Sunday, September 13, 2015

Damn, Get Over Vanessa Williams and the Nude Photos

Leave my girl Vanessa Williams alone!
This photo was taken around 2007.

I am so TIRED of people bringing up Vanessa Williams and her nude photos from back in the ‘80s.  The woman is a great actress, has a beautiful voice and is gorgeous beyond words. That all should supersede sexy pictures, but people like to stay stuck on the negative. She didn’t kill anyone. She didn’t start a war or boil kittens. She took naked pictures. It’s time to get over it.    

I’ve been a Vanessa Williams film since I was a little kid.  The girly-girl in me loved watching pageants as a child. I remember being so excited that a black woman finally won the Miss America crown in 1983. Many African-Americans were proud. My mother kept the Ebony issue with Vanessa Williams on the cover, wearing her crown and sash, on our coffee table.  At four years old, I was too young to remember how Vanessa Williams competed in the pageant. I admired her for beauty and poise.

When news broke that Penthouse had nude photos, black people were so disappointed. Miss America represented this idea of wholesome womanhood and America’s sweetheart. The photos pushed Vanessa Williams into the nasty girl category. Apparently, a contestant expressing she’s a sexual being isn’t Miss America-like, but rating women as they strut the pageant’s stage in bathing suits is acceptable.

Less than a year of becoming the first black Miss America, she made history again becoming the first Miss America to give up her crown. Again I was too young understand, but I knew why she stepped down. Looking back, that was probably my first lesson in slut-shaming.

A few years ago I finally saw the photos of Vanessa Williams online. Yes, they were very erotic. I like erotic art and thought she looked amazing. However, I understand why those photos with that level of heat became such a big deal back in the conservative ‘80s. But you know what, I don’t give a shit about the photos. So what?! She took those photos 30+ years ago and never gave the photographer consent to publish them. Penthouse reportedly paid morefor her photos, then any others during that time. I think she was only 19 or 20 when she posed. Who hasn’t done something wild in their youth? Vanessa Williams is in her 53. Can you imagine people constantly bringing up choices you made back in your late teens, early 20’s?  The people judging her probably have done/are doing all kind of wild, kinky, freaky, nasty even illegal things on the low.

I’m addressing this issue because Vanessa Williams will be judging the Miss America pageant this Sunday. It is rumored that officials will re-crown her. However some from the Miss America committee feel she should apologize as well. To that I say, “Hell naw.”

Vanessa Williams doesn’t owe anyone an apology. She’s actually doing Miss America a favor by appearing on the show since their ratings are so low. Vanessa Williams is probably the most successful woman to wear the Miss America title. She could have let that awful scandal ruin her, instead she kicked ass in her career. And she kicked ass on many levels in the entertainment industry. Not too many people in show biz have done TV, film, music, Broadway, books, dance, and been the voice of an M & M--all successfully. Her Christmas albums are some of my favorites. The only thing shameful regarding Vanessa Williams is that with all of her amazing talent, it’s ridiculous she hasn’t won a Grammy or Emmy.  

When I hear Vanessa Williams what comes to mind are her roles in Ugly Betty, A Diva’s Christmas Carol and Soul Food. I think of opening Christmas gifts while her holiday CDs played in the background. I think of songs like Save the Best for Last and Love Is, her 90210 soundtrack duet with Brian McKnight. It’s still one of my favorite songs today. I think of having the pleasure of meeting her.

Vanessa Williams is more than her sexuality and her body. By rising above the scandal and slut-shaming she also proved that she’s more than a pageant queen. Her resilience is admirable. She has strength and courage to overcome the past and keep moving, even though journalists and TV hosts continue to bring it up today. It’s been over 30 years. How many more ways can she answer the question about the photos?!

We get it. 

 She posed.

She’s still amazing.

Move on!


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Laughs and Real Talk on Race, Bordertown and Disney with
Lalo Alcaraz

Lalo Alacraz speaking to the Oakland audience
at Sole Space. They sell shoes and open their
space to nonprofits to host events. 
Can you imagine being offered a gig by the producers of Family Guy? Can you imagine getting a call from Disney’s Pixar for a gig too? Political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, creator of the national syndicated comic strip La Cucaracha, will be contributing his talents to these mega hitters in animation.

He’s writing for the FOX series Bordertown, a funny and edgy cartoon that takes on immigration. In the fictional town Mexifornia, white border agent Bud Buckwald is struggling with the change of racial demographics in the United States.  By 2020 a majority of children in the U.S.will be children of color. Eventually whites will no longer be the majority.

“The Mexican has become the man and I’ve become the Mexican,” said Buckwald in the pilot screening I watched in Downtown Oakland. Buckwald was comparing himself to his neighbor Ernesto Gonzalez, a successful landscaper and Mexican immigrant.

I interviewed Lalo Alcaraz for my podcast when he came to Oakland to screen Bordertown. We talked about the FOX series, race, Black Twitter and police brutality. I love the piece he made in reaction to the assault of Texas teen Dajerria Becton, by police at
a pool party while she was in a bikini. Of course we spoke on the backlash he received when it was announced that he was working for Disney Pixar on the film Coco, about the beautiful Mexican holiday that honors the deceased called Di√° de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.  The backlash was due to Alcaraz being heavily critical of Disney in the past.

I had too much fun in this interview. Lalo and I were cutting up. I hope you enjoy it! Listen below! 

Shout out to Sole Space in Oakland for housing the event. Please support them. They provide a free space to nonprofits to host events.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters: The Play About Young Black Womanhood I've Been Waiting For

Echo Brown is star of the PHENOMENAL
one-woman show Black Virgins Are Not
For Hipsters.
 I love being a black woman. And there’s so much to being a black woman—our loving, our struggles and triumphs, our beauty, our spirit. We’re often misrepresented and underrepresented in mainstream media. That is why I’m constantly looking for art and media by black women that tell our stories. Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters is the play I’ve been waiting for. In her one-woman show, actress and writer Echo Brown, 31, powerfully shares her personal experience of love, sexuality, interracial dating, abuse, race and so much more.  She covers the complexities of young, Black womanhood through a heart-felt blend of humor, drama and a surprising Beyonc√© dance tutorial.  I laughed. I cried. I left her show saying, “Damn that was deep.”

 I amazed this is the first show Echo Brown has ever written! She had no acting experience prior to this.

Brown plays a 23-year-old version of herself who moved to New York City after graduating from Dartmouth. She lands a job investigating allegations of misconduct by NYPD officers. Brown is also a virgin looking for love. She finds it on Craigslist where she meets Ryan--a cute, white hipster from Portland, living in Brooklyn. The play takes place on the night of her “deflowering.” As she’s preparing for Ryan’s arrival to her apartment, she reminisces on her past experiences in life that brought her to this point.

Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters is running at The Marsh Theater in San Francisco. Sometimes she performs the show in her native Cleveland, Ohio.

I spoke with Brown who lives in Oakland. We discussed her life and the issues she raises in the play.

JD: Is this based on your life?
EB: All of the events happened. How it’s put together is the art of it.

JD:. What inspired you to write the show?

EB: I just moved here from New York and had such a hard time dating out here. It’s unbelievable to me. I’ve been out here for four years and maybe dated like two or three people. I thought I was going to write this cute show about dating, then all of this trauma emerged. That’s what I needed to write and I didn’t stop.

JD: Why is a young, attractive Black woman and Dartmouth graduate a virgin at 23?

JD and EB: [Laughter]

EB: Story of my life.
 If you have been so conditioned with ideas, as I was, that you are unattractive because you’re too dark and you look African-- and if you receive those messages from multiple sources like people in your family, your community and the media, then you grow up with a really low self-esteem. Which is what I had and what I still struggle with. I closed myself down entirely, and was only able to come out of that when I was 23.

JD: What changed at 23?

EB: First of all, I needed to get some action. Getting no action will make you crazy.

JD and EB: [Laughter]

JD: Yes it will!

EB: Who knows when the [personal] work that you do actually blossoms.
I remember the moment. I was walking down the street in New York, and feeling super lonely. And I just had a thought to myself that somebody must want to date me. That thought propelled me to look for this person. It was some kind of internal shift for me. 

JD: You talk about hardships black men experience, including your brother and the legal system.

EB: When I got out of college my brother was going to prison for the first time and that was so traumatic for me. It’s not like people just go to prison and do their time. People have connections to families. You send somebody to prison, you’re sending somebody’s son, brother. It’s traumatizing. I’m worried about my brother. I’m trying to do this job. I’m trying to find somebody to love me.

JD: You have compassion for Black men. But you also share your pain of being rejected and abused by Black men. Why was it important to include this in the story?

EB: That was hard for me to put in there because Black men are so crucified in the media. It’s hard when you want to talk about an issue in the community, but you  want to be united on all fronts. But it has to be in there because I’m being truthful. The people who have victimized me the most in my life have been black men.

The father that I talk about in the play is my stepfather. My actual father left me and was one of the people that called me ugly. I’ve had systematic abuse from a lot of different Black men and hardly any positive reinforcement. I wanted to balance this out by showing love to my brother, a black man in the play and not have this “Oh this white man saved me [idea].”

 JD: What’s your response to someone who thinks you started dating a white guy because of your issues with black men?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Don't Let Your Job Make You Snap: Discrimination, Mental Illness and Reactions to the Shootings of Virginia Journalists

Shooter Vester Flanagan's on-air name was Bryce Williams
I was absolutely shocked when I went online Wednesday morning and read that someone killed two journalists live on air and the gunman was a former co-worker. My prayers go out to the loved ones and colleagues of WDBJ reporter Allison Parker, 24 and cameraman Adam Ward, 27. What they all endured was inhumane.

According to various news sources, the motive for Vester Lee Flanagan killing these young journalists was racism. Flanagan was a gay black man. He alleged that Parker made racist remarks, and after reporting her she was later promoted. Ward reported Flanagan to HR after one day of working with him. BuzzFeed reports a year after Flanagan was fired he filed a lawsuit against the station for harassment, racial and sexual discrimination and retaliation. Memos from the station claim he was difficult to work with and made others feel uncomfortable and threatened. They referred him to get help. WDBJ fired Flanagan two years ago and his anger was stewing ever since. Flanagan also settled a race discrimination lawsuit with Florida station WTWC in 2000. 

I don't know if Flanagan's allegations about WDBJ are true or not. I don't excuse his rage and I certainly don't agree with fighting racism, with hatred and violence. However, I do want to discuss racism in journalism. It's not uncommon in this profession. I’ve experienced both racism and sexism in the newsroom and other media jobs. I had one job where I pitched ideas during a meeting and no one responded. Yet, when a white guy suggested the exact same thing minutes later, everyone raved. One time a Black male colleague tried to hug me and then told me to sit on his lap. I’ve been underpaid by, self-proclaimed “feminist” supervisors, despite having more education and work experience than other co-workers.  My point is racists, sexists, jerks and morons exist in every race and gender. And yes they work in the newsroom.  Thankfully, I’ve also worked with wonderful men and women of all races who continue to support and uplift me. Still, I understand how incredibly frustrating it is to experience racism and sexism or be held back by them, when all you want is to work and grow in your career. Sometimes it’s not your job duties that annoy you, but the people you work with.

When people are driving you so crazy on your job, that it’s taking a toll on your mind or body, it’s time to leave.  I wanted to write about this even before this recent shooting.  My last job became stressful because of office politics and disorganization. Some of my co-workers were hospitalized due to stress.  Working there made me physically sick. I developed fibroids and digestive problems. The daily drama was toxic to my body. Budget cuts to my department was the best thing that happened to me. I believe if I stayed, I would’ve had a mental breakdown or a stroke. I know of a few people that died from the stress of their jobs. A relative told me that a friend of theirs was found dead at his cubicle hunched over his keyboard. No job is worth losing your life or sanity over. If you don’t think the workplace is going to change for the better -- get the heck out of there. Figure out a plan, look for other jobs, get training, go back to school, do something.

Journalists and victims Allison Parker and Adam Ward. 

Oprah shared in this great interview with Stanford Business School that when she was co-hosting a local show with a male, she made less. She asked her boss for equal pay and he said no because she was single and didn’t have a family. Her co-host had a family and therefore was entitled to more money. Oprah didn’t fight it, she left the station. And look at her now!  I’m not arguing against fighting injustice at the workplace. During that time, gender discrimination was taken as seriously. Oprah said she knew the situation wasn’t going to get better. She could’ve allowed the job to get the best of her; instead she sought out another place to work.

And after you leave that job, let that stuff go. Flanagan admitted to carrying a lot of anger after being fired, and in his life. He said that he endured homophobia and racism from other people. Anger can be consuming whether you have a mental issue or not. He wrote that the shooting in Charleston was a tipping point. I imagine those people who died in that church wouldn’t agree with him killing, especially out of hatred. He killed Allison Parker and Adam Ward, but inflicted more pain on their loved ones and his loved ones. Killing them didn’t solve anything. Flanagan was from Oakland and I’ve seen his relatives on the local news here since the shootings. I cannot imagine what his father is going through. I cannot imagine how the parents of Allison Parker and Adam Ward are feeling.

As for the mental health component to all of this:
All of these major shootings have been at the hands of men. We need to encourage men to express their emotions, feel their emotions. Discouraging men from feeling sad, hurt, etc. by saying they’re less than a man is damaging. Some of these men are in emotional pain, and their solution is a gun. I guess that’s because expressions of anger and violence are considered more manly. To me it takes more strength to work through your pain.  I’m not sure if Flanagan was going to therapy. Some of these killers have mental illness. But people kill whether they have a mental illness or not.

Marginalized communities need more emotional support and tools in how to handle the psychological impacts of discrimination and stay mentally healthy. Oppression can take a toll on your mind. We hear so many stories of gay and trans youth killing themselves because family or peers do not accept them. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. can impact others psychologically as well.

I heard in a news story today that Vester Lee Flanagan texted a friend after the shooting and said he did something stupid. Stupid is not the word. What he did was wrong and sad.  


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