Colorism and #JemtheMovie

I’ve figured out what is irking my nerves the worst about this Jem movie: colorism is at play here, and any casting choices that cause us (here, I mean specifically Blacks) to question and or/defend shades of Blackness will make me feel some kind of way.

As a child, I felt empowered by seeing Shana, the Black Hologram, and I could easily imagine her as a hopeful projection of my future self — a smart, kind, kick-ass kind of woman with savvy style and rich talent. She had chocolate skin and a thick, coily Afro. Even at the young age of 8-10 when the show aired, I knew seeing a REAL darker-skinned woman portraying characters on TV and film was uncommon, and to see one on a cartoon or in toys geared for girls like me was almost unheard of. The Shana in the movie does NOT fit this profile, and though the actress IS Black (half-Black), it took a double-take and a bit of digging to ascertain that fact (the released production stills and trailer make it a bit difficult to tell on sight).

I turned up a few good think-pieces written by others who have noticed the lightening of Shana’s character. I’ve learned that the backlash about the casting has made the actress, Aurora Perrineau, feel the need to stand up and defend/prove her Blackness, as I surely would have done in her case. We’ve seen similar situations when Zendaya Coleman was originally cast as Aaliyah and when Zoe Saldana was cast as Nina Simone. I have the utmost respect for these actresses, and I definitely respect the fact that in an industry where roles for women of color are comparatively limited, they have more factors to consider when choosing to accept or pass on a role. As Samantha Irby would say, “Bitches gotta eat.” However, they’re also put in the tricky position of having to defend their own skin when the movie machine seems to ignore the deeper implications of trading out for a more “European” look.

As Hollywood has a penchant for whitewashing characters of distinct ethnic appearance and background, it feels uncomfortable when we are forced, once again, to ask and to answer, “How Black is Black Enough?” Yes, all Black is beautiful, and all shades should be equally respected. The reality is that they are not, not even always within our own community. In these cases of portraying Black women with distinct skin tones and hair textures, these very attributes ARE necessary political statements in and of themselves. The skin tone and hair texture is part of the story even when it is not the focus of the story. Who wouldn’t throw a fit if were Halle Berry cast as Harriet Tubman and not Viola Davis? From a historical perspective, the darkness of Tubman’s skin frames a context around her narrative; a lighter skin tone would completely change how we viewed her through a historical lens and what we would know to be true of her life.

There are inherently different challenges presented by having different skin tones and hair textures, because unfortunately, assumptions are made about the person based on those appearances. Or approaching it from a different angle, someone may identify closely and feel a deep connection to a character/historical figure because of a particular appearance. For a casting decision to ignore the importance of skin tone in the narrative of a Black character (especially one of some historical/cultural import) is to disrespect and ignore the rich history of the person being portrayed and his/her symbolic representation of those who identify with the character.

Shana, this 80’s rocker girl cartoon character, is no Harriet Tubman, but she IS of historical importance from a pop culture standpoint. There were tall, leggy Black Barbies with butt-length silky hair. I had a “Cornsilk” Cabbage Patch Kid bone-straight hair that I could brush. Then there was Shana, with her kinky ‘fro and milk chocolate skin. And though I sat in the kitchen every two weeks to get my hair pressed straight, she was me. And I think I’m a little bit salty that I will not be able to take my 9-year-old to the theatre and whisper in her ear, “Look, Kaelyn — she has hair kinda like yours.” I do not see myself anymore, and for that, I am not happy.

“Mirrors” – a short creative fiction

I belong to a private writing group on Facebook and someone posted the sentence “The pretty girls always had mirrors in their backpacks” as a writing prompt. For whatever reason, my brain-fried, short-on-words mind felt like it had a lot to say about this one. I haven’t written fiction in years. Literally…it must be almost 20 since I’ve written fiction. The last was a rather feminist retelling of common damsel in distress fairy tale (Snow White, maybe?). Anyway, I posted this little piece of fiction on the Facebook group and then decided to cheat a little and use it as my blog post for today.

I know it seems like I’ve fallen off the map with writing just as soon as I declared my grand return. I’ve been writing, but just not here. I’ll share those posts tomorrow. I have also been busy building a Website/blog for a big project that my students and I are going to work on throughout the school year. I think that should totally count for something.

My first day back is tomorrow, y’all, and the kids start next Wednesday. How is it fall already? (Hush up. It’s fall in my world. Work with me, here.)

Tell me what you think about this bit of writing of mine. Unless you think it sucks.

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Mirrors

compact mirror

The pretty girls, at least the White ones, always had mirrors in their backpacks. My school was the private type where Whitneys got new horses for straight A’s and Bethanys chirped incessantly about cotillions and trust funds. My tuition was funded by scholarship, and I was too busy earning my own straight A’s to chirp about anything. The only trust I had was distrust; I didn’t trust that they saw me without first stereotyping me by my skin. I didn’t need a mirror to remind me that I was the only Black girl from 6th to 12th grade. 

First period was Bible Study and on Thursdays, there was “Chapel,” which wasn’t held in the adjoining church, but was downstairs in a glorified meeting room. Chapel days were mirror days, because all the other 7th grade girls (the pretty ones) knew they’d have an hour to ogle at the high school boys when they should have been singing about the joyous day that the Lord hath made. I didn’t ogle, and I didn’t sing, either. 

I did not rejoice when Tiffany tried to gift me with a hand-me-down compact as we shuffled down the stairwell. I could already hear the piano two floors below. 

“I heard there’s a new guy in 9th,” Tiffany said as she flipped open a newish compact. “I think his name is Jamal.” She swiped her jawline with the silk-backed, round applicator. “He’s half-Black, or maybe Puerto Rican. Anyway, he’s mixed with SOMETHING, so you finally have a shot, y’know!” She fished around in her purse and produced the older compact. “Here,” — she popped it open as she passed it to me– “you can have this mirror that I don’t need anymore. You’re so pretty! The other girls and me always want to make sure we look GOOD before we get to Chapel. I’ve been trying to get Toby to pay attention to me for weeks. Toby…mmm…he is SO fine! Isn’t that what they say in your neighborhood? ‘Fine’? Come sit in the back with us!”

The mirror was still shiny, but there was barely a ring of the Toasted Tan Lancôme pressed powder left on the other side. Maybe she thought she was doing me a favor by offering a tangible token of “acceptance.” Maybe she thought she was proving how “down” she was by trying to use language that didn’t belong to her. Maybe she was pissed when I snapped the mirror shut and gave it back to her with a curt “No, thanks” thrown carelessly over my shoulder as I made my way up to my customary third-row seat next to my friend Tori, who was White but had hair bushier than my own. Tori, who was in no need of mirrors or back-row invitations, either. 

And the day when Toby asked me out and the WhitneyBethanyTifannys gasped in disbelief, I was glad in it.

Baby Steps

werk the smartnessSo, I did the first day of C25K, or the Couch to 5K program for those of you who are unfamiliar. Well, I sort-of  did it. I got halfway through and almost died. I ALMOST DIED. Not really, but it felt like that.

Frank was there for support. He barely broke a sweat and his pulse/respiration didn’t even go up a notch. I hate him. I, on the other hand, was panting like a rabid dog despite trying to keep my pace at a “conversational” rate. For me, Conversational pace = elderly, asthmatic turtle. I feared Firelung and her sorry sidekick Side Stitch, but the biggest problem was actually Vertebrae the broke-ass back.

On Week 1/Day 1 of C25K, there are 8 run 1-minute/walk 1.5-minute cycles bookended by 5-minute warm-up/cool-down walks. I got to the third run/walk cycle and my lower back was screaming. I powerwalked the 4th run instead of jogging it. The 5th run was a jog straight to the car. Fokker — OUT.

I believe (and Frank agrees) that my back, which I have to be careful with thanks to a mild, but peevish case of scoliosis, cannot support my current weight AND the impact of so-called “running” right now, at least not for the full duration of the first C25K week. So, Frank, my loving PE teacher of a husband, has put me on an IEP. I’m in the fitness special needs class. Fab. Until I get my weight down and strength up, my modifications are to do Week 1 of C25K, but I will only run on the even walk/run cycles. Additionally, I will repeat the same cycles on my exercise bike at home. On the runs, I will cycle at a faster pace. This way, I’ll still get the benefit of improving my cardio without the stress and impact of running.

I could count today as a failure and a shortfall. I could fall into a suckhole of bad feelings about how out of shape I’ve become and fret about how pathetic I must have looked out there on that track, with Frank jogging to keep pace when he could have easily walked and kept up with me. I could do all those things, but I will not. I got up, I got out, and I did something, and for that, I feel pretty damned good.

Music and Bingo and Zombies

I missed a couple of days of blogging, but I have a good excuse. No, I don’t. Not really. But I HAVE been writing — just not here.

I wrote a couple of posts for the Mom 2.0 Summit blog. In May, I was honored to be a part of the social media team for the annual Mom 2.0 Summit conference in Atlanta. I had a ton of fun, made some new friends and spent quality time with old ones, and got so much inspiration that I’m still reeling a bit from it today. So when I was asked if I wanted to write a couple of summery posts for the Mom 2.o blog, it was pretty much a hellz yea moment. Here’s what I’ve been busy with:

summer playlist post top

Music, y’all. If your summer needs soundtracks, I’ve got you covered here. I curated two Spotify playlists of my favorite summer jams — one is brings the heat; the other cools you down. Check ’em out: 2 Summertime Playlists to Keep You in the Groove.

 

summer bingo post top

If you’ve hit a summer writing slump and you’re short on words, I dropped a few tips to help you get through it (which is fairly ironic, considering my lack of writing over the past two years). If you’re really feeling froggy, I’ve also created a Blogger Bingo Card with 25 Summer writing prompts and 5 bonus activities. I’ve included a PDF version of the bingo card on the Mom 2.0 blog if you want to play along. Tag your posts with #mom2summer and share them with @mom2summit on Twitter or on Facebook!

 

C25K The Zombie Survivalists isn’t a Mom 2.0 thing, but was born from my last blog post. I had a lot of Facebook friends chime in and say that they also wanted to someday run a 5K but, like me, are only motivated to run if in mortal danger. I started up a private Facebook group for already-runners and wannabe-runners friends to get motivation and support on working up to a 5K. It’s a private group, but if you’re on Facebook and want to join, find me on Facebook, shoot me a message, and I’ll add you in. For the record, I haven’t actually done running (or walking yet), but I am amping up and am glad that I have a place with supportive friends to share running tips and keep my motivation going.

 

Other than those little projects, I’ve also spent time this past week making a brochure for my cousin’s non-profit. There have been busy days behind the computer. It feels good to be all up in my creative space.

Magic

magic trimmed“I want to be able to run a 5K by the end of the year.”

This was the insane thought that, uninvited, barged its way into my brain when I was reading about the 34-weeks pregnant runner who finished 800 meters in 2.5 minutes.

I’ve never been a runner. Even when I was in shape, I never had the endurance for distance running. I never liked the burn in my lungs or the stitch in my side that always seemed show up whenever I rounded into just the second lap. I’ve always considered distance running to be terribly monotonous, a challenge too boring and too uncomfortable to bother with attempting to master it. Also couched within my thoughts about running has been “I can’t, so I won’t.”

So why the heck did my subconscious self declare, with a note of determination, that I want to able to run a 5K?

I’d like to say that it was prompted by all the zombie movies I’ve been watching lately. In the event of the Zombie Apocalypse, I’m pretty sure I’d be one of the first people to get her ass chewed. I’m like a super-size buffet. The undead would see me and be like, “FOOOOODTRUUUUUCK.”

No. After spending all day mulling it over, I really think it’s because somewhere inside, I know that I need to prove to myself that I’m capable of setting and accomplishing a goal that has always felt unreachable. I’ve set goals and hoped for things in the past few years that no matter how hard I tried and how much of myself I gave, they went the way of dreams deferred. It felt like a whole lot of failure. So eventually, I just quit putting things in front of myself to reach for. It wasn’t a conscious decision and it didn’t happen all at once, but it did bring a certain sense of perceived emotional safety. The danger of being paralyzed by fear of failure is that you don’t leave yourself open to the chance of being successful, either.

Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of the fact that I can move mountains if I want to. Unlike my past few goals, running a 5K is one over which I have 100% control. It will be hard work and I won’t like most of the journey. My lungs will burn, but it’s the endurance of my self-confidence that needs the real workout. Because belief in yourself? That’s one form of magic that can’t be just an illusion.