Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday Freestylin' and Profilin'

Just checking in and making good on my commitment to write for three weeks straight. Since Monday, I’ve been posting here and on my other blog Crossing Sunset. For the mathematically challenged, I’m on day — or should I say night — number six. I have much love for those writers who have the discipline to sit at their computer and blog every day. It's challenging for a sista! I feel like I'm cheating because I usually labor over a laptop for hours on issues that I find meaningful, or at least humorous. But today I'm freestylin'.

This post is going to be quick and dirty because I'm on my way out to dinner, Zagat guide in tow. I'm in an exploratory mood, which began earlier in the day. I stopped by the California African American Museum in South Los Angeles and became a member. Saw "A Woman's Journey: The Life and Work of Artis Lane," a beautiful exhibit on transcendence and transformation that I'll be examining in depth tomorrow on Crossing Sunset. In the ten years that I've lived in Los Angeles, I'm ashamed to say I've only visited CAAM twice: once to attend a reception for the legendary photographer Gordon Parks, and then for a Brown vs. the Board of Education screening.

I feel like I inhabit two L.A.'s, or rather, I'm acutely aware of the duality of being a black woman in a predominantly white and Latino city. There's the flip-flop rocking, mall-hopping, organic mart shopping Valley Girl, and then there's the south of Wilshire sojourner desperately in need of negroes and culture. There are no ethnic (land)markers on my side of the canyon — no beauty salons boasting "100 percent human hair," no $1 soul food restaurants, no swap meets ... no African-American museums.

I'm torn because I want to finish this post, but my stomach calls, and so does my friend, wondering why I'm late — again.

Time to go profilin'. Signing off ... for now.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why I Write

My mother often reminds me that my dysfunction didn’t commence when I moved to the City of Angels, but began at the tender age of six or seven. Around that time, I started writing obituaries: “Kristy was killed by her father today…” “Timmy got ran over by the school bus…”

They were pretty morbid stories, the stuff that fills psychiatric files. But the carnage cluttering my literary landscape wasn’t the work of a burgeoning serial killer. Those dark eulogies were simply the means for a lonely little girl to exorcise childhood's demons.

By age 10, I started journaling. I remember trying to erect a time machine from a toy baby carriage and some miscellaneous items around my grandmother’s house. I wanted to document my journey to the past, my voyage from a life of invisibility. It was at that time that I discovered Stephen King, Dean Koontz and the Twilight series — teen horror paperbacks that my mom dismissed as “occult books.” I wasn’t fascinated by vampires or gruesome murders. What enchanted me was the ability of little girls to set a foe aflame from fifty feet, or telepathic teens who could levitate the school bully to another plain.

I grew up in a small town ten miles northwest of Philadelphia, and was often teased for “talking white.” While my cornrowed neighbors were jumping double Dutch on the sidewalk or hanging out on the stoop listening to Salt n Pepa, I was locked in my room penning the ‘hood version of Carrie. I identified with King’s psychokinetic protagonist because she too knew how it felt to be the odd kid on the block.

I still feel like the odd kid, but now I’m learning to embrace my otherness. I enjoy writing essays and novels that celebrate that curious, disenfranchised and marginalized character — the dysfunctional black diva. Yet, I have trouble negotiating my love for the vapid and materialistic with the need to examine more political and intellectual matters. I felt conflicted for not blogging about the Jena 6 case, Bill O'Reilly’s off-color comments about black folks, or Megan Williams’ rape and torture by six white people in West Virginia. I’m sometimes plagued by the notion that I’m not intelligent or informed enough to critique relevant social issues. It’s not that I’m oblivious to racism, sexism, classism and other interlocking systems of oppression. It’s just that I’m more at home with essays that begin: “A funny thing happened on the way to my colonics appointment …”

When I write about the comedic but mundane, I worry that I won’t be considered a conscious writer. I appreciate the politics of Fanon, Cornel West, bell hooks, The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron — in fact, I interviewed Scott-Heron when I lived in Baltimore after his set at the Arena Players. But I also spend hours reading Stephen King or perusing I’m an information junkie. I read feminist blogs, Latino blogs, gay blogs, conservative and left-wing blogs, black militant to evangelical Christian sites, Bossip to Slate, Crunk & Disorderly to Salon … and they all inform my writing.

Sometimes, I return home from a full-time job and sit at my laptop until four or five in the a.m. Writing is lonely work, but it’s also redemptive. I want to explore the struggles of women who not only battle bigoted bosses, but who also have hair care woes. Like bell hooks says, “There is a world of thoughts and ideas women have yet to write about in nonfiction — whole worlds of writing we need to enter and call home. No woman is writing too much. Women need to write more. We need to know what it feels like to be submerged in language, carried about by the passion of writing words.”

As trite as it sounds, writing is my passion. Little did I know that as I was killing off the neighborhood bullies in those childhood obituaries, I was also writing myself into existence. There is healing in humor, and I’ve found a safe place to be zany, reflective and vulnerable — all at the same time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Branding Colorblind Love:
New Frontiers in Interracial Dating?

"I Heart White Men."

You probably won't see that T-shirt hanging from a kiosk in the Crenshaw District or on 125th Street in Harlem, but merchandise marketing black women’s interracial relationships may be coming to a cyber store near you.

Earlier this year, I joked about creating a line of
“Looking for Mr. White” tees for black women. My idea was a tongue-in-cheek response to the proliferation of black male/white female couplings, and also a nod to what I called the “Something New Movement” — an increased number of sisters choosing to date outside the race.

blog Black Female Interracial Marriage appears to be on the verge of a similar movement – branding colorblind love. Created by Evia, a black woman married to a white man, the site recently posted information on this campaign: “Sistas, what words would scream IR interest yet be subtle enough for you as a bw to wear or have on your totebag?” Evia asks. “I will be selling gear (tote bags, caps, shirts, etc.) here that will signal to others in a subtle way that you are receptive to the possibility of an IR relationship of varied types.”

I must confess, reading Evia’s blog has become a guilty pleasure for me. The sidebar of her site features photos of famous and not-so-famous sisters happily embracing their white partners. Evia often pontificates on the beauty and desirability of black women, and encourages her readers not to limit their dating options to black men. She comes across as the Harriet Tubman of outmarriage, leading her charges to the Promised Land of Interracial Love.

In this world, black chicks rule. Her site celebrates black women – in all their hues – and provides balance to IR mainstays Heidi and Seal, Tiger and Elin that saturate the pages of US Weekly and People. Her space offers kinship and community to interracially involved black women who feel ostracized by society, or who simply want to see a loving representation of their relationships.

I get Evia’s message. I really do. But I’m uncomfortable with the idea of preference as product. Do sisters really need a discreet logo or badge to signify that they’re open-minded about relationships? And why does the insignia have to be “subtle”? Is there an unspoken fear that black women will catch a beat-down from black men for flaunting their interracial desires on designer totes, mugs and key chains? If this trend takes off, what’s next? A secret society complete with handshakes and passwords?

Just as I have issues with brothers who exclusively date non-black women, I am also suspicious of sisters who omit the color black from their kaleidoscopic courtships. People should be free to love whomever they please. But is interracial love still colorblind when you actively seek out mates based on skin tone? I would have a problem if Hakeem passed me on the sidewalk wearing an “I Heart Becky” hat. Although Evia often says black women should be open to potential suitors in a variety of races, not too long ago, she featured an “I Love Vanilla” button campaign on her site.

Here’s a suggestion: For those sisters who want to alert others that they’re open to dating out, why not purchase an orange awareness ribbon? The ribbon not only promotes cultural diversity, but also symbolizes solidarity with those fighting world hunger, lupus and Multiple Sclerosis. You can be an activist and get your interracial flirt on at the same time. Doesn’t that sound better than endorsing walking product placement?