"Oh T.O., Say It Ain't So!"

As 2010 comes to a close, I've spent some time thinking about the most significant, relational breakthroughs in my marriage over the last 12 months: witnessing my husband's first sweater purchase at H&M; our failed, tag-team attempt to grab one of Derek Jeter's balls (yes, we we're at a Red Sox game); and most importantly, the hours we've spent bonding over sports in the comfort of our Jennifer's Convertible three-seater.

To whom and to what do we owe our newest love language?  Reality television and the proliferation of melodramatic athletes.  Namely The T.O. Show, Basketball Wives, Kendra, and The Micheal Vick Project (and Football Wives to a lesser extent...and Keeping Up with the Kardashians...and Lala's Full Court Wedding...and Real Houswives of Atlanta...just to name a few).  Because of these shows, in the last twelve months I've gone from referring to Terrell Owens as "that dude that does the Campbell Chunky Soup commercials with his mom," to predicting Shaq's next surprise Boston appearance before Shaq even knows!  No longer do I suck my teeth, roll my eyes, and sigh when I turn on my television and find it on ESPN (which happens EVERY SINGLE DAY), but I actually enjoy a few Come on Man segments before moving on to Oprah or 60 Minutes.

Basically, I'm interested in all the stuff about sports that has nothing or very little to do with the game.  Who cares about irrelevant statistics like, "DeLaSoul TreMarquis Johnson is the fifth NBA player in the last ten years to dribble with both hands while blinking twelve times in the 1st quarter!"  What I want to know is:  Is he a good husband?  Do his kids like him?  Does he even acknowledge he has kids? Does he owe child support? Back taxes? Does he have a closeted foot fetish?  An anger management problem?  An unusually close relationship with his psychiatrist?  A panache for colorful post-game press conferences?  A forthcoming rap single?  A country album?  And then there's the laughs I get from some of borderline homoerotic commentary, calls, and behavior that takes place in professional sports.  During some games I've noticed booty-slapping, rubbing and kissing of sweaty, bald heads (ew), and calls like "illegal back entry" (I swear that's what I heard), and commentary like "Shaq is big enough to control the penetration."

But I have managed to follow the athletic achievements of two athletes that everyone loves to hate: T.O. and Ochocinco (I am still waiting for the two of them to announce that they have both changed their legal names to "TOchoinco").  And speaking of T.O., it only took about three episodes of his show before I sensed the less than enthusiastic support of his interracial relationship from his two best friends and publicists, Monique and Kita:

"Terrel acts like he’s embarrassed to be seen with me with my hair scarf and pins but I could care less. I traveled five and a half hours.  Honestly, black is beautiful and he needs to get used to it because he will be with a black woman one day."

"When there's a knock at the door Mama Marilyn walks in; this is a time I wouldn't even want to be Keri.  Here she is a six foot tall, brunette white girl she's got five family members staring her down."

"I mean, and you’re right and it’s not even to throw in the race card, but I just think, you know, at the point where he is in his life he needs a strong black woman. He needs a woman that’s a reflection of who he is."

My initial reaction?  In the words of the great philosopher Ochocino: "Child please!"  But then again, I obviously don't know T.O. or his dating history as well as his best friends.  I also think there is a general perception that when a successful, black man, particularly a professional athlete (one of the more highly visible images of black men projected in mass media), chooses to date a woman who is not black, that decision is essentially a rejection and betrayal of all black women everywhere, including his black, biological momma (I'll talk about this more in a future post: "Why I'm Still a Jill Scott Fan").  

In my days as a single woman with no interest in getting married, my mom and her friends would set me up on dates with eligible Nigerian bachelors (basically any Nigerian man they knew under 30 that was in medical school), hoping we'd hit it off, make a nice Nigerian home, make Nigerian babies, and listen to our in-laws speak Yoruba to each other all day and night.  Sadly, I spent most of my time at those dates zoning out, watching the television in the background and thinking to myself  "I can't believe I'm missing 60 Minutes for this!" and trying to figure out exactly why they even wanted to marry a Nigerian girl when they 1) did not seem to realize they were African and 2) had no interest in anything remotely to do with Africa.  Then I'd come home and call my husband--my friend at the time--to vent about everything that went down.  And now he finds himself eating jollof rice and pounded yam (with his hands, no fork!) like nobodies business.  Funny how life works sometimes.

So the only litmus test I hold out when it comes to love, no matter the color, is whether this person is going to embrace all of the real me (including my big, loud, African family) or just some nebulous idea of me?  Like one of T.O.'s ex-love interests (who happens to be black) put it:

"It is so wrong. Because, I date outside my race. I am an equal opportunists lover. Love knows no color.  And Terrell shouldn’t be put into a box of just trying to date a black woman because you know, people feel like he should. No! I tell him all the time, you need to date who you are happy with."

Enough said.

If You Don't See Color Then Get Your Eyes Checked

col·or·blind (klr-blnd) adj. 1. Partially or totally unable to distinguish certain colors.
2. a. Not subject to racial prejudices.
b. Not recognizing racial or class distinctions

I tried really hard to stay off the grid this weekend, I mean really hard.  But not even a Christmas in Manhattan, a trip to Lincoln Center to see A Free Man of Color, or Blizzardgeddon 2010 could keep me from peeking at a couple of emails from friends who survived some sticky in-law situations over the holidays.  Initially, I thought a concern raised in some of the messages was pretty straightforward, but like over-cooked goat meat, the more I chewed on it, the tougher it got:

From Allyson:
Now, I don't know if he just had one too many whiskey-gingers or shots of Hinny (blame it!), but my brother in-law really rubbed me the wrong way.  He started talking about how sometimes he forgets that I'm Filipino and that he doesn't really see race except--yup you guessed it--the human race.  The whole time he was talking I was like "What the hell?! Where is my husband?!"

From Rachel:
I have a very healthy relationship with my in-laws but I'm also very close to my own family and identify very strongly with my ethnic heritage as the daughter of Italian immigrants.  The problem is when I'm with my in-laws, they say things like "Oh, Rachel, you ain't really white, you cool."  Now, I know they mean this as a compliment and I  just laugh along with them and take it as such, but when I think about raising children, I'm concerned about how my in-laws' comments might undermine our attempts to raise children who are proud of a multi-ethnic heritage.

This is what I call: "a close encounter of another kind"-- a personal interaction that blows open all the preconceived notions and stereotypes we use to stuff each other into boxes to the point of suffocation.  Now I have no idea what possesses one person to explicitly say to another: "I choose to ignore this really obvious aspect of your appearance and humanity."  To say "I don't see color" is like saying "I don't notice your navy blue, asymmetrical haircut" or "I never notice your thick southern accent!" or "I refuse to acknowledge that you prefer Dook over Carolina"  That's just crazy talk!  Furthermore, it's really insulting.  Plus mentioning the very characteristic one claims to overlook renders the whole conversation moot.

Now I understand how notions of racial color-blindness can promote equity and justice, but that's not where I'm going today.  And sadly, it appears that both family members actually intended their statements as compliments.  Allyson's brother-in-law--though severely misguided--probably thought his attempt at minimizing his sister-in-law's race and ethnicity, would make her feel more welcomed and comfortable within the family.  But in actuality, he simply projected his own insecurities about race onto my friend.  She has no qualms with her "filipina-ness"-- an integral part of her being that she extols with just as much pride as her academic pedigree and her Fantasy Football League standing.  Similarly, Rachel doesn't fit into the white-person-paradigm constructed by her in-laws, so they just define her into another.  The result?  An implicit message that white ain't alright but brown can stick around.  I'm sure Allyson's brother-in-law meant to say: "When you married my brother I assumed we'd have nothing in common because...well...I think you know why.  But girl, you hate the Lakers even more than I do! Come over here and give me a big 'ole hug, I'm so proud to call you my sister!"  And I'm sure Rachel's in-law meant to say: "I thought you'd be just like all those racist, uppity, bourgeois white people I work with at the hospital, but you've always been like one of the family, even before we taught you how to play Spades."

But realistically, Allyson and Rachel can't expect anything to change unless they put the onus on themselves to broach the issue in a mature and respectful manner.  Or they could just follow my M.O.:if someone tells me they don't see color, I suggest they get their eyes checked..

Same Race, Different Culture

I think Nigerian parents are the best comedians in the world, especially when they're not trying.  Here is a HILARIOUS video from Adeola Oladele at African Spotlight interviewing some Nigerian parents in New York asking whether Nigerians must marry each other.  I swear each of these parents remind me of a particular auntie or uncle I know.  Especially the dude talking all loud on his cell phone in the background.

Why Choosing a Mate is Not the Same As a Trip to Starbucks

Martin introduces us to "the swirl."

Reading this site, you'll quickly discover my love for The Monique Show.  Ms. Monique is a fellow Marylander and I love supporting hometown folks as much as possible.  The show airs past my bedtime so I usually record all the episodes and have a personal viewing party on Fridays to catch up.  So a few weeks ago I snuggled up on my couch with a glass of red wine and enjoyed an episode featuring actor and fellow Bostonian Brian White, singer/actor Tank (initially, I had no idea who he was, but as soon as he came out I was like "Yo! That's the mean dude from Preachers Kid!") and relationship expert/life coach/author Dr. Michelle Callahan.

During the show's last segment, Dr. Michelle gives three single ladies relationship advice.  The first two questions are pretty benign like "How do I know if he's 'the one'?" and "How do I get guys to approach me?"  But the last question from Ms. Dominique made my put down my glass and let out "Wowwwww":

Ms. Dominique: "Ok, Dr. Michelle I need you to follow me on this one.  I've always taken my coffee black.  How do I know...if I want to add a little cream...and if I like the taste?

Dr. Michelle: "You know what? Black coffee is good but you could add half-and-half, you could add hazelnut, you could add dulche de leche to it you know? There's nothing wrong with trying different varieties of things.  You might always still come back to that black coffee, but you're not really sure unless you taste these other things.  And a taste is really just a friendship.  A taste is just a friendship, is all I mean. You know, you get to know people.  You don't have to limit what you do to just one thing cause you'd be surprised what you might like."

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm still scarred from a panhandler yelling out: "HEY CHOCOLATE! CHOCOLATE! HEY! CHOCOLATE!" as I walked by on my way to a Red Sox game.  And whatever food, beverage, or candy-related nicknames you and your mate have for each other (tasty cake, chili pepper, cream puff, tootsie roll, truffle oil, texas pete, whatever), in the privacy of your home and bedroom are your business; if it keeps that fire burning, more power to you.  But it struck me as a little odd to hear a conversation about interracial dating reduced down to such a least common denominator.  Even as a younger, single woman, I find it hard to believe that me and two of my closest friends--let's call them "Bomi" and "Rachel"--would have serious conversations about dating men, of any race, in terms of how we take our coffee:

Me: "Where can I find a good cup of coffee?!  I mean, all I want is a tall, non-fat, caramel macchiato, extra hot, extra foam, extra caramel.  Is that too much to ask?"
Rachel:  "Well I did meet this venti, soy, white chocolate mocha at bible study last night, but girl do you know he had the nerve to have extra whip?!  And ya'll know I'm lactose intolerant!"
Bomi:  "Ugh.  Hate it when that happens.  I'm so fed up with coffee.  I need to broaden my horizons and try some Green Tea and Chai Lattes."
Me:  "Bring home a Green Tea or Chai Latte?!  Girl, what would your family say?!"

In terms of complexity, I can't think of anything that interracial dating and ordering coffee have in common.  If I want to grab a cup of coffee while I'm out, I'll usually go to Starbucks where I know the coffee is always strong.  But just because I enjoy hanging out with "Sam" doesn't neccesarily mean and I'll hit off with every man who happens to have the same complexion.  This may come as a shock to some, but the primary purpose of this site isn't the promotion of a "pro-interracial marriage" message.  I don't believe that every woman must date outside of her race or culture at some point to make an "informed decision" about choosing a mate and if she fails to do so, she's somehow selling herself short.   I mean what's the point of making yourself date or even marry someone you don't even find physically desirable?  No one should enter an interracial relationship--or any relationship for that matter--merely out of a sense of desperation, lonliness or because they want a booty call.  And no one secure enough in their own relationship needs to deman or vilify entire people groups (i.e., white women, asian men, west indians, etc.) to justify themselves.  In any relationship, you have to judge each person in front of you for who they are in his or her entirety and like Dr. Michelle said: you may be surprised at what you might like.

The White Girl's Guide to Surviving the Holidays With Black & Brown In-Laws

Congratulations!  You made the cut and snagged an invitation to the most exclusive event of the year.  No, I'm not talking about Diddy's White Party, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, or the taping of Oprah's Favorite Things - I'm talking about holiday dinner with your man and his family!  Yes, all 55 of them!  Now holidays, like funerals and weddings, tend to bring out the worst in families, so here are my top 5 tips for survival.

5.  Do Your Homework.
Remember that episode of A Different World where Whitley goes home with Dwayne for Christmas and discovers right before dinner that his family opens gifts on Christmas Eve instead of Christmay Day?  The next thing you know, Whitley almost gets mugged by Santa on a New York City subway platform while trying to buy a present for Dwayne's mom.  Please don't be Whitley.  Think of this as an opportunity to learn about your partner's family and traditions.  Ask lots of questions and never assume (because you know what happens when you assume).  Sometime in the near future, you both may choose to create your own traditions that differ greatly from anything either of you grew up with, but when in Rome...

4.  Even If You Can't Take The Heat, Get Your @!$&% In The Kitchen!
Now, I don't know if this is just an African thing, but growing up, my sociological paradigms were strongly formed through the experience of gender roles in the context of social interaction.  Translation?  At any type of gathering,  all the females were packed on top of each other in the kitchen and every male was in the living room watching soccer, or football, or basketball, drinking Guinness or Malta, eating peanuts and yelling back and forth about politics (both Nigerian and American, but mostly Nigerian). 
Maybe you think of yourself as "one of the fellas."  All of the loud yelling in foreign languages (including southern drawls or new england long vowels) might scare you.  Perhaps the kitchen intimidates you because you can't cook.  Basically, take any notions of you as a guest and throw them out of the window.  As one mother-in-law said, "many hands make light work," so at the very least, take a minute to stop by the kitchen and ask the host or hostess if there is anything you can do to help.  Even if they say "no" they might like some company.

3.  There Are No Stupid Questions.
Generally, people love to hear themselves talk and they love to hear themselves talk about themselves.  So if you don't remember where Cousin Flozell works or how exactly he is related to your partner, use that as a conversation starter!

2.  Do You.
People want acceptance, especially as an outsider entering the unfamiliar terrain of a new family.  But if you're rhythm-deficient, now is not the time to show everyone how much you love doing the Electric Slide in your free time at home.  If you're allergic to nuts you have no business eating Uncle Lorenzo's famous pecan pie.  And what sense does it make for you to cheer on the Jets when you don't even know any of the players names and you're a diehard Patriots fan anyway?  It's nice to be accepted, but most people want to accept the genuine you, not the fake you.

1.  Keep a Drink in Your Hand and a Smile on Your Face.
This one actually came from my husband.  I must give credit where credit is due.

Merry Christmas!
P.S. - The Black Girl's Guide to Surviving the Holidays With White In-Laws is basically the same.  Just turn Uncle Flo and Uncle Lorenzo into Uncle Jim, Uncle Bob, or Uncle Jim Bob.

Traveling While Interracial

"Why are you moving to Boston? I would never live there. Boston is one of the most racist cities in America." -Anonymous church member from North Carolina

"There are black people in Boston?" -Anonymous friend from Maryland

While studying at UNC, I had the pleasure of meeting John Edgar Wideman while he was the Creative Writing Department's Morgan Writer-In-Residence. I enjoyed reading his New York Times op-ed on "riding while black" a couple of months ago which reminded me of a discussion my husband and I had about "traveling while interracial."

As a fellow public servant, I truly empathize with employees of the Transportation Security Administration.  Unlike people with a 9 to 5 desk job, these women and men work in high-stress, potentially high-risk, settings with little opportunity to just shoot the breeze by the water cooler or surf the web (heck, they get dirty looks for just looking at their cell phone while working).  I appreciate their service and their efforts to keep us safe while flying, but I need to call out some folks at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

While traveling back to Boston from Raleigh-Durham earlier this fall, my husband and I approached the TSA agent with our driver's licenses and boarding passes before putting our carry-on luggage through x-ray.  As most of the United States traveling public knows, generally, if you have more than one person in your party, you approach the agent as one group.  So you can imagine my surprise when I stepped up to the agent, my husband following right behind me, and the agent (I believe a black male) said to my husband: "Sir, please step back behind the line until you're called!"  At the time I thought it was kind of strange but I know travel rules change at whim, so I just assumed it was a heightened safety measure and thought nothing of it.  Well, it's my husband's turn and the TSA agent, after seeing my husband's information and realizing we have the same last name, says "Oh, I'm sorry.  I wouldn't have told you to step back if I realized you were married."

I'm sorry, but that's just ignorant.
You work for the Executive Branch of the United States Government.  The head of that branch is a BIRACIAL MAN.  He has an African daddy and a White momma.  And you didn't think that two members of the general public of different races could possibly be married?!

And lest you think I'm picking on the state of North Carolina, let me put Washington, DC out on front street.  As I was wrapping up a trip to the city for work, my husband came into town towards the end of the week to meet up before heading to Maryland to spend the weekend with my family.  After a week-long stay, the housekeeping staff recognized me pretty well, but apparently they didn't think I would married to a white man.  I called down to the front desk for an item (probably extra towels) and my husband answered the door while I briefly stepped away from the room.  The conversation went something like this:

Housekeeper: "Oh, I'm sorry.  I didn't realize the lady who was staying here checked out already."
My Husband: "Um, no she didn't."

(they stare at each other in awkward silence)

My Husband: "I'm her husband.  We're together."
Housekeeper: "Oh really?"

You know, for all of the unfounded allegations that Southerners make against Boston and New England as being racially hostile, I expect more from you DC and NC!  Come on people!

"Robin Thicke Is White?!"

"I don't know why I like pizza and pasta, but I know I love black women."
-Anonymous singer

As the saying goes, behind every successful man is a woman doing all the work, so this week I wanted to focus on the beauty of men recognizing the women in their lives who have made them successful.

This week I, along with 6,499 other women, attended the 6th Annual Massachusetts Conference for Women, held in Boston. During the luncheon we received a surprise visit by Governor Deval Patrick, who gave a surprise introduction for one of the keynote speakers, his wife, Diane. On her way to the podium they even sealed his remarks with a kiss! I had to put down my Blackberry and call out to the stage like: "Okay! Okay! Get it! Keep that fire burning!"

So in light of this week's theme I found it apropos to include this excerpt from Robin Thicke's interview on The Monique Show earlier this year, reaffirming his love of black women (oh yeah, and his wife Paula Patton).  My husband didn't realize Robin Thicke was white until a couple of months ago. Looks like he's not the only one!