Sunday, October 6, 2013

#MakesMsBHappy: Jill Scott Being Real and Dope (as usual...)

I wasted the weekend being lazy - which is bad.  My laziness granted me time to troll the net - which is fantastic!  One of my favorite finds this weekend was this Jill Scott interview with the Power 105.1Breakfast Club (I'm a Steve Harvey Morning Show type of girl, so these interviews are all new to me).

Jill joins the show to promote her new movie Baggage Claim, which incidentally, I caught last weekend as part of a Ratchet-Piece Theatre outing with some homegirls.  I love Jill and she was quite funny in her role, but the movie was horrible.  I mean dismal - truly one of the worst films I've ever seen.  It's the type of movie made for RPT because the audience is alive with moaning, groaning, and talkback advice for the silly on-screen characters.

All that said, I still love Jill and the Breakfast Club interview (below) is exactly why.  She comes across as self-aware and authentic.  She seems to know what's important and she's a great role model for people (like me) still trying to get comfortable in their own skin.

P.S.  I'm totally getting tickets to Jill Scott at Radio City Music Hall on New Years Eve.  Holla if you're planning to go too.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Shame and ignorance: The Misunderstanding of Mister Cee

Project Be Happy As Is, my self-branded personal journey of self-acceptance, self-love, and sustainable inner happiness, has been in full swing for about 18 months now. What I can share about this process and what I'm learning, can be expressed in a two sentences: Life is the journey of accepting your authentic self wholly.  Happiness is living and loving life without shame. For me, part of this happiness journey has been addressing the things in my life that I am most ashamed of.  The most prominent source of shame for me - my lack of a higher-ed degree.

I can say, with both honesty and pride, that I am a critical thinker who enjoys rigorous intellectual engagements and learns best through doing. That said, I didn't graduate from Ivy or a prominent HBCU and I don't possess a piece of paper that substantiates me as the genius that I know I am.  From my most logical perspective, I know that formal education does not equate to brilliance.  I know that there are tons of really smart people who have never set foot on a college campus and that many a masters graduate have utilized pay to play for their degrees. I even know, on an intellectual level (and a place of extreme rationalization) that the education system itself is a hustle.  Yet knowing and believing these things have not helped me shake the shame.  I am petrified at the thought of being dismissed by people I consider intellectual peer and I often feel marginalized at the mere idea of small talk, scared silent as not to inadvertently stumble into a tete-a-tete about where I went to school or what I studied.  These fears quarantined my ability to be myself and pursue my own happiness and no matter how silly or illogical they seem to the outside world, they are very real and very frightening to me.

Shame is a very personal construct that we develop in spite of ourselves.  Persistent external influence including home-training, social influence, and cultural norms can cause us to create inauthentic, but socially acceptable versions of ourselves - that are often in opposition of who we really are.  Case in point - Mister Cee, talented radio DJ on New York's premier young adult hip hop station.  Yesterday, Mister Cee was outed (and I use the term very narrowly to express the act of exposing details about a person before they are ready to do it themselves) by a transgender prostitute who'd serviced him with fellatio. Upon being exposed, a shameful Mister Cee promptly resigned from his position at Hot 97, but was coaxed back by supportive Hot 97 personality Ebro for a heartfelt interview, that ended with Cee's return to the box.

Since the story broke yesterday there has been some anti-gay backlash, but also an extremely positive showing from his fans and hip hop at large.  Many people have expressed their desire for Mister Cee to just be himself and tweets like mine below were all the buzz yesterday.
The core message from his supporters was loud and clear: Be who you really are Cee, we love and support you and you don't need to live a lie.  I found myself hopeful that the momentum of support might allow Cee shake his shame and completely come out the closet, because from my vantage, only a gay or bisexual man would seek sexual relations with a transgender woman. So, while Cee adamantly maintained that he wasn't gay, I internalized that to mean: he wasn't ready to accept himself as gay or bisexual.  BUT THEN...I had the good fortune to tune into HuffPost Live (WATCH IT!) today where I got thoroughly schooled on the topic of gender and identity, completely opening my previously oblivious eyes to the possibility that Mister Cee could, in fact, be telling the truth about his casual interest in trans-women.

Excerpt from the panel discussion (which I typed myself, so apologies for any minor inaccuracies):
Laverne Cox: The reality is...we don't have language to describe men that are attracted to trans-women.  If you are a man and I am a woman and you are attracted to me, most guys identify as straight.- and why can't we accept that? ...there is a denial of the womanhood of trans-women that's happening in any conversation that suggests that a man who is attracted to a trans-woman is gay - there is a disavowal of my identity (as a trans-woman) and my womanhood.

Marc Lamont Hill: ...I think you're right, I think there is a complicated conversation about gender and sexual identity that we can't have if we reduce everything to 'just admit you're gay Mister Cee."

Mark Anthony Neal: Laverne made the point that I was going to make.  We have lack of available language, particularly in our community, to discuss these particular dynamics of identity. And it speaks on some level to how unserious we are in terms of dealing with these issues within our community.  Could you imagine any of us being engaged in a conversation about race and listening to (Ebro) on that interview saying there's too many categories, I don't know what to say and how to say it. We'd never say that about race because we're clear cut about the language we need to use to address (race) issues in our community. We're not as clear cut when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality and we don't take it seriously enough for us to develop a language for us to be able to talk thoughtfully and lovingly about folks in our community.

Laverne Cox: ...when, particularly a rapper or someone in hip hop, is "caught" with a trans-woman, it becomes this huge scandal, it becomes this thing to be (a)shamed really points to how trans-women are being stigmatized and then ultimately criminalized and murdered. A few weeks ago, right here in New York City, Islan Nettles was murdered on the streets, right here in Harlem.  There were a group of guys, who were catcalling her, they realized she was trans and one of the guys beat her to death.  Our lives are in danger because of this kind of stigma.
The panel discussion provided an entirely new level of context for me, shedding light on my naivety and privileged as a cis-gender woman.  It also made me think about how my narrow understanding of gender/sexual identity and inability to take Mister Cee's words at face value denotes ignorance on my part, not necessarily denial on his.

Thanks to Marc Lamont Hill, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Mychal Denzel Smith for reminding me that education isn't confined to a campus and we all have the capacity to teach.  My support remains with Mister Cee and his family during this difficult time.  I hope he has enough support to be his most authentic self, whoever that may be.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Today's Lesson Learned: Love you, but fuck off...

I fucking love my hair today.  It's an unkempt mess of a day-old-fro, but dear God it make me happy.  I noticed it today, catching a glimpse of my reflection in the bathroom sink.  I did a double take and admired myself.  There I stood with a makeup-free face and rhyme-less, reasonless, unruly hair  and I was shocked to find myself completely delighted with my the person who stared back at me. 

I fucking love my hair today and thankfully, because I'm hold up, alone in my apartment, I might be able to ride the high of self-appreciation all the way until tomorrow. Today's solitude will allow me to bask in the beauty that I see in myself without the interruptions of "helpful" family and friends who, without solicitation, often feel the need to critique my coiffure and make suggestions on improvement.  Their recommendations are incessant, I suppose because there are a flood of natural-haired girls (like my sisters and unlike me) who have the inclination and desire to achieve fanciful follicular feats on a very regular basis.  The thing is, that ain't me.

I'm more of the let it grow, let it fro, let it go mindset.  Unfortunately, people around me just can't seem to buy into this mantra.  This weekend, the Ace Partner in Crime (APIC) asked (for the umpteenth time this summer) what was I going to do with my hair.  My aunt, poses the same question every other time I see her.  My mom, she's taken a new approach that entails sharing new miracle hair products with me at every opportunity.

I fucking love my hair today, in fact today I feel beautiful. What sucks is that to accomplish this feeling, I had to be (*singing in my best Celine Dion impression*) all by myself.  The good news, however, is that this moment of self-awareness has left me with the following lesson learned:

Love you, but fuck off:  I know you mean well and want what's best for me but right now I'm happy as is and don't need your suggestions on my improvement, thanks.

(PS - I'd like to dedicate this post to a very special little girl that I read about today.  Her name is Tiana Parker and she was recently sent home from her charter school, Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa Oklahoma for having (neat and well-styled) dreadlocks.  I am saddened that this school, who caters to Black and Latino students, is run by a predominately Black staff, and advised by an entirely Black school board, would take such an antiquated and conservative view on Black hair.  I am mortified at the pain they caused this beautiful, young straight-A student and view this perpetuation of Black shame (which may leave an indelible mark on her sense of self) as grossly despicable.  Obviously little Tiana is too young to tell the Deborah Brown Community School to fuck off but I am happy to do it for her.)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

In Pursuit of Happiness - A nonconvential spin on Martin Luther King's Dream

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Like many of you, I found myself engrossed in yesterday's media coverage of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  I listened intently to the online coverage and watched my Twitter Timeline come alive with prideful commentary, intellectual critiques, and hopeful wishes to see continue progress realized.  I was moved by the day's poignant speeches - some looking back, touching on the cultural significance of the historic event, some calling for present day action and some hopeful about what a future steeped in equal rights could mean for us all.

Yet, my most profound reaction to yesterday's events came during a moment of quiet reflection as I sat in my bed listening to a rebroadcast of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.  I've both heard and read this speech many times before and each time I was moved by the powerful, inspiring message of civic engagement, forward mobilization, and equality.  It was these messages of collective action that have historically captured my attention; but yesterday, for the first time, I found myself focusing on the underlying sentiment of the speech instead of the obvious call to action.

What I heard in the speech yesterday, perhaps because at this point in my life I'm in desperate need of positive messages, was an affirmation of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and hope and I was inspired in a profoundly personal way.  I have been on a very deliberate journey over the last 18 months to fulfill my own personal pursuit of happiness.  It started one morning when the weight of my unhappiness was so suffocating and overbearing that for the sake of my sanity, I proactively sought the help of a professional. Since that time, therapy has guided me in and out of some very uncomfortable places.  It has forced me to take an honest look at myself - strengths, weaknesses, flaws and all - and investigate both the inadvertent and complicit ways that I have (and continue to) obstruct my own happiness.

What has materialized from this in-depth personal investigation, is that I lack (for reasons I am still addressing in therapy) some of the basic building blocks of happiness, which, incidentally include accepting myself, forgiving myself, loving myself, and allowing myself to be hopeful.  Over the years I've overcompensated and compartmentalized in certain areas of my life, trying hard to avoid these difficult truths. In absence of true self-acceptance, I constructed a rational alternative of thinking objectively, living realistically, striving for perfection, refusing to be vulnerable, and perfecting my ability to be completely and utterly self-sufficient.

However, ask me to dream, big or small, and I'm at a complete loss.

I started this blog a couple months ago as a project of catharsis. It is meant to be a vehicle to start wholly expressing and accepting who I am (an insecure writer, lacking formal education, prone to moments of brilliance and a deep desire to someday be recognized for my greatness).  I started this blog to pursue my happiness and learn how to dream.  I started this blog because, ultimately, if you really want to change your life, you have to start somewhere, right?

Yesterday, Martin Luther King, Jr. posthumously reminded me that dreaming (in his case, dreaming big) and pursuing happiness are noble, worthwhile endeavors that can have enormous cascading affects.  Yesterday, Essence Debates (@Essence_Debates) asked their loyal followers: in what ways are you living MLK's dream? Today, my answer is to believe I'm worthy of having a dream.

-Ms.B.Happy, #IAmTheDream

Follow me @msbhappy (because I'm more fun on Twitter).

Thursday, August 22, 2013

This morning: Join Alicia Keys for a Community Conversation on HIV in Harlem!

More info
Yesterday Alicia Keys delighted regulars over at Essence Debates (my current midday addiction) by joining us to discuss the work she does with Keep a Child Alive, a non-profit organization that advocates for the treatment and support of families affected by HIV/AIDS.

Keys introduced us to the EMPOWERED campaign, which aims to deconstruct the stigma many associate with HIV/AIDS and replace the misconceptions with stories of  hope.  Yesterday's conversation was very fruitful, highlighting a true thirst for awareness around the topic.  Many people were curious as to how they could help and Alica tweeted a few suggestions:

Ms. Keys also shared that she is going to be in Harlem today for a Community Conversation on HIV and invited fellow New Yorkers join her.  Essence_Debates tweeted me the information and I'm sharing it below (it's a shameless Twitter plug in hopes that you'll follow me!).  I really want to be there but my weekend wedding plans on The Cape start tomorrow and 24 hours was not enough time to rework today's scheduled prep for that.  Hopefully some of you can attend and lend your support!! 

Today's Big Whoop: BlackTwitter Gets a Wikipedia Page

The Huffington Post Black Voices reported yesterday that Black Twitter has reached a social media milestone with Wikipedia "formally" recognizing it with it's own page.

I have mixed feelings about the announcement.  On the one hand, I don't like the idea of positioning Black Twitter as something that needs substantiation from outside entities (big boo to Bossip for this article title), especially since the insular nature of Black Twitter is where it derives a lot of its power.  On the other hand, I think the Wikipedia page can serve to catalog the history, use and cultural significance of this modern day movement.

Final thoughts:   Let's keep the celebration to a minimal on this one.  Thanks for the shout out Wikipedia, now excuse us as we get back to business.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Make You Feel Unpretty...

During a recent IM conversation, a very good male friend of mine asked me if I thought I was beautiful.  Before answering his question, my mind went through a bit of mental Olympics trying to formulate an appropriate answer.  I wanted my answer to be honest, self-assured, and devoid of vulnerability.  I wanted it to be matter of fact.  In fact, I wanted it to be so matter of fact that it seemed preposterous that he would ever even ask me such a question.  I wanted my answer to end this line of questioning forever.

I typed the following response: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Most often,  I think of myself as decently attractive; though perhaps, not in the classical sense of the term. But to the larger point that you are trying to make, I don’t tie my self-worth to beauty, I tie it to me in totality.

I thought about this conversation today after my writing idol Demetria Lucus, over at a Belle in BK, posted an op-ed titled: The Root: Banning Weaves Doesn't Raise Self Esteem.  In the piece Demetria talks about recent comments made by Rev. A.J. Aamir, a Texan preacher who asserts that “Black women are getting weaves trying to be something and someone they are not…"  Demetria, in pure A Belle in BK style, goes to work deconstructing everything that is right and wrong with what Rev. Aamir had to say:
But black women have to admit that there is something odd about choosing to attach the hair of other races of women to their own hair (sew-in) or scalp (glue-in). In general, black women don't attach hair that mimics the natural texture of their own, and that says a lot about how some -- again, not all -- women feel about their actual hair. To be clear, what it says is: I find this other woman's hair more acceptable or better than my own. That is a problem that deserves addressing. But it's not solved by banning weaves in church.

I understand what the pastor is trying to do, but his backhanded way of trying to get women to embrace themselves without enhancements (and get their financial priorities straight) isn't helpful. Frankly, the logic is off. If the minister's belief is that weaves are a sign of low self-esteem, then attacking the weave doesn't solve the problem. Increasing a woman's self-esteem isn't achieved by cutting out a weave. A woman won't mysteriously gain the self-esteem of Iyanla Vanzant by wearing her own hair. The actual, well, root of the self-esteem issue has to be addressed.

First off, as a pun enthusiast, I gleefully applaud the last sentence of this quote.  Secondly, and more to the point, I whole heartedly agree with Demetria - the underlying issue worth talking about here is Black women and self-esteem. My concern, however, is that when we discuss issues of self-esteem, we often misidentify women as the culprit of self-esteem issues, instead of the victims.  We tell these women that something is wrong with them – that their inability to think highly of themselves is evidence that they are unhappy, broken people.  The truth, however, is that most women with low self-esteem are responding quite naturally to the absence of positive external interactions.

Despite what Katt Williams would have you believe, self-esteem is not something one derives independently of others.  It is a learned, affirmed, and reinforced perception of self.  We begin constructing this idea of ourselves as children, and if we are lucky, we are told by our parents and families that we are beautiful (smart, talented, and hard-working). These are the seeds of self-esteem and this is how we learn to view ourselves as worthy and important. If we are lucky, these seeds are then affirmed by people outside of our families – our neighbors, teachers, and even the random stranger from time to time.  And the luckiest among us are blessed to have their sense of beauty subtly reinforced by the media (television, film, advertisements, and music videos) on a daily basis.
 Ask these women – who have had their sense of beauty affirmed and reinforced regularly – if they think they are beautiful and you will see little hesitation (though perhaps a bit of tactful modesty) in their response.  They intrinsically know they are beautiful.  That is how self-esteem works. 

Inversely, the absence of positive affirmations and reinforcements (or worse, negative affirmation/reinforcement) are the origins of low self-esteem.  So to call a Black woman’s obsession with weave a self-esteem issue, when mainstream media, corporate America and even our own men (via music videos) propagate an almost singular view of Black beauty - slim, fare, with long manageable hair – it feels disingenuous to blame the victims who are clearly just imitating the standard of beauty we as a society have agreed upon. 

In a perfect world we’d all believe ourselves beautiful.  In an ideal world, all little girls would be routinely told that they are beautiful by loved ones and strangers alike. In reality, if you ask me if I’m beautiful, I’m not sure I’d say yes.  That reality is sort of sad, but I know better than to blame myself.