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Magazines for the Holidays: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Some of my favorite magazines. All would be perfect gifts!

Some of my favorite magazines. All would be perfect gifts!

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

It’s that time of the year again when we’re all supposed to focus on the reason for the season: consumerism. Yes, it seems to me that every year Christmas becomes more about gift giving than reflecting on the changing seasons, the birth of Christ (if that’s you’re thing), a celebration of light (if that’s your thing) and / or giving to the less fortunate and counting our own blessings.

But I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s gift giving parade. I realize there is something intrinsically wonderful about not only receiving gifts but giving them as well. And I think with a wee bit of thought, gift giving can be more than just hitting up your local mall or Amazon page. In fact, finding that perfect gift can be so satisfying not just for the person on the receiving end, but the giver as well. But what is the perfect gift?

I’ll tell you what the perfect gift is, dear readers, a magazine. Think about it, a subscription to a magazine is a gift that keeps on giving for 12 months after Christmas is over. Delivered right to a person’s door, a glossy new magazine chock full of information and entertainment is like a curated care package for the ones you love and all you had to do was send in a check with a delivery address. No worrying about the right size, or color, or whether they’ll like it or not. Who isn’t going to love a magazine? As long as you pick the right magazine, that speaks to the interests and/or hobbies of your loved one, you can’t go wrong. And trust me, there are magazines out there catering to just about every single hobby, interest, fetish and fan. Here are just a few ideas. You can thank me later.

1. Ebony Magazine – For your Black friend or Rachel Dolezal-esque friend who just loves Black people and Black culture. Kierna Mayo is the new Editor of Ebony and it’s better than ever before.

2. Afar – For your friend full of wanderlust, Afar magazine is a travel magazine for the traveler not the tourist thanks to its gorgeous photography and editorial content that goes way beyond the obvious, trendy vacation hot spots.

3. Poet’s & Writers – For your struggling writer friend who would buy their own subscription to this inspiration-packed, bimonthly magazine, but is a poor writer so can’t justify the expense.

4. Bust Magazine – For your funky feminist friend who still secretly wants to be Martha Stewart but also joined the local roller derby league and is about to start her own business.

5. Culture – For your foodie friend who loves cheese. Yes, this is a gorgeous magazine dedicated to cheese and the people who love to eat it. Seriously.

6. Catster and/or Dogster – For the cat and dog lovers in your circle, these new magazines take all the fun from viral animal videos, plus useful columns and advice and offer a bimonthly magazine for anyone who considers their pet a part of the family.

Okay, dear readers. What magazines do you think make great gifts? I’d love to hear any you think Ms. Meltingpot would like. I’ll pass the info on to el esposo. I’m totally listening.


Is Private School “America’s Promise?”

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

I’m only about one year late on this, but I just watched the documentary American Promise last night. (Thank you, Netflix!). While I enjoyed watching the film immensely, I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth. For those of you who haven’t heard about this powerful documentary, in a nutshell, a Black couple decided to film their son’s education from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Think of it as one long, endless reality show, but with a point. What that point was exactly, I’m not sure.

I don’t know anything about the filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michéle Stephenson, except what’s presented in the film, and what’s presented is that they made the decision to send their son Idris to one of Manhattan’s most prestigious private schools in Manhattan, The Dalton School. Idris’ best friend Seun, also Black, was also accepted to Dalton and so the film begins as the two youngsters embark on an elite private school education. I don’t know what inspired Brewster and Stephenson to turn a camera on their son and his friend, but it was a fascinating journey to watch. Why? Because real life is fascinating, especially when you can condense 13 years into two hours. Check the trailer:

So, yes this film was riveting. I laughed, I cried, I stayed up way past my bedtime to see what was going to happen to these two Black boys dropped into a mostly White, extremely wealthy environment. And what happened was, both boys failed to thrive at Dalton. And while Seun’s parents ultimately chose to take him out of Dalton and place him in an Afrocentric public school, Idris’ parents – Brewster and Stephenson – kept him there and all I could think was, WHY? It looked to me like Idris was having a miserable time at school once he got past the fifth grade and the academics started getting really hard. And his parents seemed miserable too, trying to keep up with their son’s homework and schedule, always pushing him to do better and always worrying that perhaps Idris was being unfairly evaluated because of his race. I kept waiting for them to have their V8 moment and realize that they were all killing themselves for a prize that’s not guaranteed.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the film, we find out that Idris was not accepted into any of the prestigious colleges he applied to. It was a huge disappointment to his parents and us, the viewing public who bought into the idea that all of the sacrifices Brewster and Stephenson were making and Idris was enduring, would be worth a golden ticket to Stanford. But it wasn’t. And you have to wonder, at least I wonder, was it all worth it? Personally, I don’t think so. I think Idris could have gone to a less prestigious, less White school, gotten a great education, perhaps enjoyed his childhood a little more, felt less alienated as a Black person and still gotten into a good university.

So, I’m left wondering when private school at an elitist institution became America’s promise? Why are parents, of any race or ethnicity, willing to sacrifice so much to send their children to institutions of such academic rigor and soul-crushing workloads? What’s the trophy they’re hoping to collect? I wonder if people spent half the amount of time and money they spend on private school tuition and all of its associated extras on supporting public education, community institutions and simply spending quality time with their children, where we’d be as a country? Personally, I just pulled my two older boys out of private school. Not only is my bank account a thousand times happier, but my boys are too as they have a far more diverse student body to be a part of, more eclectic courses to choose from and quite frankly, a more realistic perspective of the current state of world affairs. And I’m confident both of my boys will be going to top-ranked colleges when they graduate because the academics are also really rigorous. And if they don’t, they’ll go to a second-tier rated college and still be fine.

Check back in four years and I’ll let you know how things worked out for son #1. Sadly, I don’t have a camera charting his progress.

So, dear readers. Have any of you seen American Promise? What did you think? I would really love to hear other people’s opinions.


The “PeanutizeMe” Game Works for Families with Different Colors

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

That's me as a Peanuts character. Don't you love my hair!

That’s me as a Peanuts character. Don’t you love my hair!

Because you need something else to procrastinate with online, I offer up the opportunity to turn yourself into a Peanuts character. Yes, this is just some slick promotion for the upcoming Peanuts movie, hitting theaters on November 6, but I’m willing to overlook the obvious publicity play. Why? Because it’s so fun AND because whoever works in the marketing department over there at Peanuts headquarters understands that both Peanuts and people come in different skin colors and have different hair textures. It sounds so simple, but it makes such an impression when somebody in Hollywood pays attention to the fact that Black and brown people want to play too. And that it’s not that hard to be inclusive. Way to go Peanuts movie people! Not only do I now want to go see the movie, my three kids do too. Score!

P.S. Peanuts People, thanks for including the dredlocks!

ICYMI: “100 Men of Color Greeted Kids on Their First Day of School”

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

The Meltingpot is now dedicated to promoting what I love. Stay tuned.

The Meltingpot is now dedicated to promoting what I love. Stay tuned.

This morning I posted the following quote by David Wolfe on my Facebook page, “Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.” Ironic because I fell asleep last night wondering if focusing on the positive and the good could be the antidote to the horror unfolding daily in this world. I get exhausted just thinking about working to undo the damage being done by racist politicians, hyper-violent cops, the NRA, and countless other “evil doers” in our midst. But I have to do something. I have the platform of this blog and my books and my voice and I really cannot sit by and wait for change to just come.

But my puny efforts to take down the evil would be like a hummingbird’s futile peck at a stone wall. So, I will not try to destroy the wall, rather I will plant seeds all around it, seeds of love, laughter, and light and hope that they will grow strong and fragrant all over the wall, until that wall is covered with the flowers of my efforts.

So, with that, I give you a fabulous story to inspire – and provide another example of folks sparking change with positive intentions – about a group of Black men who showed up on the first day of school to welcome the kids with a handshake and a high-five. It’s a sweet little piece and it appears on a fabulous (relatively) new website that’s all about promoting positive journalism. It’s called A Imagine if the mainstream media spent more time highlighting positive news stories. Would that make a difference in this world? I think so. Check out A Plus and let me know what you think (FYI, A Plus was co-founded by the actor, Ashton Kutcher.) Do you have any positive news websites that you enjoy? Don’t keep it to yourself, share in the comments, please. And then, enjoy my favorite song from Will. i. am that perfectly captures my mood after writing this post.


“Rejected Princesses” Are Way Cooler and Way More Colorful Than Anything Disney

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

When I started this blog way back in 2006 ( I think), my lofty intentions were to create an online publication that showcased the ways that people of different cultures came together instead of clashed. I felt the mainstream media was doing a fine enough job covering discord and strife between different cultural groups and I wanted The Meltingpot to be the antidote, seeing as how my very own life flew in the face of racial animosity and conflict between cultures.

Sadly, I’ve strayed from that initial mission and have been sucked into the vortex of cultural crisis reporting. I’m so done. I’ve decided to go back to my roots with this blog and do my best to highlight some more positive examples of different cultures coming together. It’s not going to be all unicorns and glitter, but I am going to make an effort to be a shining light in the endless news of the dismal and depressing when it comes to race in America.

Trust, I won’t turn a blind eye to injustice, but I will be looking for the other side of the “racism rules the world” story.

This is  a website you need to check out and share!

This is a website you need to check out and share!

For starters, check this awesome website of “Rejected Princesses.” These are some badass heroines from history who would make awesome characters for girls – big girls and little girls that is – to love on. But due to said badass-ness, they will never make it to the big screen. Luckily they will make it to a new book in 2016. The best part is that these princesses hail from every country and culture, from ancient China to precolonial Angola. The folks over at Marvel might want to take notes.

Enjoy and you’re welcome!


Defining Blackness: My Take on Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal, she's not really Black, but she feels like she is in her head.

Rachel Dolezal, she’s not really Black, but she feels like she is in her head.

It’s not as though there hasn’t already been enough written about Rachel Dolezal, the White woman from Montana who has been passing for Black for the last decade. Still, I feel I have to add my two cents to the raging controversy over this woman’s actions. Actually, I have more than two cents to add and I don’t really want to say a lot about Rachel, as much as I want to talk about identity politics in general.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that Rachel Dolezal belongs in a Gillian Flynn novel. If Gillian Flynn wants to write a sequel to Gone Girl, where the main character fakes, not her death, but her race, thanks to Rachel, all the lies, trickery and fake hair machinations have already been figured out. And I’m sure Gillian would write a far better ending than the real Rachel has so far, which has been to offer lame excuses for her preposterous lies. The woman claimed she was born in a teepee, was beaten like a slave and that her adopted Black brother was actually her own child. Those are the lies we know for sure. As the saga unfolds, I am sure more lies will surface. And then of course, there’s the big, enormous lie about her being Black. And that’s the big, enormous lie I believe we should discuss.

Coincidentally, the day before #NotBlackRachel-gate erupted, I had just seen the documentary film, Little White Lie. In the movie, filmmaker Lacey Schwartz explains how she grew up believing she was White, despite the fact that she had brown skin and kinky hair, unlike either of her parents. As it turns out, Schwartz’s mother had had an affair with a Black man but never told her daughter, her husband or any of her family members. What makes the film and Lacey’s story so compelling is that despite her obvious Black features, everybody in her family and mostly White community bought into this “little white lie.” When she entered high school in a more diverse community however, Black people immediately caught on that this girl had to be Black, but it still took four more years for Lacey to learn the truth about her heritage.

As I work on my current book, Same Family, Different Colors , I am constantly learning how significant skin color and hair texture can be in determining a person’s identity. One can be too dark to be considered beautiful and Asian. A person can be too light to be authentically Black. And yet, even though simple gradations of skin tone can alter the way a person of color is treated within their own community and by society at large, people like Lacey Schwartz and Rachel Dolezal seem to suggest that skin color is irrelevant when claiming identity. And if not irrelevant, it certainly is not the main determinant in racial categorization.

Lacey Schwartz has brown skin and curly hair, but for 18 years lived as a White person and experienced the privilege that Whiteness confers. Even today, living as a Black woman, she still feels she maintains some of that privilege. Rachel Dolezal changed her hair and darkened her skin but not in an extreme way, but just enough. But I would posit that it wasn’t her external appearance that guaranteed that people would accept her claim to Blackness. It was simply because she claimed she was Black. She said it, she claimed it, so people believed it. Black people come in all shades so why couldn’t she be just a light-skinned Black woman? As Schwartz proved in her film, even if it’s hard to believe, people generally don’t question a person’s stated racial identity. Look at the actress Rashida Jones, the author Lise Funderburg, or hairstylist and entrepreneur Anthony Dickey. They don’t read as Black, but they all have a Black parent. So, why couldn’t Rachel be one more? That’s the world we live in today.

I don’t care to try to get inside of Rachel Dolezal’s head to understand why she did what she did. But I also don’t think it’s very odd for a White person to want to be Black. Everything Black people do is imitated and appropriated by people all over the world. Our hairstyles, fashion, music, language, religious expression, even the narrative of our struggle is co-opted and embraced by others. Despite the fact that we are publicly abused, shamed, demonized, and killed on city streets, there is no other culture in the world more imitated than Black American culture. I get it. I get why someone might feel an affinity to Black culture and want to not only admire it but claim it, be a part of it, be embraced by its members, not just be an ally or a friend. In other words, not be an outsider looking in but a member of the tribe. Who wouldn’t want that? But at the end of the day, as I learned in the first grade, we don’t get to try on different ethnic identities like new fashion trends.

To me, if Rachel Dolezal had a lifetime membership to a tanning salon, permed her hair, married a Black man named Tyrone, sang in the church choir at the local AME church and named her children Jamal and Kenya, that would be fine. It would be clear she felt most comfortable in the Black community but she would still be White. And honestly, some people might assume she was part Black simply because of her actions, and in that way, without lying on any forms or inventing ancestors that don’t exist, Dolezal could have passed for Black as many people do today who either have ambiguous features or because of their lifestyle. But there is a major difference between committing yourself to a community you feel an affinity for and co-opting a culture and living a lie. You can’t invent a history without expecting the truth to come and bite you in the ass one day. Lies are just lies and they destroy families and other people’s lives. Just ask Lacey Schwartz. The “little white lie” her mother told destroyed her nuclear family and the close relationship she had with her father.

At the end of the day, I think Rachel Dolezal is an interesting character who probably has some mental health issues she should take care of. But I do understand a White woman wanting to be Black so badly, she’d lie about it. Personally, I thank God all the time I came wrapped up in this fine brown packaging. But if there is a takeaway from this whole episode, a teachable moment if you will, then it is to ponder the fluidity of racial categorization and identity markers. I’m not saying that we need to find a different way to define Blackness, because in my mind that’s pretty damn clear. You have to be born Black to be Black. And Black is not about the color of your skin, it means you have “recent” ancestors from Africa. That’s scientific. But from a visual standpoint, it is hard to detect Blackness and even though White Westerners have been trying for hundreds of years to qualify it, quantify it, and put us into a box, they still haven’t figured it out yet. Rachel Dolezal thought she’d figured it out, but clearly didn’t get the memo about Blackness requiring real Black people in her family tree.

What do you think dear readers about this whole thing? I’d love to hear your takeaway. Got my pencil so I can take notes.


Will “White People Believe Anything” About Race?

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Filmmaker Lacey Schwartz at the Brooklyn Historical Society

Filmmaker Lacey Schwartz at the Brooklyn Historical Society

Pardon the delay in posting, but we had some technical difficulties. But I’m back now. And so happy to be here to tell you about a great event I went to on Monday in Brooklyn. In honor of Loving Day, the Brooklyn Historical Society hosted a screening of Lacey Schwartz’s amazing documentary, Little White Lie, followed by a discussion with Schwartz moderated by my neighbor and friend, the writer Lise Funderberg. Needless to say, it was an evening well spent.

Little White Lie is a completely raw and honest racial identity story. Schwartz grew up in Woodstock, New York in the 80s and 90s in a “nice Jewish family,” believing she was “a nice Jewish girl.” The only thing was, her skin was really brown and her hair was really curly. Really curly. In the film we learn that Schwartz’s parents explained their daughter’s complexion and hair with the suggestion that she favored a distant relative from Sicily. He was dark too. Without giving too much away, they lied. That is, at least one parent lied.

The film is truly fascinating as Lacey goes back and retraces her childhood through her adult years, interviewing friends and family to see if they ever suspected that she was actually Black. As it turns out, the only person who ever guessed the truth behind the lie, was her high school boyfriend, who happened to be biracial himself. When interviewed, he was truly incredulous that nobody in Schwartz’s family ever suspected the truth. “White people will believe anything,” he said.

Perhaps it’s not that White people will believe anything, but rather, they’d prefer not to talk about race to such an extent that they would ignore a very obvious Black girl being passed off as White right under their noses. Or maybe it’s just that they didn’t have the language to start the conversation about a loaded racial topic? Or maybe, just maybe, they didn’t want to be rude and get all up in the Schwartz family business? Whatever the reason, this is a truly enlightening film that opens up a lot of questions about race, identity, color and family dynamics. You can see why I felt I had to be there.

At the end of it all, I was left wondering what it meant that an entire White community would accept a Black girl as long as they believed she was White. And therefore, if it isn’t skin color that makes a person Black, or White for that matter, what is it? I have ideas about how to answer that question, but I’d prefer to hear yours.

I’m listening and taking notes. And in the meantime, find a way to see this film. It’s worth it.


#Flashback Friday: Motherhood as a Competitive Sport

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Recently a New York Times Op-Ed piece ran that suggested Black mothers were better mothers than White mothers. Besides the multiple comments berating the writer for daring to suggest such a thing on the New York Times website, one Black woman wrote a pretty scathing take down of the Times piece in the Washington Post, pretty much shaming the Times writer for resorting to Mammy stereotypes to promote Black motherhood.

Mommy Competitions go global

Mommy Competitions go global

And all of this just further perpetuates the mommy wars that really, in my opinion, is a lot of media hype and an attempt to commercialize our most fundamental job in this world, raising our children. How did this ever become a competition? It reminded me of a 2012 post I wrote, “Motherhood Olympics: Is Parenting the New International Competition?” in response to Tiger Parenting, French Mothers knowing best and a slew of other ‘who does it better?’ angles on the motherhood thing.

Personally, I do enjoy learning about how other cultures parent, because there may be a tip, tool or heck, just a really cool recipe that may prove beneficial for my own mothering style. That’s how we learn. But trying to decide who gets the gold medal for motherhood just seems silly, because last time I checked, there weren’t any perfect children on this planet.

Happy Friday, Meltingpot Readers! Enjoy this video that captures the mommy wars just perfectly.