Happy New Year: Reflecting On A Full 2011

I find New Year's Eve to be a deeply reflective holiday (drunken revelry aside) and each year I ask whoever we're celebrating with: "If you could sum up the year in one word, what would it be?"

For me, this year's answer is: FULL.

Full of crazy videos, awkward moments, butchered Spanish, discussions that never happened, crazy cab drivers, flights, airports, reconnecting with old friends, making friends anew, conferences, meet ups, plays, films, white guys with guitars, conjugal bliss, moving boxes, white dance circles, cultural obsessions, keeping it tight, Fung Wah bus rides, weddings, holidays, birth, death, mistaken identity, triumphs, failures, chicken and waffles, thick blood, assumption challenging, and most importantly: laughter.  Thanks in large part to you, my wonderful readers.

I wish you all a safe, enjoyable, and prosperous New Year!

A 61-Year-Old Bootcamper, The 2012 Boston Marathon, And Me

A few weeks ago while traveling in Washington, DC for work, I happened to walk by the gym I used while living there this past summer.  Through the glass walls and door I could see my former bootcamp instructor speaking with another gym member.  We caught eyes she began waving excitedly, motioning that I should come over.

After hugs and a brief motherly/priestly check-in that coaxed out a confession of falling off the exercise wagon and eating lots more sugar, I turned to go about my merry way when my instructor exclaimed, "Oh! I did my marathon! I have pictures! Come and see!"  I'd completely forgotten about seeing her morning after morning, trudging along on a treadmill in the corner, head down, earbuds in place, until it was time to teach her first bootcamp or spinning class of the day.

I followed her into her office, and she proudly placed a large 8 x 10 photo of her victoriously crossing the finish line at the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC.  "I finished in 6 hours and because of my age group I placed pretty well! Right in the middle of the pack."

Oh yes.  I should mention that my instructor was running the marathon to celebrate her birthday.  Her 61st birthday.

As I smiled, nodded and listened to her marathon highlights,  she had no way of knowing about the thoughts going on in my head; how just a few hours earlier during my flight from Boston, I continued mulling over the idea of running the Boston Marathon -- a thought planted by my husband after completing a longer-than-usual run.  But I could think of a lot of other things I'd rather do for four hours on a state holiday, like eating a big plate of chicken nachos from my favorite burrito place.
"Wow, well this is really inspiring," I responded.  "I've been thinking about running a marathon myself --"
"DO IT," my instructor insisted,"You can totally do it."
Aside from the whole 26.2 mile thing, I also knew running the Boston Marathon wouldn't be easy just in terms of getting into the race.  I had no qualifying races under my belt.  Regular registration was over.  And considering how late I was in the game, I new the few nonprofits able to get numbers through the John Hancock Charity Program finished their application processes months, kicked off their respective fundraising campaigns, and already began team training.  Yet, I failed to see the timing of this conversation as random.

I returned to Boston and thought of the nonprofit organizations to which I felt most connected.  I had no expectations that my inquiries about applying for a charity team and made peace with the fact that if it didn't work out, well, it just wasn't meant to be.   But I thought, "What the heck, it never hurts to ask right?  What's the worst they say? No?"

So I emailed Boston Partners in Education, an organization whose doors were some of the first I walked through when we moved to Boston five years ago: "I know the application period ended last month," I wrote, "but just wanted to see if you were still looking for team members."  The response?  Suprising: "Hi Tinu,  We are still looking for one more team member to run the 2012 Boston Marathon for Boston Partners in Education and fundraise for us."

After completing an application and providing some additional information to Executive Director, Pam Civins, later that week I received a call inviting me to join Team Boston Partners.  And I accepted.  Afterward I hung up the phone, sat back at my desk and said, "WHAT DID I JUST DO?!?!"  With each ensuing week of training, I'm finding that out.

To keep up to date with my training and fundraising progress, check out my Team Boston Partners Crowdrise page: 

Review: You Got Serve(d)!

This post is sponsored by Serve from American Express. Sign up for Serve and receive $10 credit towards your first use. Comment below within the next 7 days for your chance to win an extra $100 credit to your account!

Is it just me, or has splitting a check among friends at a restaurant become harder than it needs to be?  Why does the math always add up when your paying for a meal by yourself but when four or more people get involved covering the bill and tip seems to be an issue?

Well, Serve, American Express' new service can help!  Serve helps you send and receive funds as well as manage online payments, all from one account.  Signing up with Serve is easy and when opening an account you get $10 to use as your please.  Within days you'll receive your Serve card which you can use to make purchases online and offline wherever American Express is accepted in the U.S.

Within days for signing up for my Serve account I found myself in plenty of situations where using Serve would come in handy: reimbursing friends for meals after I realized I left my purse in car or at home ( I swear it was just a coincidence!); settling a restaurant bill with co-workers during a holiday lunch outing; and paying back a friend my share of a group baby shower gift.

Any one of my readers who opens up a Serve account and leaves a comment saying they have opened an account will be entered to win a $100 credit to their account. AMEX/Serve will select one of my commenters as the winner. You have until EOD on 12/27 to enter.

Remember to sign up for Serve and receive $10 credit towards your first use. Comment below within the next 7 days for your chance to win an extra $100 credit to your account! Official sweepstakes rules and regulations may be found by clicking here. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

The Black Girl's Guide To Surviving A White Christmas

After last year's guide, I thought it might be time for an update.

And no, these are not tips for surviving your first Boston winter or how to become "Queen of the Slopes" during your first ski trip to New Hampshire -- I'm talking about surviving your first Christmas with your white in-laws.

5. Have an escape plan.
Not just physically, but conversationally.  So when your husband's Aunt Ginger corners you and begins her "20 Questions" drill to find out why you haven't popped out triplets when you've been married for 4 weeks, instead of screaming: "MIND YOUR OWN @#!*&$# UTERUS!" at the top of your lungs,  you can simply deflect and say: "Man this cube of cheese is good! I think I'll have another! Pardon me."

4. If you can cook, BRING IT...
Word on the street is I caused a bit of a "ruckus" one holiday when my North Carolina Sweet Potato Casserole went head-to-head with some one else's sweet potato dish that consisted of drained canned sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows.  Now I have nothing against Bruce's Candied Yams, but you can guess which recipe relatives were emailing me for after the fact.  I'm not bragging, I'm just saying...

3. ...And if you can't cook, LEAVE IT.
You have one chance to make a first impression, especially when it comes to your cooking.  When it comes to holiday gathers, how many of you try to ascertain who brought or made which dish before putting the food on your plate?  Go on ahead, raise your hands...I'll wait.

Mmm-hmm...thought so.

Don't be that person whose food everyone avoids because it gave them the runs last year. If the culinary arts isn't your strength, just stick to something that's hard to mess up like a bottle of Two Buck Chuck.

2. Bring your own playlist.
If your in-laws are part of hip-hop's allegedly, largely white audience, you might want to make sure the word "n*gga" isn't repeatedly blasted over the sound system throughout the evening.  Because having a conversation with your grandmother-in-law or your 5 year-old niece while 50 Cent is in the background rapping "...hoes down, G's up I see Xzibit in the cut, hey n*gga roll that weed up" is just...well...awkward.  I mean do you want to explain those lyrics to a 5 year-old during the family Christmas gathering?  Me neither.  Problem solved.

1. Smile and nod...or at least just nod.
Maybe you don't understand why Cousin Bucky believes the President is the antichrist, or why Aunt Melba's dog has its own seat, name card, and place setting at the grown ups table while you and your husband are still stuck at the kid's table.  Maybe no one told you that between every round of Yankee Swap everyone bursts into the Notre Dame fight song or Uncle Amos insists on asking about your "Oriental" friends he met at your wedding when he should be asking about your Korean friends.  The bright side is you can still be remembered as the pleasant, always smiling in-law, but in your mind think whatever you want!

Safe travels to everyone making their way to be with friends and loved ones! Best wishes to all of you during this holiday season.  Enjoy!

19th Annual Cherry Creek Diversity Conference - February 4, 2012

I've never been to the state of Colorado.  And when I think of "Colorado" what comes to mind is thin air, mountains, skiing, and wondering whether it's colder than Boston.  But I'm always up for having my assumptions challenged.

So I'm even more excited to have the opportunity to present a workshop on interracial relationships at the 19th Annual Cherry Creek Diversity Conference, the largest diversity conference in the state of Colorado.  The conference takes place on February 4, 2012.  For more information or to register, check out

"We'll Bury You But We Won't Marry You!" : How To Make Interracial Couples Feel Unwelcome At Your Church

If you've Googled the words "church" and "Kentucky" over the last couple of days, chances are you didn't stumble up on articles about fried chicken establishments accused of deep frying animals other than chickens.  Most likely you read about Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church and a recent vote by its members to control the movement of interracial couples within its four walls.  In a previous post I've mentioned some of the dynamics my husband and I experienced while dating, engaged, and married as it relates to our experiences in church, but in light of current events, I found it apropos to highlight some additions that at times left us scratching our head:

Referring to someone in the third person while he/she is standing right in front of you.
Last Sunday I noticed my husband chatting with a gentleman I didn't recognize, so  I walked over to introduce myself, standing next to my husband and across from the gentleman, politely listening as they carried on their conversation.  The gentleman kept asking my husband questions about me even though I was standing right in front of him.  I thought it was a bit strange as he went on talking to my husband using the term "your wife" but then I realized he hadn't put two and two together nor my husband and I.  When he finally stopped long enough for my to introduce myself, I did so as:  "Tinu DIV-HER. HIS WIFE." And yes I did roll my neck and raise my voice while I said it (forgive me Lord).

Placing the entire responsibility for the "test" in your testimony on one ethnic/racial group.
Recently, my siblings and I were discussing some of the crazy shenanigans that go on during testimonies at New Year's Eve/Watch Night church services.  Invariably, the first people to grab the microphone are people you haven't seen at church since last year's New Year's Eve service.  But my personal qualm is the inappropriateness/irrelevance/offensiveness of some of the things that people get away with sharing.  I've heard everything from people blaming the white man for their delayed promotion, to referring to someone that treated them unfairly as "oriental," to talking about situations where some is trying to "Jew you." So essentially what is meant to be a moment for the body of Christ to come together and encourage one another by hearing about how God is at work in individual lives gets hijacked by people who want to vent for forty-five minutes about topics not suitable for anyone under the age of eighty-five.  Yes, you may be tired and your feet hurt and your gout is flaring up again, but consider whether bringing that up in front of an entire church congregation (including visitors) on New Year's Eve in the right venue for sharing that information.  

Degrading an entire continent, nation, or people group... through prayer.
When it comes to churches supporting mission trips and missionaries, historically the continent of Africa has been a "popular" destination for people, money, and resources.  So to sit in a church service and listen to a prayer for the individuals and the work they are carrying out is nothing new to me.  However, what does catch me off guard is when these prayers are basically a laundry list of diseases that people hope to avoid contracting during the mission trip.  Now don't get me wrong, I have no issue with people staying healthy while traveling,  however, I do have an issue with the single story that we tend to project on the people and places we consider "the other."

Because this is a humor blog about interracial relationships, I was a tad reluctant to write anything about this topic.  I can't say I find anything funny about a congregation determining that the only church activities my husband and I should participate in are each others' funerals.  And yet it reminds me of the need for grace and the fact that there are no perfect churches, but rather broken churches filled with broken people.

Think YOUR Family Has Issues? You Haven't Seen 'Stick Fly' on Broadway

Photo of the marquee while waiting in line for doors to open
The first time I learned about playwright Lydia R. Diamond, I was sitting in a small, windowless conference room on the campus of Harvard University.  Sitting next to me was one of my best friends Rachel who was visiting us in Boston during a break from her studies at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.  Across the table from us sat her former professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, John Diamond.  Seeing as though I considered myself the third wheel, I sat quietly during most of their conversation as they bantered back in forth about all things academia such as her research in England and his experiences as a member of Harvard’s faculty.

But the most indelible part of their conversation was the palpable pride Professor Diamond displayed while talking about his wife Lydia, her work as a playwright, and the strides she was making in expanding her firmly established reputation from Chicago to Boston.  I made a mental note to look up her work and began following her career from afar, catching news about her local productions and her interviews in local publications and shows.  So when heard earlier this year that her play Stick Fly was Broadway-bound -- being directed by Kenny Leon and produced by Alicia Keys no less—the first thing I did was call Rachel saying: “Dude.  This is huge.”

So last week my husband and I headed down to New York for the first preview performance of Stick Fly’s Broadway production.  Stick Fly delves into a host of topics including race, color, class, privilege, education, sibling rivalries, and of particular interest: interracial relationships.  The play is set on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in the vacation home of the LeVays, an affluent African-American family.  The two LeVay sons Kent (Dulé Hill) and Flip (Mekhi Phifer) arrive for a family vacation weekend -- one with his black, entomologist fiancée Taylor (Tracee Thoms) and the other with his Italian white, European-backpacker turned Peace Corps member turned savior of Black and Latino inner city children girlfriend Kimber (Rosie Benton).  Add to the plot some family dysfunction and well-kept secrets that come to light and you have two hours of jaw-dropping, gasping, and laughing out loud.  And don't be surprised if you hear the person behind you let out an "Oh no s/he didn't!" or an "I KNOW that's right!" before the night is over.

Photo of the set from our seats
Having read the play this summer, I knew that the foundation of such excellent performances by the cast (particularly the character of Cheryl played by Condola Rashad) was Lydia Diamond's writing, particularly her knack for voice and dialogue.  On more than occasion, my husband commented: "These actors are really good at improvising.  I mean, they just made that up that one line on the spot right? That wasn't in the script was it?"  And on more than one occasion I'd reply, "Um, honey, it's in the script.  Lydia Diamond wrote that."

I have no reservations giving this play two, enthusiastic thumbs up.  If there is any play that would leave you challenging assumptions, Stick Fly would be it.

The cast of Stick Fly at curtain call: Rosie Benton, Mekhi Phifer, Dulé  Hill, Tracee Thoms, Condola Rashad and Ruben Santiago-Hudson

T-Shirts Say The Darndest Things: My Blogalicious Weekend Recap

Yours truly. Don't ask no questions. Blogalicious11/Credit: Carol Cain

Getting my cookbook signed by "Big Daddy"Aaron McCargo Jr.
The solitary image that encapsulates my Blogalicious 2011 Weekend? According to my husband, it's the pile of reusable bags slowing taking over our hallway closet.  Well, he does have a point. When he dropped me off at the airport, I had a single suitcase and small carry-on.  When he picked me up two weeks later,  he looked amused as I waddled from baggage claim to the car so I wouldn't tip over from the weight of three additional bags of "stuff" I'd acquired during my trip.

But in conferences--as in life--people are more important than things, and above all, Blogalicious provided a great opportunity to connect with a supportive community of diverse women (and men!) in social media.  Some whom I'd known before ever meeting like Michelle, Euphoria, and Ruby.  But mostly new friends like Nae, Janelle, Jenda, Thien, Kathy, Nanette, Chai, Patricia and Paula Patton (I know ya'll like how I just threw in that last one in there). 

So why all the "stuff"? Well, because brands, causes, movements, films, and authors come out in full force at Blogalicious, seeking to amplify their reach and impact through social media.  While meandering through the exhibition area I noticed a gentleman wearing a Red Sox cap and made a beeline to his booth.  Turns out he was from DailyFeats, a place where you get points, rewards and encouragement from friends for all your day-to-day accomplishments.  I'm pretty partial to the feats in the "Romance" category, "Date Night" being my personal favorite <wink>.   So whether you're trying to eat more leafy green, mustering up the courage to meet with a professor, or getting into the habit of returning those phone calls from your extended family, DailyFeats can provide the motivation, encouragement, and incentives you need to actually see those goals come to fruition.  Monique over at DailyFeats has been so kind as to set up a promo code just for you, my beloved readers.  Sign up for DailyFeats and get 50 bonus points by using the promo code yesweretogether50.

Well, after my "feel-good" moment with DailyFeats, I had my "Yes, We're Together." moment with a new friend, L. Martin Johnson Pratt.  I noticed him from across the room--but not so much him as the message emblazoned across his chest: I LOVE BLACK WOMEN.  I have got to get one of those t-shirts for my husband! I thought to myself, so  I walked over to say hello.
"I love your shirt! Where did you get it? I want to get one for my husband."
"Thanks.  But, see, if you get your husband the I LOVE BLACK WOMEN shirt he'll want you to get the I LOVE BLACK MEN SHIRT." 
Another blogger who I'd recently met was standing nearby and started chuckling.
“Um…yeah…uh…no. I don’t think so.”
About five minutes and three tweets later Martin understood my response and we laughed about it when we ran into each other again a few minutes later.  During lunch we chatted about our respective backgrounds with relation to life and work and before parting ways he added: "But I definitely want to connect with you about the shirt because you'll never believe who stops me on the street all the time and asks me where they can get the shirt--"
“White guys?  Yeah, I’m not surprised at all.”

This Weekend: UNC Charlotte's Multicultural Leadership Conference

I know the state of North Carolina is in this week's headlines for other undesirable reasons, but I wanted to let you know about a conference I'll be attending this weekend, the 10th Annual Multicultural Leadership Conference hosted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC).

This regional conference draws half of its attendees from UNCC and the other half from other schools in the area (In fact, I remember seeing fliers for this conference when I was a student in Chapel Hill!).  UNCC's Center for Leadership Development and Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) jointly organize the conference and this year anticipates 200 student leaders (including "non-traditional students") and their advisors for a day of training in the areas of leadership, diversity and ethics.

Speakers selected for the conference reflect this year's theme: L.E.A.P. Into Your Community (Learn Empower Act Produce) -- individuals who found a way to address an issue in their community and made a difference.  The overall conference goal is for students to learn about being an effective college leader, how to carry those leadership skills over into "the real world" after they graduate, and to equip students with tools to do so.  I'll be giving an afternoon talk about interracial relationships, framed largely by some of the topics I've written about and the site's mantra, "challenge the assumptions."

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Ted Lewis, Assistant Director for Sexual/Gender Diversity at the MRC who conveyed that "the students are super excited about your talk and feel that it's an important topic that needs to be discussed."  After going over some more basic, pedestrian, logistics for the weekend, Ted added: "So, yeah, everything is fair game, except -- steer away from asking for money."

Of course I busted out laughing over the phone.

"What?" I replied. "Asking money from the students?!"  Ted then proceeded to tell a "well-see-what-had-happened-was" story about a prior event where a speaker encouraged students to donate money to a specific charity.  "It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but that wasn't what the program was about."

So feel free to leave any thoughts or ideas (or even questions) in the comments section.  And if you are a student attending the conference, please leave a note!  I look forward to connecting with you this Saturday, and you can rest assured that I'll leave my collection plate at home.

Participants Needed: Interracial Relationships Study

When Boston College graduate student Marya Mtshali took the course Politics of Black Sexuality, she noticed a glaring need when it came to research around interracial relationships, particularly those involving Black women and White men:
Marya Mtshali, PhD Student
Department of Sociology
Boston College
"Practically all of the research I came across or found on Google Scholar about interracial couples was about Black men with White women and how Black women were upset by interracial relationships.  I noticed a gap in the literature that I think is important to fill."
And that is exactly what she aims to do through her exploratory sociological study on the experiences of Black female-White male interracial couples. Marya will be using this research for her doctoral thesis and a published article in a peer reviewed journal.  She hopes her research can provide a better overall picture of interracial couples and that the information will add to better understanding of the way race and gender intersect.

So if you are a Black woman in an "intimate" relationship with a White man or a White man in an intimate relationship with a Black woman (for purposes of this study, intimate is defined as being together consistently for at least one year), between the ages of 18 - 65, please consider helping Marya out and volunteering for this study.  Interviews typically last between 1 and 1.5 hours and consist of questions about your demographics, upbringing, dating history, and experiences from your current relationship.  Interviews are taped and stored under password protected files, using pseudonyms and other generic references to minimize the collection of personally identifiable information.  Ideally Marya would like to interview both members of the couple, but participation from both isn't required.

Now, Marya only needs ten couples or participants, but I'm hopefully optimistic that between all of us and the people that we know, we can make sure she has ten and then some.  And in case you're wondering, I'm signed up for my interview next week.

To learn more about Marya and the study visit:
Although the site includes geographic requirements, as this point Marya is interested in participants regardless of where they live.  If you're interested in participating, email Marya directly at
I thank you in advance.

The Liebster Blog Award

So, last week I had a comment on the Wedding Nouveau Giveaway Post that upon first glance, appeared to be spam.  But, alas, I took a second look and realized I was actually being presented with the Liebster Blog Award, definitely a first for me.

The purpose of the award is to give visibility to worthy, lesser known blogs with fewer followers.

The rules of accepting and receiving The Liebster Blog Award are:
1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
3. Copy & paste the blog award on your blog
4. Reveal your 5 blog picks.
5. Let them know you choose them by leaving a comment on their blog.

So I'd like to give a shout-out to PushingThirty for presenting me with this award, and my five blog picks are:

  1. Caramels on Maple Street - "adventures of mixed-race parenting in a small New England town"
  2. empatheia - "filled with the musings of a strong and resolved person, who cares deeply about the world and tries to spread light and hope to those who need it most"
  3. Me and The Mexican -  "A gringa (a.k.a. white girl) and a Mexican...... married in holy" matrimony
  4. Our Global Love - "Making an intercultural, interracial, inter-religious relationship work"
  5. The Cocoa Butter Tales - "A peek into the lives of a Korean-American male and an African-American female as they navigate their relationship - 21st century Romeo and Juliet style!"

Wedding Nouveau Giveaway Winner!

Congrats gypsywoman35! You've woman a complimentary electronic copy of the Fall 2011 issue of Wedding Nouveau.  Enjoy!

My Big, Fat, Racially Segregated Wedding

(This piece is featured in the Fall issue of Wedding Nouveau, "the premiere digital and print-on-demand bridal resource for multi-ethnic weddings and intercultural brides who dream in culture.")

Out of the 365 days of the year, for 364 of them, our wedding DVD collects dust on a bookshelf in our living room.  But every August 19th, my husband and I dust it off, watch and remember the day our family began.


When my husband and I moved to Boston five years ago, the way everyone spoke about the weather implied that after we drove over the Connecticut border we were basically going to freeze to death.  Yes, even though we moved in August.

The REAL Reason I'm Not Taking Your Last Name

For most of my childhood and adolescence, I hated my name.  For nineteen years, from 1st grade through my 3rd year of law school, my first day of school, in every class, each and every year would start off like this:

The 101st Question

In a previous post I mentioned the many, failed attempts by my mom and her friends and her friends' mothers to marry me off to "eligible Nigerian bachelors" (it takes a village).  During that time my mom also gave me the gift that keeps on giving, the infamous 100 Things to Know When Dating poster, well-known among my friends and past roommates, and affectionally referred to as "100 Ways To Kill Romance" by my husband.

From Beans to Chocolate

I knew something was up when my husband came home from work one evening, disappeared into our kitchen without a word, and reappeared in our living room holding two glass of bubbly.  Now you'd think I'd get the hint that he had something important to share with me, but as I am wont to do, I tried (and failed) double-tasking as long as I could, assuring my husband that I was hanging onto his every word by grunting a few "mm-hms" and "uh-huhs" every thirty seconds while clicking away on my keyboard, eyes locked on my computer.  When I realized the looming shadow suddenly cast over my screen was from my husband standing over me and not the sun setting, I had no choice but to put my computer aside and give him my undivided attention.

Your People Ain't My People

"Going home is not a vacation."  Don't get it twisted.

Because women are most often the 'kinkeepers,' that is, those who preserve and continue traditions within a family, this role can cause stress when their traditions collide with those of their in-laws.

- "The Daughter-In-Law's Survival Guide: Everything you need to know about relating to your mother-in-law (Women Talk About)"

"No, My Wife Is Not A White South African."

As lawyers working in a city where educational pedigree and professional achievement serve as ones calling card,  my husband and I meet lots of really smart people with tons of book sense and absolutely no common sense.  No matter how hard we try--no matter how BIG or OBVIOUS the hints--some people just catch on to the fact that our family consists of a white man and a black woman married to each other.

By Way of Introduction: Laura K. Warrell, Tart & Soul

I love all things local, including bloggers, and last month I had the pleasure of hosting Blogging While Brown's first (of many) Boston Meetup.  One of the many new friends I made is this week's guest blogger:  Laura K. Warrell, writer, teacher and author of the blog Tart & Soul: A Search for Connection and Meaning.  Before she takes over the world, I want to make sure you remember where you read her first.  Enjoy!

You Know You've "Arrived" When People Butcher Your Name

Many thanks to Boston Tweetup TV for the Blogging While Brown Boston Meetup plug. You get the award for the most "unique" and humorous butchering of my name.  From this day forward, I will go by "E. Teenuke O'Diver."


Why Boston

A photo I took the last time my parents were in town.  The Boston church where they were married.

Patriot's Day is coming up this Monday, and it's one of those holidays you're completely oblivious to unless you live in Massachusetts.  Celebrated annually on the third Monday of April, this holiday commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution that took place in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.  So imagine my pleasant surprise when I realized that the Blogging While Brown Boston Meetup I am hosting on Friday is being held in the Crispus Attucks Room! Crispus Attucks, a black man (although I'm sure his racial classification was probably much different in the 1770s), was the first person shot and killed by the British in the American Revolution. In fact, the site where he died is a five minute walk from my apartment building.

Considering the serendipitous confluence of these two events, I thought this would be a good week to tackle the age-old question asked of every black person who is not from Boston and moves to Boston of their own volition:

"Why the $#$@$#%! would you move to BOSTON?!"  

I get it, the city still has quite the public image problem, especially among adults of a certain age group who continue to circulate the common refrain that Boston is "a racist city."  Now granted, about 95% of the people I've heard this from a) have never actually visited Boston or b) were in Boston for 48 hours for a work conference and base their opinion on bad customer service at a restaurant.  But I guess a subjective opinion is subjectively valid.

Well, see, what had happened was, back in 2004, one Sunday morning after church in Durham, North Carolina, I met this guy who grew up in Woburn, Massachusetts.  After a year of friendship, nine months of dating, seven months of engagement, a year of marriage, we gave our friends and family the shock of their lives and announced our move to Boston for my husband's job.  In their minds, Boston had nothing for us: no family, no friends, no sweet tea.  Sadly, I don't recall too many expressions of excitement or happiness; just projections of insecurity and fear masked by a whole lot of questions:

"You've only been married a year, what are you going to do for a support system?"
"How are you going to find a church?"
"Is it safe?"
"You're not really going to raise children in the city are you?"
"Isn't the cost of living really high?"
"Why would you move up there to rent when housing is so much cheaper in the South?"
"You don't expect me to visit do you? It's too cold up there..."
"Why don't black people up there speak to each other?"

Fast-forward four years, I'm still growing in my appreciation of our adopted home.  It has less to do with surviving winters or dealing with the infamous lack of warmth Bostonians display to each other than my amazement at how much a family can achieve in just one generation.

My parents emigrated to the United States from Nigeria in the 1970s.  They came for the same two reasons as the rest of their friends: educational opportunity for themselves and their children.  After spending a year sleeping on a friend's couch in New York, my dad landed in Boston and brought my mom over.  They studied at Northeastern and UMass-Boston full-time, worked full-time, and raised two children full-time.  Living in a rental owned by Haitian family in Mattapan, my parents depended on the kindness of neighbors, friends, the church, and the government welfare system.

What they lacked in material wealth they made up for in deep relationships among their tight-knit, immigrant community.  So now when I walk around the city, the fruit of their sacrifice, labor, suffering and pain, I walk with my back a little straighter, my head held a little higher.  Because I know that the hotels and office buildings where I now run meetings and attend cocktail receptions are the very places my mother and her friends cleaned as a hotel maids and where my father and his friends worked graveyard shifts as a security guards.  And without them, there is no me.

The fact that so many people make blanket statements about places they've never visited speaks more to our propensity to fear the unknown, usually masked as "regional snobbery."  The West Coast is lazy, unproductive, passive aggressive, inclined to smoke weed, and way into their feelings.  The East Coast is anal retentive, mean, cold, violent, expensive, crowded, dirty, and not getting enough sunlight.  The South is S-L-O-W, overweight, hard to understand, not as intellectually engaged, and just straight country.  The Midwest? Well, it's just really cold and desolate.  And the Northeast is a den of abomination and seafood.

But what moving to Boston has taught me is that places are more the same than they are different.  It doesn't matter if the New York Times reports that the South or the North or Mars is the new utopian Shangri-la for interracial families, because in two weeks there will be another article, or study, or interview that says the exact opposite.  People will be people.  Racism and ignorance cannot be limited to a particular ethnicity, geographical boundary, socio-economic status, level of education, or profession.  And who knows, maybe a year from now--heck maybe even a week from now--I may be so fed up with snow and exorbitant heating bills that I start planning a defection back South.  But what I do know, at least right now, is that I love this city.  So when people ask, "Why Boston?"  I simply respond: "Because it feels like home."

Surviving Your Interracial Wedding Without Killing Your Relatives

If I close my eyes and change the accent a little, I'd swear it was my father talking...minus the free house.

Weddings, like funerals, tend to bring out the best and worst in families.  In preparation for the upcoming wedding season, I thought it would be helpful to share some wisdom I gleaned from surviving our own wedding (relatively) unscathed.

10.  Have The Tough Conversations Early.
Every culture has its own norms about weddings.  Generally, Western traditions place most of the planning responsibilities on the bride's family, but other traditions may place some responsibility equally on the groom's family or extended family members.  Take time early on in your planning to discuss expectations around roles, responsibilities, and most importantly, who's writing which checks to whom.

9.  Know Your Deal Breakers.
Unless your name happens to be Kate Middleton or Prince William of Wales,  you may need to make some compromises around your wedding.  So it's important to know what things are most important and which things you could care less about.  For example, I'm a stickler for time, and am well aware of the tendency for Nigerian functions to start at least one hour late.  On our wedding website I put "NO NIGERIAN TIME" next to the ceremony start time, and I told my family: "I love you and I want you to be part of our ceremony.  But if it's time to start and you're not there, as long as me, my husband-to-be, and the Pastor are there, we're starting."  And that's exactly what happened.

8.  Remember That The World Is Still Turning.
After our wedding, I remember a friend mentioning some unspoken rule that friends shouldn't call until three months after the wedding.  "What?!" I replied, "Who said that?!  That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!"  The rest of the world doesn't stop just because you're planning a wedding.  It may be your priority, you can't assume others feel the same way.  Hopefully you have more to contribute to a conversation than ideas about the ultimate wedding favor, the prices of flowers, or what cake/filling/fondant combination best suits your fancy.  Trust me, your friends will thank you later.

7.  Hijack The Reception Playlist
Should you find yourself having a "Whose Wedding Is This Anyway?" moment as your wedding day approaches, exert some control by slipping the deejay/band/musician your top picks for reception music.  Who cares if your future in-laws like to gather around in a drunken circle and scream "Sweet Caroline," "Don't Stop Believing," and "Livin' On A Prayer" at the top of their lungs?  If you want Kanye and Nirvana, you get Kanye and Nirvana.

6.  Make Sure Your Vendors Knows The Complexions Involved.
Shopping for wedding vendors got down right hilarious at times, especially when we met a photographer in Baltimore we nicknamed "The Dog Whisperer" because he seemed more interested in talking to us about his dog's psycho-emotional needs than our wedding photography.  Eventually we did find our photographer, Tony "That's Hot" Brown, also known locally in Maryland as "The Interracial Couple Photographer."  Unbeknownst to us, most of his prior clients were interracial couples which meant he had significant experience when it came to appropriate lighting for different complexions in the same picture.  Very important.

5.  Dance Lessons.
See: "If You're White, Keep It Tight."

4.  Don't Play Travel Agent.
Once you've booked a block of hotel rooms, your work is done.  Guests having visa problems? Send them to the State Department.  Guests looking for things to do?  Send them to the state/city tourism office.  Guests missed the room block deadline?  Send them to TripAdvisor.  Your guests don't expect you to plan their vacations any other time of the year so why start now?

3.  Turn Off Your Cell Phone.
If one of your guests calls you or your groom on the morning of your wedding day to ask for directions to the ceremony, to find out where you are registered, or (Heaven forbid) to RSVP, then something went terribly wrong.  Even if you're not using a wedding planner, let that guest consult with the internet, a relative, or a friend.

2.  Find a Hideout.
I refused to be "that bride": red-eyed and baggy-eyed, nodding off at the altar.  I refused to fill my days leading up to my wedding with non-stop airport runs,  food runs to feed all the people staying at my parents' house, or trips to Six Flags to chaperone small cousins.  Oh no.  I am not the one.  So I did what any reasonable bride would do: I hid.  My dear friend and her parents let me stay at their home during the week of the wedding.  I saw it as a win-win: my parents had an extra room to use for guests, and I maintained my sanity.

1.  Elope.
While we were at the county courthouse for our marriage license a few days before the wedding, I tried to convince my husband into getting married on the spot: "Come on! No one will know.  It'll be our little secret.  We'll still have the wedding.  But there'll be our 'Anniversary' and then there'll be our 'real Anniversary' that only you and I know about."  But cooler heads prevailed and we got married as planned.  *wink*

O.C.D. (Obsessed w/ Culture Disorder)

Maybe "obsessed" is a strong word, but my husband definitely agrees that I think about race and identitiy more than the average person.

Last weekend I attended "So...What Are You Anyway? Harvard's 3rd Annual Conference on Multiracial Identity" (SWAYA) organized by the Harvard Half-Asian People's Association (HAPA).  Because many interracial relationships produce multiracial children or involve adopted children who are of a different race from one (or both) of the adults in an interracial relationship, I thought I'd come and be a fly on the wall.

Upon entering Holden Chapel, I took a quick scan of the room, realized I was the only monoracial person present, and began humming the "One of These Things Is Not Like The Other" song from Sesame Street.  I walked briskly across the room with my head held high and settled into a seat at the front of the room.  Soon after, the Harvard HAPA President delivered her welcome and I found it hard to understand some of the words that were coming out of her mouth (and the mouths of people around me).  I'd only recently read about the term "Blasian"--one who identifies as Black and Asian-- but never heard someone actually say it in conversation until that evening.  And while many people proudly embraced terms like HAPA and "Half" to as part of their ethnic identity, those labels just didn't still well with me.

SWAYA is not only a student-run conference but also a heavily student-attended conference.  During the "Dinner and Meet & Greet" portion of the evening, I met a number of students from Ohio State, the largest group represented at the conference.  Other campuses in attendance included: Tufts, Wellesley, Northeastern, Brown, Villanova, University of Hartford, University of Massachusetts, Perdue, California Polytechnic, University of Maryland-College Park, and a bunch more that I couldn't write down fast enough (not that it matters because I can barely decipher my handwriting).

I'm very much the Early Bird, not the Night Owl, so by 8:00 pm, after a long week and three slices of pizza, I wanted to curl up in the corner and fall asleep.  But I stayed awake long enough to watch the screening of "One Big Hapa Family," the first feature documentary by Jeff Chiba Stearns, a Canadian filmmaker of Japanese and European heritage.  His film explores the high Japanese-Canadian interracial marriage rate (almost 100%) and how his own family reflects this trend in that everyone after his grandparents' generation married interracially.  After the screening Jeff spent some time discussing his own personal evolution in indentifying as multiracial person.  He pushed back on the notion of people using fractions to identify themselves (1/2 black, 1/4 white, etc.), inferring that such an approach dilutes and weakens a sense of self and potentially creates a "cult of confusion" among multiracial children.

Day Two of the conference began with me suffering from another case of chronic earliness (I had about an hour to kill).  After a breakfast of fruit and Fruit Loops (I did mention this was a student-run conference right?), Dean Evelyn Hammonds of Harvard College opened the day with her talk "New Technologies of 'Race'."  A historian of science by training, Dean Hammonds provided a useful retrospective of the history of race and science in medicine, acknowledging America as a "profoundly mixed nation" and asking the question: "What will it take to bring America back to its unhypenated whole?"  When I asked for her thoughts on recent media headlines over the latest Census data she responded: "Categories create identity.  Those boxes will never tell the full story of identity in America."  She also mentioned the need for "more public and civil discourse" about "what it means to be American," and in light of the recent Jalen Rose-Duke University controversy, "what it means to be African-American."

Next was a panel discussion "Raising Mixed Race Children."  I must say, the panel definitely left me raise my children under a GEICO rock.  As I listened to panelists discuss the joys and challenges of raising mixed race children, I experienced a whole range of emotions.  Sadness, as I listened to a child say that her biggest cultural shock/challenge was that her mother can't "deal with black hair"  (I think I actually let out an audible gasp and an "Oh no!" while placing my hand over put my upper chest).  Shock, as I listened to more than one parent talk about how they choose not to emphasize racial identity in their homes.  Empathy, as I listened to a wife recall how her husband's family tried to stop their wedding.  Joy, as laughed over a father's story about his failed attempt to compliment his future grandmother-in-law's cooking in Chinese (instead of saying she had "fine food" he ended up saying she had a "fine a--").  And relief when a father corrected his wife's assumption that "education makes a huge difference in being more accepting" by pointing out that one of his most bigoted relatives earned a PhD from Harvard.

The last two presentations made me wish I'd paid more attention in freshman statistics and psychology.  Dean David Smith lectured on "The Challenges and Potential of Critical Mixed Race Studies."  Now, I'd never even heard of "Mixed Race Studies"!  I'm I the only person?  Gotta get out from under my GEICO rock more often.  Then Arnold K. Ho presented preliminary findings of his ongoing research: "The Categorization and Perception of Biracials in Contemporary America: The 'One Drop of Blood' Rule Revisited."  His talk focused on social dominance theory and how the nature of hierarchies impact how we see people from multiracial groups and how patterns of interracial marriage mirror prevailing hierarchies in society.  The term "hypodescent" was thrown around a bunch and I'm sure all the experts he quoted and cross-referenced were all really smart, important, accomplished people, but I had a pressing issue that I needed answered:

Me: "Hi! Um, thanks for your presentation.  It was really informative and I learned alot.  Now, you've quoted a lot of experts and social scientists, but what I'd really like to know is: what is your opinion of Halle Berry?"
Arnold: "Oh! Halle Berry?!"
Me: "Uh, yes.  Since you study this stuff for a living, what do you think about Halle Berry and the comments she made about her daughter's racial identity based on the one-drop rule?"
Arnold: "Oh.  Well the statement she made basically supports what I've been finding in my research."
Me: "Oh, how convenient!"

Overall, I found the conference a truly educational experience.  I applaud Harvard HAPA for all the hard work put into a really engaging and informative weekend and look forward to joining them next year.

"If You're White, Keep It Tight."

Yeah, my husband tried that "pretend yawn arm around the shoulder move" on me.  Obviously it worked!

When it comes to rhythm, "White People" get a bad wrap.  Try doing a "soul clap" with an interracial audience and if it veers offbeat, who gets the blame? The White People.  Lead a song in church with everyone clapping on the 2 and 4,  and if it turns into the 1 and 3 who gets the blame? The White People. Try leading the Electic Slide at a wedding reception, and if part of the group ends up in the wrong direction who gets the blame? The White People.  In fact the title of this piece came from a (white) pastor  attempting to "exhort" a certain population that gets a little too "free" when it comes to physical expression.

My husband and I didn't do much dancing while we dated because 1) we're both homebodies and 2) my husband used to be pretty averse to dancing.  In fact, the first time we danced together in public was just a few months before our own wedding.  We were attending a wedding reception for a family friend and when the song African Queen came on, the next thing I knew my husband was making a beeline to the dance floor, dragging me behind him.  Interestingly enough, we met another interracial couple while we were dancing, who suddenly turned an innocent celebration into a competition.  They were trying to show us up!  Well we couldn't have that; not up in my hometown, no sir. So from there it basically degraded into an outtake from You Got Served: Interracial Couple Dance Battle Royale.

Early in the wedding planning process, I had some concerns about whether my husband would survive all the dancing that a wedding entailed.  And when we started putting together our reception playlist and program these concerns only grew larger:

Me: "Okay, so after our first dance I'll dance with my dad, you'll dance with my mom, we'll dance with each others' parents, and theninvite the rest of our family up to dance."
My Husband: Okay.
Me: And then we have to play The Electric Slide, because you just can't have a wedding without The Electric Slide.  I mean I think technically in the State of Maryland your wedding is invalid if you don't do The Electric Slide at your reception."
Hubs: (Silence. Blank stare.)
Me: "Why are you looking at me like that? It was just a joke!  Well, that last part anyway.  So, then we should do The Cha Cha Slide..."
Hubs: (Silence. Blank stare.)
Me: "Oh! And then we should Step In The Name of Love! Oh wait, maybe we should do that first? Before The Cha Cha Slide?"
Hubs: (Blank stare. Crickets chirping in the background)

Rest assured, we arranged to have a friend stop by teach my husband and his family the basics.  In fact, my favorite wedding photo is of everyone doing The Cha Cha Slide showing how-low-we-can-go-we-can-go-down-low-all-the-way-to-the-floor.

So I don't need to tell you who won the interracial dance battle *wink* *smirk*, but more importantly, that moment confirmed once again that yes, my husband was the man for me.  It made no difference whether he could Pop and Lock, do the Kid n' Play, or clear the floor and bust out The Worm.  What mattered was his willingess to step out of his comfort zone and try something new so that we could have a good time together and make a memory.  And he's become quite the dancing machine! Particularly when we're in cities where no one knows us.  I'm proud to be seen with him on the dancefloor.  Much to my surprise.

And I now realize that "rhythm" has more to do with context and culture than simply race.  I might be able to hold my own at a Go-Go but if I tried to hold my own against either one of these guys, I'd look a hot mess.  And for some reason I just can't get the hang of Conga Lines or any dance that involves a large group of people moving in a circular direction.  Put me in a Lebanese Dance Circle or in the middle of a Texas Two Step at a wedding reception and I'm liable to sneak off and find another piece of wedding cake after struggling for about three minutes.  Even in my own family some of us are first on the dancefloor and some avoid it all costs.  I'm sure there are many musicians who probably can't even dance to their own music, preferring to just lean back, rock with it, do a foot tap or a head nod.

So if nothing else, I've learned the futility of writing off someone's rythmic ability based merely on where they're from, how they look, or how they move in a particular instance.  In fact, I think the best advice is summed up by the great philosopher Henry David Thoreau: 

"If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away. "

Or as stated by the great philospher Young MC: "Just bust a move."

10 Things Nigerians and The Irish Have in Common

Earlier this week I noticed the following update on a friend's Facebook Wall:
I wanna know how cabbage at Kroger goes on sale on Sunday for $0.37 and is all sold out by Monday?!? Seriously, sold out... How are these women on the ball like that? I need to step up my game!"

My response:
St Patty's Day is Thursday girl! You know us Irish folk don't play when it comes to our cornbeef and cabbage! You probably got punked by a gang of Irish grandmas!

Now I must admit, before marrying my husband, the extent of my Saint Patrick's Day celebration was digging out a green accessory to avoid serial pinching on the school bus.  Since marrying into a large, Irish family, I've grown a greater appreciation for the holiday because I see how much pride my husband's family takes in celebrating its ethnic heritage (particularly on Saint Patrick's).  Although most dialogue around interracial relationships focuses on differences, in the spirit of Saint Patty's Day, I thought I'd reflect on some of the quirky commonalities between our families of origin that we've noticed over the years.

10.  Lots of People Have the Same Name
Meeting my husband's extended family for the first time was like the "meet the parents'' scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding without the tiki torches, music, and whole baby lamb roasting over a spit in the backyard.  In the movie, the bride's father begins to introduce his siblings, their children (all named Anita, Diane, and Nick) and rounds out the introductions with “Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nicky, and Gus."  The Irish version is Jim, Jim, Jim, Jimmy, Jim, and James and the Nigerian version would include at least three or four of guys nicknamed "Tunde" or "Olu."

9.  A "Complicated" Relationship With Great Britain
Considering the history of the "modern" World, who doesn't have a complicated relationship with Great Britain?    During our last large family gathering one of my uncles-in-law made a joke about the family really being British and my grandparents-in-law were not amused.

8.  Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Aside from slaves and indentured servants, most Irish and Nigerian families in the United States have the common bond of immigration.  My husband's ancestors came to America due to a potato famine while my parents came to secure educational opportunity for themselves and their children.  Although life in the America proved to be a vast improvement over conditions back home, my husband and I know stories from our respective families about the discrimination they faced like being called "N---er" for the first time and seeing "Irish Need Not Apply" signs in front of businesses that were hiring.

7.  The Color Green
Nigerians love the color green.  The Nigerian flag is, after all, green-white-green.  Ireland is also known as "The Emerald Isle," shamrocks are green, the uniforms for the Boston Celtics are green, and the Notre Dame mascot wears some green too!

6.  Guinness
Except for Heineken, you'd be hard pressed to find any other beer at a Nigerian party besides Guinness. And if my husband and I are in an Irish pub, I think technically its sacrilegious for him to order anything else.  Guinness has been brewed in Nigeria since the 1960s and allegedly, Nigeria drinks more Guinness than Ireland!
5.  Soccer
This probably ties back to #9.  Outside of the World Cup, there are only two places I watch soccer: 1) A Nigerian Party or 2) An Irish Pub.

4.  Catholicism
A few weeks ago I was listening to a North Carolina Public Radio interview with Enuma Okoro, author of Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert's Search for Spiritual Community (a great read which I highly recommend) who spent part of her childhood in Nigeria.  During the interview, the host mistakenly referred to Nigeria as "a Muslim country."  While I sucked my teeth and rolled my eyes at what I perceived as a lack of diligent preparation on the part of the interviewer, Enuma graciously clarified that Nigeria is a country of diverse faiths largely (though not entirely) divided among geographic and tribal lines: the Muslim Hausa in the North, the Christian/Anglican Yoruba in the Southwest, and the Christian/Catholic Igbo in the Southeast.

3.  Patron Saints
Piggybacking off of Number 3, Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and Nigeria.  Clearly the connection between the two countries is on a deep, spiritual level.

2.  We Roll Deep
Nigerians call them "tribes."  The Irish call them "clans."  Whatever label you use, what matters is that you never walk alone.

1.  Mating With Each Other
The summer before my husband and I were engaged, I was living at home with my parents while interning in Washington, DC and my husband (then boyfriend) was interning in Northwest Virginia.  He would spend the weekends with me and my family, experiencing the fullness of "Party Season" among Nigerians in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area.  The season runs from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend and my parents' social calendar stays jam-packed with graduation ceremonies, engagement ceremonies, weddings, cook-outs, Yoruba festivals, anniversary celebrations, and birthday parties.  That summer most of our outings were wedding related, and we began running into more and more interracial couples.  About a year later we were planning our own wedding and knew three or four other couples that consisted of Nigerian-American girls marrying Irish guys from the East Coast.  At one point it got so creepy that my mom confronted me in the kitchen (in a very loving, motherly way of course), asking me to explain this "phenomenon among you young people."  I assured her that I was much too busy planning a wedding and studying for the Bar Exam to execute a large-scale, national, interracial hook-up conspiracy.

To all of you who are celebrating, Happy Saint Patrick's Day!  And if you make it to the Southie (South Boston) Parade on Sunday, I'll be the Black lady wearing the "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" button.