So it does seem here lately that people want to know what Black women think. I mean there is so much hype today over “The Help”. Look, I appreciated the movie. And Viola Davis was extraordinary as usual. But there were no surprIses there AT ALL. Did you think the Black maids would say they were kicking up their heels to be degraded everyday? I don’t think so.

On the contrary, “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” offers something very different. Developed by Issa Rae, it gives a voice to a Black woman who tends to be invisible altogether in the media, an awkward Black woman, just trying to make it through her awkward life. Now that is a big surprise.

It is a comedy and I actually found myself laughing out loud. That almost never happens with me watching any sort of sitcom. The writing is crisp and smart and you feel this woman’s pain. We are laughing at her and ourselves for those times that we have all felt at least a little awkward.

It is an internet program that almost halted production because they ran out of money. They were able to raise money through an online donation service to keep it going. They exceeded their goals in terms of the money they raised, because so many folks did not want to lose this great show.

In a way it is powerful because it represents the freedom to be awkward or to be anything other than a stereotype.

Run to your computer. Check it out and tell me what you think:
awkwardblackgirl.com

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The attached link says everything that needs to be said on the subject of the “Black women are less attractive..” topic that set the internet ablaze this week.

The premise of this so-called research is absolutely ridiculous. There is really nothing to argue about there.

Based on what I have learned about the psychologist who performed this stupid study, he seems to be seeking his five minutes of fame by executing studies that are as provocative as possible.

I don’t like to spend too much time on such rubbish but it does drive home a point I’ve made in the past; psychologists have issues and biases of their own. And just like with any other product you consume (even research), please shop carefully.

In addition, the absence of jugdment on the staff’s part at Psychology Today is also of concern, and in my estimation pathetic.

All research, even legitimate, thoughtful research, has limitations. All research. The fact that the psychologist fails to mention any limitations also tells you something about his credibility. The attached article outlines only a few of the apparent flaws of this so-called study. See:
http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/18/satoshi-kanazawa-black-women-psychology-today?cat=commentisfree&type=article

P.S. I was looking for an image of a beautiful African American woman and landed on Tracy Chapman.

Just in case you were wondering why this shrink is so concerned about the media, I have an answer for you.  We digest massive amounts of information each day through radio, television, billboards, music, magazines…  Sometimes we are not paying close attention but suddenly we are singing a song we didn’t know we knew, or wanting that new thingamajig because, “well, I don’t know, I just want it”.  Media and advertising are powerful: there is a whole branch of psychology geared toward shaping your behavior through advertising that makes it so.  Unfortunately, stereotypes about Black people loom large in this media.  Living consciously means making every effort to take control of what we digest from media.

Anyway, when I stumbled upon this work, I thought it had positive, clear messages about developing countries in Africa;  essential in terms of undoing all those negative stereotypes about Africa many of us grew up with.

Anyway, I adore Jill Scott, but I had not been a huge fan of her acting.  I also loved Anika Noni Rose’s singing, not necessarily from Dreamgirls where I just feel like her gifts were downplayed, but from a Broadway play, Caroline or Change which I despised except for Rose’s singing which was amazing.  I was mad at Rose for doing The Princess and the Frog which I thought was a catastrophe in terms of psychologically healthy Black roles.  The author of the book The No 1. Ladies Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith) was an African citizen from birth, although not Black, a mild concern for me.  With all of this you would think I would never go out and rent the series, but all 7 episodes later…

This beautiful little show takes place in Botswana. You really get a feeling for the communities there.  Scott and Rose pull off the accents, and confirm for me what I believe true, that there are more similarities between people of African descent than distinctions although we have tried so hard to distance ourselves because of the negative images pounded into our heads usually from mainstream media about who we are.   The characters are real, all like people you may know, but they are out there solving crimes and shedding light on relationships between lovers and families.  The characters themselves have issues.  Scott’s character, Precious Ramotswe is struggling with the early death of her child and a divorce from an abusive man. Rose’s character, Grace Makutsi is the perfect tightly wound anxiety ridden secretary with great ambitions.  Together they are brilliant.  The ensemble works together magically.  (And hey, please name for me any other Black women sole leads on TV anywhere before this.  I cannot think of one).

There is nothing like it I have ever seen on TV that is so engaging and fun, and at the same time able to bring to light some serious issues, such as the AIDS epidemic.  The whole family can watch.   I would say 10 years old and up is okay.  A great way to spend a rainy day; no cursing and limited violence.

I know that HBO has terminated the series, but there is blogging going out there about them brining it back periodically as “movies”.  I hope so.  In the meantime, maybe I’ll go read the books.

Living Consciously

June 21, 2010

“As an expression of positive self-esteem we have to promote the value of living consciously in a society where everyone is encouraged to be  unconscious.”               bell hooks

So it is not easy to live consciously in the here and now with a clear awareness of our challenges and our strengths.  It seems that Americans have a particular difficulty with wanting to live in reality.  For starters, we consume more illegal drugs than any other country.  In addition, food is rapidly becoming our drug of choice.  For the first time in history, the current generation stands a chance to die at an age younger than the previous generations due to the level of obesity in our society.

The barriers to living consciously include:  Our own brains. Our brains work hard to shield us from stress by helping us find ways to deny reality, maintain a fantasy or simply just forget our problems.  Then, there is American society at large that promotes fantasy because it sells stuff, a byproduct of capitalism.  You may distract yourself from other painful thoughts if you can believe that owning a particular brand of whatever makes you a better this or that. 

Media has also lately become pretty useless in terms of us knowing what is really going on in other parts of the world.  My mom worked for CBS News for years, she is retired now, but over her last 10 yearsof working she would say:  “News is dead.”  I seriously did not understand what she was talking about until recently.  It dawned on me when I was watching a morning “news” program that had no news except for what was going on with celebrities.  What?

But on the side of denial, some of the stuff we don’t know can be painful and overwhelming. I know watching the very real underwater plumes of oil makes me feel helpless and worried.   However, if we know what’s going on around us, we can do something about it, even if it is in a small way, like vote for and support people who will put in proper regulations to prevent this crap.  If we know what’s going on around us we can put into perspective what is important, like our health and our loved ones.

On the side of reality, I want to share with you a blog radio show of which I have become a fan.  I say to my self: ” Ok, I will only listen to part of it”, then I find myself completely absorbed, listening in for what they are saying even after the show has apparently ended.  It’s called:   The World In Black and White and you can find it at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/theworldinblackandwhite .  It is really laying down some very hefty discussions about politics and race.  You may not agree with everything they are saying, but you will definitely be provoked to think deeply about things.  This is not for children, the language can be quite raw.

(August 7th 2010:  Note on “The World in Black and White”  on blogtalkradio.  Just over one month ago the co-anchors went their separate ways.  The discussions were such that they could not see eye to eye on some issues of race.   Frankly, I was siding with the woman anchor on most of the issues as the male anchor was pushing the idea that whites experience as much “racism as Blacks”.  Umm, I know we have come a long way, but I don’t think so…  The woman anchor will be starting her own show so I will keep you posted.)

Viva Viola!

June 13, 2010

I am not prone to gushing over celebrities.  Ok, maybe a few times over Lenny Kravitz when I crossed paths with him. 

Anyway, is there anything Viola Davis cannot do? She pulled a Dame Judi Dench, getting a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination, just after a few minutes on screen in Doubt.  After I saw the movie, I understood completely how she could be nominated. Here she gave us a woman in deep conflict, making extremely difficult choices to ensure the survival of her son. 

Viola is a brilliant and often underrated actress, maybe because sometimes she is so good at morphing into characters that you don’t even recognize her.  She is presently on Broadway now in Fences with Denzel Washington, and up for a Tony Award tonight. Good Luck Viola!!!!

I was awed when I saw her interview on Charlie Rose the other night (To see interview,  go to  http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11051.)

She was talking about how the “Strong Black Woman” stereotype needs to die.  I have felt the same way for a very long time.  She longs for the day when we can “just be”.  Boy, that would be a relief.  I would put a few other stereotypes to rest as well, including “The Angry Black Woman” and “The Mammy”, and “The Sapphire”.  I am sure there are others.

She talked about how often her personality confuses people because she is quirky. I can relate to this.  She said often people have difficulty reconciling “quirky” with Black women, as if those are mutually exclusive traits.  Ridiculous.  There is texture to the personalities of most people who I know, especially Black women.  But I find that we are often boxed in to a very limited number of personality traits when viewed from the outside.  Unfortunate.  She discussed how she rarely sees characters she can relate to.  Boy can I relate to this.

Well for those missing out on the rich textures of Black women, Ms. Davis makes it a goal to present women she portrays with complexity and texture.  I say to her, thank goodness for your awareness and that’s probably why you are so great.  Thanks for bringing complete people to the stage and screen!  People like me I know are quite grateful.

I am frequently complaining about how some of the movies available for us are horrendous in terms of healthy images and healthy messages… and they are usually horrendous in terms of these things. 

However, I must share with you a documentary airing on Public Television about Black people in the military throughout American history called:  For Love of Liberty:  The Story of America’s Black Patriots.   It was outstanding.  It weaves our contributions to the US Military to our overall history in this country, brilliantly.  What stood out to me about it were two things: 

1) that they use a great deal of the real words of military men from letters they had written to family, and

2)  how much was missing from my education.  And I am somebody who seeks out African and African American education. There is so much rich information here.

 This is potent stuff.  Well done and clear.  Apparently, this was a ten-year undertaking for Louis Gossett Jr and his collaborators.  It was well worth the wait.

Run,  Don’t Walk to your computer and find the schedule at:  forloveofliberty.org

I think they are selling the video at that website for $20.00.  If you missed the viewing in your area, I would recommend you buy it if you are able.  Watch it with your children.  I would say it is appropriate for ages as young as 12.

If you’ve already seen it, I’d love to hear what you think.

1) “I’m Not Crazy” 

There is a belief that is quite common I find, and not just with Black folks, that therapy is only for those people who are severely disturbed.  In fact, therapy is useful for many issues, including:  job or family stress, difficulty getting along with others, personal crises, like grief, or identity issues, or just feeling misunderstood or not heard and supported.  Of course therapy can be helpful with more serious conditions as well. 

What is the meaning of “crazy” anyway?  In some cases, I think not getting help is the crazy thing when it becomes clear to the person and their friends or family that help is needed.  

 2) “I Have Enough Support from Other Sources” 

This is actually a good reason.  One African American “survivalism” (or pattern of behavior we have passed down through generations)  we use that still works when it is available is interdependence. In African philosophy this is stated:  “I am because we are”.  We’ll call it a healthy network.  When we have a firmly established network of supportive friends and family who get us, and we can talk to, often there is no need for therapy.  It is important to note that if the issue is serious (like hearing voices or severe mood shifts) and not getting better through the usual support system it may be better to seek professional help as an adjunct to the system.

3) “That Would Mean I am Weak and Cannot Handle My Problems”

There is still stigma attached to mental health issues and mental health treatment.  Many people think:  “Just suck it up!”  But there are many issues such as serious mood disorders that you can’t just “suck up” or ignore or often they get worse.  I have seen that entering therapy can be both a sign of strength and empowering.  I am often awed by the amount of strength and courage present in people who are doing therapy. 

I think we as people of African descent have had to ignore a great deal of our issues historically because there just wasn’t the time, energy or money.  We had to survive.  Addressing mental health issues probably seemed like a luxury for many people in the past.  However, now with so many opportunities to get help, we need to change this pattern.  Each person who is mentally healthy is able to make a better, stronger contribution to his community.  After all: “I am because we are”.

It can be a project to find someone you feel comfortable talking with, but it is well worth the effort.

***This anecdotal information, based on years of talking to people who refuse to get therapy even when they really need it.

Naomi, Naomi

May 12, 2010

It was sad for me to see Naomi Campbell get bashed in the media over this past week.  I know.  It’s hard to feel empathy for someone who attacks people.  However, it takes some true reflection to acknowledge that you have a problem.  I believed her tears on Oprah and did not take her for a “petulant diva”.  It’s hard to feel empathy for someone when you think they can control their behavior, but the case with people who have untreated issues such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder is that they often are not in control of their impulses.  Her taking responsibility is a good sign that she is ready for change. 

She spoke of her abandonment issues which would lead some people to think she has some sort of personality disorder, as this is usually a part of the early history with those who suffer from those disorders.   This may in fact be part of the problem with Naomi.  However, her behavior in my opinion, seems more reflective of someone with Bipolar Disorder.  This disorder is often referred to as “Manic-Depressive” Disorder.   Let’s go down the list of symptoms, and see if any of Naomi’s behavior fits in ( the focus here is on manic symptoms since we do no know Naomi well enough to discuss the depressive side if there is one): 

A distinct period of elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least 4 days, that is clearly different from normal.

In Naomi’s case, she has increased irritability and agitation that seems to come and go. She is not constantly hitting people.  It happens once or twice a year, the norm for most people with Bipolar Disorder. Manic episodes tend to occur a few times per year.

Other Symptoms that may occur during a Manic Episode include:

1.  Inflated Self-esteem and Grandiosity:  Hitting someone with a phone or other object seems a bit grandiose.  And I am unable to get the image of Naomi walking away from jail after she finished her community service sentence in an evening gown… Very grandiose.  It screamed “I am better than all of you”.

2.  Decreased need for sleep

3.  More talkative than usual

4.  Flight of ideas or the subjective experience that thoughts are racing.

5.  Distractibility

6.  Euphoria

7.  Aggressive Behavior Check

8.  Risky Behavior  I would say it is pretty risky to attack people, especially strangers as was the case earlier this year with the reporter who apparently asked her about her potentially controversial diamond.  She is often putting her career in jeopardy.

9.  Spending Sprees or Unwise Financial Choices

10.  Poor Judgment  Check.   Recent poor choices include fleeing the scene after the alleged altercation with her boyfriend’s limo driver earlier this year.

11.  Inability To Concentrate

12.  Careless use of Drugs and Alcohol  Has a history, says has been clean and sober for one year.

13.  Delusions or a Break From Reality

14.  Frequent Absences for Work or School

15.  Extreme Optimism

This list was compiled by using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition, Text Revision published in 2000 by the American Psychiatric Association, and on which many health practitioners heavily rely upon for making diagnoses because it provides a standard.  That information was combined with a list of symptoms from the National Institute of Mental Health, see:  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/complete-index.shtml

We don’t know Naomi well enough at all to make a final diagnosis and we cannot possibly fill in all the gaps. Also, one doesn’t need to have ALL the symptoms to qualify.  Nonetheless, her behavior is unfortunately providing us with some good examples of Bipolar Symptoms.

How do people get Bipolar Disorder?  It usually it runs in families just as Mood Disorders tend to do. However, just so you know a large amount of people who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who exhibit behavior similar to Bipolar Disorder.

There are many subtypes of Bipolar Disorder.  If you believe you may be suffering from the disorder, talk it over with your doctor.

I just finished watching Good Hair for about the third time. This Chris Rock film is the first and only documentary of which I am aware of that deals exclusively with issues related to African American women.  However, I was struck by the lack of alternatives to weaves presented in the film.  How about a nice big Jill Scott fro’ or some Lauren Hill dreadlocks? 

My favorite part is Paul Mooney in an Afro wig.  He says:  “Relaxers make everybody relaxed, and nappy makes white people unhappy”.

It’s one of the few statements in the movie that addresses WHY we may feel the need to conceal our natural hair.  Most of the other parts of the movie focus on the business aspects of Black hair care and the process of getting a weave.  There is a scene where he tries to sell Black hair but is unable to. However, he doesn’t explore why he is unable to sell it.  He never articulates a belief about why it’s a problem, as the shopkeepers tell him “nobody wants that!”, in reference to the Black hair. 

The answer he gives his children at the end about “What is Good Hair?” never really gets answered, but the excessive time he spends on hair relaxers and weaves leads one to believe that  straight hair is good, and other options not so good.   He said he will tell his girls that it is not as important what’s on your head than what is in it.  Well of course this is true.  However, our beliefs about a very fundamental aspect of who we are, our hair, is part of what is in our heads. 

Bottom line:  It is great to have options with our hair.  I respect all the creative minds that have gotten me personally through the past years with braids, dreadlocks, relaxers, and “augmentations”.  At times those were very personal relationships. I respect and applaud all the businesses that have developed to provide us with options. 

However, if you had to deal with your hair in its natural state would this be a problem for you?  And if so, why? What if your job were not an issue? Let’s get to the root of the problem.  Let’s find out what is really “good hair” and why.  If it turns out that most of us have “bad hair’ then what’s so bad about it?  I’m sure Chris Rock’s kids would appreciate a real answer.

Black women, take this poll and send it to your friends!

Nothing is “all good” or “all bad”.  In his book, How to Live Without Stress, A.O. Abudu, a Ghanaian economist,  makes this point again and again in a guide to life he wrote for his children.

This yin and yang in life is something psychoanalysts working with children talk about a great deal.  In fact, they consider it a developmental milestone in to learn to experience good and bad simultaneously.  It usually happens around what a  caregiver is doing.  The caregiver is frustrating to a child when she is not giving the child (toddler-age) what she wants in the moment.  However, the child ultimately learns to know that the caregiver loves her and she will get her needs met.  It balances out. ( When children are not able to integrate good and bad they may develop emotional problems later.)

So, on to Erykah Badu.  Let’s practice accepting the good with the bad.  There was some “bad” about her recent choices.  She broke the law.  She exposed herself to children and adults in a manner inconsistent with our societal norms.  It was probably an extremely successful publicity stunt on some level (this later point may actually be considered “good” by some folks).

However, there were some very good points to this video.  From my perspective, she took a risk in the name of art.  She had something she needed to say and found a way to say it.  The most striking things were that she had “Evolving” written across her bare back, and then she was shot. Out of something so controversial sprang a useful and powerful message.

After watching the video I thought about the current political climate in the country and the resistance to evolution in terms of politics.  There was a desire to stop things from changing at the time of JFK and there is that same sentiment among many groups now.  America and its resistance to change is naked, exposed right now.  We have had citizens recently spitting on Black congressmen and calling them “nigger”.  As a country, we have recently taken giant leaps forward and now there seems to be a desire for some groups to make no change or go backward.

The best I’ve found on the lady speaking for herself is in this link: http://thehiphopconsultant.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/erykah-badu-didnt-expect-to-be-demonized-for-window-seat-video/  She speaks here of more personal evolution, but I think it is all relevant.