How Cute!

Teen Essays: What its like to be a girl

Mental Health Association hails essayists
July 24, 2008

As part of its ongoing efforts to educate area residents about mental health and social-emotional wellness, the Evanston-based Mental Health Association of the North Shore sponsors an essay contest for young adults.

Students in the ninth through 12th grades were invited this year to write about: "What It's Like, or Must Be Like, to Grow Up as a Female in the 21st Century."

The contest is supported by a grant from the Naomi Ruth Cohen Foundation.
First prize of $750 went to Sarah Wagener of Lake Forest High School.

Second prizes of $500 each went to two Evanston Township High School seniors Andrew Hopple and Tamar Westphal.

Third prizes of $250 each went to ETHS seniors Nathan Cohen and Brigitte Viard. Honorable mention awards of $50 each went to six ETHS students: sophomore Christina Andre and seniors Samantha Blyth, Sean Bostrom, Jarelle Bradley, Lisa Co and Phebe Ha.

Following are three essays (I've only included the 2nd essay here) of students who consented to have their work published:

Harder to hold on to dignity

Over the past century the media has been able to shape the view of women, particularly the African-American woman.

The 20th century was a time of racial hardship in America, portraying black women in the media as the most inferior of all American citizens, falling last to white men and women, and black men. Now in the 21st century the media has taken the demeaning values that it has always portrayed in the black woman to new lengths.

Black women are portrayed as sex symbols, both easy and unintelligent in the media that we encounter today.

The 21st century has sparked a new level of disrespect for the African-American woman. From music videos to reality shows, women of color are constantly depicted in roles as the video girl, salaciously dancing, or are exploited by description or insight into their body types.

Being portrayed as the latest sex symbol is only the beginning of an appalling amount of stereotypes held true to the black woman because of the media. With this exploitation of the black woman as a sex symbol comes the stereotype of black women to be easy and consequently unintelligent.

The media is an underlying source to many of the prejudices and stereotypes that we hold true today. Growing up as a woman of color, this demoralizing attitude that many people hold black women accountable for has transcended to essentially affect the individual.

With how the media portrays black women, the single-mindedness of many American citizens, it puts every woman of color at a disadvantage in being portrayed by such means.

Growing up as a black female in this society has been quite an experience. Not that I would know any different, certain things people might say or do, I know were said and done simply because of how the media has so manipulated the black woman.

Whether it is a slight change in the tone of someone's voice or the "dumbed" down conversation that others attempt to have with you, the references to my body type, or the assumption that I am lazy and stupid, I constantly feel as though I need to disprove these small things with my boldness of character.

I attribute the stereotype of the black woman in the 21st century to the media. Society has already held and continues to hold many prejudices against African-Americans, and growing up as an African-American it holds true that I must prove myself twice as much as others. Along with that, I must prove myself as a respectable African-American woman.

Growing up in the 21st century is a challenging experience. It employs determination and perseverance to get anywhere, and to defeat all the prejudices and stereotype held against me. These tools help to separate those who do not fall subject to these stereotypes, from those who happen to.

Being a woman seems to be the hardest in the 21st century, having to withstand our own morals to even be considered a decent woman. Society and the media have certainly made it a difficult time for women, especially African-American women, to attain dignity and respect.

I was really impressed with this essay. I don't remember having this level of awareness when I was a high school senior. The only things that concerned me were college admission, boys, after-school clubs and activities and hanging out with my friends. I know today's high schoolers have a myriad of concerns and pressures that we weren't faced with growing up. So its refreshing to see that there are young women out there who aren't accepting the stereotypical fodder as truth.

Not to toot my own horn here, but the awareness and analysis behind this essay is what Black Girl Tees is all about. If I never made a dime from this project, I would still walk away happy and excited that our girls and women implicitly know their worth, their beauty, and don't fall for popular culture's propaganda about us. We are so much more than video vixens and angry black women, as the media would have us to believe. But if we don't believe that for ourselves, then we are doomed to become the stereotype that we are labeled as.

Let's not sit idly by while that happens. Let's applaud Brigitte Viard and girls like her; and let's help other girls, and our beautiful sistahs, to know that their individual and collective worth is valued among rubies.

Black Girls love... Toni Morrison

JULY 23, 2008

Why it's worth reading and re-reading the great Toni Morrison


Long before Barack Obama forced us to re-think race, Toni morrison said it matters when it matters, it doesn't when it doesn't

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Recently a friend e-mailed me with a confession. He's never finished a Toni Morrison novel. I'd e-mailed him about Morrison's upcoming reading and went on and on about my favorite novel (Song of Solomon), all the while assuming that he knew as much about the novels as I did. He didn't. He owns all of the books and started several of them more than once. But he hasn't been able to make it through them. He said they were too hard.

I've heard this before, that Morrison is a great writer (they know because everyone says so), but they are intimidated by her prose. The non-linear structure of the novels, and the literary allusions and African-American history and folklore that often form the backbone of the novels, can sometimes be confounding, even to those who consider themselves experienced readers.
Morrison once said, "I don't want to give my readers something to swallow. I want to give them something to feel and think about." She doesn't want to give us something that's easily put aside. Instead, she gives us novels that stay with us, that reward slow reading, re-reading, and persistent reading. As I told my friend, the problem isn't that Morrison's books are too hard. The problem is that he gave up too easily. He should have persisted with each novel, and when finished, he should read them again.

The first time I read Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, I was a college junior. I'd never read Morrison before and didn't know what to expect. The story of Pecola Breedlove, a little black girl who believes she's ugly and prays for blue eyes to make her pretty, was like nothing I'd read before. It remains for me the single best expression of what it means to grow up nappy in a world full of blow dryers (to borrow a phrase from Nelson George).

The next time I read The Bluest Eye, I was in graduate school, and learning words like "intertextuality," "heteroglossia," and "metanarrative." While I was still moved by Pecola's pain, I was struck more this time by how beautifully Morrison described that pain. One of the reasons, perhaps the chief reason, we can read a novel about a little girl who is raped and impregnated by her father and then abandoned by her community is that Morrison's exquisite language, her incredible skill, softens the blow, not a lot, but enough to make it through.

When I taught The Bluest Eye for the first time, the violence of the book stood out to me. While the literature professor in me could see and appreciate Morrison's craft, could appreciate the book for its themes, I wasn't sure my students would feel the same way. Would they love this book as I had come to, or would they be turned off by the horrible things that happen to Pecola? As it turns out, every time I teach the novel, I am amazed by how much students like it. We get into great arguments about whether to sympathize with Cholly, Pecola's father. We discuss ways the culture continues to tell little black girls they are ugly.

The last time I read The Bluest Eye was in preparation for a program I help run that partners ninth-grade girls from Burke High School with College of Charleston students to work on various self-expression projects. This spring the Burke students read and then wrote essays inspired by The Bluest Eye. I was worried a story about rape and incest may be too intense for 14- and 15-year-old girls, and I wondered whether Pecola's grief about being a black girl in a world that loved blue eyes would still resonate.

The students' essays were amazing. They wrote letters to Pecola, expressing their grief about what happened to her and offering advice. They wrote wonderful fierce declarations of their own beauty and worth. They wrote essays about finding the novel difficult at first, but being happy they stuck with it.

It's been 15 years since Morrison won the Nobel Prize and five years since her last novel. Recently, Morrison has been more famous thanks to Oprah and for infamously declaring Bill Clinton the first black president. Perhaps with her new novel, A Mercy, we will be reminded of why she is regularly called our greatest living American writer. Long before a historic presidential primary forced us to re-think how race works in America, Morrison was already giving us hints in her novels — it matters when it matters, and it doesn't when it doesn't.
And while that may sound flip or too simplistic to be true, consider novels like Song of Solomon and Paradise. In these novels, we find worlds shaped by the history of racism and racial tension, but they are also worlds in which race doesn't even make the top 10 list of things to worry about. Consider Sula in which the lines between right and wrong and good and bad all but disappear, and Morrison challenges us to think about how we decide when someone is worth our compassion.

Morrison was once asked whom she wrote for. She answered, "I want to write for people like me, which is to say black people, curious people, demanding people — people who can't be faked, people who don't need to be patronized, people who have very, very high criteria." The ultimate reward for getting through a Morrison novel is knowing that you are one of these people.

I don't exactly recall when I read The Bluest Eye for the first time. It was definitely after I'd seen Beloved. I just remember that, as I was reading Pauline's flashback scene of trying to look like Jean Harlow, I thought to myself "this is one of the books that will change my life". And in several ways, it has. What I felt at that moment, on more than one level of consciousness, was someone who got me. Not that I'd ever sat in a dark movie theatre, with a hairdo copied from an actress and wanting to be white.. what she captured in that moment was every black girl's desire to be pretty, to matter, to be glamorous, to be treasured.. and finding that the standard of beauty and femininity, the social hierarchy, the class system, the colorism of her own people, valued images and women other than those that looked like her. I also found that there were writers who could empathize with how those realizations made me feel, in eloquent, arresting, artistic, unforgettable ways.

Morrison is, hands down, my favorite writer; Song of Solomon is my favorite Morrison book, followed by Sula. We both share and admiration and love for Flannery O'Connor's and William Faulkner's works. Her prose is so lyrical, so vivid, emotional, stark, intimate... she turns southern grotesque into Morrison grotesque. If you're not a fan, I really can't describe it. If I'm working on a piece, or my novel (when I'm not suffering from writer's block, or busy with numerous projects), I can't read Morrison then. Having her words in my head will not allow my own voice to come forward. Her work invites comparison and the knowledge that you will never, ever, measure up.

I will definitely read A Mercy in November. I guess I should dust off Love in the meantime.. like the author's friend, there are several Morrison novels I have yet to read: Love, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise.

Let's Hope Disney Gets This Right

Disney's 'subservient' black princess animates film critics

By Arifa Akbar, Arts CorrespondentThursday, 17 July 2008

When Disney announced it was casting its first black princess for its latest animation film, the African-American heroine was hailed as a positive role model for little girls and an ambitious marketing ploy, not to mention an attempt to ward off the allegations of racism that have lurked since the heyday of Walt Disney Productions in the 1940s and 1950s.

But now the film studio finds itself fending off a chorus of accusations of racial stereotyping in its forthcoming big-budget cartoon, The Princess and The Frog: An American Fairy Tale, which marks a return to hand-drawn animation.

A musical set in 1920s New Orleans, the film was supposed to feature Maddy, a black chambermaid working for a spoilt, white Southern debutante. Maddy was to be helped by a voodoo priestess fairy godmother to win the heart of a white prince, after he rescued her from the clutches of a voodoo magician.

Disney's original storyboard is believed to have been torn up after criticism that the lead character was a clich├ęd subservient role with echoes of slavery, and whose name sounded too much like "Mammy" – a unwelcome reminder of America's Deep South before the civil rights movement swept away segregation.

The heroine has been recast as Tiana, a 19-year-old in a country that has never had a monarchy. She is now slated to live "happily ever after" with a handsome fellow who is not black – with leaks suggesting that he will be of Middle Eastern heritage and called Naveen. The race of the villain in the cartoon is reported to have also been revised.

The film studio began making changes a year ago, first to its title, The Frog Princess, which some had interpreted as a slur. Amendments to the plot followed.

Rodney Hinds, features editor of The Voice newspaper, said: "We are talking about a big company who has had to go back to the drawing board. It's disappointing... Some of the stereotyping of people from our community is still rigid in people's minds. We have our own dreams and stories like everyone else, and we want them to be portrayed positively. This is about how people are perceived and a princess is normally a positive character who most people aspire to."

Disney commented: "The story takes place in the charming elegance and grandeur of New Orleans' fabled French Quarter during the Jazz Age... Princess Tiana will be a heroine in the great tradition of Disney's rich animated fairy tale legacy, and all other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity."

Disney's efforts to be multicultural have not always gone according to plan. In 1993, there were protests from Muslims who said the animated film Aladdin depicted the Middle East as barbaric. One lyric included with the line: "I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam, where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face; it's barbaric, but hey, it's home."
I have been watching this development for a while. I really like Disney movies. As much as they've excluded heroines of color, I was glad to see that they planned to include a black heroine. I hope they get this right. Disney has a chance to really do some good with this movie. Regardless of its quality, I will go support it so that my dollars will register as supporting these types of projects.

Come On Now...

July 10, 2008. You knew that some rappers were ignorant ... but this is just too much. just caught wind that during a recent interview on the radip show Lip Sevice, rapper Young Berg claimed that he's not into dark skinned black women - or dark butts as he calls them.Here's a transcript of his words:

I'm kinda racist ... I don't like dark butts .... You know how some women
prefer light skin men or dark skin men. It's rare that I do dark butts - that's
what I call dark skinned women ... I [don't date women] darker than me.

I love the pool test. If you can jump in the pool exactly like you are and
you don't come out looking better than you looked before going in the pool -
then that's not a good look.

Any woman that uses brown gel to set down her baby hair is not poppin'

So lemme get this straight, Young Berg: you don't date women who aren't light-skinned with 'good hair'. That's fine if you are a self-admitted racist and have that 'preference'... I prefer not to buy music from artists who are racist and/or demean black women. So this guy will never get any "business", sexually or financially, from me, even if I did pass the 'pool test'. Because even though Young Berg dates light-skinned women, he objectifies them just as he does dark-skinned sistas. It doesn't matter what your intellect, morals or values are, off jump your hair looks messed up when it gets wet so you get the axe.

Why are we still dealing with ridiculousness like this in 2008? Normally I would just ignore statements like this, but I'm tired of us constantly being compared to each other based on skin tone and the properties of our hair.. I'm tired of us being compared to others based on what the media values at any given time. We are all unique, beautiful creatures whose capabilities, charm and fortitude make us some of the most beautiful women in the world. And we should know that with every ounce of our beings. Instead of supporting men that only have our ancestral background in common, and could care less about black women, let's let our collective voices be heard in the manner that matters to them most - in our withdrawal of financial support. Let's show the Young Bergs of the world that colorism and objectification of women aren't "poppin".

A Great Article

What Makes A Great Girlfriend?

I have a confession to make. As a single man, playing the field can be more fun than watching Aretha Franklin try to see her feet (It’s been a while.) The unbalanced male-to-female ratio plays a huge role in that mindset. But as maturity sets in, real men begin to realize that while fooling around is cool, nothing can surpass the joys of being in a serious relationship.

Let me rephrase that.

Nothing can surpass the joys of being in a serious relationship with a great girlfriend. So I began to wonder … exactly what is it that makes someone a great girlfriend?

Besides possessing the obvious attributes of being faithful and honest, I’ve come up with 5 Key Traits Of A Great Girlfriend.

#1- She’s Independent

This trait gets a tremendous amount of negative publicity from some single women. Apparently there’s a widespread misconception that most men don’t want an independent woman. Well that’s more off base than the time Jessica Simpson thought The Gap Band was an alternative to getting braces.

A real man appreciates when his girlfriend has her own personality and opinions, and can stand on her own both financially and emotionally. That’s a true turn-on, as the relationship begins to feel much more like an equal partnership.

(Note: Embrace your independence, but don’t use it as a badge of honor … that’s when it stops being a positive trait.)

#2- She’s Intelligent

Having someone that’s beautiful but dumb gets old about as fast as Samuel L. Jackson yelling in all of his movies. That’s why it’s great to have a girlfriend that can meet you on an intellectual level. Her wit and intellect keep you on your toes, and deepens your attraction past the physical realm … making it another great quality for a girlfriend.

#3- She Allows You To Be A Man

A great girlfriend understands that men and women are intrinsically different, and allows you to be who you are…a man. Which means she won’t force you to start using pink and lavender toilet tissue, or sit through a “Desperate Housewives” marathon. A great girlfriend also doesn’t get bent out of shape when her man tries to do “guy things” like watch the game or occasionally hang out with his friends.

#4- She Loves You

On the surface, such a trait would seem like a given. But allow me to dig even deeper than Michael Jackson’s pile of unpaid bills. A great girlfriend loves her man…flaws and all. To her, it’s okay that he isn’t the best dresser, or that his jokes fall flatter than Arsenio Hall’s career. She just loves him for him, and takes the time to show him how much she appreciates him each day.

#5- She Makes You Strive To Better Yourself

This may be my favorite one of all. A great girlfriend inspires you to improve yourself without even saying anything. Just being around her makes you want to better yourself. Suddenly you begin to get your finances in order, you start treating people better … you even clip your toenails on a consistent basis. And that’s all because of your great girlfriend. She just has that kind of effect on you.

The Fly Guy Moral:
So there’s my list. If you’re current girlfriend possesses those traits, then I’d say you were in great shape. If she doesn’t…well, I’ll keep you in my prayers.

**To read more from The Fly Guy, visit The Fly Guy Chronicles

Ready for the weekend

The only thing I don’t like about 3-day weekends is anticipating the end of the work day. Its about 4:30 and I think I’ve looked at the time in my task bar about 5 times in the last 15 minutes. Don’t you hate that?

I don’t have much planned for the 4th of July. I’m not a fireworks fan, so I won’t be on the National Mall with other DC area residents (and tourists in town for the holiday). I will definitely visit a few friends for some holiday barbeque. I also want to post some new tee designs to the Black Girl Tees store. Mostly, I’m looking forward to a little R&R.

view of the pool at our resort

Last weekend I was on vacation in Cancun with some wonderful friends. My tan is starting to fade but I still remember the amazing time I had enjoying the pool. So more pool time is on the agenda for this weekend as well.

Wherever you are, and whatever you may do, enjoy your Independence Day!