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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

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!

At Least We Talk About Race in the USA: Zadie Smith on Writing, Race and Color

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Last week Wednesday I skipped out of work as early as possible so I could get a front row seat at the University of Pennsylvania’s Speaker’s Series on Color featuring one of my all-time favorite authors, Zadie Smith. I’ve read (and own) almost all of Smith’s fiction, but I am also a big fan of her critical essays, especially those dealing with race and culture. I like her writing and I love her mind.

Zadie Smith and Jed Esty "in conversation" at the University of Pennsylvania.

Zadie Smith and Jed Esty “in conversation” at the University of Pennsylvania.

So, my biggest takeaway from the almost sold-out event, is that not only is Zadie Smith absolutely brilliant (and gorgeous, and taller than I expected), she’s also got a terrific sense of humor. Rather than present a formal reading of her work, Smith sat “in conversation,” (which is clearly a thing now.) with Penn English professor, Jed Esty who peppered her with questions about her books, her upbringing as a Mixed child in London and her process as a writer. She answered every query with honesty and held none of her opinions back, even when they may have insulted the vast majority of the mostly White audience.

I found myself nodding in agreement with so much of what Smith said regarding the difference between being Black in the USA vs, the UK. Having spent the summer in London, I felt like she nailed it, but of course my opinions were based on a six-week stay as opposed to a lifetime. Still, Smith perfectly articulated what I sensed; that being Black in London isn’t something actually worthy of discussion, since everyone is supposedly “British.” That may feel like progress, but the reality is that it feels more like one is being silenced. “In America, at least the conversation is out loud,” Smith said. “In London you aren’t meant to discuss [race].”

So, while America seems overwhelmed with “race talk” these days, fresh from my experience in London, I’m at least thankful that our voices aren’t being silenced.

For those of you who have traveled to the UK, what are your impressions of their comfort level with racial differences? London is an extremely diverse city, but all that glitters isn’t a rainbow coalition. Am I Right? I’m so listening.

Peace!

Ms. Meltingpot Meets “The Bald Mermaid:” Sheila Bridges

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

That's me in the middle with panelists, Bridges(l) and Lise Funderburg(r)

That’s me in the middle with panelists, Bridges(l) and Lise Funderburg(r)

Last Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to do a reading here in Philadelphia with the amazing Sheila Bridges. She is a well-known interior designer, TV personality and author. We were on a panel together where she spoke about her memoir The Bald Mermaid and I was reading from Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone that I was pontificating on the deep-seeded cultural and historical significance of our hair while Sheila was sharing her journey with alopecia, a journey that she ultimately conquered when she realized “it was just hair” and she decided to go proudly bald.

Even though I was on the panel with Bridges, I spent the evening enraptured by her style and story. I think she made everyone in the audience feel a little bit empowered to face our greatest fears and quite possibly find the courage to shrug them off. As one woman in the audience said during the Q&A, “You’re going to make going bald a cool trend.” I’m not sure about that, but I think she gave everyone a new and exciting version of what beauty looks like.

Even though I did write the book, at the end of the day, when it comes to our true essence, I have to believe that it is “just hair.”

What do you think? I’m listening and taking notes.

Peace!

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!

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!

“Not the Nanny” Syndrome is Multi-Generational

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

So, we just had a huge baby shower for my cousin who is expecting her first child. We’re the same age so the fact that she is having her first child now was truly a cause for celebration, so my entire extended family descended upon Philadelphia for the shower. And of course, the three-hour shower turned into a three-day, non-stop party.

So, one day during the festivities, my mother and one of my play aunties, who happens to be a caramel-colored Colombian woman in her fifties, took babygirl out to lunch. It was just the three of them. The restaurant they chose was in an affluent but relatively diverse neighborhood and they were seated next to a White man and his precocious two-and-a-half year old daughter.

The little girl, my mom says, was staring at babygirl and then at my mom and my aunt. Then she looked at my aunt and said,
“Are you her mommy?” referring to babygirl.
My aunt said, “No, I’m her aunt.”
Then the little girl looked at my mother and said,
“Are you her babysitter?”
My mother smiled politely and said,
“No, I’m her grandmother.”
The little girl didn’t say anything else and the father didn’t either.

Not the Nanny Syndrome Inspired this Story

Not the Nanny Syndrome Inspired this Story

I couldn’t believe this story. First, because I couldn’t believe a two-year-old could say babysitter. (Maybe babygirl is just a little behind.) But really, because I couldn’t believe a two-year-old would already put Black + White together and get ‘babysitter.’ What does that mean? Is her little world so full of Black women and white babies that she made that assumption? To me that’s kind of sad. I think. But it’s also why I wrote my novel, Substitute Me. Because of this global assumption that women of color are the caretakers of White children. If a baby can make that assumption, then anyone can. In many ways it’s true, but does that make it right? I’m conflicted. And I felt really badly for my mom, that she was mistaken for her granddaughter’s babysitter. I’m used to it. But she’s not. Remember, all of her children look like her. *sigh*

I’m wondering dear readers, would you have said something to the father of this child? Do you think he should have said something to his daughter or to my mother? I’d love to hear some opinions on this. You know I’m listening.

Peace!

Soul Food: Deconstructed & Delicious

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Ms. Meltingpot and Soul Food author, Adrian Miller.

Ms. Meltingpot and Soul Food author, Adrian Miller.

Sometimes I really love my job as a writer and cultural thinker. It sounds very nebulous to describe myself that way and granted, there’s not a lot of money in the business of thinking and talking, but it does provide some wonderful opportunities. Like last night. I had the honor of playing ‘hostess’ at a literary dinner celebrating this wonderful new book called, Soul Food:The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. The menu for the meal was pulled from recipes in the book and was so delicious. Meanwhile, the author, Adrian Miller, entertained the audience with his fascinating story of the origins of Soul Food as well some of the myths and misunderstandings often associated with this under appreciated cuisine. The book is well-written and engaging as well as chock full of fascinating information. I highly recommend it for any foodie, soul food scholar and/or Black culture enthusiast. And last night’s dinner was so good, I highly recommend the restaurant, Geechee Girl Rice Cafe, if you happen to be in Philly.

Here are some photos of our delicious meal. Try not to drool over dinner.

Fried catfish, mac&cheese, plum tomatoes & hot water cornbread! Yum!

Fried catfish, mac&cheese, plum tomatoes & hot water cornbread! Yum!

Chicken and waffles reinvented for dessert. I wanted to lick the plate.

Chicken and waffles reinvented for dessert. I wanted to lick the plate.

What do you think of when you hear soul food? I’m listening.

Peace!