Saturday, August 27, 2005

Oprah: ASSuming The Worst; Get Well Mrs. King

The whole brouhaha over Oprah Winfrey not attending John H. Johnson's funeral is pretty ridiculous -- and pretty self-serving in some instances. Unlike many of us who read about people and watch them on television, Oprah and Johnson apparently knew each other personally -- so I think assumptions about why she didn't attend are just that -- ASS-umptions.


All of my best to Mrs. Coretta Scott King and to August Wilson.

So excited to see that Denise Nicholas has just published her first novel, Freshwater Road. It's about a young woman who takes time off from college in Michigan to become a Freedom Rider during the summer of 1964.
Hurricane Katrina crashes the VMA's. All the more reason to bring the party back to the Big Apple!


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

R.I.P. Brock Peters

Brock Peters died today at age 78.

He was best known for his role in To Kill A Mockingbird with the late Gregory Peck of course, and for his roles in Porgy and Bess and Carmen Jones, but he was also a fabulous singer.

Rest in peace, Mr. Peters.


Google Me This, Google Me That

I don't know these men -- or who wrote these articles.

However, when I google myself, my byline comes up on these silly pieces that I did not write. What is up with that?

"Keep Media" lists me as the author of a bachelor party article written in October 2003 and "Find Articles" has me as the author of an article on couple showers (as opposed to bridal showers) and one on groomsmen.

I did write two pieces for the real site, The back in 1997 when they first started ("Groomsmen: Your Duties Explained" is one of them) even though only one shows up in the search on their site. I am positive that I got $150 per article and signed my life away (i.e. total rights into perpetuity) for those two articles, on hairweaves and grooming respectively. However, I never gave away the right to just slap my name on anything! I was never assigned, nor did I ever write anything else for The Knot - and I certainly didn't get any more money!

I guess I should be happy that my very first articles from way back aren't online. I like to think of them as my personal Ishtars.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

People Everyday With Everyday Thighs

I have mentioned before how unimpressed I was with Dove's latest campaign, and the other morning, the trend of using "real people" in ads was discussed on the Today show. Katie Couric interviewed Donny Deutsch and Mary Lou Quinlan , CEO of Just Ask A Woman. I missed the first few minutes of the segments, but they were probably discussing this article in the New York Times too.

Nike has "jumped on the bandwagon" too.


I'm unimpressed for several reasons. First and foremost, I tend to find that ads targeting "real women" are rather patronizing, especially when they use buzz words like "goddess" or "empowerment" or knock men in some way. I'm bored with the whole "I am woman, hear me roar" thing anyway. Women have been roaring for centuries. Besides, as much as I live for beauty products, they do not empower me. Unless, of course, we're talking Creme de la Mer. Creme de la Mer is empowering. Creme de la Mer will change your life. Viva la Creme de la Mer!

Whoa! Pardon me...

Speaking of $1200 moisturizer -- call me crazy, but $7 "firming" cream is a joke . Nivea barely gets away with it in the $10 range. I mean, if you're going to entertain the notion of using one in the first place buy a good one. The "Thunder Thighs" in the Nike ad could be mine and, as an ex-beauty writer, I have used tons of beauty products in all price ranges and I find that you get what you pay for. Cheap cellulite creams are like cheap haircuts: they don't work and they are more expensive in the long run.

Also, I have to say that the trend of using real people in ads (with one token minority "real person" of course) reminds me of the epiphany cosmetics companies had in the nineties (Hey, black women wear makeup! Wait -- I've got an idea -- let's sell it to them!)


Undercovering John H. Johnson

Many have noted the shameful lack of coverage in the death of John H. Johnson. Some have used the Peter Jennings excuse, but come on now. Starting a business with $500 that would eventually grow into a $500 million empire and profoundly influence at least 10% of the U.S. population, not to mention people of color around the world is no small feat -- especially for a black man born in 1918 Arkansas.

Ed Gordon did a nice job on NPR and I'm sure the eventual proper tributes in Black Enterprise and of course, Ebony and Jet will be good too.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Are You There God? It's Me With More Books!

Before the summer's out, I'm going to revisit some of my favorite books from my youth. Maybe it's the 'dog days' of summer taking me back to the days of riding to the library on my bike, anxious to get lost in a new story. I was practically addicted to Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me Margaret. I must have read it hundreds of times between the ages of 10 and 12. Like Margaret, I was new to the suburbs and I was trying to make new friends. As a black girl, I found it very interesting that Margaret was half-Jewish, because in those days, I just thought of all "white people" as, well, white! My mother never raised my sister and I with platitudes like "Jewish people are like this" or "Polish people are like that", so really, I had no idea. In fact, it would take several racist remarks I heard as an adult by a person who just couldn't believe that all people weren't raised to judge others by their surname. Among other (stupid) things she said: "What do you mean you don't know if she's a Jew! Can't you tell by her name?" Now, of course, I can tell, and who cares!

When I was around 13 or 14, I was completely riveted by the dark, very sad, and possibly true diary of an addicted teenager, Go Ask Alice, anonymously written in the 1970s. Another favorite was I Hate To Talk About Your Mother by Hettie Jones. I didn't realize until recently that the author was also Hettie Jones, as in ex-wife of Amira Baraka and mother of writer Lisa Jones, who wrote one of my favorite early '90s books Bulletproof Diva: Tales of Race, Sex and Hair. I remember really loving I Hate To Talk About Your Mother and reading it over and over again, because the girl in the book was half-Dominican and she had all kinds of hair and boy issues that I could totally relate to. Even though her mother was white in the book, I kept picturing Diana Ross if there was ever a movie version. I've been looking online for it, but I think I'm going to haunt a few used/rare bookstores and see if I can luck up on it first.

Also, I still read the books in Maya Angelou's autobiography series, especially The Heart of a Woman and Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas. I love Dr. Angelou on so many levels...

Langston Hughes is another hero to me beyond books. I can never get enough of his poetry or his stories, not only for their quality, but just for the pure love and humor and dignity that he saw and illuminated in black people. I can say the same for Zora Neale Hurston. Both writers got in trouble with the black establishment of their day because neither believed that African-American writers were duty-bound to advance political and social agendas in their work. W. E. B. DuBois himself famously declared "I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda," but Hurston thought otherwise. She said that she knew that "Negroes were supposed to write about the Race Problem," but "I was and am thoroughly sick of the subject. My interest lies in what makes a man or woman do such-and-so, regardless of his color."

In The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain: A Defense of Racial Art in America, Hughes wrote:

“We younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful, and ugly too. . . . If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

Alice Walker once said that she couldn't understand how Zora Neale Hurston's critics "couldn't see the love" in her work, and I couldn't agree more.

Thankfully, both Hurston and Hughes felt free enough to write from their hearts, which is ultimately what every writer needs. Writing has enough pressure without the weight of the world on your shoulders. Come to think of it, I think I'll tack Spunk (one of my favorites) and The Best of Simple on to my summer reading list.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

John H. Johnson: An Appreciation

In the 1990s, I worked in magazine publishing. I began my career as an Editorial Assistant at Woman's Day magazine in 1991. Actually, since I did not have a college degree (long story...) I was hired as a typist, but the editors (primarily women) fostered a mentoring atmosphere, and from the start, as far as anyone was concerned, I was an Editorial Assistant. This was just before the internet explosion, so each Editorial Assistant was assigned a newspaper from around the country to look for potential story ideas. There was also a monthly luncheon for us where an Editor would give us an overview of her job and tips on how we could navigate the magazine world.

I even modeled for WD a bit. Since their audience is "real women", they used "real women" staffers (read: free models) quite a bit. My favorite shoot was a holiday cocktail scene shot on a freezing, rainy winter day at an Upper East Side townhouse (warm brownies and hot chocolate all day in a classic six: Divine!) On a much nicer day with croissants and cappuccino (What do models have to complain about again?) I shot a dreaded "before and after" makeover story. Inexplicably, the "after" photo still hangs in my father's living room to this day.

My next magazine job was as an Assistant Editor at Art Cooper's GQ (ah, the memories of choking down the smoke wafting from Art's office. And the in-office cocktail parties! RIP Art.) Overall, I had a great time at GQ. I was a typical assistant who mailed contracts to writers and answered phones, but I also wrote and did press events.

A moment of silence for the 1 year, 7 months and 3 days of free swag from Chanel, Estee Lauder, Donna Karan.....

Anyway, I give the condensed (cheerful!) version of my career to say that the closest I would have come to any of that in the 1950s or 1960s would have been at 820 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago or 1290 6th Avenue - in the New York offices of the Johnson Publishing Company.

John H. Johnson's simple edict to "show not only the Negroes but also white people that Negroes got married, had beauty contests, gave parties, ran successful businesses and did all the other normal things of life" has had a profound impact on several generations of blacks around the world, including myself, and I am so thankful and impressed with his vision and tenacity.

I don't have anything to say that differs greatly from other tributes you'll read in papers across the country, especially in Chicago. I just wanted to give Mr. Johnson proper respect for the impact that he has had, however indirectly, on my career and on blacks in business and publishing as a whole.

Again, RIP Mr. Johnson.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

RIP John H. Johnson

Ebony, Jet Publisher John H. Johnson died today at 87.

God bless you Mr. Johnson and thank you.....


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Invasion of the Gender Crashers

Debra Dickerson had the same observation I had about the film "Wedding Crashers" -- although she went far deeper than I did the night I saw it.

Of course “Wedding Crashers” was just a movie (and a hilarious one at that). So was Hitch (ahem.... love ya Will! I will pay to see your next movie -- seriously! I've got your back!)

Unlike Dickerson, I pitied the girls in the “Shout” montage, but I identified with much of her article, and not because I want white men to want me.

I think Dickerson touched on what is often left unsaid, unless you are in a room full of black women. It's not that men of any color don't hit on us (there is never any shortage of those who only want to "hit it and quit it.") I just think black women are approached more when they are closer to the Black Feminine Ideal.

Quiet as it's kept, there is a difference. Like many women, I have noticed the difference in the number and type of men who approach me according to my hairstyle and dress size. I have found that more men approached me when I wore my hair long. Although it was a weave, (and lots of men, especially black men complain about weaves) that didn't stop them from going out of their way to talk to me. When I wore my hair short, it slowed down considerably. When I wore braids (and geez, eyeglasses instead of contacts?) It was like being the invisible woman. I mean, is it an accident that many black women who wear natural hair are hit on (and often married to) white men? I don't think so. Go figure. It's an unpopular topic to bring it up because then you are instantly slammed with labels ("Hater!") or worse, dismissed as making the whole dang thing up.

The letters Salon received were very interesting. The attractive black women the white readers held up as examples to refute Dickerson all fit the Black Feminine Ideal that most black women, well, don't fit into -- even to other black people. We love these women, and of course they are black (let's not even go there), but the average black woman buying movie tickets and CDs looks nothing like any of them. The "regular-looking" black woman tends to be cast (in film and in life) as the loud, bitter, neck-swiveling, bitch-ho-stripper. Or the sexless shrew type -- the "gender crasher" Dickerson refers to in the article.

It was also interesting to note that one of the readers who took Dickerson to task pointed out that the woman "who gave Alfie humanity was black." Yes, she was played by Nia Long, an actress who has been quite vocal about the issues black women face in Hollywood.

There is no question that a black woman can play a "video ho", a prostitute, a gold-digger, or a baby mama (with drama!) But can she be a wife (for more than five seconds in an Eddie or Denzel flick?) A mother (that isn't screaming and terrorizing her children)? A business woman or professional (that isn't a "ball-buster" or an "I-am-totally-self-sufficient-and-don't-need-a-man" type?)

It remains to be seen. Let's hope we don't have to wait too long.


Monday, August 01, 2005

Manhattan, While I'm Still Young

Yes, I'll take Manhattan. Even though it's notoriously expensive and I am notoriously broke (although I don't plan to be that way forever. I am so over the whole bohemian poverty thing!) I am truly looking forward to joining the ranks of those who've beaten it.

In the meantime, while my novel continues to, uh, marinate, I'm going to gear up for the U.S. Open, the upcoming basketball season (now that I'm a Knicks fan again) and re-read my favorite kick-in-the-pants-there-is-no-such-thing-as-writer's-block-book The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. It contains gems like this one from Joyce Carol Oates:

"One must be pitiless about this matter of 'mood'. In a sense, the writing will create the mood."

And this poignant quote from Anton Chekhov that most of us can relate to:

"There are moments when I positively lose heart. For whom and for what do I write? Does the public need me or not? I cannot make it out. Write for money? I never have money, and from the habit of it I am almost indifferent to it. For the sake of money I work poorly."

Here is one of Chekhov's "poorly" written stories for you writers out there. Take heart.

Also, when I'm a little stuck, I like to pull out some of my favorite books by good writers such as Mary Cantwell's Manhattan, When I Was Young, Lois Gould's Mommy Dressing, and selected fiction (since I don't really like to read fiction while I'm writing it) by Walter Mosley, James Baldwin, Wally Lamb and Pearl Cleage.

I read, I read and I read even more, but eventually, I have to get back to work. Like, uh, right now!


It's A Man's World, But It Wouldn't Be Nothin'.....

I'm glad to see that brothers are getting their due in Hollywood. Denzel, Samuel, Laurence, Jamie, Will, Eddie? Love you! Terrence Howard, Jeffrey Wright (hello!) I love 'em all!

But...(you knew there would be a but...)

Why does Hollywood continue to come up with excuse after excuse to keep Halle Berry as "The Only" black actress in town? Hey, thank God for Halle! She knows what's up - but damn!

It's almost cliche now (okay, it's totally cliche) to go on and on about how little we see of Angela Bassett. I mean, what else is there to say? I'm happy to see Diane Lane get starring role after starring role after her success in Unfaithful, especially since she's supposed to be "old" for Hollywood. I only wish the same would happen to actresses of every race, especially Asian actresses, who can be even more invisible than black women unless their name is Sandra Oh or Lucy Liu.