Archive for November, 2007

It Does Not Suck To Be A Black Woman!

Friday, November 30th, 2007

I know as a black Christian woman that I should be grateful that NBC News even bothered to devote a weeklong series to African American women. But I’m not. I have not been impressed. If I were a sister from another planet and depended upon a satellite of NBC’s “African American Women: Where They Stand” to give me my first introduction to the lives of black women I would probably conclude, “I’m glad I’m a sister from another planet. It must suck to be a black woman.”

In case you didn’t know, because you live on another planet that doesn’t have satellite, a special series has been airing all week over at “NBC News with Brian William” focusing on a wide-range of issues affecting black women entitled “African American Women: Where They Stand.” Night One of the series aired on Monday night with a discussion of black women’s educational achievements. Did you know that nearly two-thirds of black graduates are women, and at black colleges the ratio of women to men is a staggering 7 to 1?

On Tuesday, Night Two, the series focused on the increased risks for breast cancer among black women. Black women with breast cancer are nearly 30% more likely to die from it than white women. Lord have mercy.

A roundtable talk about relationships was the format on Wednesday, Night Three, with NBC correspondent Rehema Ellis facilitating the intimate chat with three members of a Chicago book club. Here we learned, as if we didn’t know already, that the percentage of African-American women between 25-54 who have never been married has doubled from 20% to 40% in the past fifty years. (Compared to just 16% of white women who have never been married today). Many feel that the achievement gap in education and business among African-Americans is having an effect on relationships, changing “Black America’s family and social structure.”

Last night’s segment on black women and heart disease reiterated the well known fact that we’re all just one hamhock away from a heart attack, to quote my friends over at WAOD. Put soberly, heart disease is the leading cause of death among black women.

After four nights of watching NBC’s reports on the sorrowful plight of black womanhood, all I could do to dull the pain afterwards was to grab the tv monitor and turn to the UNC-Purdue women’s basketball game.

The truth will set you free, but first it will hurt your feelings. Not to mention make you look bad in front of others.

Listen up: I am a black woman. Hear me roar — It does not suck to be a black woman! Heartache, loneliness, disease, suffering, and poverty are not the sum total of our existence as black women. We laugh, love, play, sing, work, fight, cry, pray, jump, dance, work, smile, kiss, hug, fight, cry, pray, work, raise our families the best we can and trust God to do the rest, like every other woman who knows that life is what you make it. Life is tough, but there is joy.

If Friday’s segment is as forecast on the black woman vote in South Carolina, perhaps things will look up tonight. Hopefully, black women won’t come off looking like such an unhealthy, downtrodden, lonely race of women. After all, in South Carolina half of Democratic voters in the state are African American, and most of those are female—40%of whom have yet to settle on a presidential candidate. You guessed it. The latest flavor of the month in South Carolina Democratic circles is the black female vote. Battling for dominance in the region, the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in hot pursuit of black women. My suggestion to black women voters in South Carolina this morning after this week long NBC series is to play hard to get. Leverage your power. Make the candidates address the issues that matter to you. Take your time to decide.

On second thought, things could go from bad to worse for black women tonight. Seems like reporters and pollsters covering the South Carolina primary race have the bright idea that the black beauty shop is ground zero for finding out what’s on black women’s minds. Depending upon what you think about the public display of nappy roots, if NBC’s “African American Women: Where They Stand” cameras bust up in black hair salons to interview black women voters, things could get real kinky.

Watch Your Tone, Young Lady

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

I love basketball. Got a problem with that? I didn’t think so.

But I knew I had a problem the other night when I got into a shouting match with another parent (a white man, mind you) at a high school basketball game. We were rooting for the same team. It’s just that we had different opinions about why our team was losing so badly. The other team had better three-point shooters, he said. The coach of our team can’t coach his way out of a brown paper bag, was my opinion.

We were both right. But that’s not the point. The point is that he yelled and told me to shut up, and I yelled back and decided against dumping a perfectly good bag of popcorn on his head.

Afterwards, he apologized (to my husband) for losing his temper. They shook hands. He never apologized to me. Which is fine with me. I am satisfied that I yelled back at him.

It helps that my father was a hell-raiser. In fact, I grew up in a house of men (and women) who cursed, fumed, screamed, yelled, talked over each other, and knocked holes in the walls to make their point. Not only was my father a hell-raiser but home consisted at one time of six brothers (three were step-brothers) who taunted, teased, pushed, tussled, and called names when they didn’t get their way. They taught me a lot about fighting. Women prayed when they didn’t get their way, but men cursed, shoved, and bullied each other into submission.

Despite his coarse ways, my father was a passionate man with a beautiful mind. But his daughter who shares his passion, his temper, and beautiful mind is a minister and scholar, and not a carpenter and blue-collar laborer like her father. The rules of engagement are different in the rarified world in which I make a living. I can keep myself from cursing and from punching people, but there’s something about the passion with which I and women like me do things that never fails to rain down outrage from others.

My father would have cursed, leapt over the table, and strangled some of the panelists I’ve had to sit across the table from. But anger in a woman is construed as hysteria. Stubborn, tough talking women are branded emotional and ball-crushing, and those who with strong opinions are labeled bitter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to smile by perfect strangers who found my concentration intimidating.

In the Christian circles I frequent, the last thing you want to be called is an angry black woman. “Watch your tone, young lady” we’ve heard all our lives. “And you call yourself a Christian,” is good for shutting up a woman.

Believe me, I deplore the mud-throwing, hateful tone that marks much of our public discourse and I am the first to bemoan the loss of civility in our society. Sadly, we have the religious right (aka the political right) to blame for the rancorous tone that now frames public debate in America (a la Fox News format). Whether the topic is taxes, Obama vs. Clinton, male-female relationships, sexuality, or God, the way to score points is by being as acrimonious and polarizing as you can, taking every opportunity to outtalk, belittle, bully, demonize, and caricature the comments of the other to make yourself look clever and the other dumbfounded. Forget substance, it’s all about appearing powerful through the use of hateful discourse.

I’ve had to learn how to respectfully, but forcefully disagree with opponents without allowing them to turn our disagreement into a kindergarten meltdown. Of course, sometimes you just have to yell back (check out WAOD). It took me a while, however, but I don’t cringe and cower when someone disagrees or swells up at me. I’ve learned how to jump in the contentious fray there on the ESPN women’s college message board, for example, where fanatical fans of every stripe hang out, and talk about my favorite basketball team, favorite players, and the great plays of the game —and not be chased away by the thug who differs with my analysis and writes in all caps to intimidate me into silence. If I’d let the thugs chase me away I wouldn’t have learned as much as I have about women’s basketball from others there on the message board, nor come to enjoy the game as much as I do.

I am not proud of the fact that I come from a house of yellers, but I’m glad that I did. You learn how to spot a bully when you see one and stand your ground.

Who Are You Calling Fat?

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Between the expressway exit and the street I live on are some fifteen restaurants to choose from when I don’t feel like cooking and want something to put on the dinnertable. Each of the fifteen restaurants in my neighborhood is a fast food restaurant. Not one of the restaurants serves healthy food. To get food that’s not fried or swimming in fat, my family and I have to drive to the posh side of the city. Despite the fact that I live in a solidly black middle class development with homes of five thousand square feet and more, if any of us on my street wants to eat healthy and be able to walk up the stairs of our two and three story homes without having to reach for an inhaler, there are no restaurants in our neighborhood to help make that possible.

Did I mention that healthy food is expensive? Have you dropped by Whole Foods lately? I did last week while searching for fresh fruits and vegetables for my Thanksgiving recipes. Why does it cost more not to laden food with pesticides? And why are all the good salad bars, you know the ones with lettuce, broccoli, mandarin oranges, almonds, and carrots, on the otherside of town?

Along with insisting upon better neighborhood schools so our kids don’t have to be bused across town, we need to insist upon better selections of foods in the restaurants and stores in our neighborhoods. The poor woman who doesn’t have a car should have an affordable selection of healthy foods at her local supermarket to choose from just like the woman who drives a Lexus.

Too many black Americans suffer from poor fitness and obesity. Every major disease that we suffer from (e.g., diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and heart disease) can be traced back to our poor diet and sedentary lifestyles.

According to the American Medical Association, a woman my age and height should weigh 50 pounds less than I weigh. Bless their heart. But I’m not interested in wearing a size 8 dress. I would be content to be able to climb the 15 stairs from my garage to my kitchen without wheezing and losing my breath. I want to get into my three year old jeans without having to reach for a Spanx to hold in my tummy. I’d like to wear that thin strap black dress and not be embarrassed about showing off my bare arms. I am content to manage a trot around the track up at the “Y” in my neighborhood without passing out in front of the nice looking guy speeding by me with his ipod in his ear. Those are my goals.

When asked about her dress size, my big-boned cousin would have everyone at the table cracking up when in her 20s she would laughingly say, “I wear a size 12. I buy a size 16. But a size 22 fits just right.” But the type 2 diabetes that threatens now to take her eyesight at age 45 is no laughing matter.

Say, you’re a southern black woman like me who prefers sweet tea to unsweetened, butter instead of margarine, and ice cream rather than sorbet. Let’s say you love food as much as I do.
What’s wrong with exercise? Why don’t black women exercise more?

It hurts.
I don’t want to sweat.
I don’t like having to do my hair afterwards.
I can’t be bothered getting changed.
It’s hard.
I don’t have the time.
I’m embarrassed and feel stupid.
It’s too cold.
It’s too hot.
I’m too tired.
Why should I bother? It doesn’t make a difference.

These are our excuses for not making our health a priority. Researchers say that women who avoided gym classes or never participated in sports when they were girls have a harder time sticking with an exercise routine when they get older and start gaining weight. They have no memory to draw on of taking care of their bodies for fitness sake.

It’s a shame that black women take care of everyone, but not themselves. We die too soon. We are sick when we don’t have to be.

I worry about the overweight woman I see struggling to make the hike from the parking lot to the front of the church. I worry about the obese woman I see who falls asleep in church because she stayed up most of the night trying to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. I worry about the competent, but obese woman who doesn’t get the promotion and can’t figure out why.

Even now I have a decision: do I spend another hour polishing this blog piece making it the literary masterpiece I wish it to be, or do I go downstairs to the elliptical machine to burn off the three bowls of that delectable banana pudding I ate this holiday season. Gotta go. I want to live.

Lost in Cyberspace

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

I am admittedly addicted to checking my email. Even though I know better. Email is a blessing and a curse. It allows me to stay in touch with folks time and obligations might otherwise rob me of reaching out to. But email has also robbed us as a society of certain manners and expressions of civility in our attempt to stay in touch with each other.

For one thing, email has killed the handwritten letter. Heck, hardly anyone writes personal letters anymore, certainly not the ones that come to you through the postal service. My friend, Barbara Heard in Chicago is the only one among my friends who still writes hand written letters. Every time I leave Chicago after a visit to her church there at Trinity UCC, I can count on receiving one of Barbara’s lovely, handwritten letters thanking me for my visit and my presentation at the church. Barbara is so dependable about writing handwritten letters that I tend to pout and feel unappreciated until her beautifully written note arrives.

There’s also the fact that if it weren’t for check writing and book signings there wouldn’t be much reason for me to pick up a pen and write. Which is a shame because I was the darling of Mrs. Daisy Henderson, my fourth grade teacher, who frequently posted pages from my writing tablet up on the board as a model for the rest of the class of perfect penmanship.

Not only has personal letter writing fallen on hard times since the advent of the computer, but technology also has created poor writing skills. I am reminded of this every time I read a paper by one of my students. I know this every time I sit down to help my daughter with one of her writing assignments. Computers allow changes to be made too easily and can make writing a mindless activity. My daughter is impatient with me when I urge her to think of a better, more thought-ful way of communicating the thought she just typed. “Typing is easy, writing is hard,” I tell her. Communication that requires her to take the time to build her argument one sentence at a time rather than blurting out facts, type out the words instead of abbreviating them, use punctuation marks and indent paragraphs rather than leave words running into each other – it all feels prehistoric to her.

Yep, technology has changed the way we communicate with each other. In this age of text messaging, email, and cell phones, we think of communication as an immediate priority. Messages tend to be choppy, full of acronyms and misspellings. Contact is the priority, not communication. It is not about building relationships, setting the stage for meaningful exchange, explaining what you mean, introducing your self and your cause, or asking permission before entering each other’s personal space. .

I’m as guilty as the next person of abusing technology, I suppose. But I do love hearing from people. I love quick, easy banter about the bible, love, and friendship. I love hearing from people who love and hate things I’ve written. What amazes me are the people who write thinking that just because they have your email address there’s no need for introductions. Opening their email leaves you feeling like someone’s just barged into your door without knocking.



Dear Rev. Weems,
So, what would you say to someone like me who doesn’t believe in women preachers?

Delete.

I am teaching a bible study class on women in the bible. Can you recommend some books I can use for my class?”

Yes, but why would I? Emailling me is not a substitute for going to the library or bookstore or clicking google and doing your own research.

I’m writing a paper on black women and the church. You were recommended to me as a resource. I would like to talk to you. Can you give me a time when I can call you?

Excuse me? Just like that? Whatever happened to “Hello, my name is…”?

Of course, there are the rude, nasty notes sent anonymously to your mailbox, blog, or message board, bent more on ridiculing you than dialoguing with you.

Pasted in one of my old journals is a handwritten note from Toni Morrison written to me back in the 70s, thanking me for a note I had sent praising her for her third novel, Song of Solomon. In another journal is a letter from Alice Walker, typed on “Ms” stationary, which she sent in response to a short story I’d sent her. In her letter she patiently lays out her reasons for suggesting that I choose some other profession than writing if I planned on making a living. (God bless her for even bothering to read the sophomoric short story I sent her.) Then there’s the barely legible letter from one of my elementary school teachers who was old, but had lived long enough to read an article in Ebony magazine about her former student and was writing to congratulate me on my achievements. I pull out these old letters, along with those of family and friends I’ve managed to keep, and reread them like the treasures that they are from a bygone era.