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Brian Huff And My Break-Dancing Butterflies

28 May

I can’t remember how my older sister Sarah and I got on the subject of Brian Huff the other day–a gorgeous black kid that moved into town and became Sarah’s classmate in 7th grade.  I think we were talking about her old friend Audrey who had finally joined Facebook.  Audrey and Brian were “an item” back then, and I was jealous because, well, even though I was two years younger than him, whenever I looked at Brian, […]

One-Of-A-Kind Black Girls

9 Jul

“You gotta Kool?  You gotta Newport?”  the black girl shouted at me from three feet away, she hanging by the high school girl’s room bathroom stall, me just pulling my cigarettes out of my pocketbook.  I smoked Newports back then.  The white girls who smoked Marlboro’s were glad they did, because they said all the black girls liked to smoke menthols.  And, you know, it did seem the majority of black girls in the bathroom did ask for menthol cigarettes.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I was sometimes scared by the black girls who called out to me for a smoke, either for a full cigarette, or if we were all in a hurry sneaking our smokes in between classes in the girls room; something that was forbidden, then maybe just to take a drag off of your cigarette.

“Awww, girl you made her cigarette all hot!” one of the black girls called out to her friend, as  the girl handed me back my cigarette, that seemed to go from full to two inches of ash in five seconds flat.

I didn’t mind taking the cigarette back, and dragging on it, but we gave it that term “hot” for a reason–if you pulled on the cigarette harshly, the filter would feel hot, and not taste good anymore.

I started this post in my high school girls’ room,  because it was back then that it seeped into my unconscious there were types of black girls, and now thirty years later, I can see that these were forced stereotypes that came from…..where?  Not my parents.  Was it from other kids at school saying you should be scared of black girls, that they won’t like you, will want to fight you, want to smoke your cigarettes? It’s not that I recall any person on any particular day telling me about the kinds of black girls there were, and believe me, I have a freakish memory, so I would remember.  It was more like a murmur, a conglomerate of hushed murmurs that came from out-of-nowhere to tell the secrets of what black girls were like.

How does this invisible generation of stereotypes come into being, so that it appears that the perception of someone, comes through some kind of collective unconscious; from within, even when you were raised to believe no one was any different, or any better, or any worse than you because of their skin color?

The  black girl types that stood out for me were, and I can see them all marching down my high school corridor:  the loud asking for your cigarette girl, the loud, funny as heck girl, the angry girl, and, the quiet, studious, church-going girl.  As I envision these girls, the biggest thought and concern that looms over my head now is, did some of them feel they needed to deliver on the stereotyped black girl roles defined for them? And, again, I ask defined by who? White America? Television shows? Their teachers, white students, their families, their friends?

Yet, when I pull the lens back, and broaden the view, I of course remember many black girls that didn’t fit into these extreme stereotypes.  Girls that were just, well, regular girls.  Girls that got lost in the sea of our student body; that just blended in.  Girls that were smart, but not churchy, girls that had a good sense of humor, but weren’t loud about it, girls that were smart, funny, played sports, took piano lessons, belonged to the Accounting Club, girls who never openly expressed anger.

And, I can think of white girls that I was afraid of too.  There was the cool, cigarette smoking Senior, who confronted me in the girls’ room for snitching and telling that she was the one who shoplifted a purse from my mother’s store.  Or, the girl who confronted me in the girls’ room ( a lot happens in the girls’ room!) to warn me to stay away from the boyfriend she stole from me.  I can think of white girls that fit into types too, and I can march them down the corridor:  the popular cheerleader, the loud, funny girl, the bookworm, the goody two-shoes girl, the Farrah Fawcett hair girl, and the long, denim jacket wearing, pot-smoking burn-out girl.

It seems no one has a cornerstone on “types.” And, I know there is more to the construction of these types than I’ve touched on.  I know that there is more to it than a few extreme individuals becoming the over-arching representatives of one’s race and gender.

Somebody  help me out here.  How does this happen?  And, please tell me, have you ever felt you had to live up to a “type” you felt was defined by others for you due to your race and/or gender?

 

 

Is Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake “White and Fluffy?”

6 Jul

It all started innocently enough. April is an old friend from high school who I’ve become reacquainted with through Facebook. She and I chat from time to time there, she’s visited my blog, and we’ve talked briefly about us both being into black culture.

The other week, I got this FB message from April:

What’s up Wendy…you should try to find a name for white chicks that hang on the fringes of black culture. They call straight chicks that hang on the fringes of gay culture, FAG HAGS.

I liked her question, since I love thinking up titles for my blog posts and memoir pieces, and I thought, yes, what’s in a name? What should we be called?

So, yesterday I messaged April on Facebook to try and brainstorm a name for “white chicks that hang on the fringes of black culture.” And, here begins our Q & A session. Please remember this is Facebook chat, and so our answers may seem clipped:

 

Wendy Jane: I do want to write a blog post about your mentioning we should come up with a name for us white people that hang on fringes of black culture.

April: they call us wiggers

it’s offensive

I asked my daughter

I don’t think I personally hang around the fringes of black culture

I think you definitely do though

I’m all enmeshed into it

 I’m black

 by proxy

WJ: Can you explain?

A: At my Thanksgiving table…I’m the only white person

 on the outside

WJ: I forget–were you married to a man that was black

A: no, I just had a black child who also has two black children.

and none of my family members…speak slang or need to have “ghetto status symbols” to be black

wigger is offensive

I like BLOXY…

which is Black by Proxy

yes

it’s the best I can come up with

but we are not GHETTO BLACKS

we don’t speak slang

we don’t wear weird clothes

we are not judging each other by what label is on our jeans or sneakers or car

we are helping each other grow into good people

WJ: All right but all that gets into stereotyping too–to say someone is ghetto black, but I know what you are saying–like remember that girl Susan something from Wilby who was white but talked like she was trying to sound like she was black–yeah I am not that.

A: We have rebelled against black culture actually

WJ: there is much more to black culture than the hip hop culture

A: WENDY…I find blacks very racist

WJ: all groups of people have individuals who are racist

A: when it comes down to it though….a black woman will vote for a black before she will vote for a woman

WJ: but, yeah, there can be black people who don’t like whites or Hispanics….

A: Hillary should have been our president

black women forgot they were women

but they will never forget they are black

WJ: that can be true-there has been so little representation for black people in politics.

A:Hillary was a hundred times more politically qualified for the job

she lost it to a color

period

that says a lot about what is really going on in black peoples heads

so you can THINK they are not racist

WJ: Anyway, what do you like about being enmeshed in black culture, the black community?

A: I like that I have been BLOXY so long that it’s not a topic of conversations

 it just is

 it’s not news

like being gay…it never comes up

I just am

WJ: cool-how old is your daughter?

A: 28 🙂

 

WJ: wow–I’m sure she’s a great young woman with you as her mother

 

We chit chat a little more about her daughter and my daughters.

 

A: I know you don’t like to hear my perspective at times on the inner workings of black culture…but I make a very valid point when I mention the black women voters

the truth isn’t always white and fluffy

many black people have turned their back on black culture until they needed the support of the black community

OJ SIMPSON…being one also

black people stand for BLACK whether it’s right or wrong

be careful

type whatever you wish…your blog is white and fluffy

has no real meaning

you are too afraid to offend anyone

ciao

W: I’m sorry if I seem like I don’t want to hear it–that is not true. I will say that I don’t like to talk politics, and I sometimes have a different point of view which is my own, and which I get from talking to other black people or reading books by black authors.

A: It doesn’t really matter in the end what they say or write…the vote spoke louder

you judge people by their intentions, I judge them by their actions

actions speak louder than words

We could have a great talk show together

The phones would be blowing up and I would be taking all the heat

hahaha

 I wish you the best

Enjoy the rest of the day

W: I am hurt by what you say, but you are entitled to your opinion. I just feel we all have to be careful about what we say because we end up stereotyping people.

There are many ways to be black.

A: I am not trying to hurt you…I was kinda hurt you didn’t know my daughter has black kids

 I only have two hundred pics of her up there

if I were black WENDY, maybe you would have looked!

W: and if we did have a talk show you would not be the only one taking the heat

I’m sorry about that- I have seen the pictures and they are beautiful grandkids–I was trying to be a good journalist and get the facts. They could have had a white father. I knew your daughter was bi-racial. I didn’t want to get the facts wrong

A: It’s no big deal

you’re wonderful..enjoy your journey

 one life to a customer

 I find you racially biased

but that’s your privilege…you have only been dipping your feet into the black stuff since your divorce right?

W: Thank you for opening this up into something deeper. I’m certain we all have biases. No one escapes that. And, I have been interested in black culture since I was a kid. And had serious relationships with black guys in my teens and twenties so used to be more enmeshed in it too.

 

I ended up getting bumped off-line on my computer, and we wrapped up a little later, with me thanking her, and her thanking me for being “a gracious interviewer.”

This was pretty much the first interview I’ve ever done. It was brief, and it was on Facebook, so the flow was rapid, we were typing and crossing over each other’s questions and answers.  I now realize in my transcription, that there are things I would have spent more time responding to, and a few places where I feel I put my foot in my mouth, and am not proud of what I said.

I am not proud of saying that bit about the white girl who tried to sound black. What does it mean to sound black? And, in that same segment I also say, …”I know what you are saying.”   That is not to say  I agree with what April is saying about “ghetto blacks.” I meant it to say, I understand what you are aiming to say, even though I felt strongly that she was making negative statements about what her perceptions of certain segments of the black community are. It’s like me saying, “I’m white, but I don’t act like white trash….”

I also made a comment about all races have individuals within the group that are racist, but remember from my readings and talks with others here that black people cannot be considered racist–that when a group of people have been oppressed and have experienced institutionalized racism from groups of individuals who considered themselves in a superior position, that the oppressed people cannot be called racist, but can be considered biased.

I also strongly disagreed with the statements April made about black voters, and what goes on in the heads of black people, but wanted to get back on track with the subject matter we had planned to talk about.

I do have to say, I love April’s line about me …”dipping my feet into the black stuff” and laugh at the way I get defensive by trying to prove my credibility with my dating history.

April, you, of course, need to have a turn to make your own follow up comments too here.

And, in all seriousness, I do have to thank April for her honesty, and for opening up a much deeper discussion than the one originally planned for. I did feel wounded when she said she thought my blog was “white and fluffy” and had no real meaning, and that I was too worried about offending people. Those statements gave me pause.

I do hate conflict. I don’t ever want to offend people. I want people to like me. I don’t like rocking the boat. Race is such a loaded topic, and I find myself always trying to be careful with what I say here and the way I say it. I met a white woman who is writing a book on white privilege who warned me about “stepping in my own s%#t” when I write or speak about race. She wasn’t kidding.

Yet, I know I am who I am, and what my intentions with this blog are. I’m also certain this journey will take many different, unplanned paths. I know that my approach is to write about race in a light, humorous way via my personal experiences, with the hope that these little stories will open up conversations about things that can be difficult to talk about. And, that’s exactly what happened with April and me when all we thought we were going to do was think up a funny name for “white chicks that hang around the fringes of black culture.”

Please let me know what you think. April says at the end…”that’s your privilege.” And, yes, I come from a place of white privilege. I cannot, and neither can she know what it is like to be black. I am only learning from my connections, and from my readings.

Is Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake white and fluffy? Does it have meaning; value? Please be honest. I especially need to hear from people of color on this one. Thank you.

 

 

Lighter Rice, Darker Rice

2 Jul

The waitress at my favorite home-style Korean restaurant brought us our left-over Bi Bim Bap in a bag containing two take-out containers.

“You’ll know which is which, because,” as she points to me, “yours is the lighter rice,” and pointing to the man I’ve been seeing, who, yes, you guessed it, just so happens to be black, “and yours is the darker rice.”

I squirm in my seat, and half-smirk, half-smile at my companion across the table.

The waitress, the friendly 20-something daughter of the husband-wife team that runs the place, pauses, I believe realizing her awkward Korean moment, places the bag down on our table, and hurries away.

I laugh, and look over at Super H. Genius, the name I am giving him here–letting him be anonymous for the time being–Super: because he’s super nice, Genius: because he’s super smart, or smaht, if you say it with a Rhode Island accent, and H. for Handsome, because he’s that, too.

I have to admit, that this being the first time I am posting about dating someone since my divorce, I feel awkward. I don’t want to be disrespectful to my former husband. I worry about relatives of his reading this and thinking badly of me. I even wonder what my own friends and acquaintances will think about it, since I’m a pretty private person and haven’t shared much publicly about my relationship news.

I even feel a bit like a traitor to the Korean family that runs the restaurant. I wonder if they remember me from when I used to come with my former husband and daughters, especially since my daughters told me they’ve been there with their Dad recently. Are they disappointed that I didn’t stay in my marriage? Do they think it is too soon for me to be ordering the fragrant Bi Bim Bap with somebody else?

I suppose I can’t worry about being a private person now that I have a blog.

Back to the rice. I say to Super H. right after the waitress leaves, “see, I get the lighter rice because I am white and you get the darker rice because you are black.”

“Naw, I think it’s because I have a darker mood, and you have a lighter spirit.” See how nice he is.

The waitress returns, and delicately, using humor as her saving grace, says, while looking at Super H., “yes, you put a lot of the sauce in your rice, like me. You must like it spicy, too.”

We all laugh. I don’t even want to start reading Freudian slips into her references to spiciness. Like I said, she’s a lovely young woman, and as you’ve witnessed here on this blog, I have had my awkward white girl moments on more than one occasion.

Next time I’ll be sure to use just as much hot sauce as Super H*., just to help an awkward sister out.

 

*Oh well, Super H. broke up with me the same night I wrote this post up, but I decided to post it anyway, because I think it’s funny, and it’s honest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Michael Jackson

27 Jun

young-michael-jackson

I wrote this essay right after Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009.  It follows my love of Michael as a young girl, my trying to find my own “Michael” with my childhood and teen year crushes, and the development of my love for Michael as an artist.  Whatever your feelings for Michael are, I hope the world continues to recognize how truly gifted he was, and the vast contributions he made to the history of music and entertainment.  R.I. P.  Michael.

It’s lengthy, but please enjoy my essay, MICHAEL JACKSON ADMITS TO LOVING WENDY

[…]

In Honor of Father’s Day: Re-Post of “Is Poppy A Black American?”

18 Jun

Okay, today is two-for-one day–two posts for the price of one!  When I heard of Rodney King’s passing, I had to acknowledge this loss with a post.  I had alreadyplanned on posting the below piece in honor of Father’s Day, so I hope some newer readers enjoy it.

This piece was first written when my older daughter, Leni, was seven years younger than she is now.  She now has a more formed opinion about her mother’s obsession with race relations that I’m sure will appear in a future

“Mommy, I have a secret to tell you,” my then, five-year old daughter Leni exclaimed, as we sat eating lunch in a Pennsylvania pub-style restaurant.

We were on a summer road trip, traveling from Tulsa, Oklahoma where we had lived for several years, to my home state of Connecticut. Leni and her little sister Darla were going to visit their grandpa, their “Poppy.”

Cupping her hand over my ear, Leni whispered… […]

Outlaws and Criminals and Memoirs, Oh My!

13 Jun

Last night I took a writing workshop at Boston’s Grub Street writing center,  titled Criminals and Outlaws in Fiction and Memoir.  The workshop was taught by author, Deni Bechard, who wrote a memoir about his dad,  a bank robber for over a decade.

I felt like I got a lot of the 3-hour session, and that Deni gave us many good questions to ask ourselves to, as he says, “get under the skin of our characters so that in the end there is no bad or good guy.”  For example:  What is the societal/cultural context in which the character grew up?  What are his worst traits?  How did he get these traits? What are his redeeming qualities?  Pick someone who is the polar opposite of this character.  How does he see your character from this opposite side?

I know all of the rich material that Deni provided and discussed with us will help me bring more depth to the outsider characters in my writing.  After all, as Deni says in his course description about criminal and outlaw figures in American literature, …individuals who embody recklessness, lust, greed, and cruelty often seem the most authentic.

Wendy Jane Does Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace Conference in Boston

14 May

Last weekend was my third year at  Grub Street’s, Muse and the Marketplace ConferenceGrub Street is the second largest creative writing center in the U.S., and the conference offered a weekend of workshops on craft, publishing and marketing one’s work, as well as author readings, a keynote speaker (this year, Julia Alvarez), and opportunities to make appointments with agents and editors.

My friend, Susan, an amazing writer, and one of the members of the writing group I’m in, is the person who first told me about the Muse.   She’s also the one who convinced our other writing group friend Ellen and me to stay overnight in Boston instead of driving back to Providence, so that we wouldn’t have to wake up so early to take the train back in.  Despite having to run down the street to Marshall’s for some overnight essentials,  Susan had the right idea.  We were able to enjoy two author readings by Wendy Call and Eileen Pollack, who had won Grub Street’s National Book Prize.   We also had fun staying up all night having pillow fights, and talking about boys, er…I mean, books. […]

Wendy Jane Reads: White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise

10 May

White Like Me Book Image

The last book I read was How To Be Black, by Baratunde Thurston, so reading the memoir,White Like Me, by anti-racist activist/educator, Tim Wise, seemed like a natural follow-up.

Wise, 44, born to a Jewish father and Anglo-Celtic mother, grew up in Nashville, Tennessee.  I have to say that I was jealous to learn that he had a childhood that placed him in an even more diverse school setting than mine–but, seriously, was glad to learn that his mother purposely enrolled her son in a pre-school where the majority of the students were black because she believed strongly in integration.  Wise continued to enjoy being part of a diverse elementary school, but that diversity waned when he arrived in high school and found that many of his black friends were placed in remedial classes, while the majority of white students were placed in advanced or honors classes.  Here, Wise tells of how he finally had to learn how to “act white” by suddenly claiming to love bands like AC/DC and Kiss, when before he listened to rap and funk music.

I have to admit that when I first heard the term “white privilege,” I thought it meant white people who come from privileged backgrounds; from money.  Wise lets us know that by the very virtue of being born white, we are privileged.  He also shows us how white Americans benefit from institutionalized racism, whose construction began centuries ago.

Through personal stories of his growing up in the South, joining his high school debate team as a way to avoid trouble at home with his alcoholic father, his college years at Tulane University where he became an enthusiastic activist in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, to organizing  in black communities, and becoming a nationally known speaker/educator on anti-racism, Wise skillfully, and with much humility, examines how white privilege exists in the lives of white Americans.  He also shows us how we can stand up and work to try and break down the institutionalized racism that has become such an ingrained part of our everyday lives without us consciously noticing how we benefit from it.

Wise is clearly well educated  on matters of race, and racism, and how whites benefit from the impact of racism against black Americans.  Yet, it is his personal life experiences he shares with the reader throughout his memoir that moved me the most.  Wise was never afraid, and in fact almost relished, the opportunity to come clean and show when he fell short of being the ideal activist.

At a school rally Wise organized in protest of Tulane’s investments in companies doing business in South Africa during apartheid, Wise, the debater who cannot be beaten, gets beaten down, when a female African American student from a nearby college, asks in the midst of the crowd of hundreds, how come Wise is spending all his energy on trying to fix problems in South Africa, and not doing anything to help the “apartheid” happening right in front of his face in New Orleans.  Her bold, truthful question left Wise speechless.

Wise completes his book with a section on how things have changed, or not, with our first black President, Barack Obama, and one on parenting, and how we as parents, can help teach our children how institutionalized racism has been constructed, in an effort to begin to break down and reduce the notion of privilege, and thereby reduce racism, too.

I see that Wise has just published a new book, Dear White America, Letter To A New Minority, which is about whites’ insecurities about a future in which we will no longer be the majority.  I think I’ll have to add that to my reading list.

 

 

 

 

Black Beauty Back In The Day: What I Learned about Jheri Curls From The Grown-Ups and Interracial Marriage From A Five-Year-Old

16 Apr

After my first year in college in Boston, (see my short memoir piece, What I Did For An “A”), I dropped out because I didn’t like the school, and I didn’t know what I wanted to major in.  In the fall of 1980, I returned to Boston to attend the esthetician school, Elizabeth Grady Face First.   Right after I finished the six-month course on facials and make-up artistry, I was lucky to land a job at my boyfriend’s friend’s uncle’s salon.  Now, that’s a mouthful.

Danny’s His and Her’s, was a black-owned salon, situated on Mass Avenue, among a strip of retail businesses, across from the beautiful grounds of Boston’s Christian Science Church. It was close to the border of Roxbury, a black urban neighborhood, yet not far from the more  white, upscale neighborhood of the Back Bay.  Danny’s represented a wide cross section of black Boston—with a clientele of upper class, white collar workers, blue collar workers and every one in between.

I can still remember the first time I entered the salon, as a young, nineteen year-old girl.  […]

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