Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Salma Hayek, Kim Kardashian and "Creepy" Breastfeeding

I mean seriously: What gets people so worked up about breastfeeding? The baby is hungry, nature put milk in your boob to satisfy that hunger—pop a boob in the baby’s mouth and everybody’s satisfied. It’s free. It’s (relatively) easy. And it comes with some health benefits for the kid and some quick weight loss for you.

Everybody wins.

Why, then, all the vitriol? I swear, when I made the conscious decision to breastfeed both of my daughters for at least a year, everyone from the nurses where I gave birth to some of my closest family members and friends tried to shove Similac into my refrigerator—as I recount in THIS BLOG POST. I always felt like at the base of it, folks were so busy sexualizing my boobs that they couldn’t accept that I wanted to put them to use for purposes other than turning on men.

This was on my mind recently when I read the June issue of In Style, when Salma Hayek expressed shock over a legion of racist hate mail from people who took pen to paper to express outrage after the Mexican starlet breastfed a hungry, crying African child while on a humanitarian trip in the motherland:

This baby was hungry and I was still nursing [my daughter] Valentina, so I fed the child. What was shocking were the hate letters I received. What offended some in particular was that I breastfed a black child. It was not even in my universe, such a thought. For me, it was a baby who was just born and was hungry. He was healthy but malnourished at this hospital – it was really just a clinic in the countryside – and I was able to help.

My girl Erica Kennedy of The Feminista Files had me sending up hallelujahs when she broke down why someone would waste printer ink, paper, a stamp and the spit it took to make it stick to an envelope hollering at a woman whose sole purpose was to feed a baby:

I think this has to do with the messed up, puritanical ideas we have in America about sexuality and our own bodies. A rich Latina woman married to a white French billionaire whose gigantic tatas are always on delicious display on red carpets letting a poor black child s uckle on her golden bosom on camera for ABC News? That could keep a whole army of shrinks writing books for decades.


Which had me thinking that maybe the deputy editor at a top UK-based parenting magazine, should ask HR if her health benefits cover a couple of couch sessions to discuss her hatred of breastfeeding.  Just this past week, after Kim Kardashian tweeted her disgust of a woman who was breastfeeding in public, Kathryn Blundell of Mother and Baby magazine WEIGHED IN WITH AN ESSAY in which she proclaimed her “fun bags” were strictly for lovers, and the idea of putting them in the mouth of a “bawling baby” is “creepy.” She added that she formula fed her child to give her boobs “at least a chance to stay on my chest rather than dangling around my stomach.”

Now, I get why Kim Kardashian’s ignorant ass would tweet some anti-breastfeeding sentiments. I mean, I find it ironic that a chick whose claim to fame is making uninspired, butt-naked sex tapes with Ray J, is bothered by a mother feeding her baby in public. But nobody ever accused Kardashian of being the brightest porch light on the block anyway, so her dimwittedness makes sense. But the editor of a parenting magazine going hard against breastfeeding? Really?

Of course, after all hell broke loose, Blundell explained herself, but stood surprisingly firm, even in the face of a firestorm of criticism:

My motivation behind writing this feature was to give a voice to those many women who simply do not want to breastfeed, and as a result of this choice have felt guilty, alienated and distressed. 
I also wrote with humour as I wanted to take a more relaxed approach to the topic, in a climate where unfortunately the type of milk a woman feeds her baby seems so open to serious judgment and criticism.

Exactly. Emphasis on judgment and criticism. How, exactly, does one try to stop mothers from judging and criticizing other mothers for their baby feeding choices by judging and criticizing women who breastfeed? I'm confused. 

Here’s an idea Ms. Blundell: How about we accept the fact that God put milk in our breasts to feed our babies, and that all over the world except here in the backwards ass United States and apparently the UK, it’s actually considered a GOOD, HEALTHY way to keep your kid alive.

It’s not creepy.

Or nasty.

Or abnormal.

And I don’t know about anyone else, but I got two-baby boobies—and they sit up right nice, thank you very much.

If you choose to feed your baby with formula—cool, do you.  Your choice. Just like breastfeeding was mine. Let’s leave each other alone about it already.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

All Day Sucka

Smash is dead.
An African Dwarf frog brought by Santa Claus as a Christmas present to Lila after mucho begging and a spate of good behavior, Smash croaked overnight after surviving a considerably long time without his dried shrimp pellets. He is survived by his bamboo plant and neon purple living rocks, which, btw, were supposed to keep him alive in case errant 8-year-olds lost interest in their easy-to-care-for pets and stopped, like, giving a crap about them.
I saw this coming back in April, when I asked Lila how Smash was faring.
“He’s fine, I guess,” Lila said as I peered into Smash’s abode, which was tossed haphazardly on top of her kiddie kitchen, surrounded by random plastic bottles of catsup, fake fish and an orange play chicken.
“When’s the last time you fed him?” I asked in earnest. Smash tucked himself into the corner behind the bamboo. He looked weird.
“I don’t know,” Lila shrugged.
I sucked in my breath and gave my daughter a blank stare and two long blinks.
“Mommy, what? I kept him alive since Christmas,” she insisted.
The implication here being that we should be tossing up gold sparkles and rainbow glitter over the fact that she bothered at all to take care of the pet she begged for for months, much less kept it alive from Christmas until that very moment.
Such is the life of the little buggers that find their way into our house at the behest of children or well-meaning adults who think it’s a good idea to give living things as gifts to my kids. First, there was Belly, an electric blue Betta fish. He was a present from Gamma Bettye and Papa Jimy, who simply couldn’t resist buying a pet for their granddaughter. Then there was Belly 2--an exact replica/replacement for the first Belly, which died of overfeeding. And Dori--a Finding Nemo replica that the girls just had to have because, well, Ellen DeGeneres was awesome in that movie and who’s cooler than Ellen? 
And then there was M&M, the 23-cent goldfish Mari’s friend’s mom gave out as a party favor to Mari. M&M was an extremely lucky 23-cent gold fish with expensive tastes; he moved into a bowl with accessories totaling $40, purchased for the 23-cent goldfish named M&M because the original bowl was much too small and M&M was way too lonely and plus, M&M really liked flowers and caves.
This is a picture of M&M three days after he came home from the party and moved into his new digs.

MyBrownBaby fish

In fact, the only please-Mommy-if-you-let-us-have-that-pet-we-will-love-you-long-time-and-we-triple-dog-swear-we’ll-take-care-of-it-we-promise-pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top pet that’s lasted is Teddy, a 2007 Christmas present to my girls. I love him, I do. He’s my sweet boy--my heart. And I promise you, the only reason he’s alive is because I’ve assumed most of the care and responsibility for him: I feed him twice a day (or remind the girls to do it); I let him out to pee and run (or remind the girls to do it); I make sure he has his shots and take him to the vet when he’s sick (or make Nick do it); and I schedule his grooming appointments.
This is what mothers do. 
Against our better judgment.
And definitely common sense.

MyBrownBaby dog

The kids make those little smoochy faces and pull out those puppy dog eyes and we say, “Oh, okay--you can have it,” convinced in our minds that this time, maybe--just maybe--those passionate pleas will manifest themselves in some real action. You know, a little tender loving kid care above and beyond an occasional glance. A little responsibility on their parts--responsibility that far extends beyond their mother chasing them around the house, barking, “Did you feed the frog?” and “Are you going to clean out the fish tank?” and “Ew, who’s picking that up?”
But nope--never happens.
So the next time one of those girls fixes her mouth to ask for another pet, I’m going to be strong and hold steadfast--no matter the big puppy dog eyes and the “Please, Mommy” pleas.
So let it be written, so let it be said.
*she says as she packs her purse, grabs her keys, loads her kids into the car and, against all better judgment, lets those puppy dog eyes steer her straight toward Learning Express, where, rumor has it, a fresh shipment of African Dwarf frogs just arrived. *
I will not buy one.
I will be strong.
Man--I’m such a sucka.

"All Day Sucka" was written exclusively for The Parenting Post. Find stories like this and more at the MyBrownBaby page on PARENTING.COM.
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Missing Michael Jackson

I didn’t expect my reaction—didn’t see the tears coming.
But come, they did, when my girl Mitzi called the house and urged me to turn on CNN. Rumor had it that Michael Jackson was dead and the news organization was chronicling the growing crowd gathering outside the hospital where his body allegedly lay—where his brother, Jermaine, was expected to announce the terrible news.
And when Michael’s death finally was confirmed a year ago today, I walked slowly over to my iPod and turned on my favorite MJ song ever—“I Can’t Help It”—and cried like a damn baby.
Gone. Too. Soon.

Out of the tragedy came some good, though. THIS STORY claims that in death, Michael Jackson made a big comeback, with his estate generating hundreds of millions of dollars (rivaling only the estate of Elvis Presley); I can raise my hand and say that my Lila—and kids like her who were introduced to his amazing music after his death—has singlehanded added a pretty penny to the MJ clan’s pockets. I’ve downloaded practically his entire catalogue of music and videos onto her iPod; she’s absolutely addicted to her copy of “This Is It,” the documentary-styled footage of MJ’s concert rehearsals; and she regularly trolls YouTube looking for lyrics and any other songs or videos she may have missed.
It does my heart good to walk past her room and see her standing in front of her TV, a glove on one hand, her shirt open and one of my fedoras tottering precariously atop her twists, trying to moonwalk on carpet. “Mommy,” she says breathlessly, pumping her hips, “I need the fan so the wind can blow on me like it does on Michael Jackson.”  
This is the sign of a true artist—transcending generations, inspiring musical appreciation, warming spirits.
No matter the shenanigans, no matter the rumors and innuendo, no matter the questions and claims, ultimately, it’s about the music. Plain and simple: Michael made great music.
Thanks for that, Mike.
You are missed.
And loved.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where’s Tyra Banks When You Need Her?

So just the other day, I read THIS STORY about how model scouts in Brazil continue to search for and export to the runways tall, thin girls with straight hair, white skin and light eyes who hail from a tiny little sliver of a predominantly German/Russian village in this South American country—the apparent standard of beauty despite that most of the rest of us think of Brazil as a country full of brown people who speak Portuguese.

Indeed, brown-skinned Brazilians are so disgusted by the white-is-right/black-get-back beauty standard that local prosecutors are stepping in to make sure that at least 10 percent of the models in São Paulo Fashion Week, the nation’s most important fashion event, are of African or indigenous descent. (In 2008, only 28 of 1,128 models in the event were black. Twenty-eight.)

That means the cops gotta police the doggone runways to make sure designers hire brown girls to show off their wares—in a brown country.

I mean, slap me with a silly stick, but whenever hot Brazilian chicks showed up in rap videos and random vacation shots in my brother’s travel portfolio, I assumed that every woman there looked a lot like the Brazilian model Thais Dos Santos Fernandez...

Indeed, until I read that New York Times article, I had no idea this woman, Giselle Bundchen, was considered the Brazilian ideal….

It just never ceases to amaze me that no matter where you go in the world, somebody is damn-near climbing behind the wheel of the biggest 18-wheel semi and deliberately mowing over brown-skinned, kinky-haired curvy girls trying to get to the nearest blue-eyed blonde.

An even sadder tale, though, is the lengths the scouts go to find the perfect white girl in a sea of brown ones—how babies as young as 12 are picked over and prodded and herded like cattle all in the name of “fashion.” Alisson Chornak, the scout profiled in the story, is so gully that he sets up shop in schoolyards and, with the blessing of the principal, photographs, measures, fluffs, poses and takes notes on little girls he thinks are white enough to make the modeling cut. After one particularly creepy recess foray in which he ogled a bunch of little girls, he actually declared—out loud—“There is nothing special here.”


And heartbreaking, considering that the world is full of little girls—brown, white and every color in between—who think they, too, can be models, thanks to the efforts of supermodels like Tyra Banks, whose hugely-popular “America’s Next Top Model” TV competition works double time to not only diversify the magazine pages, ad space and runways of the fashion world, but assure little girls everywhere that they are special. That no matter their color, their size, their background, their wealth, their whatever, they just might have a shot. Or, at the very least, the right to dream about it.

Not wishing ill on Chornak, but forreal forreal? I’m thinking nobody would be all that broke up if he got bit by some fat, toothy, poisonous, stank, ugly bug out there in those Brazilian bushes.

Just sayin’.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Nominate MyBrownBaby For A Black Weblog Award (Or Four)

 Last year, MyBrownBaby was extremely honored to win two prestigious Black Weblog Awards—Best Parenting and Family Blog and Best Blog Design—making this blog one of the web's best. And you know what? It felt so good, I'm trying to do it again in 2010.

The deets: Black Weblog Awards is the international internet showcase that gives recognition to the web's best Black bloggers. Since it's inception in 2005, the black Weblog Awards has recognized more than 180 blogs in 30 categories, with participants from more than 90 countries; winners have been featured on media outlets like MSNBC, the Huffington Post, BET and many others.

To qualify for the August finals, participating blogs must be the most-nominated in at least one of the 30 Black Weblog Awards categories; I would love MyBrownBaby to make it to the finals for Best Personal Blog, Best Writing in a Blog, Best Parenting and Family Blog and Blog of the Year.

But I can't do it without MyBrownBaby's friends; I need your support to bring one—or four!—of these bad boys home. To help, just click on the "Black Weblog Awards 2010 Nominee button" and vote for MyBrownBaby in the above categories. You've got until midnight July 25th to cast your vote (but you might as well go on and get it done now—tee hee!).


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Friday, June 18, 2010

Daddy's Hands

His hands tell the story—those thick fingers and wrinkles and scars, and especially the calluses speak to me. Remind. Of just how remarkable my Daddy is—just how huge is his heart.
Daddy’s always used those hands for the helping and the healing all the same; they are, and always have been, an intricate part of meeting the needs.  If the boiler was broken or the faucet was acting up, it was those hands that coaxed the heat and water back to life. If the car oil needed changing, it was his hands that would stroke all the lugs and bolts and hold the pan that caught the crude. Little kids—whether familiar or strangers to our driveway—could always count on those hands to fix a flat or an errant set of brakes. Always, he’d do these things with that laugh. Deep. Strong. Loud as thunder.
I live(d) for that laugh, and always count(ed) on those hands. I’d hold them—so much bigger than mine, they were. I never wanted mine to grow; they folded so perfectly into his palms while we strolled through the mall, knocking back strawberry ice cream cones and handing over checks to pay off the Macy’s and Sears bills, and picking up tools and man stuff for the shed in the backyard. I lived for Fridays, Daddy’s day off. Best believe, riding shotgun in his Eldorado was where it was at.
It was our time.
And I watched his hands—waited for them to give me the lessons. They weren’t always obvious, but they never disappointed, this much I know. From them I learned honor and trust and patience—responsibility and truth and appreciation. Hard work. Selflessness. Struggle.
I looked for and found these things in my man’s hands—each and every one. Not saying that I was looking to marry my father, no ma’am. Or even that Nick’s hands are wrinkled and calloused and scarred. They are the opposite, in fact—long and lean and refined and soft to the touch. Still, they hold the same passion as Daddy’s; they help and fix and preach in different ways, but help and fix and preach all the same. And they teach my girls the lessons—that there is honor in being helpful and smart and honorable and willing to dig in.
I picked well.
I guess I have Daddy to thank for that, too.
These days, my hands don’t tuck into his like they did when I was little, but I still hold Daddy’s hands all the same. Every wrinkle, every callus still tells a story. The strength of his 75 years.
And I welcome them—embrace them.
Melt into them.
Forever Daddy’s little girl. 

This post was written exclusively for The Parenting Post in honor of my father, James Millner, Jr.—my hero and my heart. It was inspired by Chrisette Michele's breathtakingly beautiful song, "Your Joy" (embeded below), which, even at three years after its release on Chrisette's debut album, still makes me teary. Happy Father's Day, Daddy! And Happy Father's Day to Nick, Papa Chikuyu, James, and all the other fathers doing right by their kids and loving them strong. We appreciate you.

Find posts like this and more at the MyBrownBaby page on PARENTING.COM

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Way We Move: Why I ♥ Being A Black Woman

A little over a month ago, the incredibly talented and gracious Lynya Floyd, an Essence magazine editor and friend, asked me to write a poetic piece about the beauty of black women, and I happily obliged. Of all the assignments I get during the course of a month, this one held a specific significance to me, not only because I'm a black woman, but because I'm the mother of two chocolate girlpies who need to be told—often and in as many different ways that I can muster—that they are special, beautiful and loved, no matter what anyone else says about it. The piece was, by far, one of the best assignments I've had in quite some time; there was no reporting, no rewriting and no waiting for experts to get back to me. Just pure, beautiful words, one behind the other—a collection of praise for all that is good about us.  
Here, a little peek at my piece, "The Way We Move," which opens the incredible "Why I  ♥ Being a Black Woman" feature in the July issue of Essence, with the lovely Jada Pinkett Smith gracing the cover: 

Can't nobody move like us. Or hold it down like us, even with babies on our hips and the world on our backs (always on our backs). We are fly and we stay fly.  
Insist too, that you do the same with that shotgun-to-the-back insistence. We got expectations, see? And when you’re not holding up your end of the bargain, we’ll cut you quick. With our eyes. With our words. Oh, please believe: No matter how sweet, we’re all capable of getting ice-cold with it— can sear you like fire, and then, on a dime, make you feel all bubblin’ brown sugar warm. Hell, we can deliver all of this in the same sentence, if so moved.
It’s a skill. We swath it in adoration, add a dollop of “for real for real” and a tip of “I know you know better,” then bake it in prayer, reserved for those we love hard and strong. We fall down on our knees for you. Even when you don’t realize it. Or deserve it. But especially when you need it. 
... We may be a little loud. A little mean.  A little strict. A little tart-tounged. A little big. A lot extra. But, church hand held high, this, this is what makes us incredible.

This. This is why I love being a writer—why I thank God everyday not only for this gift he's given me, but the ability and time and wherewithal to make it do what it do. I'm going to rip my piece out of my issue of Essence and frame it for my office.  And then I'm going to buy two more issues so I can tear out one copy each for my daughters' memory boxes, so that when they look back on this space and time, they'll remember just how incredible, intelligent, delicious, strong and fly their mother thinks they are. 
They need to know this. 
And remember it, too. 
We all do. 
Tell me, what do you love about being a black woman?

[ESSENCE gathered 9 of our favorite actresses to talk about why they love being a Black woman. Ledisi, a MyBrownBaby favorite, loved the concept so much she dedicated an exclusive song, "Real Woman," to the project. Check out the video below to hear both the song and what the stars had to say about their love for black women.]

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Monday, June 14, 2010

I Ain't Raising No Punks

It’s not that my daughter, Mari, is shy; she hasn’t had any problems making friends. She’s just super quiet, really big on staying out of the spotlight, and focused on keeping things in order.  And she won’t befriend you unless you earn her friendship.
These are some of the things I admire about my 10-year-old. I like to think it makes her wise beyond her years and maybe, too, that these characteristics will help her steer clear of peer pressure when she’s a teenager.  Still, there are times when her cautious demeanor makes it a bit of a struggle to fit in.
This was certainly the case a few summers ago when I enrolled her and her little sister in an art camp not too far from our home. The brochure promised a top-notch art experience, but what Mari got on that first day was a roomful of loud, trash-talking campers who picked fights, tossed chairs and ignored the teachers, who spent more time yelling at the kids and trying to get them in line than they did actually teaching art.
Needless to say, this didn’t go over well with Mari.
Visibly shaken, she announced that she wasn’t going back—like, ever. Which, of course, wasn’t an option because A) I paid a lot of money for that camp and I wasn’t about to let it go to waste, and B) I’m not raising punks.
Now, please understand that I’m not saying money is more important than my child’s safety and comfort, or that I prefer Mari to fight rather than flee. But her father and I discussed the incident and thought it was more important for our daughter to learn a few lessons.
To read the rest of this post, written exclusively for Unilever's Don't Fret the Sweat campaign, CLICK HERE. For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing “moments,” check out
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Losing His Cool: Author Thomas Chatterton Williams Breaks Down Black Boys Vs. Hip Hop

Editor's Note: I am so very pleased to introduce to MyBrownBaby Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of "Losing My Cool," an incredibly poignant and telling memoir recounting Williams' teenage struggle to break loose from the negative, restrictive pull of hip hop culture and embrace the studied, cultured worldview encouraged by his father. I read Williams’ book over the weekend with selfish motives: I am the mother of a beautiful, brilliant African American boychild who, too, danced the awkward jig between “keepin’ it real” and being the smartest kid in the room, and I wanted to get some clarity on how this plays on the psyche of brown boys. For sure, I found everything I was looking for in “Losing My Cool”—devotion, grace, love and a whole lotta searing truth. I encourage you to pick up the book and see for yourselves—and certainly to put it in the hands of the kids in your life who could stand to hear Williams’ simple message: Trading in your intellect for money, hoes and clothes is tantamount to embracing death.
To celebrate the release of “Losing My Cool,” Williams wrote an original piece about the fear that gripped him the day his SAT scores threatened to out him as a smart kid to his black friends. I’m honored to present that story here, exclusively on MyBrownBaby.

One day during my senior year of high school, the Vice Principal summoned me from homeroom. Usually, being called out of class like that meant I was in some kind of trouble. Before entering his office, I took off my new Versace shades and made sure I wasn’t violating dress code. I shut the door behind me, wondering what I had done this time. “Nothing,” he assured me. “Nothing wrong, that is.” He just wanted to let me know that he was going to honor me on the closed-circuit television station that broadcast throughout the school each morning.
“What for?” I asked him.
            “For getting a perfect 800 on your SAT II Writing Test!” he said. “We’re very proud of you.”
            The thing is that I was one of a handful of students in the entire school—and the only black student in my graduating class, which had a considerable black and Latino minority—to receive a perfect score on any of the various College Board exams. I was also very definitely not trying to draw attention to this fact—at least not in front of my black hip-hop- and sports-obsessed peers. Along with a quick stutter-step dribble and a reliable pull-up jumper, I’d worked hard to develop the ability to keep it real. What that meant for my friends and me, “keeping it real,” was that we devoted our lives to sports and rapping, to pulling mad shorties, and to throwing the hands whenever disrespected, but we did not give a damn about book learning or what my father, Pappy, called “the life of the mind.” For years, I’d been leading a double existence of sorts, checking my cool at the door after school and studying for the SATs with Pappy as though my whole world hinged on it. Most of my friends had no idea what I did at home.
            I sat there in the VP’s office that morning, surprised and a little nervous. “Thank you,” was all I could say, as he extended his hand to me. I shook it, but my heart started sinking once I let go. In a few short minutes everyone would see me and my geeky score plastered all over TV, everyone including Stacey, my pretty and popular girlfriend who hadn’t even bothered to take the SAT test, and who had made it clear that she couldn’t care less about the thing. I was about to come across looking like one big mega-buster, I feared, and I prepared myself for the backlash.
The announcement itself is a blur to me, it came and went and was over before I knew it. Mostly, it turned out, I’d been worried over nothing. No one said anything about my score or teased me as I walked the halls back to my locker. In fact, no one seemed to care one way or the other about it, I realized. Looking back on the matter, of course, that is the strangest part about it: no one said anything; it was as if my achievement were not real, which in a way, I suppose it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t as real as, say, the Versace shades I put back on when I left the Vice Principal’s office, the ones I’d coaxed Stacey into buying for me, the same ones Biggie Smalls wore in his videos. Shades like that got me props. What, after all, was an SAT score?
            Such a lopsided system of values didn’t strike me as particularly crazy at the time. It was as natural as strutting with a slight limp for me to downplay certain things and to emphasize others. I’d grown up tiptoeing a razor-thin line between keeping it real with my friends at school and keeping Pappy proud of me at home. It was a delicate balance to say the least. Sure, part of me wished that Stacey or someone had given me a pat on the back, recognized my effort just a little, but more than anything, what mattered to me most was simply not to have that balance broken. That was all; that was essential. Anything else was gravy. 
Standing by myself in the hallway after the announcement, gathering my books as the bell rang for first period, I spotted one of my friends running up to me with a huge smile on his face. “Yo, Thomas!” he said, “I was looking for you!”
            “Oh, yeah? What’s up?” I said, smiling back at him.
            “Yo, you remember that one Puerto Rican girl at my job, son, the one I was telling you about?”
            “Uh huh.”
            “Son, I smashed that last night!”
            “Ah, that’s what’s up!” I screamed, dapping him in sincere congratulation.
“Yeah, yo,” he said running off. “It was amazing. And, you—how you been?”
I started to say something but then I didn’t. “Oh, you know,” I said. “Same old, same old.”
“Word, well, I’ll holler,” he said, and we both went our separate ways.

To read more about Thomas Chatterton Williams and his memoir, "Losing My Cool," visit his WEBSITE, like him on FACEBOOK, or friend him on TWITTER. CLICK HERE to purchase his book.  

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Something Stinks At Seattle's Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.

Sweet baby Jesus.

It took me a minute to shake the tomfoolery that went down last month when a high school teacher—one in the lily white sticks of Lumpkin County, GA, no less—dressed up four of her students in KKK outfits and paraded them through the school lunch room on her way to teach a “history” lesson about racism. The teacher gave a “my bad,” and the school slapped her with some sensitivity training and so, you know, all the little Negro children who may have genuinely been offended/surprised/frightened by what looked like a gathering of the homegrown terrorist organization that systematically lynched, raped, tortured and murdered African Americans, needed to, like, hurry up and get the eff over it.


And now, THIS from The Seattle Times: A third-grade teacher kicked an 8-year-old black girl—the only brown baby in the advanced placement class—out of the classroom because the Organics Olive Oil Hair Moisturizing Lotion her mom uses on her natural hair made the teacher, who allegedly has allergy issues, want to vomit and faint. Yup, you read that right: The smell of the baby's afro made the teacher throw up a little in her mouth and almost pass out.


Hold up, though—it gets better: After the teacher, a 3rd grade instructor at the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School (isn't the irony of the name of the school just delicious?) pulled the baby from the class and had her sit out in the hallway, she sent the girl to another non-gifted classroom full of black students, and then refused to respond to the parents when they questioned what was up with all of that. 

Now, the parents are in a tizzy and won't let their kid go back to school (with good damn reason); the NAACP and lawyers are involved; and the school district, citing the lawsuit, has zipped its collective lips on the issue, except to say that they're positive the teacher's actions weren't racially motivated.

Uh huh.

Now, I'm all kumbaya on the teacher having allergies or sensitivities to smells or whatever. And a little web investigation revealed that the teacher handed out letters in the beginning of the year explaining the sensitivity and asking the parents not to send their kids into the classroom smelling any kinda ways, lest the teacher suffer an attack. But er, um, you mean to tell me the only way this adult—this teacher who is responsible not only for molding students' minds but also their emotional and mental well-being, no matter their size, skin color, sexual orientation, looks, hairstyles, and, yes, smells—could keep from throwing up and fainting was to a) single out the one black child in the class; b) tell her she stinks in front of said class; c) banish her from the gifted class to one that is educationally inferior to the one in which she was placed (Lord, this alone is worth a whole 'nother post), and; d) refuse to give the parents a head's up or return emails and phone calls to explain?

I mean, come on, son—really?

I'm the mother of an 8-year-old, 11-year-old, and 17-year-old, and they regularly assault my wolf nose with the funk of a 1,000 years—stank, deodorant-less armpits, farts, sweaty shin guards and soccer cleats, shard-filled underwear, Cheetos-induced exorcist vomit slicks, head-to-toe Tag body spray spills you can smell a quarter mile away. And those are just my three. I can only imagine how gross a class of 30 or more 8-year-olds must be, with their sweaty, playground bodies and their stinky peanut butter and banana lunches and their  sparkly, strawberry sour pucker lip glosses and their "I just forgot to brush my teeth this past week" morning breath.

Simply put: Kids smell. Moms and teachers alike have to put up with it. 

And feign as much ignorance about it as you want to, but moisturizer to natural black girl hair is like water is to the human body: We have to have it or our hair dies. And sometimes, that moisturizer's got a little something in it to make your hair smell nice.

And if a teacher can't handle normal, average, everyday kid smells (scratching my head trying to figure out how the teacher keeps from fainting and vomiting at the grocery store, on the bus, at the mall, in church...) and the fragrance of a little girl's afro puffs, well then maybe said teacher needs to find a new damn job instead of kicking smart little black girls with afros out of the smart kid class and refusing to explain what's up to her parents, leaving the parents to make a federal case out of it.

And make a federal case out of it, they must. Because the damage caused to that little girl, a black child already charged with having to fit in to a class full of kids who don't look like her, could be irreparable if the parents aren't standing up, speaking out, and talking to that baby about how special she and her natural hair—the hair God gave her—is, no matter the reaction her insensitive, dummy of a teacher has to it. No matter how many people stand at the ready to question why she wears it that way and why she doesn't just pull a hot comb or some relaxer through it.

Are these teachers—the "Let's play dress up in KKK robes" one and the "I faint at the slightest whiff of afro juice" racist? I don't think so. But they're both ignorant as hell, and inexcusably insensitive to the students and parents who do not look like them.  And they absolutely do not deserve a pass for the foolishness. Two snaps up and a twist to the reader who left this brilliant comment at the end of THIS PIECE written by the little girl's father:

It's unlikely this teacher was thinking about the significance and connotations of hair -- and that's because for her, as a member of the "default" racial group, hair doesn't have significance and connotation. She has the luxury of having "default" hair; she has the luxury of never feeling singled out or racially defined by her hair. Does this mean she's off the hook, because she didn't know or because it didn't occur to her? Can the racial connotations of a white teacher singling out a student of color by making an issue of her hair be dismissed? Absolutely not. White people plead ignorance all the time for things like this: "I wasn't being racist when I said/did that -- I just didn't know any better. I didn't know that was offensive." 
Well, I think that's pretty weak (I'm white; I kind of think it's my own damn responsibility to be as conscious of the role race plays in our society as everyone else, who is being fucked over by it, is). Race is an issue in this story the way it is more and more frequently in America -- not because of an overt act of aggression, but because of a passive act of inconsideration.
Say word.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

{Digging In the MBB Crates} Shining: What I Love About Me

Editor's Note: My beautiful, inspirational, and ridiculously, deliciously funny friend Akilah over at EXECUMAMA is holding a "See Me Shine" contest; participants are writing what they love about themselves in exchange for a chance to win a complimentary make-up session and photo shoot. I didn't have time to pen an original, but I was reminded of this essay I wrote last year when Akilah challenged me to write a love letter to myself, listing all the reasons why I heart me. In support of her contest and in the spirit of breaking out of the ridiculous fear that, in Akilah's words, "people will be all, 'Yo, stop talking about your own self, we don't care!'" I decided to repost my essay as a reminder that it's okay every once in a while to give myself a hug and a pat on the back and say, "Job well done, D. Job well done." 

Enjoy! (And hop over to Akilah's place to see how you can participate in this awesome contest!)

By Denene Millner

This letter is almost a week in the making. It did not come easy to me. See, I was always the nerdy one—the girl who buried her head in books and got lost in music and daydreamed behind closed doors. Because I couldn’t find the words. Because I was uncomfortable looking others in the eye. Because I’d been taught that children were supposed to see and not be seen, and it never, ever quite wore off.

I owned the quiet—peace, be still. Head down, nose to the grind.

It took me a long time to look up—to face myself in the mirror and appreciate what I saw. It was a guy friend of mine (a buddy, not a love interest) who literally held a mirror to my face. “Look at you,” he demanded. My face was so close to the glass I could see a cloud of my breath steam on my reflection. “You are beautiful, Denene. I can see it; why can’t you?”

I was all right, I guess. Never been one to brag.

But today, I will. Because Akilah asked me to. And because she’s right: Sometimes, you gotta remind yourself exactly what it is that you love about you. Here goes:

I love my eyes and my lips and my smile, and especially my chocolate skin. Understand that this is relatively new. Growing up, I avoided the sun like the plague—it makes you black, you know. Where I come from, being anything darker than a paper bag put you smack dab in the friend zone—and even further down the boyfriend chain if your hair was short and kinky. Which explains, in part, why I didn’t get my first kiss until damn near college. Fools. These days, I’m all, “the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” and I really couldn’t care less if you don’t appreciate it. It looks great with a smoky eye and a subtle red Bobbi Brown lip gloss, but I like it best bare—clean, simple, flawless.

I love my butt. This is big. Not my ass, but the fact that I truly love it—finally. Like my dark skin, my butt was a sin ‘round my way. If you couldn’t fit it in some Jordache or some Lees, it was too big for most of the guys I grew up with in Long Island, New York. (Mind you, had I grown up around some black boys in, say, Brooklyn, I’d have been knocked up by age 14.) For years, I tried my best to camouflage it—I tied sweaters around my waist and wore baggy pants and long, bulky sweaters, a desperate attempt to shrink it any way I could. Of course, it never worked. There’s no hiding this thing. But these days, it’s all about the booty (with nods to J-Lo, Beyonce), and there are companies that actually sell pants and skirts and dresses with stretchy fabric and accurate waist-to-booty ratios that make sense for women with hourglass figures (Banana Republic, Anthropologie, PZI, AppleBottom jeans). All of a sudden, my booty is in vogue and in properly sized clothing. What’s not to love?!

I love my sense of humor. I got jokes. I don’t know where this comes from. It’s that sarcastic, dry, witty thing. It is what it is. And it makes people laugh. I love to make people laugh. It's good for their souls. It's good for mine.

I love that I'm generous. I don't have a lot, but what I do have, I give freely. Because it's the right thing to do. Understand, I'm not talking about cash (though if I have it and you need it, you got it); I'm talking about my time and sweat. I'm a pretty good listener—a pretty good comforter. And I'm usually always ready to dig in. I get that from my parents, I think. I watched my mom go above and beyond in church and with her friends, who were equally generous. My Dad is the same way. I can't tell you how many times I saw him fix a stray kid's bike, or replace the neighbor's heater, or change a stranger's tire. I love that about him, and anyone who knows me knows my Dad is my hero. I love his helpfulness, and so I help, too. Ask and you will receive.

I love my ambition and drive. It got me a scholarship to college, when my parents couldn’t afford tuition. It got me a great gig right out of college, in one of the largest news gathering organizations in the world. It got me to a high-paying position as a political reporter at one of the then-largest newspapers in the country, at the tender age of 23. It got me a column at Parenting magazine, and 18 book deals, including a No. 1 New York Times best seller. What’s most special about my ambition and drive, though, is that I don’t use mine like weapons; I don’t feel like I have to stomp all over someone else to succeed. Quite the contrary, even as I’m doing what I can to be better at what I do, I’m constantly looking for ways to help others get in the game. I am blessed, no doubt, because of this. I’m sure of it.

I can truly look at myself in the mirror today and appreciate what I see.

Indeed, I love me some Denene.

And I’m going to work harder to love me even more.

What are you doing to love you?

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ice Cube Is Gangsta Redefined...

Tomorrow, TBS will air the first of 10 episodes of Ice Cube's new TV series, Are We There Yet?, the small screen version of his hugely successful movie by the same name. The show, starring Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) as Nick Parsons, the character portrayed by Ice Cube in the film version, picks up where the movie left off, with Nick and his new wife (Essence Adkins) and kids (Coy Stewart and Teala Dunn), starting down the road toward blended family bliss with a nice slice of hilarity thrown in for good measure. The movie was cute enough for me to give the show a whirl; I mean, I've always loved Ice Cube—the gangsta rapper and the family movie producer—so that's a plus. And seeing as Everybody Hates Chris, The Bernie Mac Show and The Cosby Show reruns are pretty much the only nighttime sitcoms I'll allow Mari and Lila to watch, it'll be nice to have a new family show they can glom into. It looks kinda cute—check out the clip:

Here's what I love about this thing: Ice Cube, one of the originators of gangsta rap—one of the most anti-family musical genres on the planet—is firmly ensconced in family entertainment. Talk about reinvention! I can't be mad at the brother; it's a brilliant move for a 40-something rapper doing what he can to stay relevant and paid. This is a point I made years ago in a piece I wrote for Entertainment Weekly; the story, about rappers who were trading in their gangsta roots for mainstream family fare, never ran (despite the assignment, the editors ultimately thought the story was a non-issue). Still, I saved it, partly because I liked the piece (and T.I. and Ludacris, both then new to the game, gave good quote), and partly because I wanted to see if my revelations would come true.  I'm pleased to share it now as Ice Cube takes over the little screen—five years after I predicted he'd succeed in the family genre. Gangsta!

By Denene Millner
So, it’s not like we can’t appreciate a warm and fuzzy Ice Cube. It’s just taking us a minute to reconcile that the hip hop gangsta who once proclaimed himself “the wrong nigga to f--- wit’” is up on the big screen, having random objects slammed in his crotch by two brats who barely come up to his waist. Equally hard to swallow: Snoop Dogg, former murder trial defendant, professed gang member, cannabis aficionado, and purveyor of big booty pornos, giving voice to a character in a “family” flick people rushed their children to the theater to see. Seems running around Compton wearing a Jheri curl and a flannel shirt and waving a gun isn’t good for business anymore.
Surely, that’s what’s driving some of the hip hop generation’s most acerbic, sexually-charged, hood fabulous, and, at times, downright scary black entertainers to cross over to the PG side—there’s good money to be made when Wal-Mart America recognizes you for something other than your rap sheet, sexual bravado, and battle scars. And now, everyone from geriatric morning television hosts to nursing moms to 1st grade movie enthusiasts with allowance to burn are welcoming the likes of gangstas like Snoop and Ice Cube with open arms.
Funny thing is, just a few years ago, the most discriminating rap enthusiasts would have marked all of their chests with an “S,” for sellout. But not in the ’05. Rappers who used to get off on being anti-establishment want more than a gold album and hood respect. They want platinum sales and the huge single at the top of the rap and pop charts. Reebox, Sprite, and Dry Idea endorsements. And a development deal with Sony. Anything less, and you’re nothing but a one-hit wonder. “At first, cats wasn’t really shooting for all of that—they hadn’t seen anybody doing it before,” southern playalistic rapper TI tells EW. “But when you see Cube, Puff, Jay go on beyond the obvious, beyond what we would have normally thought was successful, they set the bar higher and higher and cats keep reaching farther and farther.” And for those who don’t get why Ice Cube would make (SS: the name of the movie SS talked about here), or Jay Z would trade in his violent pimp tales from the hood for more bourgeois pursuits? “A lot of artists are being more experimental,” explains Ludacris, a rapper who recently graced Regis & Kelly’s stage, and later stomped all across the Saturday Night Live stage with Sum 41, just a few years after some of his racier lyrics cost him a lucrative Pepsi endorsement and earned him an earful of public scrutiny. “There’s so much of the same thing going on, and everyone wants to try something new. If people accept it, good. If not, the hell with ‘em.”
Which, no doubt, is the attitude a reformed gangsta rapper would have to take to justify making family-friendly comedies like Are We There Yet? and Racing Stripes. Both Ice Cube and Snoop have said repeatedly over the past few years that they’ve felt the call to diversify their entertainment portfolio, particularly as they’ve gotten older (Cube is 34; Snoop is 33) and had children. “You can hide for only so long,” says Ludacris, who has a 3-year-old daughter. “Your kids really have an influence on your life, make you open to certain things. The new generation is changing who we are and how we think.”
The power that comes with crossing over is an incentive, too. Consider this: How sick is it that Jay-Z retired from rapping at the top of his game, only to become part owner of an NBA franchise, the president of a legendary rap label that boasts hip hop heavyweights like Luda, LL Cool J, and Ashanti, and sit front row at the Oscars in a tux between his sizzler girlfriend Beyonce and her daddy? And no one doubts that the success of Ice Cube’s Friday and Barbershop series (the latter pulled in a total $141 million at the box office), and the strong opening of Are We There Yet? ($18 million-plus) have given his production company, Cube Vision, more leverage to greenlight films with big Hollywood studios than some well-known black producers, including Denzel Washington, who saw his prequel to Scarface nixed, and movie directors John Singleton and Spike Lee, both of whom have earned critical acclaim but haven’t had a hit in years. “He may be the only rapper out there who understands how to get things done, because he started out making his own music and not waiting for permission,” says independent film producer Rueben Cannon, who cast Will Smith in his first feature (Made in America) and is now producing independent black movies (Woman Thou Art Loosed, Diary of a Mad Black Woman).
Ice Cube and Snoop’s position in Hollywood is bolstered by the fact that the studios, and the media that cover them, are full of young executives who were raised on a steady diet of West Coast gangsta rap, and would have k-i-l-l-e-d to be in the dangerous, weed smoke-filled air of the badass rappers. To illustrate the point, film historian Donald Bogle, who has written several books on blacks in cinema (among them, January’s  Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood), points to the sheer giddiness that spreads across Jimmy Kimmel’s face when he’s sitting next to Snoop—the guy who, a decade ago, would have gladly backed over the late night talk show host with his classic Caddy. “Young white males see these stars who are controversial as a masculine ideal,” Bogle says. “They’re tough, they don’t take anything from anybody, they’re outlaws.” Snoop plays right into it by grabbing his guest seat, and, with a wink to the camera, using his chummy charm to make Kimmel feel like the coolest kid on the block.
It makes sense that Kimmel and his peers want to cozy up to their favorite Old Gangstas.  But you have to admit that it’s still a little strange to see daytime hosts like Regis and Barbara Walters cozying up with them in front of a viewing audience of AARP card carriers and new moms who, in another era, paid attention to hip hop only after an artist was arrested or murdered. Chances are that because Ice Cube has seemingly distanced himself from gangsta rap, Regis’ audience may not know how he got down in his pre-Are We There Yet days. And Snoop was quite charismatic during his appearance on The View.  Indeed, their mere presence on those shows means that they’ve hitched onto something, and now seniors and mommies want them in their space, too.
But then, what’s hip hop anymore if Snoop can “drop it like it’s hot” on daytime TV and 6-year-olds can go check out an Ice Cube flick? Used to be you could count on a good rap song to have a message, delivered by a fearless messenger who was big, blacker than black, and got off on scaring the crap out of you. The irreverence, the “I don’t give a damn about C. Delores Tucker and her Senate hearings” attitude, the ready-to-die bravado that was the foundation of hip hop, today has a really limited life-span. A badass rapper lasts about as long as a rookie baller with decent knees—about three years (or albums) tops. Then it’s time to consider the options.
For those hip hop enthusiasts longing for the days of unabashedly street lyricists, the new generation will hold you down: 50 Cent, who’s still walking on the dark side with his new album, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and Compton-born The Game, a protégé of  N.W.A/Snoop Dogg architect Dr. Dre, kept it good and grimy recently when their respective entourages engaged in a gunfight outside a popular New York hip hop radio station. Apparently, the New York-based 50 Cent was upset that the Compton-born Game, a former drug dealer who boasts a teardrop tattoo under his left eye (a sign that he’s either killed someone or served a long stint in prison) and a backstory that includes being shot seven times in a botched robbery, wasn’t giving him his due respect. Game, it seems, didn’t see the need to bow. (On the TK anniversary of the shooting death of the Notorious B.I.G., the two shook hands and called it a truce.)
And don’t sleep: The architects of gangsta rap can still take it back to the streets when they need to. In the Li’l Jon & the East Side Boyz video for “Roll Call,” featuring Ice Cube, the former N.W.A. frontman, wearing his trademark Raiders cap and black button down, comes across menacingly as he grabs a bat and snarls into the camera. Gangsta rap father Ice-T still proudly proclaims he’s a pimp, despite his successful role as a cop on Law & Order. And Snoop’s shady history and questionable-but-über cool business dealings cost him a gig in The Muppet Movie in 2002 (perhaps it was the porn flick that did him in), and could come back to haunt him as he fights sexual assault charges by a stylist who claims she was scared to tell the police the artist and his cohorts fondled her because of Snoop’s alleged affiliations with the Crips. He’s walking a thin line between legit and grimy, and only time will tell whether Wal-Mart America will catch on to the fact that he’s still a little seedy. But Snoop just wouldn’t be Snoop without a little dirt on him; his longtime music fans need him that way. “Snoop is always going to be ghetto,” says Minya Oh, a morning show deejay for New York’s top hip hop station, Hot 97. “He’ll never be in St. Tropez with a butler holding an umbrella over his head. He still wears metallic sunglasses, his hair is still in greasy pigtails. But the day I see him super dapper donned out in a crazy GQ look, that’s going to be a sad day in hip hop.” 
She should keep the Kleenex handy. 

Editor's Note: Ice Cube's Are We There Yet? debuts Wednesday, June 2, at 9 p.m. on TBS.  

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