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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!

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!

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.

Peace!

Colorism By Another Name is “Shadeism:” A Movie Coming Soon To A Film Festival Near You

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

The Conference on Colorism

The Conference on Colorism

Not a lot of time to write today, but I still wanted to share. Last week I had the opportunity to attend an amazing conference on colorism. It was held at Washington University in St. Louis and featured an amazing gathering of scholars from around the world who all research and/or advocate against colorism. I learned a lot.

The last agenda on the conference schedule was the screening of a film by a young Canadian filmmaker named Nayani Thiyagaraja, who produced a documentary about colorism amongst her own friends – a diverse group of ethnic Canadian young women. Originally a short she posted on YouTube, the film has been expanded into a full-length documentary that will soon be screening at a variety of film festivals. The movie is called Shadeism: Digging Deeper. You can watch the original short below. And stay tuned to the website for updates on the full documentary.

A Multicultural Version of Frozen: Kinda Sorta in a Song

Alex Boye and Lexi Walker get Frozen, with an African twist.

Alex Boyé and Lexi Walker get Frozen, with an African twist.

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Do you have a small female in your household who is obsessed with the song “Let It Go,” tends to run around the house with a blanket draped around her shoulders like a cape, and bangs on closed doors screaming, “Elsa, Elsa, let me out?” I do. And it’s quite comical bordering on annoying, especially since my small female has never even seen the movie Frozen in its entirety. She thought it was too scary. But boy does she dig that song. And apparently at preschool, there is a pint-sized Frozen scholar who fills babygirl in on all that she’s missed by not actually viewing the film.

Needless to say, when el esposo‘s sister posted this video on Facebook the other day, I was thrilled and slightly confused by this African, world music, Frozen mash-up. But the Ms. Meltingpot in me was intrigued. Have you seen this?

So, as it turns out, talk about a Meltingpot story, the man behind that music mash-up is Alex Boyé, a British man of Nigerian descent who became a Mormon and now uses his music to spread the gospel and introduce the world to African music. Talk about a meltingpot mission. You can read about Boyé’s interesting life here and hear more of his music here.

You’re welcome.

Peace!

12 Years A Slave Has Me Undone

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

I love this old book cover.

I love this old book cover.

This past weekend I went to see 12 Years A Slave with my cousin. It wasn’t a film I was excited to see, it was more of a compulsion. When Hollywood takes on the Black experience, I feel it is my duty to support the effort. I also was intrigued by the very true story of a free Black man tricked and kidnapped into slavery who manages to survive 12 years of inhuman bondage and still return home to his family.

Dear readers, can I just say, that I have never experienced a movie like this one. I have never been so moved by actors on a screen. I have never felt so intimately involved with the action going on in a film. My hat goes off to the filmmakers who were able to draw the audience so deeply into the events of the movie, that the entire theater was filled with the sounds of people sniffling and sobbing at the injustice occurring before our very eyes. And it didn’t stop there. I cried for the rest of the evening, even after the credits rolled. I woke el esposo and myself up in the middle of the night, sobbing in my sleep. Sunday morning in church, I broke down in the middle of a hymn because the cruelty and injustice depicted in the movie were just too much for my soul to bear. Too much because this wasn’t just a movie, this was the story of my people.

I could probably write 10 different blog posts/essays about my thoughts and reactions to the film, but rather than do that, I decided to simply make a list of my thoughts, ideas and impressions for you to reflect on. Here goes:

1. I was really surprised by the freedom and wealth Solomon Northrop experienced in his life in Ithaca, New York before his kidnapping. It makes me realize that the Black experience in America is so much more diverse than the popular narrative of southern plantation slave.

2. While the number of evil Southern White folks depicted in the film were many, it is important to note that the filmmakers did not use broad brush strokes to suggest that all White people were the enemy. The innocent and the guilty came in all colors and the complexity within the relationships between Black and White was well documented.

3. While I really felt for Solomon Northrup and his plight to get back to his family, my heart was torn apart by all of the female characters in the film. I will forever be haunted by Patsy’s cries and I will never forget the desperation in the voice of a woman who begs a slave trader not to separate her from her children. As a Black woman, as a mother, those stories upended my world.

4. I could not smile for 48 hours after seeing that film, yet I would see it again. And I think every single person who calls the United States their home should see this film. It is the best piece of cinema yet that humanizes this institution that effectively dehumanized our country. For people who say they don’t want to witness the horrors of slavery, I say, you didn’t have to live through it, at least bear witness to it, so that as a nation we can honestly atone for those sins.

5. Last but not least. I really want to know what happened to Patsy.

There, those are my thoughts for now. Has anyone else seen the movie? What did you think? What were your reactions? Like me, do you wish you had a support group to talk about it? Well, let’s talk here. I’m so listening.

Peace!

P.S. FYI, my publisher, Atria books, just re-issued a new version of the book 12 Years a Slave with a foreword by one of my favorite authors, Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I just ordered a copy from my local Indie Bookstore and it’s ready for pick-up. Can’t wait!

Kinky Gazpacho The Movie! An Update

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Who Plays Me in the Movie Version of My Life?

Who Plays Me in the Movie Version of My Life?

So, I got another update about the progress of Kinky Gazpacho the movie. If you recall from the last time I wrote about it, a Spanish actor had reached out to me to tell me he wanted to play the role of el esposo. Apparently his enthusiasm was a wee bit premature, but the wheels of progress are still turning. There is a director attached, the script is being fine tuned and they are about to cast the role of Lori!!! I can’t believe this. So, dear readers, any fresh ideas about who should play the role of a Black 22-year-old grad student who travels around Spain and discovers something about herself and falls in love with both the country and a hunky Spanish dude?

This time, I’m listening and so are the producers.

Peace!

Wednesday Round Up: Pelo Malo Means Bad Hair in Venezuela, FYI Miley Cyrus isn’t Black and Remember the March on Washington

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

It’s Wednesday. Time to see what the world wide web is offering up for those of us who like our news both colorful and tasty. Here’s what I have for you:

pelomalo1. You know I’m obsessed with Black hair, but I’m sooo not the only one. There’s a new movie, screening at the Toronto International Film Fest called Pelo Malo (translation: bad hair) about a cute little boy  in Venezuela who believes straightening his curly hair will change his life. It’s a movie about identity and family by Venezuelan director, Mariana Rondón. Check the trailer and tell me what you think.

2. I don’t have time to watch TV these days, but I still heard all about Miley Cyrus’ controversial performance on the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night. Apparently Cyrus decided to completely shed her child star status and reinvent herself as a sex-crazed maniac. Some people interpreted her new attitude and style as being “Black.” I watched her bizarre and distasteful performance and could do nothing more than shake my head and feel sorry for her parents. Thankfully, author and advice columnist Demetria Lucas was able to analyze Cyrus’s act with insight and clarity on The Root and made some really good points that I agree with 100 percent. Check it out here.

3. And finally,  I think everybody is aware that we are celebrating the anniversary of the legendary March on Washington. To some, that march feels like ancient history, but many of the people who took part in that historic moment are still alive and can truly put the progress or lack thereof of American race relations and civil rights in perspective. The Huffington Post actually spoke to some of those people – the ones who actually marched – and compiled their memories in a nice video.

What are you reading about these days, dear readers? If it’s nice and tasty, please share.

Peace!