Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Blurring the edges
But something weird happened on the trips to the health food store...
You've seen them among you and more often than not cringed inwardly whenever they opened their mouth to speak. Gum snapping, finger wagging, neck rolling broads from the block with "ryde or die chick" wishes and Courvousier dreams, equipped with the must-have essentials: rhinestone encrusted celly in one hand and bag of salt & vinegar Bon Ton's in the other. Better versed in the groundbreaking literary works of Omar Tyree, Carl Weber and Kashamba Williams than say... Kurt Vonnegut, random vignettes of the Maury Povich variety play out on urban radio advice hours before amused audiences who just can't get enough. Casual Fridays means wearing the tightest Parasuco jeans fresh off the wire hangers in the hall closet. Pictures adorning your desk all feature your girlfriends in the club with the same half-drunk pose — ass pushed out, Dixie cups raised. Aptly named after either a luxury automobile, alcoholic beverage or fashion designer, the likelihood of being told where to go by one in decibels approaching a sonic boom was a safer bet than wondering whether the flamboyant hairdo was thanks in part to yaki straight #5B or Spanish deep wave #9. Their utilities may be in collections for the second straight month, but dammit... isn't this multicolored Dooney & Bourke worth giving a bill collector a tongue lashing over? Mining the ghetto girl specimens for comic relief was about as easy as using a lunch hour to have a silk wrap and airbrushing at the nearest Korean.
But the strangest thing occurred on the way to the bodega...
You're well acquainted with her ... the quintessential BAP, that singular cross section of money, grooming and an insular pedigree befitting the créme de la créme of our kind of people's elite. She's attended the expensive private schools, vacations abroad in exotic locales, seasonal cotillions and debutante balls are the only sports worth following and namedropping places like Sag Harbor and Martha's Vineyard as if it were your neighborhood Big K-Mart is commonplace. Striving for perfection in every aspect of life is the mantra programmed from the minute these pampered princesses make their grand entrance out the womb. Raised with a mindset no different than your average Park Avenue Pollyanna who's all-American, but the inevitable "pigment figment" ensues when they learn the hard way that a comfortable upbringing doesn't wipe away that pesky inconvenience of brown skin. The elitist navigation through the Negro geography of "what-neighborhood-do-you-live, where-did-you-go-to-college, where-did-you-grow-up, how-much-money-does-your-Daddy-make, what-clubs-do-you-belong-to, are-you-lighter-than-a-brown-paper-bag" smacks about as relevant as a Hilary Banks quotable. Incessant chatter about Lilly Pulitzer and sing-a-longs of "Where And When I Enter" have the potency of an OD on Shoot. Me. Now.
But a detour made me veer off course en route to the bistro...
"Black is not just ghetto. Black is not socially or aesthetically inferior. Black is vital to American culture." — Karen Grisgby Bates, [source: Salon.com, Young, Black and Too White]Right around the time I finished college as a wide-eyed optimist ready to tackle the world, I began letting my ghetto membership renewal lapse to branch out and embrace... *gulp* buppiedom. The days of wearing a name plate, Timbs and a North Face as my daily uniform was long over. I traded in placing my takeout orders through bulletproof glass to sidewalk cafés in the sitcom-ready areas of Fort Greene, the East Village and SoHo. Flipping through Stress, Rap Pages and Honey wasn't gonna cut the mustard anymore. I needed substance over style, so it was The Nation under my arm and The New Republic added to my subscription roll call.
"Oh, you think you too good to just eat a damn burger now...with all your chichi highfalutin' shit," a grammar school pal sneered when I opted for Mangia over Mickey D's during a lunch meeting. A bitch can't even decide to go for a non-artery clogging culinary choice without having my realness questioned.
Even since junior high, I was always paranoid about coming off too uppity for my own good. If I knew the answer to any random factoid, I'd purposely keep my mouth shut to avoid the "know-it-all" sideways glances. Reared in a lower middle class West Indian household, the only Jack & Jill I knew of were the ones who went up a hill to fetch a pail of water — however, while I was on the fringe of the rough & tumble areas of Brooklyn, my block was a curious oasis of well-manicured lawns, concerned neighbors, peaceful night's sleep and tree lined streets. While it was light years away from the bastion of brownstone bourgeoisie, I still got painted with the "she think she got it like that" brush from girls who didn't know the least bit about me. So I did what any self-conscious girl would do. I overcompensated...out went the prim and proper buns, in went baby hair slicked into god awful squiggles with Let's Jam (what the hell was I thinking?!), gold dangled from the lobes the size of hula hoops, fitted Guess jeans, one too many coats of Bonnie Bell lip smackers and a healthy dose of attitude to cover up the nerd lurking beneath the surface.
Being lumped in the census category of mere minorities aren't enough since the kissing cousin of race — class splinters us into further subdivisions. The melange of experiences for women of color are always shoehorned into the shopworn variety of ghetto, granola, geek or glam. All too often we expect shades of us to fit into rigid classifications of what a Black woman is supposed to look like, talk like and act like. We retreat to tactics of scorn and ridicule at the first hint someone isn't "down" and roll our eyes in exasperation at the ones atop the Blacker than thou soapbox. Sistas on the supreme side of siddity get the cold shoulder and we discard the round-the-way girls altogether.
"The status of having choices is assumed, still, to be a 'white' thing." But is the black culture they're being exposed to reinforcing values of delayed gratification, hard work and integrity, or frustrating them? We have the right to be culturally discerning — to exclude the videos, music, movies, or friends who undermine our values, regardless of their color."Black culture is far too rich, far too reaching and far too diverse, a brilliant gumbo of different styles and culture from around the world and the point that bares repeating to the slumbering masses who cling to archaic definitions of ethnicity is this: There is no one way to be black, nor is everything labeled black worth including in their lives. Sentences that begin with "Black people don't..." makes me wanna scream like Janet and Michael trapped in a spaceship too.
- Black people do watch other media outlets outside of BET.
- Black people can and do eat sushi.
- Black people can have aversions to watermelon.
- Black people can and do pay attention to politics.
- Will commented at 11/01/2005 02:42:00 PM~
I've said it before, I shall say it again: I love the way your mind works. This is brilliant.
Ummm... when is lunch? :)
- Elle B. commented at 11/01/2005 04:36:00 PM~
first and foremost, I absolutely adore your blog because its so well written and really touches on a lot of opinions I have. I think this post sums up why I love your blog...because you speak on topics that "non-conformist" in the traditional sense of a Black Woman. I feel you on the "over compensating" tip back in the day...and it's great to know that there is a space (which is becoming bigger with each new blog) for the Black Community at-large (the one that is not petrified by nihilism). I am gonna post this to my own blog and send it to all of my girlfriends. Ciao!
- TriniPrincess commented at 11/01/2005 10:03:00 PM~
You sure know how to make a girl blush without really trying, Will. E-mail me.. ;o)
Thanks so much for the kudos, Elle. I know there's so many other women (and men) in general who feel like square pegs in a round circle, but at the end of the day...you just gotta be you. Damn anyone who says otherwise.
- Mealone commented at 11/02/2005 09:40:00 PM~
YOU ARE WONDERFUL!
and such a damn good writer!
Ummmm you need to join up with Fresh and Butta.
The three of you and an opinion???
Watch out now.
- ghettogeisha commented at 11/04/2005 11:36:00 AM~
Excellent, just excellent. I have spent the better part of my 34 years trying to explain to people what I am and who I am. At first blush, they may think I'm latina- I was always too light to be black and my hair was too straight ( I am in fact only a qtr. Japanese). But I do remember being taunted for listening to my Z100 when I was younger and trying so desperately to belong. Even now, when being multicultural or multiethnic is all the rage, people like myself still search for something to identify with.
- The Cube commented at 11/07/2005 09:10:00 AM~
It's not just a black problem: this is American culture. Take it from this white boy, when his Mom told him "You don't want to read too much: people will think you're too smart." And she was right! Witness the WHY of our current President and the other folk he shot down: they were "snobs," "intellectuals," "not like US."
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