FOR ANYONE THAT NEEDS IT…
I don’t usually get too caught up in ‘celebrity mourning’. The loss of someone is tragic, regardless of their occupation. But Robin’s death hit me in a way I never expected, for two deeply personal reasons. First, I literally don’t remember not knowing who Robin Williams was. Even as a child, I remember identifying him as ‘the funny man’. My grandmother and I watched him dazzle during The Tonight Show visits, he taught me about friendship in Aladdin, took me on a magical journey in What Dreams May Come, inspired me with Dead Poets Society and gave me a lot to think about in Good Will Hunting. Robin Williams was an active verb in my life. He set a standard that I assumed would be a constant for many more years to come. His death leaves me truly shocked. Still. Which leads me to the second reason. I was first diagnosed with depression at 19. I’d stumbled through a pretty rocky childhood and eventually two years later, it all caught up with me one night when I just didn’t think I could stomach another day of intense sadness. I swallowed a bottle of Tylenol PM. Now, did I want to die? Not really. But that was the only way I could break through this overwhelmingly thick barrier of hopelessness that stood between myself and everyone else. Having your stomach pumped is enough to scar you for life. Trust me on this. More importantly, that and the look of genuine fear in my fathers eyes were enough to make me want to learn how to live with depression. It is a disease. It is not an emotion. And it’s something that with lots of time, self work and consistent effort, anyone can overcome. I am living proof. People with depression often hide in plain sight. In the worst of times, we go about our lives with canned responses, doing just enough to not ring any alarms because when you’re in the thick of it, the answer to everything is, ‘what’s the point?’
But, you. That’s the point. You.
These days depression is apart of my life much life dieting. It’s an exercise in discipline. Once every four or five months I’ll have one really tough day where it’ll feel like my entire life is going to hell. It’s in those moments where I evoke the emergency response part of myself that’s ready to remind me that I’m not having a bad life, just a bad day. Then I wait it out. Or if I can’t, I call someone. More than anything I’ve learned there is no shame in simply saying, ‘I need some help’ or ‘I’m having a tough time’ or ‘I just need to hear a friendly voice.’ I’m human. And thankfully, so is everyone else.
I say all of this because as I reflect on Robin and the brilliant catalog of laughs and lessons he left us, I can’t help but wish he’d remembered that he wasn’t having a bad life. Just one last bad day.
And maybe we can all use this as Robin’s final gift to us, a heartbreaking reminder that there is no shame in simply picking up the phone, sending a text, a tweet, a status update or simply walking outside and saying, ‘I’m having a thought time.’ Maybe that can be the lesson amidst our confusion and grief…for anyone who needs it.
O’ Captain! My Captain! Thank you.
- Posted 1 month ago
- 24 notes
A NEW YEAR MESSAGE TO THE RUNTS…
In a group, a runt is a member that is smaller or weaker than the others. Because of this it faces obvious disadvantages, including difficulties competing with its siblings for survival and possible rejection from its mother and the rest of the litter. Therefore, a runt is less likely to survive.
I was born a runt. My parent’s marriage was over by the time I arrived and I was left in the care of my elderly grandmother. My father remarried when I was four and that – not really through any fault of my own – didn’t work out too well for me either. At nine, back into my grandmother’s care I went.
That’s where I would stay until sixteen when I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with my father. By then, I was accustomed to isolation. I was the second oldest of five siblings but lived with them for less than five years of my life. I knew them as my brother and sisters but not as people. Absent from their home videos, I went years on end without seeing my mother and was so disconnected that many times I’d only see my other immediate family on Sunday’s, at church.
Children can’t register circumstance. Divorces don’t compute, neither does the idea of stepchildren, half-children or the like. All you recognize is that you aren’t treated like the other kids and unable to process a ‘why,’ there’s no other recourse but to blame yourself.
So I did. I began to play the ‘Enough’ game. Am I not nice enough? Funny enough? Neat enough? Cute enough? Smart enough? Clean enough? Maybe I don’t do enough interesting things? Have enough cool stuff to talk about?
For many years, I said nothing. The isolation had become normal, even if it was hurtful. Once I did find the courage to complain, I was labeled sensitive, dramatic, and needy. And I was. I needed my family.
I began to write.
I started with films. I wrote movies because they were the only things that always had a happy ending. And that’s what I wanted: my own happy ending. I moved on to journaling. Putting my thoughts, my fears and eventually my dreams down on paper meant I didn’t have to shoulder them alone. My words became my friends, my companions. Soon, my questions of ‘enough’ became a starting point for ‘more.’
Reading was my escape from writing. I’d lose myself for hours inside the lives of others, different experiences completely unlike my own. There was much more out there than my isolation suggested. I’d emerge from these pages with a variance of crucial life skills, a better understanding of myself and most importantly, a realization that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only runt out there. There are many of us.
I define the runt as the underdog. We show weakness early, placing a target on our backs. We’re the whipping boys, the bullied, the blamed, the scapegoats, the underestimated and voted least likely to do…anything.
Darwinism suggests we’re supposed to be weeded out. It’s survival of the fittest. But for some of us – many of us – it’s actually the opposite. Being the runt will eventually make us the fittest to thrive.
If the law of the jungle is ‘only the strong survive’, then we’re the strongest.
In the New York Times bestseller Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell deconstructs success from the inside out. He explains why an overwhelming majority of professional Canadian hockey players are born between the months of January through March. The answer to this anomaly is as simple as it is mind-blowing: they missed the deadline. The Canadian equivalent of the peewee league has a December 31st cutoff for new applicants. That means if you’re born in the few months that follow, you can’t join the team with your classmates. Instead you’ve got to wait until next year. But by then you’re 5, playing with a bunch of four year olds. You’re bigger, faster and better equipped to dominate. What was a disappointment the year before eventually becomes your life-long advantage.
That’s what happened with me. It’s what’s possible for all of us.
Sometimes our greatest blessings are the things we’re denied. For me, it was the ability to connect. I searched my entire life for a family. In doing so, I used my words to tell my own and the stories of others. A place to belong became my driving force. And it drove me to a future brighter than I could’ve imagined.
I was the runt of my family. You might be the runt of your company, your social circle, neighborhood or maybe you just don’t fit in. Regardless of circumstance, the mere fact that you’re here, right now, reading this, means you are a miracle. And that is enough to get you to the next step: using it to your advantage.
We’re the runts who survived. And it’s actually the years of mistreatment, doubt, underestimation, being cast out, counted out, denied a rightful place at the teat and made to think that we aren’t quite enough, that built us stronger.
I can run because I learned to stand and walk on my own. I learned to hustle out of necessity hoping one day I’d be able to work my way into the litter. Instead it took me to an entirely new world.
So as a new year begins, my message to my fellow runts – the ones who are constantly reminded we’re not enough, that we can’t sit with them – is this: Let them have the table, let them have the teat. You will be ok. They’re only making us stronger.
Make My Mac’N Cheese For Christmas!
*Don’t forget to send (or tag me in) a pic!
JAS’ MAC’N HEAVEN
1lb Cavatappi noodles
2 cups Sharp cheddar
2 cups Mild cheddar
1 cup Mozzarella
1 cup Monterey Jack
1 cup Fontina
1 cup Asiago
1 cup Velveeta (cubed)
2 large eggs (beaten)
2 1/2 cups half & half
4 oz of butter
2 tbs of garlic salt
1 tbs of fresh black pepper
1 tbs of sea salt
1 tbs of extra virgin olive oil
In a bowl mix all shredded cheese. Add garlic salt and let it sit for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using your fingers, grease your pan with the olive oil.
Boil the noodles roughly 7 mins or until Al dente. Drain. Do not rinse. Return to the pot with a low flame and add 2 ounces of butter. Stir in the Velveeta, eggs and 2 cups of the half & half. The mixture will become slightly thick. Remove from flame. Slowly stir in half of your shredded cheese mixture. Add salt and pepper.
Pour mixture into the pan. Layer the remaining shredded cheese evenly on top of the mixture. Dot the pan with the remaining butter and pour the remaining half & half around the sides.
Bake uncovered for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Let the macaroni sit for at least 5 mins before serving.
- Posted 9 months ago
- 41 notes
KENDRICK IS RIGHT BECAUSE KANYE IS RIGHT
Kanye is right.
This past spring I attended an intimate brunch with a hand picked group of Black women. Usually overlooked by the hosts, despite being a Black woman in media, I was surprised by the invitation. Still, I went as myself and enjoyed myself, grateful for the morning of celebration. Two days later I received a follow-up email from one of the hosts – she began with complimenting how ‘lovely, smart and articulate’ I was. She was surprised.
I read over her email again. Nice to officially meet you. You’re very lovely, smart and articulate. I was surprised. Here’s my contact information.
Yup, ‘surprised’ was still there.
Everyday I’m shown examples of just how little social understanding we have of our words. While this well-meaning woman thought enough of our table conversation to make sure we kept in contact, she was unaware of the insult she’d used to do so.
“I was surprised,” is the politely masked way of saying, “I didn’t expect you,” which begs the inevitable question well, why not?
Classism is defined as ‘a biased or discriminatory attitude based on distinctions made between social or economic classes.’
Two days after its anticipated release, several major-publications headlined ‘surprise’ over The Best Man Holiday’s $30 million opening. But, whom did it surprise? Best Man Holiday was heavily promoted for weeks; with it’s cast making all the rounds from television, radio and even blogs. There were numerous screenings held in every major city. The tracking on this film was high. Yet Forbes claimed its success ‘stuns’.
Steven Marsh’s ‘surprise’ at TDE’s discipline is the same obnoxious backhanded snobbery that has plagued Hip Hop, lower socio-economic groups and people of color for generations. Classism is the new (accepted) racism.
It’s an acknowledgement of low expectations based on a pre-judgment. It is not a compliment. It’s biased ignorance based on their thoughts on a particular person, group or culture. It is the idea that encloses around us, caging us into a narrow room marked ‘what we’re only good for.’ Classism is a new zoo, with a wide cultural variety of monkeys.
Either way, it’s still wrong.
Classism is tricky because we celebrate it…until it’s used against us. We revere GQ, often using the book as a benchmark of success. You’ve had to really impact pop culture to make it into its pages. In a sense, we’ve given it its own class, celebrated with news stories, parties and social media conversation for those who’ve made it onto the cover. What happened with Kendrick was simple: the machine we’ve revered acknowledged the gap between them and us.
The success of Best Man Holiday ‘surprised’ so many because (according to USA Today) it was a race-themed film. It wasn’t an ensemble or a romantic comedy, but a ‘Black movie’ thus lowering the expectations.
So how do you fight classism? Especially when you need it? Without a separation of class, GQ is no more important than a free blog written by your unqualified neighbor.
The important tool here is an understanding that your we includes me too. You can’t be surprised if I wasn’t surprised, and just because you don’t look like me, or listen to what I listen to you, you still speak to and for me. You can’t be surprised because I knew it all along. If you’re writing a story about the Rapper of the Year, he’s your Rapper of the Year too. And you should know enough to not be surprised by his discipline. You should simply want to promote and celebrate it.
The Best Man Holiday didn’t over perform. It was under estimated. And that’s the story that needs to be told.
We have to tell this truth. We have to point classism out as we do racism. As the game changes, so must our understanding of it. Without an evolution in our knowledge of the rules, we can and will be played.
Don’t tell me you’re ‘surprised’. Tell me you misjudged me.
Kanye combated this by taking over Jimmy Kimmel’s hour to explain why he won’t play nice. Black twitter – which like it or not is a thing – will come for you creating an embarrassing PR nightmare. And the Rapper of the Year will skip your party. Still surprised? Don’t be.
Kanye already told you, “It’s not safe for you in this zoo.” Nor should it be.
DRAKE MADE ME NERVOUS…
Sunday started something like this: ‘Drake tonight?’ We’re in a heavy fourth-quarter tour season. Cole & Wale, Yeezus and Hov, and while I have love for all those guys, my inevitable answer to Would You Like A Tour? was, ‘yes please.’
It’s no secret I’ve been a Drake fan since Comeback Season, enjoyably watching him grow into the artist he’s become. He’s built a career off a vulnerability that I alternatively identify with and envy. But as he evolved, so did I. I left Hollywood, started my blog, moved to New York, ended my blog, began to write and produce for other people, got numerous interviews under my belt, joined a web series, left a web series, worked with and for artists and shot a TV show. Hard to describe experiences have sort of become common, not in a boastful way but in a this is just how it is way. I was explaining a few months ago how I barely recall the days of celebrity crushes, before I knew the truth about OZ. Rarely is there anything dreamy about the men behind the mask. I’m an eternal optimist that still appreciates realism, who’s slightly jaded.
My homegirl Tina Farris, a legend in her own right, had passes to the show. We chilled in the backstage lounge, catching Future and Miguel on the monitor before going to the front of the house for the main event.
I’ve seen Drake before. Quite a few times actually. We’ve met. Spoken. I’ve seen him perform, twice. We even had a couple run-ins prior to the show in the hallway in and around the OVO Room. I’m 14 years into Entertainment. Little surprises me anymore. I carry myself professionally and remain mindful not to do anything that might make me ‘that’ girl. So as we caught each other’s eyes passing in the hallway, I politely said, ‘hey, how are you?’ and kept it moving.
I found myself in the circle during his pre-show prayer. He asked for covering over his performance, his voice, Jhene Aiko’s voice, safety for the entire arena, he wanted us all to make it home safe. It was sweet. Sincere.
Drake’s show is awesome. He’s growing leaps and bounds with every tour. His energy is high. He raps like he means every word. He didn’t sing as much, but when he did, he sounded good. The stage is art, complete with the giant circular terrace that allows him to round the arena for one on one time with even the nosebleed sections. There’s a bit of camp and high drama to him. He makes a production of taking a sip of water and takes his time removing his jacket. The girls love it. He knows his audience. Tina likened him to the new Sinatra of Hip Hop. While I still give that title to Jay, Drake’s a shoe in for Dean Martin.
When the concert ended, we went backstage to say our goodbyes. After a shower and a brief moment of solitude, Drake graciously allowed us in. Save for his manager Oliver, and a few other loyal OVO players, the room was empty. He hugged Tina right away. They go way back. The love and respect is clear. She quickly reintroduced us. He hugged me. And then, well…nothing.
I was speechless. Me. Speechless. I can’t tell you the last time that happened. I’m a serial conversationalist, able to have the most meaningful exchanges with strangers, politicians, children, homeless subway dwellers and movie stars alike. This summer, I had a wonderful conversation with Oprah without hesitation. But here I was, face to face with Aubrey Drake Graham and I said nothing. We just sort of…looked at one another.
Sure, Drake is every bit as cute and charming in person as you’d expect Drake to be. He’s got natural warmth that cocktails well with his awkwardness, forming the perfect recipe for charisma. And in a sea of entitled, standoffish and lazy artists, it’s refreshing.
There was even plenty to talk about. He’d just shown all 7 of us the rough cut of the ‘Worst Behavior’ video. I’ve had the same three questions regarding Nothing Was The Same since its September release. And while I enjoyed his recent interview with Jihan Ghomeshi, I strongly disagreed with some of his thoughts on social media. Yet, I didn’t want to ask any of it. I just stood there and allowed myself to be a fan.
Blogs and social media have created a legion of pundits. We’ve become a league of under informed armchair quarterbacks all too ready to rate and second-guess instead of listening, digesting and simply saying thank you for the art that’s been shared with us. We’re entitled; as if we’re owed the art we’ve stopped really paying for. I too, am guilty of hyper-critiquing even the things I enjoy. But this year was eye opening for me. There’s a perspective and newfound objectivity that comes with being on television. Suddenly you’re privy to so many things that influence so many other things that the average person will never have to think about, much less understand. It gives you a better understanding of a world that by most standards makes no sense at all. It becomes harder to criticize when you’ve been unfairly criticized. I thought about this a lot this summer as I decided who this experience would teach me to become.
Most noticeably, I couldn’t ignore that we’ve devolved into an army unwilling to relax our cool long enough to just geek out and remember why any of this is so important to us in the first place. Forty-five minutes prior, this guy had me on my feet, eyes closed, palms in the air singing my heart out to ‘Too Much’. And it felt great. It reminded me of being in high school, getting concert tickets in exchange for grades, of waiting all month for the show to come and then talking about it with my friends for months after. Suddenly, Jaden’s hilarious VMA pose didn’t seem so ridiculous.
In hindsight, I probably looked hilariously crazy. My home girl had never seen me so quiet. But even at my most awkward, Drake handled my silence graciously, eventually asking if we could take a picture – which honestly hadn’t even occurred to me.
I believe firmly in the roundness of life, cycles that signal the end of current lessons and the beginning of new ones. I’ve had an amazing last eighteen months. But I’d become bored, with even the privileges. And then along came an artist I dug who actually delivered. Such a simple thing that has become so rare.
You made me nervous Drizzy. Thank you. I needed that.
A LETTER FROM 33…
I’ve never claimed to be a perfect. Years ago, when I used to try, I failed miserably. Turns out perfection doesn’t suit me. All my charm is in my flaws. I look at this past year (as I try to look at every year) like an exercise in balance.
Professionally, the year was good. I get asked about reality television all the time. What was it like? Was it real? Do you regret doing it? And my answers are always the same. It felt like hard work. I am always real. And I regret nothing. I was given a golden opportunity to share who I am and what I’m about to the world. And that’s all television really is: commercials. I could never regret that.
Others doors opened for me as well. Someone mentioned the other day that it was time for me to write something new. They missed my work. I appreciated the thought. It’s the logic I disagreed with. Believe it or not, I wrote more this year than I have my entire life. The world is bigger and far deeper than what your eyes can see. I realize more than ever we live in a microwave. We cook and consume at such a fast rate that we often rob ourselves of time to savor the flavors. Some of us truly believe if we can’t see it, it’s not happening. And some of us don’t know what we believe. The only luxury is time. That was a hard-learned lesson for me. Now I rush nothing.
I never write for anyone else. I never do anything for anyone else. If I did, I’d fail. I’m blessed to find inspiration. All I do is share it. Most of the time my ideas, my thoughts, my content is just physical evidence of a girl from Chicago just trying to figure this world out. On my best days, I hit my mark. On my worst, I lick my wounds and promise to try again tomorrow…or the next day. Or the next day.
More than ever this year, I’ve learned the power of confidence. It takes courage to be exactly who you are amidst a sea of people who want to tell you who you’re not. Last month I was told I’m not a writer. Instantly I flashed back to that August day in 1996 when my cousin Teresa placed a light blue journal in my hands. The gold pad lock secured nothing but symbolism. Suddenly I was freed – allowed to share myself unedited, untouched, without judgment – within its pages. I’d been writing scripts since I was nine. But those were the lives of others; make believe narratives where resolution was always swift and just. This was different. My journal married me to my words. I could commit to being me page after page. I began each entry with Dear You. Writing wasn’t what I did. It is who I am.
And now suddenly, because I’ve done a show, because someone knows my name, because, because, because…there are people out there who don’t even know who they are, who feel entitled enough to put parameters on how I should identify myself. As if what I see in myself, says anything about them. Good luck with that.
I clicked unsubscribe on all the lists we make that determine what I should value, what I should praise and who and what I should aspire to be. I took the power out of ‘should’ and gave it back to myself. Fuck your boxes. Someone else built them. Let them confine you if you want to.
My focus these days is on being a good person. I want to be kind. It feels better. I want to do work that I believe in. My proudest moments are when I’m in that pocket where I’m doing exactly what I was put here to do. That is my high – an addiction I don’t care to kick. I laugh when things are truly funny. I invest in people and not opportunity. And I don’t wait for the crowd to validate my thoughts. My lane is the one I’m walking. I’m creating my path as I go. My goal is not to leave a blueprint for anyone to follow, but to show anyone willing to listen that anything is possible.
If you get what I’ve said here: beautiful. If you don’t: beautiful. Either way, thank you to the Universe for another year to be myself.
Jas Fly is a New York based Writer, Journalist and Multi-Media Personality whose humanizing yet straight to the point style has earned her the reputation as the ‘The Rapper Whisperer.’ She has interviewed such noteworthy names as Jay-Z, Warren Buffett, Common, Joan Rivers, Spike Lee, DMX, Melanie Fiona, Laz Alonso and many more.
A Chicago native, Jas attended the legendary Columbia College Film Program which led to a nine-year career in Film Production and Television Development where she worked on dozens of blockbuster classics including Spiderman 1 & 2, Hardball, Save The Last Dance, MTV’s Real World, Barbershop 1 & 2 and the NBC’s ER. Her music video production credits include R. Kelly, Jermaine Dupri, Bow Wow, Jagged Edge and Common.
In 2007, Jas created FlyStyleLife.com, which quickly became a leading Urban Entertainment News website. A year later she was tapped to host Urban News Radio, a well received Internet radio show where she interviewed such guests as Ludacris and T.I. JasFly moved to New York two years later to tackle her true passion, Entertainment Journalism. Meanwhile, Jas continued to produce several Music Videos and web content projects including a music video for Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and Everybody’s Haitian – a PSA supporting Haiti earthquake relief sponsored by Rocawear staring Wale and J. Cole – which she also wrote and directed.
In 2011 Jas joined the cast of JumpOff TV’s Debate Lounge to rave reviews, helping it become one of the fastest growing Hip Hop Editorial Web Series. In less than a year, Jas and her cast mates received over 2.2 million views, 200,000 subscribers and critical acclaim from such artists as Young Jeezy and J. Cole.
Jas’ breakout performance led to her being cast in the Vh1 reality series, The Gossip Game, which chronicled the lives of seven women in Hip Hop media. Jas quickly became known as ‘the sensible one,’ often offering her cast mates relatable perspectives on tough issues.
2012 also saw Jas’ return to the internet radio market with the iTunes podcast #RealityCheck alongside co-host NY delight and featuring Grammy winning producer, Just Blaze. Jas has also worked with such artists as Ne-Yo to strategize their brands in the digital space.
Taking on a new challenge, Jas Executive Produced The #DREAMmix, an inspirational mixtape featuring Kendrick Lamar, Common, Swizz Beatz and Mona Scott-Young. In addition, Jas is the official Ambassador to Pop Culture for ooVoo a video chat platform with 80 million users worldwide.
JasFly is currently at work on her fist book, Dear 20’s, a collection of essays to written to her younger self. Her philosophy is simple, “The best reward for a job well done, is the opportunity to do more work.”
WHITE PRIVILEGE INTRODUCED ME TO THE BUTLER…
Something happened as I sat down to watch The Butler last night. I arrived early to the private screening. The majority of the 200 attendees were white, older, some recognizable from television. I chatted with the woman next to me - her vibe, warm and friendly. She liked my J’s (I was wearing my favorite 1’s). I liked her scarf, colorful against her pale skin. We both remarked how there weren’t enough seats for everyone.
I’d been invited as media, asked to write about the film. She had received her invitation from the Academy of Arts & Sciences, of which she is a member. She’d brought her pre-teen daughter for some Saturday night bonding. We both settled into our respective agendas as the lights dimmed.
Within the first three minutes we were shown an unrecognizable Mariah Carey and David Banner in heart-breaking circumstance and two young Black men embracing at the end of a pair of nooses. I pulled my phone (with the screen dimmed) from the pocket of my hoodie at the exact moment Larry King reached for his. We both appeared to make note of the same quote when I heard two sharp finger snaps.
“HEY GIRL, YOU PUT THAT AWAY!”
I turned to the older white woman in the row behind me, leaning over two strangers to get closer to me as she yelled, “You put that away RIGHT NOW!” She snapped her fingers again and mumbled something under her breath about ‘these people.’
“I’m working,” was all I said and turned back to the screen just in time to see David Banner – kneeling between rows of cotton – warn his young son that the world they live in belonged to whites and their mere survival hinged on his ability to not make waves.
The Butler is an unapologetic look at the Black experience, through the eyes of a man whose survivalist subjection allowed him to be a fly on the governing walls of four US Presidents.
While I went into the theater expecting a film on race, I left having seen a film about Blackness. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
The Butler is filled with cultural inside jokes that the 25 or so African-American attendees (mostly press), got instantly. The characters, rounder than we’re used to seeing, darker skinned, many far from the silver screen standard of beauty could’ve easily been our grand parents, aunts and uncles. Terrence Howard was everyone’s shiftless neighbor and despite missing his front tooth, charmed Oprah into an affair. Even Lenny Kravitz – who in real life manages to look sexy walking down the street in last Tuesday’s clothes and a man purse – was down played to just another handsome Black man who married a big sassy Black woman in an obvious wig.
But as I sat there, a row in front of an offensive White woman, drunk from her own entitlement, watching painful truths about the history of my people in this country, I couldn’t help but wonder: What does ‘Black’ mean now? 2013 - long after we’ve twice elected a black president but failed to convict the killer of a black teenager - what is the ethos of this culture of mine?
I grew up Black – not just as a race but a verb. Weddings in church basements, in households where Martin Luther and Luther Vandross were equally revered. We attended home goings that lasted from day into night. My aunt, the crackhead, would do anything for you – just don’t leave your purse around her. Summers meant family reunions in matching shirts that always alternated between yellow, purple and red. And our grand parents raised me, along with a number of my cousins. And every time we’d hear of a particularly heinous (or stupid) crime we’d collectively wish aloud, “I hope he’s not Black.”
What does that matter now? Questlove can write a deeply vulnerable essay about his struggles through life as the big Black boogieman and a feminist will reply evoking the unspoken 28th amendment, ‘don’t scare the long-suffering white women’. Harry Belefonte – historically one of our greatest cause leaders can publicly cannibalize two of our brightest stars, prompting one to respond with a near repulsive arrogance. And then there’s Don Lemon who was foolish enough to ride in on Bill O’Reilly’s bigoted coattails to deliver his remedy for Black salvation. But while his timing was regrettable and his O’Reilly association is reckless, were his five elementary rules completely wrong? Somewhere, a skinny Al Sharpton is still marching.
Meanwhile George Zimmerman is riding through America in a Honda with a gun, helping victims trapped in cars and racking up speeding tickets.
It’s a confusing time for Black messaging.
At one point during the film I pretended not to listen as the friendly White woman next to me quietly explained to her teenage old daughter who Jesse Jackson was. From the corner of my eye I could see her squirm at the on screen dramatized acts of hatred and ignorance then go silent, as the each scene was bookended with actual footage - as if to say "we’re not making this stuff up."
Does being Black matter to anyone but me? Is white privilege the now oppression? Should we act better to be treated better or should we act out until we’re equal? Black chicken meet White egg.
Oprah is a light in such a dark and heavy film. Beginning with Miss Sofia, into The Women of Brewster Place on through Beloved, Winfrey seems to gravitate towards burdened characters and Gloria Gaines – an alcoholic housewife is no different. But it’s her free moments – her comedic asides, her lackluster dancing, her drunken rambling – that remind you that despite all of her reverence Oprah really is a Black woman from Mississippi.
Winfrey recently said she has absolutely zero tolerance for the word ‘nigger.’ Not surprisingly, the film touches on this as well. After describing himself as a ‘house nigger’ a young Cecil Gaines is told not to use the word invented by Whites to demean Blacks. This comes when I find myself wrestling with my use of the word ‘nigga.’ It’s been so ingrained within me to be powerless, until it’s heard coming from the lips of someone who does not see me as their equal. My justification has been, ‘we’ve earned it.’ We survived a systematic conspiracy against us. Why shouldn’t we have the right to limp away with the word, free to repurpose it as we see fit?
That reasoning is making less sense to me as I get older and see young kids of all races take liberties with it. It’s the equivalent of being freed from prison only to keep the orange jumpsuit to accessorize and wear later, out to the club.
The Butler raises interesting points about the constant tight rope we still walk daily as Blacks in America. We are still persecuted. We are still statistically unequal. We were freed from cages, only to be leashed. And now, as we suffer from systemic division, we routinely noose ourselves. This film - and my viewing experience reminded me there is still nothing black and white about being Black.
As the film ended, I saw the obnoxious woman in the hallway. I politely introduced myself. She stared at my hand before enduringly shaking it and reluctantly telling me her name. She’s a longtime member of the press. Midst my explanation that I was merely taking notes, she cut me off.
“I don’t know who raised you but you don’t turn on your phone in a theater. It’s rude and of low-class.”
I reminded her that it was rude to snap your fingers and yell at another adult. She gave me a once over making no attempts to hide the judgment at my sneakers, oversized hoodie and backwards baseball cap. I made no attempt to apologize for it. Her contempt became annoyance as a couple of people stopped to ask for my picture.
"If you were offended by my actions girl, then I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you.”
I was her second use of ‘girl’ that stamped the incident with the all-too-familiar seal of white privilege. Nevermind that yelling at me was far more disruptive than my dim screen. Or that several people were taking notes. Ironically, she’d taken one look at me and determined that whatever she had accomplished in her life warranted her to treat me as if I were The Butler.
I didn’t go off on this woman because she expected me to. A shouting match would’ve undoubtedly ended in
us me being asked to leave. The irony of the situation was lost on her.
The Butler began by quoting MLK, “You cannot drive out darkness with darkness. Only light can do that.”
I sighed and softly laid my hand on her shoulder. She flinched. I looked her in eyes and said, “Yes, you are sorry. You are very, very sorry.”
Appalled, she asked me to repeat myself. I did so happily and as she began with, “Now I don’t know who you think you…” I turned away and went to say hello to someone I knew and respected.
I Am Not Leaving You
I saw a pic of Mo’Nique following her in studio interview with HOT 97 and did a double take. Over the last three years, the Academy Award winning actress has lost an impressive 82 lbs through diet and exercise. Having shed 103lbs of my own using the same conventional methods, I understood the smile on Mo’Nique’s face, recognized the pride in her stance and the relief in her eyes. She was saving her own life.
I Instagram’d the picture and within minutes hundreds of you shared in my joy for her, reposting, tweeting and liking the flick. The general consensus was the comedienne had done good.
Then there were the few of you whom felt differently. The complaints ranged from, ‘she looked better fat’, ‘and now her head is too big ‘to’ now she won’t be funny anymore.’ But I think the most telling criticism – the most popular one – was ‘what happened to representing for the big girls?’
I bring this up for a reason…
Last night, episode 7 of The Gossip Game began with a scene between K Foxx and myself at ooVoo. I’d seen her interview with the beautiful Brittany Sky, the lead from Kendrick’s ‘Poetic Justice’ video and posed a question that unfortunately didn’t make it into the episode: Don’t you feel that ‘colorism’ in any form (light over dark or dark over light) is wrong?
It was that question that began the exchange that was aired. K Foxx felt passionately that the mass mistreatment of darker African-Americans (particularly women) warranted some recompense and was puzzled why I didn’t feel the same. She was sure I’d experienced some of the same color-biased disrespect that she’s encountered over the years.
But I haven’t. On my best days my skin is a glowy pecan, on the average day I’m more the color of a Popeye’s chicken breast. My skin sits between two shades of most foundations (this told to me repeatedly by accomplished make-up artists). I choose the darker so that even when I sweat, I won’t look ashy. I don’t consider myself dark skin or light skin. I’m fully aware that the color-bias does exist both ways, and it angers me but I’ve never experienced it first hand. I’ve always simply fallen in the middle. I’m brown. I’m never included in the discussion. And I’ve never really been told that I’m ‘dark skin’…Until K Foxx.
By this afternoon hundreds of viewers had made a point to tweet/Instagram/FB message me. The comments ranged from, ‘how could you be ashamed of your dark skin?’ to ‘girl you are not lightskin’ to my personal favorite, ‘You’re darkskin, if this were slavery you’d be in the field with the rest of us.’
Finally, I put it all together. Let’s go back to Mo’Nique.
The boisterous funny gal built a career off of being larger than life. She had entire routines based on the idea that ‘skinny bitches are evil’ and boldly declared that P.H.A.T. should be embraced because it meant ‘Pretty Hot And Tempting’. But this was 82lbs ago.
At my highest weight, I’d traveled to New York from LA and was out with my friend Jai, who had just lost over 70lbs of his own. I remember struggling to keep up as we roamed the village, I can still recall the contempt I felt when he ordered a grilled chicken breast and salad for lunch while I indulged in a burger and fries. Jai scared me. He represented what I couldn’t see for myself.
I understood the hate against Mo’Nique, a great deal of which came from those who appeared to be struggling with their own weight. Where her loss should’ve inspired, for some it shown a light on how far they themselves had to go to get there. They felt abandoned. Even though Mo’Nique had done what was (rightfully) best for her, she’d carried the torch proudly for so long that her fellow P.H.A.T. Girls felt she’d left them, alone and unrepresented.
As I sat still and made myself look through the profiles of many of you that took the time to let me know your thoughts on my complexion, the pattern I noticed was unmistakable. Very few of you were of a lighter skin tone. A great majority of those who contacted me boasted things like #TeamDarkSkin and ‘Chocolate Queen’ in your bios. And now I understand.
I appreciate the love I’ve received over the last two months from those happy for my inclusion on the show and proud that I’ve kept my focus and composure. I understand how my network and others have actively mishandled our image so I came into this show resolved that I would be true to who I am and represent my culture.
I am a Black woman. It’s one of my favorite things about myself. And no one or nothing could ever make me anything but proud of that.
Many of you felt that by me saying I wasn’t dark skin, I was somehow rejecting you. You thought I was leaving a team that I actually never even played for.
I refuse to help divide us. Light skin, dark skin or in between, we’re still being hunted every single day by poverty, educational bias, poor health habits, law enforcement and so many other things that I will be damned if I continue a discussion started by slave owners so they could place a dollar amount on our heads. Miss me with all of it. If you need me to identify with a particular skin tone in order to relate to me, then you were never going to relate to me anyway. We’re all Black. I understand the pain of color-bias and will gladly champion discussions on how to stop it. What I won’t do is allow anyone to push me into a corner and saddle me with his or her own hypersensitivity. This is not a game I’m going to play and I encourage you to stop playing it as well. What we give power to, will control us.
I am not #TeamDarkSkin, just as I am not #TeamLightSkin. I’m not even #TeamBrown. I’m #TEAMBLACK. And know that I am not now – nor am I ever – leaving you.
WHAT’S GOSSIP?: ABOUT EPISODE THREE…
Ms. Drama is an asshole. It really is that simple.
Only an asshole would listen to four different people tell them virtually the same thing, and take away that it’s every one else.
I wish Candice nothing but the best. But Ms Drama? Nah. Life’s too short. Let’s move on to next week.
By Paulo Coelho