Mr. J

My husband's on book tour with his latest work, an historical novel called The Great Negro Plot. Of course it's brilliant, not that I'm biased or anything.

He'll be reading at 7 pm on Wednesday night at the Melville Gallery (213 Water Street between Fulton & Beekman) in New York.

And on Thursday, he heads down to the lovely DC Metro area, home of none other thanNat Turner's Revenge, to read at the Oxon Hill Library in Prince George County, MD at 7 pm.

If you're in the area and have the time, please stop by and get your book signed. I wish I was going too, just for the remote chance that I might be able to rub elbows with some of you. Oh well, another time I hope.

Sorry there aren't more locations for the readings, but we've got too many children and too little time for a big ole tour bus.

Raising 'em Up Right

My alter ego, the one who types in her pajamas, is a columnist for a fabulous site called Anti Racist Parent. It's terrific, brimming with thinking people who are committed to raising their kids without a biased perspective.

The mastermind behind it, Carmen Vankerckove, is compiling a primer on how to be an anti-racist parent. How great is that...a handbook to help parents raise sensitive, well-adjusted kids in this crazy, mixed up world. Who aren't bigots. They should really distribute these in maternity wards.

These are just some of the topics the free ebook will address:

What books, activities or toys do you recommend for children?

What books or videos/DVDs do you recommend for parents who want to educate themselves about racism?

How do you instill a good sense of self-esteem in your child?

How do you teach children about racism in an age-appropriate way?

Want to add your $.02? Click here.

Tips are due by tomorrow, but you probably have some good suggestions right now.


Oh Rats

Maybe the theme song to the movie Ben was the first clue that Michael Jackson was kinda off. Sure, he had his old nose back then, but that doesn't mean he was right in the head.

Ben, most people would turn you away
I don't listen to a word they say
They don't see you as I do
I wish they would try to
I'm sure they'd think again
If they had a friend like Ben.

Now I'm not sure what they are, but I'm there's someone else out there, other than the King of Pop, who can list the attributes of rats. But as a former resident of New York City, I got no love for them at all. The first time I witnessed a rat was while I was waiting for the D train. From the platform - and not far away enough I must add - I saw that filthy animal scurry down those tracks as if it knew exactly where it was going. Bold. Unashamed. Unafraid of being seen or even worse - exterminated.

New to the city and the product of a suburban upbringing, I just couldn't understand how the critter was down there and nobody was doing anything. There had to have been at least twelve perfectly civilized human beings with me on the platform. They all saw the guy - so why wasn't anybody saying anything? Why were they just looking at their watches, talking to eachother or on their cell phones, and reading the New York Times? I was mortified.

And then, a few nights later, it happened again.

And again.

And again.

I soon realized that New York City was a rodent's world. The rest of us just happened to live there. My boyfriend at the time was completely unphased at my dramatic stories about all of the rats I'd seen. He'd lived there for several years before I had, and, like many Manhattanites, had accepted this sort of co-habitation that had been imposed on him. As far as he was concerned, if they hadn't found a way into his apartment, he wasn't worried about them. Why worry if they're everywhere? I was unimpressed by his cool, detatched, demeanor about it but eventually married him anyway.

Years later, he told me that the rats disgusted him too, but he'd come to accept it as a part of city life. Today, there's an unspoken ban on all things rodent-related in this house. Of all the random stuffed animals that somehow find homes here, plush rats (mice, too) will always find a way to the salvation Army before J-Jo can say cheese. You will never see any of these kids dressed as any type of rodent for Halloween. Even Minnie is still a mouse.

New Yorkers have come to accept the fact that the island of Manhattan is infested with them, but will there ever be a point that something gets done about it? The recent Greenwich Village Taco Bell that was swarming with rats last week should prompt more people to take a stand. They were playing and climbing on high chairs in there - another reason parents might want to work harder at saying no to fast food in general. You can't tell me there's never been a rat sniffing around a happy meal toy.

Last month's heartbreaking story about an infant being suffocated by his mother as she tried to protect him from rats in their vermin infested Bronx apartment (as the landlord was chilling in his Trump Tower digs) should serve as a reminder of how serious this problem really is.

Ben will never be my friend.

Good Enough to Eat

Mr. J was at a convention in Manhattan on Friday and so of course I had to send him out of his way to pick up something that can't be found up here in the boonies where we live. Like black hair products. This man must really love me, because trekking to Sephora in the middle of the circus that is also called Times Square (where we both coincidentally once worked) is not exactly how he'd like to spend his time while visiting the city. Especially in 7 degree weather. I'm so grateful he agreed to stop off and picked up a jar of Carol's Daughter's Mimosa Hair Honey. That Brad Pitt might know something about black hair after all - this stuff works magic on our ZenBaby's hair, just like he claimed it did for his Zahara.

And it smells absolutely amazing, like some type of tropical smoothie (as if Mr. J and I need another reason to want to eat ZenBaby right up!).

Had I known I'd now be living 90 miles away from Carol's Daughter (or that I'd even have daughters of my own one day), I would have stocked up on her products when I lived down the street from her first shop in Fort Greene. Hindsight is 20/20...and I guess it's better that way. If my single self had been able to forsee a life in the boondocks with three kids under six, with no black hair products or even black people for miles around, it would have completely freaked me out. I might not even be here right now.

Whew! That was close. But I still miss the amenities.


J. Jo's Latest Computer Art

Without any help!

We may never see a Disney princess and prince who look like these two, but I'm so proud of my girl for "coloring beyond the color lines".

Fitty's $.02

Okay, I think I'm missing something here. When did Fifty Cent become a cultural critic? First, he publicly disses Oprah. Now he's weighing in on Britney's bald head.

Is it just me, or do Fifty and Ne-Yo have a markedly different attitude in this news clip about her cutting her hair off than the first dude? I'm sure all three were thinking "Why are you asking me about this?". But Fifty's reaction was almost emotional: "Why she do that?!?"

Granted, it's not a look for everybody...but why are so many brothers soooo opinionated about hair?

And why does America care so much about Britney's lack thereof?


Word to Big Bird

From Moms Rising:

Putting Elmo, Big Bird, and the Cookie Monster on the chopping block is a prime example of politicians shortchanging the one demographic who can't vote. Children. For the third year in a row, the President's budget proposal slashes funding for PBS—and worst of all, Ready to Learn, which funds Sesame Street and other children's programming is at risk.

You can help stop this all too regular battle to save PBS, and educational programming for kids, by getting involved. Tell the new Congress: We don't want to fight for a PBS funding each and every year. Let Big Bird float above the political winds by giving PBS a permanent funding structure.

Sign the Moms Rising petition to support PBS.


Things I'd Just Rather Not See This Month (in addition to Norbit)

The next time you stop to think about Black History Month, pat yourself on the back. Chances are, you've already made it yourself. No, seriously, you needn't be Condoleeza Rice or Dr. Ben Carson to make black history happen.

It can be as simple as it was for me back in high school, when I quit sports to try out for cheerleading solely for the purpose of integrating the squad (I was too tired of all the athletes being black and the cheerleaders white...I was gonna learn to do a split if it was the last thing I did). Quit lacrosse, made history. Or today, becoming the first black woman in my town to have twins. Or the first one to set foot in the new supermarket on Route 9. Small victories in black history, but I'm just sayin' - so many of us make milestones everyday. Without ever knowing it.

But there's a flip side to that coin. And I hate to break it to you, but it's not all that shiny.

For every great moment in black history - of which there are many - there's a step back. I'm not talking about the homeless brother singing Biz Markie on the corner, shaking his cup. Mental illness doesn't count. I'm talking about utter and complete triflingness (I know triflingness is not a word, but you know what I mean). Case in point - Saturday, about 7:30 pm: Mr. J and I were in Target with the kids. Funny what an exciting night on the town becomes once you have kids, but I won't go there this time:

Two women - ages anywhere from late 20's to late 40's - neither morbidly obese, but both a bit overweight, walked up to those motorized red scooters for the handicapped, hooked their carts up to them and began careening through the store. Did I mention there were kids in the carts? About two kids per cart? They were following eachother all over the store and finally through the checkout line where they paused to pick out soda, candy and read gossip magazines. I didn't mention their ethnicity, I'll let you take a wild guess.

It looked like a parade for the undermotivated. It made my eyes hurt. I almost wanted to laugh, but just couldn't - mostly out of disbelief. And then, in spite of myself, I felt myself turning green because those sisters with their scooters, carts, kids and Twix bars had more nerve than I've got in my little toe. I wanted to look over from aisle 12 and yell "Hey! I got three kids, too! I'm tired, too! My feet hurt, TOO! You see me riding around Tarzhay on a complimentary scooter for the handicapped?!" But refrained, for fear of getting rolled on.

Harriet Tubman walked too far and too long for us to do this in February or any other month. Harriet deserved a deluxe spa pedicure and some reflexology. Those sisters deserved a spanking.

I know I'm wrong, just plain wrong for even thinking that.


Otubenga Jones & Associates is Not a Hip Hop Law Firm

These four brothers make up Otubenga Jones & Associates. And they're about to blow up.

The prolific collective, who met in drawing class at historically black Texas Southern U. back in 1994, are on the verge of taking the contemporary art world by storm. They take their group name from Ota Benga, who was a Pygmy brought to the United States in 1904, put on display in the Bronx Zoo and later commited suicide in 1916 (think depression might have had something to do with it?). Not without irreverence, the art of the Houston-based artists (Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Jamal Cyrus, Kenya Evans and Robert A. Pruitt) takes jabs at ideas about race, the art world and life in America. Their work in the prestigious Whitney Biennial allowed observers to peek into a miniature landscape, diorama-like, with a host of heads, called “Exploring the Outer Reaches of the Garden of Pro-Black Sanctuary.”

A lot of brothers can write fresh lyrics, but how many are doing this?

Enhance your black history month by checking out their recent press.


Happy February

"When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."
-- Dr. Carter G. Woodson, "The Miseducation of the Negro"

In our house, every month is Black History Month. We're black. We appreciate our history. And that includes everyone else's too. For Mr.J and I, a fun evening at home often begins with curling up on the couch and watching History Detectives (hey, it's not easy finding a babysiter for three kids). But speaking of African American history in particular, it's really not all that hard to intentionally and unintentionally weave it through the discourse of our daily lives. It would be impossible to limit the exploration of such a rich and textured heritage to twenty-eight (or twenty-nine, depending on the year) days, anyway.

And we hope that interest will rub off on the kids. From an early age, we began sharing the positive aspects of being black with J-Jo and so far it looks like its sticking. Lawd willin', by the time the babies are able to start learning about who they are, J-Jo will be doing her own power point presentations of the Cross-Atlantic Slave Trade, followed by some Langston Hughes poety set to a beat and a grand finale of her own interpretation of Alvin Ailey's "Revelations". Not because we make her, mind you. I can't wait!

But we're even handed with it. No reason to overdo things so that ten years from now, she flips the script on us and brings Joe Skinhead home for dinner. I can hear it now, through blubbery tears, "You guys are so out of touch! Things have changed!!"And the look on her father's face.

The Daily Show segment, featuring Senior Black Corespondent, Ron Wilmore (who is no stranger to folks, by the way, he's been behind the scenes on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire", "In Living Color" and "The Bernie Mack Show", just to name a few) left me wondering. Does Black History month need an overhaul? Or are things just fine the way they are?

Oh la oh la aaay...

Sorry, maybe it's the part of me that's eternally sixteen years old, but I can't think of Dan Zanes' House Party without a mental flashback to the House Party we knew from back in the day. Whatever happened to Kid n Play?


The Daily Show - Black History Month

To quote the constantly "feklempt" character from Saturday Night Live: "Tawk amongst yourselves..."

No, really, I want to know what you all think about this segment. I'll offer my $.02 in the comments section.


Father Goose and Dan Zanes

From MySpace:

Jamaican born Rankin Don Father Goose is a multi-talented entertainer breathing a breath of fresh air into the children's music scene. His unique adaptation of popular childrens music continues to garner impressive review and turnouts. His songs are fun for kids, more often laced with contagious rhythms, and enthusiasm that have everyone "grooving", young, and old. A unique blend of folktale, Reggae, rap, calypso pop and traditional childrens styles rolled into one. The Gooses shows always lean towards audience participation including a chance for the children and parents to play, sing and connect. Father Goose has performed on nine albums with kids music maestro Dan Zanes. Click the links below to check out some of the work they've made together:

Catch That Train

House Party

And click here for grammy nominated Dan Zanes' official newsletter.