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DON’T BOW DOWN: Thoughts Inspired By Michael Brown & Ferguson

via Cleveland.com

via Cleveland.com

It hurts to say this, but I had a moment last week where I looked at my daughter and wondered, “What did I do? This might have been a mistake.”

Not because I regret her presence. Not because I think I’m a terrible mother (well, I have had those thoughts, but that’s another #BROWNSUGAMAMA post for another day). No, I looked at my daughter’s face as she slept and wondered if I made a selfish mistake to bring her into this world, because I wonder what “surviving while Black” will look like for her. In the case of Michael Brown, John Crawford, Renisha McBride and so many others, it’s quite clear that there is still a critical struggle to see the value in Black lives.

I’ve been glued to all things #MikeBrown and #Ferguson since the news started trickling down – then flooding –  my Twitter timeline on August 9th. The fact of the matter is this: Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old, was shot multiple times and murdered by Darren Wilson, a White cop in Ferguson, Missouri.

Both victim and killer are gone.

One is waiting to be laid to rest after laying in the street for hours post-shooting, after enduring autopsy after autopsy, after using science to shed light on the truths his body holds.

The other has seemingly vanished behind a protective wall of blue, on paid leave while receiving over $100,000 in GoFundMe donations from other police officers, bigots, and racists alike.

Through it all – the mishandling of Brown’s body, the attempts to assassinate his character, the lies told by Wilson and the police department, the treatment of protesters in Ferguson, the mixed messages between mainstream and independent media, and the brazen boldness of racists with internet access – I’m not sure how anyone can cling to the claims of living in a post-racial society. If the jig was ever present, it is now up.

It seems that when Black bodies aren’t being seen as curiosities to be prodded and examined, they’re being seen as threats to be exterminated. Some remain under the belief that respectability politics around pulling up our pants and not dressing like “thugs” and “hoes” will save us, but that negates the fact that Blacks have been harrassed, attacked, beaten, lynched, and shot wearing their Sunday best for decades. Others say well-intentioned yet erroneous statements like “I don’t see colour” or “We’re all just one race” when neither colour nor race is the issue. The beauty in our differences gets marred by the ugliness of bigotry and racism – and it’s that evil that is the real enemy. Do I want to be colourless and melt into one overarching race? No. Do I want to be respected as the brownskinned Black Canadian woman of Jamaican descent that I am? Yes. Frankly, you’ve got me f*cked up if the only way I can earn my humanity is to erase any flavour of individuality that has been handed down to me by my ancestors.

I’m tired of feeling like I have two strikes against me as a Black woman, and I’ll be damned if I allow my daughter to feel the same. I’m tired of worrying about my husband, my brother, my father – living/working both in Canada and in the States, being harassed by police both in Canada and in the States, being feared and having to prove their humanity both in Canada and in the States. I’m tired of snatching the rose-coloured glasses off of people who think we live in a utopia; who think that racism will disappear when victims of racism stop talking about the abuse they experience at the hands of racists. I’m tired of people demanding perfection from Black folk – a perfection that is killing some of us in attempts to attain it, and finding many of us dead in spite of it. I’m tired of deceased Black men and women being put to trial for their own murders, being convicted with harsher penalty than the real criminals. I’m tired of helplessly mourning lives taken by cowards who hold the weapons yet play the victim when face-to-face with skin darker than theirs. I’m tired of being tired and refuse to bow out of the fight. Joining the ranks of Black motherhood in this day and age requires a new burst of energy to protect my child and initiate as much change as possible to make her world a bit better, more liveable, more survivable.

Michael Brown’s death will not be in vain. The mobilization and consciousness around the realities of what’s happening will undoubtedly lead to some level of change. A conviction in his murder? The end of racism? That, I don’t know and highly doubt. But some change is coming. I feel it.

My daughter’s life is not a mistake. The enemy will not take my happiness, as was attempted months ago during my pregnancy. Walking down the street, I had an encounter where I was pushed and called “a n*gger with a n*gger baby” by an Asian couple. I will not fear the decision to bring her here, and will teach her to be fearless and unapologetic in her expression of self.

Not sure what more I can say. Rest in peace, Michael. Stay encouraged, residents of Ferguson. Citizens of the world, I’m praying for us all.

RACE IN CANADA: Where American Media Went Wrong With Justin Bieber

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Being a Canadian blogger/writer with a majority American readership, I sometimes struggle to balance topics that I’m genuinely passionate about with those that will resonate with the lovely people who read my words.

I feel at times that the voices and experiences of Black Canadians get lost in the roar of our cousins to the south. Working to uncover our own histories and cementing our own identities is hard enough – we’re either sucked into the cultural vortex (i.e., being called “African-American” by Whites, which they think is PC but we know is geographically incorrect), or our experiences are negated because we live in ‘Canada’ – a land whose name has apparently come to mean “blessed nirvana where social ills cease to exist.”

The latter was all too apparent this week, as Justin Bieber – or La Bieba, as I like to call him – was seen on two leaked tapes (the first, and the second) dating 5-6 years in the past, referencing “niggers” and singing about joining the KKK.

Rocsi Diaz (of Entertainment Tonight) said that La Bieba “didn’t know better because he’s Canadian,” and granted him a pass.

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Whoopi Goldberg (of The View) tweeted that “Canada didn’t have the same history” with the word as America, and granted him a pass.

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Don Lemon (of CNN) wrote about his soul-burning question – “Are we to blame?” (before editing the original title) – asking if African-Americans and AA culture was the cause of La Bieba’s ignorance, and gave him a pass.

If it wasn’t enraging enough that these media figures were finding ways to paint La Bieba as a poor victim of circumstance or an unaware patsy, they did it while simultaneously minimizing or ignoring what I feel is the true grievance – the prevalence of racism in Canada.

Allow me to enlighten you all in simple terms.

I am a Black woman.

I was born and raised, and still live in Canada.

I spent my first 23 years of life in a small town very close to the smaller town La Bieba is from.

And lastly – get ready to clutch your pearls – racism is alive in Canada. Don’t let our Olivia Pope-level (seasons 1 & 2, not 3) PR fool you.

Covert and overt racism exist here. From being hit with bananas thrown at me from passing cars as I walked to school, to having teachers keep me separate from classmates because their parents didn’t want us fraternizing, to being followed in stores like a thief or outright ignored due to my perceived lack of finances, to most recently when my physical space was violated and both myself and my unborn child were called niggers – I’d love the Rocsis and Whoopis of the world to recognize our reality.

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Visiting my father’s friends – migrant farm workers – who lived in the country surrounding my and Justin’s hometowns, I distinctly recall having to leave before sundown to avoid “trouble.” Ku Klux Klan activity was known and accepted around my town, and it was commonplace to hear young White children holler “Nigger!” from their front yards as Blacks passed by, to the delight and pride of their parents. I see La Bieba in the same light as these children from my past – absorbing learned behaviours and sustaining those lessons as they move through life. To the Don Lemons of the world, please understand that for many of these children, hip hop and African-American culture were not their introduction to racist terms. The red carpet to that entranceway was rolled out by families and communities who instilled in them the ideologies of racism, White privilege, and Black inferiority, long before a sing-along to Jigga My Nigga or connections with YMCMB gave them any level of permission.

Canada’s spectacular PR team laid out the most delicious of cookies and Kool-Aid, and people like Rocsi, Whoopi, and Don took the bait. Canada is not populated by unsuspecting yokels who sing Kumbaya with their multicultural neighbours. Canada is not a place lacking in its own ugly, painful history (and present, to be honest) of disastrous race relations. Canada is not an idyllic oasis that can solely blame the American influence for the soils and stains on its pristine image. Canada is a place where the intent and emotional effect of hurling racial slurs is the same as it is in America, and it is a place where there is no room for the excuse, “He didn’t know any better.”

To Rocsi, Whoopi, and Don: I hope this helps straighten things out.

Signed,

Your neighbour to the north

ASSIGNING BLACKNESS: Paul Mooney Said It Best

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I have a conundrum that I’m currently trying to work through. When did being dysfunctional become synonymous with being Black?

By now, many have heard of the latest incident involving one of Hollywood’s stars. Justin Bieber was arrested in Miami on Thursday morning and charged with DUI, drag racing, and resisting arrest, after admitting to police that he drank alcohol, smoked marijuana, and took prescription drugs before getting behind the wheel.

As I usually do in the morning, I fired up my Twitter app today and delved into my social media world. Being the current trend, I found out about La Beiba’s arrest there before I could even find my remote to turn on the news. Informational tweets, amusing tweets, concern-filled tweets, “If he were Black…” tweets – Beibermania took over my timeline in a variety of ways. What really got me going were the amount of tweets insinuating that La Beiba had finally crossed the threshold into his impending Blackness with this latest brush with the law. I had to stop for a moment. What?

Equating particular behaviours with Blackness isn’t new. Though Bill Clinton has no direct political relevance to me as a non-American, I still remember the confusion I felt about Black folk calling him “the first Black president” seemingly because he played the sax on Arsenio and cheated on Hillary. Navigating your Blackness in a country so near yet still so far from the U.S. is difficult enough – I couldn’t navigate this White man’s Blackness too, so I left it alone.

More recently, similar adoption papers have been signed and sent to my fellow Canadians La Beiba and Rob Ford. The former’s affinity for hanging out with Black celebs, his recent legal struggles, and his absorption of what he believes to be Black culture seem to have earned him some kind of honourary “Congrats! You’re Black!” medal. The latter’s drug habit and recent display of ‘diversity’ with drunken rants in Jamaican chat have earned him the same. I know some commentary is based in satire – but this week especially, I seem to be coming across more and more folk who are earnest in their bestowing of Blackness on actin’-up assed non-Blacks.

A Facebook status I wrote on Thursday was the inspiration for this post. As I wrote on my page (in part):

The behaviours that La Beiba and Rob Ford exhibit are common across all kinds of people, yet some Black folk seem quick to take sole ownership of these pathologies like it’s all we have to offer.

Unlike some of the interviewees featured this week on G 98.7FM (a local radio station), I don’t view Rob Ford as my first “Black” mayor. His struggles with drugs are not unique to Blacks, so him smoking crack didn’t make him any more “down” to me. Additionally, I don’t see him as my first “Jamaican” mayor either, even in jest. I value my Jamaican heritage entirely too much to grant citizenship to someone who spews out some careless “bumboclaats” and “rassclaats” in a drunken stupor.

How are we granting honourary Blackness to people who have the privilege to avoid the repercussions that actual Blacks would receive in their position? With both La Beiba and Ford, the convenience of having Black bodies nearby to take varying amounts of the fall isn’t at all lost on me. Remember when comedian Paul Mooney said “Everybody wants to be a nigga, but nobody wants to be a nigga” on Chappelle’s Show? Just call me Tag Team, because Whoomp! There it is.

There are so many layers to these issues and the ways we absorb and emit commentary on them. Media hypocrisy. Discussion around legal slaps on the wrist for many White celebs. Discrepancies in the American legal system as a whole. Thoughts on deportation processes and the who’s who of artists who get banned at the Canadian border. Society’s ability to blame Trayvon Martin for his own death because “he should have known better”, but to then turn around and shield La Bieba from controversy because “he’s just a kid.” I could go down the rabbit hole on any one of these points, but my head already hurts enough.

As with everything on this blog, I can only speak for what I’ve seen and heard, and can only represent my thoughts and feelings on the matter. I almost didn’t follow through with posting this, until I saw Ian Andre Espinet’s tweet and knew I wasn’t completely off the mark:

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As far as thoughts and feelings go, mine can be best summed up at this moment with another portion of my Facebook status:

La Beiba and Rob Ford ain’t no kin to me. My Blackness amounts to much more flyness than they could ever hope to adopt.

P.S. – check out Britni Danielle’s post on Clutch Magazine for another great perspective.

FYI: For Leamington’s Mayor On Matters Of Race & Street Harassment

Dear Mayor Paterson,

I recently read a piece on CBC.ca in regards to your concerns over street harassment in your town of Leamington, Ontario (for those unaware, Leamington, ON is a town near Windsor – close to the Canada/US border). As I understand, your daughter reported that she was allegedly the object of street harassment while walking to meet you at a restaurant – and while this is atrocious, I was even more unsettled by your handling of the situation.

You stated in the CBC piece that she was the object of unwanted commentary about her body parts by “possible Jamaican migrant workers”, and you took the matter to your police services board meeting to discuss “lewd Jamaican behaviour.”

“Not to be bigoted, not to be racist, not to be anything, it is directly related to some of the Jamaican migrant workers that are here,” you said.

“Maybe it’s appropriate back in your home town, but here it’s not,” you added.

I’d like to alert you to a few matters.

As a young woman who is accosted with various forms of harassment on an almost daily basis, I empathize with your daughter. There have been times when I’ve walked down a sidewalk alone, have seen a group of men up ahead, and have chosen to cross the street to hopefully avoid catcalls, yells, and comments that reduce me to nothing more than a passing fancy. I’ve put earphones in as I’ve walked past men to give them a reason to see why I was ignoring their comments about my face, my legs, my ass. I’ve fought back against hands that lurch out of dark corners,  grabbing me to do God-knows-what, planning on showing me how much power they can wield over me. If your daughter has felt any of these same fears and emotions, or has tried to protect herself the way I have, I understand her more than you ever will.

This may come as a surprise to you, but “lewdness” and sexual/street harassment are not distinguished by race/ethnicity/country of origin. I’m amazed that a man of your stature would venture to place the responsibility of such behaviours solely on the shoulders of Jamaicans, as if they invented it. While you comment that women have filed “hundreds” of complaints about the Jamaican migrant workers (though you only spoke to the OPP about your daughters’), how many complaints have been launched against men born and bred in Leamington? Or are you attempting to imply that sexual harassment didn’t exist in Leamington until the arrival of these “lewd Jamaicans”? I wonder if you’re attempting to ignite a necessary conversation about sexual harassment, or if you’re simply looking for a crutch upon which to hoist your bigoted thoughts about migrant workers. Remember the examples I gave in the paragraph above of the harassment I’ve experienced? Many of those incidents have been forced upon me by men who looked just like you – and some even in your hometown. Some are younger and think that their screams letting me know that they “love some sexy brown sugar” are compliments. Some are older, and the confidence with which they grab my arm and lick their lips tell me they’ve gotten what they’ve wanted before. These men look like you, Mr. Mayor. They live in your town. And if your daughter is ever in a space where she isn’t known as “the Mayor’s daughter,” these men that look like you will do the same. Please do not insult me, your daughter, and other women by making this a racial issue.

Speaking even further to your insults – assuming that unwanted sexual comments and harassment is “appropriate” anywhere is a disgusting paradigm. As a woman of Jamaican parentage, not only does it reek of elitist and privileged thought, but it also leads me to believe that if you witnessed me being sexually harassed on the street, you might just chalk it up to “Jamaicans being Jamaicans” and go on your merry way. Do not insult us – the women who don’t have the privilege of looking like your daughter; the women who fight against sexual harassment here, there, and everywhere; the women behind groups I support like Red For Gender who work to educate, empower, and change mindsets in the Caribbean and the diaspora at large. Sexual/street harassment is not appropriate anywhere. Please remember that.

Now. Aside from the times I’ve been harassed by men that look like you, I’ve also been harassed by men who look like the Jamaican migrant workers you speak of. The underbelly of a beautiful Caribbean culture unfortunately reflects the often patriarchal and sexist memes that permeate its communities. I’ve fought them too. I’ve tried to ignore them too. I wonder – do you think that we accept this? Do you think that Caribbean men and women are not working to eliminate street harassment and replace it with a respect for bodily autonomy? Or do you think that we Caribbeans are a wild, animalistic, hyper-sexual people who can’t control ourselves anyways? Regardless of your thoughts, I would urge you to read this piece on ending street harassment in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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In closing, I reiterate that I understand how your daughter (and any other victim of street harassment) feels. Fruitful discussions on ending street harassment are crucial and necessary in Leamington, Toronto, or Kingston, Jamaica. I also wonder what the outcomes of your meeting with the police services board were.  Do you have a good handling of navigating a multicultural community? As migrant workers have become an indelible part of Ontario’s structure, what will you do to make this “arrangement” a more positive one going forward?

Patriarchy and power dynamics are responsible for much of sexual/street harassment, and these matters need to be honestly investigated. Hinging them on the arm of a select few do nothing to help advance the movement and make communities safer. Please remember: Jamaicans may have given the world Bob Marley and jerk chicken – but Jamaicans did not invent, create, or birth street harassment. Good luck with Leamington.

Yours truly,

Bee

P.S. You’ll notice I didn’t mention or discuss the variety of implications in Ontario’s migrant worker industry, and the inherent discrepancies in fair wages and safe labour – we’ll save that for another discussion, shall we?

PREGNANCY PSA: Why Unsolicited Advice, Questions, & Sperm Offers Make Me Mad

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It was just your average Tuesday. Just your average Facebook chat with an old friend (specifically, a dude I dated back in high school who I hadn’t seen in forever). Just your average so-what’s-new-where-are-you-living-now-how’s-married-life-any-kids-yet routine check-up. It was just average, until it turned the corner and became unbelievable.

Now, I’ve written before about my request for folk to stay up and out of my uterus, but it seems the lesson bears repeating. I’ve continued to deal with overly excited family members and well-meaning but overly inquisitive friends, but never thought I’d have to deal with an overbearing and downright disrespectful puppy love ex who didn’t know how to stay in his lane.

After being asked if I had any kids yet, and replying that I didn’t, and fielding questions about why not, and explaining it’ll happen when the time is right – I was mentally exhausted. Usually people end by tossing up an unsolicited reminder: “Well, don’t wait too long!” or get the hint and move on to the next topic. But no, not this dude.

The next morning, I received another Facebook message that read “Good morning, my future mommy friend!”

Me: “Lol. Do you know something I don’t?”

Him: “Haha. I just know it’ll happen soon.”

Me: “I see…well, when there’s something to share, I’ll let you know. But it’s a bit of a sensitive topic, so let’s move on, shall we?”

Him: “Why is it sensitive?”

Me: “…because it is.”

Him: “Why? Is it because you really want a baby and don’t have one yet? Or is it because you just turned 30? Or do you have health problems? Or is something wrong with your husband?”

While I picked up my jaw off the floor at his audacity to continue to push the topic, I noticed the screen read “____________ is typing” – and I knew I should have just logged off right then and there.

What followed was an offer.

An offer to be my “Plan B.”

An offer to impregnate me if my “Plan A” didn’t work out.

I won’t write my response here.

Insane Facebook conversations aside, the question remains: Why are people so extremely concerned with the contents (or lack thereof) of a woman’s uterus? 

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Let me preface with this: I know that 99.9% of the time, questions about my family plans are backed by nothing but good intentions, and I get it. Friends are excited to cuddle and spoil a brand new chocolate drop. Family members want to see which genes HomieLoverFriend and I donate to the next generation. And if I do say so myself, we’re two pretty dope individuals – so who wouldn’t want to see what kind of amazing creation we could come up with? I get it. I’m excited too. I want to see it all unfold. And that’s the point – people never realize that their anticipation pales drastically in comparison to that of the two people who are waiting for the same thing. Your urgency, anticipation, prodding, and reminders do not help.

I’ll be 100% honest. There was a day recently where I was SURE I was pregnant. I had (foolishly) played Google Doctor and read about early pregnancy symptoms, and suddenly I felt them all. I remember patting my bloated belly, imagining something no bigger than the dot on top of an i burrowing its way into me, and I couldn’t help but smile. Part of my brain said “Too soon! Don’t do it! Reconsider!” like Andre 3000, but the other part relished in its “women’s intuition” that just KNEW something was different. The day I ended up getting my period, I got caught up in a conversation about babies/when I was having some/why it was taking so long – I laughed and played coy and cliche on the outside, but each comment was like a tiny stab to the gut. Now I’m left with wounds that pretend to heal but reopen on a monthly basis.

My personal experiences have showed me just how sensitive of a topic this can be. Many assumptions are made when engaging women in discussion about their baby plans, but mindfulness is missing. Some women are aware that they cannot conceive or carry a baby to term. Some women have partners with fertility issues. Some women are navigating non-traditional families and relationships. Some women are anxiously hoping that their periods don’t come next week. Some women may have just lost a baby last week. Some women *gasp* don’t even want to have children. Regardless of circumstance, no woman should feel obligated to disclose the minutiae of her fertility plans/problems/wishes.

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I understand human nature, and I often don’t mind a question or check in at times from family or friends. What I do mind, detest, and resent are habitual line-steppers who are pushy, rude, selfish, and/or nosy in their conversation. There is a very short list of people who are allowed to be inquisitive about the subject. If you’re in doubt, just opt out.

Today I’ve got one less friend on Facebook, but I’m OK with that. If this post encourages one more person to think before they offer some unsolicited advice or ask a prying question, I’ll live on happily. Go forth and prosper…and wait until you get that text/call/Facebook update that there’s about to be a +1. Also – keep in mind that the pushier you are, the more likely you’ll be called on for babysitting help later on down the line. I’ve got a list of folks who will see me and my bundle of joy at their doorstep, talkin’ ’bout “Well, you were so excited for his/her arrival, I didn’t think you’d mind!” Be warned.

How do you field unwanted questions and advice about your pregnancy plans? What’s the craziest thing anyone has ever said to you about having a baby? 

BLACK WOMEN & SNL: When Will We Be In On The Joke?

Danitra Vance, the first African-American woman to become a cast member on SNL

When I’m not out being a Saturday night social butterfly, you can catch me at home, curled up on the couch, tuned into Saturday Night Live. A recent Saturday was one of those homebody nights. As I chuckled at host Anne Hathaway’s portrayals of Claire Danes and Katie Holmes, and marveled at the Windows 98 screensaver effect of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” performance, I had a thought. Where are all the Black women on SNL?

For as long as I can remember, save for the comedic goddess that is Maya Rudolph, the only Black women I’ve seen on SNL were the musical guests – or the Black male cast members in drag. A look back at the history of SNL reveals that in the show’s 38-season run (first airing on October 11, 1975), there have been only 3 Black female cast members – Danitra Vance, Ellen Cleghorne, and the aforementioned Maya Rudolph. So, what gives?

Rudolph’s exit from the show was 5 years ago, but she has since been brought back a number of times for guest appearances, playing Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Beyonce in various skits. This seems to suggest that SNL sees the need for representation of Black women on the show, but they clearly haven’t done much to satisfy that need. In today’s world, Black women are Grammy-award winning pop stars, media moguls, First Ladies, TV show hosts, actresses, sports stars, and more. We are also mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, career women, dreamers, and anything that could be just as funny or as socially relevant as SNL’s current output. To virtually make Black women’s imprint on today’s society non-existent on a platform like SNL is highly negligent in my perspective. Even more cutting is when Black women are parodied, distorted, and exaggerated by Black men in drag. As a Black woman, that only leaves me feeling like the butt of the joke, not an active agent in the humour.

Hosting SNL is also a great vehicle for exposure. Halle Berry hosted back in 2003. Janet Jackson and Queen Latifah played host/musical guest double duty in 2004. Gabourey Sidibe was the last Black woman to host in early 2010. As per the records I found online, Black women have come and gone in short spurts in SNL hosting capacities. That’s not to say that there aren’t any Black women capable of hosting, that don’t have projects that need promotion, and that couldn’t benefit from showing off a well-known or unknown comedic side. I could see Kerry Washington on that stage. I could see Gabby Douglas on that stage. One day I hope that Tracee Ellis Ross has a big enough project to push to be on that stage, because I think she’d be fabulous. Let it be known that there are Black women in the limelight who can command the SNL stage, who can garner interest in the show, who can benefit from the experience – and who deserve the opportunity.

Going back to my original point – I am sure there is also no shortage of funny women – who happen to be Black – that could rock SNL as a regular cast member. Whether to touch on current news with our public figures, or simply to add diversity to a skit about regular people doing regular things, you would imagine that a forward-thinking show like SNL would recognize the value in this. During a conversation about this very topic on Twitter, I had a friend state that “maybe it’s a good thing,” expressing concerns that Black women may simply become the centre of stereotypical jokes on the show. In my mind, the pros of having Black women on SNL outweigh the cons – and how can we raise concerns about stereotyping when we’re barely represented in the first place?

As we roll into 2013, I look forward to more nights where I hang my social butterfly wings up for the weekend and curl up on the couch with my blanket and remote. I’m also looking forward to the day that Saturday Night Live gives Black women the platform and opportunity to share the funny voices that we possess.

Dear Lorne Michaels and the powers that be at SNL,

Let us in on the joke.

Signed,

Funny Black women everywhere.

Are you an SNL fan? What do you think of the diversity level on the show? Do you have any thoughts on the lack of representation of Black women on the show? If I’ve made any glaring omissions of Black women on the show, please let me know!

Trayvon Martin: A Reminder That “Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere”

 

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote is all too fitting today.

I’ve been contemplating for a long time about how to approach this post. You don’t know how many drafts have been conceived, edited, deleted, and re-written, but I feel such a strong connection to the story of Trayvon Martin’s murder, and I knew I had to use this site as an outlet.

By now, I would only hope that everyone reading this has already heard about Trayvon Martin. If not, I’ll give you the Coles’ notes edition: On February 26th, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon was visiting his father and step-mother’s home in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. He left to walk to the corner store and purchased a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea. As he walked back home, he encountered George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Neighbourhood Watch captain. Zimmerman spotted Trayvon walking through the area and called 911 to report a “suspicious” person. He was instructed to remain in his home, and that 911 was dispatching officers to the area to investigate. Instead of heeding their advice, Zimmerman got in his SUV with his loaded gun and followed Trayvon. What happened next is unknown to everyone except Trayvon and Zimmerman, but within a matter of minutes, Zimmerman shot Trayvon. Police arrived on the scene to the boys’ dead body. Zimmerman admitted to the shooting but cried self-defense (they allegedly engaged in a physical altercation). Weeks later, Trayvon’s loved ones are still reeling from his death, and at the time of this post, Zimmerman has neither been charged nor arrested.

I’m not sure where to begin, and there aren’t enough synonyms for “angry” to describe how I feel. I’m pissed that when Trayvon’s father reported him missing, the cops chose to bring a photo the next day of their ‘John Doe’ with blood pouring out of his mouth. I’m incensed that Zimmerman’s pathology of paranoia allowed him to find a 17-year-old boy with a bag of Skittles and bottle of iced tea so threatening. I’m enraged that so many minorities have dreams of escaping the violence of the “hood” or the “ghetto”, yet moving on up like the Jeffersons brings it’s own new terrors. I am beside myself at the fact that a young, innocent boy is dead, and his killer is free – especially when we all know that if roles were reversed, there would be absolutely no mercy for Trayvon.

Florida college students rallying for Zimmerman’s arrest

Photo source

I love the naïveté of people who believe we live in a post-racial society, or those folks who think that racism does not exist in Canada. I’ve called some of those people friends, acquaintances, and co-workers – and one thing they have in common is that they’ll never have to teach the young men in their lives how to act around police and other authority figures like I have. The same way society loves to remind women that it’s our responsibility to not get raped, society creates the same vortex in which Black men have to shoulder the responsibility to not get pulled over for a DWB (driving while Black), arrested or killed. Where is the demand for control from those who abuse authority, assault, and kill us? I’ve read that Trayvon shouldn’t have been wearing a hoodie, that he should have clearly explained to Zimmerman that he lived in the area, that he should have, should have, should have…I wish those people would instead see that Zimmerman should have listened when the 911 dispatcher advised him to stay home. Maybe then he wouldn’t have had to “defend himself” against a young Black boy armed with Skittles and iced tea. I’m not sure how you admit to pursuing someone and then hide behind the legal arm of self-defense when it becomes convenient. Between Trayvon and Zimmerman, who really needed defending?

Late last Friday, 911 calls from the day Trayvon was killed were released. I still haven’t been able to listen to the recordings, but all reports describe the same three things. Someone crying and pleading for help. A gunshot. Then complete silence. Zimmerman made sure to state once cops arrived that he “was calling for help and no one came” – but no one seems to believe that Zimmerman could have been the voice pleading for help on the recording. Community residents who placed 911 calls all described the voice of a child, and reports state that when Trayvon’s mother heard the recording, she ran from the room in horror. Cops stated that they have found no evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense, so no action has been taken to arrest him. This is where things stand, nearly a month after Trayvon’s killing.

There are a few things that I wish:

  • I wish that my Facebook and Twitter feeds were flooded with Trayvon Martin details like they were when Kony hit the scene a few weeks ago.
  • I wish I had a better way of managing my rage when hearing about my husband being accosted by police because he “looked suspicious”, or my brother being followed and pulled over for no specific reason.
  • I wish I could ignore the fact that Blacks are consistently snatched up and put under the jail for far less than Zimmerman’s crime.
  • I wish that I didn’t do the ugly snort-laugh when people tell me that justice will be done. It hasn’t yet. I’m not holding my breath.
  • I wish that there wasn’t a racial division in response to this case (in my world). Compared to the reaction of minorities, a number of White friends/colleagues were silent when I spoke about Trayvon. Sure – race might make you uncomfortable. But a child being murdered should garner something more than silence. If you were upset about Kony, you should be upset about this…
  • I wish Trayvon Martin wasn’t yet another name added to the list of Black males needlessly slaughtered like cattle. Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Emmett Till…

I usually try to write my posts with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion (all you writing buffs don’t laugh at me if I don’t always succeed!), but this post was written freely and unapologetically. My response to Trayvon’s murder has been so organic, so primal, so cellular to my being, and I haven’t been able to shake it yet. We’ll see how things play out in the days to come, but I continuously send prayers out to Trayvon’s soul, the Martin family, and our society as a whole. Hopefully Trayvon will see that while his death was completely premature and wholly unnecessary, it will not be in vain.

Want more details on Trayvon’s story? Read here or here (or go ‘head on and see what that Google search function is hittin’ fo’). Looking for a way to get involved? Change.org is circulating a petition for the prosecution of George Zimmerman – if you’re so inclined, sign it here. Also, Twitter has started to mobilize a movement to write into Bill Lee’s office (Chief of Police in Sanford, FL) – for details on that (I will be writing my letter tonight) – go here.

Note: As of 11pm on Monday night, CNN reported that federal prosecutors and the FBI have finally opened an investigation into Trayvon’s murder.

Any thoughts on this case? Share them below. And as always, thank you for reading.  

’83 To Infinity Is Joining The SOPA Strike

Today, ’83 To Infinity is joining the SOPA Strike. Because many sites that could provide background info are likely blacked out today in support of the strike, I’ll detail some key points here.

SOPA = the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that was introduced in the US House of Representatives last fall, and would allow the US government to “to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.” (source)

Sounds great for protection in light of rampant copyright infringement, but…

…what does that mean in Layman’s terms?

As per Chris Heald’s Mashable post, in a nutshell SOPA:

  • Gives the government the right to unilaterally censor foreign websites.
  • Gives copyright holders the right to issue economic takedowns and bring lawsuits against website owners and operators, if those websites have features that make it possible to post infringing content.
  • Makes it a felony offense to post a copyrighted song or video.

When you look at these basic points, you can see why there is such an uproar in the online world over the SOPA bill. The most poignant example of the effects of this bill is this: something as basic as you uploading a video of yourself singing someone else’s song on YouTube (like millions of people do every day) would be considered a felony. Many entertainment/gossip/music sites? Felonies. Even the vague category of websites that “have features that make it possible to post infringing content” would be in trouble.

Wondering what this has to do with those of us who don’t reside in the US? Well, the SOPA bill would allow the US Department of Justice to take action against any allegedly infringing foreign site. Above and beyond that, the bill would be able to consider any IP address in the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) as domestic for US law purposes – even though the ARIN consists of IP addresses in Canada and 20 Caribbean countries as well as the US.

As per Michael Geist’s Huffington Post article, “To put this (in) context, every Canadian Internet provider relies on ARIN for its block of IP addresses. In fact, ARIN even allocates the block of IP addresses used by federal and provincial governments. The U.S. bill would treat them all as domestic for U.S. law purposes.”

Please see the hyperlinks I’ve included for more information – I’m just learning about this as well, and the sites I’ve referenced have been the most concise and clear. Feel free to visit the official protest site, SOPAstrike.com to see a list of sites that will be taking part in the strike. Most of these sites, including WordPress.com, Wikipedia.com and Reddit.com will be blacking out their sites for at least 12 hours today. The SOPA bill will be presented in front of Congress on January 24th, so we’ll see how things play out.

Update: Here is Wikipedia’s blackout message – more good info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative/Learn_more

I obviously chose not to black out, but my version of support is to dedicate today’s post to educating you all on what I’ve learned about the SOPA bill and its ramifications. If you have any additional insight to SOPA and what that could mean for our online experience, please share in the Comments section! Tomorrow, ’83 To Infinity will be back with its usual goodies! 

Say It Ain’t So: The Beginning Of The End For Health Promotion In Ontario?

If you don’t live here in Ontario, you may not be aware that we had a provincial election last month. Shoot – even if you live here in Ontario, you still might not be aware that we had a provincial election last month, given the record low voter turnout of 49%. Anyways, that’s another issue for another day. What was interesting to me as a healthcare professional was what happened shortly after the election.

Over the past few years, I’ve followed the comings and goings of the Ministry of Health Promotion & Sport, led by Minister Margarett Best. Health Promotion has always been an interest and passion of mine. For me, prevention is worth much more than cure, and I live with the aim of having total wellness, not just being free from chronic disease. In a nutshell, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health does the best job of explaining things:

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. The bibliographic citation for this definition is: Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19 June – 22 July 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. The definition has not been amended since 1948.”

- Courtesy of the WHO

Compare that to the idea of the biomedical model of health, which is what the majority of our healthcare system is based on. As per this PowerPoint from the University of Toronto, the biomedical model states that “disease causation is biologically specific”, and that “biological mechanisms are sufficient to explain disease.” The biomedical model forms the basis of our reliance as a society on doctors, hospitals, and drugs – essentially, focusing on finding a cure or treatment vs. working to prevent said health issue in the first place. With the perspective that biology is enough to explain (and thus treat) diseases, not much room is given to explore the effects that things like stress and lack of societal connections can have on one’s health.

There’s a point to all of this.

PLEASE tell me you remember "Body Break" w/ Hal & Joanne...

Shortly after the election, a memo was sent out that the Ministry of Health Promotion & Sport was no longer. It had been folded into the Ministry of Health & Long Term Care, and Hon. Minister Best was now heading up the Ministry of Consumer Services. When I read the email, I did a Leyomi drop. HOW could they get rid of the Ministry of Health Promotion & Sport???? Given what I’ve learned and experienced in our healthcare system, health and health promotion are not the same, as some believe. Add to that the heavy reliance on the biomedical model, and I only saw this move to mean more prescriptions and less preventative care. More funding for long-term care facilities and less funding for community health education programs. Please don’t get me wrong – our society requires elements from both perspectives, but the point remains, we need BOTH perspectives. My fear is that with the dissolution of the Ministry of Health Promotion & Sport, Ontarians are losing out on an important part of what constitutes health.

I’m waiting with bated breath to see what happens to the various facets of our healthcare structure. Will the Ministry of Health & Long Term Care expand in order to adopt the values of the Ministry of Health Promotion & Sport? How will this affect the planning, execution, and promotion of the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games, if at all? How will funding be provided to various community health care centres and special programs for health education? I’m not sure what to expect, but I won’t deny that a big part of me feels let down by our government. Do they not see the value in health promotion in our society? Hopefully this ends up working out for us Ontarians, but regardless, I’ll always remain a health promotion fanatic :)

What say you? Did you know that the Ministry of Health Promotion & Sport had been dissolved? Do you even care? What do you think about the current state of health care in Ontario? Where is the room for improvement – does it lie more in the health promotion sector, or in the biomedical sector?

Rants, Raves & Reviews: Why You Won’t Catch Me At Urban Textures Salon

Here are a few things I hate:

  • making meticulous plans and having them fall apart
  • being disrespected
  • having my time wasted
  • being disappointed by people/a company which has never disappointed me before

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll explain to you how all of the above happened to me on Friday, and why I’ll subsequently never set foot in Urban Textures salon in Scarborough again.

In recent posts, you may have remembered me alluding to some new, exciting thing I was going to do with my hair. I didn’t just have you all waiting in suspense – the husband, my mother, and my best homegirls were all waiting with bated breath to see what look I was going to reveal this weekend. I’ll just cut to the chase and say that when I walked into Fashionably Late on Friday night, everyone was like, “Oh…that’s it?” Here’s the story:

Two weeks ago, I contacted my go-to salon, Urban Textures (Scarborough location) to set up a hair appointment. No spots were available for me on the Saturday I requested, so I ended up moving the appointment to this past Friday. Thursday afternoon, I got a courteous call to confirm that I would be arriving for my 6pm appointment. Now, imagine my surprise when I received a call Friday at noon, asking if it would “be better” for me to come on Wednesday of this week. I politely explained that if Wednesday was better for me, I would have booked on Wednesday. I needed my appointment, and had booked well in advance. The caller stated that there had been a mix-up with the stylist, but there would be no problem with me keeping my 6pm appointment.

I headed out of work later that afternoon, and made the stop-and-go trek across the 401 to Morningside. I arrived at the salon at 5:30, checked in, and waited for my stylist. A few minutes later, she came and introduced herself (we’ll call her Margo). We discussed my plans – to get a bright, sunshiny, multi-dimensional colour similar to Tanika Ray’s:

(source)

We went to the colour bar, looked at various swatches, and picked out the dyes. I got dressed in my salon cape and got a fresh glass of orange juice. Margo mentioned she just had to finish a client’s blow dry job, and she would be right with me. Here’s where the clock started ticking and things got funky.

I noticed that there was a family of about 5 who were all in various stages of getting their hair done. Margo was tending to a few, and another stylist (let’s call her Tina) was tending to the others. As everyone flitted about with this family and ignored me, I realized what must have happened. It was confirmed for me when I heard the Mama Bear of the family say to Tina, “Thanks so much for taking us on short notice!” DING DING DING!!! Urban Textures figured they would try to bump me, one lowly customer, to make room for the last-minute booking of 5 clients. Mo’ money = mo’ problems, so they tried to fix the problem by trying to get me to move to Wednesday. I started getting hot, and at about 6:50, I was about to take off my cape and hit the door. All of a sudden, Margo looked over and was jolted back to the reality of my presence. I saw her pull Tina and the front desk girl into a pow-wow, with all of them nervously looking at me while they spoke. Mama Bear and her crew were finally heading out the door, when Margo came to speak to me.

“I’m SO sorry for the wait,” she began. “So, it’s 7pm now. We close by 9pm, and I leave soon… Unfortunately, I won’t be able to start your colour, but we WILL do a wash and style for free (insert big Kool-Aid smile here)!”

“A wash and style….for free.” I repeated. She nodded excitedly, waiting for me to jump out my chair and praise God that I wasn’t going to come out of pocket. I think I said it again. “A wash and style, for free.” I felt myself getting so mad that I bypassed yelling and cussing mode, and was going into silent mode. When Margo began babbling about rescheduling my appointment to later in the week or next weekend, I cut her off and let her know that wasn’t possible. I was going on my honeymoon. When she started babbling about me coming in first thing the next morning, I let her know that wasn’t possible either. I was going to London to visit my sick cousin. I let her know that this is all why I booked my appointment for the date it was set for. I could see on her face that she felt horribly, and tried to give me a hug. I’m not a hugger, especially with strangers who have wasted my time, so that didn’t go well. She quickly hurried off to pow-wow with Tina again to “see what they could do.”

After a minute or two, Tina came over. She apologized. She rolled her eyes and started badmouthing Margo. She offered me a free deep treatment in addition to the wash and style to make up for my lost time. I let Tina know that I would accept the free services, but they in no way made up for the fact that I did not get what I came for. I let her know the only reason I was accepting the service was that I had somewhere to be later that night, and had no time now to go home and style my hair properly. The apologies went in one ear and out the other while she did my hair. Other customers seemed to be waiting for me to blow up, probably hoping they’d be able to submit a ratchet video to Worldstarhiphop.com, but I was so mad, all I could do was be silent. I get like that sometimes. Plus, I knew that making a stink wouldn’t do anything to make an impact. That’s why I chose to stay silent, and planned to vent with this blog post, and with the phone call and email that the owner, Christos Cox, will be receiving from me on Monday.

About an hour later, I left the salon with a free, fresh blow-out and flat iron. However, Tina continued to annoy the hell out of me by trying to sell me $80 worth of product “to take on my honeymoon” (I guess she wanted to help me spend my extra money), and by letting me know once she was finished that my hair needed a trim, which she promised to do when I came back for my colour. Which will be never.

Here’s my before:

And here’s my after:

Don’t get me wrong – I worked the hell outta that flat iron at Fashionably Late, but the point is, it wasn’t what I wanted.

As I mentioned at the start of this novel of a post, I hate plans falling through. I hate being disrespected. I hate my time being wasted. And I hate being disappointed by someone who has never disappointed me before. All of my past visits to Urban Textures in Scarborough (there is also a location in downtown Toronto on Gerrard) have been amazing. I’ve sung their praises and referred other friends and acquaintances there as well, but after this episode, all of that will come to an end. You’ve gotta give the good with the bad, so this is a story that people will also hear if they ask for my thoughts on this salon. Christos will need to educate his staff on the proper way to handle clients, and remind them that chasing after quick money won’t always end well. Hopefully Mama Bear and her cubs will become consistent clients at Urban Textures Scarborough, because they’ve lost me.

Have you ever had a terrible experience at a salon? Did you ever go back? And since I still need a colour done, any recommendations on where I should go?

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