Archive for the ‘african american women’ Category

Getting Played By A Playa’

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Speaking of books…

I’m gonna break three cardinal rules here on the blog today which I work hard to abide by: don’t judge a book by its cover, never get into an argument about a book you’ve not actually read, and avoid raising a topic that’s sure to get people in arms when you’re dashing to get out the door and probably can’t stick around to see the fireworks through.

I can’t understand why black women have been on a stampede to buy Steve Harvey’s Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man. Even though the book managed to make the NYTimes bestseller’s list  for eight weeks in a row earlier this spring I probably won’t get to it anytime soon.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Steve Harvey. The comic. The entertainer. And on those four times a year I catch his show on the radio I like Steve Harvey the morning talk show host. Steve Harvey is a very funny man. He has a great eye and ear for black eccentricities. Steve Harvey’s also a smart man. harvey

He has figured out how in these tough economic times to parlay his floundering stand up comedy act into a more stable job as a radio show host where his new schtick is to present himself as a slick, streetsmart, non-nonsense, wizened, old skool ex-playa doling out keeping-it-real advice to desperate, lovesick women.

I’ll take folks’ word that there are women out there who need a book Act Like A Lady. I believe you when you say that there are women  who will go to embarrassingly foolish, desperate, scuzzy lengths to be with a man, to get a man, and to sleep with a man. I know a few such women. But do you really think Act Like A Lady will convince these women to wise up and make better decisions?

Even if I were single I’d probably pass on reading a relationship advice book by a thrice married man, whose last marriage ended in a messy and quite public divorce in which his ex wife reportedly alleged adultery and physical abuse against her and their son. It took a $20 million settlement to make her shut up. (Maybe she’s the one who should be writing a book.)  “I’ll fix you,” Harvey probably said to himself when he walked out the court. “I’ll get every last dime of that back by writing a book about relationships and proving that black women like yourself ain’t nothing but a bunch of ……..”

As for the title, Act Like A Lady, Think Like a Man. What is that suppose to mean? I know what the writer who says that Harvey stole her book title meant. But what does Steve Harvey mean?

Here’s what I’m guessing: Harvey’s book panders to the symptoms of our malaise. It doesn’t get at what causes women (and men) to do the wild, crazy, skuzzy things they do and do to each other. (Of course, I’m guessing here since I haven’t actually read the book.)

But I have read what sisterblogger What Tami Said has to say in her spot on commentary on Harvey’s book. I agree with her when she writes: I also wonder, with all the problems black men face today, whether Harvey’s time would have been better spent counseling the men he professes to know so well, rather than women.

Why doesn’t Uncle Steve write a book challenging playas like himself rather than writing a book to women who get played? If he really cares about the plight of black women and the black family, especially the fate of at risk children (he has a foundation that focuses on mentoring) then why doesn’t an old playa take what he’s learned and write to young playas about fatherhood and what manhood really means. Act Like A Man will do as the first half of the book’s title. In it a streetwise, but reformed ex-playa of an uncle like Steve Harvey might offer words of wisdom to pitiful males like 28 year old Desmond Hatchett who has 21 children with 11 different women.

Ask me why Harvey doesn’t write to the playas themselves. I’m glad you asked that question. Because playas don’t buy books. But lovesick women do. Beaucoup.

Finally, why in the world do black women continue to gobble up all this misogynistic dribble that’s being passed off to us by (business) men like Steve Harvey and Tyler Perry, dribble that’s being packaged to us as homegrown wit and kitchentable wisdom (the kind  usually transmitted from one generation to the next by women themselves)?  Why do we swoon over this stuff and buy it in the fistful when all it does is blame women for needing love and makes no commensurate commentary about men who exploit that innocent need? How can you trust a writer who doesn’t have anything to say about a system that profits on black women and black men being at each other’s throats and offers us no tools on how to build trust in our relationships?

But like I said, I haven’t read Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man.  And I should probably withhold judgement until I’ve read the book. Which I probably won’t do.

Final note. For what, imo, is an honest, intelligent, thought-ful book on why women fall in relationship traps and how we can avoid these pitfalls and what loving your womanself really looks like, see bell hooks’ Communion: The Female Search for Love.

You Baptists…

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Thought I’d poke fun at my Baptist friends today here on the blog. That’s right: Baptists. You know the ones who open their mouths and say things like, “I’m Baptist. What religion are you?” Don’t get upset: I’m married to a Baptist so you Baptists can’t be all that bad. In fact, every now and then you Baptists actually get it right. You actually act like Christians. LOL.

Take the Baptist church in DC where I spoke earlier this week. Okay, I confess: I preached a revival there. I spoke the choirfor their two Sunday morning services  and again on Monday and Tuesday nights. Baptists got me to do a revival. Something I rarely, rarely do at this age. I haven’t preached a revival in y-e-a-r-s.  Only a special Baptist church could get me to get me to do a revival. And Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, DC is a very special church. For one thing, it has a husband and wife  co-pastor team: Rev. Dr. Dennis and Rev. Dr. Christine Wiley, pastors, scholars, progressive theologians, and activists. Dennis has a Ph.D. in theology (specializing in liberation theology) from Union Seminary in New York and Christine has a D.Min in pastoral counselling from Garrett Evangelical Seminary. It was beautiful to behold the two of them ministering together. Equal authority. Equal burden. Equal pay. That’s what I’m talking about.

But having a husband and wife co-pastor team is not the only thing that makes Covenant special. The church is an open and welcoming congregation to all peoples, regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation.  Of the seven houses of worship in Washington with predominantly African-American congregations that are welcoming to lesbians and gays, Covenant is the only Baptist church that welcomes and affirms gay and lesbian congregants. Gotta admit that the church went through a difficult patch a few years back when the pastors officiated at a union ceremony for a homosexual couple. Hundreds of members left the church because they  unable and/or unwilling to embrace a theology that embraced same-sex loving couples. Three years later the church is growing and rebuilding and a serves as a testimony to God’s love for all people. Now I like to think I’m pretty progressive and have worshipped in some pretty progressive environments, but I must say I was delightfully surprised to step up onto the pulpit this past Sunday morning where I was to speak for the Women’s Day service and find that the worship leader was a transgender woman in a man’s suit . “Alrighty Jesus,” I said to myself as I took her hand and smiled. I looked out at a  congregation  which on one hand looked like any other black Baptist church I’ve visited: young and old, DC natives and transplants from the south, male and female, poor and not-so-poor, young and old. And others. Lesbian and gays, some were couples with children, and some were not. And a sprinkling of white faces. “Perhaps I’m glimpsing what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like…” I thought to myself as I sat there singing and clapping with the rest of the Covenant congregation.

Finally, special shout out to St. Paul Baptist Church in Philadelphia for breaking with tradition and calling a woman Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan to be the 5th pastor in the church’s 119 years of existence. Dr. Callahan is Assistant Professor of Modern Church History and African American Religion at New York Theological Seminary. Kudos to St. Paul Church and Pastoral Search Committee for their courage and vision. Those of you in the Philadelphia area should drop by St. Paul on Sunday, May 31st should go over and support my friend Leslie on her first Sunday there in the pulpit.  (Can’s join her on Sunday, leave her a message on her blog.) Leslie joins a small, but growing number of black Baptist churches across the country who have had the courage and good sense to call women to be their pastors.

Ah yes, you Baptists aren’t so bad afterall. I like Baptists today.  Even the one I’m married to.

(By the way, you Baptists: Christianity is a religion, a world religion in fact; and the Baptist tradition is one of many denominations, sects, subgroups within Christianity like Catholicism, Methodism, Episcopalianism, Pentecostalism, etc.)

Ummph. Ummph. Ummph.

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Been in debate back and forth with grown, thinking, opinionated women all week about Elizabeth Edward’s new book Resilience and her tell-all interview appearance on Oprah last Thursday.  (Believe me when I tell you that that was painful for a grown woman to watch). We’ve been going at it about whether she should have done it. You know. Write a book about it. Tell her side of the story about it. Go on Oprah to talk about it. Stay married to John Edwards after it. Spend whatever time she has left reliving it.

In case this isn’t one of those stories you’ve been following (and it’s perfectly alright if you haven’t), let me bring you up to date.

Boyishly attractive Senator John Edwards from North Carolina ran for president in 2008.  Edwards is a millionaire plaintiff’s trial lawyer who is married to another lawyer, Elizabeth Edwards.   During the campaign, Senator Edwards told his four-years-older wife, who has admitted publicly to having stage 4 cancer, that he had been having an affair with a woman he met at a hotel in New York whom he later hired to work on his campaign website. The woman, now has a one-year old daughter, whose father’s name she will not divulge. Edwards, the cheating husband, has appeared on national television talking about the affair being between him and “my Lord”.

Folks are weighing on both sides on Eliabeth Edward’s story about John Edward’s affair: those who think she should shut up, and those who think she should have her say.

While this is not Elizabeth Edward’s first memoir ( that would be her 2006 memoir, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength From Friends and Strangers) , “Resilience” is something of  a coda to “Saving Graces” — a meditation on her life after learning about her husband’s affair and the resurgence of her cancer.  If you’re intolerant of public figures airing their dirty marital drama in public, the book will probably strike you as self-indulgent. If you’re curious about how people survive public humiliation and are short on scripts on how it’s done, it’s a painful but brave book.

I know. I know. Blog readers prefer bloggers with outrageous opinions and outrageous talk. Skewer cheating husbands. Slam wives who stay with cheating husbands. Crucify public officials who lie and their family members who stand by their side. Hits on this blog would skyrocket if I yelled more and thought less. I do yell, but this is one of those topics where I listen more than I yell.

When it comes to tales about love and marriage, and why folks choose the way they do and do the things they do, I prefer to take my Aunt Dora’s posture and shake your head, keep kneading dough, all the while saying to yourself “Ummmph. Ummmph. Ummmph.”

I don’t know anything about being abused and I’ve not had to deal with a cheating husband. But what I do know is that marriage is messy and complicated and beautiful and wondrous and nerve-wracking and infuriating and joyous and precious and sacred and insane. And everyone deals with the pain of betrayal,  humiliation, disappointment, and broken trust differently. Which explains why, regardless of color or class, I cut women like Hilda Spitzer, Hillary Clinton, Juanita Bynum a lot of slack here on the blog, even though I have never and can’t imagine living through what they’ve lived through.

broken vows

Why did she write a book about his affair? As millionaires the Edwards obviously don’t t need the money. Why is she talking? Why doesn’t she (and John) resolve this matter privately and quietly, away from the cold, cruel light of public opinion like decent folks do? It’s obvious from the pained expression on Elizabeth’s face when Oprah asked pointedly”Do you still love him?”and from the fact that she refuses to speak the other woman’s name while  is most animated when talking about the other woman and from the anguished looks on her face when John was part of the interview — Elizabeth Edwards is still in the throes of anguish and rage over her husband’s affair. (”And John Edwards didn’t appear remorseful during the interview, not remorseful enough for me,” says one of my friend.)

Isn’t she as guilty as he? another friend chimes in. Wasn’t she complicit with him in lying to the public about his character, not to mention her complicity in projecting an image of a fairy tale marriage and fairy tale couple. Isn’t she the one who stood before the camera a year ago asking us to elect as President a man who is capable of callously getting into an affair with a woman he meets in a hotel while his wife is at home battling stage 4 cancer?

Why not leave him? For Elizabeth Edwards, the answer is clear. More than a romance, the marriage is a shared sense of purpose, of how to engage the world — a partnership that transcended fidelity. “[A]lthough I no longer knew what I could trust between the two of us,” she writes, “I knew I could trust in our work together.”

Why is Elizabeth Edward’s talking? Who knows? Perhaps it’s because she’s a woman who is running out of time. Her husband’s affair was, she writes, yet another a gut-wrenching blow to a life marked by tragedies sudden and inevitable, from the 1996 car-crash death of Wade, her oldest child, to the slow physical demise of both her parents; and — finally — the cancer that she’s been battling since 2004 and that she expects will kill her.

You bounce back. You decide what’s important to you.  You forgive. You live. You survive. You move on.  You start over.  No matter how clumsy or difficult it is to do. Because tomorrow is not a given.

Ummph. Ummph. Ummph.

It’s Not Too Late To Reinvent Yourself

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Sister President Johnetta

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that I’m always looking for ways to spotlight African American women in their 50s, 60s, and beyond.  We are invisible to the media.  I (still) miss having seasoned women in my life and am determined to find black women role models and mentors who stare back at the camera with faces that say “I’m still here, and I still got lots more to say.”

In honor of women who are not afraid to reinvent themselves when the old way of being runs its course or no longer fits, I salute scholar, educator, anthropologist, public thinker, feminist activist, Dr. Johnetta B. Cole.

After years of serving as president of Spelman (1987-1997) and Bennett Colleges (2002-2007) and being an ardent advocate for women’s education, in March of this year Dr. Johnnetta Cole was appointed the new director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

The last time I saw Dr. Johnetta was in 2007 there at her last Baccalaureate service as president of Bennett College where she’d served admirably. She’d invited me to come out and speak at her last Bennett Baccaluareate ceremony. She was looking forward to retirement, slowing down, and enjoying the new romantic relationship she was in.  Evidently this phenomenal woman changed her mind. Just like she was supposed to be retiring when she’d stepped down years earlier as Spelman College’s famed Sister President. (She’d invited me to serve as Spelman’s Baccalaureate speaker her last year there as well). I could boast about being a speaker on both of these historic occasions, or I could peer closer and make out some sacred invitation being extended to me by God. The invitation to observe a woman on the brink of reinventing herself. I watched a woman stepping down from revered posts she has held and performed in admirably, freeing herself to move on to discover and create new challenges for herself. I’m pretty sure Dr. Johnetta didn’t know at the time what the future held for her, but she was old enough and confident enough to know when it’s time to call it quits and let your future  figure itself out within you.

Did I mention that Johnetta Cole is in her 70s? Google her and you’ll find her exact age.  (God, I hope my friend doesn’t mind my calling attention to her age?) But that’s the beauty of her story. In fact, that’s the whole point of this blogpost. A woman changing her mind, discovering new parts of herself, reinventing herself long past the age of lactation and lust (of the achy, breaky sort, that is). Reinventing herself and finding new things to do with her life after 60, the age when a woman is all but invisible and is expected to dodder and stay put in one place.  Women are, as we all know, judged by the body they are in. The younger, firmer, leaner her body, the more visible a woman is. The older, grayer, and thicker her body, the more invisible she becomes to everyone around her. Thankfully, there are some women who refuse to go gently into the night.

Of all the ‘rights women have sought, none is more difficult, or more vital, than the right to change and not have to do the same thing forever. This is not to say that some of what we have been doing will not still be worth doing at 50, 60, and beyond. But there’s something about women who find the courage to change course, begin anew, revinvent themselves that’s always fascinated me. Especially women whom life has counted out.

With ageing comes losses, there is no denying that truth. Loss of loved ones. Loss of vigor. Loss of health. Loss of certain activities. Loss of employment. But ageing is not all about loss. Ageing brings with it also new discoveries.  The kinds of discoveries that are only possible because other preoccupations are no longer there. New interests. New passions. New hobbies. New sides of yourself. New meaning for your life. New invitations. The truth is that we are a great deal more than our bodies, have always been more than our bodies, but it can take us most of a lifetime to learn that.

With the exterior losses that come with aging should come the good sense to let your interior life have more say about what you do and who you are.

I salute Dr. Johnetta B. Cole here on the blog today. She is a role model for many women like myself in the throes of middle age and still  contemplating all that it means to grow up and grow older.  Dr. Johnetta shows us how to stay visible, vibrant, and vital to the discussion. What use is there in growing older and having more answers to life’s questions, if no one’s beating a path to your door in search for the answers you hold?

“Our moral obligation is not, as society might lead us to believe, to ski at sixty and jog at seventy and bike at eighty,” writes Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. “No, our moral obligation is to stay as well as we can, to remain active, to avoid abusing our bodies, to do the things that interest us and to enrich the lives of those around us. Our spiritual obligation is to age well– so that others who meet us have the courage, the spiritual depth, to do the same.”