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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!

“Rejected Princesses” Are Way Cooler and Way More Colorful Than Anything Disney

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

When I started this blog way back in 2006 ( I think), my lofty intentions were to create an online publication that showcased the ways that people of different cultures came together instead of clashed. I felt the mainstream media was doing a fine enough job covering discord and strife between different cultural groups and I wanted The Meltingpot to be the antidote, seeing as how my very own life flew in the face of racial animosity and conflict between cultures.

Sadly, I’ve strayed from that initial mission and have been sucked into the vortex of cultural crisis reporting. I’m so done. I’ve decided to go back to my roots with this blog and do my best to highlight some more positive examples of different cultures coming together. It’s not going to be all unicorns and glitter, but I am going to make an effort to be a shining light in the endless news of the dismal and depressing when it comes to race in America.

Trust, I won’t turn a blind eye to injustice, but I will be looking for the other side of the “racism rules the world” story.

This is  a website you need to check out and share!

This is a website you need to check out and share!

For starters, check this awesome website of “Rejected Princesses.” These are some badass heroines from history who would make awesome characters for girls – big girls and little girls that is – to love on. But due to said badass-ness, they will never make it to the big screen. Luckily they will make it to a new book in 2016. The best part is that these princesses hail from every country and culture, from ancient China to precolonial Angola. The folks over at Marvel might want to take notes.

Enjoy and you’re welcome!

Peace!

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!

“All Joy and No Fun:” Parenting in the 21st Century #MeltingpotBookReview

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

This book was a joy and fun to read.

This book was a joy and fun to read.

Earlier this year I promised myself I would read more. I’m a writer so reading should be a part of my regular practice, right? Because I like to write both fiction and nonfiction, exploring themes of race, culture, parenting and identity politics, I figured my reading selections should explore these topics and genres as well. So, I picked up Jennifer Senior’s (relatively) new book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting. I assumed reading this book would feel like homework, but I promised myself I’d get through it because, like Brussels Sprouts, smart books are good for me. Lucky for me, this smart book was far from tedious and I enjoyed reading it from beginning to end.

Rather than learn anything revelatory about “modern parenting,” what I gathered from this book was that everything I feel about this journey of being a mom is normal and I am not alone. What’s more, Senior packed the book full of statistics, studies and expert opinion to explain why I love my children yet feel unsatisfied by “just being a mom,” and why just when I think I know what I’m doing, society goes and pulls a fast one that makes me question everything I’ve established as a good parenting practice. And she does a really good job reviewing childhood development – from toddlers to the teen years – to remind us why, even biologically our kids are meant to frustrate, aggravate and bewilder us. (Completely unrelated, I just discovered the Renegade Mothering website where blogger Janelle Hanchett does a wonderful job, with a lot of cuss words, reminding the rest of us that our darkest thoughts about parenting and family life are totally normal.) Best of all, she reminds us that parenting wasn’t even a verb before 1970. Ponder that for a second.

What Senior doesn’t do – and to be fair she never said she would – is explore how different cultural / ethnic communities vary in their approach to parenting. She mentions Amy Chua and Tiger Parenting and profiles a couple of African-American families, but I would have loved it if she could have explored a little more how the added element of being a different race or from a different cultural background than middle-class White America, plays into the parenting paradox. But like I said, that wasn’t in her stated mission so I cannot fault her for not going there. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed reading the book from cover to cover and I appreciate Senior and others like Andrew Solomon, the author of Far From the Tree, who are really exploring the American family as a way to understand American culture. I hope to be a part of that same conversation with my new book, Same Family, Different Colors – coming soon (I hope.) in 2016.

Next up on my reading list? Yesterday I bought Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and I’m only 15 pages in, but I’m loving it.

What are you reading dear readers? Got anything good to recommend? I’m listening and taking notes.

Peace!

Ms. Meltingpot Has Questions. Do You Have Answers?

Ms. Meltingpot Has Questions!

Ms. Meltingpot Has Questions!

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

From time to time I find myself questioning things in this crazy game we call life and wonder if I’m the only one asking. Maybe it’s because I don’t have cable or because I rely on my children to explain a lot of pop culture references. Or maybe it’s because I prefer print over e-anything and decaffeinated coffee is my drug of choice. In other words, it might just be me who needs answers, but maybe not. Either way, if you can shed some light on my queries below, please let me know.

1. Why does social media make our lives less social?

2. Why isn’t a Snickers bar with almonds called a Mars Bar?

3. Why would you name a food store, Bottom Dollar Food? Exactly who is that supposed to appeal to?

4. Why is Lena Dunham famous?

5. Ditto for Taylor Swift?

6. Are Kim Kardashian and Kanye West an interracial couple? And if so, why isn’t that a big deal to the people who care about things like that and shouldn’t they be on an official list or something?

7. Who still eats margarine in the 21st century and why?

8. If White people (and Asian and light-skinned Latinos) believe Black people are inferior, ignorant, unattractive and otherwise undesirable, why do they turn around and copy everything we do?

Peace!

Music Monday: I Want to Be Annie Lennox When I Grow Up

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I know the Grammy’s are yesterday’s news, but I’ve been reading about them and watching the performances on YouTube since last week trying to catch up. Because I care, just not enough to sit through the whole show on a school night. Anywho, all I have to say is please watch this amazing “duet” between newcomer Hozier and Annie Lennox. I use quotation marks around duet because really, Hozier, who I do admire, is really just Annie’s opening act. I’ve always been a fan of Lennox’s but after seeing her take to the stage and blow this song out of the water, I am #TeamAnnie all the way. I love her attitude and full on sexy. She’s put a spell on me for sure. Enjoy!

Hair’s the Thing: Dove’s #LoveYourCurls Campaign


Hi Meltingpot readers,

Have you seen Dove’s new #LoveYourCurls video? There aren’t any references to Dove products in the video, so it actually feels more like a public service announcement than a commercial. The main message is that little girls with curly hair want straight hair because they believe it’s more beautiful. This of course, we can assume, will be detrimental to their self-esteem and body confidence. The solution, according to the social scientists employed by Dove, is for mothers and relatives and essentially anyone who is exposed to a young girl with curly hair, to stop straightening their own hair and learn to love their curls. In other words, ladies need to model self love. At that point, I suppose, a grown woman watching this video, whether she has children of her own or not, will decide to stop straightening her hair and from now on wear it curly, which means she’ll need a new arsenal of products. Enter Dove’s new line of Quench Absolute products and voila, Dove’s work is done. More women will wear their hair curly, more young girls will see this curly hair in public and feel proud of their own curls, Dove will sell a lot of shampoo and conditioner and everyone will be curly and happy and rich. Well, the Dove executives will be rich, the rest of us will be curly and happy.

Perhaps you note a twinge of sarcasm in my review of the video. I admit I am being a little snarky. The truth is, I watched the video with my own curly-haired daughter and smiled at all of the kinks and curls on display. I loved the fact that the girls interviewed were multi-hued and throughout the video a wide variety of young girls and women were portrayed. That’s always nice when shampoo companies acknowledge that not only White people buy hair products. Still, there’s a part of me that feels like Dove has simply utilized a very trendy “issue” to champion in order to sell more products. Not only does a “LoveYourCurls” campaign potentially draw in all of the Black hair bloggers and vloggers that dominate social media and are essential in making or breaking a new product, but they’ve managed to pull at the heartstrings hairstrings of anybody who cares about young girls and self-esteem. I’m surprised they didn’t add a puppy or a cute kitten in the video for extra effect.

At the end of the day, I am all for the basic message of this video, which is quite simply to love your curls. And I do agree that if young girls saw more women with curly hair who were heralded as beautiful and smart and capable and there wasn’t such an incessant keening over straight hair in our society, that would be a step in the right direction. But I will always be a skeptic when commercial interests are involved. Now, if the Girl Scouts of America had made this video, I’d be telling all my friends about it.

Your thoughts, dear readers? I’m listening.

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!