Do you have any New Year’s resolutions you wish to share with us?

Dear Dwonna:

Here’s what I posted on my Facebook wall:

“I really hate how people talk trash about other people trying their new year resolutions. More people might stick to their resolutions if they didn’t feel like everyone is already expecting them to fail. So, why doesn’t everyone stop complaining about how crowded their gym is and use that energy to inspire or say something nice to someone who may be a little out of their element while trying to better themselves.”

What are your thoughts about my Facebook rant? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions that you wish to share with us?

Thanks!

Jen

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Dear Jen:

I have to confess that I don’t usually make any resolutions on January 1, mostly because I’ve always been in education—either as a student or as a professor—so for me, my new year always begins in August. New Year’s day has never been a time for me to sit down and evaluate (or re-evaluate) how my life is going and to pontificate what changes I want/need to make, so I don’t really understand this yearly winter ritual when people take stock of the person they are and the person they want to be.

I will also confess that I am one of those people who hates going to the gym in early January because the crowds of “I’m going to lose weight this year, so I better get to the gym for the first two weeks in January before I go back to being who I’ve always been” just get in my way and mess up the routine I’ve had in place all year. You’re right, Jen, that people like me should probably be more encouraging of those who are trying to make positive changes in their lives, but it’s hard for me to do this when these people post all their crap on Facebook and then fall off the radar five to seven days later (if they even last that long). Why can’t people just make their life changes without chronicling the first few days of their new “lifestyle”? Just get up every morning and do whatever it is you say you’re going to do. As Nike says, “Just do it!”

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For those who say that losing weight and getting healthy are two of their New Year’s resolutions, just remember that it’s your food intake that you must first control. Exercise is nice and it’s a good way to increase your metabolism, but it won’t burn off the bad stuff you eat during the day. (For example, a four-mile jog will only burn about 450 calories, and this won’t negate the cheeseburger and fries you eat for lunch.) If you’re worried that you don’t have time for or cannot commit to going to the gym three or four days/week, take a 45-minute walk every day. You’ll only need a good pair of walking shoes and the motivation to go. When you can commit to walking every day—even in bad weather—for a month, you’ll know that you’re ready for a gym membership.

Do go for a 30-minute walk every night after your last evening meal, and do not eat dinner after 6 p.m. But, most of all, ditch the sodas—diet and regular—eat more fruits and vegetables, eat breakfast every morning, cook more at home, and drink 64 ounces of water EVERY single day. You cannot undo bad habits overnight, so don’t beat yourself up if you slip back into your old ways. As Yoda says, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Get back to doing what you say it is you want to do and don’t spend any time worrying about how you got off track.

So what New Year’s resolutions would I make for myself if I made New Year’s resolutions? I’d like to be more open to hearing the different opinions of people with whom I may disagree, but I have to admit that it’s hard for me to listen to folks who are uninformed and are blissful in their ignorance. I’d like to write more so that by the end of 2015, I will be the “Black Dear Abby.” I’d like to be more patient, I’d like to be more forgiving (of myself and of others), I’d like to be less judgmental, and I am hoping and praying that my friend Kim Chance (from all the way back to Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Moline, Illinois, home of the John Deere Tractor) KEEPS KICKING CANCER’S ASS! I’d like at least one of my gay friends to get married and invite me to be their flower girl at their wedding. (Have blonde Afro wig; will travel!) I’d also like to lose these last three pounds, but maybe 2015 will be the year that I finally embrace the fact that I look pretty damn good for a 30-year old woman who graduated from high school in 1986. 🙂

I’d like for there to be peace in the Middle East and in other parts of the world and between Republicans and Democrats in this country, but since that doesn’t seem possible right now, I’d like for people on both sides of the political spectrum to be nicer to each other. Speaking of politics, I’d like for politicians to remember that their first job is to serve the people who bothered to get out and vote, and I’d also like for more people to actually get out and vote. Yes, it’s true that sometimes it seems like we’re choosing between the lesser of two evils and that oftentimes people vote against their best interests, but it’s not fair that a small group of voters are the ones who are deciding who will represent the ideas and wishes of the larger population. Furthermore, if you don’t bother to vote—especially in the primary elections—you shouldn’t bother complaining when your “elected” officials pander to the will of the lobbyists and not to the will of the people.

I’d like for those who say that they’re Christians to behave in a more Christ-like manner—to take care of the sick, the poor, the elderly, and all those who truly cannot take care of themselves—and for conservative Christians to stop using the Bible to explain why they are so nasty and mean to the people they say aren’t following Jesus’s ways. Leave the gays alone already. They aren’t the reason for your second (or third) divorce, nor are they the reason your baby’s father left you. I’d also like for conservative Christians to stop sending me racist Obama memes. Speaking of President Obama, I’d like for white people to stop blaming the POTUS for the situation they’re in. If you’re not doing well in life, don’t just blame the black dude in the White House; blame yourself and your poor choices and start making better choices. I’d like to stop yelling at my students, but if I stopped yelling at them, they wouldn’t know how much I loved them. 😉

I’d also like for the Fox “News” pundits to stop making white people so afraid of black people, and I’d like black people to stop thinking that every white person (and the police) has utter disdain for them. I’d like for Americans to remember that undocumented immigrants are people, too, and that most of them came to this country simply because they desire what most of us want: a better life for themselves, their children, and their extended families. I’d like for people to own fewer guns, and I’d like for those who own guns to own them responsibly. I’d like for people to turn off their televisions (and their video games) and to READ. MORE. BOOKS. Can we please, please, please stop making people like the Kardashians, the Jersey Shore clan, the Real Housewives of Atlanta or New Jersey or wherever, Wendy Williams, and all these other reality stars famous?!?! I’d like for all the dogs and cats in shelters (I didn’t forget the cats, Marcia Till) to find good and happy “furever” homes. I’d really like to know the truth about Bill Cosby; I mean, did a black dude really drug and rape all those white women in the 1960s and 1970s? Of course there’s much more that I would like for 2015, but I guess I’ll stop here…for now.

Jen, when I first read your Facebook post, I must admit that my immediate thought was to tell you to stop whining and to start doing and to not worry about the naysayers because only you have control over whether or not you’ll be successful at achieving your New Year’s goals. (I’m sure you can imagine me rolling my eyes at you and Jaya Martin if we were discussing this in my office, but I digress.) Anyway, I was wrong. Not to sound like some hippie from the 1960s, but we need to keep more love in our hearts, and we need to be more loving toward each other. Just as important, we need to be a little (a lot?) kinder and a little more encouraging than we have to be because, as Plato said, “…everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

Henry James once wrote, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” Mother Theresa said, “Spread love wherever you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” How much better would this country be if each one of us embraced these two dictums as we ventured into the world every day?

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Why We’re Pro-Choice and Voting Against Amendment 1

Dear Dwonna:

What are your views on Amendment 1? I’ve read that it is not an anti-abortion bill and that it will ultimately protect women’s health.

Signed,

Johnquetta

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Dear Johnquetta:

Thanks for asking.

On November 4, voters in Tennessee will cast their ballots on “Amendment 1,” which states:

“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statues regarding abortion, including circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

Contrary to what supporters of “Amendment 1” are telling their followers, the long-term goal of the amendment is to completely outlaw all abortions in the State of Tennessee. Furthermore, while these “pro-life” folks argue that this law will protect women’s health, notice that this amendment makes NO exceptions for a “pregnancy resulting from rape or incest” or to “save the life of the mother.”

Regardless of what your personal beliefs about abortion are, it is not reasonable to expect every woman to continue a pregnancy if she has been the victim of a rape or incest, nor is it reasonable for Tennessee to pass a law that declares that a fetus is more important than the health and the life of a mother. No woman should be forced to place her long-term health and/or her life in jeopardy simply because someone who has never met her has decided that her fetus is more important than her own existence. Let women make these decisions for themselves, please, and if you are against abortion, just don’t have one. It really is that simple.

Deborah Webster-Clair, a retired Ob/GYN, said last week at a press conference at a Planned Parenthood health center in Nashville that “Supporting Amendment 1 will erode a woman’s fundamental right to autonomous decision-making and privacy regarding her own health care.” Yes, a decision on whether or not to continue a pregnancy should be one that a woman makes with her doctor, her husband or boyfriend (if she has one), her conscience, and her god (if she has a belief in one). I’m bored with the “pro-life” crowd who simply want to make decisions for women they do not know and will probably never know. In fact, it’s quite arrogant for them to think that they unilaterally know what’s in the best interest of that woman and her fetus. I can’t help but wonder if this debate about abortion is not so much about “protecting an innocent baby” but instead is about regulating—and controlling—what women do with their bodies.

For those who want people to vote “Yes” for Amendment 1 under the guise of “protecting the innocent babies,” I have several questions: Why is the fetus more valued and more valuable than the woman? Isn’t the woman who carries this fetus valuable, too? Why do so many “pro-life” folks think of women as incubators who must carry a fetus to term just because abortion goes against their beliefs? Can we please stop with these “personhood” laws that give the fetus more precedence than the woman who carries said fetus? Why can’t people leave these women alone so that they can make an informed choice without any interference from governmental bodies?

No politician—and most especially no male politician—should be working to pass any law that restricts a woman’s right AND access to an abortion. As Wendy Davis said last year during a filibuster of a Texas anti-abortion bill, “Lawmakers, either get out of the vagina business, or go to medical school.” As my students can attest, I often have great difficulty managing my own life, and I am in absolutely no position to tell another woman how she should manage hers. A decision about whether or not to have an abortion is a private one, and it must ultimately remain with the women who are faced with an unwanted pregnancy, as only they understand what their long-term physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are. Can the so-called “pro-life” crowd please stop playing OB/GYNs and let women they do not know make whatever decisions are right for them?

I do not presume to know the lives of other women and what is best for them, and I wish others would embrace the fact that most women will make the best choice for their own lives, too. It is a woman’s body, and it should be her choice whether or not to terminate—or continue to full-term—a pregnancy. Unlike the “pro-life” crowd, I trust that women can and will make the choice that is appropriate for her and for her circumstance. To borrow a saying from a 1990s bumper sticker: if you can’t trust her with a choice, how can you trust her with a baby?

Moreover, if these so-called “pro-life” folks really are more than just “pro-birth” (since it seems like they only care about the fetus until a child is born), then they should be working to pass laws that will improve the lives of the children who are already here, too many of whom live in poverty and in dire life circumstances. As former Surgeon General of the United States Joycelyn Elders once said, “We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children.”

I think George Carlin said it even better:

“Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re pre-born, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re fucked.”

Listen. Let’s stop trying to regulate what women do with their bodies, and let’s spend more time in loving service to those who need us. Let’s go out into the world and be a blessing to those who are already here. Vote “No” on Amendment 1, and let each woman decide on her own what’s best for her, her body, and her life.

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Here’s what Jaya Martin, one of my favorite Austin Peay students, wrote in response to the proposed amendment:

As both a woman and a Christian, I value that everyone has different beliefs and opinions. However, I also value my right as a woman to choose what happens to my own body. In November, citizens will vote on Amendment One, a bill that could eventually lead to the abolishment of all abortions in Tennessee and will make NO EXCEPTIONS in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. This is the main danger of this amendment passing.

Abortion is not an easy subject, and I have struggled to find the courage to voice these words. However, I believe in my heart of hearts that there are instances when a woman should have a choice instead of being forced by the government to have a child she didn’t ask for nor want. I consider myself a protector of women, especially young girls who are victims of rape or incest and who are not physiologically ready to be mothers.

It is vital to remember that every situation is delicate and different. It is also important to keep in mind that if this bill passes, it will not prevent abortions from happening. It will simply get rid of safe, sterile clinics and put women at a greater health risk.

In November I will be voting NO on Amendment One. I highly encourage anyone who is on the fence to thoroughly research the topic and make an educated decision before they vote. Remember, this isn’t about being “pro-choice” or “pro-life”—it’s about defending our right to make private decisions free from government interference. Even if we all don’t agree on abortion, we can all agree that government has no place in our private medical decisions.

old woman

Should I stay with my boyfriend of seven years?

Dear Dwonna:

I’m a 22-year-old college graduate, and I’m thinking about moving away from my hometown and going to graduate school in another part of the country. I’ve been dating the same guy for seven years, and I’m not sure what to do since he can’t move with me. What do you think I should do?

Sincerely,

Dina

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*Thanks to my pal Cati Montgomery for writing most of this.*

Dear Dina:

First, talk to your boyfriend about what he thinks the future holds for the two of you and whether or not you might want to commit to shifting this to a long-distance relationship. Although long-distance relationships can be very tricky and are oftentimes difficult, today’s technology—the Internet, Skype, and FaceTime, for example—can make them bearable for the times in between visits. Do have a plan for when you will see each other and how—and how often—you will keep in contact while you’re apart. If you do opt for trying the long-distance relationship thing, keep in mind that your interactions will change since you won’t get to see each other daily, but if you put in some extra effort, you just might make it work.

However, since you are moving to a different part of the country, you are bound to meet lots of fun and interesting new people. If you do meet someone in your graduate program who might pique your interest, what will happen to your seven-year relationship? You need to ponder this scenario so that you’re not dishonest with your boyfriend and a future “friend.” Still, don’t cut yourself off from meeting new people while you and your boyfriend are apart. Create and maintain a life that is separate from your boyfriend and then figure out how to merge your two lives when he comes to visit. At the end of the day, you will have to trust your boyfriend and yourself to not stray, and only you know whether you can remain faithful to him and whether he can remain faithful to you.

The second thing to think about is a long-term commitment and/or marriage. If you have already been dating this long and you have not had a serious conversation about your longer-term future together, you may need to pause to reconsider the value of this relationship. Are you holding on to him because he is safe and this relationship is what you have known since you were 15? What common goals and values do you share should you decide to stay together and get married? Does your boyfriend support your educational goals and talk about a future together? You’re only 22, and that’s really young to be getting married to someone you’ve known since you were in 9th or 10th grade. You’re probably too young to make that kind of long-term commitment.

Third, graduate school is a whole different level of commitment—to your work, to the students in your graduate school cohort, and to your professors. It will most likely require a much bigger time investment to study, to produce classwork and papers, and to perform original research. You will be learning about things at a pace you probably did not experience as an undergraduate, and sometimes the coursework and expectations of your professors can be overwhelming.

Graduate school may just be the time that YOU need to discover who you are, exactly, on your own. Your 20s are a time of growth and maturity, and you are just now beginning to evolve into the person you will be in your 30s and beyond. Perhaps you’ll want to take this next two years at grad school just to develop who you are as a person, without depending on the boy you’ve known since you were 15. You may discover some fairly interesting things about yourself.

Good luck!

Cati M

What say you about the ABC show “Black-ish”?

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think of the new show “Black-ish”?

Sincerely,

Patrick

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Dear Patrick:

Here’s how ABC has described “Black-ish” a new comedy series that airs on Wednesdays at 9:30 eastern time: “Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson has a great job, a beautiful wife, Rainbow, four kids, and a colonial home in the ‘burbs. But has success brought too much assimilation for this black family?” Executive producer Larry Wilmore—who is leaving “Black-ish” to headline a new Comedy Central late-night show that will replace The Colbert Report—says that the show “celebrates black more as a culture than a race” and that “At heart it’s a family show.” “Black-ish” also has a noteworthy and fairly impressive cast—Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross (yes, Diana Ross’s daughter), and Laurence Fishburne, among others.

When I first saw a billboard advertising “Black-ish,” my sometimes (well, oftentimes) hypersensitive racial guard immediately went up, and I have to admit that I was kind of offended. What does it mean to be “black-ish,” I wondered? Who gets to decide who is black and who isn’t? What does it even mean to be black? Why are the television networks producing another “comedy” with a mostly all-black cast whose job it seems is to make white folks laugh at their dumb racial jokes? Isn’t “Black-ish” kind of a racist name for a television show anyway?

When asked about the title of the show, ABC executives have said that the show is “not about race but about class and family.” Laurence Fishburne agreed, telling a reporter that “it’s about the Johnson family, and in that regard, it’s about your family, and my family, and everybody’s family.” I’m not really sure how a television show titled “Black-ish” suggests in any way, shape, or form that it’s about everybody’s family, so I don’t really think they’re telling us the truth. I think ABC just wanted to shock viewers into watching this so-called comedy.

When I goggled “Black-ish” and “commentary,” I stumbled upon this Donald Trump tweet:

Donald Trump

Look. This should not come as a surprise to those who know me, but I’m no Donald Trump fan. I mean, this is a guy with a ludicrous toupee (if that is, in fact, his “real” hair, he should tell people that it is a toupee) who has convinced many a white racist that President Obama is a socialist Kenyan Muslim whose Hawaiian birth certificate is a fake. Moreover, Trump’s proclamation that there would be a “furor” over a show named “Whitesh” and that “‘black-ish’” is “racism at [its] highest level” is gibberish. Racism, Mr. Trump, would be you insisting that President Obama is a socialist Kenyan Muslim with a fake birth certificate who hates America and who is trying to take away white people’s guns.

Besides, there are lots of “white” shows on network television that seem to celebrate everything about “white” culture—“2 Broke Girls,” “Mike and Molly,” “Nashville,” “Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” and “Game of Thrones” come to mind—and few white people seem to find any “furor” over that. White people like Donald Trump kind of need to get over this “reverse racism” claim since there is no show called “Whitesh,” and except for Shonda Rhimes and a few other black writers and producers, white folks are still the ones who frequently decide what’s on network television most of the time.

Nonetheless, Trump is right to question the logic and the rationale of the show’s title, though I largely disagree with his assessment that the title is, in and of itself, racist. “Black-ish” is mostly just offensive, and it trivializes the struggle(s) that many African Americans have faced as they negotiate and navigate their way into the white world while trying not to lose a sense of their black selves. Even Laurence Fishburne thinks that the show’s title is funny, as he told an interviewer: “Our title is a little bit of a wink. It’s a bit of a joke because, ultimately, if you live in America and you’ve been in America, let’s say for the last 10, 15, 20 years, you’re probably a little Black-ish anyway.” Tell that foolishness to the Donald Trumps of the world who interact only with people who look like they do and whose interactions with black folks is usually in a subordinate and/or subservient role. The title just isn’t very funny.

Having grown up in Moline, Illinois—the home of the John Deere Tractor and a predominately white town on the Mississippi River—I can say with much certainty that being one of the few black students at Butterworth Elementary, Woodrow Wilson Junior High, and Moline Senior High School was hardly a laughing matter. There were white teachers who didn’t think I would amount to much simply because of my skin color, and the white students who thought it was funny to call me a Nigger just because they could made me sad, mad, and a few times ashamed of my brown skin and kinky hair. No, Mr. Fishburne—we’re not all a little “Black-ish.” Some of us black folks are just trying to find our way—without losing our sanity or, ironically, our sense of humor—in a sometimes hostile white man’s world.

The day after “Black-ish” made its debut on ABC, I happened to be teaching W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk in my “Critical Studies in African American Literature” class. First published in 1903, DuBois’s book gave me a perfect opportunity to talk about his concept of double consciousness and this foolish show called “Black-ish.” In Chapter 1, titled “Our Spiritual Strivings,” DuBois writes:

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

My students said that they wished that the writers and producers of “Black-ish” had used this show to address DuBois’s concept of “double consciousness” in a more serious and in a more sincere manner, especially now that we have a black president who often finds himself having to negotiate between being an “African American president” and just being the “President of the United States of America.” As more black folks move into the middle and upper class and thus find themselves straddling and engaging with at least two cultures, this notion of double consciousness has become a day-to-day struggle for many of us, and it would have been nice if “Black-ish” had taken the lead in discussing these struggles without the laughter and without the vapid silliness that the title suggests.

In her review of Baratunde Thurston’s 2012 book How to Be Black, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry writes that his book—which she says is “part autobiography, part stand-up routine, [and] part contemporary political analysis—might “do more to expose and explore the shifting dynamics of race in America than all the Pew data of the past decade ever can.” In this very astute and incredibly witty book, Thurston makes his readers “both laugh and weep with poignant recognition.” Few would ever say this about “‘Black-ish,” a show whose only goal seems to be to make its viewers weep with embarrassment and shame at the tomfoolery of the characters and their incessant (and not very funny) jokes about their new life in the ‘burbs.

In his final chapter, “The Future of Blackness,” Thurston writes about a “New Black History Course” that will teach people a “more complete and honest history of black people and, thus, America in far more interesting ways.” A “sampling” of this course, Thurston says, will be a “broader story of the Diaspora with a special focus on the Americanness of black people in America.” “In addition to what we pass on to each generation,” Thurston writes, “it’s also important to change how we teach these lessons.”

“The Cosby Show,” which ran from 1984 to 1992, did a wonderful job of teaching its viewers that a black, upper-class family could peacefully co-exist in (white) American society, and although the show rarely delved into issues of racism or social injustice, it did present two successful black parents (he was an OB/GYN, she was a lawyer) who personified most of our hopes for achieving the American dream for ourselves and for our families. “Black-ish,” on the other hand, is mostly a 30-minute tale of buffoonery that could have used its stature in its prime-time Wednesday night slot to enlighten viewers of all hues that DuBois’s notion of “double consciousness” is a still perpetual reality for those of us who move between two worlds each and every day of our lives.

My hope is that “Black-ish”—in spite of its silly name—will evolve into a show that no longer trivializes the black middle- and upper-class experience in America and instead will expose viewers to the multiplicities of blackness. Baratunde Thurston suggests that he and other African Americans must “discover” their own blackness by “embracing the new, the different, the uncommon, and simply, yourself.” I think the producers and the stars of “Black-ish” attempted to do this, but they failed. If viewers are lucky, ABC will give the show’s writers and producers time to correct this, and the Johnsons will become a family that astutely and cleverly teaches America the joys, the trials, and the tribulations of black life in 2014.

Are leggings pants?

Dear Dwonna:

What does it mean when a guy tells you that “you look pretty…sometimes”?

Signed,

Cara

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Dear Cara:

*My pal and former student, Cati Montgomery, has answered this question for me.*

He’s a jerk, and don’t date him. If he can’t see that you are a beautiful PERSON all the time, then he’s not worth looking pretty for any time. Any person in any relationship—straight, gay, whatever—has external (and internal) flaws. Part of being in a relationship is being able to see the person, or the soul, if you will, within, rather than seeing someone through their wig, their Maybelline, their bling, their Jordans, or whatever else….


Dear Dwonna:

Last week, I was sitting on a bench on Austin Peay’s campus in between classes, and a young woman walked by in see-through pink leggings. I could see her polka dot “granny pants” underwear. Should I have said something to her?

Signed,

Tyler

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Dear Tyler:

Something similar happened to me when I was in my PhD program at the University of Texas at Austin. I had bought this very cute and very short shirt, and I decided to wear it to my study date at the library. I sashayed my way through UT’s campus thinking that I was hot stuff when this young black woman approached me and put her arm around my shoulder.

I can only imagine the perplexed and/or hostile look I gave her as I wondered why this strange woman was so close to me. She then whispered in my ear, “Um, your skirt has come up in the back, and we can all see your underwear.” I smiled, thanked her profusely, moved my skirt down over my big booty and then continued my walk to the library with one hand holding down the back of my skirt.

I still appreciate this young woman telling me this, and I have tried to “pay it forward” when I see other young women who are guilty of similarly embarrassing fashion faux pas. So, I think that you should have said something to this young woman so that she wasn’t walking around campus showing everyone her polka dot “granny pants.”

Ladies, do only wear leggings when you are going to the gym to workout or when you’re wearing a tunic, and in both cases, do make sure that your t-shirt or tunic is long enough to cover your buttocks. Let this story of this student walking around campus in her see-through leggings be a fair warning for all of those who are reading this—LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS.

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Adrian Peterson & black folks & whipping kids

Dear Dwonna:

Do you have any comments about Adrian Peterson or the seemingly sorry state of the NFL?

Signed,

Roger

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Dear Roger:

Yes, I do. Thanks for asking. I’m going to focus my answer on Adrian Peterson because, given the popularity of the NFL, I imagine that they will rebound from this recent rash of bad behavior from too many players and owners of the National Football League.

For those who have been napping for the past two weeks, here’s some background information on Adrian Peterson, a 29-year-old running back for the Minnesota Vikings who was charged with beating his young son.

On September 11, 2014, a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury indicted Peterson and an arrest warrant was issued for “reckless or negligent injury to a child.” According to a police report, Peterson admitted that he had “whooped” his four-year-old son with a “branch from a tree” while the boy was visiting him in Houston. When the four-year-old boy returned to his home in Minnesota, his mother took him to a doctor because the child had “a number of lacerations on his thighs, along with bruise-like marks on his lower back and buttocks and cuts on his hand.” One doctor described some of the marks “as open wounds” and termed them “child abuse,” and another examiner agreed, calling the cuts on the boy’s body “extensive.”

According to one report, Adrian Peterson’s beatings of his four-year-old son “allegedly resulted in numerous injuries to the child, including cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to the child’s hands.” After the beating—which Peterson said occurred because his son had been mean to another child—Peterson texted the boy’s mother and told her that “one wound in particular would make her mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.”

When investigators first spoke with Peterson, he told them that he regarded his discipline as “normal spanking and not excessive,” even though he had earlier texted the boy’s mother and wrote that his son “got about five more pops than normal. He didn’t drop one tear! So that was another indicator I’ll have to try another system with him. SMH he’s tough as nails…” The mother replied: “Well you can’t hit him til he cries! That’s just mean. He’s trying to be strong for you. He’s afraid of you. He’s 4, he’s not playing mind games with you…”

Here are images of the injuries that Peterson left on his four-year-old son; these pictures were taken at least a week after he “disciplined” him.

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After the arrest warrant was issued, the Minnesota Vikings deactivated Peterson, who flew to Houston and later posted $15,000 bond. Afterwards Rusty Hardin, Peterson’s lawyer, released the following statement:

“Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline which his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas. Adrian has never hidden from what happened. He has cooperated fully with authorities and voluntarily testified before the grand jury for several hours….”

Peterson then posted the following statement to his Instagram:

peterson instagram

Peterson and other famous and not-so-famous black folks have taken to the airwaves to tout the long-term benefits of whipping children, with many of these black folks using the Bible to support their position while simultaneously arguing that that was how they were raised and that they turned out fine. “I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed,” Peterson said in defending his use of corporal punishment with his six or seven children (by several different women).

Charles Barkley, a former NBA player and a co-host of “Inside the NBA” on TNT Television, told radio and television sports host Jim Rome, “I’m from the South. Whippings—we do that all the time…. Every black parent in my neighborhood in the South would be in trouble or in jail under those circumstances. I’ve gotten beat with switches. When the media talks about it, ‘beating a child’—We called it ‘spanking’ or ‘whipping’ our kids.” Not surprisingly, Charles Barkley has become the archetype and the favorite sound bite for all those who wish to defend corporal punishment, the “southern” and the “African American way for raising children.”

When Jim Rome suggested that there was no “fine line” in the Peterson situation—that that was clearly a case of “child abuse” and not of “child rearing,” Barkley said, “I think there’s a fine line, Jim. I’ve had many welts on my legs.” No, Charles Barkley—and all the other black folks who keep bumping their gums on the airwaves telling anyone and everyone who will listen to them—there is no “fine line” between spanking and/or whipping your kids and child abuse. I’m completely bored with these folks who justify beating/abusing their children with switches and belts with the nonsense of “well, that’s how I was raised, and I turned out ok.” Since when is this the standard by which we measure what’s appropriate when raising children?

The fact of the matter is that black folks probably should stay away from the “but that’s how I was raised card” when arguing whether something like corporal punishment is a beneficial tool to rearing happy and productive citizens of the world. The reality is that “beating” and “whipping” black children is hardly helping these kids leap to the pinnacle of success. According to federal statistics, some 73 percent of African American children are born out of wedlock, which often translates into a life of poverty and a substandard educational experience; approximately 38 percent of black children under the age of 18 live in poverty; almost 27 percent of black folks have an income below the poverty line; 38 percent of the prison population is comprised of black folks even though we only make up 12 percent of the U.S. population; and young black men are more likely to be a part of the criminal justice system than they are to be in college. Proverbs 13:24 says: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Lots of black folks turn to this Bible scripture when defending, explaining, or simply justifying why they whip their children, but if we honestly look at the state of black America in 2014, perhaps we will see that whipping children with switches from a tree in the backyard isn’t working as well as some black folks want to believe it is.

As a full disclosure, I should say that I was one of those black folks whose father “whooped” her and her siblings for both minor and major transgressions. My father kept a tattered black belt—one that was too old and too beaten up for him to continue wearing—on the top shelf of the kitchen’s broom closet, and he summoned us to quickly retrieve “black betty” at the very moment he believed that talking to us was no longer getting through to us. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Michael Eric Dyson—an African American professor of sociology at Georgetown University—writes that children who are beaten often have “feelings of sadness and worthlessness, difficulties sleeping, suicidal thoughts, bouts of anxiety, outbursts of aggression, diminished concentration, intense dislike of authority, frayed relations with peers, and negative high-risk behaviors.”

Although I probably seem well-adjusted and successful to most people who meet me, I have, unfortunately, suffered from some of those aforementioned effects of corporal punishment. I know that my father did not want this for his children, and I know that he did not expect that I would suffer so much into my adulthood. I also know that my father was simply replicating how he had been raised and that he was simply trying to raise black children who would grow up to be productive and prosperous members of a sometimes racist and oftentimes hostile white society. Still, those whippings left scars that took lots of time—and years of therapy—to heal. Did my father’s whippings make me a more disciplined person? Maybe. Did they make me think twice before I did something that violated my father’s rules for behavior in and out of the house? Probably. I guess I turned out “ok” once the physical scars healed—I’m an English professor with a PhD from the University of Texas who has written a book and lots of articles on race and gender. However, the emotional scars have taken much, much longer to heal.

In their 1968 book Black Rage, African American psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs wrote: “Beating in child-rearing actually has its psychological roots in slavery and even yet black parents will feel that, just as they have suffered beatings as children, so it is right that their children be so treated.” Does the continued use of violence when disciplining black children foster the misconception that African Americans have to use physical strength rather than intellectual strength just like slavemasters did with their slaves? I don’t know. Clearly folks like Adrian Peterson, Charles Barkley, and too many other African Americans continue to embrace—and justify—what should be considered an antiquated and mostly ineffective way of child rearing. Although corporal punishment may make children obey a parent’s immediate request, it rarely teaches long-term self-control or self-respect.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, a pediatrician and one of the world’s most preeminent authorities on child rearing, once said, “If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” We do need a world with kinder and more compassionate children, and perhaps it’s time for black folks to evolve into the 21st century and find alternative methods for disciplining their children. Leaving scars and welts may have been how their parents disciplined them, but it shouldn’t be how black parents—or any parents—discipline their children today.

 

 

Why does Janay Rice stay?

Dear Dwonna:

I heard you make a passing comment in our world lit class about Ray and Janay Rice and criticizing him for hitting her and her for staying. Could you elaborate on this, please?

Signed,

Cara

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Dear Cara:

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I have gone back and forth about what I think about Janay Rice since the day she sat by her husband at a news conference in March and announced to those who would listen that she “deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”

For those of you who have been asleep for the last seven months, Janay (Palmer) Rice is the wife of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. After TMZ released a second video showing Mr. Rice delivering an uppercut to Janay and subsequently knocking out his then fiancée in an elevator (the first video only showed Rice dispassionately and nonchalantly dragging her unconscious body from the elevator), the Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract. Shortly afterwards, the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice, after originally only suspending him for two games.

The Baltimore Ravens, the NFL, and Roger Goodell have all been criticized for how they first handled Ray Rice’s assault of Janay Rice, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter has called the subsequent fallout “arguably the biggest black eye the league has ever had.” Roger Goodell is still telling the world that he never saw that second video of what happened between Ray and Janay Rice in that casino elevator, though many people question the veracity of that statement, including someone who says that he personally delivered the video to the NFL offices. However, did Roger Goodell really need to actually see Ray Rice deliver an uppercut to Janay Rice as if she were Mike Tyson to know that something terribly awful had happened before those elevator doors opened showing an unconscious Janay Rice being dragged from it?

Less than 24 hours after the Baltimore Ravens fired Ray Rice and the NFL indefinitely suspended him, Janay Rice posted the following statement to her Instagram:

 “I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend,” Janay Rice wrote. “But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that [the] media & unwanted opinions from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.

“THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!”

Many people have questioned Janay Rice’s vociferous and sometimes defiant defense of her husband, and some have even argued that those of us who question Janay Rice’s decision to stay in an abusive relationship are simply re-victimizing her and “forcing her deeper into a bunker where she blames herself,” writes ESPN’s Jason Whitlock. Others have (rightfully) pointed out that the continued re-airing of the two videos simply makes Janay’s “private shame” a “public spectacle,” and so she is “angry with the media.”

It is difficult for me to understand why Janay Rice has not only stayed with her husband but has also taken on a Perry Mason-like defense of his behavior. I also don’t want to believe that a woman whose partner knocked her out like she was Floyd Mayweather’s sparring partner could then stand by and loudly defend what most of us would consider to be defenseless behavior. Is Janay Palmer afraid but still feeling a lot of love for her “wronged” husband? Is she really a victim because she chooses to stay? Why are we now focusing on her and not on her husband who put her in this situation by knocking her out cold in an elevator on that February evening?

I want to stand in judgment of Janay Rice, and I want to question her motives for staying with—and then marrying—her abuser. Like my friend Brenda Ford, I, too, wondered if Janay Rice defended her husband only because she didn’t want to give up the money and fame that go along with being “the wife of a super bowl champion.” “Really, though,” Brenda told me, “Janay Rice has some sort of responsibility to other abused women to get out.” Whether or not Janay has a responsibility to other women is debatable, but she certainly has some to herself and to her daughter. If you’re wondering why women stay in abusive relationships, just search the Twitter hashtag #whyistayed, and your eyes will be widely opened like mine were.

The fact of the matter is that lots of women stay in abusive relationships for reasons that many of us will never be able to fathom, and I hope this terrible situation causes society to more deeply examine why women stay with abusive men and how to help them leave when domestic violence happens. The sad reality is that we (still) live in a patriarchal society that tells too many women that it’s better to stay in an abusive relationship than to be alone, and we need to do a better job of showing women that being alone is better than being with a man who hits you.

So, we can continue to blame Roger Goodell for originally only suspending Ray Rice for two games and the Baltimore Ravens for not suspending him at all until TMZ released the second video, and we can continue focusing our efforts on what Roger Goodell knew and when he knew it and whether or not he should be fired from his job as NFL commissioner. When we do this, however, we simply deflect from the real issues at hand—that there are too many instances of domestic violence in the NFL and in our own communities and that too many people minimize these incidents by making excuses for the abuser’s behavior.

One of my former students wrote on his Facebook wall that he hoped Ray Rice wins his appeal of the NFL’s indefinite suspension because Rice has “already admitted to his wrongs, told the commissioner about the incident, cooperated with the authorities and the league as well as entered an intervention program.” I probably don’t have to tell you that the person who wrote this is a man. I suggested to my student that he would be fired from his job if he did that to his wife, and another woman commented that Ray Rice had simply sown the consequences of his actions.

Though my student did acknowledge that Rice was “wrong” for what he did to his wife, he believes that Rice has “paid his debt to society.” Unfortunately, too many men think that an NFL player simply apologizing for knocking a woman out and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator and then entering a deferred adjudication program after being arrested means that his “debt to society” has been paid. While I am not in charge of deciding when Ray Rice has been punished enough (though I’d gladly take on this role), losing his job as a running back for the Baltimore Ravens and being indefinitely suspended from the NFL seems to be a judicious and fair beginning.

It perplexes me, too, that so many women support Ray Rice and that they also believe that he has been punished “too much,” and perhaps this says more about the bizarre and/or curious state of male and female relationships in this nation than most of us realized. Before TMZ released the second video, two female students in two different classes argued that perhaps Janay Rice had hit Ray Rice first and “that’s why he responded the way he did.” One black female student even said, “You know how crazy and out of control we black women can get, and if it means he has to hit us to make us stop, oh well.” When I suggested to her that a real man would NEVER hit a woman even if that woman hit him first, my student said, “Well, if she comes at him like a man, he has a right to hit her like a man.” For one of the few times in my teaching career, I was left speechless. It makes me sad that some black women believe this.

Has domestic violence become so normalized in American culture that people are not embarrassed to defend a man who has been caught on video beating, knocking unconscious, and then dragging his fiancée from an elevator? Why has so much of folks’ antipathy for what Ray Rice did to Janay Palmer shifted to the NFL’s indefinite suspension of Rice and whether or not Roger Goodell is fit to continue his job as NFL commissioner? Why is there ever an instance where it’s “permissible” for a man to hit a woman, especially when that man is a strong and muscular NFL running back?

Anne C. Osborne, co-author of the forthcoming book Female Fans of the NFL: Taking Their Place in the Stands, said that the Ravens’ decision to cut Ray Rice was “good for the team, good for the league, and good for women.” “They are taking a stand, and he is a valuable player to lose,” Osborne said. “That is good news for everybody. It’s not just good news for women. That culture of violence, everyone loses. Good for them.”

What will really be good for society is the day when women no longer feel the need to stay in a relationship after domestic violence has occurred. This isn’t so much about Roger Goodell, the NFL, and the Baltimore Ravens; it’s about empowering women like Janay Rice to leave the men who brutalize them. It’s about not defending the indefensible, even when the batterer apologizes and says he’s going to get help. Statistics show that one in four women will be victims of domestic abuse; it’s time we teach women to respect themselves enough to walk away without apologizing for the abuser or for leaving.

Last Thursday night, before the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers football game, CBS’s James Brown—host of “The NFL Today” on CBS and “Inside the NFL” on Showtime—looked directly into the camera and asked viewers in a 90-second monologue if it “wouldn’t be more productive if this collective outrage…could be channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many women.” “And as they said,” he continued, “do something about it? Like an on-going education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is about.”

Indeed, a real man never hits a woman no matter what that woman might first do to him, and although Janay Rice may not consider herself a victim, millions of women in this country are.

ray and janay