Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Letters from the Darker Populace (#2 Address Our Needs)

Dear Mr. President,

I drink water all day long at work. Every once in awhile, I'll grab some juice, but my main drink of choice is water, since it's good for me and quenches my thirst. But there are some days that want nothng more than my favorite soft drink. Sprite.

This is where the problem comes in, Mr. President. There are four vending machines in our building. They contain Coke, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, Sunkist, Ginger Ale, and A&W Root Beer. I didn't mention Sprite, because the vending machines don't have it. That means that I have to get into my car and drive to the local convenience store just to fulfill a need that my employer won't.

Clearly, this is blatant racism. Several surveys (ok, just me talking to a few friends) have shown that the Darker Populace opts for the clear, white-colored drinks, while the Paler Populace prefers sodas that are dark in color. By keeping nothing but dark sodas in the vending machine, my employer is telling me that it does not care about the needs of my people.

I tried to take matters into my own hands. I told my supervisor about my desires and he looked at me like I was crazy, until I gave him a power point presentation on how the Darker Populace was being wronged. Clearly, the Sprite executives know their target audience has a darker hue. That's why we get commercials like this, this, this, and my personal favorite, this. He agreed that I had a point, but made no effort to address my needs. My four Darker Populace coworkers gave up after that.

You'll be proud to know that I didn't stop there, Mr. President. Oh, no. I could hear the ancestors calling out to me -- the same ancestors who did bus boycotts, sit ins and historic marches to address injustices. It was then that I decided to stage my own acts of civil disobedience. When my supervisor asked me why I was late to work, I said it was because I couldn't get going in the morning without my Sprite. When I was asked to help a coworker with an assignment, I refused to do so because this was a person who liked to antagonize me by drinking Coke all day long. And when the workers came to refill the vending machine, I plastered myself against it and sang a loud rendition of 'We Shall Overcome.'

Things got a little ugly after that. Let's just say I was sent home and my future with my company is dependent on weekly visits with a psychiatrist. Whatever, they can keep that job. But here's where I need your help. Do you think you can hook a sista up with one of those cabinet positions you've been filling on the regular? Surely I can get a Sprite at the White House! Can't I?

Peace and love,


Photo from http://www.globalgiants.com/archives/media/SpriteCan.jpg

Monday, November 10, 2008

On Godmotherhood

A few years ago, I walked in on a coworker who was in the midst of a very heated telephone conversation. She was obviously annoyed and ended the conversation with, "Congratulations on the new baby. But I will NOT be a godmother to any of your kids again." Then she slammed down the phone.

I was going to pretend I hadn't heard a thing, but "Denise" started to complain to me about how all of her friends kept having babies, then making her the godmother, presumably, because she had a good job and was making good money. She mentioned how she only heard from certain friends until the kids' birthday, Christmas, Easter, or other holidays. Then, the friend never called to chat, they only wanted to know what gifts Denise would be buying for the kid. Some friends didn't even officially ask Denise to be the godmother. They'd wait until something big came up -- like the kid got the honor roll -- then ask Denise why she hadn't sent the kid any money. "I tell all my friends, 'please do NOT make me a godmother ever again,'" Denise had said. "It's too stressful."

But I couldn't relate to any of the things Denise was saying. Very few of my friends had children at the time and the ones who did didn't approach me about being a godmother. Unlike Denise, I wanted that title. I thought it would be kind of cool to be the hip person in the kids' life, the one that would let s/he eat candy, take the kid shopping or get its ears pierced. I could have a ton of fun with said kid and then send it right on back to its parents. Good stuff.

One of my friends had a baby a few months ago. I went to the baby shower, sent a gift and even saw her new daughter when she came home from the hospital. Cute baby. Mom seemed happy and I thought my work was done. But shortly after that the Mom surprised me a bit by asking me to be the godmother. I was taken aback, because even though the Mom and I have known each other for years, we've had our moments and we even struggle to keep in touch these days. All the drama is in the past now, but I wasn't sure if we had moved forward enough for me to be the godmother. But I guess we had.

So, I told her I'd be honored to take the title. Now I'm waiting for information about the christening and I have added the baby to my Christmas shopping list. I can't wait until the kid is old enough that I can take her out with me, and I can use her as an excuse to do kid stuff (i.e. see "High School Musical 3", "Wall-E", etc). So far, so good.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Appreciation: Toni Morrison

All my life, I’ve been a big time reader. But there were two writers who always scared me – Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Perhaps it was the subject matter in Walker’s “Possessing the Secret of Joy”, the creepy cover of “Beloved” or the graphic nature of “The Bluest Eye”, but for a long time, I did whatever I could to avoid their books. They were heavy.

But then, things changed. I’m not sure how or why, maybe it was my ongoing obsession with The Color Purple (I have every line memorized), that made me want to give ol’ Alice a try. I still haven’t read the book version of The Color Purple in its entirety, but I know how it differs from the movie. I think the first book of hers that I read was ‘Temple of My Familiar’. I thought it was engrossing at times, weird at others and had one part that I struggled to wrap my mind around. Still, I became a fan and started reading every Walker thing in sight. (I still haven't read 'Possessing the Secret of Joy' though)

So then I took the big step with Toni Morrison. I started with ‘Song of Solomon’ and read eagerly about Milkman Dead. Then I moved on to ‘Tar Baby’, the love story of Son and Jadine. I remember it having a very ‘heavy’ opening, but I got through the rest fairly easily. The book literally had some lines I had to read aloud, just to make sure they were as good as they sounded in my head. They were. I finished ‘Tar Baby’ only a few years ago and it was easily my favorite book. Yet when I flip through ‘Song of Solomon’ again, I’m torn between the two.

I say all of this to mention I am now reading my third Toni Morrison book, ‘Sula.’ I’m ahead of the reading schedule for my class this semester. So, while everyone is fretting over finishing Ann Petry’s ‘The Street’ (I already read it), I’m getting a head start on next week’s reading.

There are about 70 pages or so left before I finish ‘Sula,’ but it is having the same effect on me that ‘Tar Baby’ did. The cast of characters are truly memorable – I’m partial to Sula’s one legged grandmother, Eva – and her one liners are amazing. There’s one part where Eva is criticizing Sula for not having children. Sula says: “I don’t want to make somebody else. I only want to make myself.” Don’t even get me started on the part where she describes black men as “the envy of the world” because “white men spend so much time worrying about (black men’s) privates that they forget their own” and “white women think rape as soon as they see you.”
I have a feeling that this book will be on my list of favorites. When I reach the last page, I may embrace my inner Clay Davis and simply say ‘SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT.’ (That’s from The Wire, for those that didn't know)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

"Keep In Mind I'm an Artist, and I'm Sensitive About My Shit"

A few months ago a friend introduced me to art therapy. It wasn't really therapy, it was just a bunch of us sitting around making a bunch of collages. She mentioned that art projects help her feel sane and I couldn't help but feel the same way as I put my collage together.

Anyway, I finally did my own art project. I mentioned before that I had a raging desire to revert
into my childhood and finger paint. Well, I finally did it.

I got some fingerpaint paper from my new favorite store, A.C. Moore, as well as some paints. It took me several weeks to get the motivation for my painting project, but I finally got the courage to do it after going here.

So, I grabbed my old newspapers and spread them out on my living room table. I wet the paper and dipped my fingers deep into the green, fuschia, brown and blue paints. I swirled my fingers all over the paper and came up with a colorful, convoluted mess.

But at second glance, the picture is really saying something, at least I think so. To me, it looks like a big flower emerging out of a cloud of confusion and chaos. Of course, that's my interpretation. Anyway, here's another glimpse of my workstation:

Basically, I made a bit of a mess. But that was my intention. It was kinda fun, actually. It didn't take very long and I was sad when it was over. Now, my picture is sitting on top of my television so it can dry. You'll notice that I haven't included any pictures of my work. That was intentional. Maybe I'll share next time. Because there will be a next time.

Friday, November 07, 2008


Another month has come and gone, that means it's time for another list in my kitchen.

I've tried to become a more organized person over these last few months and it's been a struggle. But the one thing that has kept me somewhat sane is The List. Each month, I break out the dry erase board and list my priorities for that month. I have them arranged in different categories, like writing, school and housework. I enjoy checking off the things I've accomplished, but I haven't gotten to the point where I've fulfilled every task on the list. It's all about the baby steps, ya'll!

This evening, I scratched off everything that was important to me in October, including the books I was reading, the writing projects I planned to revise or begin and the various cleaning chores I gave myself. In the month of November, I'm pledging to clean out my refrigerator (that was on the list last month, but I didn't get around to it), give my cat a bath (same situation) and finish the latest draft of my novel (ditto).

This month, the biggest task is getting my Christmas shopping finished. I know that sounds impossible, considering how I've managed The List so far, but I'm making progress. There are 10 people that I need to shop for and I've already gotten two people out of the way. I got part one of the two gifts that I'm getting my young cousins and I have an idea of what I'm going to get my new goddaughter. I'm drawing a blank on some folks, like the parentals, but I'll think of something. Yet in classic Strength fashion, there will still be some gifts I need to get by Christmas Eve. Sigh.

Also in November, I need to revise a portion of my thesis abstract (my prof said my opening sentence was 'fraught with danger'. that made me think of that mystical song and i cracked up!), finish 'sula' and get my finances in order. Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Letters from the Darker Populace (#1: Diversify)

Dear Mr. President –

Technically, you’re president elect at this point, but because I’d like to pretend the last eight years didn’t happen, I’m going to call you Mr. President. In past entries, I’ve referred to you as The Rock, but now that you’re actually making your way into the office, I’ll refer to you as Mr. President or President Obama. Who am I kidding? I’ll probably still call you The Rock, but only behind your back!

You’ve got a lot on your mind right now, but I wanted to bring you further greetings from my world, as a member of the Darker Populace (DP). I work at a place where the staffing of Blacks makes up less than 1 percent and Asians is even lower than that. Latinos? Middle Easterners? Non existent. Those of us in the DP stick out like tiny dots on a big white page.

The situation has made for several interesting situations. Just the other day, I was at the Xerox machine, making copies of some materials I needed on Richard Wright. A coworker – of the Paler Populace (PP) – saw my documents (complete with a photo of Wright on the cover) and said, “who’s Richard Wright?” I looked at her like she was Boo Boo the Fool and clutched my heart, so I wouldn’t keel over. I quickly rattled off Wright’s accomplishments, ‘Black Boy’, ‘Native Son’ and his influence on the Harlem Renaissance.

She seemed impressed, then mentioned that although she wasn’t familiar with Wright, she did know Ralph Ellison. Interesting. So I asked her about Ellison’s most famous work, ‘Invisible Man’ and she was unfamiliar with it. She’d only read part of ‘Juneteenth’ (a book that was condensed and completed after his death), but thought he was a great writer.

I returned to my desk, still giddy from the announcement of your presidency just the night before. It made me think about all the times the Paler Populace wants to discuss Shakespeare, Joyce and Austen, but then are limited on their knowledge of writers from the Darker Populace. Now that we have you – a man of African descent, with connections to many other nationalities – in the White House, shouldn’t things change?

All I’m asking for is for folks in the PP to diversify a bit. It’s 2008, time to stop pretending that there’s only one crayon in the Crayola box. Do you think you could spread that message around a bit, Mr. Prez?

Peace and love,


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

He Did It, We Did It

Well, the moment I’ve been waiting for is here. Barack Obama is the first black president of the United States of America. The significance of that continues to get to me. The new first lady is the descendant of slaves. The first daughters get their hair cornrowed. The president elect has a mean jump shot and used his basketball prowress to win over his future wife.

I’ll tell my grandchildren about how I didn’t think much of the Obama name at first. I was even more turned off once I read his snoozer of a book. When folks started the buzz about him being the next president, I thought they were putting too much pressure on him. But I became fascinated with his life, his family, particularly his wife Michelle, who is a baaaad chick. I believed all the campaign promises he made, but in the end, a politician is a politician. In the beginning, I was a Hillary supporter. That didn’t last long.

I’ll tell the kiddies about how I collected each and every article that mentioned the Obamas. I’ll tell them their love story, cause I know it verbatim. I hope to take them to Chicago and tell them about the places where Barack wined and dined Michelle, until he ultimately proposed. They’ll often hear me mention the beauty of Malia and Sasha, and my enthusiasm for terrorist fist jabs.

They’ll know that I pulled myself out of bed early election day morning, only to stand in a long line that snaked outside the building. Hungry, tired and late for work, I would not leave that line until my vote was in. Once I hit ‘cast my ballot’ on the election screen, I felt my ancestors looking down on me and got a little weepy.

My election night story won’t be as exciting as that of those who were in the trenches, at various Obama offices or election parties. I was at home, watching CNN and carefully preparing for a Richard Wright presentation that I needed to do for class the very next day. But when they announced that he won – and one of my homegirls called me to confirm it – it all felt so surreal. I watched the live broadcasts from Grant Park and I saw thousands upon thousands of people laughing, crying, hugging, kissing. I saw Oprah and Steadman all in the mix, like they were regular people. Then I saw Jesse Jackson cry, and I cried too.

I’ll try to explain the significance of the 2008 election, even though there (hopefully) will be about a dozen presidents of color by the time they’re born. I’ll tell them all about the significant events that impacted our community in my lifetime. Rodney King. O.J. Simpson. Barack Obama.

But for now, I’m savoring the day. I’m at work, watching a beautiful black man become the leader of the free world. With his wife – educated and elegant, both making her the type of sistah that Ebony, Essence and CNN predict would never marry – at his side.

It is truly a new day. I am ready for the new America.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

First Comes Voting, Then Comes Waiting

Well, I did my part. I set my alarm clock for its usual 5:15 a.m., but I didn't roll out of bed until about an hour later. And I didn't get to the polls until around 7:30. Hey, I'm not a morning person and I'm slow as pond water, what can I say?

But I got to the elementary school that served as my polling place, I was amazed by the line of cars that filled the parking lot. People were calling the radio stations bragging about how they went to their stations at 4 a.m., just to be the first ones in line. I got even closer and I saw a line that extended outside. I immediately balked. I turned my car around and opted to vote after work.

I turned my car around and began to drive away. It was then that I started to think about all the people who came before me, who would've loved to see this day. I thought about our ancestors and how they waited in long lines, marched in the excessive heat and were sprayed with hoses just so they'd have the rights we take for granted. I thought about how I needed to represent the deceased -- Grandma, Dad, cousin Damon, friend Keya -- and do my part. So I turned around. Luckily, I found a parking space and I got in line.

Everyone braced for their turn in their own way. Some read books, papers, blasted iPods, smiled or just stared straight ahead. I left my book in my car, so I had plenty of time for observation. Folks in line ranged from old to young, pale faces to dark faces. One woman managed to get through the ordeal on crutches. An older black man proudly wore his Obama hat, easily putting an end to all those email warnings I'd been receiving. I wanted to take pictures, but I was too scared. I had this fear that that would be the one excuse to toss me out of line and keep me from voting. So I promised myself I'd snap a few pix once my vote was cast.

When it was my turn, my hands were shaking. I had to go over the ballot a few times to make sure I picked the right candidates, the right issues. Then I thought about Grandma again and how active she'd been in elections and I got a little teary. Nevertheless, I submitted my ballot, then got an 'I Voted' sticker. I was late for work, but I didn't care.

One of the election volunteers thanked us for our patience. She said they had 198 voters by 8 a.m., which was more than they had during the entire primary election day. Crazy! The line had dissipated by the time I was done, but I did snap a few pictures of the jam packed parking lot and the voting signs.
Now I'll be up all night, doing homework (presentation on Richard Wright is tomorrow!) and watching CNN. Hopefully, I'll be able to hear the acceptance speech of the first black president of the United States of America. Whew! I get chills just thinking about it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Get Your Voting Game Right

It’s all about the strategy.

I’m at work, stooped in my chair, fingers a’typing in the keyboard. It’s all the appearance of hard work, but actually, I’m PLOTTING. See, I’ve got to get my plan together for tomorrow. I’m going to vote, but it’s all about the WHEN, as lines are supposed to be stretched to epic proportions.

Now, since my workday starts at 8, I plan to start my day by voting. I will wake at 6 a.m., then go to my polling station, where I’ll promptly stand in line. I’ll bundle up in my coat, chomp on my granola bar, blast my iPod (Kanye’s ‘Love Lockdown’ is on constant repeat!) and patiently wait my turn. I’ll make small talk with the people in line. I’ll chat with them about the constantly changing weather, how long the line is, how I can’t wait to get my turn, etc.

Someone will mention who they’re voting for and I’ll smile politely. I’ll keep my politics (BARACK, BABY!) personal, cause I know how ugly those conversations can turn. I’ll simply make eye contact with a few brothas and sistas in line and nod knowingly. Then I’ll spot the hordes of older black people in line and wax poetic about the days when Grandma would take me with her when she voted. I learned later that she was a fierce Republican, but that doesn’t matter. I know she would’ve loved to see history taking place.

I’ll take pictures and I’ll post them here. And when they make the announcement – that Barack Obama is indeed the first black president – I’ll run to the tv to see his speech. Then I’ll cry. Then I’ll call my grandpop to make sure he’s watching history. If I’m really feeling up, I’ll call my estranged grandmother and make sure she’s watching as well. (Who am I kidding? I’ll never be that up.)

But you know what they say about best laid plans. There’s also another scenario:

I could oversleep, leaving me only enough time to get to work and get through the day. Then I’ll race home, grab my camera and head to my voting station. This line will also be filled with grumpy voters, who will frown as I try to take pictures of history in the making. Then they’ll snicker when my cameraH doesn’t cooperate (which has happened many times before). I’ll keep my eyes glued to the news reports all evening, waiting for any news about who the next president will be. Then, when the announcement comes that Americans have chosen John McCain as the next president, I’ll take it in stride. I’ll put on my frozen smile, tune in for Barack’s speech, then call Grandpa and say that 2012 is definitely our year. Then I’ll get on my computer and check this site again.

Happy voting day, ya’ll!