All posts by DiversityMom

The Brown Bottom Line

Another day, another hundred analyses of what’s going on in our country: What will happen with the midterms? What do the Democrats need to do in order to take back Congress? What happened to the collective Republican moral compass? And why in the world would any woman support Trump?

To all of these questions – and more –  the answer is simple: Trump has promised to get rid of the brown people (all shades). And if he and his merry band of thieves can’t get rid of all of them, then they will, at the very least, make sure that those brown people will be held down to the greatest possible extent, and above all, that never again will one of them be in a position of real power. They will do it in education, in healthcare, in housing, in employment, in criminal justice, and in voting rights. And to do that, they need the likes of Brett Kavanaugh to join their ranks.

What so many analysts fail to mention is the fact that there are still people in this country who are angry that slavery is over. As America continues to be more diverse, they are desperate to have someone to look down on, to enforce their sense of being of the superior race, despite their shortcomings, of which there are many. Add the presence of people from Mexico and Central America to the mix, and they are at once terrified and furious. They complain that these brown people are taking something, anything away from them – and they should not be allowed to do so. These are the constituents of Republican lawmakers: without them, they would be unable to hold on to their own positions of power. And so they march in the key of Trump.

Democrats missed this fundamental fact in the days leading up to 2016 presidential election, and it continues to elude them. I would argue that although some Democrats reveled in the idea of electing the first woman president, the repercussions of having a black man in charge for so long were in many ways insurmountable, especially in the face of a candidate promising to put an end to everything he stood for. In the end, the feel-good aura of so-called “post-racial America” – remember that? – has been extinguished. We should be asking ourselves, “How can we bring it back?” or, “Is that even possible?”

While Americans fret about foreign policy, the environment, immigration reform, the delivery of social services, and civil rights, remember this: nothing is more important to the 40% or so who continue rally to around Trump than keeping the brown people down and, above all, out.  Not even the rights of white women.

WE WILL STILL BE ___________

We’ve all read the op-ed pieces, or heard people say it on television, the radio, or face-to-face with someone we know: “Come on, give the man a chance.” But if you think about it – and it doesn’t take too much brainpower – all of those optimists, God bless them, are white. And, with the exception of Kellyanne Conway,  they will still be white men in the morning.

For the rest of us, well, we will still be black. The same color as the man who our new president has dedicated years now to discrediting – first with the whole birther nonsense and then, as a candidate, the inflammable messages of “Take America Back” and “Make America Great Again.” Back from whom? How bad was it? Appealing to even the most latent of racists was far too easy. Those same pundits can deny it all they want, but people of color know. We can see and feel the hate.

We will still be immigrants. The same people who founded this country and have arrived in wave after wave to conceive new futures for ourselves and our families. We’re still coming, but the waves are somewhat darker these days. Trump voters got downright ecstatic about the promise of a wall to keep those darn Mexicans out. They’d build one along the country’s entire perimeter if they thought it would work.

We will still be Latinos. You know, those darn Mexicans, because really, if we speak Spanish, we couldn’t possibly belong here. People who have been here for generations have suddenly become regarded as illegals. Hispanics come in handy to do menial tasks, but shouldn’t we all  go back to wherever we came from and stop taking jobs from real Americans?

We will still be Muslims. The same people who Candidate Trump first wanted to prevent from entering  the US and then wanted to expel. Called to action, his supporters now think it’s OK to attack us, wherever we are in this country we all call home.

We will still be women. Still struggling for equality and never  quite making the mark. Apparently, far too many of us just don’t care. 53% of white women  voted for a man who brags about sexually assaulting women. Seriously.  Our right to vote isn’t going anywhere (or is it?), but our rights to our bodies is in for an assault. Fasten your seatbelts ladies!

We will still be LGBTQ. A few giants steps forward and… Well, I just don’t know. Hate is in the air.

I think you get my drift. But never forget that we will also still be Americans.

Here’s a little game to play every time our new president makes some kind of proclamation about what he’s going to do: add the words “if you’re a straight white Christian man” to the end of it. That’s what we have here. God help us.

The Challenge of Hate: Diversity Mom, MLK 2017 Edition

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I was little, my parents taught me to never hate another person. “To hate someone,” they told me, “is to wish that they were dead.” Believe it or not, then, I grew up saying that I hated raisins, ketchup, and maybe “Lord of the Flies,” but never, not even as a teenager, did I dare to utter or even think to utter, “I hate her” or “I hate him.” I’ve tried to pass that on to my daughter.

In these past few months, though, I’m been having a little problem: not many days are passing by when I don’t want to say out loud, “I hate him,” or, to broaden the net, “I hate those people.” And I’m terribly uncomfortable with that.

But then it occurs to me that the reason that I hate these people is that they hate me: as a woman, as a woman of color, as an educated woman of color. It doesn’t make it any better, but it does feel better coming from a defensive position. They hate me, so I hate them. So there.

Hate keeps me up at night. Probably more than my reluctance to hate others, I don’t want to be hated. It’s all part of the same lesson: if one is kind, one will receive kindness. I’ve based my life on that. Unfortunately, though, we all know that it doesn’t work that way. That said, we can still stick to kindness as a moral, innate imperative. I know that I do. The alternative is a truly hateful heart. I hope and pray that I haven’t gotten there yet, because I can attest that it is indeed “too great a burden.” Dear Lord, help me to once again “stick with love.” Thank you, Dr. King, for reminding us.

On Invisibility

With an inauguration looming, I went back to an entry from eight years ago almost to the day, following the inauguration of Barack Obama. It sprang from the poem by Elizabeth Alexander.

“Each day we go about our business,” she read during the ceremony, “walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.”

Or, I’d like to add, not doing anything…at all…ever.

Not long before the inauguration, I had spoken with an African American mother who was in the process of applying to schools for her daughter. Having already spent two years at an all-white preschool, a well-known bastion of Waspiness, she wondered if she was up for more of the same going forward. Her daughter had thrived there, she told me, but “of course there are parents who won’t speak. That’s the way they are, and that’s fine.”

No, it’s not fine. I had to admit to her that as much as I love my daughter’s school, and most of people in it, there are parents who for years now have not said “Boo!” to me, no matter how many times I have said, “Hello.” For a while, with a couple of the biggest offenders it became a bit of a game to see if I could get them to even look at me, until one day I just gave up and decided not to acknowledge them either. That’s a shame!

Another mother once told me, shortly after her two children started at a private school in New York, “You’re in this weird zone. The parents don’t speak to you, because they think you’re a nanny; and the nannies don’t speak, because they know you’re not one of them.”

Okay, so we know that the Nanny Syndrome has a lot to do with it. But others are just rude, and yes, some people still have a hard time talking to black people. I also think that there’s something else going on in the subconscience of many otherwise decent souls: conditioned to believe that they couldn’t possibly know anyone one who doesn’t look like them, their brains simply filter us out.

I happen to know a lot of people, and as I “go about my business,” I am always on the lookout for one of them. It’s fun – well, most of the time – to run into old friends and colleagues, former classmates, fellow moms, and even people I’ve done jury duty with. Plus, I am terrified of dissing them – well, most of them – by not at least smiling in recognition.

Obama may be leaving the White House, but it’s not too late to speak. Whatever your color, you just never know when you might find a friend. Look up! Catch each other’s eyes!

What Would Pandora Do?

So often during this election cycle I’ve thought about Pandora and her box. A lot of hatred has been voiced and, worse, legitimized by a terrifying number of Trump supporters. No matter who wins at this point, the box has been opened wide: you can’t just put the hate back in, close the lid, and pretend that the past year didn’t happen.

With Pandora on my mind, I thought I should check the “facts” of the story. I had forgotten that it was Pandora’s own curiosity that made her open the locked box sent along with her by Zeus when he gifted her, the first woman, to Epimetheus, brother of the better-known – at least in our day – Prometheus. I’m not sure that curiosity has anything to do with this modern-day version of the story, but boy oh boy, the aftermath is a perfect match. When Pandora lifted the proverbial lid, out flew a lot of bad stuff, not least of which were sickness, envy, and, you guessed it, hate. Seeing what she had done, Pandora, unlike Mr. Trump I might add, quickly closed the lid, but never mind, it was too late anyway.

The most disturbing part of the story, though, at least in today’s context is that Hope then became trapped in the box, never to see the light of day. Why it was in there in the first place scholars have an array of theories, but in the presence of the rest of evils, its absence is, to say the least, disconcerting.

Immigrants, Muslims, racial minorities, LGBT, foreigners, non-Christians, women…It’s time to rewrite the ancient myth: only Hope is going to get us – and more importantly our children – past this one, and I’m just not sure if that’s going to be enough.

Mistaken Identities

My husband and I often find ourselves to be the only people of color at parties and other situations, which is fine. We’re used to it. And we wouldn’t trade the friends who invited us there for the world. But once again, last week, someone just had to tell me that I looked like Michelle Obama. It reminded me of a piece I posted a few years ago.

A very funny thing happened as I walked down the road with my daughter and fluffy white dog in the Martha’s Vineyard town of West Tisbury, just about a half mile from where the First Family was vacationing. From a passing car, we heard someone shout, “Look! It’s the Obamas!”

Now granted, I was wearing a skirt from Talbots, my daughter’s age falls midway between Sasha’s and Malia’s, and our dog is very cute, but other than that and our brown skin, we look nothing like the First Lady and her daughters.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m flattered by the comparison. However, I continue to be baffled by this strange compulsion, this burning desire to classify African-Americans floating solo amongst the majority – and I do believe this condition is exclusive to black people – as famous, meaning athletes, entertainers, and I guess now the President and his family.

Living in Switzerland in the mid-1980’s, a place certainly better known for its xenophobia rather than its diversity, I often heard people whispering to each other that I was the singer Sade. I met a woman the other night, who looked nothing like me, but had had similar experiences – in Boston. My guess is there were a lot of us. Let’s see…hair pulled back, sunglasses…yes, of course, it must be Sade! Does this even make sense?

When I tell people that I work in television, they respond that they’ve seen me on some show.   No – guess what! – I’m a producer, and as far as I know, no actress will ever hesitate to identify her calling up front.

During my time at ABC, if I was specific and said that I worked in sports, more often than not someone will say, “You must have been quite an athlete yourself!” No, actually, I am the most uncoordinated woman I’ve ever met.   “Oh come on,” they’ll tell me, “that’s not possible.” OK fine: Does it count that I spent an evening signing autographs in a Seoul nightclub during the 1988 Olympics? The Koreans insisted that I was Florence Griffith-Joyner, may she rest in peace. All they had to do was look at the fingers holding the pen to know that I was an imposter. Ah, but I didn’t have the heart to let them down.

One of my favorite stories comes from a friend who had been amazed at the friendliness of the neighbors and staff in ritzy Upper East Side apartment building that she and her husband, both highly successful corporate types and rather tall, had moved into with their children. After a few weeks of big smiles and cheerful hellos, a grinning doorman blurted out, “We are all so excited to have a player from the New York Knicks living here!” They’re still trying to figure out which one.

What does all this mean for our children? When I started this blog, I wrote about “The Deeper Meaning of ‘Inexperienced’” in the context of all the rhetoric surrounding the 2008 elections. I said that several parents of color had told me about how shocked white parents – and sometimes teachers – can be at the intelligence of a brown-skinned child. More often than not, though, they will readily gush with praise for his or her athletic abilities or performing talents, counting on them to make game-winning baskets and add a little desperately needed rhythm to school musicals. Meanwhile, my daughter may be a real ham, but I have yet to see any signs of musical genius and it appears that she may well be following in her mother’s clumsy footsteps. Her biggest talent is math.

My African-American contemporaries, products of the ‘60s,‘70s and even ‘80s who have succeeded in spite of the ever-present stereotypes, will joke about us all being athletes, entertainers and, of course, so articulate. When we look at our kids, though, it just isn’t funny anymore.

Time to Move?

In 1968, I was ten years old, and George Wallace was running for president. My parents told me that if Wallace won, we would have to leave the country. For reasons I have long since forgotten, Switzerland looked pretty good to me, and I began to pray daily for Wallace’s victory. Imagine my disappointment when Richard Nixon prevailed.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized the true implications of a hypothetical Wallace presidency. For a middle-class African American family like ours, and indeed all people who were riding the Civil Rights Movement wave of the sixties, the results could have been infinitely more devastating than my personal loss of life in a chalet. Surely, Wallace’s campaign was destined for failure from the get-go, but I still find the fact that almost ten million people voted for him chilling.

Memories of my near escape to the Alps occur to me more and more these days as I watch the antics of Donald Trump and, worse, his supporters. The anti-Obama antics of Marco Rubio are pretty scary too. The hate is looking a lot like what surrounded the late Governor Wallace – not to mention a few other special characters. All this “take back America” rhetoric is giving me the creeps.  A few months ago, I followed a tractor-trailer on I-95 that had “Taking America back – one truck at a time” emblazoned across its back.  Seriously?

There is an all-too-familiar undercurrent in this country today that I can touch, a bitterness that I can taste. We all recognize that racism may never go completely away, but nor should we want to see ourselves as a nation go backwards. The forecast, however, is becoming cloudier by the day. It’s worse when I think of my daughter, who is yet to become an adult in a far too hostile world. No matter who wins the Republican nomination, and the general election in November, the collateral damage has been done.  The beast has raised its ugly head, and he is roaring.

Quite coincidentally, I ended up living in Switzerland for a spell as an adult. Swiss society is by no means perfect – consider its prevalent xenophobia – but those three years gave me many of my fondest memories. Would I ever think about going back? Check with me in August, right after the Republican convention.

Magic Kingdom Dreams (originally posted September 2013)

A little over fifty years ago, tens of thousands gathered in Washington, DC for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  And I was…at Disneyland. It was a few weeks after my sixth birthday, and my mother had taken me on an overnight adventure, just the two of us making the 45-minute trip on the Santa Ana Freeway to Anaheim, where we would spend the day with Mickey and the night at the Candy Cane Inn just across the street. Tom Sawyer Island and the Mark Twain Riverboat aside, that’s pretty much as far as one could be from the Deep South without actually leaving the confines of the United States. Sure, I bet some people gave us funny looks and stepped in front of us, just like they still do today, but there were no “Whites Only” signs, thank goodness. The worst thing that happened to me was that witch who pops out at you on the Snow White ride, offering the poisoned apple. To this day, I’ve steered clear of her.

Photographs show me at the top of Main Street USA in a pretty dress with puffy petticoat, my hair braided and crossed in a “crown” over my head, Swiss maiden style. It wasn’t until years later that my mother, now deceased, explained to me that on occasions like these, she made sure that she and I both wore fancy clothes so that the white people would know that we were as good as they were, if not better. At 90, my father is still the same way.

I remember that day not so much because of Tinkerbell and company, but rather the fact that my father drove out in the afternoon ostensibly to surprise me for dinner. In those days, the lines at Disneyland were nothing like they are today: after four hours or so, we had done all there was for a six-year-old to do. My mother and I headed over to the Candy Cane and checked in.  A short time later, there was a knock at the door, and I remember my own delight at seeing my father.  He told me that because he missed me so much, he had come to have dinner with us; but first, he and my mother wanted to watch something on TV.

Thinking back, what I see now, very clearly in my mind’s eye, are my parents sitting together at the edge of one of the two queen beds in the room as they watched Martin Luther King, Jr. describe his dream to them and to millions of Americans. I don’t know if there were tears in their eyes, but I imagine so.   Anyone who has heard those words knows how inspiring and powerful they had to have been that Wednesday afternoon, when they were spoken for the very first time. I get all choked up just thinking about it.

With the exception of the footage that aired as we celebrated the anniversary of the march, and perhaps in documentaries, the black and white images that I watched with my parents over the course of that extraordinary event are not as clear. What I recall more is the sensation: of motion, of moving forward, quite literally to the Promised Land. Perhaps it was the word “march” that made such an impression on my young mind, but seeing all of those people, black and white, chanting, singing and carrying signs, I felt distinctly that we as a country had to be going somewhere, and it would to be better than where we were before. Hope was in the air.

It bothers me that so many kids have become complacent, particularly with racial discrimination and injustice that still exist. But why shouldn’t they? The momentum has all but dissipated and the march written off as something that happened a long, long time ago. Those who are lucky enough to have a wealth of opportunities feel that they are already where they should be; and many who continue to struggle at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder believe that’s where they’ll stay. Hope is in short supply, and the magic kingdom that Reverend King spoke of – you know, the place where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but “by the content of their character” – remains just that: the stuff of dreams.

The activities commemorating last year’s anniversary of the march jogged the memories of many of my generation and older, but, I’m afraid, they were largely dismissed by our children. While I would not wish those days upon them, it’s a shame that they didn’t have the opportunity to experience the events of the Civil Rights Movement as they unfolded. They should have watched them with their parents. They would have felt the motion.

On “The Help” (Originally posted August 2011)

So the “The Help” opened yesterday at a theater near you. It should do well, particularly among the “Chick Flick” set, and like many, I’m looking forward to seeing it.

I enjoyed the book for a couple of reasons: First of all, it made fun of the Junior League, a great organization of women to which I have devoted a great many volunteer hours and nearly half my life, but still appreciate its very special culture, north or south, east or west. You have to have a sense of humor to make it as long as I have.

Secondly, I’m a sucker for a story about seemingly unlikely friendships and people who have the courage to form them.  Remember that show, “I’ll Fly Away?” I cried at every episode.

But here’s the thing about The Help: Place the story in the south of the early 1960s and everyone thinks that racial segregation and discrimination happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. “Phew, glad we’re done with that” or “Thank goodness I didn’t live in the south back then.” It might as well have taken place in outer space.

Cut to New York’s Upper East Side in 2005, just steps from Park Avenue and, quite coincidentally, at the headquarters of the Junior League. There’s a party going on: Someone’s turning eight. Upon arriving to fetch her own son, my friend was surprised to find women – babysitters of varying ethnic backgrounds – gathered together in a separate room, on a different floor from the festivities. Before heading upstairs, she stopped to greet those whom she knew, and had to ask why they were not with their various charges. She learned that the mother had requested that all of the babysitters wait in this holding room until the party was over. Puzzled, my friend went on to the room where the children were gleefully partying and asked the birthday boy’s mom what the deal was with the nannies being excluded. The mother scoffed, “Well, you don’t want the help to be where you socialize, do you?”

There it is: “The Help.” In New York City, 2005, and I’m pretty sure that’s no isolated incident.  Go back a bit and read my earlier entries on the Nanny Syndrome and invisibility. That’s just a tip of the proverbial iceberg.

No, we are not done with that. Women of color still make up the majority of the domestic workforce throughout the country. They’re expected to. I could be wrong, but their relationships with their employers don’t seem terribly different from those between the maids and the Junior League gals in “The Help.” Look around: You’ll see what I’m talking about. For example, practically every recommendation, or request for a recommendation, that I’ve seen for a babysitter or cleaning lady carries the word honest. Seriously, would you suggest someone who wasn’t?

Seven years ago, I shared and elevator to my apartment with an older woman, who turned out was visiting my neighbor in a very swank, minimal minority building. We chatted about the weather on the way up, but when we parted company on my floor, she said, “Oh, you work for the woman next door?” “No,” I told her, “I am the woman next door.”

The official slogan for “The Help” is “Change begins with a whisper.” Clearly, we haven’t been whispering enough. There’s still time, though.





Just Last Week…

It seems to be big news, in the midst of even bigger news – after all, the story broke in People Magazine: the President, while wearing a tuxedo, has been mistaken for a waiter and valet parking attendant. Once again, we’d all like to think that such a thing wouldn’t happen today, at least not anymore.  And after all, the man is The President, which is great; but meanwhile, back in the lives of other men of color…

Last week, at the annual Christmas party for the parents and faculty of our daughter’s independent school, my husband – who, by the way, was not wearing a tuxedo, but rather cords, a nice shirt, and a sports coat – was next in line at the bar to get a glass of wine. One mother stepped in front of him, without skipping a beat in her conversation with another mother, and in one fluid movement handed my husband her empty glass and placed an order for a full one.

I saw the whole thing. My husband informed the woman that he was not a waiter and granted, she appeared mortified.  Hell, maybe she’ll learn from that moment. But really, what are the odds?