Monday, April 25, 2016

Beyonce's Lemonade: A Naturalista's Analysis Of Why We Must Continue to Love that Cool, Refreshing Drink!

First, let me begin by saying that the last thing that I have time for is to write about and analyze a Beyonce piece, as I am in the middle of finishing a book about health disparities and social injustice, which are issues that are deeply plaguing our community.  However, in the midst of my work, a loss occurred--the loss of a complex, mysterious, purple loving Black man, that the world, particularly many Black people adored.  He was a Prince.  Our Prince.  Now gone.  While in the feelings of deep, abiding love for this Black man, one of our most beloved sisters comes forward to tell us about, what seems to be trifling behavior towards her--a personal matter.  It diverted our attention from the love of a Black man who died as mysteriously as he lived, so they tell us, to anger, animosity and the repeated lament "I ain't sorry"by a sister regarding her situation. 

Beyonce's Lemonade is visually appealing and the music feels good when you listen to it.  Lemonade is one of those things that you just can't stop looking at as you try to grasp it and take it all in.  I love the complexity of it. For example, when she emerges from a large, what appears to be, building of authority, based on its pillars and stone masonry, with water flooding under her feet, in a bright yellowish, ruffled dress, barefoot, and then reappears in platform heels, swinging a bat with intermittent moments of laughter and rage, I sat up.  I looked over at my loving husband of over thirty years and the father of my children and thought, oh damn, this is the "baddest" shit I've ever seen in my life!  I felt sorry for my husband for a moment because I thought, brothers all over the world, including him, must be terrified because we know that place exists in  every sister!  "Jealous or crazy but I'd rather be crazy"--that's some scary shit right there!

The next morning, we went to brunch with our son and his girlfriend.  We found ourselves discussing Lemonade as we sipped mimosas, that were delicious, from straws out of large mason jars.  We intermittently discussed Prince and Lemonade.  All the while I felt confused about which of these two topics were most important and wondered why I was discussing either because I don't know these artists personally and we seemed to be talking about their personal lives. My mind wandered about the fact that I know personally the ills of health disparities, the suffering of my people in America and the world, politics and all of the other trauma going on  in our society, at large, for real. I also thought of all of the good things that I know, such as weddings, and new babies being born to family and friends, the great times I have socializing with people I know, the delicious food we were actually eating, my joyous world travels and most importantly, love of family.  I consciously became aware that through media imagery, I am being deeply distracted to think and focus on issues that don't have anything to do with me at all, rather than just enjoying newly released music.

As for Lemonade, I thought, as a Black women married to a Black man for over thirty years, would I ever, under any circumstances, put the intimate aspects of any negative personal relationship matters between us, out there for the world to see?  Would I emasculate my husband, father of my children, my lover, my friend in such a profound way, publicly, that perhaps he would never recover?  Perhaps Lemonade is just a marketing ploy, to keep us engaged in their relationship while we constantly question, is it really about them--Beyonce and Jay Z? is this a marketing game to keep us looking, buying, watching and then throwing distrustful gazes at each other over something that is not really real for them? But again, I found myself back in the Lemonade discussion, which will make millions of dollars for others because of our interest in it.  The next morning, I watched White men and women laugh at brother Jay-Z, who is from Marcy Projects in Brooklyn and rose to be a successful artist and businessman, ridiculed and laughed at by White folks on the morning talk shows.

Ultimately, it seems that if a Black man cheats on a Black woman, this kind of lamentation exhibited in Lemonade shows that she is in too deep in terms of her concern for whether he is bedding someone else. I know there are vows when you get married, but damn. Is our identity as Black women that predicated on where he puts his organ?  If a man cheating makes a woman have to go through measures exhibited in Lemonade  to "survive" his infidelity, we are not ready for the realities of love and relationships! Beyonce's questions: "did he convince you he was a God," are you a slave to the back of his head,""am I talking about your husband or your father?"  The answer to those questions should be clear, namely no, no and no!  Although I love my husband, he is not my God, I am a slave to no one and what may or may not have happened between my mother and father has nothing to do with me except their union created me and I came through my mother in order to exist and I love them for that.

As I reflected on Lemonade, I could not help but think of my favorite section of Lorraine Hansberry's book, A Raisin in the Sun where she states through her character "Momma" about her son: 

"There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing.  Have you cried for that boy today? I don't mean for yourself and for the family 'cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning - because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in hisself 'cause the world done whipped him so! when you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.” 

This is not to say infidelity should be just brushed aside.  Obviously, if you know Raisin in the Sun, it is about imperfection regarding business, not intimate relationships.  Her son messed up big time with the family money and his sister was majorly hating on him. The point is that the mother put loving him in a bigger context.  In terms of  some of the Black men in my life and relationships, I had a wonderful, Black brother, my sibling, that I loved  deeply.  He's gone, so young, without ever learning how to truly love. I have a beautiful Black son, who I also love deeply who is intelligent and fun-loving and learning the nuances of relationship love.  I have a handsome, smart Black husband, who for over thirty years while learning all about love, learned with me.  Love is not perfect.  It has its ups and downs but the ups are in the sustained, long-term love, joy and commitment to each other.  Lemonade  is not solely about making lemonade out of the lemons of cheating, as an example, but recognizing the wholeness of each other and the complications that exist between Black men and women, in relationships, in a society that does not love Black people, in general. 

In lemonade, one line that I love is "if we are going to heal, let it be glorious."  We must be glorious together.  If we decide we can't tolerate the actions of each other, then we should let go and move on or hold on tighter, in the midst of our imperfection and heal together, gloriously. Public lynching, by Black women, however, of Black men can't be where we are now.  Afterward, if our men are still slightly breathing, will we cut them down from the tree, revive them and wash their wounds from the whip that has scarred their imperfect backs and  bathe it, put ointment on it and then let them back inside, with scars of shame?  Now, ashamed and eager to go back into that safe haven inside of us, their strength, we are willing to take their now weak bodies, minds and spirits back inside of us after emasculating them. Will we really love them again while they experience the shade and scorn of others through their public glances for something so personal?  Should the public be involved?

Black women, no one wants to endure a man or woman "cheating," in  a society that has told us that there is ONE man for each woman and ONE woman for each man.  Monogamy is a bitch for many because if you look back in history, it did not exist in most parts of the world.  Intimacy was about something else--namely populating the world, along with pleasure.  The problem with it all was, unfortunately, male domination ensued in the process. But we have perhaps evolved to something else; something that has created expectations that for most are impossible to fill.  If we look at divorce rates and separation rates, we see how difficult it is to accomplish.  You have to be willing to pursue monogamy in your relationships, both, men and women, with everything you have and to understand that neither person in the relationship is perfect. We have to understand that as in Lemonade when we look at the beautiful mothers who have lost their sons to police brutality, that Black women are mothers of these Black men, who society randomly took from us, either by death or mass incarceration.  What we can do is raise those young Black men, that are still amongst us, with a purpose.  We can try and teach them that loving a Black woman, takes courage, strength, and fidelity to the commitment of love. They must know that it will be hard work but we need each other for protection and survival.   If we cheat on each other, in a society that tells us that monogamy is the way, infidelity breaks this ideal notion of love, which perpetuates mainstream society's idea that we can't do what they also are NOT doing successfully.   

As Black women, our strength does not exist in terms of whether or not the man we love cheats on us or not.  If and when he does, it's his loss, especially when Black women give their all to the relationship. Black women must know that with or without a man's fidelity, we are whole, we are free and we are absolutely beautiful.  I long for the voice of Maya Angelou to speak to our young Black  girls and young women just learning how to love and be loved by  a black man to say: 

Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me. 
They try so much 
But they can’t touch 
My inner mystery. 
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say, 
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile, 
The ride of my breasts, 
The grace of my style. 
I’m a woman 
Phenomenal woman, 
That’s me. 

    These are the instructions that I passed on to my beautiful, intelligent,  daughter, with hopes that she will pass them on to her children as my mother passed this on to me.  Beyonce states in Lemonade: "my grandma said, nothing that is real can be threatened." That is the real deal right there. We can not be cut in half by  infidelity.  It's too trivial.   

    In short Naturalistas, we can love and be loved and know that with everything, we can make lemonade out of lemons.  But we must also know, that the next time we squeeze lemons to make lemonade and add sugar to make it sweet and tasty that the Black men that we choose are not the lemons to be sweetened but just like anyone else are flawed, imperfect and that is what makes the lemonade taste so good when it is mixed right. It is the fusion of all of those things together, lemons (each of us), sugar (sweetness from each of us) and water (what each of us all need to survive and what we are mostly made of).  You bring all of that together, expecting perfect deliciousness (love).  Sometimes it's too tart, sometimes it needs more sugar and sometimes the water is just not right.  The last thing we want to happen is on a hot summer day when we drink that cool, refreshing glass of lemonade, to always think of it metaphorically as what we made from the imperfections of our Black men.  We must love ourselves. Regardless. I end with number 3 and 4 of Alice Walker's definition of Womanists:

"3. Loves music.  Loves dance.  Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness.  Loves struggle. Loves the Folk.  Loves herself. Regardless. 

4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender."


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Celebrating #BrownBoyhood Through Toys: A Naturalista Introduces Melanites!

Celebrating #BrownBoyhood is an exciting new venture. Perhaps you haven’t 
heard about it so sit back, read and enjoy this fantastic information about, 
Jennifer Pierre, a young Black woman entrepreneur who has created a novel 
project worthy of serious consideration, entitled Melanites. She is a graduate 
student in the entrepreneurial program at Babson College. She was one of 
my former students, so I am bursting with pride, but not surprised to see 
her brilliant, well-thought out and interesting creation as it was obvious in 
the classroom that her brain energy would never be wasted. On the heels of
 Barbie’s debut of a new line, andAmerican Girl’s release of their latest African
 American addition, it seems that diversity on the shelves is once again a hot 
discussion topic. It is no wonder that the desire for more diverse options is on 
the rise given America’s continuously changing consumer demographic. 
Per Jennifer, “according to the United States Census, there are more multicultural
 children being born under the age of five today than ever before.” Hence rather 
than “minority,” emerging majority is becoming the reality for children of color. 
This reality peaked Jennifer’s interest towards a new creation.
Additionally, as a smart business-minded person, through her research, 
Jennifer learned that in 2015, the Toy Industry Association estimated a 
$24 Billion market in the US alone of which 8% of those sales were
 accounted for by the doll category. Of that slice, that the percentage of 
diverse dolls cannot be calculated because there is not enough data. Her
 light bulb went on as she realized this fact: that translates into a substantial 
untapped market that does not coincide with what is currently being offered!
 The Toy Industry is simply not making products that appeal to the millions of
 multicultural families who purchase toys every year.
Consequently, Jennifer went on to create Melanites, a toy company introducing a
 new line of boy dolls of color. After visiting countless toy stores that did not reflect 
her or the people in her community, she decided to do something about it. Jennifer 
is a founder of the company, which hopes to stand up for children’s right to options. 
She decided to focus her mission on celebrating brown boyhood. This means tackling 
racial and gender bias simultaneously. Pierre points out “that there exists a “blue aisle” 
that stereotypes young boys into the pigeon-hole of hyper-masculinity.  The shelves
marketed to young boys are “littered with toy guns, fighting stances, and 
aggressive role play.”
She indicates that “children’s play is serious business because it is a 
focal point of where ideas and messages around their sense of 
self-confidence and imagery emerge.” Having diversity in their toy 
selection is a very human need for access to different backgrounds.
To see the rest of this exciting story with more photos, visit: 


Friday, April 8, 2016

50 Countries and Counting: A Naturalista’s Travel Adventures in Brazil!

Brazil is a lovely South American country that I had always
wanted to visit.  Traveling there with my family was as delightful
 as I thought it would be, spending our time in Rio, enjoying 
the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and taking in all of the sights. 
Brazil is a place where you find beauty in the people, the scenery,
and the attractions. We loved our hotel, which was oceanfront
 with a lovely rooftop pool. It was a family experience as our children, 
who are young adults, traveled with us.  I also had the opportunity 
to invite two of my students at the time, to spend time with us while
 we were there.  One of them is from Brazil and had taken a university 
course with me in the U.S. as a Fulbright scholar and was in Brazil 
during our visit.  The other was also in Brazil having a one semester, 
study abroad experience and was learning to speak Portuguese.  
It was wonderful to catch up with these two naturalistas and have 
my family meet them.  They were excellent cultural tour guides 
during the brief time we spent with them.Below are details of some of 
our experiences in Brazil as it was definitely one of my favorite 
places in the world to visit.

The Rio Experience

I absolutely love Rio!  The experience there is one of vibrancy, 
rhythm, color, culture and excitement. Besides enjoying the 
Copacabana and Ipanema Beach areas, we enjoyed many 
sites including the center of the city. We rode through the 
Tijuca Forest to the Corcovado Mountain, visited the 
Christ Redeemer and took a cable ride to Sugar Loaf and enjoyed a
 fantastic view of the city and all of its outstanding architecture. We 
were also thoroughly entertained at a Plataforma Samba Show, which 
included amazing costumes that comprise some of the visual 
highlights of Brazilian culture along with Samba (a Brazilian dance), 
frevo (Brazilian folk music) and capoeira (which is a form of martial 
art performed in Brazil that includes dance, acrobatics and music).  
Excellent—all of it!! The latter is thought to have emerged in Brazil 
through West African descendants during slavery.  There is a great 
deal of skill involved in the art of capoeira so it was really a treat to 
see it so beautifully performed.