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#Black Hair + Books: Afros the Book

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

It’s Friday. I owe you a book about Black hair for Black history month. But I’m tired and it’s late. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to come through for you. I’ve been covering the Black hair game for so long, all I had to do was bounce on over to my HairStoryOnline website and peruse the archives. That’s where I stumbled upon this gorgeous photo book dedicated to the most iconic Black hairstyle of them all, the Afro.

A beautiful book about a beautiful style!

A beautiful book about a beautiful style!

Instead of rewriting now what I said back in 2013 when the book came out, I’m just going to provide the link for you to go check it out on your own. I know you can do it. You can also feel free to order the book yourself from your favorite online retailer, or Amazon.

Peace and Hair Grease!

Dear Black People: An Open Letter to the Black Families on Philly’s Main Line

Dear Black People on the Main Line,

#Warning This story may break your heart, or harden it.

#Warning This story may break your heart, or harden it.

No, not all the Black people. I’m sure some of you are super happy there and if you are, please feel free to completely disregard everything I’m about to say. I’m actually talking to the Friday family that was profiled in the depressing and disheartening story in the December issue of Philadelphia magazine, titled “Racial Profiling on the Main Line.” And while this letter was inspired by the Fridays, I know there are other families like them dealing with the same, ugly, race-based incidents and I hope they heed my advice. And that advice is, MOVE! FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR CHILDREN, PACK YOUR BAGS AND GET THE HELL OUT OF DODGE.

Dear Black people, you’ve been misled. You’ve drunk the Kool-Aid labeled American Dream and forgot to read the ingredients list. Just because you can afford a “million-dollar house” in the tony suburbs of Philadelphia where African-Americans make up less than four percent of the population, doesn’t mean you should move there, especially if you have children. And really, it’s the children I care about. Quite frankly, Black people, if you are a full-grown adult and you don’t mind being subjected to racist slights on a regular basis, like the chef profiled in the story who admitted he was stopped at least once a month on the Main Line for driving while Black, then that is your prerogative. But, if on the other hand, you are trying to raise happy and healthy children and you subject them to not only the same type of racist slights by neighbors and police, but also an environment that does not offer any positive reflections of Black life and culture, then we have a problem.

I know, I know, dear Black people, you only did it for the top-notch schools offered there in Lower Merion. They’re just so off-the charts amazing you decided it was worth it to sacrifice your children’s mental health, racial identity and self-esteem. Because when I read in the article that one of your sons was allegedly called a “black ass” by a teacher, that kids regularly taunted your kids with the N-word, that in school they are laughed at and made fun of because they’re Black and even that they get teased for eating fried chicken in the lunch room, I consider that abuse, plain and simple. Systematic and continuous abuse. And then I wonder, even if the school that these two boys were attending was the Harvard of middle schools, how much quality education could they actually be receiving if everyone from their classmates to their teachers were abusing them? If they were spending the better part of the school day trying their best to be invisible? The last time I checked, stress, abuse and low-teacher expectations had a negative impact on learning.

Now, before anyone says, ‘but Ms. Meltingpot, why should the Black people have to move? They didn’t do anything wrong. They have every right to live wherever they want. It’s 2015 for goodness sake.’ I have an answer to that line of reasoning. The beautiful thing about it being 2015 and Black people having the right to live wherever they want is just that. We do have the right and the choice to live wherever we want and thank goodness, there are choices. Lots of choices, in fact. In Philadelphia, if folks want suburban living, a big, fancy house and more diversity than the Main Line, there are options like Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. These neighborhoods boast gorgeous real estate options with the benefit of a more diverse population. The public schools in these neighborhoods aren’t as good as those on the Main Line, but with the money one would be saving on taxes by living in the city of Philadelphia as opposed to the suburbs, parents could afford a decent private school. But let’s go back to that ‘its for the education excuse.’ You can’t convince me that you’re only staying on the Main Line for the sake of your kids’ education if that education is sullied by daily racist abuse. (see that argument above.) It sounds like you’re staying because of that Kool-Aid problem I mentioned before. Perhaps, dear Black people, you like the status of your big house. Maybe you think it says you’ve arrived because you have a zip code that indicates you have more money than other people. But really, what that house represents is that you’ve chosen status and the false promise of a quality education over the reality that racist wankers can and will ruin your children for life.

Which brings me to my next point; the racist wankers that inhabit the Main Line. Please note, I am not suggesting that everyone who lives on the Main Line is a racist or a wanker. Not at all. I’m simply saying that based on the Philadelphia Magazine story and anecdotal evidence I’ve heard over the years, there is a significant number of racist wankers on the Main Line and they are not moving. Nor do they seem to be interested in becoming less racist or less wanker-ish. As evidenced by what happened when the leaders of a White progressive church on the Main Line posted a Black Lives Matter banner on their church and were met with such condemnation and vitriol from the community, as well as from White supremacist groups nationwide, that church leaders feared for their safety. Now, one could argue that families like the Fridays should stay and fight the racists, but I say, why? One Black family staying put in their pretty house is not going to change anybody’s racist ideals. On the other hand, one Black family who takes their two children to a neighborhood where they don’t have to fear for their lives when they ride their bicycles around the block and where they will have a chance to interact with other people of color could in fact change two lives for the better. And dear Black people, those are the lives you need to be worrying about, your children’s.

What’s more, in one point in the article, the writer details a moment when Mrs. Friday stormed into school and demanded change after yet another troubling racist incident directed at her child happened. Of course, nothing changed. Imagine if Mrs. Friday took her energy and resources to a public school with a little less money and slightly lower test scores, where the complexion of the population looked more like hers. Imagine the change she could engender there, not just as a change agent, but as a role model. Imagine if Black people like the Fridays, instead of trying to integrate a hostile and unwelcoming White community, instead put their energies into empowering the Black and brown community? At the end of the day, it’s simply not Black people’s job to sacrifice their children so that White people might learn to appreciate diversity.

This letter is getting really long, so I’m going to end it here with a final thought. I know there is no magical Black village where everything is perfect. But I also know that for too long Black people have longed to move on up to that deluxe apartment in the sky, without taking stock of the sacrifices such a move requires of the children involved. Nor do they appreciate how significant going to a school where the color of your skin doesn’t make you a target for ridicule and abuse. Attending a school that doesn’t have manicured soccer fields or a girls lacrosse team isn’t going to destroy a life. What will destroy a life however, is being told on a regular basis that you don’t matter and that you are inferior because you are Black. Dear Black people, where you live matters. Where you send your kid to school matters. If you have a choice, exercise it and choose a neighborhood and a school where your children will learn in both actions and words that indeed, Black Lives Matter.

Sincerely,

Ms. Meltingpot

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.

Peace!

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!

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 Plus.com. 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.

Peace!

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!

Mixie History in Maine: Malaga Island

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

I hope everyone had a colorful Fourth of July, if that’s your thing. I spent a lovely weekend celebrating a whole bunch of family achievements, from engagements to college graduations. We were in Buffalo, New York for the weekend, so we also took a moment to visit Niagara Falls. That was gorgeous.

It’s because we were on the road that this post is coming to you two days late and I apologize. I know many of you show up here on Monday morning looking for tasty new Meltingpot treats so it must be crushing to find last week’s post still hanging around. Shame on me!

A headline from the newspaper detailing the fate of the people from Malaga Island.

A headline from the newspaper detailing the fate of the people from Malaga Island.

No fear, I’m back. And with such an interesting story to share. I can’t take any credit for discovering it, but I am taking it upon myself to spread the word. Last week I mentioned in my post about Mat Johnson’s new book Loving Day, that I learned something new about Mixie History. What I learned was that there was a Mixed Race community that lived in the late 19th and early 20th century on an island off the coast of Maine called Malaga Island. The island was inhabited by Blacks, Whites and Mixed Race people living together despite the rest of the country’s fierce appreciation for segregated living, loving and learning. What happened to the people who lived on Malaga Island and their way of life is a tragedy that would have been forgotten if not for a pair of curious journalists who decided to tell their story in a very public way.

Please check out the website dedicated to telling what happened to the people of Malaga Island and remember that America’s history has never simply been a story of Black and White.

Have any of you ever heard of Malaga Island and what went on there? If so, how’d you hear about it? I’m totally listening.

Peace!

Author Crush #437: Mat Johnson & Loving Day

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Pardon my absence. I was in the woods of Northern Pennsylvania on a writing retreat all last week. It was absolutely exquisite and I made a lot of progress on my new book, Same Family, Different Colors. I also ate really delicious food, made great new friends and saw a big, black bear up close and personal. Yes, there was a bear who showed up twice during my stay making the experience all the more exciting. But I digress.

I'm loving this book and the cover makes me smile. Yay!

I’m loving this book and the cover makes me smile. Yay!

In addition to writing for almost 10 hours a day, I made sure to make time for reading during my stay at the retreat. I brought two novels with me, although I only made it through one, Mat Johnson’s hilarious, yet haunting – literally there are ghosts involved – new novel, Loving Day. The book is set in my neighborhood in Philadelphia and deals with a Mixed Race character who is struggling with his identity and parenthood. Does this book not sound like it was made for Ms. Meltingpot? It was like literary kismet. No joke. Not only was the book hilarious and inspiring, I learned about a fascinating aspect of Mixed Race history that I incorporated into my own book. Score!

Rather than me telling you why I love Mat Johnson and his work, why don’t you download the podcast from his interview with Terry Gross yesterday on Fresh Air. Listen to that and then you can go buy the book and tell me what you thought. I’ll be waiting.

Peace!