• On My Mind: A Husband and Children

    The theme of my life this past week was “A Husband and Children”. I performed at an event last Friday night and took a cab home with a journalist. The event was geared towards community development with a theme on youth in our community. En route the journalist looked at me and said “So you must have a husband? Children?” To which I replied “No I don’t.” Then she said something to the effect of oh that’s really too bad because I can tell that you love young people so much. I made a joke like thanks for reminding me that I don’t have anyone. The next day I’m home reading this book, it’s a novel, fiction about a young girl growing up, blossoming into womanhood, and in the end getting married to her high school sweetheart. Next thing I’m crying, and I had no idea why, it wasn’t even PMS week.

    So I said out loud…

    “Okay Lord I admit it I’ve closed myself off, and I do still want to get married” There, I said it out loud. You see as I get closer to forty and am still single, I think I just decided to give up, and I have resigned myself to the idea that maybe I am not meant to be with anyone.

    I think a lot of women convince themselves of that when they are single and not dating. But, this story gets better. After I had my little cry my phone rings… It’s a man’s voice that I do not recognize. It turns out it’s someone I met four years ago, and from what I remember, we never went out, we exchanged numbers, he lived in Chicago, but whenever we would talk, I found him rude, short and I don’t really need to stay in touch with someone so negative. So I asked him why he was calling me. Out of the blue he says “Anne-Marie don’t you want to get married and have kids?” I’m thinking uh where did this come from?

    Oh it gets better… then he says “Don’t you know that if you were with me you wouldn’t have to want for anything, I could take care of you, you could still perform and …” I was a bit taken aback (stunned would be a better word), mostly because I haven’t talked to this man in years, and I have no idea why he said that to me. I got off the phone with him, wondering why a complete stranger to me would ask me about having children and then say if I was with them everything would be fine.

    And then I remembered a conversation with my good friend in Atlanta… “Girl you can’t find a man if you sit at home, finding a man is like looking for a job, you need to get out there and look” I have never really considered doing that and I host singles events to get people talking in Toronto. However, because I’m hosting I usually never get to talk to anyone. And then my other friend’s mother the other morning basically told me the same thing, I need to be out there make myself available. I have to admit I’m not sure how to do that anymore. Sure in my 20’s it was easy traveling meeting people, dating, and having people approach you. But now I’m almost 40 years old, I don’t find that men in my age group do approach me. I don’t do the club scene anymore, and for the last year I could hardly walk due to a knee injury; so my focus was more on getting better than meeting anyone.

    Are these people right? Am I supposed to put myself out there? But where am I supposed to put myself exactly? On a bill board?

    One of the reasons I started the singles events in Toronto was to try and get Black men and women talking to one another, just having fun, but it’s a lot of work. The men hardly sign up for the events, they seem so cautious. If I am out on my own and I smile or say hello to a brotha, they often don’t say hello back to me. I asked one man about this and he said they were probably in shock that I spoke. So, like I say for my events, if people don’t speak to each other, how are we supposed to meet one another? It’s a mystery to me. I think it’s easier to date in our early 20’s life is easier then, less baggage, you’re more carefree, by the late 30’s we’ve been through some things, been hurt and we’re more cautious. Most of my friends are married with children, and I admit that is what I wanted for myself. But I’m wondering have I really given up on the Husband and the Children? In that order of course… or is it something I still want deep down inside but because of my surroundings I don’t want to admit it? Then, I wonder do Black men ever feel this way?

    So today, the thought of having or not having a Husband and Children was on my mind.

  • She's Really Pretty for a Dark Girl

    A Black man's take on love, race and the angry black woman - PART II

    “Okay, I admit it: I love light-skinned Black women. I also love women who are chocolate-beige, inky black and a deep dark Hershey's brown. But for some reason I've always had a weakness for tall coffee-colored women who are heavy on the cream. … Today beautiful is deep dark skin with naturally kinky hair. … Don't get me wrong, I think that's all wonderful. My girlfriend, one of the most attractive women I've ever met, is the color of a Nestle Crunch with a nice short haircut. Still, I always do a double take when a Vanessa Williams type walks by. And just for that, brothers and sisters are calling me a sellout.

    Why do I like light-skinned women? Maybe because I had an encounter or two with light sisters during my formative years. Maybe because up until the past several years the only Black women American society has allowed to be presented as beautiful have light skin and European features. Maybe because many of today's largest Black superstars are with light women, including Michael Jordan, Spike Lee, Ice Cube, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, Ice T and John Singleton.”

    - Jesse Washington "A lighter shade of black - African American man prefers light-skinned Black women - Column". Essence. Jan 1995

    Any brother reading the above quote can only have one thing on their mind: “That brethren has some serious courage disclosing those innermost feelings in Essence magazine of all places.” But one would be hard-pressed to find any Black man who doesn’t have some, or most, of those thoughts in their mind. It’s the result of centuries of slavery, colonialism, history, popular culture and modern-day media images bombarding us with a certain type of beauty ideal.

    Or could it be just a matter of personal preference? As Jesse Washington also points out in his Essence piece, could it be: “no different than why I like chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla, or rap and jazz instead of R&B and gospel?” Even some of the most radically pro-Black brothers I’ve known in my day were not immune to that either. In fact, I’d say they were sometimes the ones most likely to seek light-skinned women. Does that take anything away from their commitment to their community and culture?

    On a personal level, I have always tended to prefer bronze-colour to mocha-chocolate skinned women. But before I pat myself on the back, along with that has often come a preference for long hair. Not to say, again, that I have not dated and loved mocha-skinned women with short natural hair but I would be a liar if I said that I wouldn’t take a second look at a sister with long wavy locks walking in a room. It’s always been one of those subconscious things, more often than I’ve even realized, which has played a role in most of my dating life.

    If there’s one thing that at least the last three of my girlfriends can say about me is how I could spend literally hours playing with and caressing their hair. Where does this quasi-obsession with “good hair” come from? It could be the countless times growing up when a new baby would be born somewhere in the family and one relative or the other would say: “I wonder if the baby’s soft hair will stay like this or “go bad” with time.” Or how the mothers would keep an eye on the ears of the baby for any signs of darker pigmentation. Since, as the saying goes, if the ears get dark, so will the baby’s skin.

    “Wouldn't they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass Momma wouldn't let me straighten? My light-blue eyes would hypnotize them... “

    - I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

    More often than we’d like to think, those issues of hair texture and skin tone play a determining role in our choices of mates. I’ve also known of dark-skinned sisters who would only consider light-skinned brothers, or even White men, as potential husbands because they did not want their daughters to experience the harsh realities of exclusion that they‘ve gone through their whole lives. Black women certainly have to contend with a biased world where the hierarchy of beauty starts at the top with the blond-haired and blue-eyed European aesthetic ideal -- down to the dark-skinned and coarse-haired Black woman. The psychological effects of perpetually living as “the other”, the further down the ladder she finds herself in, certainly can’t be negligible.

    How may times have I found myself out on the week-end with my boys scoping out the scene and not heard that proverbial comment from someone in the crew saying: ”She’s dark but she’s beautiful.“ In most cases, that meant she was dark but had long straight hair. She was dark but had nice (read European) features. “She must have some Indian in her” is another popular comment.

    I guess the important thing is to be aware of our own internal prejudices and be prepared to ask ourselves some hard questions. Are our choices really our own or simply reactions to society’s imposed standards?

  • Black Gold

    Exposé Details Coffee Cartel’s Exploitation of Ethiopians

    In Ethiopia, where coffee originated, over 15 million people are dependent on this aromatic bean for their very survival. In fact, the country generates about 67% of its total revenues via exports of this coveted commodity. So, with such multi-national corporations as Kraft, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, and Sara Lee competing in this $80 billion-dollar industry, one would think that the farmers would be able to demand a fair price for what they produce.Tragically, this is not the case, as eloquently explained in Black Gold, a perplexing expose’ documentary directed by Nick and Marc Francis.

    What these brothers found was that while companies like Starbucks are reaping record profits, none of the benefits of coffee’s skyrocketing popularity has trickled down to the farmers trying to eke out a living in cash-strapped Ethiopia.

    The picture points out that they are paid 23 cents a kilo for their coffee, which ultimate sells for about $230 per kilo, a figure arrived at by translating the $3/cup rate charged by the upscale retail outlets. All the profits from this tremendous mark-up benefits the aforementioned cartel which sets the international price for coffee, the world’s 2nd most actively traded commodity (behind oil), in New York and London.Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, the average worker in the coffee industry earns 50 cents a day for their grueling work, whether in the sweltering fields or in a fetid factory. The film amply illustrates that this meager salary is barely enough to subsist on, as family providers frequently find themselves having to choose between spending money on food, clean water, shelter, clothing or education for their children.There is a touching scene in Black Gold where we see Ethiopians earnestly engaged in a prayer ritual begging God to raise the praise of coffee.

    This tableau the directors cleverly offset with telling interviews in which clueless consumers living far away in the lap of luxury in la-la land acknowledge having no clue about the desperate plight of the folks who farmed the beans for the brew they’re enjoying.The premise powerfully postulated by Black Gold is that not only Ethiopians, but millions and millions of other Africans are also suffering due to the paltry prices paid by big business for natural resources which most people from developed countries take for granted. Africa is already the only continent to grow poorer over the past 20 years, so the urgent message which must be heeded is that until the West becomes willing to pay fair prices, the rape of the continent will continue unabated, leaving vast populations in economic crisis, stranded and seemingly without recourse in increasingly dire straits.

  • Mama Said Watch Out

    A Black man's take on love, race and the angry black woman - PART I

    I grew up in a relatively pro-Black family with strong beliefs in the values of family, culture and heritage.  What I’ve always admired my family for is that despite the cultural pride they instilled in me, there was never any message that anyone else was necessarily inferior either. The idea was that we were “just as good” as anyone else and that our character and moral standards were the measure by which the world would judge us – and we judge ourselves. In the midst of the racism we encountered growing up in a small industrial town in a nearby province, my mother and father always stood tall and never allowed us to feel like the occasional taunts from bigoted locals were justified in any way. They were the acts of uneducated people with poor moral fortitude.

    I went to 99.9% White schools for all of grade school and most of high school. Perhaps that’s why it was always such a priority for my parents to always make sure I knew who I was. I would hear about my slave ancestors in the Caribbean who fought against the colonial powers, and about how my maternal grandfather raised his family honestly as a schoolteacher while never missing Sunday mass -- where he played the organ.

    As I reached my teenage years, the inevitable topic of dating of course come up. That was my mother’s job in the household. I could tell she was eager to impart some of her wisdom. I somewhat got a taste years earlier of her perhaps overenthusiastic interest in my dating life when, as an 8 year-old, I asked her if I could invite my first crush to dinner. Her name was Julie Duheme, a White girl from school. I had to eventually stop mentioning Julie at home because my mother couldn’t stop going on and on about how cute it was that her little boy had a little girlfriend. Even grandma back home in the Caribbean knew about Julie.

    Back then the topic of Julie’s race never came up at home. But I did recall never getting a similar invitation to Julie’s house for dinner despite the fact that she lived just a couple of houses down on the next street. I just remember her parents’ polite smiles and her father always petting my hair in strange curiosity. We left the small town a year later and I never saw Julie again. When we moved to the bigger town, the cultural mix in our new neighbourhood was much better. But it was still evident that there was an Italian neighbourhood, a Greek area, a Jewish one, a Caribbean one and so forth.

    The Birth of an Angry Black Woman

    By the time I reached my teens, my mother started becoming more concerned about educating me about my dating choices. She said she would welcome anyone I choose to date but to keep in mind that, in the eyes of most White girls, I would be an interesting curiosity and to watch out for that. Now that I’m older, I can perhaps understand where her concerns might have stemmed from. It was around the time when we moved to the large city that my parents’ marriage started falling apart. My father would come home later and later at night. We would often see him with a White female colleague of his from the office as they came by for a visit between sales meetings. My mother would often go on company functions and trips with my dad and I recall them arguing over that same female colleague many times

    I think my mother was becoming an angry Black woman seeing her increasingly successful Black husband going astray with the lure of this White woman.

    Eventually, as the story goes, that same woman used my father to get ahead in the company and my father was forced out.

    I never really knew what actually happened between my father and this White woman but it was the slow beginning of the end for my parents’ marriage. To this day, my father says he needs to one day tell us his side of the story – when he gets around to it. I guess it became my mother’s mission to make sure that I don’t fail where my father did. While she never actually told me not to date White women, she would always remind me how good Black men should always be careful about the real motives of White women who claim to care for us and love us. “You are an exotic curiosity for them” as she would always say. “They will parade you in front of their friends and family and say: ‘Look, I got myself one.’” She would sometimes say those things jokingly and we would laugh. But deep down, I knew she meant it.

    After years of raising two kids in a strange land full of promise, she found herself alone with the loving duty to raise a young man whom she has so much hope for. I can’t say that my mother is an angry and bitter woman. She still brings a ray of sunshine into every room she walks into and won’t show anyone attitude unless they really deserve it. But her story has been told and retold for generations from Othello’s days to today’s corporate boardrooms across North America. It’s her experience, and her efforts in making sure that I knew and understood those hard-learned lessons, which give me a good understanding of the root causes behind the birth of the angry Black woman.

    But does that mean that I have to settle for a constantly chaotic and confrontational relationship with a Black woman to feel that I’m being true to my sisters? Not a chance. What it “does” mean is that I understand the struggle that Black women have had to endure and that I am hopeful that I will one day find a sister who knows and understands that my mother didn’t raise another “Tyrone.” And that I am not the one who needs to pay for every wrong done to her.

    More to come in PART II

  • Until Debt Do Us Part

    Should "no romance without finance" be the motto before talking marriage?

    "If couples can't ask their potential mate about finances, I would say they're not ready to get married … It''s like going to the doctor and then refusing to take off your clothes. What's the point?"

    Kathleen Stepp, CPA, CFP, a financial advisor with Stepp & Rothwell Inc (Kansas)

    It’s a gorgeous end-of-summer evening in Toronto and I’m getting ready to get into my car to pick up a girlfriend I’ve been seeing for about six months. We’re going out for dinner in Yorkville. She always looks forward to those Yorkville Saturday nights out. It’s one of our favourite dating spots. Before heading out, I go online to make sure that my monthly cell phone bill has cleared my Visa before I use it to charge tonight’s dinner. Great, I’ve got enough room on it. I’ll pay it down at the end of next week – after I clear my student loan payments once I get paid again. Our trip to Montreal isn’t scheduled until next month so I should be able to cover my share of the hotel bill. Sure it’s a bit of financial gymnastics to keep up this whirlwind romance but we all have to do this in the beginning right? It’s all about putting our best foot forward for the courting period.

    So how long until she knows about my mounting credit card bills and student loan back due debt? I don’t know. Why do I need to worry about that? Besides, talking about money is tacky. Nobody wants to know about your problems. We all have our crosses to bear. I’m sure she has her own issues as well so why bring it up? The same way I pay for dinner when we go out, she buys concert tickets and never forgets to get me something when she goes on her monthly shopping sprees. Why should I care how she pays for it? She loves me right? I won’t be the party pooper.

    If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s not surprising. Whether you are a man or a woman, we have all put on that show to impress dates, co-workers and even family members. Do we ever stop to think, however, that maybe the people in our lives we put on the show for might expect the show to go on forever? After seeing most of my friends get hitched over the past few years, I have learned through their experience that disclosure, disclose, disclosure is the name of the game if even the “thought” of marriage seriously starts coming into play. The realities of dating and marriage are two entirely different beasts.

    As a single person dating, it “is” probably wiser to keep your business to yourself to some extent. You don’t really owe any explanations to someone you probably won’t still be speaking to next year. The fact that you may spend $500 on clothes every month can work great for the single lifestyle. You’re looking good, attracting the stares and all is great. But once you start getting into a life-partner or marriage situation, those spending habits may start causing friction with the significant other. What may seem reasonable to you can come across as excessive to your new wife or husband.

    But strangely, many people never get into those conversations, or even realize those patterns, until after they get married. For instance, you may find yourself having to cut back on your monthly shopping expenses because you suddenly find out that your significant other had filed for bankruptcy five years ago and you can’t get that low-interest mortgage you were hoping to get. Moreover, once you start sharing bank accounts together, you may start discovering debts you didn’t know your partner had. How were you to know that your man’s weekly romantic lounge outings were financed by payday loans?

    So before you start shopping for wedding rings on credit and booking reception halls, financial advisors and marriage counselors recommend that you and your mate sit down and openly go through every single details of your current financial situation. Student loans, credit card debts, and your credit reports are all “must discuss” subject matters before entering into a marriage. Once you both know what you are getting yourselves into together, the chances of having a successful marriage will greatly increase. Figure out your spending patterns. Is one of you a spender while the other one is a saver? That can be worked out with one person making sure all the bills are paid and deciding together on a budget for a little splurging.

    Marriage is not a solution to problems. In fact, marriage can actually magnify issues that may have been left unexamined beforehand. So make sure to consider the three essential D’s: Disclose. Discuss. Decide.

  • African & Diaspora Films at TIFF 2006

    A look back at four great films featured at the Toronto International Film Festival 2006

    Bamako (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2006)

    Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s film Bamako must be considered one of the most powerful African diaspora films screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The film chronicles a trial court, set up in a communal courtyard, where the World Bank, the IMF, and globalization as a whole are put on trial by local village residents.

    Abderrahmane Sissako (one of Africa’s most celebrated filmmakers) set the movie in his father’s actual house and courtyard, in Bamako, Mali’s poorer neighbourhood of Hamdallaye. Sissako grew up in that house. He explains that: “this house is associated with the memory of passionate discussions with my father about Africa.” In the film, the house belongs to bar singer Melé and her out of work husband Chaka. As the trial proceeds, the film follows several secondary plots depicting seemingly mundane lives of people going about their daily routine. Sissako sought to demonstrate how these grand debates affect the daily lives of African civil society.

    Presenting their case to a series of judges and lawyers, including a European judge prominently featured as the devil’s advocate, a series of inspiring witnesses testify to voice their resentment. A particularly powerful witness was a woman named Aminata Traoré, who says: “I am against the fact that Africa’s main characteristic in the eyes of the world is its poverty. Africa is rather the victim of its wealth. Pauperization and not poverty should be the focus. By tackling pauperization then you are touching the mechanism. Bush is at the centre of this mechanism. He is the orchestra’s conductor. So I don’t see why he is complaining.”

    Attacking globalization, in response to the European judge’s point that we now live in a global world without borders, Aminata Traoré makes the salient point that the world’s borders might well be opened for Whites but they are definitely closed to Blacks. Reinforcing that point, another witness, Madou, comes forward to tell his story of traversing the Algerian desert in and attempt to reach Morocco with 30 other West African economic refugees. He recounts the horrors of being shot at by border guards and being left to wander aimlessly in the desert -- with only ten of them eventually surviving the ordeal unscathed.

    Essentially, Bamako is an intelligently measured but intense diatribe against the West’s exploitation of African lives and labour as the base of its economic power.

    Abeni (Tunde Kelani, 2006)

    Abeni is a captivating love story coming out of a newly effervescent Nigerian film industry which is bursting at the seems. Know as “Nollywood”, the grass-roots-based Nigerian movie industry has, since the late 1990’s, quickly found its rightful place next to Hollywood flicks and India’s equivalent, Bollywood, among the hearts and minds of film-goers in English-speaking Africa. The story tells the tale of an African “Juliet”, Abeni (played wonderfully by rising Nollywood star Sola Asedeko) who falls in love with Akanni (Abdel Hakim Amzat). Their love affair starts off during their childhood. But already, there are barriers. Abeni is from a wealthy family while Akanni comes from a modest upbringing. Akanni was a boisterous child and, after getting into a fight with another boy at Abeni’s 10 th birthday party, he is kicked out by Abeni’s father. Fearful of the shame and retributions caused by Akanni’s actions, his father (who worked for Abeni’s father) moves the family across the Nigerian border to Cotonou, in Benin.

    Years later, as adults, Abeni and Akanni find each other again by chance as Abeni happens to visit Cotonou with a group of friends. By then, Akanni had pulled himself out of poverty and earned a descent living as an accounting director. But as the film’s director, Tunde Kelani, astutely demonstrates with his foray into the class and ethnic taboos which still exist between Anglophone Nigerians and the Francophone Beninois,  the cultural barriers along class and linguistic lines continue to challenge their union. Speaking to AfroToronto.com last week-end at the R.O.M., director Tunde Kelani says that exploring the cultural divide between Anglophone and Francophone Africans through film is a healing exercise capable of tearing down those artificial barriers within the Yoruba world which are merely the product of European colonialism.

    It is evident that with a conservative estimate of $45 million a year in revenue as an industry (despite widespread piracy), Nollywood is certainly poised to have a major influence on African popular culture. Recently, during the Toronto International AIDS conference, a Nollywood movie tackling the AIDS epidemic in Africa through everyday life in Nigeria also showed that Nollywood is out to change the world!

    Ghosts of Cité Soleil (Asger Leth, 2006)

    Only a two-hour flight from Miami, Haiti, described by the UN as “a silent emergency”, became the world’s first Black republic in 1804 when slaves rose in revolt against the French. This act of defiance against a world where slavery was still part of very fabric of the global economic engine has never been swallowed by the powers that be. From immediately imposed trade embargos, to invasions and occupations, a strong case can be made for the argument that Haiti is the victim of “manufactured poverty.” Haiti’s 8 million inhabitants are living in a state almost constant political upheaval and succeeding dictatorships --- which have come to define daily life in the Caribbean island.

    In 1990, a glimmer of hope seemed to have been ignited with the popular election of a humble priest hailing from the masses named Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Following the collapse of the military government of Prosper Avril, Aristide became Haiti’s first democratically elected president. However, the jubilations did not last long. In 1991, he was overrun by a military junta while outside the country. The military regime lasted until 1994. Aristide was then returned to power by military forces from the UN and the U.S. After losing power in 1995, his Lavalas (the party he founded) comrade René Préval held power until 2000. Aristide then won the year 2000 election. During this latest term, the U.S. funded and trained an anti-Aristide paramilitary army in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Finally, in 2004, Aristide was overthrown again and fled to South Africa. The outside interference of the U.S. on, ironically, the bicentennial of Haiti’s independence has left a sour taste in the mouth of many.

    Danish Direct Asger Leth’s film Ghosts of Cité Soleil takes place in that tumultuous year of 2004 – when the U.S.-backed rebel forces were fast moving in from the north and into the capital of Port-au-Prince -- with the violent aim of overthrowing Aristide. Coming perilously close to the action, Asger Leth and Serbian co-director and cinematographer Milos Loncarevic follow the lives of two top gang leaders in Haiti’s dangerous slums of Cité Soleil. They are real-life brothers 2pac and Bily. They lead the Chimères, the secret army of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They will go to any length to crush Aristide’s opposition. While Aristide never officially acknowledge arming the Chimère or creating a secret army, the film seeks to bring to light this underground power structure supporting Aristide’s regime.

    While the aim of the film is noble as far as presenting very convincing evidence showing the Chimère’s tight links with the Aristide regime, Leth and Loncarevic fail to properly balance the political equation and explore the similar vicious arms deals and training by the U.S. government of rebel forces from the north. In fact, the rebel forces are basically portrayed as liberators with very little blood on their hands. This is known to be historically inaccurate. Nevertheless, the film gives a very realistic portrayal of one side of the political dividing line which needs to be told.

    When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts(Spike Lee, 2006)

    By official count, more than 1,300 people lost their lives and 500,000 were displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina -- which devastated lives from Louisiana to Mississippi just over a year ago. In his latest epic-film When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, filmmaker Spike Lee gives a large socio-political context to the Katrina disaster. The issues of race and class, a “Chocolate City” left to fend for itself.

    Speaking to Reuters recently, Spike Lee gave an inkling about his motivation to complete this project: “I wouldn’t put anything past the U.S. government when it comes to people of color …There is too much history... going back to when the U.S. army gave smallpox-infested blankets to Native Americans.” AfroToronto.com had a chance to speak to Spike Lee about When The Levees Broke during his red-carpet entrance for its Toronto International Film Festival screen at Ryerson University.
    Responding to AfroToronto’s question about what he thinks this film’s legacy will be, Lee says that he has no control over that. He just wishes to be able to show the facts as they were in the hopes that those who are still asleep will wake up.

    In fact, Spike Lee is never seen or heard of in the film, except when he asks questions to his interviewees. While he may have been criticized in the past by some critics for his didactic style, in When the Levees Broke, Lee lets the story be told by those who lived it. From the ordinary people of the Ninth Ward, to Kanye West, Sean Penn, Rev. Al Sharpton, Mayor Ray Nagin, Governor Kathleen Blanco, and former police chief Eddie Compass, all get to describe how events unfolded, and how they were personally affected.

    A particularly strong testimony is that of New Orleans native Herbert Freeman Jr. who describes how his mother died next to him on a wheelchair as they waited in vain for days for buses to come by the Superdome. He was ordered to depart from the dome and leave his dead mother behind with just a hand-scribbled note attached to her body. Even when he tried to get to her body several days later, he was prevented from doing so by a National Guardsman with a machine gun.

    When the Levees Broke is a no-holds-barred exposé of the failures of all levels of the government which resulted in the unspeakable destruction of human lives. Spike Lee doesn’t shy away from exposing those lapses in judgment and overt bias and racism by political officials. A shocking part of the movie features a recording of Barbara Bush (the President’s mother) visiting the Superdome and casually saying: “So many of the people in the areas here were underprivileged anyway, so this is working out quite well for them.”

  • Do Black Women Have Attitude?

    Busting the Myth of The Angry Black Woman

    If you are a black woman, then at some point in your life, you have heard of the so called black female attitude problem. Expressions like black women think they are ‘all that’ or they ‘feel sweet’ are common place these days. Perhaps the most popular expression that pigeonholes and marginalizes the context of the black woman is the so called Angry Black Woman (ABW) term. The expression gives off a vision of a tart-tongued, creatively choreographed neck twisting, finger-wagging, eye-rolling, eye-brow rising, loud-mouthed, drama-filled, defiant sister in a typical Shakespearean taming-of-the-shrew style. Are there sisters like that? Most certainly, just like there are other women of other races with attitude as Shakespeare observed hundreds of years ago. But are all black women like that?

    The Evolution of Black Women Image Stereotypes

    It is interesting how the stereotypical portrayal of black women has evolved over the years. At one point it was the smiling, asexual, undesirable, overweight Auntie Jemima-esque Mammy and then not too long ago the promiscuous, highly-sexed, always ready, never-say-no, crafty Jezebel who ensnares men with her sexual charms. Today it is the angry black woman, or the attitudinal black woman.

    Even the media is milking the stereotype and perpetuating the myth to endless proportions. In the fictitious worlds of film and television, there is no shortage of the portrayal of the angry black woman. Think “The Diary of Mad Black Woman”, the rapper Eve''s shouting and tongue-lashing role as Terri in “The Barbershop”, Gabrielle Unions role as in “Deliver Us From Eva,” Wanda Sykes tongue-scolding role in HBO''s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, Vivica Fox in “Two Can Play That Game,” Lynn Whitfield in a “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” and of course the poster child for the angry black woman with attitude on top of that - Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth of “The Apprentice.”

    The angry black woman is seen as off-putting and a little intimidating by many males. That is understandable. You can trust that women like that are off-putting to other females as well. But is the generalization of the term acceptable and warranted? Earlier this year, I was invited on a radio show to speak on the topic of the series of interracial dating articles I wrote a few months back for Afrotoronto. I am very liberal-minded, but I was surprised to hear grown black men call in to say that they prefer to date outside of the black race because they did not have to worry about attitudinal issues when they do that. They blamed black women for having attitudes and some even went as far as to say that black women were ‘golddiggers’ and ‘materialistic.’

    One male caller complained that black women will only date men who had cars, money, bling bling and had a white collar job. He pointed out that black women were too haughty, too demanding and had unreasonably high standards (which he obviously felt he feel short of) and that was why he preferred interracial dating. The host of the show, who was a black male, challenged him and asked if he was saying that ALL black women had attitude. The caller’s response was that 90% of them did. The host then told him that he disagreed with that generalization and that it was not his experience. He pointed out that some black women had attitudes but not all do. After the conversation ended, we both wondered how that particular caller could possibly know that many women, to the point where he would come to that conclusion. The sweeping statement that 90% of black women had attitude was a disturbing one.

    The Misunderstanding of the Black Woman

    In general many black women have no problems asserting themselves. They have no problems showing their confidence and capabilities. They have no problems expressing themselves and speaking their minds. The only problem is that many times when they do it, especially in the work place, they are viewed as too strong. In fact the words powerful, authoritative, strong, aggressive, feisty, independent and in control sound admirable until they are applied to black women.

    Men are expected to be strong and assertive, traits that are aligned with being a good leader, but when a black woman falls under those descriptions, it is called having an attitude problem. In fact when they are asserting themselves, the perception becomes that you dare not mess with them. There is no denying that some black women do express themselves in a provocatively angry way, but that does not justify typecasting all of them. It is true that there are some black women who fit the above bill, but it’s not a race thing. It’s a personality and character thing. Just as there are so many quiet, mild-mannered, bookish, sensitive black women out there, there are also many unpleasant to deal with woman out there. But that applies to men too. So once again one cannot generalize and conclude that all black women have attitude. In any case, what is wrong with a little anger?

    When a Woman is Fed Up

    Throughout history, women's endeavours to stand up for themselves have been dismissed as the ramblings of angry women, whether they were black or not. A case in point example is the case of feminists, who are always brushed off as angry, rabble disturbers, opinionated and unreasonable women.

    But in a world where racism, sexism, ageism, single motherhood, misogyny, and even warped body image prevail contrasted with the objectification and fetishization of the black body, it comes as no surprise that some black women are angry. The truth is some women are angry because they are exhausted or they have been ignored and dismissed or they''re not taken seriously, or they are being abandoned or they are being rejected. This anger of course is not justified if it becomes a never-ending bitterness that clouds ones present or future. It is not justified when it is an obstinate attitude which appears angry at everything in general and seems to especially relish demonizing all black men, nor is it justified when it is constantly a source of baseless and negative unsolicited criticism or advice.

    However, not all anger is bad anger. Sometimes anger is a signal that something is wrong and changes need to be made. There are numerous cases when anger has actually sparked revolutionary change in history. If as human beings, we''re able to harness our anger and use our anger for the general good of society, then we are able to make big strides in our lives. This was proven by historical figures Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and even Rosa Parks, who used their anger to spark social strength and change. Part of the reason Rosa Parks refused to get out of that seat was anger. The people who tried to get her out of that seat would have probably said that she had attitude in present day terms. Does that make her an angry black woman? I leave that to you to decide.

  • Dispatches from TIFF 2006

    News from the red carpet and events at the film festival
    - PART II

    The red carpet action has kept sizzling over the past few days at the Toronto International Film festival. Just last night, for the world premiere of director Leon Ichaso’s film El Cantante, starring Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, fans of J-Lo packed the sidewalks outside the Elgin Theatre to catch a glimpse of the Latin diva. So is she really pregnant some wondered? Well AfroToronto.com had a chance to take a close look with an exclusive spot inside the theatre, at the end of the long red carpet, and no belly bulge was noticeable to me as she made her entrance in a stunning Dolce & Gabbana dress. Both Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, as well as the film’s director, Leon Ichaso stopped to answer a couple questions from AfroToronto.com.

    To my question of why he chose to cast the star couple in his movie chronicling the life of 1970s Salsa legend Hector Lavoe (played by Marc Anthony), director Leon Ichaso tells AfroToronto that there was never any other choice. He felt that Jennifer and Marc, both Puerto Ricans who grew up with Lavoe’s music, were the perfect fit. There are a lot of intense scenes of quarrels and tribulations in the movie between Hector Lavoe and his wife Puchi (played by Jennifer Lopez). And a real-life couple brings authenticity to the screen. Also, Ichaso explains that the project was originally spearheaded by Jennifer Lopez herself.

    When stopping to talk to AfroToronto.com, Lopez explains that she had been contacted by the real-life Puchi who encouraged her to take on the project. The Salsa epic has been a project very near and dear to her heart. She also told me that she has been working on a Spanish album set to be released soon. Although Marc Anthony did not seem too enthusiastic about my question of “how was it like working with your wife.” I had a feeling he may have been asked that question one too many times. He is the lead character in this movie and was certainly understandably looking to share some of the spotlight.

    As far as other star action happening since my last report. Wyclef Jean was on hand at Manulife Centre’s Varsity theatre last Saturday night for Danish director Asger Leth’s film Ghosts of Cité Soleil. The film chronicles the real-life footage of two Haitian brothers leading armed gangs in the impoverished slums of Haiti’s Cité Soleil. Wyclef makes a cameo appearance in the film. Coming out of the theatre. Wyclef took some heat from some Haitians who felt that the film took too much of a right-wing overtone and showed too much a biased negative image of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Wyclef took the time to listen and address some of the concerns. Check back AfroToronto.com this week for a more detailed write-up about the controversy surrouneding Wyclef’s flick and profiles/interviews of other African Diaspora films at the festival.

    Speaking of African diaspora films, Forest Whithaker’ film The Last King of Scotland was a huge hit at the festival. Set for theatrical release on September 27th 2006 (see trailer), the political drama follows a Scottish doctor who becomes the personal personal physician of Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), the then-new president of Uganda. Actress Kerry Washington, who plays one of Idi Amin’s wifes in the movie, looked stunning at the press conference in downtown Toronto.

    Last Monday night was also the yearly much-anticipated Planet Africa party celebrating the African diaspora films at the festival. This year, it was held at the Drake Hotel on Queen Street West. The event attracted hundreds of guests who fill all three levels of the venue. With free alcohol flowing all night, the atmosphere was a very festive one, especially in the basement where some wicked music was pumping and life performers were doing their thing.

  • Dispatches from TIFF 2006

    News from the red carpet and events at the film festival
    - PART I

    The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is in full swing again for its now 31 st edition. This year’s festival is billed as one of the most highly star-studded editions in TIFF’s history with stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Pitt, J-Lo, Wyclef Jean, Reese Witherspoon, Sea Penn, Jude Law, Penelope Cruz, Vince Vaughn, and many more in town right now.

    As usual, the masses have been gathering outside Roy Thomson Hall for the Gala screening celebrity red carpet entrances. But let’s face it, isn’t it what the big buzz around town come TIFF time all about? The celebrity sightings. This is the only time of year when stalking becomes totally acceptable. With the industry parties not accessible to the masses, throngs of celebrity-seekers dress to the nines with basically nowhere to go but pace around Yorkville a couple of hundred times and stake out the entrances of the Four Seasons Hotel or the Intercontinental. Whatever the title or premise of those films that Brad Pitt or Vince Vaughn have come here to promote will probably be twelfth on the list of what most people will recall weeks after the festival wraps up.

    But we will all remember that Vince Vaughn showed up without Jennifer Aniston at Pearson airport yesterday. Oh yeah, who will ever shut up about the shockingly politically incorrect (but ever so hilarious) stunt that Sacha Baron Cohen (better known as Ali G) pulled by arriving at the sold-out premiere of his film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (try and remember that title) at the Elgin theatre in a carriage pulled with the strength of six peasant women!

    It’s precisely this difficult balance of pulling off an internationally respected film festival attracting both purist film buffs and eight-dollar-latte-sipping-at-Sassafraz celebrity-seekers that TIFF’s organizers seem to have completely lost sight of at the opening night Gala screening. The opening film, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, by Nunavut filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk and his Montreal-based co-producer Norman Cohn was a very curious choice for a Gala screening, let alone the festival’s opener. The film, shot almost entirely in Inuktitut, chronicles the real accounts of Danish explorer Rasmussen in the 1920’s. The painstakingly slow-moving snoozer had people getting up to leave as if they were giving out free goody-bags in the lobby. At some point people even began openly heckling. Seems like the film failed to please either the purists or the celebrity seekers. The annually packed Simcoe Street sidewalk filled with celebrity gazers hoping to catch Brad Pitt or J-Lo at the opening soon realized that they would have better spent the three hours waiting outside a hotel in Yorkville. Ironically, the highlight of the opening Gala screening was the truly stunning performance before the movie by Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq – whose voice is also featured in the film.

    Standing in line the next day waiting to enter the Press & Industry screening of director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s amazing and highly recommended film Babel (featuring Brad Pitt), the knives were already out about the strange choice for the festival opener among the journalists present. Each were comparing the length of time it took for them to leave the theatre. While I perfectly understand the need to showcase and give their rightful place to ethnically diverse films, it’s a dangerous line when the underlying feeling is that it’s being forced upon the audience not for its innate quality but rather for it’s political meaning. Last year’s TIFF really excellent opener, Water, by Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta was a perfect example of how that delicate cultural balance can be met successfully. But this year’s opening film’s co-producer Norman Cohn perhaps illustrated the problem with this year’s Gala opening choice best when saying: “You know, most people in the opening night audience have never sat and spent two hours listening to what aboriginal people have to say.” We’re gonna make you sit through it whether you like it or not rich white boy! That sets a terrible precedent for the eventual reception of other culturally diverse opening films in the future. God knows there was a lot to choose from this year.

    Some of my media colleagues at Babel’s press screening were even going as far as saying that the film was chosen as the festival opener from the guilt of Canada’s blatant lack of support for filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk’s last indie effort Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner – which went on to win a Genie Award and the Camera d''or at Cannes. It was a huge commercial and critical success. So there’s a feeling that Canada’s film industry was afraid to miss the boat again. But as one of the Globe & Mail’s spies at the Gala opening reported, speaking about Telefilm Canada head Wayne Clarkson, who takes credit for choosing The Journals of Knud Rasmussen as the opening film: “I''ve never seen anyone shift in their chair so often.”

    But on a much more positive note, I had the immense pleasure of attending last night, along with AfroToronto.com partner Melvin Bakandika, an NFB-sponsored screening and private after-party at the Windsor Arms Hotel with Governor General Michaëlle Jean as the guest of honour. The event was meant to highlight the work National Film Board’s late legendary filmmaker and animation pioneer Norman McLaren. The Governor General is also the NFB''s patron of animation. Again detracting another skeptical journalist who asked her if she had been “briefed” by her filmmaker husband Jean-Daniel Lafond (also present at the event) about the work and legacy of Norman McLaren, Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean marvelously displayed her truly genuine appreciation and familiarity with the man himself, his work, and the NFB’s history and vision through her inspiring speeches both at the theatre and the after-party. AfroToronto.com made sure that we expressed to her our great pride in having her as our country’s Governor General.

    From the Windsor Arms Hotel, it was on to the elegant and chic Empire Restaurant and Lounge for Warren Salmon’s First Friday’s film industry night. Running for it’s twelfth year, without ever missing a month, this latest edition of First Fridays featured, among others, Toronto-bred Hollywood actress Tonya Lee Williams promoting next’s year’s Reel World Film Festival and Dale Samms from the Toronto International Film Festival’s press office promoting this year’s great line up of African and diasporic films at TIFF. Please stay tuned for AfroToronto.com’s upcoming reviews and interviews of some of those films and their directors.

    As far as some of the red carpet action goes for this week-end, you can catch Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson at the opening of Stranger than Fiction at the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge) tonight, Saturday, Sept. 9th, at 6pm. You can also catch a glimpse of Brad Pitt tonight at Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe) for the opening of Babel (a must see) at 9:30pm. Also tonight, Wyclef Jean will be at the opening of Ghosts of Cité Soleil at Varsity Theatre (55 Bloor W.). If you’re a Sean Penn and Jude Law fan, you can catch them on the red carpet opening for All the King''s Men at Roy Thomson Hall tomorrow night (Sunday, Sept. 10th ) at 9:30pm.

    Go on and get your stalk on!

  • Are Children Growing Up Too Fast?

    Though I am not a parent, I can’t help but be concerned with the way that some young girls are dressing nowadays.  I’ve seen girls baring all in skimpy tops, micro minis and low-riding jeans.  Is it me, or are these items of clothing inappropriate for a preteen, or a teenager for that matter?

    For the past couple of years the fashion industry has been hitting the younger market. The tween fashion market (tween: ages 8-12) is booming and quite a few companies are cashing in on the latest trend. There are several fashion lines, stores and magazines that are designed specifically for young girls. (Think fashions from Hilary Duff and Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, and the tween and teen targeted magazine, Elle girl.)  They take their fashion cues from trends taking place in the mainstream fashion world, and then modify them to fit the younger generation. Some items may be suitable, but there are the odd ones that cross the line of good taste.  I have no idea why some articles of clothing are even made for the younger shopper.  Honestly, is it really appropriate for a third grader to don a bustier?

    One of the incidents that prompted me to write this article occurred when I went shopping in a department store. As luck would have it, it was the exact moment that millions of parents were doing their kids’ back to school shopping.

    I spotted a young girl wearing a t-shirt that made me shake my head. The angelic looking girl looked like she could be no older than eleven years old, but to my surprise, she wore a cropped shirt with the word SEXY plastered on her chest.  I actually had to take a second look just to make sure that I read the word correctly. I thought to myself, “What does an eleven year old know about sexy?” I don’t know if I was angrier with the child for having the audacity to wear the shirt, or if I was angrier with the parent that purchased such a provocative top.

    “The second incident that baffled me occurred not too long ago.  I was flipping through a fashion magazine and I spied an advertisement that I found a little disturbing.  It was an ad for the children’s line of a well-known hip hop label.  It featured a young girl---perhaps five or six years old--that posed suggestively and wore an outrageously over-the-top outfit.  She wore a leather trimmed fur vest, bling, and had an extremely vacant look on her face.

    Not only is this advertisement glorifying excess (leather and fur for a preschooler?), it made me feel a little uncomfortable to see a young girl draped in clothes that were way too old for her.  She looked like a child that got lost her in mother’s closet, and was desperately trying to escape unharmed.

    My biggest problem with this ad wasn’t just the fact that the clothes looked ridiculous on her; it was the fact that she didn’t really look a child anymore.  She looked unnatural, like a little girl’s doll that came to life and was adorned with a million dollars worth of luxurious clothes.

    These two incidents got me to think back when I was young and how geeky I used to look.  My shapeless clothes hid my figure and I was okay with that.  I really didn’t know anything about fashion; and besides that, I was only allowed to wear the clothes that my very “over-protective” mother bought for me.  So that meant that everything I wore covered every inch of my body.  I was lucky if my wrists were showing!  These days, kids don’t even look like kids because their styles mimic adult styles.  I’ve actually seen a mother and daughter dressed in the same outfit.  The mother could have been in her late 30s and her daughter may have been 12 years old—give or take a few years.  Perhaps the blame should not only be placed on the fashion designers.  Parents need to take some responsibility as well.

    Upon further reflection on this growing problem, I thought about the deeper effects of young females dressing like adults.  In an age were sexual imagery is all around us, it puts a lot of pressure on girls to look a certain way.  Sexual images are plastered in magazines, movies, music videos and television, and in most cases, it is the sexiest woman that receives the most attention and praise. So why wouldn’t impressionable girls want to dress provocatively?  Unfortunately, these girls don’t realize that dressing in a provocative way may send the wrong signals and incite the wrong attention.  
    This type of objectification can make girls feel that their only worth is based on what they look like. It breeds a very superficial and unhealthy self-image.  It can spawn eating disorders, low self esteem, and just a general feeling of low self worth.  However, this is not a new discovery.  Women have always felt pressure to look a certain way.  It’s just that this warped way of thinking is hitting younger girls.  Girls as young as six years old are extremely conscious of how they look.  Dieting and cosmetic surgery is now a childhood concern.

    Maybe I’m getting older, but I would like to see kids go through the awkward, geeky phase and enjoy their youth.  Being perfectly primped and coifed is nice, but not very necessary for the fourth grade. It’s refreshing to see a ten year old look like a ten year old instead of a mini version of J Lo.

  • Promiscuous Girl?

    In most societies, the more women a man sleeps with, the more promiscuous he is – meaning being sexually active with many different people - the more virile he is considered. The more notches he has under his belt. For a long time, men had the monopoly over this playing field, but things have changed. There are more women who are consciously involved in one-night flings and going on vacations to tropical countries as sexual tourists. Is it for the better? Depends on ones individual point of view.

    The New Vision newspaper in its article Why Men Are Promiscuous points out that promiscuity is wired into a man’s brain and is a legacy of his evolutionary past. It goes on to say that practically all pornography, erotic videos, prostitution and X-rated Internet images are directed at men, showing that while most men can live in a monogamous relationship, their brain-wiring demands polygamous mental stimulation.

    But are women promiscuous too? Are women with strong senses of sexuality promiscuous? Are women who are sexually uninhibited promiscuous? Not necessarily, but it is clear that women who are openly sexually expressive like Madonna, Paris Hilton, Lil Kim and Samantha in Sex and the City are referred to with pejorative words used to derogatorily refer to them. Nymphomaniac, prostitutes, sluts, hags, bitches, easy, cheap, and ho’s are only some of the numerous names which are used. But one does not have to be as extreme as those women above to be called names as a female.

    Double Standards

    Why is it that there is one set of standards that apply to men, and another set of standards that apply to women when it comes to sexuality? When it comes to the terms used to describe the sexual habits of men and women, it is clear that there is a sizable disparity. Promiscuous men are considered studs, macho, and manly and they frequently boast about the many partners they have had.

    Promiscuous women on the other hand, are called sluts, whores, and prostitutes. In fact women tend to hide the number of partners they have had in the past, for fear of being labelled with any of the non-complementary terms above. A woman who had ‘been around’ is not looked at in the same way as a man in the same position. Also if a man has sex before marriage, the general consensus is that he is gaining plenty of experience and exploring his options. But it’s not the same case with a woman who engages in sex before marriage. In many societies, she is considered soiled and impure; purity being a quality often desired by men. There are societies that will even kill a woman who is not a virgin at her time of marriage, yet the men get pats on their backs. It begs the question, who are these men sleeping with then? Not all of them are sleeping with prostitutes and married women? So where does that leave the women who are sleeping with these ‘virile’ men?

    Women’s Sexual Honesty

    On the one hand, women are not expected to like or discuss sex, especially if they are supposed to be pure, virginal and virtuous; but on the other hand they are expected to have sexual prowess once they are in bed. They are supposed to be ladies out of bed, but ‘hookers’ in bed. They are not supposed to focus on their sexual pleasure but focus more on catering to the pleasure of their men. But is there more going on with women when men turn their backs? There are lots of things women do that they would never admit because ‘good girls do not do that.’ According to societal definition, women have to be sugar and spice and everything nice.

    Do women masturbate, read erotica, and look at pornography magazines? Do women have their own version of locker room talk about men they have slept with? Do women only want sex and nothing else with certain men? Do women have wild sexual fantasies that would shock most men? Do women, just like men, document how many sexual partners they have had? Do women lust after another man, when they are already involved with a particular man? Many do, but would never admit it; after all, they are supposed to be virtuous. Perhaps colleges and universities are the best places to actually hear women being real with each other about their sexual relationships with men. Just like men, women have sexual feelings and they are the only ones who have an organ that was created only and specifically for pleasure – the clitoris.

    Women in many societies experience social pressure in assuming their sexual identity and in turn, are repressed. There is ample research which suggests that women enjoy sex as much as men; (Human Sexual Response by Masters & Johnson, Hite report) but for women, it tends to be curtailed by societal morals. Women tend to be more discreet and private about their sexuality than men are and therefore, we barely hear their side of the equation. Women in general are taught from childhood to restrain and control their sexual urges, while men are encouraged to explore theirs, and this is probably why it would seem like women are potentially less sexually active.

    Is the Media Promoting Promiscuity?

    There is clearly a double standard for men and woman for the same type of behaviour. While this article is in no way supporting promiscuity, because of the obvious dangers of its wages, (AIDS, other STD’s and unwanted pregnancies) it is an exploration of its dichotomy among the sexes. We have to admit that we live in such a highly sexualized world, that even the advertising world is tapping into it. Sexually-themed ads are becoming more and more frequent and promiscuity, female or male is on the rise as well. It’s an image that is being proliferated in the media, music videos and movies. Sex is selling and is spilling into more bedrooms. In fact many young female artists are using their sexuality to sell albums and actresses who do not manipulate their sexuality do not tend to do well. Canadian-born songstress Nelly Furtado’ song, Promiscuous Girl , discusses the female perspective of lusting after a man and telling him like it is. But while all of this is going on, more people are being infected with AIDS. People seem to have forgotten, in all this sex-themed promotion going on, that people are still actually dying of AIDS. Let’s remember to protect ourselves and love carefully.

  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

    An interview with playwright Djanet Sears

    “I Have a dream, a longing in my heart. A dream that one day, at any given time of the year, I will be able to find at least one play that is filled with people who look like me – telling stories about me, my family, my friends, my communities and my cultures.”
    - Djanet Sears

    I have always been a great believer in the saying that “even greater than the power of knowledge is the power to create knowledge.” Whether it is in the spheres of science, art, media or culture, those who define the paradigms basically govern our very reality. Those who see how things are and have the foresight and courage to envision a different and better future are few and far between. Rarer still are those who initiate those “paradigm shifts” which literally change the world.

    I had the immense pleasure recently of meeting just such a visionary in the person of Djanet Sears. The acclaimed playwright, actor, director and Artistic Director of the tri-annual AfriCanadian Playwrights Festival knows a few things about shaking the status quo. Her play Harlem Duet is the first black work to be produced at the traditionally lilly-white Startford Festival’s 54-year history. It is also the first Stratford play to be directed by a black woman and featuring an all-black cast.

    Sitting at the AfriCanadian Theatre Festival’s office off Queen West, Djanet Sears shows cautious optimism about this achievement. “It’s a good thing if it marks a lasting change” as she clarifies for AfroToronto.com.

    Now that Startford has gone black, will it ever go back?

    One thing is certain, however, regardless of whether or not Stratford keeps welcoming black plays, it is first and foremost the black theatre practitioners’ responsibility to maintain a strong and evolving canon of work which must remain mindful of the “shoulders on which we stand.” In Djanet Sears’ mind, this also means coming to a point where black plays, and thus the black experience, will become part of the fabric of the theatre world. Not just a fringe cultural experiment that is repeated periodically. Illustrating that point, she tells me a story about a woman who approached her after seeing an early production of Harlem Duet and said: “Oh my god, this is extraordinary …This is not a black play. It’s a human play.” Recounting her reaction, Djanet Sears says: “And I know she wanted me to be flattered … but all black plays are human plays. The black experience is a human experience. … the only way to broaden it is by sharing our stories.”

    Although Sears believes in the importance of identifying the black experience as a human experience, she is nonetheless quite justifiably reluctant to let go of the “black classification” altogether within the context of the dominant culture. Again referring to an impromptu episode, she recalls organizing some books with a colleague: “I was sorting out, organizing some things with some people the other day … [classifying] black poetry, black plays, black fiction and non-fiction, then on to fiction, plays, whatever” and at some point, someone said “here are the real plays.” A bit taken aback, she retorqued: “The black play is the real one.”

    “It comes very close to me in the bookshelf” she goes on to say.  “I’m the one who started the classification of black plays. … I worry that once we start releasing the qualification, it still becomes about them [and not about us] at this point and time.” Hence the importance of the tri-annual AfriCanadian Playwrights Festival. Djanet Sears also makes the point that “we should have an Asian playwrights festival. There should also be an Aboriginal playwrights festival.”

    Further exploring the concept of the “paradigm shift” as it applies to the theatre world, we talk about the way in which traditional theatre practitioners view what they call a “well crafted” play with a beginning, middle and an end. As a new playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre and a playwriting professor at the University of Toronto, Djanet Sears certainly has a sound grasp and appreciation for the academy and its dramaturgical rules and regulations. However, as she describes it, she also understands that traditional theatre practitioners can be “very Eurocentric.” There’s a very rigid definition of what constitutes “a good play.” “Everything else that is not this is not a good play. I think it’s rubbish” as she exclaims. “Remember the reviews for ‘Da Kink in my Hair? They were awful. And look what happened?” Black people went to see it in droves because it spoke to their reality in a genuine way. The traditional theatre practitioner might have gone to the play and thought: “Where’s the beginning, where’s the middle, where’s the end? Where’s the denouement?

    “We are moved by different types of art. And there isn’t one way to write a play” Djanet Sears explains. Why are there so many books? Why are there so many films? “We use certain theories to support whatever we’re arguing … we are constantly doing battle culturally and it’s hard” she adds. Referring to a related personal experience, Sears tells me: “I remember someone [calling me after] I had just won a Governor General’s award for Harlem Duet, from a reputable company … and said we’d like to do a workshop of your play. … We feel that it doesn’t follow a strict Shakespearian style and we think that you could probably benefit from a workshop.”

    Djanet Sears rhetorically wonders if some of these Shakespearian traditionalists have ever “read anything about the Blues Aesthetic or deconstructing the Blues.” That’s the structure she works from. In a nutshell, the “ Blues Aesthetic” is a cultural perspective that emerges from within the experiences of black people, facing the socio-political and economic conditions in contemporary America. She asks: “ So when ahdri zhina mandiela is doing her follow-up to Dark diaspora in dub … a wonderful dub piece with reggae epics and rhythmic roots, you can’t look at European forms and apply it to her work. You can’t do that. It’s not gonna happen! … But they don’t see our framework. And what we need to do is begin to recognize our frameworks.”

    What Djanet Sears successfully accomplishes with Harlem Duet is taking a classical piece, Shakespeare’s Othello, and infusing it with modern ideas and experiences relatable to the black experience. “That story [of Othello leaving his black wife of many years for his white colleague Mona] is not unusual. I hear it from different black women. … I know this man.” With great pleasure and amusement, she tells me about the mixed audiences and the “dialogue between the audience and the stage.” “I come from that. I come from theatre that loves interaction. … I love the response. How vocal it is. … Even at Stratford … they make so much noise. It’s lovely. … if you get a group of three or more black people, and they are not afraid of their points of view, they will start making noise in a way that is wonderful.

    One of the main things that Djanet Sears takes from the success of Harlem Duet, or any other successful black play for that matter, is that a canon of great work is being created upon the shoulders of great black theatre practitioners dating back to the 1800’s.

    “I’m not ignorant of the [fact that] when Trey Anthony has a successful play, it reflects on me. … Because theatre is looking for the next play.” She describes how, in a way, her own social activism comes from that. “Because I’ve done good work and have connections, I can go to those people and say “come and have a look at this work.”

    With the AfriCanadian Theatre Festival, Djanet Sears, and all those involved with the tri-annual festival, not only practice powerful social activism but also undertake the heroic task of ushering in a much-awaited paradigm shift. While most of Canada’s black theatre pioneers always performed works written by whites, this new generation of black playwrights are creating an independent canon and building culturally-specific frameworks upon which many more in the future will be able to stand on.

    As Djanet Sears point out: “We stand on all those people who came before us. … In 1842 there was a coloured young men theatrical society. … blacks here in the 1840’s were protesting minstrel shows… a century and a half later people here were protesting Showboat. It seems new because all this history is forgotten. We’ve been doing this for a long time.” any lie to extricate themselves from trouble. They will even lie tha you did not see them in bed with the other woman very convincingly.

  • The Player Radarscope

    How Ladies Can Scope Out Players

    There have been a lot of women who have been burned by players, men who have no intention to settle down and commit. We live in dangerous times which celebrate playerhood and masculine virility even more than ever, and this makes it even more difficult for women to find decent men. The player mentality brags about not being married and not having responsibility, writes Touré Muhammad for the Final Call Magazine in his article Attitudes of Responsibility is Greater.

    The site becomeaplayer.com teaches guys how to be a player and learn the secrets to attract women by reading their body language, seduction, dating, flirting, and more. The Players Black Book, which is advertised on that site, is controversial ambitious new book which promises reveals all the "dirty little secrets" that players have used to seduce tons of women into their beds. Basically a player is a man who dates more than one woman at the same time, keeps it under wraps and rarely look past his selfish needs for self-gratification. He is the kind of man who women looking for stability and marriage should avoid. He is the kind of guy that serious, genuine men say ruin things for them.

    So How Does One Spot a Player?

    Ladies, let’s admit it, many women have been played. The one night stand which we thought was the beginning of a wonderful relationship, the plans for marriage that ended up in the wind, the wonderful date who we never heard of again and the other bag of tricks that players threw our way. One thing is for sure. With a very few exceptions, nobody likes to be played. Yet players abound and are very successful in their game. There has been a lot of material for guys, teaching them how to score women. But what about material to protect women from players? Here are some signs to help us know we are dealing with a player;

    1) This is pretty obvious but players date more than one woman at the same time. Why would we want to put ourselves in situations like this? The classic example is the absent baby daddy with several different baby mothers. For some reason, he seems to be a chick magnet. But for those with sense in their heads, keep away. He is only going to do the same thing to you.

    2.) Players do not like responsibility. Women and children can potentially become a burdensome responsibility for a player and slow down his game, so a good indicator of a player, is a man who hedges over commitment and children.

    3.) To a player, lying is second nature. They will lie about anything and everything. They will even go as far as lying that they do not have children or a woman in their lives. Most times women know that they are being lied to. They can feel the vibe but they ignore it. Do not ignore it. We are not suggesting that you should be suspicious of your men, but just be careful. Quite frankly a man who lies that he does not have children is dangerous. If he is denying his own flesh and blood, then how much better will he treat a stranger?

    4.) Players under no circumstances give out home or work phone numbers. They do not want to be tracked down and easily available. If a man is giving you a pager number, is not readily available or insisting that you give him YOUR number, take a lesson from Florence Griffith Joyner and run for your life! A genuine brother will give you his number if he is really interested. Players do not want to be easily available. There is no spontaneity with them. Everything is planned, so you cannot call them or see them when you feel like. Chances are you will not even know where he lives because he lives with another women or he just does not want you to kill their game. Players call all the shots. You are at their beck and call and never vice versa.

    5.) Players are very insecure and insensitive. Although they hurt a lot of women in the process, they think that having many women makes them a ‘man’. But they have trouble handling even one woman.  They have issues truly opening up to one woman and therefore remain distant with all of them.

    6.) Players like to score and run – It is far easier for them to do this is if they end up at the woman’s place. A player knows it’s easier to leave than to get someone out of their house, so if he is rushing you to go to your place, watch out!

    7.) Players only want to spend money on themselves. Many tend to be cheap dates. Is it a wonder considering that they have many women to cater too? Being a player can be expensive, so they tend to cut on costs by spending it on themselves and holding back when they are with women.

    8.) Players believe that men weren’t born to be monogamous and that they should always keep their options opened. The ‘everyone has a soul mate’ theory is lost on players.

    9.) Players believe that marriage is for fools. They hate the word commitment with a passion and run away from any woman who hints that she would like a ring on their finger. Ladies, you cannot tie a player down. Don’t waste your breath! For those hard-core players who end up getting married, it’s a hard habit to kick. Prepare yourself ladies for heartbreak and pain if you force a player-for-life into marriage.

    10.) Women are low priority to the player. His home and car are more important to him, with women being low on the list, as far as value. Usually his main squeeze, if he has one, is at the bottom rung after all the belongings and other women.

    11.) Players have problems keeping promises but do not like losing. If they are caught, they will give any lie to extricate themselves from trouble. They will even lie that you did not see them in bed with the other woman very convincingly.

    12.) Players are not only masculine. There are many feminine players as well.

    Players you are busted! For all the serious brothers out there, you are noticed and appreciated. This article was written in jest, but HIV/AIDS is not a joke. It is still killing millions of people in the world. Last week, the Metronews reported that over 15,000 people in Toronto alone, do not know that they have HIV/AIDS. Please remember to always take the necessary precautions and protect yourself. The XIV AIDS Conference will be held in Toronto from August 13 th -18 th 2006. For more info on the conference please go to http://www.aids2006.org/ 


    Also See:

    How to Pick Up Girls by DatingMetrics.com

  • Book Review: Forty Million Dollar Slaves

    BOOK REVIEW: Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. By William C. Rhoden

    "The Belt carries young black athletes out of black America and introduces them to a world with very few African-Americans, a world of white agents, real estate brokers, bank presidents, trustees, and lawyers. The fact that so many of the athletes’ closest advisers are not African-American means that they’re never around black models of leadership, a situation that undermines their own ability to become leaders, rather than pampered, passive followers.”
    -- Excerpted from Chapter 7, The Conveyor Belt

    Once upon a time, prominent African-American athletes were inclined to leverage their fame as a means of confronting racism. From Paul Robeson to Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali to Jim Brown to Arthur Ashe to Olympic medal-winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos, there is an abundant legacy of commitment to the black community.

    But judging by today’s socially-unenlightened crop of sports icons, one might suspect that rich history of activism and advocating for the underclass to be more fairy tale than fact. For the once-widespread dedication to hard-fought, collective advancement has been all but abandoned by the current generation of superstars, at least according to William C. Rhoden, author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.

    The tone of today’s ballplayer is perhaps typified by the NBA’s Grant Hill who acknowledges that, “When you’re making $200,000 every two weeks, it’s hard to get angry about anything.” Rhoden, a sportswriter for The New York Times since 1983, concedes that most pros now make more money in one season than his childhood heroes could accumulate over the course of their entire careers. But he also argues that these financial rewards ought to translate into an even more effective advocacy bloc for African-American advancement.

    Yet instead, we have entered the age of the apolitical mega-star, carefully-packaged products such as Michael Jordan who Rhoden says went to great lengths to cultivate a non-threatening, ever-neutral public image. The author points out that Jordan was a ferocious competitor of unparalleled drive on the court and in the corporate world but not “when it came to confronting racism.”

    Insights such as this is what makes Forty Million Dollar Slaves a priceless and prophetic discourse on the path of blacks in sports, dividing its time between African-American history and the present-day dilemma where we find individualism, commercialism, materialism and blasé attitudes celebrated at the expense of any concern about a black agenda. Also of interest is how the book, posthumously, gives credence to most of the notions which cost the late Jimmy the Greek his job when he related anecdotes about ante bellum plantation owners breeding slaves for muscularity. Now we learn that blacks did dominate the field back then whether in horseracing as the country’s first jockeys or in track as sprinters at events staged to entertain white spectators.

    Perhaps most significantly, it asks some very meaningful questions about franchise ownership, pointing out that the integration of baseball simultaneously signaled the demise of the black-owned Negro League. For while Brooklyn Dodger owner Branch Rickey has invariably been hailed for having signed Jackie Robinson, here, he is blamed for helping keep black competitors out of the big leagues, rationalizing preserving a white monopoly with “There is no Negro League as far as I’m concerned.”

    Overall, Forty Million Dollar Slaves still offers an optimistic message since thousands of black athletes are now blessed with the means to make major statements about the way their industry is run, provided they remember their roots and somehow develop the wherewithal and inclination to get involved. Nonetheless, such a salvation is not guaranteed, since as the Bible states in Proverbs 29: 18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

  • Love Games

    The masks, the tricks and the dinner mints

    I recently decided to venture out to the Harbourfront Theatre dateless to catch the play I'm Not a Dinner Mint (... the Crap Women Swallow to Keep a Relationship). But I’m no fool. I was perfectly aware that bringing anyone I’m currently dating along with me would have led to the inevitable probing conversation as soon as we left the theatre. As I’ve outlined in my latest blog entry, my currently rather schizophrenic dating life was more than once reflected on stage.

    But try as I might, I still didn’t escape the “dinner mint discussion.” A couple of days after I saw the play, I get a call from one of the girls I’m currently dating, inquiring to go see the play together. After navigating the minefields of explaining how I already saw it (and why not with her), I get asked the inevitable question: “Have you learned anything from the play?”

    Of course, that is a loaded question. The underlying tone there was: “now that you know what we women go through for you men, have you come to atone for your sins?”

    But perhaps a bit to my surprise, I actually found the play to be more balanced than I had expected. Instead of a gratuitous male-bashing diatribe, the masks and deceptions worn and perpetuated by both men and women in matters of love were explored. Basically, the message was, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, “what goes around, comes around.” Treat a person a certain way and you can expected to be served the same dish in due time.

    Whether you’re a man or a woman, we can all think of a time when we treated someone’s feelings in a way we might regret now. Or had our own desire to be the pearl of someone’s eye dashed by the cold reality that we “just don’t do it for them.” How we react and move on from either of those realities have much to do with our own egos and sometimes warped sense of reality.

    They say that there are three sides to any story: “my version, your version, and the truth.”

    If we tried to be more honest with ourselves, and each other, about matters of the heart, much of the grief would be spared. But since all is fair in love and war, the inevitable games do go on. Bottom line though is that we often put ourselves in self-made cyclical patterns. Why is it that certain people are always the dinner mints while others are the eternal wrong-doers? Perhaps, in a sick and twisted way, they need each other. It’s hard not to believe that we send out certain signals to the world that either attract or detract specific categories of people in and out of our lives.

    Like a satellite dish attracting all kinds of signals onto our lives, it’s up to us to tune out some of the channels. At certain times in our lives, we are channel surfers flicking through a bunch of channels without knowing what we really want. Some of us have invested in split screens that allow us to watch two channels at once. Or sometimes, we watch one channel while recording the other one for later enjoyment. Eventually, the channel or rollerdex flicking slows down as we become more and more aware of what our real needs are.

    For my “dinner mint conversation” date, it’s clear that what we have together is worth putting the remote or rollerdex away for. She knows that I’m not there yet as far as the two of us are concerned. But her affection is genuine and comforting. I keep my mask on. Honestly, I doubt that I will ever feel for her how she feels for me but am I a “wrong-doer” by sticking around? I haven’t told her I’m in love with her right? Deep down we all have our own justifications for maintaining often selfish status-quos until we either get the courage or the opportunity to get what we actually want. And while we don’t necessarily see ourselves as bad people, the games that we play to mask our true emotions are the stuff that make us the “wrong-doers.”

    I must say I did recognize myself in I’m Not a Dinner Mint . But since we are dealing with a Karmic wheel here, coming face to face with how I dish it out also brought some invaluable insight as to how I deal with being on the receiving end of it too. Yes sisters, even though we don’t often write plays about it, men do get that dinner mint treatment too. Being the hunters, the male species will undoubtedly occasionally miss his prey. I occasionally have discussions with some male friends about how much of strange twist of fate it is that “those you don’t want flock to you, but those you want give you the run around.” For the female, the chase is a pure aphrodisiac.

    Maybe it’s trait of nature that we are instinctively attracted by what seems inaccessible at first. Hence the love games.

    Some of us just have trouble figuring out if a game is just a game, or merely a mask hiding the promise of future bliss. Some, especially women, will spend years believing that someone will eventually fall in love with them after they realize what a good thing they have. If I just do this or that, then …

    But sooner or later, the masks must come down and reality must be dealt with. But beware of those who permanently keep on their masks and refuse to let the light shine in on their true selves. Granted, no one can, or should, navigate the minefields of love without an armour of some sort for protection. But not seeing, or giving, even an inkling of shining light under one’s mask amid the courting games is a tell-tale sign of impending doom. But there’s nothing more beautiful, as I’ve experienced myself recently with a woman I’ve been dating following a rocky start, when in the heat of the battle of the sexes, the mask is taken off (even for a just a little while) and you know that what you have is worth fighting for.

  • Can I get an attitude change with that?

    It’s a Friday night and I’m meeting a date to go have some good Caribbean food. We’ve heard great things about this restaurant and look forward to checking it out. We get there and start getting comfortable for a cozy dinner. The menu looks great. From king fish, to jerk chicken and some tasty sides of plantain, everything calls out to our taste buds.

    Except for the waitress.

    I have always tried to make a point of supporting our community Black businesses but I keep getting the sense that my loyalty is too rarely appreciated. Is it that Black businesses take the community’s business for granted? Are we not allowed to demand and expect the same level of service as we get anywhere else?

    An even more disturbing question that my date raised after our experience with that waitress is: “Would they treat their White customers like that?” My sincere conclusion, based on my own observations, is that they most often would not. It’s really a subconscious thing.

    The saying that “familiarity brings contempt” has everything to do with the bad service we too often get when dealing with our own community businesses.

    If a White woman had asked the same question to that waitress about how spicy the jerk chicken was, the waitress would have just assumed that her customer was genuinely inquiring about an unfamiliar dish. Ironically, that same community familiarity which should be an asset for many Black businesses to go the extra mile to better serve their community clientele is the same attribute which works against us.

    While discussing my “bad service while Black” experience with a friend of mine who happens to be a waitress, she had an interesting theory about all this. Although Black herself, she acknowledged that she often assumes that Black customers are bad tippers. Therefore, she prefers to offer better service to non-Black customers who will surely give her a good tip if she gives them stellar service. She explains: “One thing about Black customers, you can give them the greatest service but you’ll still get pocket change for tips. So I just don’t bother.”

    Bottom line is that all those assumptions and attitudes are born out of self-hate. How can we as a community expect to fight against those external stereotypes and racist attitudes if we insist on perpetuating them ourselves?

  • From the Blog: My Summer Dating Report - Part I

    This summer has been a most interesting one for me as far as learning about my own, sometimes unconscious, dating patterns. My experiences with three very different women gave me a whole different perspective about the battle of the sexes. Maybe if I had not been interacting with all three of them within the same period of a few months, I may not have realized how utterly schizophrenic I actually am when it comes to dating.

    Ask each of these women about me, and they would each paint a totally different picture of me. Am I a liar or a fake if three people can’t describe me in a remotely similar way?

    I’d like to think that I’m an honest and truthful person.

    I just realized that I tend to act differently around different women depending on my headspace, circumstances, and especially depending on how much I’m into her. However, after analyzing those three experiences, I came to realize that until I become more comfortable with merging all my dating split-personalities into one, something will always be missing from my relationships.

    First of all, anyone who knows me knows that I’m a momma’s boy. No, I don’t live with her. I just mean that I grew up in family of strong women. And that gave me a great appreciation and respect for women. Being also an older brother, I always think about the fact that any woman I’m dating could be somebody else’s younger sister or daughter. So to make an already long story short, I don’t perceive myself as being a “dawg”.

    But ask one of those three ladies (Sister #1), and she will tell you that I’m an emotionally unavailable man who more than likely lies to her when I tell her that “I''m currently overwhelmed with work”, “out of town” or that “my cell phone battery died.” Admittedly, I’ve used all of those lines on her over the past few months, and while all were true at least once at any given time, I realize that I could have made more of an effort to get in touch with her all those times. I am very vague when she asks me if there is someone else in the picture. I don’t lie to her but I don’t go into details. She knows about that girl I sent flowers to a few weeks back before we met. I haven’t mentioned her much since but somehow she knows “that girl” is still around.

    Sister# 1 and I have tremendous physical chemistry. We constantly flirt together in the subway, on the way to the restaurant or just by the way our eyes meet in between reading the paper and reaching for that muffin when we have breakfast together.

    So what’s the problem? There’s Sister# 2. She’s the one who got the flowers a few months back. She’s the one I think of when my mother asks me: “Have you met someone special these days?” Like nearly all the women who fit that profile in my life, I’ve had the tendency to put her on somewhat of a pedestal. I’m always conscious of putting my best foot forward. I find myself self-editing my thoughts when we talk just to make sure that the right words come out. Unlike with Sister# 1, I’m not as spontaneous or as much of a flirter around her. I’m somewhat more reserved. While I was engaging in adventurous sexual innuendo during my early conversations with Sister#1, that side of me hardly ever comes out with Sister#2. I’m really trying to be a nice guy you see?

    Sister# 2 has no doubt that I’m into her, because I’ve told her a few times. I take her to nice restaurants one in a while and we spend time strolling around the city. We certainly have a great connection, but we both know something is missing. That physical chemistry that causes Sister# 1 and I to spontaneously hold hands without a thought doesn’t exist. I am dying to reach for her hand but, somehow, it would seem forced and unnatural. I just don’t feel it from her. I’d even say that I’m uncharacteristically insecure around her. So I keep admiring her from afar on her pedestal.

    Now Sister# 3 is an interesting case. Our paths had crossed on and off for a while before we finally decided to go on a date together. There was some mutual attraction there I thought and I was optimistic about us getting together. Who knows where it could lead I thought. Both Sister#1 and Sister#2 were in the picture at the time, without any firm commitment on either side, so I really took it as a “what the heck” thing.

    My date with Sister# 3 was an utter disaster. The person who showed up on the date had nothing in common with that same person that I knew of on the social circles, or even on the phone just a little while back. I was puzzled. She looked bored and completely uninterested. I must have looked at my watch as many times as I wished in my head that I had stayed home. I didn’t know what to make of the unusual situation so I just decided to ignore the obvious tension and decided to carry on being my chipper self and basically carried the conversation topics as if nothing was the matter. I thought for sure that we would never hear from each other again. But many weeks later, I get a call from her, and she is once again the charming and cheerful woman I was originally attracted to. She said she was thinking about me and wanted to know how I was doing. Was she looking for a reaction from me on our date? Was I supposed to ask what was wrong? I’m not sure. But somehow, I’m dying to find out.

    To use my usual Sex and the City references, while I felt like Carrie’s Mr Big with Sister# 1 and Carries’s Aidan with Sister# 2, I guess I would say the pattern is yet to be discovered with Sister# 3. But having paid no attention at all to Sister# 3’s antics, and basically writing her off as an option, seems to have worked more than all the acrobatics I could have gotten into had I set out to pursue her.

    Now that the three settings have been laid out, I shall proceed with the cross-analysis on my next post.

  • On My Mind: Afrofest

    I still remember the first year I moved to Toronto, and I went to Afrofest, I could not believe it. It was one of the most beautiful and positive experiences I’ve ever had in this city. There we all were: African, Caribbean and African Canadian people all together in Queen’s Park, smiling, saying hello to one another, vibing, hearing live African Music, and Poets and enjoying some good traditional food.

    I remember my first Afrofest like yesterday, because I stayed there Saturday and Sunday night til about 1 am, holding court with some other artists I knew by the bench by the statue. And that spot became my yearly meet and greet place for Black people I rarely got to see, due to our schedules, hectic lives or the general hustle and bustle of Toronto. Afrofest has become our unofficial gathering place. And I remember three years ago when I needed work, I went to Afrofest armed with some promotional flyers, and talked to a well known playwright and actor I knew there… turned out she was hiring artist for Caribana; so low and behold I got some work at Afrofest.

    When I’m at Afrofest, I think this is how Toronto should be, this is the vibe I’m used to; having grown up in Nova Scotia and being originally from Trinidad. Black people smiling, and saying hello, not looking away from one another. African people in their traditional clothes and Caribbean and African Canadians identifying with the Motherland.

    So, now that Afrofest is over, what happens?

    I remember my first year being so excited almost euphoric with the positive vibes radiating and resounding throughout Queens Park. And then I remember the Monday after Afrofest; still on that high I went into the subway and said hello to a Black lady, and she turned and looked away. I wanted to yell “HEY DON’T YOU REMEMBER AFROFEST?” But I didn’t.

    So now here it is my sixth Afrofest experience and nothing has changed for me I still love the vibe, the people the food, and I still wonder… why can’t we keep this sense of pride, unity and togetherness all year? Now that Afrofest is over why do we have to go back to the hustle and bustle and not acknowledging one another? Now that Afrofest is over, why can’t we say hello to a brother or sister from a country in Africa? Now that Afrofest is over why can’t we continue to support one another in business?

    I think that we need to put Afrofest in a bottle, so that when we pass someone who doesn’t say hello or smile at us we can just give them a squirt of Afrofest in a bottle and they will smile back and say hello. I know for two days a year I love this city and how we as a people treat one another. I love that our youth are there, playwrights, filmmakers, business owners, restaurants, vendors, entrepreneurs, and how everyone that represents the African Diaspora comes together and that there is a deep sense of pride.

    I don’t know about you, but there is something that happens during Afrofest that we need to take a look at; and instead of going back to our respective corners on the Monday after Afrofest, we need to continue with this sense of unity and pride 365 days of the year.

    This morning just like every Afrofest Monday, the good vibes of Afrofest were on my mind.

  • Sisters and Singledom

    The word single has replaced the stigma-laden word spinster which used to be an offensive term for a woman, especially one who is no longer young or is of advanced years, who has never married. These days the word single has taken on a broader meaning and encompasses all women who are unattached, whether they have never been married, widows or are divorced. Bachelorette has replaced the stigma-filled word spinster. And there are more of them these days. If one takes a head count of the number of single people at one’s workplace or place of worship, chances are that there are more women than men.

    But do these women see themselves as old maids or any of the stereotypes of the last century? Are they staying home and moping over their lack of a man in their life? Most certainly not! No longer are they stereotypically dating-wearied, lonely, depressed, frustrated, and terrified of the future. These women are taking charge.

    They are having babies on their own, buying real estate on their own, driving sport utility vehicles which they purchased on their own, dating without making commitments, taking vacations alone and supporting themselves financially on their own. Given the many cultural and generational shifts which have included the feminist movement and increase of feminine independence, the rising divorce rates, sexless marriages, women outliving men, single parenthood, not to mention how many men are on the down low, in jails, in priesthood and serving in wars, it is not a surprise that there are more single women on the scene.

    Is Singledom a Crisis?

    Many sisters are in search of soul mates and finding themselves still single, way past the so-called ‘age limit’, which had been falsely established by society. That is past their early thirties. For those who are truly seeking to have a family, it does not help when family keeps hinting that their biological clocks are ticking away. These single women have nothing against marriage. It just hasn''t happened for them, for whatever reasons, however, they are neither sitting at home feeling despondent nor revelling in their solitude. As they get involved in the dating scenery, they continue with their lives even, if the relationships do not work out. They are still very much a part of society.

    For those who are content being single, well, many of them have never felt like they really needed to be with someone. Unlike what we’ve been conditioned to think as a society, there are a number of heterosexual women who have no innate desire to be married, or those who aren''t against marriage but aren''t actively seeking it or those who are under the assumption that they want to marry because it is what is expected of them yet they are unconsciously more ambivalent.

    With the proliferation of single women, there has also been a rise in products and television shows that cater to them. Think Ally McBeal, Bridget Jones, Girlfriends and Sex and the City. But it’s ironic that in a country where men can ‘purchase’ brides from Russia, from Philippines, and Thailand from mail order, many women are single.

    Is it True That There are No Good Men Left?

    Despite the contentment of being single once in a while, many sisters do want some form of companionship. However it’s becoming a common complaint that all the good men are taken and that all that is left is the players, loosers and scrubs. Is it true or do some women expect (near) perfection from the men they encounter? Is it that some women would not know a good man if he was in their face? Could it be that the expectations are too high?

    Sarah (name has been changed) was tired of hearing her younger sister Joan (name has been changed) complain that she wanted a man. So she linked her sister up with one of her best friends from her university days abroad, Kenneth (name has been changed). He had always had his eye on Joan but had never approached her because first of all, he had never met her and she had been too young then. Kenneth had only seen a photograph of her and had made a promise to Sarah that he would marry Joan when she was of age. He was now ready to do so. Sarah had thought it was a joke, but Kenneth pressured her until she gave in. So Sarah, who was not normally a matchmaker, linked them up. She thought her sister was lucky because her friend was well set-up. He was not perfect but he was tall, dark, handsome, had a home, car, good job, was spiritual and was very romantic. It would be a long distance relationship at first but, he had enough money to make sure that they would eventually meet.

    Sarah was shocked to hear her sister complain that Kenneth, who had been one of the most sought-after bachelors at her university abroad, was not handsome enough, and was too dark for Joan when she finally received his photo via email. When he offered to send a ticket for her to meet him, she was more worried about what the people in her church would think. Kenneth pursued Joan long distance for a year, incurring long distance charges, sending her money when she needed it, emailing her and offering his support. He even offered to visit her, but was turned down. But after that year, he gave up. Luckily for him, it did not take long before, he was snapped up by another woman who saw his good qualities.

    Joan was filled with regret and found herself interested in him at that point. But Kenneth had moved on. So Sarah linked her up with another friend. Again her sister had a list of complaints about him, much to the annoyance of her sister. Two other men were involved until Sarah, who was frustrated, gave up on her sister and told her to stop expecting perfection in the men, when she could not offer it herself. Sarah is married and Joan is still looking, although she has now recognized that she was too picky and regrets Kenneth slipping out of her fingers. But for every Kenneth, there are even more rogues or players.

    Is There Such a Thing as Being Too Picky?

    So many men and women have been damaged in terrible relationships that they''ve become exceedingly guarded and increasingly (also understandably) more picky. Unfortunately many have worsened the situation by entering new relations, before healing themselves. Joe, a writer who was interviewed, said that many women he came across were materialistic and too picky. If a guy did not have the right car, the right home, white collar job and money in his bank account, these women wanted nothing to do with him.

    Bradley’s response to what Joe said, was that there were gold diggers everywhere but one could not generalize and say all women were like that. Bradley, who is an Account Representative, pointed out that there were very men like that too. He also added that he was having a hard time getting women because players had jaded many of the women who he had dated unsuccessfully, to the point where the women found it hard to believe that he was genuine.

    On the other end, Daniel, a Customer Service Representative, pointed out that it was not just women who were picky. He said many of his male friends were picky as well, and that was the reason why they were still single. When pressed to elaborate on a demonstration of their pickiness, he pointed out that they complained for example that a woman called them too many times and would not leave them alone. He said they basically focused on the woman’s negative attributes, rather than focus on her good points.

    Jenny, a Technical Service Representative, said that women were pickier than men and admitted that she was very picky too. She pointed out that she was not materialistic at all, but that chemistry, a man showing her that he was interested, stability, responsibility and a sense of humour were important for her. Patricia, a Sales Executive, pointed out that she was married, but she hated it when men said that women were materialistic. She pointed out that men were supposed to provide for their families, and yet there are many men who are not prepared to do this, but they complained when they are rejected.

    For some women, singledom is a choice, whereas for many it is not. The stakes are even higher, since there is more competition nowadays. One thing is for sure; there are no perfect men out there. When one is in a relationship or looking for one, one has to be ready to compromise and overlook some of their partner’s shortcomings. This is not to say that one should take things like physical, mental, and verbal abuse or being cheated on, but one should not sweat the small stuff.

  • A Passion for Storytelling

    An interview with Jemeni, radio co-host and spoken word artist

    You’ve probably heard her over the airwaves delivering the entertainment news on Flow 93.5’s Morning Rush.  A multi talented writer, spoken word artist, and performer, Jemeni is as passionate about her art as she is about her community.

    Born in Grenada, Jemeni grew up in St. Catherines, later moving to Toronto to attend Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts program. Out of a passion for hip hop, Jemeni volunteered at Ryerson’s radio station answering telephones. Eventually she was asked to be on air with the hip hop show Powermove.  Many years later she would make her move to Flow.

    “It’s very daunting at first to embark on something new.  Your first day is difficult but half a million people aren’t listening intently for you to mess up,” she reflects sitting across from me at a local Starbucks.  “There’s a lot of firsts.  Myself as a woman on the morning show, the first black woman on a commercial station.  There are a lot of milestones.”

    For Jemeni, the biggest plus has been connecting with people through community events around the city.  “My favorite part is inspiring other young women.  When I was growing up I didn’t see a space for me.  When I meet other young women who want my job, that’s inspiring for me.”

    As co founder of PhemPhat Productions with Ebonnie Rowe and D’nise Harison, Jemeni is committed to creating spaces for more young women to express their talents.  PhemPhat produces the Honey Jam showcase which has featured talented female artists such as Nelly Furtado and Jully Black.  Jemeni will co host this year’s Honey Jam Showcase with Mark Strong, her co host from the Morning Rush.

    Jemeni is also known for her work as a spoken word artist.  She is passionate about writing. Her spoken word piece No More Dating DJs won her a 2004 Spoken Word Recording of the Year Award at the Canadian Urban Music Awards.

    “My writing is an extension of myself,” says Jemeni.  “I can be political and introspective but I can also look at things in a comedic way.  Sometimes women get pegged into a specific role.  I like to challenge myself to try to do something different.  Life inspires me.  I’m in love with words.  I’ll write it on a napkin and come back to it later.  I’m famous for sitting in a corner writing before I walk on stage.”

    Inspired by writers such as Langston Hughes “I would lick the ground under the garbage pail where he put his old poems,” Jemeni doesn’t write poetry for poetry fans.  “The biggest success for me is when I get to people who aren’t poetry fans.  I love Langston because he used street language.  He wasn’t afraid to speak to us in the language we understand.  I want to do it (poetry) in a way that regular people can get it.”

    Jemeni’s performance roles include more than spoken word pieces.  She performed in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, and appeared in the movie Kojak.  “I came to a realization that all the things I do is one thing.  It’s story telling.  Even in radio I’m interpreting the stories,” says Jemeni.

    Her latest project finds her cast in the play I Am Not a Dinner Mint…the crap women swallow to stay in a relationship, directed by Trey Anthony and co written by Trey Anthony and Rachael Lea Rickards.  The play features a series of dramatic monologues performed by five women.

    “It’s kind of like a sex in the city,” says Jemeni.  “Essentially these are our stories too.  We’re showing the perspective of different women who come at relationships from different angles.”

    She is featured in a piece called I’m Afraid of Water.  “It’s a young woman feeling uncertain and being afraid to jump in wholeheartedly.  It’s being afraid to open up yourselves to possibilities. It can be interpreted in many ways,” says Jemeni.  “The other piece I’m in is called Drive Him Away.  It’s a comedic look at how men are like cars.”

    “With Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues I felt like I was giving a gift to the audience.  I feel like I am doing the same with this play.  Like Trey says, you are healing the audience but you are also healing yourselves.”

    What’s next for this multi talented artist? She has a new song with a DJ in Germany called Jesus was a B Boy coming out at the end of the summer which looks at Jesus from a hip hop perspective.  You can also catch Jemeni on Muchmusic’s Video on Trial as a guest commentator.

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