like. The fact is, everything in Kristin’s life looks chaotic in the beginning, but makes perfect sense by its conclusion. Her first book, Love Letters From Abba is the beautiful result of a tumultuous year spent in Plett and chance meeting with a Bishop from Mississippi. Stemming from a conversation with a ‘stranger-angel’ over ostrich burgers to a series of road trips all over the Garden Route, Kristin took a bit of advice and turned her pain into a page-turner.

 

Abynnah Sekyiamah is named best female entrepreneur for Clean Eats

Also known in the house as MK, this is the little sister I never had. (Whereas my actual little sister is a slightly more manic version of myself.) After struggling with her weight her whole life, MK made a radical decision 3 or so years ago. She took up yoga and started watching what she ate. This is not easy for African women to do. First of all, yoga is ‘demonic’ and if you’re not cooking with copious amounts of oil, are you really cooking? So profound was her physical transformation and so passionate was she about her new lifestyle that she opened up an eatery called Clean Eats, where she only serves fresh fruits, veggie and organic fare. She’s been a guide to many women who just didn’t know where to start in their health journey, and for that – and so much more – she deserves all her accolades!

 

The Conversation started by Pepper Dem Ministries

You may not like them, but you’re certainly going to listen to what they have to say. PDM burst onto the social media landscape and dominated the conversation on gender and equality in Ghana for…well…they’re still dominating! These women galvanized those of us who exist in the activist space and spiced it up by encouraging us all to interrogate the (often toxic) narratives that govern our thoughts and mores. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in 2018!

 

Lydia Forson fixes her career

This is one of those moments where you had to be there.

#TeamItWasNeverBrokeToBeginWith

 

Ruby Buah opens Kua Kids: A Salon & Spa for the Wee Ones

Keeping

Us

Authentic!!!

Ruby Buah is a powerhouse. She is an idea mill and a things-make-it-happener. There are few people who have the gift and knack for taking an idea from concept to execution with such flawless perfection as Ruby. If there is a woman who ever had the Midas touch, she’s it. Her Kua accessory line has been an international hit for years now, with a dedicated clientele. Now she’s bringing a new generation into the fold with her spa for kids. Look at the joy on these babies’ faces. Don’t you wish you were six all over again?

Michael Dapaah goes Skraaa…

Image source: Abegmusic

Hol’ tight Asnee!

Michael Dapaah, popularly known as Big Shaq, is the embodiment of every kubolor boy’s dream. He has shot to fame and monetized tomfoolery. From Fire in the Booth to now representing a line of fleece, fur and bubble jackets, Michael is setting the world of music and fashion ablaze.

But it is we who will burn.

Because man is not hot.

Man can never be hot.

ALL THE TIME?? The release of the Black Panther trailer and the reactions from the Culture that followed

 

 

Obviously, there are other great highlights that presented themselves in 2017 (like the day I discovered the wonders and efficiency of an epilator or that you can buy your kids used Legos for Christmas and they will never know the difference), but we would be here for another 2 hours dissecting those moments and I have a sunset to go watch. I’m sure you have some New Year’s Eve traditions that need attending to as well. Thank you for being a part of the MOM Squad and for being a part of this community for so many years. I wish you and your family great health, happiness, peace and the space and means to make your dreams come true.

Unless your dream is to hinder someone else’s destiny. In that case, fiya bu’n you. Fiya bu’n you well-well!

 

Happy New Year, and may we look back on 2018 with similar gratitude!

Mary Is My Least Favorite Character on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

 Watching holiday movies was never a big part of my family’s Christmas rituals, growing up. We watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and those early claymation flicks featuring Rudolph and Jack Frost, but that was it. Big blockbuster ‘must watch’ holiday classics like A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street and It’s A Wonderful Life never made my radar until after I got married. When it comes to this genre, certain members of my husband’s family are devoted cinephiles, and it was through them that my introductions to A Christmas Story & Co were made. On Christmas day, I watched It’s A Wonderful Life for the first time.

It’s a great movie with a good plot. There’s no disputing that. Though it was by all counts a flop at the box office when it was released in 1946, it has gone on to endear itself to audiences worldwide more than 70 years on – no doubt (by now) recouping any losses it suffered after its immediate release. Did you know Hoover’s FBI investigated the film for being un-American and pro-Communist? Once I found that out, it made me love the film all the more. Hoover’s FBI stood in direct opposition of all the ideals America hold’s most dear today.

I digress.

As the film drew to a close, I found myself misty-eyed as the people of Bedford Falls clamored around to shower George Bailey with much needed cash to save his father’s loan company. He’d gone to the villainous Mr. Potter – the ruthless Wall Streetesque banker who had chanced upon eight thousand of Mr. Bailey’s bank’s dollars – and begged him for help in the form of a loan. Instead of returning the money he knew belonged to the younger man, Mr. Potter derided and ridiculed him, challenged him to ask his riffraff neighbors for help and then called the cops on him for alleged corruption, y’all! George Bailey was in such a state of despair that he ran home, cussed out his wife and kids and their elementary school teacher, had a meltdown during which he flung several household items around, got drunk, crashed his car and decided to end it all by jumping off a bridge. He is saved by his guardian angel, Clarence, who shows him what the world would’ve been like had he never been born. And though George Bailey was convinced that the world was bleak with him in it, it turned out it was far bleaker for those whom he held most dear without his presence. Bleakest of all was for his long-suffering wife, Mary.

You see, had George never been born, Mary would’ve suffered the most tragic fate to ever befall a woman of her time (and ours, if you live in Ghana): She became an old maid. A spinster. An UNMARRIED – yet gainfully employed – woman. Gasp!

How Mary look widdout George

It’s A Wonderful Life will take you on a roller coaster with your emotions. George Bailey’s regrets, sorrows, satisfaction with small accomplishments, his resignation and resolve are all almost so tangible that you feel like you are inhabiting his body, experiencing those emotions in tandem. As warm and fuzzy as I felt witnessing a communal coup de main, I could not overcome the slight frost that crept into my soul whenever I considered Mary.

Look at her face

The film’s two female protagonists are Mary and Violet. They are like the sun and the moon, similar only in their shape. While Mary is cautious and coy, Violet is direct and assertive. They both demonstrate their interest in (the comically oblivious) George in their unique ways, but in the end, it’s Mary that gets the guy. Violet is street smart and canny, whereas Mary is college educated and demure. She shows streaks of passion, but only when George is concerned. I could not abide this about her.

My girl, Violet. Untamed and unbothered.

After a childhood separation, the future couple is reunited at a high school dance where half the town shows up. (There’s little to do in a place like Bedford Falls.) After a prank gone awry, both Mary and George are obligated to strip of their clothing and walk home in borrowed clothes, Mary clad in nothing but a robe. They walk along home innocently enough, until a burly pipe-smoking neighbor impatiently screams for George to kiss Mary and stop talking her to death. George screams back that he’ll suck her face off (his words, not mine) if the man would hold on. Mary looks on wide a dumb, wide eyed stare, as though the two men were discussing a can of baked beans and she was a mere observer at the market. Eventually and quite by accident, George disrobes her. She hides in some bushes to protect her modesty. Instead of handing her back her clothes immediately, he wonders aloud if he should sell tickets to the peep show. I know, I know. It was a “joke”. Still, niggro WHAT???

This marks the beginning of their romance – George treating Mary like crap, and she feeding into it, enabling it. I’m sure his ‘charm’ helped her accept his ascorbic treatment of her. At one point in the film, when George is feeling his lowest, he asks her why she’d want to marry a guy like him.

“Because I don’t want to be an old maid,” she joked. (Or so I thought) “And because I want my children to look like you.”

This is how she announced the impending arrival of the first of their four children. Cute.

But you know what wasn’t cute? That same wide-eyed stare she offered when he angrily demanded to know why they had to live in that big, “drafty house” and why they “had to have all these kids.” As though his wife – like the good Virgin herself – simply yielded her body to a deity and got pregnant four times over all on her own. Here’s a thought: Keep ya thang-thang in your pants or wrap it up if you have an issue with all these kids, Georgie!

By the time he’s walked through his alternative reality where he discovers a washed out, dowdy Mary who lives an unfulfilling existence as a librarian and I am too through with them both. But my ire is particularly raised against Mary for wasting everyone else’s resources. I don’t know if she got through school on a Pell Grant or a full ride scholarship, somebody paid for her education. She was a talented visual artist. She dressed well and had a fine sense of humor. There should’ve been no reason or way she ended up as a shell of a woman, simply because George might have never been born. And that this idea – that a woman’s worth is intrinsically dependent on some strange man’s existence – has been propagated through the ages and still persists today is what makes me hate Mary’s character and low-key question the complete worth of this film.

We can talk about the portrayal of Annie, the only Black character in the film, on another day in February.

Had I watched It’s A Wonderful Life when I was young(er) and far less woke, I might be okay with this portrayal of peak Pick Me femininity, but in the year of our Lord, too-thoozin and sebenteen, I can’t allow myself to be. My husband is of the opinion that my feelings of angst are unwarranted because the film’s portrayal of women is a reflection of a by-gone age. However, one only has to take a stroll through the streets of African twitter on a Friday afternoon to know that this is not true. Some things have indeed changed, but a lot has stayed the same.

And that’s not Mary’s fault…but I loathe her for the reminder.

 

Have you seen It’s A Wonderful Life? What do you think? As we learn more about our humanity, are many of our beloved Christmas classics going to prove problematic – and if they are, are we better off ignoring them for the benefit of the season? You tell me. Discuss!  

10 Great Gifts For Tween Boys

Is your little man tired of receiving khakis, hoodies and socks for Christmas? Has exhaustion from exerting yourself all year depleted your creative capacity? Do you want him – like his father- to just be grateful for the gift of refined cotton?? If the title of this post caused your pulse to quicken, knowing that you’ve held off shopping for the perfect gift for that enigmatic group known as “tween boys”, you are not alone. I bid you welcome! Welcome to the Perpetual Procrastinators club! We’ll get you a seat in just a moment.

To answer your unasked question: No. Stone is not yet a tween. He’s (still) 8, and just as mercurial and adorable as the day we brought him home from Northside. All he wants for Christmas is Legos, so I was able to finish his shopping in a record 10 minutes. However, we do have a tween boy staying with us, and it is his presence in our home that has inspired this post. I’ve been at my wit’s end trying to puzzle out the perfect gift for him, working myself into a sweaty frenzy on many a night over this mental exercise. Finally, ‘it’ occurred to me. If you have found yourself in similar, fretful circumstances, I come with good news! There is no perfect gift for tween-to-teen boys. It doesn’t exist. In general, they are beings whose interests and moods shift as frequently as the sandy fields of the Sahara, which means that whatever gift you get today will eventually find some relevance in their life. To quote Peg (of Peg Plus Cat fame), “The problem is solved!”

We’re all trying to raise curious, introspective, responsible young men, right? (That boys just wanna have fun is a given.) The following gift ideas will aid them – and you – in that endeavor without them even knowing it. It’s the equivalent of hiding the peas in the mashed potatoes. Your young man has probably asked for an iPhone or a new tablet, but let’s give ‘em something else to consider. Let’s expand their horizons. Expansion is fun.

A car wash kit

Almost every boy wants a shiny new car. In a few years, he’ll be asking for driving lessons. One day, he may even attempt to “help”you by backing the car out of the garage sans your knowledge or permission. He’s just showing initiative! Initiate him into that carwash life. Give him the tools to help him get his gloss on.

Lord of the Flies

Boys get so many cues that inform them that having/showing emotion somehow demonstrates weakness. William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, is the antidote to that poisonous thinking. If you want to show your tween why empathy is so vital for human survival and success, have him read this book. The cover art alone ought to stir his interest. *shudder*

 

A wallet

By now, all of your relatives have probably stopped trying to figure out what to get the boy for Christmas and have converted their indecision to cash. He’ll need somewhere to store his loot. A snazzy leather wallet is a good place to start.

His Own Grooming kit

You know why? Because No One ever knows where Somebody put mom’s toe nail clippers.

His Own Lotion

Boys and ash go together like peanut butter and jelly. Like ham on burger. And since you probably still have Bed, Bath & Beyond and Body Shop baskets from 2009, there is an abundance of floral, peach and gingerbread in moisture form scattered around the house. It’s no longer ‘cute’ or acceptable for a growing boy to reek of oven baked goods, delectable as they may be. It’s time for Man Mint to take over.

Personal Popcorn Maker

Every boy should know how to cook something. He’s mastered eggs. Now he can feed the family on movie night, too. Pressure’s off of you!

His First Drone 

Drones are controversial – what with highway patrol using them to track speed and swell municipal revenue from issued tickets – but darn it if they aren’t fun to fly! At $35, this TOZO is a great beginners option for any kid fascinated with the world of aviation…and worrying the neighbors.

Protection From The Tundra Outside

You’re always telling him to cover his head before he goes outside. Well, now he actually might if he thinks he can give someone a fright in the process.

Portable Bike Repair Kit 

Somebody got a flat? He’ll be the hero of the cul-de-sac!

Virtual Reality

I admit: I initially scoffed at this gift when I saw it trending online. If *EYE* have to be confronted with the horrors and rigors of reality on a day-to-day basis, why should any kid get to escape? But then, that’s the point. They’re kids. They ought to be able to retreat into a world of fantasy, and slipping into their own virtual reality may just let him do that.

Don’t let him hang out in VR too long, though. There’s a car that needs washing. 😉

 

Did these gift ideas help guide you to your next last minute shopping dash? I hope so! They provided a breakthrough for me. I think our tween will be very happy come Christmas (or Kwanzaa, depending on the delivery schedule) morning. Click on the images for links to where you can purchase these items on Amazon. If you have Prime, shipping is free! 

How I Ended Up On the Set Of The Hit Television Series, ‘Outlander’

Ok guys. I KNOW it seems like this is the year where I’ve deliberately fallen into stuff (i.e. on my back being dry humped in a DC club by a random stranger or becoming the sole provider of reusable grocery totes for a local deli for a time), but I swear to you that these were all happy accidents. ‘Happy accidents’ (maybe not the dry humping incident) are a mainstay phenomenon in my life, so much so that MX5 will often chuckle and sigh, “Girl. Only YOU.”

That being said, I will now tell you about how I magically ended up on the set of Outlander, Season 3.

I often blame Lydia Forson for introducing me to the steamy historical drama, but it is really Nadjah’s grade 7 teacher who ignited my curiosity. We were standing in the narrow aisles of Crazy Store when she all but swooned and fell out as she breathlessly told me about the series that had overrun and consumed the entirety of her spring break. She was waiting for the new season to commence – a space in time that fans have appropriately coined ‘droughtlander’. I said I would give the show a shot. Lydia casually mentioned that she also watches the show. Her recommendation is what sealed it for me.

I then was swiftly baptized into the phalanx of a dedicated hoard of (mostly) women who have invested themselves into Diana Gabaldon’s fictional 18th century world set primarily in Scotland. That I have re-watched Seasons 1 & 2 three times in the space of two months might seem obsessive to you…but I call it attention to detail. It is precisely because of that attention to detail that I took note of the South African crest at the end of an episode in season 3 and discovered that the Caribbean elements of the show weren’t shot in Jamaica at all, but right here in South Africa. In Cape Town. A mere 5-hour jaunt down the N2!

It was a crazy shot (when has that ever stopped me?) but I thought to myself: Hey. Magic happens every day. Let me just shoot my shot, as the young folks say.

I sent Cape Town Film Studios (CTFS) a gushing Facebook inbox message, about how much I love the show, how proud I am that such a fine series was being shot in my adoptive country, how mind altering it would be if I could come see the behind the scenes one day. To my surprise, I got a reply back.

“Keep your eyes peeled! You never know what might happen.”

Was this some sort of prank? Who cared! I liked their page and checked their updates every morning at 5:30 am. And that’s when I saw it. A week later, they opened up a competition to the general public. For the first time in their seven-year history, they would host a group to tour the back lots and have lunch with the management team after. All we had to do was tell them WHY we deserved to win.

Deserve.

That’s a weighty word. None of us really ‘deserves’ to win a shot at something, do we? I told them as much – but I also told them what an honor it would be if they deemed my entry worthy. A chance of a lifetime.

I waited. I watched the entries pour in. Some were really good, taking cues from my flowery prose and expounding on them. Biters. Still, I held out hope that my earnestness would shine through. For many days, nothing happened until one day, something DID. I got an inbox on Saturday, December 16th, saying that I’d won and could I come and visit with them on Tuesday, December 19th. I screamed, and then I sent a reply back saying you bet your sweet hinny I could and then I screamed some more.

But…wait. I had to fly to Johannesburg on the 20th with the girls! How was I going to be in Cape Town one day and then in Jo’burg the next? I looked at Marshall, who had casually wandered into the room and taken off his shoes.

“Babe,” I panted. “I won the tour. It’s on Tuesday. We have to make this work!”

“Say no more,” he replied, donning his Clark Kent glasses and grabbing his laptop. Room booked, car gassed, tires checked and Monday morning we were out the door. Did I have the details for where we were going or whom we were supposed to meet? No. But I had Google, and an address and an email that said I had won. I’d show it to the guard and dare him to turn me away. Fortunately, none of those theatrics were necessary because the confirmation email came at noon.

Y’all. There is so much to tell you guys about CTFS, and I hardly know where to begin. The best place to start  is on their website, with a look at a handful of the projects their facilities have been used for filming. You will be amazed.

But let me tell you about my day.

Y’all. I acted a complete fool, and I have no regrets.

I re-enacted a zombie thriller scene.

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I re-enacted a Street Fighter scene.

I re-enacted a Gladiator scene.

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I pretended as though I could come through and linger at the front door in 18th century Philadelphia. They let Black folk come through the front up North, right?

I re-enacted the Claire-leaping-from-the-Porpoise-and-washing-ashore-scene.

I imagined myself being ravished by loving arms in the captain’s quarters of the Artemis.

I pretended I was Catwoman.

I pretended to be Cersei Lannister.

If they hadn’t ferried us to the next stop so quickly, I would’ve re-enacted Sampson pulling down the Temple.

Even Marshall got in on the fun and pulled the iconic Mandela-staring-through-the-cell-bars on Robben Island shot.

After they fed us the most sumptuous lunch I’ve had in months, I was fortified enough to climb up the rafters of a soundstage.

I pretended to be Prince pouting into the dressing room mirror at First Avenue.

 

There was so much fun to be had on that studio lot and I tried to have all of it, you hear me? ALL.

And then it was over… and I had to get back in the car and return to the other side of the Garden Route; back to real life. Do you have any idea what that feels like? DO YOU? Still, God is faithful. I believe He will carry me through this drought…lander.

I don’t know what angel I was kind to in my former life or what karma contributed to the kindness, but if the staff at CTFS ever chance upon this post, please know that those three hours are among the happiest of my life, that your hospitality is appreciated, and that your professionalism is exemplary and will never be forgotten. The only thing that could’ve made the day better is if you’d tied Sam Heughan up to one of them there masts, in a kilt, and his hair coiffed with that Season 1 Pantene formula. Just thought I’d throw that suggestion out there…

 

For My Kids: Develop Your Own Safe Space By Interrogating the Truth

‘Bullying’ isn’t just a 21st century buzzword that is strewn about like bunting at a state fair – it’s a real social scourge that affects millions of children worldwide, every day. Bullying has measurable and serious consequences, including diminished self-esteem, depression and suicide. It’s not something any one of us should take lightly, either as the parents of the perpetrators, or the victims. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what many stakeholders in various segments of our society do: make light of the complications that come as accessories with bullying.

Children are routinely given mixed messages about bullying. On the one hand, schools fling open their doors for anti-bullying campaigners, equipped with colorful stickers and slogans to aid with imprinting their message in the minds of young learners. On the other, children who find themselves victimized are told to “get over it”, with some adults going as far as to suggest that bullying may in fact be beneficial to victims.

“I was ‘bullied’ when I was a kid, and it made me tougher.”

“The real world is hard, and the earlier kids learn how to deal with it, the better it will be for them!”

One has only to take a quick glance at the world around us to know that the status quo and the old way of doing this have not been a big help to us. The crises in Libya, Syria and in pockets of the United States are all a result of people investing more time in denigrating one another, talking at each other instead of to each other. If we called bullying what it really is – verbal abuse and physical assault – we might take it more seriously. That this behavior is exhibited by children as young as 7 or 8 ought to alarm us further.

When we moved to South Africa, I was comforted by the knowledge that some of the staff at our new primary school do recognize that there is a culture of bullying in portions of the student ranks and committed to me to watch out for my kids. It was one of the first conversations I had with a member of the administration, and on the very first day of school.

“Some of our kids can be vicious bullies,” she said. “I will look out for your kids. They must come to my office if they are made to feel uncomfortable.”

As a family, we were not unfamiliar with the theme of bullying. It’s something that was regularly tackled (almost worn out) in our Girl Scout meetings, during school assemblies and on television. I feel lucky that our children were able begin their formative years in environments that fostered respect for one’s self and others. At the same time, it may have also served as a disadvantage. Such a “soft” environment did not prepare them for what the Auntie at the school tried to warn me about.

Over all, the kids have been lucky not to have been picked on at school. Early Aya was picked on for not having “proper” school shoes by some 4th grader. She was wearing black Calvin Klein ballet flats instead of those gawdawful inky, clunky clogs the kids are made to wear. That a boy would take such interest in her shoes was…odd…it said much about his upbringing, but we bought the ugly clogs to keep his unwanted attentions at bay. (There’s a sad lesson in that.) The other girls have had no incidents at school because of the swiftness of their clap back game. Stone, has not been so lucky. He has been the subject of repeated bullying. The cause? His weight.

My son outweighs every kid in his age group. As a 2nd grader, he is just as big as some 5th graders. Despite his size, he is a gentle giant. He helps kids carry their belongings to class. He was constantly taking gifts to his teacher. When he feels courageous enough, he appeals for calm on the playground. He’s not a perfect kid, but he’s a good kid with a soft heart. This also makes him a target. There have been a number of afternoons where I’ve picked him up from carpool when he’s narrated stories of another kid calling him “fat boy” or telling him that he’s “so big that he can’t even fit in a garage”. A first grader pushed him down the hill and yelled, “Get up, fat boy!” as Stone lay stunned on the ground. We’ve always taught the kids not to respond violently to a provocation, but Liya is not a good student. The pushed the kid back and screamed at him for touching her brother. I have never been so happy as to have raised such a poor student.

Forum Discussion GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

One afternoon, I had to take the kids on a drive and level with them. The truth is, I said, there are always going to be people who say cruel things about you, who try to take advantage of you, who will try to use you. That’s not just something that happens now. It’s going to happen when you get to high school. It will happen when you go to college. It will definitely happen when you become an adult and enter the workplace. People are going to try to make you feel like you don’t have good ideas, that your clothes aren’t as nice as theirs or make you feel bad for the things you don’t have or the way you look. They’re gonna say things like “You’re so fat you can’t fit in a garage.” What YOU have to do is ask yourself if any of that is true. If it is true, then you have the power to fix it. If it’s not, then you’re dealing with an idiot. Most times, you will be dealing with idiots.

They nodded when I asked them if they understood. I know this is a lesson we will have to repeat again, because even as adults get trapped by this snare. Failing to interrogate the truth of a matter, particularly about ourselves, is a common let down. We can all do better.

There’s a quote that my friend Nanny McPhee used to have on her email signature:

“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:

At the first gate, ask yourself “Is it true?”

At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”

At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”

~ Rumi

 

For my children: If you ever have the opportunity to read this one day, remember – Let our ears also serve as gates to interrogate words before we allow them into our soul. Ask yourself if what is being spoken about you is true; and if not, discard it. For in truth, there is freedom… and that is is safest space of all.

 

 

My Books Are Available on TakeALot.Com, And That’s A Big Deal

Everyone thinks self-publishing – or any independent creative work – is sexy. There’s this aura of grittiness, the allure of the idea of that you can grind your way to the top, the crowning achievement being that indelible interview on Ellen or Access Hollywood. It’s not just spectators who harbor this delusion; we artists and creative are guilty of this as well.

When I first began my foray into self-publishing in 2012, I held such delusions of grandeur. I am grateful that reality revealed itself to me sooner rather than later. I was able to spare novice authors who came seeking advice about how to precede in this peculiar sphere any fantastical ideas that would lead to inevitable heartbreak if they let this one idea guide their craft and determine their creative efforts.

“Disabuse yourself of the idea that you’re going to make any money selling books,” I said. “Write because you love it. Not because you want to become a millionaire. The odds just aren’t in our favor.”

It seems a dismal piece of advice to administer, but it’s the truth…especially if you write non-fiction. As much as academics pour into their written work, they are fed by a teacher’s salary and little else. Whoever said “Pursue your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life” should be taken outside and fed broccoli until their intestinal tract implodes on itself. Passion rarely provides the pecuniary stability that comes with practicality. Self-publishing is the perfect demonstration of this. It is a fickle and volatile course…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Being an indie artist means looking for the small wins and celebrating the unexpected scores. We keep turning corners, looking for surprises at the end of each one, all because there is little stability in our world. It’s madness. It’s an adrenaline rush.

I’ve watched my friends in music and film carve out niches for themselves, refusing decent paying jobs that would compromise their integrity or humbling themselves before a crowd who did not connect with their brand of artistry. All of this builds the reputation of the artist. It’s a bumpy road that jolts you with each step, but it’s all part of the process. It’s all a part of the struggle. A huge part of my struggle as an indie-published author has been distribution. Amazon, via CreateSpace, has been instrumental in my getting my work into the hands of readers, but their reach only extends so far. The market I really wanted to tap into was Africa, and the solutions Amazon provides aren’t practical for the audience I want to reach: children. Kids for the age group I am targeting with titles like Sally and the Butterfly and Close to Home are tactile. Then there is the added challenge of Sally’s format – a pick your own path book. Flipping through a Kindle isn’t conducive. Add to that, people in this region (South Africa) enjoy paper and as a whole, really haven’t embraced digital books.

I researched the cost of printing and shipping my books from the US and quickly discovered that I was being priced out of a market before I could gain entry. Surely there had to be a solution!

And then I saw it.

On a recent trip to Cape Town, we drove through Montague Gardens, an industrial hub in the sprawling city. Tucked away from the hubbub of the main road sat the enormous structure of TakeALot’s distribution warehouse – South Africa’s version on Amazon. I stared wistfully at the building wistfully, harboring a fleeting thought. Wouldn’t it be great if Takealot.com carried and distributed my books? The task seemed impossible, the idea TOO crazy. Who would I talk to? Would I have to reformat my books and get new ISBNs? Too many questions. I let it go.

Source takealot.com

But the Universe didn’t.

Two nights ago, a friend was at dinner and asked how she could find copies of my books. I have generally come to hate answering that question, because of the impracticality of the “solution”. But she was an American and is going back to the US, a set of circumstances that took the sting out of my reply.

“Amazon.”

“But all of the copies on Amazon are used. How can I get a new copy?”

ONLY used copies? That didn’t seem right at all.

I fired up my laptop and began a search myself. It seemed she was correct! Nevertheless, I knew that couldn’t be accurate. I expanded my search and discovered that Sally and the Butterfly (the book in question) had been featured on Parenting.com and a handful of other book related websites, unbeknownst to me.

And then I saw it.

Takealot.com showed up as one of the resources to purchase the book. Takealot.com, right here in South Africa. Takealot.com was carrying all of my children’s books AND Madness & Tea.

I nearly did a back flip.

This is a big deal for me. This is HUGE. Takealot isn’t just an online shop: it is THE online shop, as far as SA is concerned. They have painstakingly built a reputation over time. They are a trusted brand and deliver exceptional customer service. If they are carrying an item, you can trust its quality. Like I said, this is HUGE for me. It’s an answer to barely spoken prayer. It’s a big fat weight off my shoulders and it’s my win for 2017. I offer my thanks to the Lord, the ancestors and you for your comments of congratulations in the Discuss section below. 🙂

Prince Harry Ran Through A Field of Laoghaires to Find His ‘Meghan Donn’

Mo nighean donn (Gaelic). Translation: My brown haired lass

You’d have to be a fan of the series ‘Outlander’ to truly appreciate what I’ve done with the title of this post. And the answer to your unasked question is, yes. Yes, I’m right proud of myself. It’s a braw thing I’ve done there.

So! Prince Harry is marrying a bi-racial woman. Which is to say he’s marrying a BLACK woman, because in America, the One Drop Rule qualifies you for all kinds of privileges ranging from picking cotton to earning 60 cents to every white man’s dollar. However it now appears that the One Drop Rule can’t disqualify you from marrying into what is arguably the most famous monarchy on the planet (because there are other royal families that rule the globe, but can you name them?) and that’s a good thing. Not because we need the descendants of a pillaging, plundering group of people to validate our Blackness, but because once again, love gets to win despite the odds and optics. That’s always a good thing.

Laoghaire is big mad! image source: Glamour

Unless you’ve been living in a room made of aluminum foil, you’ve certainly gotten wind of the news that is dominating the headlines, the Twittasphere and the Book of Many Faces. Among the headlines you may have come across may be these from the Daily Fail, making reference to blondes who got away and so forth. It made me chuckle. Harry Windsor now joins an elect group of men who gazed over the big, blonde world laid out before him and said, “Nah. If the sista will have me, I’ll be hers.” It doesn’t happen very often, so yes, it does bring a smug smile to the lips.

The racial dynamics of this relationship that has those watching either elated, exasperated or enraged, there is an aspect to this union that has me wondering if Meghan and Harry are trolling us in some way. I don’t doubt their mutual affection for each other one bit – Meghan’s least of all because one has to give up a LOT in order to marry into royalty – but I think there’s something else at play that they’re not telling us. The Daily Fail may have unwittingly unearthed a joke at our expense.

Clues from the Daily Mail
Did they ‘miss out’, or were they merely props in a production much bigger than them? Hmmm…

You all know that Harry never had it easy growing up, especially after losing his mother, Diana, at such a tender age. You might recall all of the horrible things the British public and the tabloids said about Diana. They said Harry couldn’t possibly be Charles’ son, owing to his red hair. (They called Harry’s momma a hoe, y’all.) They said she was mentally ill. (They called Harry’s momma a crazy hoe, y’all!) They said she was an unfit mother. (Those are just fighting words. Diana was a good, good mother.) Despite growing up in the shadow of the negative press about his family, the shadow of his older (some say hotter) brother, the eclipse of the expectations that come with being the grandson of a monarch, Harry has turned into a decent young man. Sure, he’s shown a lack of propriety (and his ding-a-ling) on occasion, but what young man of wealth and extraordinary means hasn’t let drop his… ‘propriety’ on one occasion or another?

Dirty Harry on the left, Juicy Jaime on the the right

Fortunately, through it all, he had his father Charles; who may have been a crap husband to Diana, but was a heck of a father to his boys. If memory serves me correctly, regular sojourns to Scotland are what brought the three closer together.

You see where this is heading, don’t you?

 

***MOM MODE***

It was in Scotland that young Prince Harry first heard the tale of James Fraser, a red headed, lad not unlike himself. A youth with a heart for service, a love of country, and the air of a lovable rascal about him. Like young Jaime, Harry was an odd duck and trouble seemed to find him more often than he’d like, but the fates always smiled fondly upon him and guided him through his many scrapes.

Prince Harry would discover that those charms would make him irresistible to the blondes (aka Laoghaires) of his native land, and he would show his regard for them by taking the occasional beating or offer a snog or six in a hidden alcove somewhere. But deep inside, he knew that when the time came, he would need a woman – not a girl – to wife.

Meanwhile, half way across the world, Meghan who is three years Harry’s senior (like Claire to Jaime!) was enjoying the life she’d meticulously built, her profession brining her fulfillment. And like Claire, Meghan had been previously married. This would prove to be a point of contention for the Left Behind Laoghaires who would then go on to offer themselves up to Harry/Jaime because Calire/Meghan is naught more than a ‘used up’ Sassenach/negro wench. But Harry will be having none of that because JUST LIKE JAIME he’s sealed his commitment to Meghan with a ring he designed himself…the key to Lallybroch!

Meghan is Harry’s mo nighean donn: his brown haired lass. That’s all there is to the matter. This will be the romance that we talk about for centuries to come. Mark me.

(Yikes. Maybe I shouldn’t use the words ‘mark me’. It never turned out so well for bonnie Prince Charle when he did.)

*******

Tell me you guys don’t see this! I can’t be the only one who sees what’s going on here. Anyway, the haters be damned. We are here to celebrate this union. 2017 has been a special year for love and babies. Beyoncé had her twins. Serena had a magical wedding in Nawlins. Meghan is recreating her life under the auspices of one of the most successful series in television and print history. All this joy and it ain’t even Christmas yet.

Dear White People: Telling Black People That They Are ‘Not Like Other Black People’ Is Not a Compliment.

I suppose I should’ve been ready for it. It was a Monday afternoon, after all. These sorts of things only happen during queer times. Like when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday, when the moon is full during its lunar cycle, and – of course – Mondays.

I was so relieved that the chime at my gate was not tendered by the pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had cheerfully promised to tell me about the ‘most precious gift that God ever gave’ upon their return in seven days that I let my guard down completely. Instead of two rosy-cheeked women dressed in pastels and lace stood my gaunt, strawberry blond neighbor. She was robed in a shade of green that reminded me of a cross between strained peas in the baby food aisle, her hair hanging limply in a loose braid. Her watery blue eyes met mine. I smiled and gave her a hug, telling her how good it was to see her. She struggles with depression, you understand. She rarely leaves the house, if ever.

She was looking for my husband.

“He’s out of town,” I said. “Can I help you with anything, maybe?”

She wanted to know if he had a contract template she could use to compel a client to pay her.

“I’ve done all this work, and I don’t think he wants to pay,” she said, her tone concerned and rising just above a whisper. “I’m so bad at business…”

I encouraged her not to worry. Even if Marshall wasn’t able to respond to her immediately, Google most likely had a wealth of information and resources at her disposal. We spoke at length about the woes of freelancing: troublesome clients, invoices that go unpaid for what seemed like an age while the bills pile up exponentially… that sort of thing.

Suddenly she interrupted me with a timid gasp. Her gave held mine deliberately, almost intimidatingly.

“I’m about to say something,” she announced. “You’re Black. You know you’re Black and I know it. One of my best friends from Nigeria is Black…”

I twisted my lips in amusement. What was she driving at? My ethnicity thus announced and confirmed, I smiled in order to encourage her to get to the point she wanted to make.

“You and I are standing here having a normal conversation. You can connect the dots. My friend Tim* – who is also Black, Jehovah’s Witness and gay – can connect the dots. But I have to tell you, I cannot stand these Black South Africans. The mentality is just so… They just don’t get it!”

She must’ve seen the dark shadow pass over my face, despite the lopsided smile I kept plastered on my face. How my spine suddenly went rigid at the words “these Black South Africans”. Those people – like her – were my acquaintances and friends. They work, they love, they try to make ends meet just like anyone else living in this country, a lot of them a heck of a lot worse off than she, with her cocker spaniel who dines on chicken livers and the Old World Venetian inspired McMansion she calls home. I remained silent despite my discomfort because despite all my wokeness, protecting white female fragility and sensitivity is conditioning I have yet to break, when by rights I should’ve told her to go straight to hell. She must’ve taken my silence for concession, because she continued.

“You’re not like them,” she sighed. “You’re not like these other Blacks.”

She said the words as though they were a prayer – a wish that had been pent up inside of her for eons that she had been too afraid to speak and had finally gathered the courage to. Her thin lips pulled themselves into a satisfied smile.

This, of course, was not new territory for me. As a model minority, I have spent the past 20 years in America being informed by astonished white people how ‘articulate’ I am, how much my work ethic is to be admired, and how that must all be due to my African upbringing.

“I’m sure you’re really grateful just to get the opportunity to make something of yourself,” they’d say. “Why do you think that is? Why don’t African Americans have the same work ethic, the same drive?”

Soon afterwards, I’d be recruited to lead a team and show them how to manage their time and conduct their accounts the same way I did; one of my superiors going so far as to inquire whether I could get one of our CSRs to pronounce the word “ask” as it was spelled, rather than “ax”. I gently, but firmly, told her that was impossible for me to do.

“He’s from Brunswick and he’s Geechee.”

How presumptuous of her. Does one go to Maine and order the natives to alter the way they pronounce the word ‘chowder’? To her disappointment, Cyrus carried on saying ‘ax’ during his calls until there was other cause conjured to fire him.

Here before me stood another white woman attempting to flatter me by denigrating an entire group of people. I was appalled and incensed, but my conditioning to protect white frailty was stronger than my anger. I met her eyes measuredly and informed her – without malice – that there were white people in America who thought the same as she did: That Africans were more morally fortified than their African American counterparts. That Africans were smarter and more driven. That African Americans were inherently lazy and also incapable of connecting the dots.

She seemed genuinely stunned by the revelation…so stunned that she reflexively doubted and denied its veracity.

“No,” she said breathlessly. “I believe Black Americans, like you, to be very different from the ones down here. Trust me. I’ve lived among them.”

What could I say? I allowed her to dwell in her mental bubble. There was hardly any point belaboring the issue. This was confirmed when she invited me over for coffee soon afterwards and declared her admiration for Donald Trump, asking me if I felt the same way about Fuhrer 45. Again, she reeled when I revealed something contrary to her beliefs.

“But surely you don’t believe Hillary was a better candidate do you?”

“It doesn’t matter what I believe about Hillary. She’s not president. He is.”

“But,” she pressed, “what about the pedophile island she and her husband have? The one with all the little girls they abuse?”

You can imagine how that aspect of our conversation concluded. Hopefully by its end, she felt the adequate amount of shame and self-depreciation that someone who has been fed a steady diet of Faux News and/or the National Enquirer ought to have the decency to feel. I have very little faith in that, however. Anyone who has carried on thinking this long that there exists a remote island populated with children for the sole purpose of abuse is only capable of so much logic. The logistics of travel to such a destination alone represent bad business. This, naturally, explains her deficiency in entrepreneurial acumen.

People actually read and believe this crap?

My neighbor is a lovely woman, and despite her inherent and very conscious biases: One of those ‘very fine’ people on the other side that Fuhrer 45 spoke about, to be sure. If you happen to fall into this category and are reading this, please take this bit of advice in good faith. It is NEITHER flattering nor appreciated to tell your Black acquaintances that they differ from others and are therefore more worthy of your respect and/or association. It is a divisive tactic that has been used to create schisms in our communities since colonization and before. It betrays your unconscious biases. It is revelatory of deep, inherent racist attitudes that you hold about Black people and stereotypes, despite your belief to the contrary. To continue to do so says more about you than it does your admirable Black friend, and it’s nothing to be proud of.

 

 

Has anything similar ever happened to you? Discuss.