How Ya Like Me Now?

Go 'head Uncle Ben. Our friendly rice man by-passed the mailroom and is now the CEO of his entire corporation. Oh yes, he's got his own cushy office where mere mortals like ourselves can go snoop around all the stuff on his desk, with just a couple clicks of the mouse. Some might find his new role rather offensive, but think it's a trip. Those notes he jots down in that leather bound journal of his had me dying.

So now I'd like to motion that we give Aunt Jemima a promotion too. Not from mammy to receptionist, mind you; I want to see the flapjack genius break the glass ceiling. And once she does, let's subtly convince her to grow out the relaxer and start sporting some locs like B. Smith, who's recently agreed to hook Betty Crocker up with some of her marketing.

And then, lets slip Uncle Ben Aunt Jemima's cell phone number. I know they haven't always gotten along so well, but that was a long time ago. Besides, they've got so much in common... I'd hate to see old boy go and try to seduce Betty (and get accused of sexual harrassment) when his perfect match is sitting right beneath his nose. I'm not saying she's a gold digger, but Aunt Jemima would be happy for an evening out with the successful brother. Slaves need love too. We'll have to figure out what to do about that Jet Magazine wedding announcement though, considering neither one of them has a last name.

Oh well, I guess we can't have everything.


Leave it to Larry Wilmore

I know, I know...you're probably sick of my Princess Maddy ramblings by now...but this discussion between Larry Wilmore and Jon Stewart about black folks and Disney has all the makings of a classic! Larry knocks it out the park.


Meet Misa

It's Misa. You know, the one who's responsible for styling just about every hip hop and r&b maven you've ever heard of. Anyway, you might know her from hair salon gossip...something about how she's the mother of Daddy Diddy's son, the one he named his restaurant after.

But Misa Hylton is much more than a hip hop egoiste's baby's mama. She's a fashion maven, business woman and a savvy mother of three. Just the other day I was yapping about being a mommy and finding time to put on lipgloss. Meanwhile, girlfriend has her own clothing line, Madison Star Couture (named for her daugter, Madison Star) which has catapulted into a thriving company. Somehow, she still finds time to looking fierce while opening juice boxes (or instructing someone else to).

I swear, I don't know how she does it, but whatever the case, it sure looks as if she's doing something right.

What's in a Name?

My best friend and college roommate was the one we all assumed would marry first—not because she was desperate, mind you, it’s just that she was that good of a catch. But instead of getting her Mrs. degree, girlfriend became a gallerina. Most of her Friday nights were spent setting up wine and cheese tables at art openings, not getting her freak on at cheesy nightclubs. She toured Europe and made the obligatory art historian's pilgrimage to The Louvre. She obtained her Master's in Arts Administration, eventually landing a coveted curator position at a prestigious institution. All that hard work left very little time for play, much less meeting The One. But just when she thought she'd be kissing frogs forever, Ms. Right met her match. And apparently, he's the Magnolia Bakery-worthy icing on her cake; after a magical, eight-month courtship, the happy couple plans to wed next month. The professionally accomplished, thirty something bride has no intentions of keeping her name. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

A handful of feministas might assume that my dear friend thinks her new place is in the kitchen. But even with the granite counter tops and a shiny Sub-Zero, I'm pretty sure she doesn't plan on getting knocked up, kicking her mules off and slaving over Le Creuset just yet. In fact, I'm fairly certain that given her track record, the future wife will be just as goal-oriented as a "Mrs." as she was before jumping the broom. I say this mostly because even among my most ambitious married friends (meaning all of them), I have yet to see a clear-cut trend indicating how a married woman's last name influences her success. More than anything, the prenuptial name game seems like a matter of personal discretion and taste over anything else. For some, the choice to become Mrs. Hislastname is a no-brainer, prompted by a desire to establish a public cohesiveness with their partner and the family they hope to have. Others opt to leave well enough alone. And then there's always the Toyota Prius version of a bride's married name: the practical, politically correct, hyphen.

Before I got engaged, my husband told me that he didn't care if I kept my last name or changed it to his. He even told me that my last name sounded much better with my first name than his did. Once he proposed, however, all indifference flew out the window: "Take my name with a hyphen, baby...please??" All of the sudden it mattered to him that kids we planned to have would share a name that belonged to both of us. I loved this man; there was no point in breaking his heart over something so trivial (at least not to me). So I decided to use a hyphen not only because it would make him happiest, but also because it suited my needs at the time. For one, I was at the beginning of my publishing career: my maiden name had already made its way onto the masthead of a national magazine for an issue or two. I was proud of the accomplishment, and wanted that my title to reflect both my past and my present. Besides, there were so many high-powered, intelligent and successful African American women I'd admired who used hyphens: politician Carol Moseley-Braun, my Spelman College professor/author Dr. Gloria Wade-Gayles and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, just to name a few. I knew I'd be in good company.

Click here to continue reading.

On Friday my posts also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids. Visit them at Time Out New York Kids for more city-specific parenting tips and diversions. The regular column will be called Not the Nanny, which pretty much answers the crazy looks I sometimes receive when I'm out and about with my rosy-cheeked son.

A Brand New Day

There's still a little snow on the ground, but it's 64 degrees here today! I've been humming this classic from "The Wiz" all morning.

Happy springtime, everyone!


Face Time

In the days before children, I used to design pages and direct photo shoots for the beauty department of a popular African American women's magazine. It was exciting, even though I didn't fully appreciate it at the time (at the end of the day, work really is just that - work). But every week we'd be gussying up somebody (sometimes famous, sometimes not) to appear in the pages of the mag. I've got enough stories about those days to write a bestseller. At the very least, a bad, self-published novel.

First there was the beauty closet (think The Devil Wear's Prada or Ugly Betty's fashion closet, brimming with makeup instead of clothes) that editors and art directors had permission to raid on a regular basis. Hot date? Beauty closet. Bad hair day? Beauty closet. Hating your boss today? Better get your behind to that beauty closet. There was nothing that place couldn't fix. Mind you, I wasn't much more than a lipgloss girl before the job started, but it quickly became addictive.

Sometimes, after shoots, we'd end up having dinner with Roshumba(very sweet) or Tyra Banks (not so much). I only say the latter in regards to the look of disgust on her face as I was telling the table about a special vacation I'd just returned from. It was a look that said "You went to the Carribbean of all places...for your Honeymoon?!". But it figures, Tyra's been all over the globe to all kinds of tropical locations. She probably went to Bora Bora or something for her own honeym- oh wait, never mind. But some celebs were nice, like Beyonce. I'll never forget the surreal moment that the dreamgirl, 19 at the time, politely offered that she liked my hair color but thought I should "go lighter". Not that I asked, but thanks, girl!

Manicured hands down, the best part about that job was not unsolicited advice of starlets, but the free beauty advice from their personal makeup artists. Jay Manuel (you may know him from ANTM, but he was a freelance makeup artist at the time) informed me that bronzer should "look as if it kissed you where the sun hits your face". I once hit up
Oscar James for some L.A.-based hairstylist's cell phone numbers (not that I could afford any of them). And Sam Foine, I mean, Fine, plucked my brows for my wedding (only after admonishing me for overplucking in the first place).

My how things change. I miss those days of fabulousity. This business of stay-at-home motherhood may very well be the most rewarding job on earth, but it's by far the least glamourous. Thank God for Modern Mom. Their latest beauty advice from pro-makeup artist, Ashaunta Sheriff, offers the latest scoop on how moms like me can create a fabulous, everyday, make up look in a flash. Their video step-by-step how-to is simply genius. Not that I think that word should be used in reference to clothes or make-up, but still. Thanks to this cool site, former working girls like me who have recently dedicated their entire lives to wiping noses and picking Cheerios up off the floor can stay fly.

Of course there's nothing wrong with wiping noses for a living, but it can't hurt to look cute while doing it.


Real Men Cornrow

OFTEN, the women let out a little gasp. I look up, a hair twisty dangling from my mouth, a clump of my 5-year-old daughter’s hair clenched in one fist, a comb in the other, ready for attack. She squirms on the bench in the family locker room at the local Y, freshly showered after a swim class and bracing for her hair appointment with me, her father, hellbent on taming those tresses.

“Wow, you are really good,” one approving mother says one morning as my fingers weave three strands into a tight braid. I nod thanks and press on, fussing with another braid as I demand again and again, “Lyla, keep still for heaven’s sake.”

As Lyla and I depart, the receptionist at the counter coos.

“Who did your hair, sweetie,” she asks, knowing the answer.

“Daddy,” Lyla says matter-of-factly.

“Nice job, Dad,” says the receptionist. In another context, the look she gives me might land us in trouble with my wife.

To continue reading the New York Times article (3/22/07), click here


Mammy Two Shoes

When I was five, I thought that woman on Tom and Jerry, the feet who walked around scolding Tom, was his owner. In fact, I thought it was her house. I mean, as far as I was concerned, why wouldn't it be? Black women owned homes back then, with cats in 'em, too.

As a matter of fact, wasn't until I was in college that I realized that character was a servant, and that Tom and Jerry was a racist-ass cartoon. Yes, college. I guess I was a little naive.

Anyway, my grandmother did "days work", just like many black women did back in the day, but I'm going to have to ask her about those slippers. I'm pretty sure she wore shoes to work. I'm willing to bet that cartoon maid just had them on to push the "lazy Negro" concept even further. Hmph.

So here's a big, fat, post-humous shout out to the memory of Lillian Randolph, an African American Actress who was the voice behind Tom and Jerry's "Mammy Two Shoes". You might even remember her from some '70's shows like Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons. While I'm at it, another big shout out to every other African American actress from back in the day who had to grin and bear it while (almost) living her dream.

And a special note to Jasmine from the Doodlebops: It's 2007, girl. You should really see about having them let you do something other than scatting all the time. Just a suggestion.


A Whole New World

“That’s it Mommy, I want that one!” My three-year-old flung her arm towards a wall of shiny, sherbet-colored princess costumes.

“I thought you wanted to be a duck.”

“I changed my mind. I wanna be Cinderella for Halloween. See it, Mommy? Right there!”

I tried not to notice the crinkly, powder blue costume creeping slowly into my peripheral vision. “Um, how about a ladybug?”

“No, Mommy. Cinderella!”

Of course that’s who she wanted to be for Halloween. After all, the blue-eyed, bouffant-wearing princess was the it-girl of Four-year-old World. I knew that J-Jo was more interested in playing dress-up and looking "pretty" than actually looking white, but I still had my reservations about endorsing it. I was never that crazy about the Disney Cinderella with all of her whining and pining for Mr. Right; I’m not raising my daughters to wait for some guy on a white horse to gallop in and whisk them off to Wisteria Lane. I want my girls to aspire to become much more than daydreaming debutantes in ball gowns. The last thing I need is some cartoon character contradicting me.

And then there was that other part. As an African American mom, I resented the fact that for so many years, Disney had never bothered to create a black princess.

American Indians had Pocahontas and Asian Americans had Mulan (both sort of underrated, but at least they were there). And of course there’s Jasmine, who always seemed like she’d only been created to keep other minorities from getting mad. Clearly somebody at the mega-corporation knew that white people weren’t the only ones with Orlando timeshares, or they wouldn’t have created the few princesses of color they had. So where the heck was Princess Imani? Black families like Epcot, too. I wanted a princess I could, I mean, my girls could relate to. Several more seasoned moms had mentioned that the princess fetish is just a phase, but if I was destined to spend the next six years or so getting dragged into the princess aisle at Target (or even worse, the Disney Store) I needed more incentive to be there.

No one could convince me that plunking $19.99 on the counter for that costume would be anything more than a deposit on my daughter's future therapy sessions. I couldn’t stomach the thought of letting my beige-skinned daughter dress up as the archetypical porcelain-skinned princess for Halloween. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to tell J-Jo why she couldn’t make her own decision about what to be for Halloween. So I stood there for a few minutes, staring at the wall of flammable frocks. And then I caved. There’d be plenty of time to talk about the difference between real love and fairy tale romance later, right? And we could discuss race forever, considering we’ll be black all of our lives. But at that time she was three years old. She’d only be three once.

So much of parenting is about picking battles; this time I'd chosen to surrender. I gingerly placed the costume in my red cart and wheeled it towards the check out line. J-Jo just sat there beaming at me; her smile could have upstaged the sun. When Halloween rolled around, I removed the cheesy, plastic cameo (with Cinderella’s face on it just in case it wasn’t obvious) from the front and sent J-Jo off with daddy in search of strangers with candy. I tried to focus on the joy on her face when we bought that costume, instead of my resentment at the company that inspired it. Then I sat on there the couch nursing our two-month-old twins, fantasizing about a day when little girls like my own would know a princess character who wasn’t based on a Eurocentric beauty standard.

And then she arrived, Disney's very first animated BAP.

The ninth member of the $3 Billion Princess A-List is Maddy, heroine of “The Frog Princess”. The 2-D animated film is an original story set in 1920’s New Orleans. In 2009, Princess Maddy will join the likes of Jasmine, Mulan and, yes, Cinderella. She’ll be given the royal treatment, with her very own rides at Disney World and dress up clothes to match. Rumor has it that Alicia Keys, Dreamgirls’ costars Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose are all vying for the lead role. Keys reportedly called the producers and begged for the part herself (sources say she’s received a second audition). One might scoff at the persistence of these starlets, fighting over a part like it was a sale rack at Filene’s Basement. True, the role itself is little more than a glamorized voice-over, but to anyone who grew up too black to be Snow White, the prospect of a black Disney Princess speaks volumes.

Disney has dubbed “The Frog Princess” “An American Fairy Tale”, so hopefully girls of all ethnicities will be able to identify with its heroine…at least for a little while. As I write this, J-Jo’s Cinderella Halloween costume is crumpled in ball at the bottom of her closet; the princess phase has run its course. Yet I know that Cinderella won’t be the last Disney diva to join us at the dinner table. In no time, J-Jo’s baby sister Coco will want princess get-ups of her own. And princess sippy cups, princess pajamas and whatever else that dreaded Disney store has in stock. Not that I’ll always buy into it. I’m just thrilled that by the time she asks, there’ll be another choice: An African American Disney Princess, with her very own happily ever after.

Imagine that.



Introducing Maddy, Disney's first black princess. Yes, you read it correctly. Disney's first BLACK princess.


Our girls will probably never understand the true significance of this, but will be all the better for living in an era where a chocolate Disney princess is considered commonplace. Not that I'm actually looking for another reason to be dragged into the Disney store, but still. Thanks for the heads up, gingerbreadlatte! It's about time.


Update on the Bronx Fire

The African Services Committee is accepting donations in support of the Malian families affected by the tragic fire on March 7th the Bronx. They will send earmarked contributions to the Magassa and Soumare families directly.

To make a donation (even if it's just $10), click here.

And please remember to be safe. Check the batteries in your smoke detectors, make sure your power strips aren't over loaded...you know the drill.


What Should We Do?

I was devastated to find out about the Bronx fire this morning, in which many members of a hard-working West African family were killed. Most of the victims were children.

Like many people, incidents like these remind me to stop and feel thankful for my blessings. Then, life continues. Somehow, many people (present company included) assume that the victims are being cared for, provided with food. clothing and shelter. That somehow, life will continue for them as well. Yet we all know it's not really that simple.

What can those of us who have (thankfully) never been in this type of tragedy do for this family? Does it begin with a clothing drive? A fundraiser? Obviously, they will need assistance to get their lives back together, any little bit we can do could help.

But where do we begin?


As Good as it Gets

J-Jo came up and hugged me this morning, pressing her smooth forehead into my cheek before pulling her head back for a second. Then she paused dramatically and looked me in the eyes.

"Mommy," she sighed wistfully.

"Yes honey?"

"You're better than nothin'."


Another Reason to Watch Noggin

Be sure to check out Cedric the Entertainer on Noggin, where starting today, he'll be promoting the network's Get Ready to Read campaign for the month of March. The proud papa will be alongside Moose A. Moose (aka in this house as "J-Jo's Ex" - long story), reading the Aesop fable The Tortoise and the Hair. Also spreading the magic of literacy is Isaiah Washington (am I slightly surprised they kept the brother on board?).

Of course the skeptic in me could get annoyed that they asked two black men to talk about the importance of not being illiterate, as opposed to two white or two Asian men. But I'm going to go ahead and give the network the bene of the doubt. As long as nobody breaks down crying and says they used to sign their name with an X, it's all good (besides, the illiterate black celebrity story is like, so two years ago (no offense, Fantasia).

Those network execs may not know of Gustavas Vassa, but my people been known how to read. Since before the end of slavery. Shoot...

Skepticsm aside, it's a good cause. And it's so nice to see the brothers appearing this month, instead of last, when I would have just called it Black History Month Tokenism. Instead, the station showed interstitials featuring Mae Jemison and George Washington Carver at regular intervals.

Mad props to Noggin for trying to represent.


Drink Like a Butterfly

Great, an answer to "Momeeee, I'm boooored..." that's not "Go clean your room." (like that even works anyway). Check out this cool craft idea from one of my favorite parenting magazines, a wonderful magazine called Wondertime. J-Jo and I plan to get crafty this weekend while daddy catches his breath after the readings. ZenBaby and Big L are likely to hover about, attempting to "help"...which often leads to utter chaos. At the very least, double the mess. But I should really be used to that by now.