Merry Christmas

J-Jo wishing for world peace (or Bratz
dolls, whichever comes first)

Best wishes to you, your loved ones and your little loved ones
this holiday season and throughout the coming year.

Mrs. J, Mr. J, J-Jo, L-Boogie and ZenBaby


Hasta La Vista, Barbie

My J-Jo's more into stuffing a Build-a-Bear, than actually playing with one. That goes for any plush toy or doll she owns. She still likes the idea of dolls, she's just not interested in committing to any of them. Most of her barbies now go without clothing, finding refuge in the dark under her bed. And I won't get into what happened to the one she took into the bathtub. Let's just say it had to do with soap (lots and lots of soap...). But it's all good, I'm proud that my J-Jo isn't caught up in looking like rapunzel and would much rather play with blocks and build structures that look like they came straight from the pages of Dwell.

Now her sister is an entirely different story. Just like the nurses at the birthing center declared within her first week of ZenBaby's life, she's "all girl". So I shouldn't be surprised she posesses a maternal instinct far beyond her seventeen months. ZenBaby selflessly offers up her bottle to pacify her twin brother without skipping a beat. She spontaneously grabs her daddy's face, presses her rose bud lips to his nose and says "mwahhh!" There isn't one doll or plush toy in the house that she hasn't done that to, either. ZenBaby loves her siblings, her parents and most importantly, her dolls. She was too young to beg me for a new one this Christmas (J-Jo's for now are just fine), but when the times comes, I want to choose one that's perfect.

How hard could it be? you might ask, "every toy store has black dolls now!"

That may be true, but do they have dolls that reaffirm? No really, dolls that don't look like the teenager you pray your daughter won't become. I don't think I want My Scene to be hers. Give us a doll sans cell phone. One with dark brown eyes and pretty caramel skin like ZenBaby's without the Mattel version of what's on special from the Beverly Johnson Wig Collection. I don't need a Bratz Baby, this child's sass-o-meter is through the roof as it is. And once that criteria's met, Santa, I'd prefer for the doll not to come dressed in a leopard bikini, complete with a pole in the box.

When the time comes, and ZenBaby begs me for a doll, I'll follow the lead of savvy mommy writer, Deesha Philyaw. Her girls are older than mine (respectively), and she's really done the research on what this buying brown baby doll thing is really all about. Quite brilliantly, too. Here's Deesha's sage advice for black moms – originally published at Literary Mama – on finding dolls that resemble the real live ones we have at home. It may be too late for Christmas this year, but next season, you'll have a head start:

The Girl is Mine: A Black Mama's Interactive Guide to Shopping for Dolls for Christmas: The Good, The Bad, and The Barbie

by Deesha Philyaw

In December, a Black Mama's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of celebrating Christmas. What will have the kids dancing with joy in the living room on Christmas morning and reassure Mama that she is affirming their wonderfulness and instilling good values? And eschewing rampant consumerism? And minimizing Santa? And not forgetting Jesus?

I make my list and check it twice:

_xx__Make sure girls know that Christmas is more about giving than getting.

_xx__Make sure girls know that Mommy and Daddy's hard-earned money buy their gifts (with one magical exception from Santa, per child).

_xx__Be joyful.

_xx__Dust off the collection of crèches and arrange festively.

_xx__Cuddle up with girls on the couch to read picture books about the Virgin Birth. Try (and fail) to avoid answering, "Didn't Joseph have a penis?"

_____Search for dolls which are not voluptuous and strip-club-ready, and which do not promote a blonde, blue-eyed standard of beauty.
To continue reading...


Looking for Parents Like Us...

I never run out of things to say, but I think it's time to mix things up a bit and gain some fresh perspectives. Interested in blogging about the challenges of raising black and biracial children in today's crazy, mixed-up world? If so, lemme hear you say "yeah" at okparenting@yahoo.com. A new team of contributors (including yours truly) will debut in January 2007.


Multi-culti Couture

When her daughter, Simone, was born a red head, savvy D.C. mom Leigh-Ann Jackson – who happens to be a black woman married to a white man – was inspired to create gear for infant and toddlers that needs no explanation. Her company, Swirl Syndicate, boasts adorable t-shirts with cheeky phrases like "I'm a Little Bit of Everything" (beneath a graphic of a blender) and "She's my mommy, Not my nanny" (perfect for an African American mom like me whose baby was born with blonde hair!).

Made from the softest 100% cotton, the tees range in sizes from 0 months to 2T and are a perfect way to respond to people who insist on staring – or better yet, asking crazy questions – in the supermarket.

A fresh choice for taking the taboo out of the race topic and celebrating every part of who multi-ethnic children truly are.


Getting Happy

I was thrilled to find out that Will Smith's story of an African American father who beat the system , found personal success and financial security for himself and his young son was number one at the box office it's opening weekend (grossing 27 million). No, that's not the Smart Guy on the movie poster with Will, it's his baby boy Jaden, looking all grown as he makes his big screen debut with his daddy. As if this movie wasn't enough of a tear jerker already.

Just the fact that a drama starring black characters that aren't cooning it up or shooting eachother up could make it to number one is enough to have me bringing the Kleenex to the multiplex. I'm so tired of the maudlin Soul Food wannabees and the buffoonish Soul Plane regurgitations make me hurl. And then we've got the stereotypical gangsta violent flicks that played themselves out more than a decade ago. Everybody knows that's not what black people are all about anyway (or at least I hope so...) Give me a "feel-good" movie starring some black people any day. And no, nothing by Cuba Gooding Jr. will ever count.

We couldn't find a sitter on Saturday night, but were fortunate to catch the incredibly charismatic, real life inspiration for the film, Christopher Gardner, being interviewed on the Wall Street Journal Report. In addition to Gardner's personal account of how he made it, I was struck by hearing his story about how he sold shares to a racist Texan who repeatedly called him nigger over the phone before buying options from him. And that his biggest problem is not being able to sleep at night because his "face hurts so much from smiling all day."

To be perfectly honest, the first question to cross my mind was "Did this brother make it without selling out?" Kinda hard to know without seeing the film. But just on speculation, I'm not sure how much it matters – Gardner obviously had the last laugh. In a previous life, I knew many a college educated brother who were perfectly content to live off mommy and daddy because they "didn't want to work for The Man." Where are they now? Not exactly uplifting the race. Last time I checked they were still unemployed, living in their parents' basements, spending entire days playing video games and smoking weed (sorry, but you know who you are).

Most black professionals, present company included at one point in time, have had to wear Paul Lawrence Dunbar's proverbial mask at some point. It's no secret that assimilating into corporate America isn't easy when you're black, whether you're holding a JD-MBA or – in Christopher Gardner's case – an eviction notice. I can't help but wonder if complete and utter desperation, as in this particular case, makes sporting that bad boy just a little more bearable.


Oh No She Didn't

"I HATE Sesame Street!!" she screamed, tearing out of the room like a lightning bolt. "Sesame Street is the stupidest show EVER!"

So my little girl turned five last weekend and apparently now thinks she's too grown for the only children's television program (besides the Backyardigans), that I can even tolerate. All she seems to be interested in is Dragon Tales which has brought me damn near close to self-mutilation on several occasions. What's next, calling Mr. Rodgers and a-hole? That's when I'll know we need counseling.

And I'm not even going to get into the fact that given where we live, she's probably seen more black, Latino amd Asian kids on that show than she has in her entire life. For years, I wondered if MJ and I made a mistake leaving New York Proper – I mean, um – City to raise a family up here in the sticks (but that's an entirely different post altogether.)

Before you remind me that it's okay if kids don't watch television because it's really not all that good for them anyway, possibly even harmful, please remember something: any time the number of children out number the parents – on any given afternoon or in life in general – a grown-up needs all the help they can get. With three under six and a nanny who has yet to fly in with a black umbrella, I can testify to that.

There's a reason why those irritating station break fundraisers do so well: THEY WORK. Countless desperate mommies and daddies have sent their hard earned dollars to PBS just to keep Sesame Street on the air. And ensure themselves forty-eight minutes of peace.


The Forty Year Old Kwanzaa Virgin

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm actually closer to thirty than forty, but it's just as embarrassing that I'm a thirty-something black woman who has never experienced Kwanzaa. It's not for lack of drive, I love black people. And as far as Afrocentric celebrations go, you might not ever see me sporting an entire African ensemble, but I'd be fine to wrap some cloth around my head. It's when the lights are dimmed that I start to feel uncomfortable...I have no idea what I should do with a kinara, let alone what happens after that. I'm completely inexperienced in all things related to Kwanzaa. Sure, I've had fantasies about the whole experience, but I've never really done the deed. And at my age, it's a problem.

It's not for lack of opportunity – I've had plenty of chances, starting as early as twelve years old. In sixth grade, the principal of my predominantly white, suburban middle school announced that there'd be a competition to see who could create the most festive homeroom door. All of the homeroom presidents would be in charge, and given that I had just been elected, I delegated responsibility like we were hooking up the entrance to Oprah's Legends Ball. I completely threw myself into into decorating those double doors, decking them out in red and green on one side and a huge gold menorah on the other – dreidel next to it and everything. But much to my dismay, we were disqualified for forgetting to include Kwanzaa. I was stunned. Kwa-what? I was less shocked that I hadn't remembered it than the fact that the school even knew what it was. At the time, most of the other black kids I knew thought "Imani" had something to do with Giorgio. After being informed of my faux pas, my red-haired, aspiring Nazi of a homeroom teacher bawled me out in front of the entire class: "How could you – of all people – not remember Kwanzaa? You're black!"

Like many hangups people have, my attitude about Kwanzaa mostly had to do with my family's opinion concerning the holiday when I was growing up. They didn't have a negative attitude about it, they just didn't have one at all. The most Afrocentric thing I remember doing around the holidays was sitting between my mom's knees as she braided my hair to take pictures on a white Santa's lap. For us, the most important holiday of the winter season was Christmas. Every year, the house was decorated like a scene out of a Thomas Kincade painting. When we were very young, my aunt came over and baked cookies with my brother and me to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve. And Santa came correct, bringing us so many presents that there was no need to even bother wrapping them for us—he just stuck them all under the tree au natural. And that was fine. Because to us – like most kids – it really all came down to the toys. The goodwill, cheer and spirit of giving part came later. And the awareness of an African American seasonal holiday came somewhere after that.

People talked about Kwanzaa, but nobody I knew was actually doing it. Not even by my senior year at college, when I spent the Christmas holidays in West Africa. I was out a Ghanain nighclub, dancing to Naughty by Nature and watching BET videos on a large screen tv monitor when I ran into a classmate of mine from school. Never had I imagined that I'd be thousands of miles from Atlanta and run into someone from college. We lived in the same hall yet barely knew eachother, but that didn't stop her from being kind enough to invite me to a New Years Day party at her parents house. "Great" I thought, "maybe I'll learn the real meaning of Kwanzaa". I just knew I'd stumble across some reference to at least one of the African harvest festivals that Dr. Karenga based the holiday on. So I showed up to the lavish estate (a complete shock to me, considering my classmate's sterile dorm room only had a bed and a desk with a pile of books on it) only to witness all of her family members – servants included – milling around, eating traditional food, dancing to high life, talking about the jewelry they just got for Christmas and the types of cars they drove. There were no libations poured, no mention of the seven principles, and I really felt let down.

For the duration of the occasion, I snooped around the luxurious home, scrounging for signs of Pan Africanism. Nothing. I gave up and sat in the parlor, pissed off that I had come all the way to Africa simply to find that nobody knew or even cared about Kwanzaa. A little toddler waddled up to me as I sat there sulking, and started babbling to me in universal baby talk. His uncles just sat back and laughed "must be Kiswahili," one said. Instead of going off and screaming "What's wrong with you bourgie Africans?!" I became indifferent. I decided that if African people didn't care about the Nguzo Saba, then I didn't need to either. Just like a person having dreadlocks doesn't guarantee they're no sellout, I didn't feel that choosing not to celebrate Kwanzaa made me any less black.

It was a personal decision that had nothing to do with my religion. I just decided to save it for after marriage. Mostly because I wanted kids. Today I have three, and considering they're not going to grow up watching Roots, I know I need to get busy. I can't take it for granted that just because this is a society that celebrates diversity more than when I was a kid, my own children won't need all the positive exposure to their heritage they can get. They're not going to have Public Enemy encouraging them to "fight the power" (like when when Flav was just a crazy brother with a clock, not showing out on national tv).

Principles like "faith" and "self-determination" are concepts I want my kids to have an understanding of not just as black people, but as human beings. And as a black person, I can't stress the importance of "collective responsibility" to them enough. So I'm ready to find out what everybody's saying is so great about Kwanzaa. Of course the first time, I want to exeprience it with someone I truly love. But after that, I want to go out and have Kwanzaa with anyone and everyone who wants to do it too. It might have taken me forever, but this will be the year I finally go all the way.


In Search of Black Santa

Writer Vincent Williams recalls his family's annual pilgrammage to find a brother from the North Pole:
From the Baltimore City Paper –

This will be my daughter’s first Christmas. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that much to her, her being less than a year old and all. I’m sure in her eyes it’ll be yet another day in the endless adventure that is Hey, I Should Put That in My Mouth. But for Mom and me it’s huge. We have presents to buy, cookies to bake, a tree to decorate, and a Nativity scene to set up with real hay for a little porcelain Jesus. We have to replace the stockings with our names on them with ones that say mommy and daddy. I have to teach my daughter the Cold Miser and Heat Miser songs and James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” and, oh, the pictures we have to take.

It’s the pictures that are going to be a little tricky. Our daughter is the first grandchild on my side of the family and the first in more than a decade on my wife’s side, so all eyes are on the inevitable Christmas picture. And in the moment when I finally became my parents, I realized that getting the perfect holiday picture means I have to find a black Santa Claus.

When people talk about “Black Nationalism” or “Black Pride,” the terms evoke images of Black Panthers in black leather jackets or Angela Davis raising a defiant Black Power fist. But I’ve found that cultural pride is more about the day to day. Black Barbies, pictures of relatives, and that ubiquitous bright orange The Best of Earth, Wind, and Fire Vol. I album had more of an impact on post-integration African-American youth than Soul on Ice. No disrespect to Eldridge Cleaver, but I was 18 when I was exposed to him, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the words to “September.”

I know for a fact that my parents never marched, sat-in, or protested, but they are some of the proudest and most quietly pro-black people I’ve ever met. Hell, I’ve been “acting like I come from something” since before I even knew what it was that I came from or what it meant. And they certainly weren’t going to let their children sit in some white Santa’s lap when it was time to take the Christmas picture. So for years there was an annual search for a venue with a black Santa Claus.

To continue, click here.


Going Back to Cali

Who doesn't love the left coast? The laid-back attitude and the dependable sunsets are only two reasons I often dream of MJ and I moving back west ('cept with kids this time). And if we ever do, I'd seriously consider relocating to the Bay Area, if for no other reason than the Berkeley Parents Network.

The site is amazing, they even have a discussion board for African American families where you can find a black doula, physician or a more diverse school. Even if you live miles away from Northern Cali, the discussion boards are interesting and often very helpful.

I'll be all up in that site this winter – pretending that's white sand I see outside, not snow.


A Girl Called Jackie Boy

It was J-Jo's first day at her new preschool program and I was thrilled to watch her jump in to the group and make friends with a child who seemed just as excited to find a new playmate as she was. I'd been nervous about that – the school was perfect, except it severely lacked diversity. Naturally, I felt a sense of relief when another (the only other) black child showed interest in playing with her. I hate to think that these things would be so important this early on, but one could never be too sure.

"Such a cute kid," I mentioned to one of the teachers as we observed J-Jo playing with her new friend who looked like a brown cherub, with apple round cheeks and a soft halo of kinky curls. If I thought I could get away with kidnapping, I would have tried – the child was really that cute. Friendly, too. "What's his name?"

"Luna," the teacher said quietly.

"Louis?" I asked politely.

"No, Lu-na."

I thought she must be crazy. There was no way that child was a little girl. He'd be a pretty little boy, sure. But the oversized basketball jersey and the Timberlands? Surely somebody in the office had made a mistake on the paperwork. How were they going to emasculate this little black child at three years old? I wanted to call his parents right then. I knew this child had been at the school longer than mine...how could they not know his/her true gender? Clearly, Luna was not a she. There must have been some kind of mistake.

"You mean she's a...girl?"

"Oh yes!" the teacher ran off to make sure a little blonde haired child with pigtails didn't fall off the wooden slide, thus risking putting the school out of business because her parents decided to sue.

As the children were lining up to go back into their classroom, I quietly went over to J-Jo and "Luna" and very discreetly began looking for any signs of femininity. I saw none. Hair was in a 'fro, no barette in there or anything, so that wasn't a clue. Every single article of clothing the child had on came from the boys department. Except for those socks. The socks that coyly peeked out from under navy blue nylon sweatpants. They were white socks, with ruffles around the edges. J-Jo had the exact same pair at home. They were girls' socks.

Shut me up real quick.

The next morning, Luna's mom brought her to school. She told the teacher that on that particular day, Luna was only answering to the name "Jackie Boy". And that she'd cry if you called her anything else. Here I was thinking we had it tough because J-Jo refused to eat her vegetables.

"Yeah," the mother continued, "last week she only let us call her Vinnie."

Lord have mercy. In the weeks to come, I watched J-Jo and "Jackie Boy" interact in the classroom, curious to see if they would remain friends. I was hoping that J-Jo would have another child of color to bond with, regardless of gender. But my girly girl prefered to stay in the kitchen area. Luna? Not so much. Luna liked playing with the blocks, the trucks and whatever else the boys were into at the moment. She loved racing on tricycles in the gynasium where the kids were herded to on rainy days, not playing with the giant dollhouse like the rest of the girls. It was nothing against J-Jo – the two would always acknowledge eachother...but that was about it. They had seperate friends and interests. Their race drew them to one another just as much as their gender identification repelled them.

It was at that point I realized that – much to Mr. J's dismay – there'd be nothing I could do to prevent our son from asking for a tutu when he's old enough to talk. Not that I'd feel obliged to buy it for him, I just couldn't be sure he'd never ask. Just like there'd be nothing I could do about either of our girls asking to be called Tito or Latrell. It wouldn't matter if they watched me put on lipgloss everyday. Kids come into this world the way they are, and will eventually define their gender for themselves.

How we parents are supposed to accept this is something I'm still trying to understand.

Sunday's New York Times offers further reading on this topic.

That's My Mama

ABC's Wife Swap is currently recruiting for the next season. Any mom who is domestically adventurous enough to actually do this gets paid $20,000. I'm not so sure that would be enough to make me put up with this:


A Dream Deferred

I am floored, heartbroken for the family and especially the mother who is one of the sweetest women I've ever met. People in my old neighborhood who were close to this family tell me that the father and son often fought over the son's grades, his expensive lifestyle (while refusing to get a job), and his future. A friend of the mother said that she recently mentioned that their sons "were giving them so much trouble". But nothing else seemed unusual.

I know tragedies like this know no color boundaries. Still, I wonder if the added burden of our race heightens the pressure to succeed. Is the average middle-class black father's pressure to raise a responsible son great enough to lead to something like this?


Flashback Friday

Remember the Sesame Street classic, "Eleven Twelve"? My almost five year old seems to like watching this (over and over on You Tube) better than the actual show itself these days.


Beyond Baby Bach

It didn't take long for our generation to realize that some babies have musical tastes that reach far past the classical confines of Baby Einstein. These brand new brainchildren of entrepreneurial parents are targeted towards tomorrow's (slightly more gentrified) hip hop heads:

Baby Loves Hip Hop
Baby Loves Music is about to drop their first kids hip hop album. Similar to their successful Baby Loves Jazz, Baby Loves Hip Hop will highlight the musical genre through characters. But instead of "Miles the Crocodile" and "Ella the Elephant", the new album will feature the "dino crew", including MC T-Rex and DJ Spinosaurus.Special guests artists are promised, not surprising given the creators are Philly natives who used to party with The Roots.

It's Hip Hop Baby
Televison producer Candi Carter's all new It's Hip Hop, Baby! has a suburban elementary school vibe that even edgy city mamas love – here's what Urban Baby had to say:"With an iPod full of Jay-Z and Chris Brown, you're not the kind of mom who's going to sit through slow, sappy versions of The Alphabet Song and Old MacDonald. You've updated everything else in your kid's life, from her sleek crib and high-tech stroller to her trendy toys and tees; now it's time to update her music too..."

Hip-Hop Mozart
And Children's label Hip Kiddy is planning to test the "Mozart Effect" by releasing Hip-Hop Mozart, a DVD of children performing Mozart compositions mixed with "gentle fresh" Hip-Hop beats, aimed at babies and children. As reported by All Hip Hop:"...The music DVD contains special features such as a sing-a-long section, an arts and crafts portion and a bonus soundtrack CD with 60 minutes of educational entertainment. Hip-Hop Mozart is due in stores in December."


Isn't it About Time For a Black Wiggle?

I just found out that Greg from the Wiggles will soon be leaving the group.

Although the reasons aren't specific, I believe it's mostly for health reasons. It's such a shame – he's only 34 years young and was one of the founding members of the million dollar kids phenomenon. Their tunes were frequently heard in our house when J-Jo was a young toddler. I never understood why they had the only person of color, Jeff, sleeping all the time, but I tried to be a good mommy and put my paranoia on the back burner for a change because J-Jo loved them. So we indulged in as many videos that would keep her satisfied while buying us 34 minutes of peace. As an enthusiastic new parent, I listened and even grew to enjoy the music right along with her...until it attempted to penetrate my subconscious. Absent-mindedly singing "Fruit Salad (Yummy, Yummy)" while in the shower was a startling sign that I needed to get out more.

But I still can't imagine what the quartet would be like riding in that big red car without the guy in the yellow shirt. So considering they'll probably be looking for replacements soon, here are my picks for who I think they should audition:

1. Wayne Brady. We've given him his black cred back after seeing him on Chapelle's Show. He's crazy talented and now that we know he's also a real brother, his dancing along with Dorothy the Dinosaur won't look like straight cooning.

2. Savion Glover. The grownup Tap Dance Kid is highly underrated. We know he's down with the kids shows, he's been on Sesame Street handful of times. His tapping would be a strong contrast to the Disney/meets/ska sound of the Wiggles music. And the Irish jigs they tend to bust out with from time to time.

3. Tim Meadows. I have no idea if he can sing or dance, but his wry humor would be a breath of fresh air.

Those are my suggestions for how to add a little more color to kid's tv.
Who would you pick?


Paul Mooney Says Michael Richards Should Go to Africa and Adopt a Black Baby

I've always loved this guy. Mr. J considers the man a comedic genius. If we knew him, he'd have a standing invitation to dinner at our house.


Double Their Blessing, Double Their Bling

Straight from the hairdresser's mouth: P. Diddy and his girlfriend, Kim Porter, celebrated their forthcoming twin girls at a fabulous Manhattan baby shower on November 19th. The happily unmarried couple recently had a frank discussion with writer Jeanine Amber, going public with their epic love story for the December issue of Essence.

I have to admit, as an African American mama of multiples, I always feel a sense of connectedness when I hear that a black woman is expecting twins. Maybe it's my conspiracy theory that we share an ancestral homeland called Igbo-Ora in Nigeria, a small town whose Yoruba people historically had an exorbitant number of twin births. I also wonder if there actually is some real correlation between our people conceiving twins, a fondness for sweet potato pie and a documented link between twin pregnancies and yams. And when the multiple-mother-to-be is a celebrity (a la Porter, Mo'nique or Holly Robinson Peete), I instantly feel like a member of a special sisterhood, taking comfort in the fact that no matter how copious their respective cash flows might be, these sisters were just as likely to experience all the same twin pregnancy symptoms as a regular girl like me.

But that's about as far as my "common-denominator" theory can go – I know full well that Ms. Porter's babies' daddy wouldn't dream of walking up to a kiosk and registering at Tarzhay. In true Bad Boy fashion, the A-List guests enjoyed Perrier Jouet champagne in pink floral bottles. A glowing Kim and proud daddy Diddy – who also have a son together – enjoyed their guests while nibbling on pink M&M's and receiving lavish baby gifts including a custom-made changing table from Jay-Z, two cream-colored cribs from LL Cool J and a sweet chandelier from Denzel Washington. Kim reportedly laughed at a friend's suggestion that she register for a couple of diamond encrusted binkies, but that didn't stop the future twin mommy from putting an $88,000 R-class Mercedes Benz on her wish list. Hopefully, she wasn't too disappointed about not receiving it.

And we shouldn't be pressed either – from the way things look now, America will certainly have a chance to see the future hip hop heiresses receive their matching Mercedes Benz's on My Super Sweet Sixteen.
The doting Diddy might even own the whole network by then.

Aren't sick to your stomach yet? Go back for more at Cake and Ice Cream.


Do You or Don't You?

I was going to post one of those corny little survey things here, but I figured why not just come out and ask:

1. Does your family celebrate Kwanzaa?

2. If so, how much (or how little) of the holiday do you participate in?

3. If you choose not to, why not?

Comments will be included in the upcoming series,

"Kwanzaa 101: For Folks Who Can't Spell Kujichagulia But Think It's Probably Time They Learn How "

Thank you!



Madonna and Children

Dear Material Girl,

Congratulations on your recent adoption of baby David Banda Mwale Ciccone Ritchie. Even though there are plenty of African American baby boys waiting to be adopted as my fingers hit this keyboard, it was still good of you to go those extra miles to Malawi. Lucky kid. I'm sure you'll do a great job at dressing him up in your love and whatever else Gucci, Fendi, or Prada currently has in a 2T.

A lot of people think you're just trying to get attention. Or that you may have misconceptions about black folks in general. I'm sure there are others who just thinking you're practicing a role for the next Hollywood great white saviour movie. And they might be right. But as the mother of three young children myself, I applaud you. Anyone who already has two kids can barely imagine the challenge of raising three without wincing. And on a really bad day, no amount of domestic help would be enough to make some women want more babies. So I personally think your decsion was quite noble. Maybe your maternal generousity will inspire many other famous Americans to take the leap and internationally adopt as well, especially now that they're aware of all the extra attention you and Angelina have received. Not that you all compete with eachother or anything.

I just heard recently that you're considering further expanding your family
by adopting a brand new baby girl from Malawi
, in an effort "to redress the balance". I'm going to ignore how weird that sounds and assume that said "balance redressing" would include gender as well as ethnicity. So bravo to you for thinking that way, a kid is bound to get kinda lonely as the only negro child on your estate. As a black person who is painfully aware of the general amount of discomfort one might feel being the only person of color in a classroom, I want to say thanks for considering that. I can only imagine that type of isolation in a family. By the way, I wrote some black hair care tips that may come in handy if you're still down with Malawi once all the current baby drama dies out.

I'm not even going to spend a minute considering the fact that you might actually just be planning to do this as a big f*$k you to all the people who didn't want you to go get a little African baby in the first place. I just wanted to say thank you for being considerate enough to think of David's needs, instead of plucking a child from any place on this earth, like you were buying a new pair of shoes.

Sincerely Yours,

A Random Black Person Who Hasn't Bought Your Albums Since '86


Sometimes Nursing Really Sucks

I never imagined that becoming a mom would hinder my ability to enjoy life as I knew it BK (before kids). So when my oldest daughter was about four months old, I bundled her up, popped her in the Baby Bjorn and headed to the Upper East Side for her first trip to the Whitney Biennial. It was an incredible day, lunching with my girls from college and checking out a couple of fabulous baby boutiques en route to the museum. After waiting in a line that curled around the block, my friends and I finally gained entry to the museum and were free to explore just like old times. The only difference was that unlike old times, I now had a sleeping baby strapped snuggly to my chest. No big thing, I figured.

But she was a tiny and powerful thing indeed. And when she woke up and attempted to devour her entire fist (in between frustrated squeals of hunger), my fantasy of freedom came crashing down. Within minutes, my long-awaited trip to the museum had turned into a quest for a quiet place to breastfeed. I knew how to feed J-Jo in a way that didn't allow others to see even a centimeter of skin, so everything seemed fine once I found a bench that was somewhat out of the way – I was relieved, the gallery goers were obliviously swirling around me and J-Jo could finally have lunch. But that still didn't stop my friends from asking "don't you think you should, uh, do that in the bathroom?" All I could think was: I know you didn't just say the bathroom. You want me to get up and go feed my child in a public hotbed of e. coli and possibly even chlamydia? Oh hell no. Rosa would have been proud.

I felt sympathy towards the nursing mother who was recently forced to leave a Delta Freedom Airlines flight because she refused to cover her child with a blanket while nursing discreetly. The flight attendant might have thought she was just doing her job, but she was preventing a mother from doing hers. I know the challenges a parent faces when stuck in public with a nursing baby who happens to be hungry. J-Jo was the type of baby who figured: why should my parents buy Similac when I can get breastmilk for free? She hated bottles and spit out plastic nipples as if we were trying to poison her. It didn't matter if I had pumped first, she wasn't trying to hear it. Her screams sounded so tortured, strangers glared at me with fingers positioned on their cell phones – two seconds away from calling C.P.S. But these glares weren't nearly as piercing as the looks I'd been shot on the random occasions I gave into those cries and begrudgingly began breastfeeding in public.

Considering the amount of flesh flashed in advertisements and music videos, the social stigma attached to breastfeeding just doesn't make sense to me. Not when the average American has been exposed to more of of Mariah Carey's boobs than a random nursing mother's. But despite scientific evidence that breastfeeding has a host of health benefits for a baby the stigma still persists. We live in a culture that sets aside an entire month and designates a color for the fight against breast cancer, but ignores evidence that women who breastfeed beyond thirty-six months can significantly lessen their risk for the disease. I'm not exactly an attachment parent but the statistics – plus the evidence that breastmilk boosts a baby's IQ – was enough to make me a believer.

What do you think: Should breastfeeding mamas get the boot? Or does this society have a warped view of womanhood?


What A Man

A true legend in television journalism, Ed Bradley was exemplary.

The Philadelphia native and graduate of historically black Cheyney University began a career in local radio (for $1.50 per hour, mind you) where he honed his burgeoning passion for news. This unflappable drive led him to become the first African American television news correspondent to the White House and one of the most respected news journalists of the 21st century.

From his early days days covering the Philadelphia riots of 1965, to the Paris Peace talks, to interviewing Michael Jackson, to recently covering the Duke rape trial, Ed Bradley held fast to an ethical standard that many of today's journalists unfortunately remain without.

And I'd be remiss not to acknowledge that the man was smooth. He was the first male news anchor to wear an earring. Let alone shoot a fashion feature, as he did for Code: The Style Magazine for Men of Color back in 2000. I'll never forget that night in '99 when my best friend and I caught a glimpse of the hella foine fifty-something Bradley leaving a New York art opening as we had just arrived. Yes, I know he was old enough to be our dad, but that only barely stopped us from screaming like two candy girls at a New Edition concert.

More than anything, I will always remember Ed Bradley as a a man of dignity, truth and overwhelming integrity. Traits we can strive to instill in our children and exemplify for them in our daily lives as well.

If I ever had a chance to actually meet him, I would have told him that.

Finally, Dora's Not the Only Child of Color In Her Classroom Anymore

Even as a preschooler in the seventies, I was painfully aware of the lack of images of color on children's television. Aside from Franklin – Charlie Brown's boy, the sister in Josie and the Pussycats, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and the brief stint that was the cartoon version of the Jackson Five, black animated kids tv characters were basically absent back in the day. I wanted to walk up to that tv with a burnt sienna crayon and color the rest of the Peanuts in.

And I wasn't so sure things were different today, until I spent after a few months of paying closer attention to exactly who was popping into our tv room each day. Much to my surprise, I was delighted find these new friends (who my four-year-old claims to have known for years):

Name: Quincy
Program: Little Einsteins
Network: The Disney Channel
This boy would make DuBois proud. It's too bad his mommy and daddy had to make a fuss so they'd let their baby into the gifted program when child has at least a 200 IQ.
But it was well worth it so rest of us could see the first animated African American intellectual on TV. The program introduces culture and high art to preschoolers at a level they'll understand. Still waiting for some jazz music and a Bearden or two...something (please!). But when my four year old walked into the Philadelphia Museum of Art and correctly identified a Van Gogh, I knew they were on the right track.

Name: Shanna
Shanna's Show
My friend's husband complains about it because he thinks Disney's too racist to give Shanna her own full length show (right now it's an interstitial.) But I'm not mad at it. Shanna's Show is adorable. Along with little brother Shane, Shanna takes viewers with her on a journey through their colorful imagination. I love the way she's so ambitious, often dressing up as a doctor, teacher or ballerina. And just recently, I picked up several adorable Shanna's Show story books (on sale for a buck each at Michael's for some reason, but you'll never hear me complain about that).

Name: Clementine
Program: Caillou
Network: PBS Kids
Clementine is a lot like her best friend Caillou. But with a lot more hometraining.

Name: Tasha, Uniqua, Austin, Pablo and Tyrone
Program: The Backyardigans
Network: Nick Jr.
Okay, now come on. They might not look it, but with names like these, you can't tell me those Backyardigans aren't black. At least three of them. This brilliant program takes children from allbackgrounds on a journey into the kind of fantasy play that happens in every little kid’s mind. They’re epic, musical fantasy adventures, preschool-style, fresh from the minds of three kids whose imagination reaches far beyond their backyards. And the best part is the music, which includes everything from jazz to claypso to hip hop. It's sad when as a parent the only song playing in your head sometimes is the themesong from one of your kid's shows. But it's not nearly as bad when it's this. You can visit with Janice Burgess, sister genius behind The Backyardigans right here.

If your kids are anything like mine, you've known most of these characters for quite some time already. But if anyone was going to give them the props they deserve, it would have to be OKP.

Let me know if I missed anybody!


Skin Deep

This short film, A Girl Like Me, is a must-see for anyone who has influence in the life of an African American child. In less than ten minutes, the telling documentary illustrates how far we still have to go in regards to our self-image. Seventeen-year-old director, Kiri Davis should be commended. And given a free-ride to Spelman.

I cried watching this as I considered how each of my beautiful daughters – who differ from each other in both skin tone and hair texture – might internalize similar feelings to the ones expressed in this piece. I hate to think that they will, but what black woman hasn't...at least to some degree?

It's past time for this chain to be broken. But where do we even begin?

Bill Cosby Is a Brother and Your Father Is Too

I'm always tickled when my daughter laughs at The Cosby Show. Not that it's odd that a four-year-old is able to get the humor (it's pretty straightforward, and she has a great comedic sense anyway). I'm tickled because if the Cos' knew my J-Jo, he'd love her. Had she been born in the 80's, Raven Symone would still be handing out demo tapes today. To say my child is precocious would not descibe her accurately enough. To say she's a sparkle-butt would.

We were in J-Jo's room picking up some toys when she started in about something she found funny on a Cosby rerun. Something or other about Rudy getting lost at the mall and Cliff saying she should stay lost. I didn't remember the episode, but she had seen it recently and couldn't stop laughing.

"Bill Cosby is a funny daddy," she chirped.

"Just like your daddy." I handed her a stuffed animal to put away.

"Except Bill Cosby's black."

What?! I thought we'd been through this already. "Um, daddy is black, honey. You know your daddy's black."

"I mean skin mommy, black skin. Not like daddy's. Black!"

"Bill Cosby's skin is brown, sweetheart. So is daddy's, just lighter."

To her credit, the difference between my husband's skin tone and that of Dr. Cosby is comparable to the contrast between Adam Clayton Powell and Kweisi Mfume. But that's part of the beauty of who we are as a people. Our one, unchanging, major similarity despite our many differences in appearance, class, etc . I had no idea how to convey this, but I felt I must at least try. "Both daddy and Bill Cosby are black, honey. They're both African American. And black people who live in our country are called African Americans."

"I know that." She looked about as puzzled as she would have if I had just told her that Santa and the Easter Bunny were actually the same person.

We changed the subject and finished cleaning up, but I still had to wonder if the whole skin color thing seemed completely bizarre to a child. "White" looking people who are black. No black people who are actually white, but isn't the first part confusing enough? I thought we explained it to her pretty well when our fraternal twins were born different shades, eye colors and hair textures, but apparently it still perplexes (more on the twins in an upcoming post). But bigger than the skin-color stuff, I was mostly hung up on question of terminology. "Black" vs. "African American" seemed to be the part of the conversation that gave J-Jo the most confusion.

Why and whether or not we should still be called "Black" vs. "African American" is a subject that is bound to enter popular debate in the near future. Especially with the great brown hope Barack Obama rapidly coming to the forefront of American politics. He's an example of an "African American" who genetically is very different from the textbook definition of African American. A man with a white, mid-western mother and a Kenyan father. Genetically, most African Americans are only similar to him by the fact that we all have a little euro blood as well (shhh...don't tell nobody). The majority of our folks hailed from West Africa, not Kenya. But is Obama black? Yes. His wife Michelle is a testament to that. And just recently, African Americans in Queens, New York were identified as outgrossing whites in yearly income for the first time in history. But upon closer inspection, the majority of the big earners off the F line were actually West Indian and some of them were truly adamant about not wanting to be considered African Americans. But are they black? Negro, please.

Maybe I'm just becoming an old head by not wanting to change with the times. But I want my kids to have a world view and identify as b-l-a-c-k people. I want them to be proud to be called black in addition to being called African American because it is a term inclusive of not only those of us in America, but throughout the diaspora as well. To feel a connectedness with Black Americans, Black Brits, Black Cubans, Black South Africans and beyond. Personally, the term evokes a sense of pride, on a global level. A pride reminiscent of a time we weren't afraid to "Say it loud!"

How to explain this on a pre-K level I have yet to figure out. So I'm curious – how do you define yourselves at home? Black or African American? How do you expect and (if applicable) teach your children to identify themselves and define others as people of African descent?

Why I Refuse to Buy a Bunch of Bratz (or Raise Any, Either)

Good parents love to see their kids happy. It's difficult not to get lost in the joy in their eyes when they get something they "always wanted". And it's hard not to get them "what they always wanted" without it morphing into more than one thing. Repeatedly. It's a tough balancing act between not wanting them to end up in therapy in twenty years versus not wanting to witness them rot to the core.

It took many a trip to ToysRUs before MJ and I decided it was time to stop the madness. We were reluctant to admit that our daughter was incapable of watching tv or taking a family trip to Target without clammoring for more plastic crap, and that something needed to be done.

Finally, I understood why my parents only bought toys for Christmas and birthdays. They weren't cheap, they just didn't want their kids to be spoiled.

But it's not an easy battle (just ask anyone who's ever taken a kid to FAO Schwarz). So for folks who still struggle against parental corporate consumerism, but don't know where to draw the line, see if this following example pertains to you:

Day One:
Child sees loud, crappy tv commercial on tv touting the virtues on some toy child doesn't already have. Child demands parent to watch commercial, claiming "See, mommy/daddy, that's it! That's (insert random toy's name here)! Can I get it? Can I get that...please?!

Day Two:
Parent remembers name of forementioned toy, and for whatever reason (love usually), buys it. Child is delighted to receive toy, takes it out of its packaging and immediately begins playing with it.

Day Three:
Child integrates toy into collection. Parents feel like good parents.

Day Four:
Random crap begins collecting dust.

Day Five:
Crap continues to collect dust as child watches tv, looking for new commercial selling another piece of random crap for parents to buy.

Is it just me, or is there a pattern forming here?

I want to raise children who that don't take things for granted not only because I want them to grow into kind, thoughtful people, but also for the good of the world (yes, it really is that deep to me). Because spoiled little kids who get everything they ask for run a severe risk of growing into selfish jackasses. They're the type of people who become corporate ceos, loan officers and grocery store managers who make folks go home and vent to their partners about some idiot who ruined their day. The type of people who make life hard for everybody else.

Because everything came to them just a little too easy.

How do you feel about the plethora of tv commercial aimed at our children and our wallets? How do you cope?


I've Gotta Be Me

Thirty years ago, my grandfather was walking on a sandy beach in Acapulco when he was accosted by a group of adoring fans. They wanted to see him up close and maybe even get an autograph. No, grandpop wasn't anyone famous. He was just a retired postal worker from Philly who retired to Mexico in search of the good life. The man had no idea that part of that "good life" would include being mistaken for Sammy Davis Jr. more times than the Candy Man was probably recognized himself.

Grandpop barely resembled the Black Rat Packer, but it still didn't keep folks from asking. African Americans in foreign lands are often confused for famous people. I once had a friend whose aunt was stalked in Japan because everyone thought she was Sheila E. Another friend of mine had a boyfriend who, despite being about seven shades lighter and four inches shorter, was dubbed Michael Jordan while abroad. Ask any black person who's traveled further than the Bahamas – this type of mistaken identity happens quite often.

But for some reason, it's much easier for me to understand this happening in other countries than when it happens in my own backyard. Here, most Americans are see a variety of African Americans everyday, if not in real life, at least on tv. Regardless, many of us are still have the occasional experience of being mistaken for someone we only vaguely resemble. A victim of this type of false identification system suffers from TOB – The Other Black.

I had my first experience with TOB in the seventh grade, when my art teached accidentally called me "Henrietta". Henrietta was a girl who was about half my height and twice my width. She thought it was kinda funny that Mr. O'Reilly confused us, but I didn't see the humor in it at all. I thought it meant that I needed to go on a diet. It wasn't until much later that I realized that the only reason Mr. O'Reilly called me Henrietta was because Henrietta was black like me.

TOB starts as early as nursery school, something I was made painfully aware of this as I was dropping my four-year-old off yesterday. The mix up went something like this:

We were entering J-Jo's classroom as the head teacher was coming out.
J-Jo looked up and as usual, greeted the woman by name.

Head Teacher looked J-Jo square in the face, smiled and responded. "Hi Mia."

This was problematic on a number of levels:

1. J-Jo's name is not Mia.
2. Her real name sounds nothing like Mia.
3. Mia is the name of the only other little black girl in the entire school.
4. Although they're both tall for their age, Mia's hair is a finer texture than J-Jo's, her skin is darker than J. Jo's and her mother is white.
5. I am very clearly not white.

Still, somehow, Head Teacher had lumped the two girls into the same caste system within her mind.

She tried to make up for it by quickly catching herself and readdressing J-Jo by her true name. I forced a smile and cut her some slack for acknowledging the slip up. But I'd be lying if I claimed not to have given further thought to the faux pas. Not because there is anything about Mia that I would not want my daughter to be associated with, the two are actually good friends, but they look absolutely nothing alike.

At least not to us.


Soul Food For The Next Generation

I'm a Northern black woman who grew up in a family whose idea of a traditional meal was spaghetti with meat sauce. No soul food savvy matriarchs have graced either side of my family tree since the great migration. So when my own kids were born, I was determined to raise them as part of a clan that ate traditional African American food throughout the year, not just on holidays.

The exploration of my culinary heritage began with a simple weeknight dinner of collard greens, yams and black-eyed peas. I was feeling rather pleased with myself when my four year old appeared at the kitchen door.

"Mommy? What is that...smell?" she stood in the doorway frozen, face shielded by her sleeves.

"Black eyed peas, honey. Mommy's making black eyed peas tonight."

She clamped her angelic face tighter. "They smell horrible."

My husband glanced up from his computer. "It's black people food, honey."

Did we really want her to associate our culture with what she described as "a horrible smell?" I tried not to roll my eyes and began setting the table. "It's what we're having for dinner tonight."

The meal got off to a good start until we asked her to actually start eating. There were tears, followed by threats of timeout. There was squealing, followed by threats of slightly more severe forms of punishment. In between plea bargains, my husband helped himself to seconds and I fought back tears of frustration. My fifteen month old twins sat contentedly in their highchairs, licking fingers and smacking lips at the first taste of their culinary birthright. How could my eldest child possibly grow into a strong African American woman without ever having tasted black eyed peas? I was nauseated the mere thought of my firstborn daughter making a quicker mental association with
BEP's Fergie than the cuisine of her very own culture.

Maybe I just needed to accept the fact that my child had a somewhat eclectic, international palate. After all, she tried risotto at nine months and enjoyed it. Other international foods like hummus and (cooked) sushi are regular requests. At least she was an equal-opportunity eater. I picked up the dish she'd just poked at, the black eyed peas stared back at me forlornly. It burned me up that if those poor legumes had been edamame, she probably would have cleaned her plate.

It wasn't until my beloved was in bed for the night that I stepped down off my pedestal and realized where I might be falling short. Even broken down to a preschooler's level, there was really no clear reason why an African American four year old should be obligated to eat black eyed peas (aside from nutritional value). If slaves were forced to eat what we now know as soul food because they just didn't have another choice, does that mean their free descendants should have to? Grown-ups do it all the time. Nobody (at least nobody I know) starts salivating at the thought of boiled pigs' feet. But sweet potato pie is a whole different story altogether. And I'm the first one to turn my nose up at chitterlings before taking a second helping of baked macaroni.

Maybe it's time I let her celebrate the right to pick and choose from the rich diversity within our cultural palate. Maybe it's less about the food, than our freedom.


Black Hair Basics for Brangelina

Sisters are miffed about about Angelina Jolie's upcoming starring role in a film about part Afro-Cuban journalist Marianne Pearl. Many resent that a white girl would even attempt to use self-tanner to portray a woman of color. Don't get me wrong, I'm not down with the neo black-face, either. But it's hard for me to completely blame the actress when I find it highly conceivable that within the multi-cultural, Jolie-Pitt clan, love has become color-blind. With a beloved brood that resembles a mini model U.N., it's quite possible that racial differences are the furthest thing from the Brangelina radar.

What I do find problematic is the couple's clear lack of clues about styling their daughter Zahara's hair. Recently, the beautiful Ethiopian toddler has been spotted sporting a slightly matted, slightly uneven twa. Other photos feature the Jolie-Pitt Princess riding regally atop her proud papa's shoulders...dressed like a mini Aunt Jemima. Not entirely, she was wearing pants, not a hoop skirt. But that kerchief was the clincher. I'm sure the styling move wasn't intentional, but no Hollywood child can keep their spot on the toddler a-list without being appropriately coiffed.

Even if peace and love has eliminated race from the family's equation, that still doesn't mean it's not there. Zahara Jolie-Pitt is almost two years old now. It's high time for her hipper-than-thou humanitarian parents to sit her down and learn how to make a straight part. So before I jump on the “See, that’s what happens when white people adopt black babies...” bandwagon, here's a primer for Angie, Brad, the nanny or whoever is responsible for that child’s hair. At least they can't say they weren't told.

Nobody wants to see their child suffering, let alone be the one to cause it. But shedding tears while getting hair done is just a rite of passage that all little black girls must endure. From Harlem to Hollywood and beyond, tenderheadedness is just a part of life.

It's not your fault that the Ethiopian orphanage failed to provide Angelina with hair instructions and a goodie bag of Blue Magic, plastic balls and barettes when she signed that last adoption paper. Accept the learning curve by investing in one of those giant Barbie heads and teach yourself to cornrow.

It can be pretty lonely being the only black child, even within one’s own family. So it might be wise to have a few "aunties" of African descent on speed-dial for Zahara to look up to. Halle Berry would make a decent option, provided she's herself, not in character for an upcoming role. Queen Latifah is a worthy choice too. Steer clear of Naomi Campbell, unless you plan to teach Zahara how to fight.

Effortlessly cool, the afro puff is perfect for meeting the paprazzi or just grabbing a plain slice of pizza. Zahara could rock one, two or three puffs, but four or more and you may get criticized for dressing her like a pickanniny. I wouldn’t go there if I were you.

Cutting hair is completely off limits for a little black girl for reasons I’m not even fully aware of. But no matter what, don’t do it. Yes, the Mohawk looks cool on Maddox, but a ‘frohawk on Zahara will not.

It may not seem important now, but Z will need some friends of color as she matures. Please don't let her grow up thinking she looks just like Shiloh Nouvel. Iman and David Bowie have a little girl, and Eddie Murphy has a bunch to choose from. Have your people call theirs and set up a play date.

Big ups to Brad for the huge shout out to sister-owned Carol's Daughter in Esquire Magazine. Just don't get over zealous with those - or any - hair products. The daily shampoo schedule used for Maddox and Shiloh Nouvel won't work for your brown baby girl. Once a week is fine.

There's really no such thing as too much.