Monday, December 21, 2009

The Latest Technology... Is Racist!

LOL! How about a collective "Woo-Sah!" before we get ourselves worked up here? I'm going to share with you today a video that will hopefully make you laugh at least a little bit, as well as make you think. I find that I can actually be more logical and rational when I can see the humor in things so let's hope you operate in a similar fashion.

This video depicts the latest face-recognition software from HP. It is designed so that the built-in webcam on their newest media computers will follow the user's movements. We can all imagine the cool factor in this, right? Imagine all of the people filming themselves dancing to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" and how magnificent their homages could have truly been if only their webcams could have followed their movements... Watch the video and then we'll chat.

Okay, so by now, hopefully you've had a bit of a chuckle and you are thinking about how or why this could be considered racist. According to HP:

We are working with our partners to learn more. The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We believe that the camera might have difficulty "seeing" contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting.

Alright, I can accept that it has to do with technology and algorithms and honestly, I either slept through the algorithm stuff in college or killed those brain cells at a party so I'll accept that it is a reasonable scientific explanation. For me, herein lies the problem... One must assume that the technology was tested rigorously and that those tests had to include actual test trials with people moving around to make sure that the lens followed them. Based upon this demonstration and the HP statement above, one must also assume that either HP had absolutely no black people testing these cameras (or only really, really, really light ones like myself), or they did have African American testers and one of the following scenarios took place:
  • The black webcam testers had poor results but HP figured that most black people don't use computers anyway so it wasn't a concern
  • The black testers had acceptable results because their glasses of red Kool Aid provided the necessary contrast
  • HP decided to forgo testing since they assumed it would work with black people in much the same way that the security cameras follow their African American employees throughout the building
  • The black people intimidated the cameras into not following them by wearing shirts that read, "No Snitchin'"
I'm thinking it was most likely a case of no or not enough black camera testers and that is yet another reminder that for many, black people are seen more as an afterthought than part of the customer base or even mainstream population. I can guarantee you that the directions for using the webcam are available in both English and Spanish, and probably a few other languages; but sadly—much like many people in our society—the cameras do not recognize black people as people at all. Hmm, I wonder if the webcam would follow Tiger Woods?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gift Guide for the Racially Insensitive Everywhere

I definitely missed the memo that said that 2009 was the new 1959 racially. I can't find the words—The NY Times in 2009 publishes a gift-giving guide for people of color? So, is this like saying: "Here are some ideas for a holiday gift for your one minority friend" to white people? C'mon! I've never had to consult a special guide for giving gifts to non-black people—unless you count the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

This speaks to the old "us & them" theory. Why do people think that because their pigment is different then their tastes, hobbies and interests must be? Some of it is really funny to me, like the Somali-influenced designer apparel. Sure, I've rocked my share of kente cloth and animal print, but I always chuckle when I go to an African-themed show, play or event and I see more older, monied white women in African print than black women.

It's reminiscent to me of the "Ethnic Hair Products" aisle or section in most drug/beauty stores. I guess retail is still promoting segregation because it seems that products marketed toward kinky/coarse/ethnic hair (which are usually quite unhealthy for the hair type) are not permitted to sit happily on the shelf beside their marketed-for-white-people counterparts. Queen Helene and Dr. Miracle are relegated to the Negro section while Paul Mitchell and John Frieda are hitting on the Breck Girl and trying to ply her with smoothing serum and ice shine before bending her around a curling iron and then leaving her stiff and flaky after a good alcohol-based spritz!

The "Nursery Jamz" just about had me on the floor. So are we now saying that "traditional" nursery rhymes are for white children and "remixes" are for kids of color? Mmkay, yeah—makes sense to me (insert eye roll here).  Even funnier to me are the books on black and Asian make-up. I promise you, these books are more for non-black and non-Asian make-up artists than they are for women of color. We've been applying our make-up for years and we are actually familiar with our skin tones so it isn't really a great mystery to us.

I'm not trying to diss any of the products suggested, I merely want people to realize that we don't need to shop for the race of a person—we shop for the person. People of color are not one dimensional and until the government scientists perfect their implant chips and the mind control drugs in the fried chicken, we're not all going to like one thing or another because it is supposedly geared toward us.

On that note, I hope you'll open your mind and go beyond the aforementioned gift guide to find gifts suited to your friends and acquaintances based on their personal tastes, rather than their ethnic backgrounds. Think about what you have in common and what drew you together as friends and go from there. On a parting note, since I can't tell you what they will definitely like, let me at least give you a few tips on what NOT to give:

  1. Watermelon
  2. Afro/Ultra sheen
  3. KFC gift cards (Popeye's cards are the preferred gift of chicken in the black community)
  4. Vaseline/Chapstick
  5. Grape soda/Kool Aid with extra sugar
  6. Woody Allen movies or the "Friends" DVD set
  7. Anything involving Michael Steele
  8. Asher Roth CD's
  9. Doo rags/head scarves
  10. Jheri juice/relaxer/pomade

Merry Christmas and happy giving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Black Actors Missing in U.K.

Okay, so we don't need to issue an AMBER Alert or anything... But Faizon Love and Kali Hawk are missing from the U.K. version of posters for their recent movie, Couples Retreat. The film is a comedy about four couples who go on a group vacation in an island paradise where (naturally) hilarity ensues. Three of the four couples are comprised of white actors, with the fourth couple being Love and Hawk, who are African American. There's always one token black character in these buddy films, or maybe not? They didn't just remove their pictures from the poster, but their names as well. But then again, yeah—one kind of expects someone named "Faizon" to be black (although some might have thought he was perhaps the sibling of Jennifer Love Hewitt, right?).

Universal Pictures has apologized for any offense caused by the actors' removal, claiming that they just wanted  "to simplify the poster to actors who are most recognizable in international markets." Mmkay, so did they "simplify" the film and remove the black actors altogether? Of course not! The black characters are integral to the plot as without a black man and his storied package, the nudity joke wouldn't be as funny. I wonder how many tickets were purchased by women hoping to get a look at Love's penis...Oh, and Hawk's role was pivotal too—as without her, there would have been no stereotypically loud and obnoxious attitude-having, neck-wiggling, eye-rolling black woman.

Personally, I find it curious that the characters were removed on the premise that the black actors were less recognizable than their white counterparts. I mean, Kristen Bell and Malin Ackerman are household names, after all. Right?

Universal has assured us that they will not use the altered posters in any other markets—great! But what does it say that in 2009, marketing executives feel that not only are black actors on an ensemble film poster distracting or less "simple" than a poster with only white actors—but that we are too stupid or clueless to notice it. And maybe, just maybe, it speaks to the fact that some people don't see the token black friend character as necessary or realistic.

Granted, this movie is not of one of my preferred genres, but honestly, if the black actors made the sophomoric and sub-par movie, don't they deserve to be credited with having done it?

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Skin" Movie Goes More Than Skin Deep

      (L-R) Sandra Laing with Actresses Ella Ramangwane and Sophie Okonedo

I recently had the privilege of seeing the film Skin, starring Sophie Okonedo. The true story of Sandra Laing, Skin chronicles the life of a girl born to white Afrikaner parents in 1955. Sandra's skin is inexplicably dark and her hair tightly curled. In Apartheid South Africa, this can only be a tale of heartbreak and struggle.

Sandra's appearance is explained as a "throwback," a genetic occurrence of enough latent black genes in each of her parents to produce a "coloured" child. Sandra's life is defined by her skin color and hair texture, despite her parents' white status and her father's fight to have her classified as white to match that of her parents and her upbringing.

This movie spoke to me on so many levels. Sure, there was the raw, human emotion of Sandra and her family's struggle, but there was also the internal struggle she felt. The juxtaposition of who she was on the outside—a black woman in Apartheid South Africa, and who she was on the inside—a white girl interrupted by the ugly truth of race, predjudice and injustice.

While I cannot identify with Apartheid, I do know the feeling of being seen as one thing while actually being another. Ironically, my situation is the exact opposite of hers; while people saw her as black and she was raised as white, I was raised as black and people often see me as white, Latina or some sort of Mediterranean ethnicity. After a long-held hatred for the word "exotic," I have finally learned to embrace and accept it when used to describe my appearance.

Watching this film, I revisited moments of wondering how my more traditionally African American-appearing brothers' lives differ from mine. I attempted to imagine Sandra's isolation and loneliness and failed, miserably. It was a sad and sorry wake up call for me regarding just how important the hue of one's skin really is in our world and our society. Try as we might to claim that we have evolved socially and that we care more for the person inside, rather than the shade of the skin on the outside—this film is a gripping reminder that the world and even family is not colorblind.

Sandra Laing's story is one that everybody of every color and ethnicity should see. This is a film that truly got under my Skin.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How NOT to win friends and Influence Black People

A few of my white readers have expressed to me the fact that they want to have conversations about race in America and they want to have them with African Americans. The problem, they say, is that they don’t know how to begin and they are afraid of unintentionally offending people. We all know that discussions about race can become quite passionate, and some people can be intimidated or discouraged by that passion. It is with these readers in mind that today’s entry was written. I offer you a list of things (besides the n-word) white people ought not to say to black people when trying to have a logical and sane conversation:

• “You speak so well,” “You speak so well for a black person” or “You’re really articulate.”

This may, in fact seem like a compliment, but trust me—it is not one. Expressing surprise or finding novelty in the fact that a black person speaks properly implies that it is not the norm and that you actually expect that all or most black people sound like the cast of Flavor of Love or some really bad movie that panders to black audiences, such as Soul Plane. It’s like a black person assuming that all white people sound like Larry the Cable Guy or Roseanne Barr. The key difference here is that there are countless television shows and movies that depict articulate and intelligent white people. Upstanding, educated and well-spoken black people depicted—not so much. Watch this clip from the acclaimed film Hollywood Shuffle to learn more.

• “You are really good looking/pretty for a black guy/gal” or “You’re cute for a dark-skinned guy/gal.”

I shouldn’t even have to address this, but alas, I do. Would you tell a white woman she is “pretty for an Italian girl” or a white guy that he is “cute for a Jewish guy?” No, you would not (and if you would you have “no home training” as we say). Would you eat dinner at someone’s house and say “this is really good for vomit?” It’s akin to saying, “You are really smart for a retard!” It implies a lowered expectation or standard for ethnic beauty and surprise or recalcitrance at the idea of a black person being attractive or beautiful.

• “Are you from the projects?” or “When did you move out of the ‘hood?”

Let’s face it, most of the black people with whom you interact are people you know from church, school, work or some sort of social or professional group. So why is it so hard to believe that their lifestyle is quite similar to yours? Do you assume all white people come from trailer parks? Yes, some black people live or have lived in low-income housing—but so have and do plenty of white people. The same goes for receiving food stamps and welfare checks too. Here is a little something on "The Black Middle Class" for your reading enjoyment. And just so you know: Rapper Lupe Fiasco's mother is a gourmet chef, his dad, an engineer; Rapper/Actor Will Smith's mother was a school teacher, dad was an engineer; Kanye West's mother was Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University and his father was a photojournalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. And those are just a few black middle class rappers. Dr. Mary Patillo is an authority on the Black Middle Class. Watch this clip (or get one of her books) if you'd like more information.

• “I bet you’re a really good dancer!” or “You must be a good rapper!”

Ok, so the stereotype is that black people are good dancers and I’ll admit that many of us live up to that stereotype. However, not all of us do (Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and LaToya Jackson come to mind). Wow, think about that for a minute…Michael Jackson’s sister LaToya can’t dance! As much talent as that family has—and she sings like a wounded hyena and dances like a drunken skunk. I couldn't resist sharing this gem with you...

Yes, there are many incredible black entertainers who can or could cut a rug—MJ, James Brown, Janet Jackson, Usher, Sammy Davis, Jr., etc. There are or were plenty of impressive black rappers such as Biggie, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Tupac, etc. Please keep in mind though, that for every Jay-Z there are millions of this guy:

The entertainment business was built on the backs of great black entertainers. Ok—but the porno industry was built on the backs of plenty of skinny, freaky white women; so according to this logic, should I assume that all white women like depraved and deviant sex? Should I approach them and remark, “You must be really good at oral sex?” Probably not.

There are more no-no’s, but we’ll cover those some other time. I want to give you some time to let the first lesson sink in and marinate so as not to discourage or overload you. Have you ever thought or said any of these things? If you did say them, I’d be interested to know how you survived the beatdown to tell of it. Just kidding!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

DON'T Do It for the Children

Mmkay, so a Louisiana justice of the peace refuses to marry interracial couples in 2009 because he "says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long." Interesting... I was unaware that the 50% divorce rate in America was due to the 7% of marriages that are classified as interracial.

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish,told the Daily Star of Hammond that he was not a racist. "I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house," Bardwell said. "My main concern is for the children."

Is he concerned for the potential children of two white drug addicts or two black ex-convicts who ask to be married? If the couple signed an affidavit stating that they did not plan to reproduce, would he then marry them? If my senior citizen mother wanted to marry a white man, would that be okay? Oh, wait! Mother stays away from Louisiana—lest they revoke her Negro card.

I wonder how he determines the race of the couple? Many members of my family are what people call "racially ambiguous." If you put us in a room with black folks—we're black; with white folks we're white, Latinos, Mediterraneans, etc. Neither my driver's license nor certified birth certificate lists my race, so would he just guess?

Well, if I go from personal experience I can say this: three of my four grandparents were the products of interracial marriages. The fourth was a quadroon or whatever you want to call it. All of their parents enjoyed domestic bliss (they were not legally allowed to marry) until they were separated from their spouses by death. Perhaps I am biased. but all of my grandparents turned out just fine and on both sides of my family, my grandparents were married for more than 50 years until one of the spouses died.

I can understand Mr. Bardwell's concern for the children, though. After all, does the world really need more people like Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, Lenny Kravitz, Wentworth Miller, Mariah Carey, Amanda Marshall, Emily King, Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge, Derek Jeter, W.E.B. DuBois, Fredrick Douglass, Adam Clayton Powell, Bob Marley, Walter Mosley, Soledad O'Brien, my BFF Carmen, my dear friend Brooke's girls or Kyle's children or My L'il Sis M's son or any of my family members? Yeah—okay. Lookout Mr. Bardwell... We're coming atcha with all of our interracial love!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why President Obama is the First Black President and NOT the First Biracial President

As promised, this installment is going to talk about who is actually black, and why President Obama is referred to as the first “African American president,” rather than the first “biracial president.” This might be a little bit confusing for some, but I’ll do my best to make it as clear and painless as possible.
So, regarding the president:

• His mother was white
• He was raised by his white grandmother
• He is Ivy League educated
• He can properly conjugate verbs
• He is the leader of the free world
• He is a black man

Okay, so some of you are scratching your heads and trying to figure out how I arrived at that conclusion. There are actually a couple of reasons, the first one being this: If Barack Obama was simply “Barack Obama, electrical engineer,” “Barack Obama, attorney at law” or “Barack Obama, unemployed convicted felon with nine children by seven different women who owes $78,982.11 in back child support”—he would most definitely be considered black. Were he not an internationally known politician, would you pass President Obama on the street and upon seeing him say: “Hey, you’re half white, aren’t you?” No. You wouldn’t. If you are a fellow African American, you might nod and greet him with, “Wassup Bro?” If you’re white, you might say “Hello” or possibly clutch your purse or wallet tightly while trying not to make eye contact as you walk a bit faster in any direction away from where he is (it’s just sarcasm, folks). But he would be treated in the same manner as any other black man.

To be honest with you, aside from being the president and being raised by his white grandmother, Obama sounds quite a bit like my oldest brother. My brother is a black man, he is quite adept at the English language, he also holds a law degree from an Ivy League school and according to my mother’s birth certificate (much to the state’s chagrin) our mother is white. Upon seeing our half-Irish (but still ‘colored’ as they said in her day) grandmother with her milky porcelain skin and fine, straight hair that flowed past her knees holding a baby of the same hue, the registrar classified them both as white. So the only real difference between my brother and Barack Obama is that our grandmother—while a big part of our lives—did not raise him. Oh, and the whole presidential thing too.

It’s also kind of funny to me that people feel that since Obama was raised by a white woman he should be considered white or at least half white. After all, scores and scores of Southern (and some Northern) white children in America were raised by black women—even breast-fed by them. Are those people to be considered black or mulatto? And let me address the word “mulatto.” It is derived from a Spanish word for a little mule. We know that mules are the product of the mating of a donkey and a horse, and that generally, mules cannot reproduce. They are considered a hybrid species and are generally bred to do labor. It is said of mules that they are “more patient, sure-footed, hardy and long-lived than horses (white people), and they are considered less obstinate, faster, and more intelligent than donkeys (black people).” I assure you that neither I nor any of my friends or relatives is a hybrid creature or descendant of beasts, so please—DO NOT refer to us as mulattoes.

You see, this classification as “biracial or interracial” and the like is a pretty new thing. Most Americans went by something known as “The One Drop Rule.” It is absolutely real—it was signed into law in eleven states in the early 1900s, with eight more states using the “blood fraction” rule to achieve the same result. It remained law in the United States until the Supreme Court deemed it illegal in 1967. Even in 1985, a Louisiana woman, Susie Phipps, was denied having her case challenging her racial classification as “colored” heard by the federal Office for Dispute Resolution. Phipps was white in appearance, all of her friends and known relatives were white. She had been married twice to white men and she had lived her entire life believing she was white. Upon applying for a passport, she checked “White” on the application and was later told that her birth certificate had been filed as “colored” because the midwife who delivered her said one of her parents was “colored.” I guess my mother should stay out of Louisiana or they might revoke her Negro card!

The purpose of “The One Drop Rule” was to protect slavery and plantation owners. Prior to that, the rule was that if a person had any discernible European (white) blood said person was considered white and free. Later, classification as white was changed to include only those with matrilineal (from the mother’s side) white blood because too many slave masters were producing mixed-race children with their female slaves and those children were considered white and free, thus affecting the financial bottom line. An example would then be this: if a white man and a black woman produce a child who looks white, that child is black. That white-looking child could effectively marry a white person and their children would be black. It could go on for generations and although those ancestors might have no apparent black features or even identify as black, according to U.S. law, if slavery were reinstated tomorrow, they’d be slaves.

So there it is. In all of its shame and glory, that is why President Barrack Obama is America’s first black president. Some might say that times have changed and that he should be considered biracial. I, on the other hand, see him as a black man, and as he explained to David Letterman, “I was black before the election.” Therefore, if the president sees himself as a black man and U.S. law bears that out, why can’t everyone else?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Making It about Race

The long-overdue dialogue is finally taking place. Americans seem more willing than ever before to talk about race, racism, prejudice and stereotypes. Not all of the conversations and comments are good ones. I read too many derogatory comments on websites like The Grio and The Root. Senseless comments likening all African Americans to apes or syphilitic animals and referencing crack-addicted babies and absent fathers more than pepper the discussion boards that are otherwise discussing politics, entertainment and general news from a black point of view.

Even ‘Dear Abby’ threw her hat into the ring recently with two days of columns devoted to the meaning of “African American” and a white reader who was wondering why President Obama is called and considered the first black/African American president rather than the first biracial president or half-white president. Abby deferred to her readers to allow them to explain it, and on day two, one letter did touch upon the historical context of ‘blackness’ and who was labeled as black and why. There was also the ever present “Why do black people make everything about race in America?” question. I decided that I’d like to answer that one.
The short answer is: Because white Americans remind us of it constantly. Yes, really. It happens all of the time and I honestly don’t believe that many white people even realize that they are doing it. I’ll give you some of the more subtle and less noxious examples from my own personal experiences:

• At a business dinner a few years ago, a relatively-new VP we’ll call “Bob” leaned over my shoulder to view some pictures that a co-worker (who also happened to be black and had worked there for more than ten years, as had I) was sharing with me. The photo was of the co-worker’s little boy, who had big green eyes, curly hair the color of wheat and olive skin. Bob looked at the photo, then my co-worker and myself then back at the photograph. He then exclaimed, “Oh! Your wife is white! That explains it! Do you know Chris (a white long-time co-worker who was seated across the table)? His wife is black! If he had kids, your kids could play together!”

I kid you not—I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Now, does anyone not see the racist nature of that remark? Bob looked at the photo and saw race, rather than a cute kid. He also felt that there was some sort of novelty in interracial marriage and having biracial children—enough so that he needed to point out the other person’s interracial marriage. And let us not forget the “…your kids could play together” comment. As though biracial children are some sort of lepers who can only play with their own kind.

• A white gentleman with whom I work for about week each month and had known for at least a year at the time, made the following comment to me about a month before last November’s historic presidential election: “Obama is like you and you’re not really black—you don’t have an afro or braids and a big butt and you went to college and don’t speak jive…”

Just wow. Where do I start on this one? So, ‘blackness’ is defined by hair texture, gluteus size and command of the urban lexicon? Well alrighty then! So then Jewish women with kinky hair are black? White women with badonkadonks are black and anyone who uses phrases like “I’m out,” “Word,” “booty call” or “baby mama” is black? People who lack a college education are black? Well, I guess we are no longer a minority and lots of folks must be ‘passing’ and just got called out; and whole bunch of college graduates who thought they were black just found out—they’re not.

• A white twenty-something acquaintance of a friend joined a group of us for a “painting party” to paint the friend’s house in one fell swoop. After a while, I turned on the radio for some background music and a Will Smith song began to play and was met with the following remark: “What station is this—Nigga Jams?”

It was actually a “pop” station, but the fact that a pseudo rap song (I mean, Will Smith is no Method Man or 50 Cent) was playing was enough to merit such an exclamation. So later, when I got out of jail for battery… No, I’m kidding, I didn’t do anything like that! What happened next was rather sad. As everyone else’s mouth dragged the floor I simply asked him, “What do have against black people and black musicians?” He replied, “Nothing.” I inquired further, “So what’s with throwing the ‘N word’ out there?” He said, “That’s just how my dad always referred to them; is there some better way to say it?” I explained that the ‘n word’ was a hateful word, offered him some acceptable terms, and he and I are now friends. But it could’ve gone very differently… What I found so sad was that his father’s prejudices and streotypes had been passed on to him so effortlessly.

• I was attending a business luncheon for about 80-100 people, so I sat down at a table where I recognized the face of an older white man we’ll call “Charlie.” There were several other people at the table, most of them white and one Hispanic woman. Charlie and I hadn’t seen one another for a while as I had been on vacation, so he asked where I had been and what I had done. I explained that my brother had gotten married and that I was out of town for the nuptials. He remarked that I was gone a week, so I described the five-day affair, the hotel, the activities, etc.
A white woman who had been glancing at me from time to time interjected and asked me, “Are you Italian?” I replied, “No” and continued my conversation. I was interrupted several more times with “Are you Greek?” “Are you Middle Eastern?” “Are you Portuguese?” “Polynesian?” And my favorite—“Are you French-Canadian?” I answered “No” to all of them.
Next, she asked me outright: “What are you?” To which I replied, “I am a human being.” She then questioned where I was from and where each of my parents was from, but for some reason, “New Jersey” just didn’t seem to be enough for her. Finally, I asked her, “Are you questioning my ethnicity?” and she replied with an exasperated “Yesssss!” I told her, “I am black.” She replied, “No you’re not,” to my surprise. I reiterated that I was well aware of my heritage, much more so than she. She looked me up and down for a moment and then said: “Your skin is as white as mine. You have green eyes and freckles and curly red hair (yeah, it was a good dye job). If I were you, I wouldn’t tell people I am black because if you didn’t tell them, they wouldn’t know.” I affixed my most saccharine smile and replied, “Well, if I were you—and thank God that I’m not— I wouldn’t open my mouth at all because then people wouldn’t know that you are an ignorant bigot.” Miraculously, there was nary a peep out of her for the duration of the luncheon.

You see, in each of these situations, no black person mentioned race or “played the race card.” We were each just going about our days, living our lives and doing what we do. A white person felt the need to bring race into the various situations, whether the intention was malicious or not. Trust me, we know we’re black—you don’t have to remind us. We know it and we recognize that our blackness is not defined solely by our appearances, but by our shared culture and our experiences. Listening to Soul, Rap or Hip-Hop music doesn’t make us black, nor does our skin tone, our hair texture, speaking slang/Ebonics or eating soul food. It is the history and the stories we share while doing our hair or enjoying that meal. It is the ease and familiarity with which we can address one another as “Gurl,” “Sista,” “Brotha” or “Dogg” compounded by our common experiences, obstacles and triumphs.

We’ll cover what determines who is black and why Obama is the first black president next time. I promise.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Get On the Bus: Rush, Rabble-Rousing and Racism

First and foremost, I want to make it crystal clear that I IN NO WAY CONDONE THIS BEHAVIOR. If, in fact, this incident is just a cut and dry, unprovoked beatdown— then these kids and their parents should be ashamed of themselves. These kids are old enough to know how to keep their hands to themselves and use words to resolve conflicts. Basically, these kids suffer from NHTS—No Home Training Syndrome.

Mmkay... So, angry white Republicans are so desperate and angry that they now have to resort to blaming every crime committed by a black person on President Obama? Okey dokey then! A few things jump out at me here:

  • The video shown on Lou Dobb's show was zoomed in and edited
  • The original video showed many more kids screaming and cheering, several of them were white
  • If in fact this really were a racially motivated crime, wouldn't the assailants have beaten the other white kids, including the one who got between the assailant and the victim?

The entire incident appalls me—the kids who attacked, those who cheered, the driver who did not stop the bus, and the fact that there did not seem to be an aide on the bus to handle situations that arise since the driver's attention is understandably focused elsewhere.

The other thing that sets me off regarding this is Rush Limbaugh making it out to be President Obama's fault. Yeah, sure, every crime committed by every African American is done so on direct order from President Obama or as a direct result of his election. Yep, the secret is out!

While he was campaigning, Obama held secret Negro meetings where he explained that once he was elected, he expected each and every black person so to do their Negro duty and beat down white kids on school buses. He felt that would help make up for the hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow and racism. And boy oh boy was he right! Knowing that white kid got a bloody nose makes me feel so much better about the dilapidated conditions of inner-city schools, the unemployment rate in the black community, the educational gap between black and white students and the white woman who clutches her purse whenever my man and I walk past her.

Yes, those last two paragraphs were sarcasm and ridiculousness, but so is Limbaugh's assertion that somehow President Obama condones the aforementioned behavior and will come to the aid of the assailants. Obviously, this is not the first incident of school bus violence in America, or there would not be cameras on the buses. Also, do we know what actually happened there? Did the kids on the bus say that it was a racially motivated incident? Some published reports stated that the victim is not well liked by most of the kids and is a couple of years older than they are and known to have bullied kids himself. Could it be possible that the kids simply do not like one another and it has nothing to do with race? Believe it or not, there are a few people with whom I prefer not to associate and it has nothing to do with race and everything to do with their personalities.

This situation sheds light on one of the oldest forms of institutionalized racism: The One Drop Rule. Basically, it was enacted during the 1800's to deem anyone with any black blood in them black. That meant that any children born of interracial relations were, in the eyes of the law, black and hence, subject to the terms of slavery.

The One Drop Rule applies to this incident regarding the way it is perceived. According to Limbaugh and the rest of the Peanut Gallery, since these two black kids got violent on the bus, all black kids get violent on the bus. If one black man is threatening, all black men are threatening. If one black woman has nine children by eight different men, all black women do. You see the logic?

And it does not apply to white people. In 1999, two white teens shot 33 people and killed 12 at Columbine High School in Colorado. No pundits deemed all white teens dangerous; no media personalities blamed Bill Clinton for their actions. No one blamed George H.W. Bush for the death of Brandon Teena, who was killed by two white men for being a transgendered person, and the media did not tell people that all white men from Lincoln, Nebraska were evil and violent.

What Limbaugh, Dobbs and others like them do is unconscionable rabble-rousing. They take isolated incidents and spin them into lore for the uneducated and misinformed people who truly believe what they are told. They say that all black people are violent, unintelligent, hateful, un-Christian, etc. Sadly, the black characters they see on t.v. and in movies and music videos then reinforce their misdirected beliefs and hence, the stereotype continues and racism abounds.

A parting thought; Hundreds of black men, women and children were beaten and killed for no reason other than the color of their skin, in the times that led up to and included the civil rights movement. No one blamed any of the current or former presidents for those crimes. Ironically, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency saw record low unemployment, the advent of Medicaid and Medicare and increased educational funding, among other great contributions. LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which improved things for African Americans. The American people did blame him for that. Go figure.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hunting Season Extended in Jericho, AR: Now Police Can Shoot Black Men in the Back Before Labor Day!

So let's make sure we understand this....
  • Police are accused of writing bogus tickets in Jericho, AR
  • Citizens question where the revenue from the aforementioned tickets is
  • Black Fire Chief, Don Payne disputed his tickets in court and after leaving the court, was issued another ticket
  • Payne returned to the court to contest the latest ticket and the judge agreed to dismiss it and several others
  • Some sort of altercation transpired with one of the police officers saying, "Shoot the @$%^*&!" (reports only say "Shoot the 'expletive'")
  • Fire Chief Payne was shot in the back
  • The shooting victim's name and race have been reported, but not the identities or races of the officers involved
  • The county prosecutor has said that there will be no charges filed against the officers
Something doesn't seem right here, but I guess until we get more details, we are left to speculate. It just doesn't seem logical to me. If there were several armed police officers and one unarmed black man, why was it necessary to use a firearm? Were any warning shots fired prior to Payne being shot in the back?

If they won't prosecute the officer for actually shooting Payne, can we at least check to make sure that Negro Season was actually upon us when he shot Payne? Oh wait! It is America—the South at that—and a badge is just as good as a year-round hunting permit.

"Ghetto Loans" for the Suburbs Too

So we already know that African Americans in low-income neighborhoods were givern subprime loans and charged far more interest on those loans that whites with identical finances and credit. That was bad enough. But new data shows that middle-class and wealthy African American borrowers were also given higher-rate loans than their white, Hispanic or Asian counterparts.

Wells Fargo—In 2006, Wells Fargo was the second largest subprime loan originator. African-American borrowers were particularly likely to pay higher prices—47.3 percent compared to 16.7 percent of white borrowers.

And mortgage pricing disparities are very distinct among blacks making very good money. “Twenty-six percent of high-income African-American borrowers received higher-priced mortgages from Wells Fargo, a rate more than four times that of high-income whites."

JP Morgan Chase—In 2006, JP Morgan Chase was also more frequently charging higher prices to African-American and Hispanic borrowers than whites and Asians. Moreover, in 2008, it acquired federally seized Washington Mutual, whose lending practices in 2006 showed the largest racial/ethnic gap. "Fully 56.9 percent of African Americans and 42.3 percent of Hispanics paid higher prices, compared to 16.9 percent of whites. The gap was even wider among high-income borrowers, with African Americans paying high prices 55.2 percent of the time and Hispanics 46.1 percent of time, compared to 13.2 percent of white borrowers," according to the report.

Citigroup—"Among high-income Citigroup borrowers, 7.1 percent of whites paid higher prices for loans in 2006, compared to 32.9 percent of African Americans and 16.2 percent of Hispanics.
(click here for the full article)

This is a shameful and blatant example of institutionalized racism, plain and simple. Why should people with identical credit ratings, incomes, savings, etc. pay different mortgage rates? For what purpose? Maybe it corresponds to the fact that people with more "ethnic sounding" names like "Taneisha Washington" and "Rasheed Jenkins" are less likely to get an interview or a job than someone with an identical resume, whose names is "William Smith" or "Lisa Thomas." Perhaps it correlates to the allegation that certain employers check applicants' zip codes to determine in which part of town they live—which can give them a better idea of a person's race. Auto insurance providers have a similar practice of determining insurance rates by zip code and education level. As you might suspect, people who live in areas more highly populated by black people tend to pay more for auto insurance than non-blacks. Some will tell you that businesses, schools and government agencies can determine your race by your social security number—that all black people have an even number as the fifth digit in their social security number—others will tell you that is an urban legend. Do your own research, ask people around you. It is most objective if you compare that fifth digit with other people born in the same area and year that you were.

Add it all up, and what I see is the continuation of methods prescribed to keep blacks from accumulating and passing on any real wealth. As we all know, knowledge + wealth = power. It would seem that the only power that the powers-that-be want African Americans to have, is spending power. If that is the case, then we have two action items we need to address directly:

  • We need to demand equal treatment and protection from predatory lending and discrimination
  • We need to make informed and educated decisions about with whom we choose to spend our money.
There are several black-owned banks in America, perhaps we'd do better to do business with them? Yes, there may be some cons, there might not be a branch or ATM on every corner, as there is with the mainstream mega-banks. However, if enough of us patronize them, there might be. You can find a list of black-owned banks here.

In America, now and more than ever throughout the world, Method Man's words ring true:
"Cash, Rules, Everything, Around, Me/ C.R.E.A.M./ Get the money/ Dollar, dollar bill y'all."
It's not enough to get it, we need to hold on to it, grow it and use it to improve our communities and our lives.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Proof That "You Lie!" Was A Lie | Media Matters Action Network

Proof That "You Lie!" Was A Lie | Media Matters Action Network

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Wilson's Closet Has at Least One Skeleton Inside

Oh-ho! Looks like Rep. Joe Wilson previously had another "emotional outburst" (click here) and oddly enough, it had racial overtones too. Who'd have thunk it?

Rep. Wilson, Meet Aretha Franklin... She gon' SANG for you— "R-E-S-P-E-C-T!"

In case you've been under a rock or perhaps locked in the trunk of a car by a fictional black man (that means you were at Disneyworld with your daughter), here is Rep. Joe Wilson in his finest hour.

Now, let's analyze this a bit, shall we? So, you have no political track record to speak of and you decide to make a name for yourself on the international stage (you know other countries watch our political proceedings) by calling the president of the United States a liar... Mmm'kay? Perhaps if he had said something like "Orange juice comes from cows and cows come from outer space" — then I might be able to understand your feeling that the president is being less than honest. However, I was raised with "home training" and thus taught that there are certain things you just don't do. You don't put your elbows on the table, you don't chew with your mouth open and you certainly don't call someone a liar in the midst of a crowded room unless you really want to come to blows.

First off, it was just bad form. I'm not saying that one cannot disagree with the president or even question him, but Wilson picked the wrong time and venue. Period. It was almost funny when it happened because I saw that split second of Chicago swagger à la "ya'll don't know me up in here" that flashed in President Obama's eyes. He caught and composed himself quickly, but it definitely appeared to me that had that happened in private, Wilson would've been en route to a proctologist to remove one of the president's wingtips from his behind (and then he'd have made a fortune selling that shoe on eBay).

Now, in my humble opinion, President Obama would have been well within his rights to light-up Wilson at that moment, but he didn't. And that is one of the reasons that Barack Obama is our president—THE President of the United States of America. President Obama maintained a level of dignity and decorum and kept his legendary cool.

I also felt that Wilson's outburst proved President Obama's point perfectly. He said there were people making false claims and spreading misinformation about his health care plan and that those people were being irrational. Wilson stepped up to the plate —almost on cue— and shined the light on the aforementioned ignorance.

Ironically, the president had warned the misinformers, "We'll call you out." Well now it would seem that Joe Wilson is being called out because folks are calling and emailing his office en masse to express their displeasure with his behavior.

Going back to that thing about home training, I knew by age five that it was disrespectful to call someone—anyone a liar. Shortly thereafter, I knew that if I was going to call a person wrong, I had better be right. I also learned that if someone did misspeak or stretch the truth, or even if I simply disagreed with their view or opinion, it was best addressed in a private setting, if at all.

So, Barack needs to call Re-Re & have her wear that hat she wore on Inauguration Day. He needs to have a private concert in the Capital Building so that everyone understands the idea of respect and how to be respectful. Something else my mother taught me, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Yeah, Wilson should have kept his pie hole shut.

Point blank and keeping it real, we all know that Bush and Cheney lied plenty of times. Bill Clinton may have even stretched the truth regarding his dalliances with women. But nobody yelled out in the middle of one of their speeches, "You lie!" Nobody.

One of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans is, in fact, free speech. But just like wearing spandex shorts when you weigh 917 pounds, just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should. Discretion is the better part of valor.

A doctor was on the Today Show this morning talking about medical myths and she said, "Education trumps race; education trumps everything." Obviously, in this case it doesn't. Wilson graduated from law school, he is accustomed to deferring to judges and does so purportedly out of respect. One might say that the president's Harvard Law degree trumps Wilson's from the University of South Carolina. And we know for sure that the highest office in the free world trumps the congressman's office. Sadly, to all too many people—Wilson included, his white skin trumps everything.

Mud People and Ghetto Loans

Yes, really. No, I did not make up the title, it was actually taken from affidavits in a Maryland lawsuit against Wells Fargo Bank. A former employee, Mr. Paschal blew the whistle in the affidavit, which states:

“They referred to sub-prime loans made in minority communities as ghetto loans and minority customers as ‘mud people.’” He also said a Wells Fargo Bank office in Silver Spring, Maryland had an “affinity group marketing” department, whose purpose was to hire African Americans to call on African-American churches.”

See, this is the kind of stuff I like to point out to all of the people who say that racism no longer exists and that black folk just like to "play the race card." What is just as bad, if not worse—is that we helped them do it, by marketing these loans to our very own community. Now granted, I have to assume that the African American employees were not working with the knowledge that they were being referred to as "mud people"— the affidavit didn't mention any beat downs, to my knowledge. But what happened to reading things before signing them and "it takes a village?" I may not be an expert on mortgages, but you can bet your Jet subscription that I know someone who is or would find one fast if I were contemplating a real estate purchase.

“The company put ‘bounties’ on minority borrowers,” Mr. Paschal said. “By this I mean that loan officers received cash incentives to aggressively market sub-prime loans in minority communities.”

This is par for the course. African Americans are the largest consumer group in the country by far, and sadly, we ask for little to nothing in terms of return on our investments. So if a person or company wants to make a fast dollar, all they need to do is sell it in the black community. We see this regularly with low-end items like bootlegged CDs and DVDs, fake handbags and and clothing—even rent-to-own stores & check cashing places... But mortgages? C'mon!

And that they sought out our churches to do this too! I spoke to one gentleman who was telling me that his pastor was praying that everyone in the congregation who needed transportation would be blessed with a new car, and within a month they were. Praise Jesus! They later found out that the pastor had entered into a deal with the dealership to get them all approved for financing, but most of them were paying ridiculously high interest rates. The Devil is a liar!

The NAACP filed suits against Wells Fargo and HSBC for forcing black customers into subprime loans, while giving white customers with identical finances and credit scores lower rates.
I see this as just another part of the systemic racism that keeps poor black people poor. If you only give folks high-interest loans, then more than likely they will end up with bad credit from struggling to pay that loan. So then what happens? They cannot qualify for refinancing due to the poor credit rating, and they lose their investment. The bank/financing company then gets to repossess the car or foreclose on the property and has effectively made money on the deal and humbled the black person (who forgot his/herself and thought they were worthy of the American dream) all in one fell swoop.

However, we need to take some proactive steps to educate our community on how to handle finances. If you never saw your parents pay bills on time or put money in a savings account, then more than likely, you won't do it either. We need to start early, with simple things like giving our children an allowance and then coaching them to save a portion and then make smart choices on how they spend the rest. We need to instill in them the importance of a good credit rating, rather than having them tell creditors we're not home or they've reached a wrong number when they call. We need to lead by example and stop this cycle of financial abuse in which too many black people find themselves.

We also need to patronize black-owned businesses and utilize black-owned banks—but we'll talk about that one at length in the near future.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Everyone Else Has Done It, So Why Can't He?

Obama's Attempt at Brainwashing Our Children - read his speech here
Why did people get themselves all whipped-up into a frenzy & foaming at the mouth because the President of the United States sought to address American schoolchildren on what was for many of them, the first day of a new school year? Oh yeah, the president's name is Barack Obama and his skin is the color of mocha.

What were they afraid that he'd say? Did they think he'd address the little white girls and tell them "Your job in the future will be to have babies with any and every black man you meet, to the great displeasure of your father..." or tell young black boys "Pull out your 9MM now and waste the whiteys!!"

No, no... They feared the socialist message he would deliver to our youth—the one about being your best and focusing on your education and becoming a productive member of American society and the global economy. Ooooh, that would take this country on a turn for the worse!

The irony, I was watching an episode of "Supernanny" last night where she was helping a couple of Chinese descent where the wife was American born and the husband had immigrated from China. When disciplining his son and telling him about his bad behavior he told him, "You have to study and listen to me & your mom and grow up to do good in society." Communism at it's best, right?

George Bush (senior, NOT "Dubya") and Reagan both addressed schoolchildren (Dubya was supposed to but got engrossed in the fingerpainting) and society did not crumble. So why should this have been any different? Well, sadly, we know the answer to that. But hopefully, this will be like CDs with "explicit lyrics" stickers or the cookies mothers place just out of their children's reach—it'll make the kids seek out the president's message since it has been kept from them.

Sometimes It's Alright to Judge a Can by it's Cover Art

I'm not upset by the fact that Target is selling watermelon soda, I enjoy the beverage myself on occasion. And yes, it is obvious that this is a foreign product, as the label is clearly written in another language. The issue for me is that Target must have some black person in their purchasing department or at least somebody who knows a black person or two and realizes that the artwork on this can is offensive to many African Americans (and others, according to the video). Know your audience folks— Don't try to advertise your semi-annual white sale and sell me 800 count Egyptian cotton sheets by having a klansman on the package. That would surely miss the target, as Target has missed with this one. Repackaging is a must if they intend to continue selling this product in the states, IMHO.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Open Letter to My Brothas & Sistas, Inspired by President Obama's Speech @ The NAACP

Remember back in the day when black was beautiful? I remember my dad wearing a dashiki and having various picks to groom his afro. I think my favorite was the folding pick that had a handle which on one side was red, the other was green and the two unfolded and came together. He also had "the rake" and the ever popular black pick with the peace sign in the middle and a fist on the end of the handle.

Being a child of the seventies, I have photos of my older brothers wearing shirts with collars as wide as their shoulders and plaid pants with belts four inches wide. Thankfully, by the time I came along, the train wreck which was the fashion of the 70's had been cleared from the tracks to make way for lace gloves, day glow colors, gummy bracelets and the like, but that is a different blog altogether.

By the time the nineties rolled around, the dashikis were replaced with kente cloth in vibrant, bright colors. Braids and locs were very popular among African-Americans and artists like Arrested Development, De La Soul, Meshell Ndegeocello, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest were raising our awareness and celebrating our culture, our lives and our selves.

I remember turning on the TV and seeing images which were like us. The Cosby Show was the first show with which I truly identified. The professional parents, the family values, the children going to college, the appreciation for jazz and art - all of these things reflected my upbringing. It was followed by others like Amen, A Different World and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. So why is it that in 2009, there are no black family dramas or sitcoms in primetime on any of the major networks? Sure, there is the "CW," the result of a merger between the UPN and the WB networks and TBS has a couple of Tyler Perry shows. But why is it that the major networks are still devoid of any black sitcoms or dramas? Cosby was “must see TV” in the 80s and this is where we are more than 20 years later?

Even BET or Black Entertainment Television fails to provide us with any intelligent or socially redeeming series (think Tiny & Toya – enough said). But then again, BET is no longer black owned, just as many of the radio stations these days (a fact in which I find myself taking pride as of late). Are black people less interested in our culture now? No. Do black people watch less television or listen to less radio today? No.

It seems we have reverted to the 70s, when the only black people we saw on TV were pimps, hookers, felons and clowns. “Jive Turkey!” has been replaced as a catchphrase and the over-sexualized black woman is again in fashion. Today’s youth hear profanity and nonsense on the radio at all hours of the day and night. Undercover Brother must have been right and we must have eaten "The General’s fried chicken" because the new part of the problem is that WE are condoning it, emulating it and aggrandizing it by celebrating songs, movies and videos that glamorize it.

Surely I missed the memo that said it was time for us as a race to begin behaving like the stereotypes and abandon the ingenuity, pride, dignity and resolve that characterized the civil rights movement and our history in general. I would neither appreciate nor accept a man calling me a “hoe, trick or biatch” in real time so why would I accept it in a song, movie or video? I WOULDN’T, but according to what we see in the media, I am obviously in the minority here - a side effect of too much scantily-clad booty shaking, no doubt (insert eye roll and sarcastic tone). It must be a directly related to the fact that my black man is not rough and tough enough to beat me into my right mind. He must need to sag his pants a little lower, don a fresh doo-rag and wifebeater and complete another 5-10 year bid in the state pen to set me right .

Our president spoke at the centennial anniversary of the NAACP and implored us to do better and demand better for ourselves, our children, our ancestors and our communities. My mother didn’t march in the 60s to be disrespected by young black men who choose not to benefit from her sacrifice and her commitment to the fact that her children would not know the same hardships and inequalities she did. No, she worked to eradicate barriers and although they still exist, we as a people are creating new obstacles as we shuck and jive ourselves back into the days of Jim Crow and second-class citizenry.

Wake up, people! Demand that Hollywood and the media put some clothes on black women and allow them to say more than "Uh huh!" "No you di'nt" and "You go Girl!" Analyze the lyrics you and your children hear and repeat, and determine whether or not they are in line with your morals and values! Instill in your children a strong work ethic and the desire to educate themselves and succeed in life - rather than "get rich or die trying.!" Look up the words “class” and “dignity” in the nearest dictionary or Google them if you don’t own a dictionary (then hang your head in shame for not owning one) and begin to emulate them, rather than this ridiculousness we currently accept as African-American culture. WE ONCE WERE KINGS. If we must turn back time, let’s turn it back far enough to teach our children to be royalty rather than wannabe thugs and comic relief.

Sadly, this message will be ignored. Why? Because the people who are reading this are already doing what needs to be done. The challenge is reaching the ones who are not.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I did It Long Before the Man in Walmart—And Once was Enough

I have received some requests to post some of my old blog pieces... You all know that I am nothing if not accommodating so here, I offer you by special request, one of my experiences in dealing with ill-behaved children.

Several years ago, I believe in 1999, my family had a reunion in the Poconos or Catskills - somewhere like that. Naturally, since I live in Phoenix, I had to fly back East and then fly to return to Arizona. My adventure took place on the return flight from Newark Airport to Sky Harbor.

It was an early afternoon flight in August, needless to say it was hot and muggy outside. As I boarded the aircraft, I cringed at the sight of a very full flight and the realization that I was booked in a middle seat, rather than an aisle or window. I need to clarify here and paint the picture for those who do not know me well; I do not tolerate ill-mannered and/or ill-behaved children very well. I was raised with discipline, rules and standards and there were consequences for acting out of sorts. But that is another topic altogether which I will happily cover for you in the not too distant future.

Due to my absolute loathing of this type of children, I always attempt to mitigate my interaction with them. When dining out with friends, I always request to be seated in the non-smoking, non-screaming children section. I do not frequent places like Fuddruckers, McDonald's or Wal-Mart and I always request to be seated in the emergency exit row on an airplane as it is illegal for anyone under eighteen years of age to be seated there beside me.

So there I was, being thankful for the yoga classes I had taken as I folded and contorted my body into the middle seat of the emergency exit row. I was already hot and very tired and I tend to be a nervous flier, so I was looking quite forward to the arrival of the magical, mystical, wonderful, awe-inspiring beverage cart so I could enjoy a cocktail and wake up refreshed and slightly hung over in Phoenix a few hours later. As the boarding process continued, the plane began to fill and I noticed that two seats in the row directly behind me were empty and I plotted my coup which would secure my claim to an unobstructed armrest and a little more room to breathe. As they announced that they were closing the doors I began to salivate and sing a song of celebration in my head as I envisioned myself sitting in a window seat with my magazines and my CD player carelessly strewn about the seat next to me.

All of sudden, a piercing squeal followed by a loud "No, no, Ashley" jarred me back into reality as a mousy looking woman dragged a three or four year old mini-troll down the aisle and plopped right down in the row behind me. As she lifted "Ashley" up and placed her into the middle seat, I felt a pair of cement encased children's shoes kicking at the back of my chair. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and anticipated the taste of coconut rum on my tongue as my beloved cocktail cart would be coming to rescue me soon. We just needed to become airborne and then all would be right in the world, or at least the plane again. I must have been having an incredibly vivid fantasy as I was feeling more flushed and warm by the moment.

A syrupy sweet, chirpy voice with a noticeable drawl snapped me back to reality as it made an announcement over the cabin speakers. "Ladies and gentlemen… We have finished the boarding process and we have closed and locked the doors in preparation for departure…. We are experiencing a slight delay. We have a slight problem with the cooling and ventilation system we are currently working on and we will be leaving just as soon as we can. Please remain seated, sit back and relax and we will be on our way to Phoenix as soon as possible." So at least there was a reason for my feeling warm and flushed. I scoffed at the idea of "sitting back and relaxing" in a seat the size of a toddler stroller. I could deal with the heat for a few minutes, but how long would this issue delay the arrival of my beloved cocktail cart?

As we waited on the runway, the heat grew more and more unbearable, not to mention the annoyingly loud musings of the four-year-old writhing in the seat behind me. As her mother nonchalantly muttered to her about using her indoor voice, Ashley sang every song she knew at full blast while kicking the back of my seat. I cleared my throat rather loudly and turned halfway around to glare at the little troglodyte with disdain. She stopped for a moment and I felt vindicated and turned around to peruse a magazine. Not two minutes later, she resumed singing and kicking and I became annoyed. I continued reading, trying desperately to ignore her.

When I reached the end of the first magazine, I realized two key things. First that this was not just a short delay as it was going on an hour and second that Ashley's mother must have fed her nothing but sugar and espresso as she was still singing and kicking at miraculous decibel levels. Other people were looking at Ashley, then shaking their heads as they looked at her mother. I was relieved that I was not the only person who was annoyed by the noise and the kicking so I decided it was time for action.

I affixed a saccharine smile to my face before turning around to address Ashley and her mother. I spoke: "How are you today, Ashley? Did you bring any coloring books or puzzles with you for the plane ride?" Her mother looked up momentarily and I explained that I had a headache and would appreciate a more quiet activity for Ashley which might also keep her from kicking my chair (a dose of NyQuil should produce the desired effect). Her mother blushed a bit and apologized for Ashley's behavior. She explained that she had not noticed because she was enrapt by a new book she was reading. I expanded the saccharine smile to reveal at least two more teeth before turning back around in my chair.

Ashley was quiet for about thirty seconds before she began scribbling violently and singing at an even louder volume. I waited to see if her mother might notice this time, and only turned around again after five full minutes had passed. The mother felt me glaring again, and when she looked up she must have noticed the gentleman next to me had joined me. It was tag-team tandem glaring and we made quite a team. The mother lowered her eyes for a moment and then asked Ashley to "tone it down a bit" and then returned to her book. My neighbor and I smiled as we turned around in our seats to enjoy the sweet, quiet fruits of our glaring. This cycle repeated a few more times, us turning around and glaring, onlookers shaking their heads in pity and the mother occasionally asking her child to settle down.

By now, more than two hours had passed and I was hot and sticky. I had nothing more to read as I had planned on enjoying a rum induced slumber so I had only brought two magazines. I was trying to breathe through my mouth as I could now smell the scent of sweat, bad perfume and vitamins from the elderly woman on my right, and I was still being kicked by the little ball of sunshine and annoyance behind me. As the flight attendant passed by, I asked her if it would be much longer and if so, could they offer a beverage service. She offered a very tense smile as she apologized and assured us all that we would be departing shortly. She repeated herself several times as she couldn't hear her own words over the earsplitting song stylings of Ashley who was appearing constantly in row 12, seat B. Before leaving our area, the flight attendant crouched down next to Ashley's mother and explained that she was receiving complaints from several passengers regarding the noise and annoyance Ashley was creating. The mother's face reddened again as she apologized and assured the flight attendant she would take care of it directly. I began to smirk as I watched, wondering if she would simply use a stern tone with little Ashley or actually go so far as to get right in her face and quote some consequences. The mother turned to Ashley and sweetly said "Ashley… Sugar Plum… are you being a good girl?" to which there was no reply outside of the current song the child was mangling and the beat she was keeping by kicking my chair. I was confused and felt dejected as this scene repeated every few minutes. I was now feeling nauseous from the heat and the smell of the woman next to me so I really needed to go to sleep to avoid actually vomiting.

I looked at the man to my left, my neighbor who was also annoyed and his eyes seemed to plead "Help me, make it stop!" I resolved at that moment that I was going to calmly explain to the mother that she needed to do something to control her progeny. As I turned around, I knelt on my chair so that I could make eye contact with the mother. I realized that I would need to speak slowly and maintain eye contact until she understood and took action. As I opened my mouth to speak, Ashley stood up on her chair and with her sweet little fist hit me squarely atop my pretty little head. Before I had time to be stunned or angry or perhaps in some alternate universe find it amusing, my hand began to function with a will of its own and slapped the little urchin directly in the mouth. I was stunned; not by the fact that I hit this woman's child, but by the fact that the child was finally quiet.

Ashley's mother all of a sudden became aware of her child and stood up and screamed at me "How dare you?!?!" as people around us looked on in disbelief. Without thinking I stood erect, towering over Ashley's mother and ranted "No, HOW DARE YOU? Your child has been an annoyance since the moment you boarded this aircraft. She was probably annoying the people wherever you were prior to being here. HOW DARE YOU sit there as though you don't know that she is being loud and kicking my seat. HOW DARE YOU expect the rest of us to tolerate her behavior just because you are either too lazy or too inept to discipline your child. Children want and need boundaries and consequences. You should've smacked her a long time ago, she hasn't made a peep since!!" We all glanced at Ashley as she simply sat in her seat, quietly playing with her hands. The mother said nothing further and as I turned to be seated, the passengers in the rows immediately surrounding us began to clap. I popped my head up as I wasn't sure why they were clapping and people actually stood up and applauded and whistled and thanked me for taking care of the problem. As I sat down again, the gentlemen to my left nudged me with his elbow. He offered my exclusive use of the armrest and said "when the cart comes around, I am buying you a drink". I was a very happy woman as I really needed that drink.

Eventually, the ventilation was repaired and the plane ascended. We achieved our cruising altitude and the most joyous announcement floated through the cabin; the announcement of the arrival of my beloved cocktail cart. As the weary flight attendant stirred my cocktail, the gentleman requested a cocktail of his own and explained that he would be paying for mine as well. The flight attendant refused his money, smiled and said "your drinks are on me" and winked as she patted my shoulder and then mixed his cocktail. We smiled and felt warm and fuzzy; Ashley had still not made a sound and we now had cocktails in hand. We clinked our glasses in a toast to discipline and began sipping our hard earned yet well deserved freebies.

After a few more free cocktails, I drifted off into a pleasant sleep. I was awakened by the sound of a child screaming and startled into consciousness. I glanced behind me to find Ashley soundly sleeping and looking nothing short of angelic. I looked past her to see a little boy squeezing out of his row and running up the aisle. A man from his row, presumably the boy's father, stood up quickly and bellowed: "If you don't get back here right now and sit down and behave yourself…. I am going to make you sit up there with the mean lady!!!!!" The boy stopped in his tracks and began to sob softly as his eyes caught mine. I furrowed my brow, squinted my eyes and glared sternly at the boy for theatrical effect. He turned around and went back to his seat and nuzzled in the safety of his father. Ah, another airplane disaster averted thanks to my quick thinking and lightning fast reflexes. I sat down, finished off another free cocktail and soon returned to my slumber. I arrived back in Phoenix feeling refreshed and accomplished, albeit teetering between a buzz and a hangover.