Are We Banning the Wrong B Word?

If you haven’t already heard, Sheryl Sandberg and a few celebrities, well-known politicians (Condoleezza Rice, Beyoncé and Jennifer Garner to name a few) and organizations (Girls Scouts) are campaigning to ban the word bossy from our vocabulary. Sandberg, author of the book Lean In, which I’ve blogged about a few times, believes that girls are mislabeled bossy when they assert themselves as leaders. Whereas, boys who demonstrate bossy characteristics are heralded for their assertiveness.  The ban bossy website states that “by middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys — a trend that continues into adulthood.”  Are Sandberg and her supporters right?  Should we ban the usage of the word bossy?

Before I began penning this post, I vacillated on my position to this question. Were girls growing up to become women who hesitate in asserting themselves for fear of reprisal — being called bossy?  Even if that were true, banning the word isn’t the solution. Rather, we need to learn the true definition of the word bossy and teach others to use it in context. Whether you use the term, bossy, pushy, bully, overly aggressive, abrasive, etc., it all means the same thing.  I don’t think Sandberg is prepared to go on a crusade to overhaul Webster’s Dictionary.

Bossy became a word in the late 1800s as a derivation of the word boss. Let’s face it, we all know some bossy bosses who are male and female.  A bossy person is someone who orders others around with very little empathy toward those on the receiving end.  Whereas, a leader is someone who has mastered the fine art of asking others to do things, using a non-forceful or menacing tone.  This, in its simplest terms, is the distinction between being a leader and being bossy.  So what our children really need to learn is this distinction; no one likes a bossy person, irrespective of their gender.  Bossy people may get farther than those with demure personalities. However, an individual with great leadership skills will always get the farthest.  As parents, it is important to not limit your daughter’s assertiveness as long as she is being kind.  Oftentimes that tone is mimicked by what she hears from her parents. Similarly, boys should be scolded, rather than praised, when their tone becomes despotic. Children will understand the subtlety more easily if it is demonstrated by their parents.  The intonation that parents use with one another could eradicate bossy behavior while keeping the word in our lexicon to remind us how not to behave.  In other words, the manner in which we communicate could eradicate bossy behavior in our kids.

There are other derogatory B words that relate to women that Sandberg should consider eliminating.  For instance, we have turned the word “b!tch” on its head. Lil Kim made us all want to be a bad b!tch and a queen b!tch; and Kelis embraced her bossy demeanor by telling us she’s the “b!tch we love to hate,” and Beyoncé, one of the spokeswomen for the Ban Bossy campaign, sings “bow down b!tches.”  Meanwhile the woman who is disliked is referred to as the crazy b!tch.  More important than not being bossy, women don’t want to come across as being b!tchy (in the negative sense of the word).  Unlike the word b!tch, bossy is a well-defined term that hasn’t been turned on its head nor is it vastly embraced.  Even if we teach children the true meaning of the word bossy, the little girl who would have been called bossy in middle school will still be mischaracterized as a b!tch (or b!tchy) either by herself or by her peers when she becomes older.  So the real campaign should be to ban the use of the word b!tch.  There is nothing pleasant about the definition of the word b!tch, yet we (myself included at times) have embraced it, using it as a term of endearment as well as a way of demeaning other women.  So while Sheryl Sandberg is worried about having her leadership style misconstrued as bossy, she’s probably being called a b!tch by people who love and hate her.  This seems more problematic to the struggle for gender equality because the insecurity will continue only masked in a different term.  Although I respect Sandberg’s premise that words are a powerful tool and we should eliminate words that can harm us, banning the word bossy isn’t the approach that women should take if we truly seek to empower ourselves.  I admire her efforts but she chose the wrong B word. 

Should the NFL Ban the Use of the N Word?

Recently, my friend Isaac (I was given permission to use his name) reached out to me and suggested that I write a blog post about the NFL’s new ban on the use of the N word. He then decided that he wanted to pen his own thoughts on this topic so I was open to his desire to be a guest blogger. I’ve never had someone else write a post (though I welcome it) so the lawyer in me has the desire to say that the views and opinions expressed by Isaac are solely his own and do not reflect the views and opinions of LIST. I may share my thoughts on this post in the comment section, and I encourage you to do the same. I would love to dialogue and get people’s opinions on this topic.

The NFL is considering a new rule that would allow for the effective ban of the use of the “N” word on the field and possibly in locker rooms. The penalty for use on the field would be A 15 yard penalty would be implemented for use on the field and a monetary fine for use on other property owned by the NFL or one of its teams.

Throughout the remainder of this article I will spell out the actual word for educational purposes as well as to emphasize the difference in spelling and pronunciation that are used today. Let, me first start by saying that the word Nigger is a racist, abhorrent and vile word that has a history of pain and hatred. The word should never be used in any professional or public setting. The word Nigger has a complicated history. The actual origin of the word is unknown but I was told that it is basically a mispronunciation of the Spanish word Negro. The word was then used by the majority population as a term for inferior and less than human. To this day this word, when used by someone outside of the African diaspora, invokes a spirit of deep hatred, racism and xenophobia.

Today, the word Nigga is used commonly in the hip hop culture. It is simply a phonetic mispronunciation of the word Nigger by urban youths. The spelling using “er” was eventually replace with an “a” after several hip hop artist began to do so in the late 1980’s. The “a” was not added to differentiate the word Nigger from Nigga. In the late 80’s, and still to this day, urban youths began a practice of spelling words how they pronounce them instead of using their actual spelling. This was done with all words. For example, with became wit’, soldier became soljah, little became lil’, and so many more examples that I will not list (LIST: I’ll save my concern about what this has done to the academics of our youths for another post). However, at the time when NWA deemed them self Niggas With Attitude, you can best believe they meant Niggers.

The word Nigger, Nigga, or however else you want to spell it has been used by Blacks for a lot longer than the evolution of Hip Hip in the late 70’s and early 80’s. My parents, grandparents and great grandparents all used the term Nigger. This use was even in the height of the civil rights movement. At that time, the word was not used as a term of endearment. The word more so developed into a way for Blacks to challenge the use of the word by Whites. In other words, Blacks adopted the concept that if you want to call me a Nigger, well then I will show you just how much of a Nigger I can be. The word then evolved to be cool because in our society it sometimes cool to be bad. This is the same thing with the Hip Hop generation who are emulating their elders. Bad means good and being bad is cool. Nigga is just another way of saying I’m bad and you may not want to mess with me. What makes the word endearing, in a sick and twisted way, is that by calling you bad I am acknowledging your “gangsta” or superior street prowess.

So let’s get back to the NFL. There is now a generation of adults that grew up with the term bad meaning good. There is also a generation of adults that, because of music and television, grew up with the using the word Nigger in very public forums. Also, with professional sports we are in an era where physically talented inner city youths are exploited for their talents and education is secondary to those talents. I believe that the use of the “N” words (both of them) are acceptable in certain segments of the Black community. However, there used to be rules for its usage. We were never allowed to use the word in mixed company or publicize the use of the word.

Now that the word is used so freely among African-Americans, does it invite the use of the word by non-Blacks? Can Latinos use it, can Asians, can Whites use it with permission? The answer to that question is no. The reason is that no one person holds the copyright to the word. One black person may not care but another will be very offended.

With that in mind, the word should in no shape or form be legislated because it is too difficult to enforce. In order to enforce this rule accurately the NFL must be able to understand context. If an athlete is shouting the word Nigger to an opposing team member then he should absolutely be subject to a penalty. On the other hand, if he is speaking directly to a player on his own team then it should not be a penalty. Similarly, if I am in a private conversation, just because you can hear my conversation doesn’t mean that that conversation is any of your business.

Additionally, the NFL is 70% Black. I would venture to say that no White person is on the field calling a Black player a Nigger. If they did, a fight would likely ensue. Therefore, what the NFL is really trying to do is legislate how Black people talk to Black people. This is inappropriate and another example of White privilege.

A recent issue was raised with Trent Williams of the Washington Redskins (this is probably why the officials want to be able to call this penalty). Williams was called for a penalty and disagreed with the call. In expressing his frustration, it is alleged that he used the word Nigger in reference to the official who was White. Trent Williams denies using the word in reference to the official but this brings up a valid argument.

Sometimes, Black people used the word Nigger in a disparaging way towards each other and even other races. It is usually in the form of several curse words followed by the work Nigger for emphasis. This concept muddies the waters because when used this way, although not necessarily intended as a racist remark, it is still being used in a negative and hurtful manner. How do we handle the use of the “N” word? My answer is you don’t.  Again, if someone uses the word in a negative context then they are intending to demean you.  So if the NFL wants to penalize something then penalize the use of any disparaging term.  A rule stating that you cannot verbally attack an official would solve that whole issue without even touching the use of the “N” word.

TAP TAKES C.A.S.H. ON THE ROAD

I am always amazed by the manner in which young people are at the helm of shaping the next generation.  Some, like Mark Zuckerberg have had a world impact.  Others, like the young man I refer to as my “little brother”, are changing the lives of kids, one person at a time.  Chris, founder of Together Assisting People (TAP), has an amazing story of struggle and transcendence (which I will save for another post).  And through his experiences, he is educating youths primarily in urban areas.  I am posting this article to highlight one of his most well-received educational series:

photo

TAP brought its Financial Literacy series to the City of Atlanta last Sunday, where Morehouse College played host to a number of top high school athletes seeking to hear more about the financial pitfalls of professional athletes and how students could avoid those pitfalls.

photo (5)TAP partnered with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.’s Pi Chapter of Morehouse College to present the C.A.S.H. (Changing Athletes’ Spending Habits) Symposium—which focused on financial literacy and career planning. The forum featured a number of participants including TAP Founder and former University of Alabama National Champion, Chris Rogers; premier high school athlete trainer and founder of I-DareU, Glenn Ford; and keynote speaker and CEO of Champion Automotive Group, Knowledge DeRamus.

When asked what was the most important message to relay to the students, Ford said, “I thought it was important to stress to these guys that hard work and discipline are important to both success on the field and long lasting financial success off of the field.”

DeRamus, who has over 10 years of experience in automobile sales, broke down the process of automobile purchasing, including how to evaluate affordability and a prospective buyer’s buying power.

“Just because you have the money doesn’t mean you can afford it.” DeRamus told the crowd, stressing the importance of spending wisely.

photo (2)Rogers spoke about the importance of balancing academics and athletics. Rogers, who graduated with his Masters and a 3.9 GPA, while playing for Alabama and pledging Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, gave personal examples of balancing academic life with athletic and Greek life. Rogers attended Alabama on an athletic scholarship. He explained to the young men how he utilized all available academic resources afforded to him as a college student.

photo (1)

Rogers supplied the student athletes with information about planning for life without or after athletics. He planted the seed of setting long term career goals that reach far beyond the confines of their chosen sport. TAP concluded the symposium by supplying each student athlete with a tie that could be worn to a job interview or to receive an award. “I want these young athletes to strive for academic scholarships because of the uncertainty associated with playing sports.” Rogers said. “In addition to a degree, I can definitely testify to the importance of having and maintaining good credit, as well as how attaining high quality careers will often require having credit in good standing.”

We have to ensure that we support young people like Chris and others who are working to shape the lives of our youths. Some may never realize how to creatively make a small difference in the life of someone else.  Chris has not only figured it out, but he is leading the charge in grooming young athletes to become better adults.  For a recap of the symposium given in December, watch the video below:

New Year’s South African Style

imageWe have been here for almost 5 days and it is evident to me that Ace (mom) has her own agenda–to find me a husband here. She must be out of her mind!  I noticed her smile and stare whenever she noticed an African couple walking together; she smiled and stared even more whenever she saw them with kids. I’ve never heard of a biological grandma clock, but if one exists, them my mom’s is ticking.

After returning from our trip to the township, we returned to the waterfront for dinner and ate at Belthazar.  Mom was very friendly to the waiters and asked all of them the same questions: (1) how old are you? (2) do you have any kids? (3) where is the rest of your family?  I’m not sure of the significance of these three specific questions, but I sat in my seat embarrassingly staring down at my food.  One of the waiters was from Ghana and the other was from Zambia.  A third was South African who was studying law at University of Cape Town. We were the last customers to leave the restaurant and by the end of the night mom and I were taking pictures with her new friends.

The next morning, we relocated to an oceanfront flat and returned to the waterfront to purchase our New Year’s Eve tickets for later that night.  I had been researching and asking what most people do on NYE.  The consensus was that most of Cape Town would celebrate at the waterfront.  For those with money, they could celebrate while having a 5-course dinner at one of the amazing waterfront restaurants.  However, many others would converge on the waterfront and walking around listening to the music blaring and preparing for the fireworks show.  People walked around, some with their families, others with their friends.  Mothers carried their children around on their backs secured by towels used as makeshift baby slings.

imageMom and I had dinner at Tasca.  We dined on a prix fixe dinner of some of the best seafood, wine and champagne I’ve ever had.  At close to midnight, we joined the others outside of the restaurant and watched the fireworks show as we extended a “Happy New Year” to those standing around us.  It took a moment, but I had to remind mom that we were blessed enough to ring in the new year on another continent.  In one of the most amazing places on earth–a place where some of our family and friends would never have the opportunity to visit.  In that moment, in the beginning of the new year, we were thankful.  It was an enjoyable experience to celebrate with so many different people.

After leaving the waterfront, we were determined to stay awake to celebrate the new year with those in the U.S.  Thus, we had seven more hours to go!  We navigated through the bumper to bumper traffic and headed to Long Street.  As we walked up the street, we joined a group of people who were marching behind a band.  The band sounded similar to a New Orleans band.  Spectators on the sidewalk watched as we walked by.  Then I realized—we had jumped into the middle of the parade!  Mom had no desire to find the nearest exit so we followed the band up the parade route as people stared.  We eventually exited and were stopped by a group of men sitting on a stoop.  They shouted, “you must not be from around here!”  Mom stopped and asked, “why do you say that?” imageAnd one of the men responded, “because this parade is usually for Coloureds; we never see Africans here.”  “Oh you’re American!” another man shouted after deciphering our accents.  We stopped and spoke to the men for a few minutes who informed us they were Muslim, but as South Africans, they respect and celebrate everyone’s religions.  After leaving the men, we headed farther down Long Street, where the crowd changed.  No longer were were marching up the parade route, we were now standing in the middle of the street with young South Africans of various ages.  They yelled and screamed as many drunkenly stammered down the streets in search of a taxi.  We walked around until close to 5am and headed back to the flat in time to see the sun rise and to wish our family and friends in the States a Happy New Year!

*******

New Years Day in Cape Town is unofficially known as Beach Day.  On this day, hundreds of thousands of people converge on the beaches around the country.  Mom and I geared up to head to Camps Bay to hang with the natives.  The traffic was bumper to bumper and it was hot.  To get to Camps Bay we must drive along and up a cliff.  As I soaked in the magnificent view of the city and the ocean, mom clenched the handle of the door fearful to look over at the ocean. Sigh.  Mom has a MAJOR phobia of heights (although she has no issue with flying).  We could not descend from the hill fast enough for her.  When we finally arrived at the beach it was crowded with residents (and tourists—most of whom were black).  Some were located on the hill right above the beach.  They were not in bathing suits (beachwear appeared to be optional), but had arrived at the beach to have a picnic with their friends and family.  Sprinkled among the thousands of people were a few whites who were sunbathing on lawn cheers underneath umbrellas.

imageWhen mom and I arrived on the beach, I looked around at how we could obtain lawn chairs.  I noticed that the only beach goers who were utilizing them were all white, but I know mom was not prepared to lay on this sand and burn underneath this hot African sun.  So I found a gentleman who was carrying around an umbrella and bargained with him to obtain two chairs and an umbrella.  As he set up our chairs, he asked mom where she was from (a question we got often and one that mom insisted on answering honestly).  As she told him that we were American, all I could think was that the price of these chairs and umbrella just quadrupled!  After telling me the chairs would cost ZAR 220, I was able to bargain him down to ZAR100 ($10).  Paying the “local” cost for items was becoming a challenge with mom who was unwilling to understand that we looked African.  But, the moment we opened our mouths and people realized we were not “African” they would automatically charge us more for items (she would eventually understand this lesson).  As we laid on the chairs and soaked in the ocean air, I could feel the stares coming from those around us as people walked by.  As Americans in South Africa, we were an anomaly–stuck in two worlds.  If we were Africans, why were we sitting on these lawn chairs pretending to be white?  I’m sure the impression was we must have been Africans with money.  It is a similar struggle that some African-Americans face in the U.S.–not feeling black enough for black people, yet we were not white.  Mom and I took turns going into the water.  I barely got off the sand because the water was ice cold.  Yet, many people (especially kids) enjoyed jumping around in the water.  The vibe was awesome.  You could not help but to feel as happy as they are as they jumped and cheered in the water and celebrated the beginning of the new year.  We stayed at the beach for hours soaking up the great energy.  Mom continued to have mini panic attacks as I drove  up the cliff toward our flat.  When we arrived, she was exhausted so we decided to forgo dinner.

South Africa Adventures–The Dichotomy

On our second day, I made a reservation for mom and I to tour the wine areas of San Francisco–Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Raymond, our driver, had taken me on a similar tour four years ago. RaymondHe is a very nice Coloured (the name given to South Africans of mixed descent) man who lives in a nearby township. I left it up to Raymond to determine which estates we would visit. As we drove into the winelands, mom had the opportunity to ask Raymond cultural and historical questions from the perspective of a local. Raymond was very patient and provided us with a rich history of the area. He started from the beginning of South Africa’s colonization and provided us with detailed information up to his perspective on the reported corruption of South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma.

We arrived at the Fairview Estate for our first wine pairing. We sampled eight wines with an assortment of cheeses that are made at the estate.  Since our sommelier failed to provide us with a spit bowl, Ace (mom) believed it was obligatory to drink the entire glass (did I mention she isn’t a drinker?). By the time we left, Ace was complaining that her “eyes were turning”–a Jamaican terminology for when one is becoming tipsy. We stopped at a few more wine estates before heading to lunch at Le Petite Ferme. Before eating, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the mountains from the estate’s vineyard. I have kept mom happy with our 5-star dining, but my clothing is already beginning to fit tighter. imageAfter lunch, we visited a few more estates then headed back to the flat. It was a fun-filled day, but on the drive back to the flat I could feel the wine kicking in and I was beyond tipsy (but I wasn’t drunk).
imageOnce we returned, we could do nothing else but take a nap. After sleeping for a few hours, we decided to explore an open-air market that was located within walking distance. During the festive season, there appears to be a party occurring in the streets every night. The market was crowded with vendors, and people walking around contemplating what they would purchase. The majority of the vendors and customers appeared to be Muslim.  They sold everything from toys to food.  We stopped at a stand with a man selling figs. Mom decided to take a taste of the figs–one and a half days in Cape Town and she already wasn’t afraid to try food from street vendors. I happily passed on tasting it. She decided to purchase a handful then realized she forgot to bring her wallet. How convenient. Of course I gave her a side-eye as I pulled out ZAR10 to purchase her figs. IMG_3523

As we explored the marketplace we noticed that most of the vendors and people walking around were Muslim. At this point, we were getting comfortable with feeling somewhat out of place in South Africa. One vendor sold Beats by Dre headphones for ZAR150 (the equivalent of $15).  For Christmas, I purchased similar headphones for my sister for $150! Chances are the vendor’s headphones weren’t real, but I contemplated buying hem for my sister and returning the ones I previously purchased .

IMG_3557On our walk back to the flat, we snapped a picture in front of the former slave lodge which was turned into a museum (despite it being next door, we didn’t get an opportunity to explore the museum).

********

The previous day, mom and I had a wonderful adventure driving through the majestic vineyards of the Cape while sipping some of the best wines in the word.  But, it would be a spurious claim to believe that all of Cape Town consists of fine dining, great wines and open air markets.  So, on the following day we took a tour of two of the most famous townships in Cape Town–Llanga and Khayelitsha Townships.  As mom got dressed in the morning, she prepared to wear one of her cute sundresses and her expensive jewelry. I immediately advised her that today, we (really her, because none of my clothing looks as expensive as hers) should wear something a bit more unassuming.

 After heading to Long Street to have breakfast at Rcaffe, we boarded the tour bus headed to the townships (similar to the term “projects” in the US).  imageTandis, our tour guide, brought us to District Six Museum on our first top.  There, he explained the history of District 6 and other townships where non-whites were relocated.  Mom was enthralled in the story and walked around the museum soaking in as much information as possible.  After the museum, we headed to Llanga Township (the oldest township in Cape Town with over 50,000 residents) where Luyolo took over as our tour guide.  As we walked through the area, the children ran up to us and grabbed our hands.  They were all so adorable, yet as we walked along, we could see the poverty-ridden homes.  We walked into one of the hostiles to see how many people lived.  Mom, stopped in her tracks, paralyzed and shocked that people lived this way.  The common area was filled with flies and was as clean as it could be.  There were up to 4 families living in one room.  The hostile had one kitchen area and no living room.  In one of the rooms was a lady who I met almost 5 years before.  We took a picture similar to the one we took previously.  Since this was not my first time through the township, I was not as shocked as mom, who was afraid of touching anything.  Mom grew up in poverty in Jamaica, but she said this did not match anything that she had experienced first hand.  It was a sobering experience relative to our wine tasting the previous day.  At this point, mom peppered Luyolo with many questions about the standard of living.

One of the ironies of our visit was as we walked by some of the shacks the entire home was smaller than the size of my mother’s bedroom with holes in the zinc roofs.  However, many of them had flat screen televisions that were bigger than televisions owned by mom or me.  We entered a makeshift bar where Luyolo explained that many of the men in the neighborhood would stop by to have homemade beer.  Since none of the women on the tour were willing to take a sip, I stepped up to have a try.  It was served in a pail that everyone had to drink from in the spirit of Ubuntu–human kindness.  The beer was warm and had a bitter aftertaste–not something I would take more than a sip of).

imageAfter Llanga, we drove through Khayelitsha Township–the largest township in the western Cape.  There are over one million people living in the township.  In Khayelitsha, we stopped by Vicky’s Bed and Breakfast.  When I visited years prior, I met met Vicky and learned about her Zagat rated B&B in the township which raised money for the local school.  But during this visit, Tandis informed me that the tour would be conducted by Vicky’s eldest daughter because Vicky was killed by her husband two years ago (her husband is currently in prison).  As we left Vicky’s, we saw children “swimming” in water along the road that contained tons of garbage.  It was very sad to watch, yet we left them behind and returned to our affluent area of Cape Town and continued our vacation.  Nevertheless, the memory of the townships were forever etched into our minds.

A Parent’s Words A Child’s Self Esteem

It’s a Curl!

A few weeks ago I logged into my Facebook account and realized the format had changed (again!).  But then my eyes quickly glanced at the 4th post in my newsfeed which was the picture of the cutest baby girl I had ever seen.  It was posted by a childhood friend of mine (we’ll refer to him as “Joe”), and the caption of the picture read “yeah [insert baby’s name] got that good hair”.  As if it were instinctual, I left a comment under the post that said “leave it to black ppl…”  It only took Joe a few minutes before he replied stating that his comment was out of pocket (translation: inappropriate).

Although Joe has posted a plethora of pictures of his baby girl, which illustrates his love and adoration for her, I could not help but think about the effect that such a statement could have on a black girl growing up in our society.  Most of us have heard about the famous 1940s Clark Doll Experiment in which two African-American psychologists used black and white dolls to study children’s attitudes toward race.  The experiment was recreated in 2006, to similar results—children believed that the characteristics of the white doll made it a nicer doll than the black doll.

So what was my frustration with my friend’s comment?

Being a parent is one of the most honorable jobs that can be bestowed upon a person, and it is also one of the most challenging jobs one could ever have.  Despite the success I may garner in my professional career, if I failed as a parent, then all of my other successes would be irrelevant.  One could write a book on the various ways that I could fail as a parent, but as it pertains to my current point, if I raise a child who isn’t proud of who he/she is, then I would have failed in some aspects of my parenting.  Now I’m not saying that if parents don’t raise perfect children then they have failed in life–nowadays society has a stronghold on the values we might try to instill in our kids.  But black children will face an abundance of challenges growing up; therefore, it is important to instill confidence into them at an early age.

Joe could use the Aibeleen Clark approach and tell his daughter on a daily basis that she is beautiful, smart, and important.  Or rather, Joe may also try to ensure that his words or thoughts about his daughter’s characteristics do not give rise to negative self-images about herself.  For instance, saying that his daughter has “good hair” shows his belief that some hair textures are good and others are bad.  At three months old, there is no telling whether the texture of his baby’s hair will be the same soft and luscious locks that his daughter will have when she turns two.  Is his “good hair” statement a precursor to one day having his daughter sit in her room blasting India Arie in an effort to love herself more?

Be careful of your thoughts, because they become your words.

Does your hair feel like mine?

If a parent–especially a father to his daughter–believes that there are certain physical characteristics that make a person better than another, that parent is adding the primary ingredient to the recipe for his child to develop self-esteem issues.  We all know that kinky hair is no better than straight hair if you know how to comb a child’s hair (don’t confuse easier to manage with being good).  I often remind myself that I need to kick my height complex before I have a son so that he doesn’t grow up believing that his height is an inadequacy because his mother prefers taller men.  At a young age, kids become aware of the differences in their features and will naturally question whether those features make them better or worse.  The best illustration of this is the 2009 image of the son of a White House staff member who met President Obama in the Oval Office.  The little boy–likely recognizing the importance in the man that stood in front of him, was curious to know whether the President’s hair felt like his.  President Obama obliged in quelling the boy’s curiosity by leaning over and allowing the boy to touch his hair.  Such a simple but powerful gesture only reinforces the fact that children at a young age recognize and place a level of value in certain physical characteristics.  As a result, it is important to ensure that kids don’t view their own physical characteristics as better than or worse than another individual.

For all my parents out there, never forget that your words and thoughts are powerful tools in the development of your child.

Jay-Z In Georgetown University Classroom

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have an slight infatuation with Jay-Z.  So needless to say, I was over the moon to find out that one of the most prominent professors/authors of modern African-American culture is teaching a class solely dedicated to my boyfriend Jay-Z at my alma mater.  Where was this class when I was in school?  I would have lined up at 7 am in order to take it.  But really, is Jay-Z worthy of having a 75-minute 3 credit college course dedicated solely to him?

As much as I love Jay-Z, I think this class is premature and untenable.  Michael Eric Dyson is known for his ability to be a fantastic wordsmith, but regardless of how one spins this, teaching about Jay-Z’s success, breadth of “work” and  lifestyle is premature.  I recognize this is a sociology class and Professor Dyson apparently wants to focus on pop culture, but what about teaching about the wide aray of hip hop artists who have influenced pop culture  (i.e., Dead Prez, Tribe, Run DMC, Mob Deep, and the list goes on…)?

Of course most students would prefer to take a class discussing Jay-Z versus someone like the iconic Nelson Mandela; but without a doubt, the life of Mandela can provide us with more insight than Jigga.  Of course Mandela is no Jay-Z but he spent  27 years in prison and later became the President of the country who imprisoned him (versus president of a record label) and has been hands down one of the most influential people in the world.

When professors highlight the success of Jay-z to college students then are we saying that going from selling drugs in your community to attaining a corner office by rapping about bi*ches and pushing weight (that’s crack/coke for my non-hip hop readers)  with a sprinkle of consciousness (i.e., Mr. President there’s drugs in our residence tell me what you want me to do, come break bread with us) is successful enough to warrant a class about one’s life? That’s one way to make  a college student realize that their $100k education is waste of time.

In a recent Forbes article, Professor Dyson explains his class on Jay-Z: “I wanted to investigate his career as not only a Horatio-Alger-in-blackface, rags-to-riches story, but as a person who, were he alive during the period of ancient Greece, would be regarded as a god in terms of literary and poetic expression.”  Jay-Z has mastered the art of double and triple entendres but, a “god in terms of literary and poetic expression”, a Horatio Alger of our day?—sounds to me like Professor Dyson drank the kool-aid on this one.

If we are lauding Jay-Z in our university classrooms, then how can we tell children in the “hood” that their dreams to become a drug dealer turned rapper are wrong?  Perhaps Professor Dyson believes that this homage to Jay-Z will get him into Jay-Z’s close circle (Professors desire to be cool too), or earn him front row tickets to the upcoming Jay-Z concert in Washington, DC.  Regardless of his intent, Professor Dyson should have chosen someone other than my boyfriend Jay-Z—and that says a lot for anyone who understands my love for Jay-Z.

%d bloggers like this: