Archive for July, 2008

Black is Black is Black…

A friend asked me today if I ever was called names growing up, since I, an “articulate” classical pianist, never quite met the “definition” of what a black person should be.

Yes, of course! I was called all manner of names–sellout, oreo, whitewash, etc. etc. It’s an interesting form of sub-racism, one which has come up more than ever, now that Mr. Obama is in the limelight and forcing us to confront our stereotypes.

I am so tired of the “Are you black enough?” issue, probed extensively in articles like this one following the “Black in America” CNN special.

The problem is that the question is being asked in the first place. Both whites and blacks who feel the need to ask if us non-traditional folk are “black enough” are victims of the greater stereotype. Blacks who define themselves by stereotypes are especially tragic, since, as Michael Dyson says, they are “subjugating themselves–” limiting their own possibilities based on a severely narrow and self-defeating definition. By even implying that there is a “definition” of blackness, you are acknowledging that definition and, therefore, empowering it.

I have dealt with racism literally all my life (I was first called the *n* word in preschool at age 3). I understand it and continue to deal with it on a daily basis. But the most painful racism is the kind that comes from the one group of people who should understand most.


I Prefer Hope

Some of us can afford to simply “fall in love.” Those of us blessed with loving fathers, good examples, and a healthy self worth tend to gravitate towards men who want to treat them well.

For the rest of us, it’s not so easy. In the absence of positive relationship role models, we need to consciously program ourselves to accept love from a healthy person and conquer our fears that we’re not good enough.

My own journey to this acceptance involved lots and lots of fear, certainly not helped by all the hysteria-inducing statistical articles proclaiming, “Singles are doomed!” Like this one at cnn, where the author spends time complaining about how awful things are for Black women (and it’s true, things are a little more difficult for us) before offering a half-hearted note of optimism at the end.

The problem with articles like these is that they put too much power in the hands of others. Relationships aren’t easy for anyone, especially those of us with problems to overcome, but it can be done. I much prefer this article in Sunday’s “Modern Love” column.

In it, writer Kerry Cohen presents her tatooo habit as a metaphor for the self-inflicted pain caused by repeatedly choosing harmful or unsuitable boyfriends. Fitting, then, that she decides to get her tattoos removed when she meets the man who is right for her. No cataclysmic, Oprah-style revelation, no magical bells or music are heard. No exhortations to the reader to “do what I did so you can find love!” The article is short and so light on detail and introspection, but it appears that Cohen eventually just knows when things are right for her and responds appropriately.

Some quick research took me to Ms. Cohen’s webpage and blog, and it becomes clear just why I was drawn to this article. Like many, Cohen has clawed her way out of an abusive-man habit and learned to accept love, and, it appears, love someone else in return.

I prefer these types of articles. For some, healthy relationships come naturally. For the rest of us, we cannot view ourselves as hapless pawns of fate, destiny or statistics. This kind of mindset leads us directly to a broken-record of mistreatment. Instead, we need to be reminded that we have more power than that.

And for me personally, I needed to see that someone who once felt the same way I do at this very moment emerged successfully, and found hope.

“The One Who Looks the Least Crazy Wins”

This seems to be the week for crazy, divorced blondes in the news. I think it’s perfectly fair to take both Christie Brinkley and the YouTube lady, Trisha Walsh-Smith, to task for their public airing of certain marital details.

Personally, it makes perfect sense that someone who has been treated unfairly or otherwise wronged wants people on her side. There’s something about a break up that makes you want others to believe your side, to retain your credibility, to keep your friends.

In college, I spent over a year with a guy I shouldn’t have. He was abusive, mean, distant, unavailable, and this extended to our break up, which he did on my 21st birthday. He broke up with me, saying, “Happy Birthday. I don’t love you.” After a while he said, “I’m so relieved! I’ve been wanting to do that for weeks! Hey, do you still want to go to dinner?”

I was angry–both at how I’d been treated and, of course, of this horrible memory he created for me. Not to mention, my father was killed just a few months prior. This somehow gave him ammunition–he spread rumors about me and told everyone that I had become psychotic because of my father’s death. He played on the sympathy of his friends (and mine) and claimed he’d waited to break up with me because he thought I would die, unable to live without him. Walking through the halls, to our classes, his friends stared and whispered, no doubt believing everything he’d said.

I had the most intense impulses to try and right this wrong, to tell everyone the truth and clear my name. But I decided silence would be my best weapon. I still had to see him several days a week (torture!) and endure the strange looks from people, but I just tried to appear well adjusted–I showed no outward signs of falling apart and found lots of good friends, and devoted myself to my studies. When people dared to ask for my side, I refrained from any comment.

Over time, people came to see who he really was–a jerk. It didn’t take any help from me; his own behavior betrayed his insanity to his friends. I worked hard, defied expectations and graduated with honors, while he barely scraped by and ended up with no friends, an expensive degree and a $5-an-hour job. He was furious and bewildered by my outward success. And, yes, in the end, he was sorry. But by then I was too re-invested in my own life to be concerned about it.

Like many unfairly wronged women, I’m sure Christie Brinkley wasn’t intending to drag her children through the mud and further destroy an already broken family. But no one will remember his despicable behavior; we’ll just remember that Ms. Brinkley’s pain & desire for vengeance superseded her good judgment and her desire to protect her children.

As for the title of this post, I read the quote from a divorce lawyer somewhere online. No matter what either party has done, in front of the judge, the one who looks the least crazy usually wins.

Pillow People

While I was on one of my aforementioned trips I went to see the film Wall-E. I noticed all those overweight people being depicted as lazy and ignorant and it wasn’t until later that I realized maybe I should be offended.

The “Pillow People,” as I call them, seemed like plot devices to emphasize the film’s “Don’t be lazy!” message. I just didn’t take it all that personally, maybe because there were no thin people for them to play against. Also, my expectations for the depiction of overweight people in Hollywood are pretty low.

I was much more offended that Americans seem to have been the only ones to survive this fictional apocalypse. There is no culture AT ALL in the film’s  post-Earth version of society. It would not have been hard to have the captain translate his directives into more than one language, or do a better job making the humans’ features multi-ethnic. The idea that the only survivors 1,000 years from now will be the all-powerful Americans is kind of offensive. Unless they were trying to say that Americans throw their weight around enough to kill off everyone else and become survivors by force? But if they were trying to say that, why didn’t they address it? My guess is that the film’s creators didn’t think very deeply about either of these things.

Maybe, in this case, we should follow their example. This movie had an overreaching message, but I guess it’s best we don’t think about it too much. It makes my head hurt.

Categories: media, reviews Tags: , ,

Flying Fat

I hate the title of this post, but I guess I’m a sucker for alliteration. In fact, I try never to use the word “fat,” not because it’s not descriptive enough but because it’s most frequently used as an insult.

I’ve just returned from visiting loved ones over the past few weeks. Because of connecting flights and delays, in the past three weeks alone I’ve flown about 6,000 miles and spent 14 hours in the air, and another 14 hanging around airports.

I’m an overweight person and a frequent flier–this is not a good combination. Americans seem to feel it is their right and responsibility to ridicule the overweight and airline employees are certainly no exception. I remember the first time I was vilified for being a large person on a plane.

This was years ago, just after that whole Southwest incident, and the flight attendant kept glaring at me when she walked by. I couldn’t figure it out. I was sitting next to a talkative, smiling guy who was very nice to me and telling me about his job. But soon enough, she reached over me rudely, smiled at the man next to me and said, “Here, I found an extra seat for you so you won’t have to be so smashed and uncomfortable.” She looked at me when she said “smashed and uncomfortable.” But the man hadn’t even thought about it, hadn’t complained at all.

Ever since then, I get anxious when I have to fly. Even weight loss didn’t help. There’s nothing like the futility of losing 60 lbs. and still not fitting comfortably into the seat. I usually handle it by being terribly apologetic and sweet to the person next to me. I’d rather invoke sympathy than get kicked off the flight. When I am subject to such discrimination, my intense fear of losing my flight keeps me from saying anything .

This most recent trip, I was seated near a college basketball team. One guy was particularly tall, 7′ or so, and the flight attendant bent over backwards to find him an aisle seat. “He’s just so tall!” she said, eyes wide with awe, looking him up and down. But at that moment, my weight was just as unchangeable as the man’s height. I can’t even allow myself to think of the stares and laughter I’d be subject to if I’d requested a different seat. Of course, the stigma of being overweight isn’t like the adoration a tall athlete gets.

A tall man cannot make himself short. But how absurd for us to assume that a large person can change his/her size at will! Who would choose to be overweight in a society like this one?! It could take a while before my body matches the airplane seats, and it may never happen despite my best efforts. So if you are flying and forced to sit next to someone like me, please just be nice and try to smile. She’s most likely doing the best she can.