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Passing While Black: Black Man Becomes the Indian Liberace?!

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

panditLast week The New Republic posted this fascinating story about the famous Indian singer Korla Pandit. Known as the “Godfather of Exotica,” he had his own TV show that ran in the 1950s and had an impressive recording career as well. He was rich, married –to a White woman – and accepted in Hollywood as, well, an acceptable exotic. The only thing was, Korla wasn’t what he seemed.

From the New Republic:

Like most everything in Hollywood, it was all smoke and mirrors. His charade wasn’t his stage name—it was his race. Korla Pandit, born John Roland Redd, was a light-skinned black man from St. Louis, Missouri. It was a secret he kept until the day he died.”

So, how did he do it dear readers? How did a Black man from Missouri become The Godfather of Exotica? By playing off the cultural ignorance of the American people, of course. All John Roland Redd had to do was slap on a turban and voila, instant Indian. He also invented a fantastic back story and liked to talk about spirituality and peace. What’s not to love? Considering the fact that there are a grotesque amount of Americans who still believe our president is a Muslim simply because of his name, it really can’t be too hard to fool us as a people. We’ll believe anything if it feeds into cultural stereotypes. The truth is, Redd’s whole act was one big stereotype, including the turban with the shiny gem he always wore. He claimed to be a Hindu, but Hindu’s don’t even wear turbans, that’s a Sikh custom. But why quibble with details, America?

It really is a fascinating story, especially considering how bold Redd was with his deceit. He wasn’t going to quietly pass, he wanted a big life as a musician and this ethnic farce was his way to get it and apparently he played it out until the end. I wonder if he was giving the finger to the world when he drew his last breath? Like, “Suckers, I Got Over!”

There is a new documentary about Korla Pandit, called Korla that I cannot wait to see. I love stories like these because they completely fly in the face of the idea that Black people had no agency in their ability to “beat the system,” plus it is another example of how fluid identity is, largely based on skin color and hair texture. Apparently Redd’s hair was shiny, black and straight. Do you think he could have pulled this off if he had kinky hair and skin a bit darker? Oh, the possibilities.

So, dear readers, what do you think of Korla Pandit? Do you think Black people knew his secret? Apparently he got itchy around other Indians because clearly they’d be able to smell his lies. Will you be watching the film? Check the trailer and I’ll bet you’ll want to. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Peace!

Essence Magazine’s May Book Picks: A Meltingpot Dream

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

It's all about the books in this month's issue of Essence.

It’s all about the books in this month’s issue of Essence.

When you think of Ms. Meltingpot’s favorite things, you know books, Black hair, and multi-culti family life are all on the list right? Well, it’s like Essence magazine Books Editor, Patrick Bass was thinking only about me when he chose what books to feature in the May issue of the magazine. Seriously, I think he created this list just for me.

While I would read everything on the three-page spread dedicated to books, the two standouts that I think you too, dear readers, will enjoy are Loving Day by Mat Johnson and Finding Samuel Lowe by Paula Williams Madison. Loving Day is a comic novel about an interracial relationship gone wrong and Finding Samuel Lowe is the true story of how the Black/Jamaican author goes in search of her estranged Chinese grandfather (Note, there is also a movie about this amazing family).

But there’s more. I did say this month’s picks were tailor-made for me, right? That’s because there’s also a book about Black hair featured in all of this literary goodness.

Miko Branch, one of the two masterminds behind the Miss Jessie’s hair product line just released her first book, Miss Jessie’s:Creating a Successful Business from Scratch – Naturally. The book is part memoir, part start-up how-to. This issue of Essence features a personal essay by Miko, the younger of the two Branch sisters, where she discusses for the first time publicly, her sister’s battle with depression and untimely death. The book was finished before Titi Branch died so the story really is both of theirs and Miko is determined to tell it along with the importance of speaking out about mental illness.

So, I’m off to the book store, dear readers. Does anyone want to meet me there?

Peace!

#LinkLove: Fresh, Hot and Tasty New Meltingpot Links

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Mater Mea is one of the new links over there on the blogroll. Trust me, it's worth the click.

Mater Mea is one of the new links over there on the blogroll. Trust me, it’s worth the click.

Please notice over there on the right, that I’ve added some new links to my “Tastes Like the Meltingpot” blogroll; HapaMama, Mater Mea, and Multiracial Sky. These are websites/blogs I love and I’m sure you will too. I’m always trying to keep it fresh for my loyal (and new) readers who, like me, are always looking for new voices and new resources on the multiculti/ pop culture/ parenting beat. So, take a look and enjoy the new offerings. And please note, that while Afro-Viking author, Heidi Durrow’s blog, Light-Skinned-ed Girl isn’t new, she’s just come back to regular blogging after a prolonged break. I’m excited to hear from her again.

And, one more link before I go; check out this 2012 story in the Washington Post about the almost extinct Punjabi-Sikh-Mexican American community in the Southwest United States. I know, what? Yes, there once was a thriving East Indian-Mexican American community in states like California and Arizona that are only now getting attention as they face extinction. Think chicken curry enchiladas and let your imagination run wild. Yum and Yummy! By the way, before this community fades into extinction, there is a kickstarter campaign meant to preserve the culture through dance. Yep, the story of the Punjabi-Mexican community has been recreated in a show called “Half and Halves: A Dance Exploration of the Punjabi-Mexican Communities of California.” I can’t make this stuff up. America’s meltingpot is just this delicious.

Peace!

Dispatches from Pakistan Where Women Can Be Jailed for Falling in Love #WomensLives

What would you do for love?

What would you do for love?

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

So, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. With three kids ranging in age from three to 13 and not a babysitter in sight, my Valentine’s Day means Taco Night and silly movies that will appeal to a teen and a toddler. Plus we’re making pink sugar cookies. Not exactly the most romantic plans, but I’ve never been a huge fan of this holiday that commercializes the most important and miraculous human emotion, love. I always felt pressured to feel something and do something to prove how much I loved my boo on this one day and usually ended up feeling like a pile of warm dog poo because nothing measured up to the commercials and Hallmark cards. So, at least making Valentine’s Day fun for the kids is a welcome respite from my feelings of Valentine’s Day failure.

But then I saw this story, promoted by PRI’s #WomensLives campaign. The story was actually recorded in December 2014, but it couldn’t be more timely as we prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The piece is about journalist Yalda Hakim‘s documentary about the women in Pakistan who dare to defy tradition and the law and fall in love with someone other than their “assigned” mate. Jail and death by stoning are both popular punishments for this defiant act. From the PRI site: “Hakim says reporting the story made her realize women in Pakistan don’t have what should be a basic human right: The right to love whom they choose.”

So, after learning about the plight of Pakistan’s women, I reconsidered my own situation. After being with el esposo for more than 20 years, it’s probably reasonable not to feel all Hallmark happy every time he walks in the door. What I can feel extremely happy about however, is that he is still the man I would choose if I had to do it all over again. Now that is something to celebrate. And the situation in Pakistan is something we should all fight against. Take a listen to the story. And then let me know, what will you do to celebrate Valentine’s Day, if anything at all?

Peace!

“Black in Bali:” A Meltingpot Fantasy

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

A Scene from Bali (courtesy of TripAdvisor)

You know that moment when you’ve picked up two of your three kids from school, ferried them to not one, but two different sports activities, rushed home to throw a load of laundry into the washing machine before you start dinner and secretly try to scroll through all of your new Facebook updates while listening to your toddler tell you everything she saw on her walk home from preschool? Well, I was deep in that moment today when I stumbled upon this article from Parlour Magazine about Black expats living in Bali, most of whom who decided life in the good ol’ U.S. of A. just wasn’t worth it anymore and hopped a plane to paradise. Sounds tempting, don’t you think?

Read the article for yourself and let me know if you’ve ever considered starting over like this? Better yet, let me know if you did it and how things worked out. I’m so listening.

Videshi Magazine is Here!

Hear what Hari’s up to on Videshi.com.

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

When you get a chance, hop on over to Videshi Magazine. It’s a super cool new online publication that covers South-Asians / South-Asian Americans in the entertainment industry. It looks spectacular, the articles are smart and, come on, it’s about time something like this existed. The best part is, Videshi is the brain-child of one of my former students at Temple, Jennifer Babu. This was a class project that she has turned into a reality!

I am so proud of her. Plus she’s getting noticed outside of the halls of Temple University, where’s she’s only one semester away from graduating. The Philadelphia Business Journal just wrote a story about Ms. Babu and her plans for Videshi. Yay!

Now, I know all of you Meltingpot fans enjoy some diversity in your entertainment news and views, so I urge you to hop on over to Videshi. You won’t be sorry. And feel free to spread the word. I’d love for Videshi to be a great success.

Onward!

Asian Baby Dolls: Where Are They?

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Where has she been hiding?

Where has she been hiding?

Consider this an open thread. In other words, I don’t have any answers, but I’d love to hear what you have to say on this subject. So, now that I have my very own babygirl, I’ve started paying attention to dolls again. As a child, I loved my baby dolls and stuffed animals, but with two sons, my doll obsession went dormant and was replaced with an affection for cool cars, trains and Lego’s.

Of course, babygirl seems equally smitten with cool cars, trains and Lego’s because of the influence of her older brothers, but still, I imagine the day when I’ll go to a toy store and she’ll want me to buy her a doll. And I will comply because, as I just mentioned, I love dolls. So, I’ve been scoping out the options and I find myself wondering do I get babygirl a Black baby doll because that’s what I grew up with and that’s how I see my daughter, even though she is still as white as snow, or do I look for a doll with ambiguous racial features that somewhat mirror her own? Sadly, the decision may not be mine to make as I’ve come to discover that if the doll isn’t Black or White, there are very little in-between options on the store shelves.

And dear readers, I was about to get indignant for all of us moms of Mixie kids because I couldn’t find a doll that looks even a little bit like my child. But then I saw an Asian woman in a store with her daughter carrying a White baby doll with blonde hair and big blue eyes and I smacked myself. Here I am complaining about not being able to find the right shade of beige baby for my kid, when the last time I checked at the typical toy stores, I didn’t see a single Asian baby doll. And I’m not talking about a “sit on the shelf” collectible. I just mean a nice baby doll with Asian features.

Is there an online resource that sells “ethnic” baby dolls? Is there a growth market here? How do you instill positive self-esteem in a young child of color if you give her a White baby to see herself in? I worry about this stuff. What about you?

Chime in and let me know what you think. I’m listening.

Peace!

Ms. Meltingpot is Guilty of Racial Profiling. But So Are You… probably

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I have to come clean. I am completely guilty of racial profiling. But it’s probably not what you think. The other day my body was crying out for a massage. Babygirl had been sick and sleeping in our bed for more than a week. In an effort not to crush her adorable little body, I think I slept in one rigid position every night, resulting in an overall bodyache and actual muscle spasms. This has never happened to me before – I know, I’m getting old – and I really thought a massage would help.

Dear readers, I have never paid anyone for a professional massage in my life. I have enjoyed two full body massages at elegant spas in the Caribbean, but both of those were arranged by my hosts at the time. Suffice it to say, when it came to finding a reputable massage parlor I had no idea where to begin, especially since I’ve come to find out that often times when you ask someone to recommend a massage parlor they think you’re speaking code for a whorehouse. Didn’t want that, so what did I do? I waited until the pain in my back was so bothersome, common sense was no longer an issue. And when I stumbled upon a massage parlor in a strip mall close to my sons’ karate studio, I thought, “What a lucky coincidence!”

And here’s where the racial profiling comes in. The massage parlor was advertised as a Chinese massage parlor. Dear readers, do you know Ms. Meltingpot didn’t ask any questions, except “how much?” and “do you take walk-ins?” The woman who happily took my money didn’t even speak English, but I decided that she must know what she was doing because she was Chinese! Heck, I don’t even know if she was Chinese. I just know she was Asian. I put my tired and twisted body in this woman’s hands and allowed her to manipulate my body in ways that I still don’t know if they were beneficial because I had it in my mind that somehow this woman’s cultural heritage somehow qualified her to be an expert at body manipulation. Call it the Magical/Medical Chinese stereotype. You know, something like all Chinese people know about alternative medicine.

So, this realization hits me mid massage, but I don’t jump up and apologize nor did I demand to see a certification of massage school completion. I just let her continue to pound and chop and pull the muscles in my back and neck. It didn’t exactly hurt, but it didn’t actually feel good either. And because she didn’t speak English, I couldn’t ask her what she was doing and why. At the end of the day, I figured I was the idiot who allowed racial profiling to get me into this mess, so I should be the one to suffer.

My back didn’t get any worse after my massage. But it didn’t feel any better either. But I definitely learned a lesson about my own assumptions and how I am just as guilty as the next person in profiling others because of their perceived cultural heritage. That was an embarrassing pill to swallow. But at the same time, it also makes me more aware of the nuanced conversations we should all be having about racial AND cultural profiling that we all do all the time. Remember when journalist, Juan Williams was fired from his job at NPR for admitting he felt “nervous” on an airplane when he saw Muslims in “Muslim garb.” We could unpack all of the wrongs in that statement – what the heck is Muslim garb? – but giving Williams the benefit of the doubt, he probably was expressing a sentiment many people feel or felt post 9/11.

So, where do we go from here? I’d say short of a national conversation and convention on racial profiling, we could all start by policing ourselves a little better and at the same admit that racial profiling is really easy to do. We have to start somewhere. What do you think? What do you think we should do?

I’m listening.

Peace!