By DENENE MILLNER
So I’m celebrating the New Year (read: recovering from my sister-in-law’s smokin’ hot/spirt-filled/sweat-your-hair-out New Year’s Eve party) by lazing around and flipping through channels when I come across BET’s Notarized: Top 100 Videos of 2008. I hesitate to watch it, seeing as my Mari, who is sick, is lying up under me—I’m a firm believer that 9-year-olds shouldn’t be watching anything on BET, especially 12 hours-worth of videos featuring half-naked girls, misogynistic lyrics, and just plain, bad music. But like a mythical vampire hypnotizing me before he sucks the life out of my naked flesh, the half-naked girls, misogynistic lyrics, and just plain bad music mesmerize me, and I am quickly sucked into the horror show that is the modern day rap video. The 9-year-old, who's made clear that her restorative powers can be found only in the crook of her mommy's right armpit, refuses to leave the room; rather than to turn to yet another episode of SpongeBob, I decide to use Notarized as a teaching opportunity for the kid. I start the lesson with a few caveats, including that watching BET is:
A) about as healthy for her as a month of carb-filled soul food Sunday dinners.
B) about as appropriate as 100 adult-themed movie trailers.
C) the most stereotypically revelatory piece of black theater she’ll ever watch again before age 17.
And then we watch.
“Why,” I ask her during Akon’s “I’m So Paid,” is every girl sitting around in a bathing suit while the men walk around acting important? Do you think they care about how smart she is? Or that maybe she has something to contribute other than her looks?”
“No,” she says simply. “They need more clothes.”
Smart girl. We watch some more.
“Why do you suppose,” I ask her during Ace Hood’s “Ride,” “that the girl in this video is acting like she hit the lottery just because her boyfriend bought her some clothes? Do you think maybe she’ll get in trouble for accepting his gifts knowing that he bought them with money he got from doing bad things to other people?”
“Yeah,” she says, nodding. “She should get her own job so she won’t get into trouble.”
True. Such a smart girl. We watch another video.
“Why in the world,” I opine, “would someone make a song called, ‘Please excuse my hands,’ and more importantly, why in the world would someone play it?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” she says. “It’s kind of a dumb song.”
“You think?” I say?
See? Real talk. This is why I love me some Mari.
Baby girl was stumped, though, by my reaction to BET host Aleesha Renee, who, between videos, was planning a catered New Year’s Eve soiree. No, she wasn’t scantily clad. No, she wasn’t laying up under some man or shaking what her mama gave her in front of the cameras for the world to see, or warbling through an incomprehensive rap. What she was doing was just as bad, if not worse, than that. “What,” she sniffed at a chef charged with serving up treats for her party, “is that?”
“It’s a canapé,” he said.
“Hmm,” she said, wrinkling her nose and eyeing the bite-sized cracker creation like it was a spoonful of rat poison. “A canapé, huh?”
Now, never mind that she and the chef wrongly pronounced the French word for a bite-sized appetizer cah-NAP, or that it took her two—TWO!—commercial breaks before she dared put the doggone thing in her mouth. It’s what she said after she tasted the chef’s creation that made me want to reach into the television and touch her: “Oh,” she said after finally trying one. “I feel bougie.”
The hell? What—if it’s not fried or boiled to within an inch of its life, it’s white people food? Did she just signal to all the black people watching that the “fancy” food the chef whipped up wasn’t for “us”—that any African-American who dares sample foods beyond the scope of what’s considered “black” food is trying to be something other than black?
Come on, now. It’s exactly that kind of thinking that would have all too many of us rejecting any food that’s not a burger or Popeyes—turning our noses up at all of the wonderful cuisines found around the world. I guess she’s that chick that would travel to Brazil or Egypt, Nigeria or Kenya or South Africa or Ghana, or Haiti or St. Lucia or Jamaica, and sustain herself on Big Macs and Kentucky Fried—despite that every morsel of food to be found in those countries can be considered “black” food. Would eating Tripe cooked in red wine (considered a South African delicacy) be bougie? Maybe Griot (fried pork, a Haitian favorite) would be too much of a stretch for black folks to try? Ditto acaraje—the Afro-Brazilian delicacy of kidney bean paste fried in oil from the dende palm?
I’m sorry, but even my 6-year-old knows that you have to try a food at least twice—with a smile—before you reject it, because it’s just perfectly ridiculous to confine ourselves to such a limited number of food options when the world is full of wonderful, flavorful, thoughtful, delicious food.
This, indeed, is just one way in which Nick and I try to get our daughters and son to look at our place in this global universe. The world is so much bigger than our little corner of Georgia, and there is so very much for them to learn about other cultures, the way people live—the way they think. We enroll them in art classes so they can learn about the great artists of our time—the Picassos AND the Beardens. We let them take Mandarin lessons not because white people have their kids enrolled in those classes, but because we want our children to learn the beauty of a language and a culture they have little contact with. And we let them eat foods like sushi and falafel and curry goat and peanut soup and yes, canapés, because we don’t want them to grow up and embarrass themselves on international television talking about “ewa—what’s a cah-NAP?” and then pronounce themselves “bougie” just because they tried something different.
You know what? I think that if Aleesha Renee were invited to the homes of Jay-Z, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, Mos Def or any other prototypically black performing artist who also happens to be a multimillionaire, everybody up in their mansions would know what a canapé is, and if Ms. Aleesha were to sneak into their kitchens to see what their private chefs are preparing, she’d probably find some “bougie” food on the stoves, too. Indeed, a friend of mine traveled to the south of France and stumbled into a party where she saw 50 Cent wearing a $3,000 suit, looking quite comfortable eating the food and drinking the drink of the rich and global white folks surrounding him. There were no Tims there. No baggy jeans.
And not a piece of fried chicken in sight.
And no one would fix their mouths to call 50 “bougie.”
This is what I tell the 9-year-old when she sees me grimacing and sucking my teeth at Aleesha Renee’s ridiculous antics.
“She sure is making a big stink about trying that canapé, isn’t she?” I cluck.
“Yeah,” Mari says. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her—that cah-NAP looks good.”
See? That’s why I love me some Mari.