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#Black Hair + Books: Hairs, Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros

Hola Meltingpot Readers,

HairsWe’re nearing the end of Black History Month, but I’ve saved this book for (almost) last. Like Monday’s offering, today’s book, Hair’s/Pelitos is a book from a Latina author who knows something about Black hair. Sandra Cisneros is known more for her adult fiction – most notably The House on Mango Street – but this book of hers is my hands down favorite.

My copy is worn and the pages are taped together, but that’s because I’ve read it to all three of my children so many times. The story is lyrically told (in English and Spanish) and is quite simple. We hear about a family who all has different textured hair. No judgement or preference is given for Carlos’ hair which is “thick and straight” or for Kiki’s hair, which is “like fur.” We just celebrate the difference and revel in the fact that this diversity of hair textures is all featured in one nuclear family. It kind of reminds me of a book I’m writing, Same Family, Different Colors. (shameless plug, but it really does.)

Same family, different hair!

Same family, different hair!


I don’t even know if this book is in print anymore, but if you come across a copy, grab it. You won’t be sorry and your kids will love you…and the book.

Peace + Hair Grease!

#Black Hair + Books: “Bad Hair Does Not Exist” in English or Spanish

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

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This is our last full week of February, which means out last full week to highlight our favorite books about Black hair. Last week I dipped into the archives to find some of my favorites from years past. This week I’m going to highlight books about Black hair written by and/or for people with Black hair who might not be Black Americans. Case in point, today’s title, “Bad Hair Does Not Exist!/ Pelo Malo No Existe!” was written – in English and Spanish – to help Latinas love their natural (aka kinky) hair.

I haven’t actually seen the book. I’ve only read about it, but it sounds like a great idea. The more images young Latinas have of seeing their curls and kinks celebrated, the better. It can only lead to greater self-acceptance and confidence. Kudos to the author, Sulma Arzu-Brown, for writing this much needed book. You can read more about the author here and support her work.

Peace + Hair Grease!

#Books+Black Hair: Happy to be Nappy

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

#BlackHair stories for the young and young at heart!

#BlackHair stories for the young and young at heart!


Today’s Black History book about Black hair really needs no explanation. The title – Happy to be Nappy by bell hooks – says it all. But remember, this book came out in 1999 before nappy was considered a nice word by some. The whimsical water-color illustrations by Chris Raschka and hooks’ poetic ode to our baby girls’ crowning glory still makes this one of my favorite books celebrating Black hair. And not to brag or anything, but I have a signed copy. You could probably get a signed copy as well if you scrounge around on the internet or you could just buy a new copy at your local indie bookstore or online. If you’re nappy, you’ll be happy you bought this book.

Peace + Hair Grease.

Same Family, Different Colors: A Personal Story

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

If you have the time, please pop over to Newsworks.org to read my latest parenting column on what it means to be a member of a family with many colors. I will continue to blog over there on Newsworks about these issues in 2016, in anticipation of my new book coming out this fall. By the way, Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families

Same hands, different colors. My Family.

Same hands, different colors.

is already available for pre-order! You heard it here first. Thanks for reading as always.

Peace!

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

Happy Halloween! Make it Cheap and Easy

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Could this be my Halloween costume?

Could this be my Halloween costume?

Tomorrow is my favorite holiday, Halloween. It’s really about the kids, but I like dressing up and eating candy too. What? You don’t? I won’t judge.

Well, I wrote about why I love Halloween over at my new parenting blog, Philly Parenting on Newsworks.org. Feel free to check it out and share it with your friends. I’d love to hear how other parents feel about Halloween.

You know I’m listening.

Boo!

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!

Happy Birthday, “Substitute Me!”

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth. I could give you a list of reasons why I have neglected you so, but do you really want to waste your time reading about my pitiful life? No, you want to get to the good stuff, right?

substitute-me-cover-imageSo, on this day, five years ago, a full year before I birthed babygirl, I gave birth to my first novel, Substitute Me. It’s a story about two women, one White, one Black, one the employer, one the employee. It’s about family life and a women’s right to choose the best life for herself. It’s about race and class and the messy stuff of life.

As my first novel, it’s not perfect, but it’s taken me these five years to read it over again and realize it’s still a damn good read. If you haven’t read it, maybe you’d like to now. I made a book trailer to honor my baby’s birthday with the hopes that people will want to pick up a copy and talk about the story. It’s available in paperback and in digital formats.

Happy Birthday, baby!