Breaking the News: Delusional Demetrius

de·lu·sion [dih-loo-zhuhn] — n
1. a mistaken or misleading opinion, idea, belief, etc.

A cardinal rule in creative writing is to never tell the reader when you can show the reader, and I've found this approach useful when telling people that my husband--contrary to their assumption--is not black.  When my husband and I first began dating, the first people who knew were my two closest friends in North Carolina.  Meanwhile, my parents and their friends were in Maryland scheming to marry me off to an eligible, Nigerian bachelor.  So my first experience involved "breaking the news" to my dad over the phone while my mom was out of town for a conference.  Our conversation was the epitome of brevity:

Me: "Hi dad.  I met this guy, that I really like, and we've decided to start dating.  I just wanted to let you and mom know."
Dad:  "Okay, well just make sure that you spend time talking about things that are important and you really get to know each other."

At this point in the conversation I'm thinking to myself: "This has been way too easy! What I'm I forgetting?"  And then suddenly I remember:

Me: "Oh, by the way, he's white."
Dad: "UHHHHHHOOOOOOH....I need to talk to your mother."
And then my dad hangs up.

Ideally, I wouldn't have heard that little voice that said "Tinu, you better tell your Dad he's white!" but I'd sat through enough conversations with my parents to know how they felt about interracial relationships and how sharply their opinions diverged on the subject.  I don't remember much else about that night except my mom calling from whatever time zone she was in to make sure my dad wasn't hearing things.  In hindsight I realize the shock would have been lessened if I hadn't called home and just showed up one Thanksgiving with my husband (then boyfriend) in tow like he was just another friend from law school looking for a place to crash for the holiday.  My brother dated girls throughout high school and college who weren't Nigerian and I don't think my parents ever gave them a second thought or saw them as any cause for serious concern.  But up to that point, my dad knew me better than anyone in the world, so when he got the call, he knew this was serious.  Turns out he was right.

Some of the most comical "breaking the news" moments are when I've dropped several hints that my husband isn't who the person people assume that he is but people still don't quite get it until my husband appears and shock (or embarassment) comes over their face.  To a certain extent, I empathize with people who initially assume that my husband is black because I make the same assumptions about other people too.  And the most telling conversations are when someone finds out my husband's race after they've poured out their heart to me about how disgusted they are by interracial relationships or after they make some disparaging remark about a specific person and then attribute that characteristic to all men of a particular race.  I could tell you more about it, but I thought it would be more entertaining to show you.  So in the spirit of humor and parody, and in the same vein as  "So You Want to Go to Law School" and "Black Marriage Negotiations," I bring you: "Breaking the News: Delusional Demetrius," starring me and my make believe mentor, compliments of Xtranormal.  Enjoy!

What Would You Do?: Hoboken Harrassment

Did anyone else catch this on ABC over the weekend?  When I got home from the Celtics vs Jazz game I had a bunch of texts from friends who told me about the "What Would You Do" segment featuring an interracial couple being harassed by people in a restaurant.  This scenario is a good lead in to my next post (Breaking the News) so I'd be interested to hear what other people think:

My friends and I have been chatting about it over Facebook and text messages and I would love to hear what other people thought.  Here were my comments after I mulled over the video for a bit:

So I thought the acting was a little sketchy and the commentary was strange (I mean how many times do you need to use the words "bigot" and "racist" in a 3 minute clip?!).

I guess I should be thankful (?) that I have never found myself in this scenario- as the couple being harassed or witnessing another couple being harassed- but if I have to choose between knowing where someone stands versus having someone smile in my face and then say something different when I leave the room, I think I'd choose knowing where someone stands.
By the way, why was the guy in the interracial couple such a wimp?! He barely said two words! And then just left and left his woman at the bar crying?! What in the world?!
Some food for thought:
1.  What would you do if you were the couple being harassed or watching a couple being harassed?
2.  If someone has a problem with your interracial relationship, would you perfer to know how that person truly feels or keep it to him/herself?
3.  Do you think gender played a role in how this whole scenario played out?
Discuss. Discuss.

Elephants in a Room Full of White Noise: My Big, Fat, Confusing MLK Weekend

As a child growing up in Prince George's County, Maryland, my memories of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday were those of celebration.  Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday played on a continual loop over my school's intercom system before the morning announcements.  My classmates and I learned songs like Lift Every Voice and Sing and basic choreography routines (i.e. clap sway left, clap sway right) in preparation for the school's MLK assembly (and our music teacher Ms. Harris encouraged some of us to help the more, let's say, "rhythmically challenged" classmates stay on beat).  There were oratory and essay contests, field trips to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and getting out of spelling word drills to watch the next segment of Eyes on the Prize.

As a college student and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I learned what it meant to observe the holiday through celebration and service.  So we still sang, danced, wrote essays and gave speeches.  But we also gave out scholarships to public school students, picked up trash on neglected highways, and visited lonely nursing home residents.  And every once in a while a great speaker or two like Cornel West or Nikki Giovanni would come through to share their words of wisdom.

This year my MLK holiday weekend began at the Museum of Science's new exhibit called Race: Are We So Different? Honestly, I thought that in some ways, the answer was "yes" but it was clear from the exhibit that my answer was supposed to be "no."  My husband and I visited the museum with friends who are also a married, interracial couple, so I found it comically ironic that we had to drop a "yes, we're together" when the museum volunteer at the exhibit entrance failed to recognize our husbands as the other two members of our party of four.  Once we got inside and looked around we thought "Oh, we'll be in and out of this place in like fifteen minutes max."  An hour and a half later the four of us met up to debrief about the exhibit and our impressions.  Personally, I was struck by how many of the first recorded references to race in Colonial America (and laws instituting racial segregation) were prompted by a fears of interracial marriage between whites and free blacks. At times I found the exhibit depressing, particularly the section about the history of blacks in America.  And I felt the exhibit lacked a certain realistic groundedness as to how race impacts contemporary, American life.  While I can appreciate how humans are more alike than different in terms of gene sequences, and how you couldn't tell the difference between races if we all had our skin ripped off, and how all human beings can trace their origins to Africa, the reality is that while God may not look on the outward appearance, humans do it all the time.

On Sunday we went to church, and since I've attended non-denominational, multi-ethnic churches for most of my life, I'm used to hearing at least an MLK shout-out at church the Sunday before the holiday.  Still, I was surprised when I looked down at my church bulletin and saw the title of day's sermon, Grace and Race: Unity in Diversity.  I have a short attention span so most Sunday mornings at church are a struggle for me anyway, but I made a concerted effort to listen.  For the first time in my life I sit under the teaching of a Korean pastor and attend a church with a dominant/majority culture that is pan-Asian (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, etc.).  So I when the sermon began going down the path of black-white race relations I started furrowing my eyebrows (think Chloe from the first season of 24).  I thought it was interesting that the sermon challenged us to look at our social networks and evaluate whether we have people in our lives who can impact us that don't look like us.  And if so, we were to ask ourselves whether these people were just token friends or more like family.  But as we walked home I wondered why we weren't challenged to ask ourselves how we'd react if our kids started marrying the kids of those "friends who don't look like us and are like family."

On Monday I attended the 41st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast at the Boston Convention Center, an event I've had the opportunity to attend for the last four years.  After a series of invocations, musical selections, and greetings from our esteemed head table (including Senator Scott Brown's "Can't we all just get along?!"), Princeton Professor Dr. Melissa Perry-Harris delivered the keynote address, comparing the political and social climate of 2011 to 1967 when Dr. King asked: "Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community?"  At the conclusion of Dr. Harris' speech, after the standing ovation died down and we had all reclaimed our seats, the emcee took a moment to recognize the speaker's husband who was in attendance recognizing that "behind every strong woman is a strong man!"  In my years of attending the breakfast this is the first time I remembered this happening and as Dr. Harris' husband stood, received his applause and sat down, I secretly hoped that any husband, regardless of his skin color, would receive the same honor and recognition.

So as an adult living in Boston, I've gained a greater sensitivity for how the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday prompts discussions around race like no other day of the year. For the first time in my life I experienced what I call "race talk overload."  For eleven months, three weeks, and six days our society largely avoids substantive discussions around race and then suddenly, race is playing non-stop for twenty-four hours, just like Stevie Wonder playing all morning in my elementary school.  Now I always welcome a good, thoughtful, discussion on just about anything.  Heck, I was raised in a family where our love language is arguing!  But I question whether our MLK race talks accomplish anything other than maintaining the status quo of elephants in a room filled with white noise: meaningless and distracting chatter about obvious problems that no one wants to discuss.  And I yearn for conversations about race that aren't treated like holiday greeting cards at CVS: confined to a particular space for a particular season and then tossed out before the next holiday is even on the horizon.

Why I Spank Other People's Kids

"Me and Cheryl have a little process, a little system, called Beat A@#! Early.  It wouldn't ever really evolve  into hitting.  It's more of a pinching thing, like, if you do get fed up to the point where you feel like you want to hit your child, instead of hitting him you can pinch him."

"Ah, come on with that time-out.  Time-out's for white people.  Get out of here with that."

-Excerpts from the book Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and Americaby Paul Tough

A couple of years ago I almost got into a fight with a homeless man in Washington, DC and ever since my husband has tried (and failed) to keep me from inserting myself into other people's business.  I was in DC for work and on my way to the training location, I walked by a homeless man who asked me for change. I denied his request and he responded: "Fine, you black b$%@*&!"

Now most days I would just shrug it off, charging his belligerence to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a mental disorder, but this was not one of those days. I turned around, proceeded to curse him out, and made it known: "I'm from P.G. County!" The only problem is that my cursing began to agitate him and he proceeded to chase after me. Thankfully all of this occurred in close proximity to my destination so I just ran inside of the building. But it does make me wonder why people reference their hometowns during altercations. I remember hearing Taylor from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills saying: "I'm about to take you out back and get all Oklahoma on your a#*%&#!" Wow. Oklahoma? Really?

Last year a friend gave me the book Stickin' To, Watchin' Over, and Gettin' With: An African American Parent's Guide to Discipline after a heated debate I had with my husband about my habit of inserting myself into other people's business. I do blame my mother. To this day she carries out impeccable, covert operations on all of her children and anyone who steps within ten feet of her home. We can't get anything past her. Although some might balk at the idea of a book focused on discipline within the context of a specific race and culture, just over the last week there have been three very high profile models of discipline that were all different and arguably tied to culture. First there was the "Uncle Beating His Wanna Be Thug Nephew Over Facebook" (complete with about five lashes from a belt that would have been better suited for holding up the uncle's pants; interesting to note that Youtube recently removed the video for "shocking and disgusting content"). Then you have Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States of America, "Negotiating Release of Speech Script From Three-Year-Old Thief " (my favorite part if when the Vice President snatches the speech back, ha!). And then the highly controversial and contested Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua called "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior."

So, my latest run-in occurred one sunny, Boston afternoon as we walked home from an ice cream run at J.P. Licks.  Our apartment building at the time had a number of shops and restaurants on the ground floor and on this particular day, the florist held a sidewalk sale to make room for new inventory.  While passing by the wares lined up outside of the flower shop and along the sidewalk, I noticed some young boys running in and out of the stores, yelling, and causing a ruckus.  I pretended to ignore them, but behind my sunglasses I was pulling a "Focker."  I kept my eye on the boys, two black males who looked like they somewhere between the ages of eleven and thirteen. 

Then my jaw dropped as I watched one of the boys steal an item from the florist and start walking away--he didn't pay and he had no intention to pay (it wasn't one of those "let me run around the corner to the ATM real quick" type of situations, it was more like one of those "petty larceny" type of situations).   I pulled down my shades, gave him the side-eye/now-you-know-you-wrong look and stated loud enough for everyone on the sidewalk, across the street, and in the neighborhood to hear: "UM, YOU MIGHT WANT TO PUT THAT BACK."  The young man froze like a deer in headlights, turned around, put the item back, gave me the evil eye and murmured something under his breath about "playing around."  I didn't catch his response because my husband grabbed my arm and dragged me into our apartment building, scolding me for sticking my nose where it didn't belong.

My Husband: "What were you thinking?!  Now he know where you lives!  (and I thought to myself "well, he wouldn't know where I lived if you hadn't dragged me in here!")  That kid could have a gun!  He might come back looking for you!  You shouldn't get involved in other people's business!"

Me:  "Shoot!  I ain't scared of no little kid!  I'm from P.G. County! (see, there it goes again; and how announcing that fact would stop a weapon, object, or person from hitting me, I do not know)  I wish he would try something!

Now, rest assured, my husband's reaction wasn't motivated by a domineering sense of paternalism or some deep-seated fear of black men as perpetual perpetrators of violence.  He just wanted to make sure I didn't have  a repeat of the scene in DC.  Understanding something like how a person's culture informs their approach to disciplining children can be hard to understand and accept as an outsider looking in.  So in trying to explain my rationale for the florist incident to my husband, initially I struggled for words.  I knew I couldn't give trite and shallow defenses like: "Well, you don't understand because white people don't know how to discipline their kids, they just run around all crazy and wild," or "The only children Americans think about are their own, they'd probably prefer just throwing those two black boys in jail," because I knew neither of those statements to be completely true based on  my own experiences.

But what I could explain to my husband was that as a black woman raised in a hybrid culture of middle-class Black America and upwardly-mobile Nigerian immigrant, I am acutely aware that my success as an adult is because of "the village" that raised me: their Stickin' To-- unconditional love and support (affection); Watchin' Over -- loving supervision (protection); and Gettin' With -- loving confrontation and accountability (correction). And as an adult, I think it is important for me to show that same care and concern for youngsters whose lives I have the opportunity to influence.

Why I'm Still A Jill Scott Fan

My new friend is handsome, African-American, intelligent and seemingly wealthy. He is an athlete, loves his momma, and is happily married to a White woman. I admit when I saw his wedding ring, I privately hoped. But something in me just knew he didn't marry a sister. Although my guess hit the mark, when my friend told me his wife was indeed Caucasian, I felt my spirit...wince. I didn't immediately understand it. My face read happy for you. My body showed no reaction to my inner pinch, but the sting was there, quiet like a mosquito under a summer dress.
- Jill Scott

For me, going to the hair salon is fifty percent about actually getting my hair done, twenty percent about laughing with the other ladies at the shop, and thirty percent about catching up on all the issues of Jet, Ebony, and Essence that I've missed between appointments.  Which explains why I'm always so late when it comes to finding out about some celebrity "scandal" or "controversy," one example being Jill Scott's article on interracial dating in the March 2010 issue of Essence; I encourage you to read the entire piece for yourself.

In the article Scott discusses the internal sting felt by her and many other black women upon discovering that a handsome, successful black man is married to a white woman.  She emphatically denies that any of her feelings are rooted in prejudice toward any race or people group, but rather America's history of race, slavery, sex, and a Euro-centric standard of beauty.  The "wince" that Scott feels basically amounts to a sense of betrayal committed by black men against black women.  For black women to have served as the venerable paragon of the ride-or-die chick throughout history by literally and figuratively carrying the burdens, hopes, and pains of an entire people on our backs, a black man's "vote" for a white woman is essentially a "vote" against all of the black women who enabled him to become a success story. 

While I appreciate the historical context Scott provides in the commentary, the problem is that her story is incomplete.  Slavery is part of the African story in America, but it is not the only chapter.  Her article reminds me of a TED Talk given by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie entitled "The Danger of the Single Story."  The author recalls her first trip to Mexico and how American media coverage of the immigration debate wrongly colored her view about an entire country:

I remember walking around on my first day in Guadalajara; watching the people going to work, rolling up to tiers in the marketplace, smoking, laughing.  I remember at first feeling slight surprise, and then, I was overwhelmed with shame.  I realized that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans, that they had become one thing in my mind: abject immigrant.  I had bought into the single story of Mexicans and I could not have been more ashamed of myself.  So that is how to create a single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

Similarly, to recall the history of blacks in America as only about race, sex, slavery, and a Euro-centric standard of beauty robs a people of its dignity and common sense of humanity.  So while it is true that "the Black slave woman was overworked, beaten, raped and farmed out like cattle to be mated,"  it is equally true that people, black and non-black "struggled together, mourned together, starved together, braved the hoses and vicious police dogs and died untimely on southern back roads together."  Personally, I am eternally grateful to the Washington, DC couple who gave a whole new meaning to the motto "Virginia is for Lovers." 

Scott's article received praise, derision, and claims of racism.  And while I disagree with the premise upon which she bases her opinion, I can appreciate her honesty and willingness to speak what many people think and feel but are to scared to admit out loud.  I am still a Jill Scott fan because she kept it real.  And this world could use a little more reality.