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#TeamLightSkin vs #TeamDarkSkin Take it to the Beach

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

My thoughts exactly.

My thoughts exactly.

If you’re regulars here, then you know I’m working on a book called Same Family, Different Colors that explores colorism in the United States. I’ve been working on the book for quite a while now, and have been completely immersed in the world of colorism, so much so, I didn’t think anything could shock me when it came to color-based discrimination. But I was wrong.

A colleague told me today about a case of the color wars that had me shaking my head and sucking my teeth. For real. Not only was I shocked by what he told me, I was shocked that the incident hadn’t come up in all of my research for this book. I guess my Google alert doesn’t capture all.

In a nutshell, the popular African-American radio host, Tom Joyner hosted a Caribbean cruise this past spring where one of the planned events was a massive water gun fight where guests were split into two teams. Yep, you guessed it, TeamLightSkin vs TeamDarkSkin. For the record, TeamLightSkin won. What was most shocking about this color based competition is that it wasn’t the first time it was held. Apparently Joyner has some sort of TeamLightSkin vs TeamDarkSkin battle every year on the cruise. Reportedly, this is his way to make light of a very dark situation. (Puns intended.) I guess he’s trying to normalize the conflict between African-Americans on either end of the color spectrum by openly pitting the two extremes against each other.

I’m not sure I believe in this type of healing. When you consider the ubiquity of social media, where images are shared without context, one could easily assume that Joyner, who is himself melanin challenged, was simply fanning the flames of conflict between these two groups. So, despite his good intentions, if I were him, I might rethink this act of subversive, reverse psychology. Instead, I’d retire the TeamLightSkin vs TeamDarkSkin labeling and instead support TeamAllShadesofBlack.

What do you think dear readers? Is Joyner doing the right thing with these annual battles? If the people participating on these cruises don’t mind, should I? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Peace!

Free Black Man in France: James Hemings Makes His Culinary Mark in History

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

A portrait of James Hemings.

A portrait of James Hemings.

I had one of those driveway moments the other day when I heard this story on NPR. It’s about Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved chef, James Hemings, yes, the brother of Sally Hemings. James was apparently quite the culinary genius, so much so, that when Jefferson traveled to Paris for a five-year stay, he took James with him so he could learn the art of French cuisine. While there, James lived as a free man, indeed learned the secrets of French cooking and considered a bid for freedom. Check out the story on the NPR site and then tell me if you’re not moved.

I’m so happy people are taking the time to tell individual stories about Black people in antebellum America. This is how we restore our humanity and this is how we encourage young people of all colors to recognize the true diversity of the Black experience in America. For example, by sharing James Hemings’ story, folks realize that our culinary legacy reaches beyond the limited notions of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. No disrespect to Jemima and Ben, of course, because their contributions to our cultural heritage are significant and dear, but it is high time we expanded the notion of what Black people were doing in America’s kitchens before (and after) the Emancipation Proclamation besides stirring up pots of soul food.

Mind you, I love soul food in all its juicy pork goodness, but I also know that Black chefs weren’t cooking soul food for their masters. How do I know this, because I read and because it doesn’t make sense that White masters were eating slave food. They were eating the delicious creations that their talented, enslaved chefs learned how to make using the fresh, expensive ingredients in the master’s kitchen. Hello, James Hemings! Here’s another NPR story that will continue this argument, because I have to go make lunch. I’m hungry after writing this post.

I bet you are too. You’re welcome.

Peace!

Enjoy!

Sisters Are Doing it for Themselves…in Spain

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Black & Spanish = Kinky Gazpacho in my book.

Black & Spanish = Kinky Gazpacho in my book.

So, all of you regular readers know that el esposo is my Spanish husband and that I met him while spending my junior year of college in Salamanca, Spain and from a very young age I’ve had a love affair with Spain. And then all of my dreams about Spain were crushed when I learned that Spain has a very peculiar response to Black people, which I wrote about in my memoir, Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain. Whew, that was a mouthful.

Here's my new online destination for Kinky Gazpacho inspiration.

Here’s my new online destination for Kinky Gazpacho inspiration.

Anywho, Spain has been and continues to be the lover I know I should stay away from, yet I can never resist her charms, so I’m always looking for ways to overlook her shortcomings and stay focused on her positive attributes. But that’s really hard when it seems the only thing written about Black people in Spain seems to be a lament about the country’s deeply entrenched racism and ignorance about cultural sensitivity. Or articles like this. So, imagine the joy when I discovered this new website called, Las Morenas de España (The Black Women of Spain). It is a gorgeous online destination created by Black women expats who are chronicling their own love affair with Spain and helping others along the way. It was just what I needed to get my groove on again with España.

Now to plot my next trip. I’d like to spend some time in Barcelona.

What about you, dear readers? What have your experiences been like while traveling in Spain? Where you welcomed with open arms? Did you find the culture to be racist in any way? Did you eat churros con chocolate at dawn? I’m totally listening.

Hasta pronto!

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.

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!

Black History Month Lite: 5 Black Books That Aren’t About “Black Stuff”

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Here it is the last week of Black History Month and yours truly is just getting around to acknowledging it. Where are my manners? Hold on, let me get my tongue out of my cheek here. The thing is, I don’t know who Black History Month is really for and I don’t understand why Black American history isn’t the same thing as American history. I mean, historically speaking, Black people have pretty much been here since the beginning so, it’s not clear to me why our contributions – which are far too many to be reviewed in the shortest month of the year – are segregated from the mainstream. But that’s just me. And I don’t want to be perceived as ungrateful for the opportunity to shine a light on some fantastic Black people.

But I have noticed that a lot of non-Black people get kind of uncomfortable when Black History Month comes up. They’re not really sure if they’re supposed to be celebrating with like, a special fried chicken dinner, or they should be feeling extra guilty and force themselves to watch Roots. It’s confusing. I get it. And then of course, there are the folks who really want to get involved with the Black experience during the month of February. And they are willing to go the extra distance and watch a movie or attend an art exhibit or lecture about Black people. Some people even commit to reading an entire book in February written by a Black author.

But here’s the thing about those books by Black authors. Too many times they are really depressing because they’re always about “Black stuff.” I read that on a comment thread once. Really. The complaint was that Black books were too depressing to read because they are always about “black stuff like slavery and the civil rights and discrimination.” Well, who wants to read about that? I don’t. And that’s why I’ve developed this short list (remember we only have six days left of February) of books by Black authors that are not about Black stuff. And please note that all of these books have been vetted and read by me to ensure that “Black stuff” does not appear in a single one of them, just great characters, love, life, humor and a couple of tasty recipes. Enjoy!

1. 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. Call it chick lit or women’s fiction, but this is an excellent novel about an “ugly duckling” who grows into a gorgeous swan and gets the guy. It’s fresh and funny and just too delicious. And when you’re done and dying for more, read the follow-up, The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating Extraordinary Men.

Does this book look like it has too much Black Stuff? No worries. It's just a really good book.

Does this book look like it has too much Black Stuff? No worries. It’s just a really good book.

2. Orange Mint & Honey by Carleen Brice, A great mother-daughter story set in Colorado. Now you know a story can’t be too Black if it takes place in Colorado. There’s first love, music and a cookie recipe that makes this a really sweet piece of fiction.

3. The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate. This is a quiet novel about family, relationships and addiction in a middle class family. Martha Southgate is an amazing writer and this book, her latest doesn’t disappoint.

4. Waiting in Vain by Colin Channer. If anyone thinks Fifty Shades of Grey is a romance then they should have their head examined. On the other hand, Waiting in Vain is a story that redefines romance and passion between two beautiful, three dimensional characters with unique back stories. The action zigzags across the globe from Jamaica to London to Brooklyn and will leave any reader panting for more.

5. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson. Yes, I have to add a YA book here because, kids want to read Black books that aren’t too Black too. Here’s a great one about a multi-culti group of middle school kids who have plans to rig the student council elections. It’s a clever, funny, underdog tale with a main character, Jackson Greene, who happens to be a Black teen.

There you have it. What books would you add to this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments. Let’s see how long this list can be. And sure, I could have added my own novel, Substitute Me but that would be kind of obvious. (wink, wink).

Peace!

#WomensLives Being Black in Honduras: One Woman’s Story of Longing and Belonging

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Women Matter!

Women Matter!

I am so excited that I am getting the chance to take part in an initiative to highlight the lack of focus on women and women’s issues in the news media and really in society at large. Public Radio International (PRI) has spearheaded this initiative called Across Women’s Lives and has partnered with Blogher to help get the word out. Blogher is how I get involved.

My job is simple. I get to highlight all of the amazing journalism PRI and its media partners are creating that highlight women all over the world. From the PRI website, here’s a sense of what they are trying to do. ” PRI’s The World and our partners will travel across the globe to share stories of what it takes to change the status of women. We’ll look at how initiatives that raise women’s status affect their communities and countries.

As a female journalist myself, I know I always interpret the news and tell stories from a woman’s perspective, so I am flabbergasted by statistics that show “only about 24 percent of all news subjects talk about women in any way and only six percent of news stories highlight gender inequality.” That’s unbelievable to me, yet not really. *sigh*

But PRI is doing something about it in a big way, and I’m ready to lend a hand and a voice. As I said, my job is to simply show you all what great stories are being produced by PRI about women all over the world. Of course, this story about the plight of Black people in Honduras caught my eye. I have never heard of the Garifuna culture before listening to this story. Now I must add it to my list of “Kinky Gazpacho” communities of color in Spanish-speaking countries.

Here’s the radio version of the story. Enjoy!

Peace!

This Thanksgiving, I’m Giving Thanks that I am Black!

Ms. Meltingpot and her Grandmother. Black and proud for almost 100 years.

Ms. Meltingpot and her Grandmother. Black and proud for almost 100 years.

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

There’s a lot of sadness and anger in the United States right now, most of it stemming from the situation happening in Ferguson, Missouri and the continual assault on Black lives. And then if you throw in the pathetic and disturbing downfall of Bill Cosby, as his secret life as a sexual predator comes to light, it’s enough to make any self-respecting Black person want to curl up and hide for the next 100 years or so.

There is so much pain and sorrow blowing through our world, I don’t want to add to the negativity. It’s hard not to express my anger in a public format, but I am trying to offer something different here on the Meltingpot. So, I started thinking about the things I was truly thankful for this Thanksgiving. Being healthy and having my family nearby is definitely at the top of my list. The fact that my children are healthy and happy makes me incredibly thankful. And of course, the fact that I have a job that I love is indeed a glorious blessing.

But there’s something else I’m really thankful for that might not seem possible at this particular moment in time. I am really thankful that I was born Black. Despite the fact that I was born and raised in a state deemed the most inhospitable to Black people. Despite the fact that I grew up surrounded by White people. Despite the fact that my own country still has yet to recognize Black people as first-class citizens. Despite the fact that this nation currently seems to be at war with my people, I am truly, hands-down happy and grateful that I was born Black in America. Here’s why.

I am thankful that my skin is this warm chocolate hue that looks fantastic draped in bright, radiant colors. I am thankful that this brown skin is also aging so well, people think I’m a decade younger than I really am. (It’s true, my Black don’t crack.) I am thankful that my thick, kinky hair is so versatile and full of personality. I am thankful that I come from a large family with a distinct cultural heritage that pulls from our southern roots, African heritage and Midwestern sensibilities. I am thankful that I feel a genuine kinship with other people around the globe whose life journey parallels my own. I am thankful that Black men above a certain age give me the nod on the street. I am thankful that Black women above a certain age will smile at me and my children when I encounter them on the street. I am thankful that I can claim some of the most brilliant, strong, creative, dedicated, amazing human beings ever to walk on the face of this earth as “my people.” I am thankful that I am the offspring of ancestors who were battered, beaten and brutalized so terribly, yet they were never broken. Never, ever, broken. Imagine the physical and emotional strength necessary to not only survive the middle passage, slavery, and Jim Crow Segregation, but to thrive and create and surpass the greatest expectations placed on you by your oppressors. That’s like superhuman shit right there. And I have their superhuman blood rolling through my veins today. Hell yeah, I’m Black and I’m proud…and very, very thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! And please know I am extremely thankful that you all continue to visit the Meltingpot. I hope you have a warm and tasty holiday. (And pardon my potty mouth above.)

Peace!