Friday, December 26, 2008

Snow days in Jersey and rain days in Jamaica

At 5:50 last Friday morning both my husband's and my phones rang. The minute I heard it I knew. The automated message from our older son's school confirmed it was to be our first snow day. It had snowed since the boys and I moved to New Jersey, but only to accumulate inches on the ground. I was actually looking forward to seeing what 'real' snow looks like. After I listened to the message I practically ran to the window to see the white splendor that was to keep D1 from his holiday party. I was more than a little surprised to see nothing. The sky was clear, the rooftops were brown and the rainbow of cars along the street were still visible. Not a drop of snow. Hundreds of schools had been closed, not due to snow, but in anticipation of snow. I thought, "What wusses!" But then I thought about rain days back home.

Rain days in Jamaica are anything but regular days. Business slows and anyone who can, stays indoors. I can't remember any official school closings for anything less than a hurricane, but on days there was heavy or consistent rainfall classrooms would be largely empty. Since my mom never allowed me to miss school for anything, I spent most of those rain days at school. There would be little actual classwork and teachers would either find some indoor recreation to occupy our time or leave us to our own devices. There was always plenty of fun to report to the absentees the next day. The one rain day I remember staying out of school (I think my dad was around, and he let me), I actually didn't spend at home. My best friend and I spent it in her bedroom because we could watch and hear the neighborhood boys hanging out in the house behind hers.

Even after I started working, rain days always conjured up warm and fuzzy feelings. Those days seem wasted on doing anything but curling up in bed with company or a good book. Of course, I never missed a work day because of rain, but I never worked late on a rain day either.

I am yet to find out if snow days will make me feel the same way rain days did. There is something soothing about the rhythmic patter of rain on glass, or zinc; something cleansing about watching drops run into each other as they cascade down the window. I can't imagine snow will be the same.

My name is Toni-Anne and I am hungry

The story getting the most interest in this month's issue of the O magazine is Oprah Winfrey's essay on her ever fluctuating weight. In the article, she talks about being embarrassed about being back up to 200 lbs. I have to say I find some solace in Oprah's shame. If she, with her dietitians, trainers, cooks and assistants, can still find maintaining a healthy weight challenging, then certainly there should be sympathy for me.

For more than two decades I could eat what I wanted without gaining an ounce. If I knew then what I know now I would have appreciated that time, instead I hated my lean body and the nicknames that came with it - Olive (Oyl), Skinny, Slim, Bones. I did all I could to gain weight. I think I spent an entire college semester eating bun and cheese and drinking malta because someone told me they would help me gain weight. Everything I did worked. The pounds just came all at once, seemingly overnight, many years later.

Now, I am what I ate all those years without thought. The Simply Delicious plantain tarts are my thighs. The Ziggy's oxtail lunches are the extra padding around my waist. The extra servings of my mother's stew peas are now my bat wings. I am heavier, but certainly not happier.

My choice is to love my lumps, love exercise or watch what I eat. With all due respect to Mo'nique and the rest of the love-your-curves movement I am not likely to feel any affection for my extra 20. As I have never been one to beat a path to the gym or or look too hard for ways to work up a sweat, it is too late for me to develop a love of exercise. That leaves dieting - a torturous burden that should have been listed right after "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children."

I know well enough not to follow fad diets. I had the good sense to get the help of a nutritionist, but that makes the task no less harrowing. Only a few days after pulling out and dusting off my nutritionist's charts - again, I feel like a drug fiend going through withdrawal. Of course, my drug of choice would be a Tastee patty or a slice of fruit cake.

Oprah relates regret that she is still - at this stage of her life and after all her accomplishments - having to talk about her weight. I understand that. I wish weight was never a concern outside of health, but that is not the case in our society. We all know plus sized women who accomplish much in their lives, but a successful woman seems less so if she is heavy. I know plus sized women who never look less than stunning, but sexy and beautiful don't dovetail with anything over a size 8 in most people's mind. Most importantly most women - society-induced or otherwise - are uncomfortable with themselves with even a few extra pounds. Many of us are tormented by the body we could have, if we could just lose 5, 10, 20, 40 pounds.

We want to wear the clothes that don't look quite the same in the double digit sizes. We want seamless lines under our knits and no muffin tops in our jeans. So I will look past the Harry & David cookies my husband brought home and make myself a no-sugar fruit smoothie. I will measure and weigh every morsel of food and I will drink water like I have two humps to fill. I will grit my teeth and I will do it. Bikini season is only seven months away.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas as I remember it

One of my best Christmas memories is of the year my girlfriend and I earned money doing odd jobs for our neighbors. We ironed curtains, wiped walls, greased baking pans - anything we could do in the five other houses on our cul-de-sac for a few dollars. I don't remember how much we made or what we bought, but I remember well how happy we were with our ingenuity and our earnings.

Christmases on Newton Close were always great. Even before my parents finally got divorced, and were still pretending for my sake to be happily married. My father would always come for the holidays bearing a bounty of gifts - absentee parent syndrome maybe. Now, I wonder how uncomfortable it must have been for my parents. I knew things weren't perfect, but I was always happy to have them both.

As I got older, shopping for Christmas gifts and sneaking out to holiday parties took priority over family time with my parents. I remember when going 'uptown' was the main thing to do during the holidays, particularly on Christmas Eve. It was just about the only night when most teenagers had carte blanche to go out with their friends until the wee hours of the morning. To not go, or to have to go home before midnight was social suicide. One year my mother decided I wasn't going. I don't remember why, but it is fair to assume the sanction was deserved. My cousin/big brother Ken interceded on my behalf and got me released into his custody so I could go on the plazas. As soon as we got into town I was off with my friends, ignoring his instructions to meet him at a certain hour.

When I remember Christmases back home, I remember visiting and be visited by friends and enjoying serving after serving of sorrel and fruit cake. Auntie Judy's fruitcake continues to be the mark by which all other fruitcakes are judged. Mom's sorrel is the yardstick. I remember there was always a big spread on our table. Mom always had the classics - roast beef, curried goat - but also tried to have something atypical of the Jamaican holiday feast - turkey, rock cornish hens. Whatever it was it was always good and we always had guests.

This year, far from my family and my friends I see more than ever what Christmas really means to me. To steal a line from the popular carol "Christmas just aint Christmas without the ones you love." I miss consulting with my mother and my girlfriend about the menu for dinner. I miss plotting with G about what gift to buy for my mom. I miss a house bustling with people.

The best Christmas present I can give my sons is memories like mine. Next year, wherever mom is, there we will be also.

Monday, December 22, 2008

In Allah's name

I have long said that one of the main things wrong with the structure of my church's services is that you can't raise your hand during the sermon and ask a question or disagree - like in a classroom. I have walked away from sermons with many questions and concerns and I know I am not the only one.

In the Seventh-day Adventist Church (and I talk about this church because it is the one I have personal experience with) the lesson study period should be the time for open discussion. However, I have noticed that even during these periods people are mum and the discussion is dominated by a class leader/teacher whose qualifications amount to his popularity with other church members. That leaves a group of people, not sure enough of their knowledge to participate in a discussion, possibly being taught by someone whose interpretation of the material, or whose view in general, may be askew. Where are the checks and balances?

This past weekend, a few minutes after I sat in the back of a class during lesson study, I heard the teacher say "Well you know the spirit of Satan is strong too. Look at those suicide bombers. They are under the power of Satan and they are willing to face adversity up to death."

I was appalled. I could only hope that the other people hearing him understood that what he said was hateful, at best misinformed. Our Bibles and history are filled with wars and acts of violence carried out in God's name. Even if we believe that suicide bombers are misguided, we cannot dismiss the foundation of their rage.

Admittedly, there are those who bring harm to others for political reasons, but for many, politics and religion are intricately intertwined. Even as the scriptures of every religion advocate for treating others well and against violence, they also make room for defense of righteousness and righteous people. As with every religion, there is dissent among Muslims. Some believe that bombers act against Islam; others believe that many Muslims have forsaken Allah by choosing to integrate and assimilate, and more so by calling some acts of violence terrorism.

The Sabbath School teacher's comment reminded me of an old joke: A Baptist man gets to heaven and is welcomed by St. Peter at the pearly gates. He is told to go enjoy all the bounties of the kingdom, but to be quiet as he went by a particular room. St. Peter gives the same instructions to a Methodist, Unitarian and Lutheran that follow. Eventually someone asked why it was so important to be quiet around that room, to which St. Peter replied, "The Adventists are in there, and they think they're the only ones here."

I have seen various versions of the joke, with many denominations taking their turn in the room. It is a joke, I suppose that could be made of Christianity in general. Christianity interpreted as exclusive goes against the basic theology of Godly love and compassion. Love and compassion begin with understanding, not by dismissing others as being of Satan.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The shoe that told a story

By now everyone has seen or heard about the shoes that flew at President Bush's head today in Baghdad. The pair flung by an Iraqi journalist was a poignant statement about America's War on Terror. The act was particularly meaningful since in Muslim communities even showing the bottom of your shoe to another person is considered an insult. Even without the accompanying dialogue ("This is a farewell you dog."), it is not hard to imagine what the message was.

The Iraq invasion promised the discovery of weapons of mass destruction, more safety for the American people, and the Iraqi people's eternal appreciation for their freedom from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Undeniably, the war has not delivered on any of those promises.

No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. In fact, it is now widely believed that the intelligence that lead the country into a war was more than inaccurate, but also manipulated. The invasion, its cultural and religious implications, and the ensuing hardships for residents have become a lightning rod for anti-Americanism and a recruitment tool for terror groups. Flight restrictions and color codes aside, whether America is indeed safer is still out with the jury.

The Iraq war has cost American taxpayers $580 billion since it started almost six years ago, even as education, social services and healthcare have suffered. More than 4,000 from the ranks of the U.S. armed forces have lost their lives. Long engagements and multiple deployments have created innumerable health, mental and social problems for members of the military.

For the Iraqi people the war has created strife and violence like they never saw under Saddam Hussein. For every accomplishment the Bush administration points to, detractors point to two that indicate the war was a mistake and continues to be an albatross around the neck of both nations.

Any number of people wish they had the cojones to throw those shoes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Power corrupts

I have friends in politics and civil service; friends who I think are honest and hardworking. I think it is impossible to ignore though, the prevalence of dishonest conduct among politicians. Today Rod Blagojevich is the national poster boy for political corruption, but in almost every town and hamlet across this country there is a similar story of someone who betrayed public trust.

Civil servants of every color and creed, of every economic background and religion, and at every level of the food chain seem to fall victim to greed. Campaign trails are filled with promises of rooting out corruption, total transparency and good intentions. The road to hell?

The corrupt politician has gone the way of the sleazy used car salesman - an accepted cliche. Every one assumes their government representatives are less than honest. Just read through your local paper's editorial section to know how much faith your neighbors have in your mayor or councilman.

Is there something intrinsic to politics that makes corruption par for the course? Are the politicians that stay above the fray just better at the game? It certainly does not take a genius to know better than to make crooked deals and dates on the phone a la Blagojevich and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. So are 'honest' politicians merely smarter politicians?

What is the answer to corrupt politics? More checks and balances, including term limits is most certainly the place to start. We should also consider what politicians make. Politicians - particularly those with administrative responsibilities - manage billion dollar budgets, make decisions that affect thousands of government employees and millions of residents, and interact with businessmen who make many times what they make. While the annual salary of mayors and governors range widely with city and state size and population, municipal administrators typically make more than those elected. Senators make $162,100 per annum. Clearly not the kind of work one goes into for the money. The president of the United States makes $400,000 - far more than the average national salary, but less than most CEOs. It is not surprising that politicians look for the perks - and not just the ones that make up the official compensation package.

In Miami-Dade County, commissioners have been trying for years to convince voters to change the County Charter to give themselves a salary increase. Their current salary of just over $6,000 is obviously not a living wage and regularly raises questions of questionable other employment and conflicts of interest. Every time the matter has made its way unto the ballot, voters have overwhelmingly rejected the increase - suggesting residents want the county legislators to do the work out of the goodness of their hearts. Time and time again, commissioners have shown that goodness cannot be relied on.

No doubt, some politicians will be astute enough to get past any number of checks and balances and some will be dishonest no matter what they're paid. Even knowing well the stories of crooked politicians who languished in prison wont deter some people. It is, after all, not merely the pursuit of wealth that corrupts. The power to do good, which public office presents, is in itself a corrupting force.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The honesty of children

I had seasoned the oxtails thoroughly, and let them sit in the fridge overnight. As they cooked, a delicious aroma hung in the house. They were fall-off-the-bone tender and delicious when finished. Both my sons love oxtails and were very excited to see what was for dinner. They started to eat and gave me rave reviews. "Mom is the best cooker ever...but Auntie Georgia is better."

My best friend Georgia is an extraordinary cook and my sons love her cooking. I suppose I could do worse than be compared to her - even if I am on the losing end of the comparison. To my credit and as a sign of my personal growth my feelings weren't hurt at all.

Kids tell it like it is. No bullshit, no pretense. We all start out that way. Then we learn tact and manners and lose our honesty. That is such a shame. I understand that it is important to be concerned about others' feelings, but I think we lose something when that concern outweighs all others.

"Yes you look fat in that dress." "I'm not busy. I just don't want to go out with you." "Your boyfriend really is a cheating, lying bum." "No, I am not fine..."

With child-like truthfulness you get to wear a more flattering outfit, ask out a woman who is actually interested, find a better man, or share your woes with someone who cares.

I get to try harder with my oxtails next time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Take my foolish advice

I was talking on the phone to my 95-year-old grandmother when my kindergartner came off the school bus without one of his gloves. As I chastised my son for this the latest in a long list of items lost under bus seats, on the playground and just about everywhere else he happens to walk, my grandmother was shouting in my ear, "Don't buy him anymore; make him go without!"

I assured my grandma that I would certainly not be replacing the lost glove, never mentioning that the boys have several pairs of gloves and wouldn't be heading out to school with frosty hands. As she often does when she thinks we "young people are spoiling the kids," Grandma suggested I take her "foolish advice" and put my foot down with my toddlers.

"I had eight of them and I never bought them any gloves." Since neither my mother or uncles have lost fingers to frostbites, I'm pretty sure Grandma is overstating - or has forgotten. The conversation highlighted though, how different we parent today. There is a vast difference between how my mother and uncles were raised and how I was raised; and even between how I was raised and how my 17-year-old brother is being raised.

Today parents read Dr. Sears' books assiduously, put babies on their back to sleep, never give them gripe water or honey, and adamantly avoid baby talk. My mom and uncles regale my cousins and I with stories of my grandmother's beatings, punishments and strictness; a method of parenting that would get my grandmother arrested today.

I don't get the impression that my grandmother was a touchy-feely kind of parent, though my mother was very communicative with me. Today parents know our sons and daughters need lots of loving assurance from both Mommy and Daddy so that they will be well adjusted members of society.

When I was growing up, responding to an instruction with anything other than "Yes Mommy"
was grounds for being exiled to my room. Today my mother tells me that my brothers need to have the opportunity to express themselves - even if it sounds like disrespect to old ears. I give my four and five-year-old choices about what they wear, eat and watch on television. I don't remember having much of that as a child.

In some ways I think we're getting better; in other ways I'm not so sure. I may be a more affectionate and well-read parent than my grandmother, but I can't imagine that my boys could be much better men than my uncles. For one thing they wont know how to sew on their own buttons.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

17 Years later

The realization that my mother was in her 30s during my high school years hit me like a senior center bus very recently. I don't remember giving my mother's age much thought growing up. She was just old - the standard parent age. When she became pregnant with my brother in my fifth form year I thought it was disgraceful. Old women like that should certainly not be having children.

Now here I am in my mid-30s, feeling far from old, but realizing that time is not so much wafting as it is blowing by. It is hard to believe my mother's indiscretion turns 17 years old today.

As I child and teenager, I would roll my eyes when relatives and my parents' friends would hold their palms low and say "I know you from you were this high." I get it now. My brother was the first baby I remember being allowed to hold, and definitely the first baby's diapers I had ever changed. It is stunning every time I see him - tall, handsome and cock-sure of himself.

He has gone from weeping in shame at being scolded to laughing at my mother when she tries to muster a bit of sternness. His shyness has given way to a warm and interesting character. He has grown from my annoying baby brother, to my friend. I look forward to seeing how much more he becomes.

Happy birthday James. Some birthday advice: Enjoy the moment. Time goes by so quickly. One day you are 17 and chomping at the bit to be 21; the next, you are 35 wondering what you were in such a hurry to see.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Jihads, Fatwas and Church Boards

The word terrorist has become entrenched in our vernacular since September 11, 2001. As the 'War on Terror' continues and we are still watching pictures from the Mumbai attacks I see similarity when many see only differences.

It is always interesting to me how Western Christians are horrified by the acts of religious radicals from the Middle East. I don't advocate violence for any reason, but I think it matters very little what we believe, if those beliefs cause us to isolate or mistreat others. Western Christians as a group, particularly conservative Christians as are many West Indians, have always used religious beliefs as a reason to do just that.

Christian families put pregnant daughters out on the street. Churches 'read out' and isolate members who fall short in public view. And many churches' treatment of homosexuals can only be considered persecution.

As with Islam and the Koran, any interpretation of Christianity and the Bible that advocates treating anyone as anything other than an equal member of the fold is perverse and inaccurate. Even if you believe any particular behavior is wrong, the litmus test is whether you believe that person is being treated differently from someone who lies. The Bible does say all sins should be considered the same.

The fact that radical Islamists blow up buildings does not mean they are any worse than judgmental, Bible-toting Christians; it just makes them more passionate.

Farin min'

Every time my husband hears someone say some place is too far, he chides with what can be summarily restated as 'pish posh.' He reminds us about how far we used to walk 'back home', how packed the buses were, and how long it took us to drive from Portmore to New Kingston. His stories of life in Jamaica sometimes border on exaggeration, but I have to admit he's right.

From how and what we eat, to how we raise our children, things in the United States don't look much like our days in Jamaica. True much of it is advancement and taking advantage of opportunities, but there is more than that. My interest in all things Jamaica has grown exponentially over the years. I read the Jamaica Observer and Gleaner voraciously and engage in passionate discussions about how the island can be 'fixed.' I now become out of sorts if my local supermarket doesn't have the ingredients I need to make dishes I never used to care about.

There is also the oft-reiterated notions that we work harder in the United States. We don't go to work late or not at all if it's raining when we wake up. We work late and on off hours. It has become so commonplace for West Indians to have more than one job here that the 'hardworking Jamaican' has become a comic punch line. This, though I didn't know one person who had a second job when I lived in Jamaica.

How are you different from your days in Jamaica - or Trinidad, or Guyana?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

All the single ladies

On Thanksgiving Day, while in Philadelphia at the in-laws, my husband's 'why black movies have to be so trite' complaints lost out to my 'give Tyler Perry a break' so that we watched Meet the Browns. The movie is not in the running for Perry's best movie, but it was just good enough for holiday brain vegetation - until it started working my nerves.

The movie's pseudo-modern day knight-in-shining-armor story was at best humorous, at worst condescending. The main character played by Angela Bassett is a single mother struggling to pay her bills and care for her three children. Her situation is exacerbated when she loses her job. Then she meets a man. Suddenly, there is no more mention of a job, her problems seem to inexpicably dissipate.

I sounded off at the television set. The assertion that the answer to all a woman's problems is a man - even a great man - struck me as archaic and socially detached from today's woman. According to every statistic available, including those from the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, more and more women are choosing to live their lives single. There are no spinsters or old maids anymore.

When my grandmother got married at age 30, 65 years ago, she almost did not have a choice. I am sure my grandfather was handsome and charming, but her younger sisters were already married and she was likely hearing the whispers. Today, my single girlfriends in their 30s and 40s date, travel, support themselves and live full, happy lives. None of them have sworn off men, or vow to never marry; but they are not waiting for a man to make them whole.

Today's enlightened woman can enjoy a satisfying relationship with a man of her choosing, because she can - not because she needs to.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I married my father

He could also be your father...or any middle-aged Caribbean man.

When my husband and I started dating as teenagers, my mother regularly reminded him that I hated housework. He, being a man of the 1990s, espoused equality among the sexes and his mother's domestic training. I was grateful for that since I would never have married a man who expected me to cook and clean while he put up his feet in front of the television. Imagine my horror when I realized that I, in fact, hold almost sole responsibility for taking care of our home and children. I certainly believe my husband meant well, but alas it seems genetics and cultural conditioning are winning.

My opinions about Jamaican men were formed pretty early and I still can find no reason to object to the 'whe mi dinna deh?' jokes or stereotypes. I grew up with a caricature of the 'typical' Jamaican man just across the street from my house. My neighbor - aptly named for the ill-tempered Sesame Street character - lived in a house full of women who he required - often loudly - to wait on him hand and foot. My father, then step-father, were never as demanding or as dependent; but neither of them tripped over themselves to wash dishes or hold a broom.

As I talk to my girlfriends about their West Indian parents I realize that while things have gotten better with later generations, there are more than a few husbands/boyfriends who are throwbacks of their fathers and grandfathers. Despite higher education and the airs of sophistication, these 30-something and 40-something men still live oblivious to dishes in the sink, laundry needing to be folded, and dirty floors. My husband will fly into rage of righteous indignation if I suggested he does not help around the house. He will quickly point to the last time he loaded or unloaded the dishwasher, even as he ignored the dirty stove and the sticky floors. Friends leave their husbands at home with children, fully expecting that the house or the children will be in dire need of cleaning when they return. Doctors' appointments, teacher conferences, project due dates - few seem to register with men as part of their responsibilities.

I say all the time that I should be able to sue my husband for breech of contract - but then again I probably wouldn't win. He is after all, really not responsible for his lack of is just the West Indian way.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My son the president

I woke up this morning. I woke up my five-year-old son; got him fed and ready for school. As we moved about the house, I casually as possible mentioned that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States. He was excited - primarily because he claimed he had called it. We walked quietly to the corner to meet his school bus. I felt like I should say something poignant to him, but I could think of nothing. I could only squeeze his hand a little tighter than usual.

I had not expected anything to look different this morning, and of course nothing did. The streets in my development were quiet, a few school children were walking to meet friends, a few cars were driving out of their garages, and there was evidence that garbage trucks had passed by a few moments earlier. But I certainly felt different. I realized that the little American-born boy walking beside me will grow up with a different view of the world than the generation of Americans before him. He will grow up much like his parents did in Jamaica - not seeing any limits to his potential, or seeing the color of his skin as anything but biology.

I have sense enough to know that the election of my choice for president does not automatically improve the economy, end the war in Iraq, provide affordable and comprehensive healthcare to every one that needs it, or give every child access to their full potential. I know that the election of the country's first black president, while monumental, will not immediately erase the history or presence of racism. I voted for Senator Obama because I believe in his abilities and see sense in his plans for the country; but I know the country is in a crisis and it will be an uphill battle to right all that is wrong. President-Elect Obama himself said that correcting the country's course may take more than a year, or even a term.

While we wait for the fiscal improvements to the country, I am overjoyed at the steps we have made as a nation. My toddler boys will come to believe that nothing is out of their reach. For that I am grateful. At the end of President Obama's first term in office they will be 8 and 9 years old. They may never know that there was ever a question that a black man could be president. For that I am elated. Now their racial heritage of kings and queens, engineers of the pyramids of Egypt and the beginning of all mankind will not seem so far removed. For that I am proud.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

And now we wait...

I, great fan of the snooze button, did not need an alarm this morning. My polling place opened at 6 a.m. and I wanted to queue up before the doors opened. After I set out clothes and lunch for the boys and wrote a note for my husband, I set off with a bag packed with magazines, crossword puzzle books and my iPod. I didn't know how long I would have to wait and I wanted to be prepared for as many hours as it could take.

I was out the door at 5:44 and was at the Deer Village Club House three minutes later. I was 10th in line and felt a twinge of disappointment that I would have no long line-long wait story to tell. By 6:05 my task was done - not withstanding my podunk polling place's single voting machine and the four little old ladies running the show.

As I walked out of the building there was to be no anti-climax, no let down - as is often the case after a big build up. Instead, I felt a soaring exhilaration. It is a remarkable feeling to realize that (regardless of outcome) I have been a part of history; not an observer, but an active participant. One day - maybe as I help my sons do their history homework - I will be able to tell them that I had believed in Barack Obama. I will be able to to tell them how I voted for him and all I did so that others would too.

When I spoke to my cousin in Orlando this morning she was moved to tears by the significance of the day; so was my anglo girlfriend in Coconut Grove. I hear my school mate from high school has been an ardent Obama campaigner, traveling as a foot soldier around the country. Another Jamaican and prominent Miami lawyer has been part of the groundswell in Florida - rallying support and registering new voters in remarkable numbers - that may deliver the state for Obama.

My girlfriend in Jamaica tells me that the entire island has been glued to television sets literally willing Obama's victory. My alma mater will host a viewing party tonight. Sparrow and Coco Tea and other soca and reggae singers have recorded compositions in encouragement and salutation to Senator Obama. Other countries around the world are paying attention as the United States stands on the cusp of electing its first black president.

I have never experienced anything that has so excited, activated and unified so many people. Obama supporters cross racial, cultural, political and social lines to form an energized contingency that has put the change we need within reach. No matter what the final count is, Senator Barack Obama has blazed a trail that guarantees his place in American history. I am grateful for the assurance he provides for my sons' future. When I tell them they can be anything they want to be, it will be truer tomorrow than it is today.

That being said, I watch nervously while the pundits guess about the turnout and the final count. I have faith that change will come, but I am also too scared to imagine... So I wait.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hol' it down

There will be celebrations in all corners around the world if (when) Senator Barack Obama wins the presidential election on Tuesday; and West Indians in the U.S. or at home will be throwing the biggest parties. From the several pro-Obama soca and reggae songs created, it is clear that Caribbean neighbors support the Illinois senator. I am a little worried though that we could over do it, so I want to offer some guidance that may help keep our behavior in check.

Firstly, keep the gully creepa, tek wehy yuhself and nuh linga indoors. They could quite honestly scare your neighbors or cause them to call an ambulance to treat you for seizures.

If you are throwing an election watch night party, keep the reggae, soca and compa down. Do not dare the police to disrupt your gathering with declarations of "a we run dis raas now."

Don't light up any herb, with the anticipation that President Barack Obama will legalize di weed.

Don't everyone call in sick on Wednesday, or McCain will not be the only one looking for a new job. Try to remember that you have earned no special priviliges with the election.

Once back at work, it will be good to keep relations with your co-workers cordial. Try not to point and laugh at McCain-Palin supporters or fist bump fellow Obama supporters in the hallways.

If you have to sing We've Come This Far By Faith or The Jefferson's theme song Moving On Up, please have the courtesy to sing inaudibly or just hum.

If you were concerned about being too ethnic prior to the election, now is not the time to come to work wearing madras skirts and headwraps. Also try not to bring any jerk chicken, roti or pepper pot soup to work for lunch for a few weeks. We want to avoid the impression that we are taking over.

Lastly, in your exuberance, please avoid terms that may seem aggressive and scary to others: Di man win to bumboclaat!!, would be a good example.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This is the hour

This is the hour when commitment is truly tested. This is the hour when words bear fruit or wither and fall like dust. This is the hour when we choose to stand up and be counted or lie down like worthless chaff waiting to be blown with the next breeze. This the hour to make our decision and act.

Never mind what the crowd, family and co-workers are doing. Think of what matters to you and make your own choice. It need not be anyone else's business what your choice is, or why your choice is what it is. You do not have to defend it to anyone; but your conscience should be able to stand against your own questions.

We stand on the brink of history and you need to know that you participated in the process. There is no validation in watching from the sidelines, or following the hype. There are no excuses. There are no good reasons not to play your role in steering the direction of our country.

On the morning of November 5, will you be found wanting?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stranger for president

I am watching Senator Barack Obama's last appeal to the American electorate. The 30-minute documentary outlines in great detail the presidential candidate's policy plans. It also provides insight into his personal life, background and family. I am saddened that in this great country of ours, where information is easy to find, myths are easy enough to debunk, and lies can be disproved with the slide of a mouse that many have allowed themselves to be mislead by hate-mongering and half-truths.

Every time I hear someone say "he is an unknown" I want to scream. It's been 18 months of constant media coverage. Yet my cousin's middle-aged co-worker is 'frustrated' that Obama is now claiming to be African-American when everyone knows he is Muslim. Never mind that she is too ignorant to know that one is not exclusive of the other - one being a race and the other a religion. How many times do we need to hear and read the facts? This specific issue of his religion has been clarified over and over, yet some people remain confused.

How is it that Sarah Palin comes on the scene and is welcomed without reservation, but Obama continues to be a "virtual unknown?" Is there any other explanation but that he is black and has a funny name? Is it that some people are made so uneasy by their own bigotry that they look for absolution in fallacies? I have no choice but to think that must be the case. It saddens me to hear NPR news analyst Juan Williams participate in this campaign of fear mongering on behalf of the McCain-Palin ticket. Between his work at NPR and at Fox News (Hold the comments.) you can not tell me that Mr. Williams does not know more about Mr. Obama than Michelle does. Yet he, as recently as Tuesday, continues to say that constituents are uncomfortable with Senator Obama because they do not know who is his. Is Juan Williams betting on the power of suggestion?

What else is there to know? Those who are 'uncomfortable' with Senator Obama are not likely to get comfortable before Tuesday. There is little to be done in the face of bigotry and entrenched xenophobia - particularly as it continues to be fueled by the Republican campaign's desperation. Happily, we all will get to know President Obama even better over the next four - dare I say eight - years.

P.S. It is interesting that the McCain Campaign's response to Obama's 30-minute spot is to say the Illinois senator is not ready to be president - YET.

The secret fear of middle-class black folks

Admit it. Black or white you have thought about it; maybe half-joked to a friend about it. Will black people show out with street parties and gunfire in the air on election night if Senator Barack Obama wins? Will there be riots if he loses?

No doubt cable and network news reporters will be on the streets in droves looking for hapless black folks to interview - for the most sensational appeal, rather than for true journalistic merit. And equally likely, they will have no difficulty finding those willing to share their exuberance at the coming of Barack the messiah and what it will all mean for Black America. I fully expect to hear - at least once - the proclamation that it is now 'our time.'

I could hope that news clip played on November 4 through 5 show people who look like me only in muted celebration, referring to Senator Obama's accomplishment in its appropriate historic and political context. I could hope, but I rather reserve my hopes for a mild winter. I know some black person will be on television acting the fool; as I am sure some white person will voice their fears that the country will certainly go to hell with a black man at the helm.

True, the televised actions of a few may dull our victory just a bit. Yes, some people may be a bit embarrassed to go to work on Wednesday morning. However, it is undeniably an important moment in history. Stay up and watch anyway, at home or with friends. See the tallies come in and the newcasts from around the nation. Be else will you see me in my Obama henley firing into the air at my street dance?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Screw you poor people

The 40-something degree days in October caught me off guard, so I've been scrambling to stock up on cold weather clothing and accessories for my young sons. After I realized that the boys were losing a glove and/or hat almost every time they walked outside the door I have become particularly fond of Target's hat and gloves sets for $2.99.

Finding scarves (important for my son who sometimes has respiratory trouble) proved a bit more problematic. Target did not have them and neither did WalMart, so I visited The Children's Place - a store I happen to love. Of course they had scarves - for $6.50. They also had gloves and hats - some $6.50, some $8.50 for a single hat or pair of gloves. That is more than four times the cost of the Target ones. The TCP hats and gloves were obviously better quality, but I would not say they were four times better.

I was annoyed not just at the effect on my pocket, but also at what I think is the disparity between the access of the haves and the have-nots. Here is the scenario: A poor family includes a young boy with asthma. His doctor suggests he wear a scarf over his mouth and nose and a warm hat to control his episodes. The family can only afford the cheaper items from WalMart or Target - not lined, not as warm - so he has more episodes. He gets sick because his family is poor.

Ok, that takes some imagination and a leap of faith, but the disparity is glaring in other areas. Besides the obvious benefits of smaller class sizes and better resources, children who are not going to wealthy private schools are not making the connections that will have fiscal benefits in the future. Families who rely on WIC or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program often cannot afford to feed themselves. In order to buy enough food, they make decisions to bypass fruits and vegetables - usually more expensive than less healthy options. (What is the healthy equivalent to McDonald's $1 menu?) Is there any wonder diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart conditions are rampant through poor communities? The poor medical condition of destitute families is exacerbated by the lack of preventative and routine medical care - due of course, to their inabililty to pay for insurance or uncovered doctor's visits.

Say what you will about John Edwards's adulterous scandal, but when he was in the election race at least there was a real conversation about poverty in this country. With all due respect to President-in-waiting Obama, the $250,000 mark he banters about is a dreamworld away for waitresses and day laborers supporting families on less than the minimum wage.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Made by adversity

I am reading Standing Tall, the autobiography of famed women's college basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer. The book relays Stringer's growing up, family, challenges and successes interwoven with the history and and evolution of women's basketball. I am not big on biographies, or on women's basketball, so I am not sure why my husband chose this book as a birthday present and went to the trouble of getting it autographed by Stringer (currently coach of the team at Rutgers University, here in New Jersey). I am glad he did though; it has been a good read.

Coach Stringer's successes have been hard-earned. She has faced racism, sexism and a more than her fair share of family tragedy, but persevered to play an integral role in the growth of women's sports and to achieve great success for her teams and for herself. The enormity of the personal tragedies this woman has experienced is awesome to me. Her father died in his 40s. Her daughter, when just a toddler, suffered paralysis and irreversible brain damage as a result of misdiagnosed spinal meningitis and undetected pressure in her brain. Her husband of 20 years died of a massive heart attack when he was only 47 years old. Her son's promising football career was derailed by a false association with a shooting. Just last year, her life became a whirlwind of media craziness after she and her team were called 'nappy headed 'hos' by radio host Don Imus.

I admire that Stringer does not claim to have taken every adversity in stride; rather she is brutally honest about her crippling grief, despondence and anger. I can understand the anger. How much is one person expected to bear in a life time? I have had reason to ask that question over the last couple of years; my best friend lost her mother, boyfriend and sister in less than three years. After her most recent loss and in the middle of a fit of crying, she said "it's too much." I agreed.

As Stringer says in her book, some people prefer to find solace in the idea that there is a reason for everything - that God in His infinite wisdom makes or allows things to happen to some ultimate good end. That idea made no sense to Stringer and it brought her no solace. The idea that made the most sense to her is that some people suffer so they learn lessons they can pass to others to bring comfort to them. Of course, in her time of grief she did not want to be a comforter to others. She did not want to learn those lessons. In her life though, she has had many opportunities to draw on those lessons and impact the girls she coached and mentored.

If you accept that idea though, you have to ask: if you have not met great adversity in your life does it mean that there is no great purpose to your life?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Colin Powell endorsement

The Colin Powell endorsement of Senator Barack Obama came as a surprise this morning - to me anyway. I knew there were discussions and media speculations a few months ago, but crossing party lines is a serious matter. I imagine it was not a decision former Secretary of State Powell took lightly.

I would guess that in addition to the criticism he expects to come his way, Powell also thought about how his endorsement will affect Senator Obama's campaign. An endorsement does not necessarily have a positive effect. Will this endorsement emphasize the issue of race, which Obama has tried ardently to downplay? Will the discussions of Powell and his tenures as Secretary of State and U.S. General upstage the presidential candidate's campaign?

We can expect that Fox News and other supporters of John McCain will try to discredit General Powell's service and insinuate some surreptitious reasons for his resignation from the Bush administration. Some of Senator Obama's supporters may question Powell's reasons for announcing his support and wonder what he expects in return.

If the well-respected Powell anticipated all this and still made the decision to voice his support for the democratic candidate for president, then I can only hope it causes others to pause. If Powell who has held high office in the Republican party - and whose name was bandied about as a possible candidate for president himself - thinks Obama should be the next president of the United States, then I hope that other Republicans who vote exclusively along party lines take a look at the other side.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I went to the circus - finally

When I was in preparatory school the circus came to Jamaica. I was ecstatic when one of my mother's friends offered to take my brother and me when she was taking her niece. We got dressed and my mom told me to sit inside while I waited. I apparently did not take her seriously and I was soon at the fence talking to my friend next door - more than likely boasting about going to the circus.

My mother did not take kindly to being disobeyed, no matter what my reason. Needless to say, I did not go to the circus that night - or any other night. Since then, I have been haunted by images of spellbinding acrobatics, death defying feats performed by animal trainers and the captivating voice of a pudgy ring master announcing thrilling big-top acts. When a friend offered me her extra tickets to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus I jumped at the chance to go, and to take my two young sons. I was finally going to see the circus.

Then I went to the circus. Some fantasies are not meant to be realized; the dream is too often better than the reality. I don't think I have been so disappointed since my college graduation present turned out to be a PDA and not a car.

Not once, while I was sitting in bumper to bumper traffic heading to Newark two nights ago, did it occur to me that the show I had been waiting to see for more than 20 years would not meet my expectations. I never thought I was in for hours of mindless prancing about, Cirque du Soleil rejects and the un-funniest clowns I have ever seen. Who knew elephants were so stinky and that show horses crap in the ring?

After paying $20 for parking, $40 for useless light-up toys, $26 for two orders of chicken fingers and fries and two bottles of water - and passing on the $15 sno-cones - the best sight of the evening for me was not in the ring. It came when I saw my son's eyes lit, bright and big as he watched Joanna the white tiger stand on her hind legs and dance with her trainer. If you don't get to see the circus as a child, then you should get to see the wonder of the circus in a child's eyes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Donkey seh di worl nuh level

I cringe every time a black person is on the news doing something stupid and/or illegal. I know I should not take ownership for the misdeeds of others simply because I have the same skin color. I also know that there are people who will judge me based on those behaviors. More than that, I know there are those who look to those images and behaviors as proof of what they already think. Now in my fourth decade on this earth, the persistent thought of race is new to me. Other than the uproar Buju Banton's Brownin' caused in the late 80s and some self-deprecating phrases in our vernacular, race in Jamaica is primarily the domain of historians and academics. For good or for bad, the people on TVJ and CVM news look like me. Reports are not prefaced with racial descriptors and there are no color tallies of the victims or the perpertrators. There are no celebrations of color firsts and there is no need for affirmative action policies.

It is undeniably different in the United States. With the black senator from Illinois close to being the next president of the United States, race is a constant undertone, if not always explicitly verbalized. It appears to me that the people who speak out the loudest about race are those on the fringes - those incensed that the negroes are not grateful for what they have and those being crippled by the white conspiracy to keep the black man down.

Senator Barack Obama himself is fodder for the argument that black people in American have no cause for complaint. One Talk of the Nation (National Public Radio) listener lamented on Tuesday that more than equal, now white people were being prejudiced against. The white mother of teenagers said she will not vote for Obama because he is black and she thinks it is unfair that her daughters will not have the opportunities he had. I am not sure exactly what opportunities that woman was referring to. It may be that she, like many others, assume that every successful person of color benefited from affirmative action policies.

I have not made up my mind about the wisdom and/or fairness of affirmative action, but I have heard good arguments from people I respect on the merits of leveling the field for black students, professionals and entrepreneurs. One thing I know for sure is that affirmative action does not reward the undeserving or the unqualified. It says to companies and college administrators look at the best available across the room. If Senator Obama did benefit from such a policy (and I have seen or heard no evidence that he has) it is because he was among the best. His candidacy is not so much evidence that all things are now equal, but more so of his intelligence, ambition and his refusal to accept that they are not. As my husband says, we will know things are equal when a black George W. can be president, ie drug and alcohol abuser with a C average and a record of low performance in every job he has ever had.

Things are not equal, but anyone who would argue that black people are no better off than they were 40 years ago needs to put down that heavy chip from off their shoulder. Today, economics plays a much greater role in dictating the outcome of a child's life than his/her race. It is true that many black families are below or near the poverty line. It is true that black children in large numbers go to schools that are overcrowded and that do not prepare them adequately for college. It is true that many black people live in neighborhoods that are plagued with crime and violence. It is true that many of the social ills that ail the black community are the direct result of years of discrimination and oppression.

It is also true that equality does not mean easy. We may need to study more, work longer, and push harder against those doors to opportunities, but this generation makes it easier for the next. Maybe one day donkey will say the world is level. (Ask a Jamaican.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Heathen democrats?

I agree with blogger Richard Ivory of People should not be pigeonholed politically. I bet the assumption that every black person is a democrat is as much an affront to Ivory as some of the assumptions about democrats are to me.

A student at Liberty University - founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell - told NPR that upon finding out that he votes democrat, fellow students consistently ask him if he is a christian. I can't imagine that someone with conflicting beliefs would enroll at Liberty, so the question is asinine as it is ignorant.

I keep hearing and reading the jokes about democrats being lawless and anti-christian and I don't get them. I miss the punch lines because they are grossly exaggerated and inaccurate caricatures. I happen to be christian and I know many christian democrats. I'm pretty sure there are more than a few of us. When did being a democrat come to mean you are heathen? How did Republicans come to be the prevailing authority on christian values? Who made the Religious Right antipodal to the Liberal Left?

I vote democrat because I agree with more of the elements of that party's platform, than the Republican Party. None of those elements stand in opposition to my christian beliefs. I believe that a government's role is to defend the country against its enemies (with more emphasis on the diplomatic tools available to avoid armed conflicts, than on the execution of war); to protect the wellbeing (economic, health and otherwise) of all its citizens; to preserve the God-given and law-given rights of all its citizens - including a woman's right to choose. I believe there should be clear and absolute separation of church and state. I do not believe that prayer and faith should replace knowledge and strategy in dictating public policy. Does that make me unchristian? I don't think so. I believe that a government allowed to dictate what I do with my body or who my partner should be, could one day conceivably tell me how to worship. And a government that prays rather than plans is not using the gifts God gave them.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

When I was a little girl

Things seemed to change pretty quickly. I had my first "in my day moment" much earlier than I thought I would. I remember the day and the incident very well, even though there have been many since then. I was fresh out of college and four years out of high school. I had gotten on an almost empty bus on my way home from work, when I noticed two teenage girls in the uniform of my alma mater (Age quod agis). They were eating out of boxes on the backseat, shouting out the window to someone on the sidewalk and romping with the bus conducter. Completely unladylike behaviours. I was horrified. For days after that I talked about how differently we behaved when I was in high school. Since then, the lines to the stories I will tell my sons of my early years have been lengthening.

We expect change; some are good and some are expected. I remember when Kisko was 25 cents and King Kong was 50 cents. Now, I don't even think you can find a King Kong, and kids call Kisko ice pop. I remember J.O.S. buses and bus fare being 10 cents. I remember when Road Runner hamburgers were the best meal in town. I remember when Odeon was open, though I never went there. I remember going to Harborview Drive-in and listening to the ocean hit the harbor wall. I remember when Portmore communities like Edgewater, Bridgeport and Braeton were nice places to live and raise children. I remember the T-Junction, before there was Portmore Mall. I remember driving to Mandeville on Friday nights before there was the highway. Those memories make me smile. Others give me great consternation for the state of my country.

When I was a little girl, I was guaranteed a quality education, and there was honor attached to being bright. Last Monday, my local public radio station hosted a call-in discussion about the quality of education in the United States, particularly as it compared to other countries. As soon as I heard the topic I was sure a Jamaican would call in to talk about the quality of the island's British-system education. I was not to be disappointed. The woman who called in sounded (by her voice and story) to be in her 40s and I instantly knew that much has changed since the days she was talking about. I think she would be as heartbroken as I am to learn how much education has changed back home. Due to the increasing cost of textbooks ($15,000 is the cost of one student's book list I heard of just today), many students are ill equipped in the classroom. Due to a lack of incentives and proper wages, there is a chronic shortage of qualified and dedicated teachers. In my opinion, the thing that affects education most in Jamaica is the decreasing disrespect for its value. During my short stint teaching high school (Fortis), I came to realize that many children are attending school without the conviction that their time is not being wasted. There are little social incentives to being smart, and they are hard pressed to see the economic ones either.

When I was a little girl, I could sit on my verandah at night and sleep with my windows open. When I was in college, I walked along an unlit street to get home from campus. My greatest fear were cows that might be grazing along the side. My backdoor was always open because I had no key. It never occured to me to be scared. Today, murder seems to be the national sport. I have stopped tracking the number of people killed since the beginning of the year, but at last check it stood at an average of four people per day. When that number grew to include one of my oldest and dearest friends, I mourned almost as much for the devastation of my country as I did for the loss of my friend.

When I was a little girl, children were exempt from the worst of our society. They were cared for and protected by the whole village. Nowadays the stories of killings that include children and women are so frequent as to no longer raise eyebrows. This week the Jamaica Observer reported the gruesome story of a 9-month-old girl who died after being sodomized by a male relative. The article noted the increasing frequency with which children are being brutalized, abused and killed across the island.

I acknowledge that there have been improvements in technology and infrastructure, but my country seems to have lost its heart. When I was a little girl I couldn't wait to get big. Now, I long for the good old days.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The gift of low expectations

Well darn it, the debate is over and Sarah Palin didn't ask for a life line or tumble over her bottom lip. On Fox that means she lashed Senator Joe Biden and sent him whimpering off into a corner. On the other networks it means she gets to lead the stories for the next news cycle.

Consistent with her recent media interviews, Sarah Palin lacked substance and showed no indication that she is ready to be president of the United States. More than that, I did not get the impression that she tried to be intelligent and knowledgeable. She actually announced that she would not be answering the moderator's questions. She seemed more intent on connecting with her base - hillbilly America. What's scary? It may work for her. I wont be surprised to see a bump in her numbers.

Even people who support Governor Palin betray her lack of qualifications for the job. "She's young and revitalizes the ticket." "She wont need to be president." Those are oft-proffered explanations for her role in the presidential race. Scarier still.

The law of the land dictates that every citizen can register to vote and there is no intelligence test applied. So Billy Bob - who likes the Alaskan Governor because she hunts moose - and Mary Lou - who couldn't possibly vote for that colored fellar - get to vote too. That's the scariest bit of all, that the fate of the country could be decided by that clan.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

From my pocketbook to yours

So there is no deal. No bailout forthcoming. Republican lawmakers had their feelings bruised by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this morning and decided to vote against bestowing $700 billion of your money and my money on the financial market. Troubled financial institutions will now have the same options as the rest of us. Now we will all have front row seats to the apparently impending catastrophic crash of our economy and the subsequent ripples to be felt around the world.

I wont pretend to know anything about finance and business. I withdrew while failing Accounting II in college; the closest I came to business or finance in graduate school was the budget planning section of my thesis. What I do know is how much money my husband and I earn and how much it costs to educate our children, put gas in our car and food on our table, and keep a roof over our heads. The wrangling in Washington and the happenings on Wall Street seem very far removed from my supermarket bill.

While my husband (pro fat cat capitalist) thinks me a bit socialist in many respects, I believe the markets should take care of themselves. I don't believe the government has any business holding interest in financial companies. (How is this different from the Russian government taking over oil companies?) Risk is inherent in all investments. Bad choices should have unfavorable results. There will be no congressional cavalry if I invest heavily in a firewood production company in Key West, nor should there be. If I choose to buy Manolo Blahniks and Stuart Weitzmans rather than pay my bills, I will have my light and water cut off. If I buy a house or a car I cannot afford, then I, like every one else living beyond their means, am carrying water in a basket.

As Jamaicans say "donkey seh di worl' nuh level." Regular people don't get bail outs from financial crises; whether they are self-inflicted or caused by external circumstances - unemployment or predatory lending. It seems to me that the people who claim expertise and take responsibility for other people's money should be held to a higher standard. Makes no sense to me that the more you lose and the more people you screw the better off you are.

I want a bail out that goes straight to the vein, not "trickle down to the masses" like the one proposed. Can we use some of that $700 billion to reduce gas prices? That would result in lower food prices at my Shop-Rite. Can we use some of that $700 billion to pay teachers and improve our public school system? Then paying tuition for private schools would be more of a choice than a necessity. Can we use some of that $700 billion to provide basic healthcare for the thousands of uninsured children across the country? That way we could save on the much more that is spent on emergency and chronic care. Can we use some of that $700 billion to revitalize and bring commerce back to towns and neighbors devasted by outsourcing and closed factories? That would create jobs and increase spending. That makes sense to me and would make me feel better about having to pick up the tab.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

News from the battlefront

It was Working Mother (and Parenting, Cookie, Family Choice, et al.) magazine that first made me aware. The "who's better" battle between stay-at-home moms and career moms has apparently been smoldering outside the awareness of the larger public for some time. Were it not for the publications, books, television commentators and radio experts I would have been ignorant of it and vulnerable to a surprise attack. Thanks to the mag's keen insight I was made ready for onslaughts from breastfeeding playground moms with vegan, organic-only toddlers on their hips. I became aware of every judgmental leer from the velour-wearing set toward my suit and pumps. I became armed with all the arguments of choice, women's suffrage and equal rights and justice. I enlisted wholeheartedly in the war.

Now, I'd like an honorable discharge. My armor is heavy and my aim is no longer sure. I want to make my peace with moms who stay at home, moms who work from home, moms who go out to work, and dads who stay at home. I want to share ideas about what to make for lunch and how to get my kindergartner to sit still.

While I worked long days I struggled to get my toddler boys in bed by 9. My stay-at-home sister-in-law would tell me that her kids were long gone to sleep at that hour. I would grit my teeth and curse under my breath, "Of course, they are. You have nothing to do all day."

Even as my boys would sometimes come home with the gifts of daycare - colds, foul language, bad behaviors - I was quick to address any disdain for daycares by pointing to how independent, sociable and well-adjusted my sons are; particularly compared to my friends' children who stay at home and are clingy and afraid of their own shadow.

I groaned about the moms who spent an entire day at school to decorate for events. I criticized the clique that chatted and had coffee after they walked their children to class. I thought they needed to find something constructive to do with their time.

Then, because God had a keen sense of humor, I found myself at home on mommy duty. Nothing I learned working with cut-throat politicians, arrogant administrators or obnoxious reporters prepared me for this phase of my life. Some of the challenges are the same. My sons still get sick at school and I still feel helpless to do anything about it - even if I can get there sooner now. I also have some new challenges. I seem to have far fewer hours in the day, for one thing. Someone who balanced multiple projects and consistently met unreasonable deadlines, still scrambles to get dinner on the table before nightfall.

I understand now that the moms who have coffee together are just enjoying a few moments of adult company, which can be few and far between. Many who volunteer at school are looking for outlets for their talents that can lie dormant in the roles of wife and mother. In addition to our parenting challenges, there are personal questions we face. Women bear the brunt of these questions. Our lives - and therefore our career paths - are altered at conception. We, more than men, have to ask ourselves what sacrifices we are willing to make and what kind of mothers we want to be. If I choose parenthood over career will I be living up to my full potential? Will I regret the choice and resent my mate and children for it? If I ardently pursue a career will my children suffer for my ambition? Am I being a bad parent if I enlist strangers to care for my child? Is it possible to reach a harmonious balance or is that pursuit destined to end in failure and frustration?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Uman Fren

My grandmother, who has already outlived her four score and ten by 25 years, has always been opinionated and willing to set everyone right. She has always been particularly generous with her opinions with me. My skirts were too short and my nail polish too red (worse than Hezekiah's wife); I did not sew and refused to make my bed (however would I find a husband); I fraternized with the weed-smoking locals and I stayed out way too late (decent girls aren't out on the street after dark). She had her hands full with me.

In addition to dress hems and domestic skills, my grandmother often castigated me on the female friends who were always at my house or on the phone. As far as she is concerned it is inevitable that 'woman friends' will double cross you, share your secrets with the masses and steal your husband - if you ever learned to keep a good house and got one. Having gone to an all girls' high school and having been on the receiving end of some first class bitchiness, I am well aware of the meanness quotient of the fairer sex. I don't, however, share my grandmother's skepticism.

For every time my trust has been betrayed, there have been ten times when both my trust and my spirit have been held by a sister-friend. I have been fortunate to have in my life a small group of remarkable women friends. They held my hands through scary times, counseled me when I was stupid, had my back when I was in trouble, and sat up late with me as I cried. They were at or in my wedding. They are godmothers and aunties to my boys. They call my mother Mom and ask how my brothers are doing.

Whether I talk to them every day or catch up every few months with a two-hour phone call, they are inextricable parts of my life and I know I can call on them any time. I cannot imagine not having them in my life. That was confirmed for me recently when someone I know went through an emotionally traumatic period - made worse because she didn't have anyone she could turn to. I was extremely saddened at the dire, irrevocable consequences of her not having someone to hold her hand and offer her some sage advice. There is nothing like being able to fall apart with the knowledge that someone will be there to put the pieces back together. It is one of life's most wonderful blessings to hold a friend's hand through challenges and having her thank you when she comes out on the other side.

I understand that getting close to someone - male or female - makes me vulnerable to hurt. I think it's worth it. I know there is a great casual easiness about having male friends. I think the deep connection between women carries a value that cannot be replicated with guy friends. Friendships with women are strengthening, affirming and sustaining and make my life richer.

No denying, girlfriends come with emotional drama, some silliness, and the likely fall-out every now and again, but I would not trade anything in the world for my girls.

My grandmother may have lived to 95 without having close girlfriends, but that might explain why she's so crotchety.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Can't live without it

Recently I have been been able to reconnect with some old friends through a variety of networking websites. It has been great to overcome the obstacles of time, geography and name changes to catch up with classmates I have not seen or spoken to in 20 years. (Is that a gray hair I feel?) The internet and all its resultant tools - instant messaging, blogs, online photo albums and networking sites - allow us to live almost without boundaries. One of my closest friends lives in England. I have not seen her in years, but our relationship has blossomed over the years since we graduated from college I have been blessed by how we have been able to support each other through difficult times and really stay engaged in each other's life - in large part, thanks to the internet.

GPS units now make it possible that you're never a stranger in any town. Smart phones now put emails, websites and turn-by-turn directions in the palm of your hand, no matter where you are. Digital video recorders that didn't exist a few years ago, have almost replaced the stove as the most important appliance in the home - especially since Grey's Anatomy moved to Thursday nights. The ubiquitous white cords of iPods no longer cause a pause or garner curious glances. Work never stops with laptops and wi-fi available everywhere, from the airport to the corner tire shop. Kids stave off boredom with handheld games that go with them anywhere and everywhere. And the Wii has saved us from having to actually go outside to play golf or tennis.

As a recovering Blackberry addict (Crackberry as my best friend snidely refers to it), I am wistfully aware of how the instruments can organize one's calendar, increase productivity, expand capabilities, and ultimately make the world a better place. No serious executive or homemaker can afford to be caught without one these days. In my car, I have access to satellite radio's hundreds of stations, a CD player and the standard radio. A lot of choices for my average 30 minute drive.

Through modern technology our lives have become significantly more convenient than it was when we were growing up. (That applies no matter how old you are.) Yet, according to a recent National Public Radio piece, we are not in fact spending more time than our parents and grandparents in leisure or with our families. It seems all the tools of convenience have taken up more time than they have given. There are few lazy days. Even relaxation requires tools, and it is almost impossible to be inaccessible.

Lyming has been replaced with instant messaging and online chat rooms. Laptops, Blackberries and remote access, allow work to follow us home. Handheld games, iPods and cellphones widen our personal space and minimize opportunities for social interaction. DVRs allow us to watch more television. Before cell phones (I know it's hard to remember, but try.), we were inaccessible at school, during travel time, and sometimes even at work. Today, cell phone chatter behind the wheel and DWT have become enough of an issue that some municipalities have legislated against it. Billboards reminding drivers not to text dot the highways. Early reports on last week's deadly train crash in California indicate that one of the trains' engineer may have been texting just before the accident. You have to wonder, what was so important.

My friend and I like to torture ourselves sometimes by listing all the things that were invented since we were born. It is a long list. The one thing they all have in common? Off buttons.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick on pigs and other crap

I am insulted. If you have a brain, you should be too. The McCain-Palin campaign and much of the media thinks you do not know what metaphors and maxims are. What is more, they think you will overlook your concerns about the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, access to health care, and education to weigh in on the bickering about pigs in lipstick.

Anyone with a grandmother and/or half-teaspoon of common sense, and who heard Senator Obama's phrasing for themselves, did not for a second think he called anyone a pig. Yet for the next several news cycles, anchors and experts debated whether the campaign had taken a bitter turn, and whether Senator Obama had started to play dirty. Republican talking heads attempted to use the comment that was never made to contrive a conversation about chauvinism that does not exist, to make Governor Palin a pseudo-victim.

News editors rely on press releases and access to newsmakers for their bread and butter, and in such a contested election year I imagine they want to stay friendly with all sides. I get that. I do not, believe, however that every press release or phone call should be rewarded with a lead-in on the evening news. I hope for integrity sake, that some editor at a television or print outlet somewhere in the country saw this news item and decided not to run it. The discussion had no merit and by the second iteration of the news piece, it had no sincerity. It took away from what voters want and need to hear: the candidates stand on matters that affect our daily lives.

On Monday morning the story running the news cycles, between recovery efforts in Texas and the California train crash, is McCain's accusations that Senator Obama showed disregard for the those suffering through Hurricane Ike. What warranted this charge? In a campaign speech on Friday, Obama warned that the McCain-Palin campaign would try to undermine supporters' trust and change the conversation from the issues. I suppose the McCain-Palin campaign felt compelled to prove Obama right.

It is no wonder that with these tactics, Senator McCain and Gov. Palin raised $20 million less than Senator Obama over the last month. More people are realizing that the Republican ticket has nothing more than a zeal to win. They cannot win on the issues, so they try to occupy airspace with tangential conversations. They have no new ideas to deliver, so they mock Obama's oration. They do not have a strong foundation of service to others, so they criticize Obama's commitment to his community. They have no strategic plan for improving the condition of Americans, so they say vote for us because we are a war hero (read former prisoner of war) and a lady governor. Thanks to the McCain campaign, I am more sure than ever about who deserves my vote.

I love watermelon...and sushi

A former co-worker of mine used to frequently tease that I should return my "Black" card. As he saw it, I'm not black enough. He thought I was too 'uppity,' which he also thought was typical of West Indians. The strikes against my 'Blackness?' My vocabulary does not include 'gonna' or 'fit'na'; my children's names have a fair balance of consonants and vowels; I have no hood cred; thread count is important to me; and I enjoy international cuisine and international films.

When Senator Barack Obama began his primary campaign, he faced the same criticism. There was a persistent discussion about whether the presidential candidate is black enough to garner the support of African-Americans. If I weren't so irked by the inference, I would be flattered at the company I find myself in.

I am not above generalizations and even accept some as solid truths. What I don't understand is why any community would choose to saddle themselves with unflattering attributes. Black America has let a small-minded minority dictate the parameters for the rest of us. We have relinquished our identity to those who measure their own life's worth by jail stints, illegitimate children, and rim size. The ignorant have convinced our children that it is not cool or down to be smart and to make good grades. The boys on the corner have waged a public relations war against college education, convincing many that there is no future with a career and a white collar pay check. We have unwittingly (best case scenario) reclaimed the labels - lazy, shiftless, dumb - that our forefathers railed and fought against.

Presidential candidate or not, the worl' still nuh level. We cannot afford to gamble with our future and our children's future when there are still many obstacles in our way. A 20/20 edition that aired on Thursday night referenced a social experiment undertaken by ABC. The investigation showed blacks being passed by cab drivers who immediately stopped for white fares; apartments unavailable to black renters suddenly becoming available to white ones; resumes with 'black-sounding' monikers being overlooked for exact resumes with less ethnic names. It doesn't take ABC and 20/2o to tell us what we already know. The rate at which black men are pulled over and otherwise treated unfairly by the justice system is fodder for comedians. Black women get followed around department stores. Black men and women make less than comparably qualified whites.

We are starting behind the 8 ball, but we are finding ways to make our journey harder. Black or white, those with college degrees make far more than those with only a high school education. (Stephen Levitt's book Freakonomics gives a very convincing argument for why drug dealing doesn't make for a better income either.) Unless we have decided that poverty is one of the desirable badges of blackness, college should not be a white thing. If black men in suits have difficulty renting apartments and hailing cabs, then those who duck-waddle to keep their pants up should not be surprised that they attract fearful looks and police attention.

If some things are 'white' because historically only a segment of the population had access to them, then those things are now multi-hued. We all can use them to make our lives better and our experiences broader. We should not be rejecting them for fear of being perceived as less than we are. More than that, we should not let the degenerate few claim 'blackness.' Where is the outcry when someone's blackness is questioned because they are educated, successful and/or keep their underwear hidden?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Palin Hypocrisy

In the week following Sen. John McCain's announcement of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, there were complaints that the media was unfairly questioning the mother's decision to run for the country's second highest office. I never heard those questions, but was bothered by the very thought that in 2008 a woman would have to answer such questions.

Since then, I've become even more bothered by the seeming pass conservatives have given Gov. Palin. The party that decried sitcom character Murphy Brown as an example of eroding family values, is now rallying in support of the candidacy of a mother of four minor children - one, a special needs infant, and another a pregnant teenager. The Bible pounding, men-are-the-head-of-the-household christian right is looking beyond the fact that Palin's husband was the one who stayed home with her infant son when she returned to work only three days after giving birth to her son Trig was born with Down Syndrome. The drive and ambition that conservatives used to vilify Senator Hilary Clinton are now admirable qualities in Sarah Palin. It seems, the party has decided that she is the better of two evils. Senator Obama being the other evil. Just as the McCain campaign seems to not have thoroughly vetted Palin, party members have decided not to hold her to their own family values standards and take their chances.

Could it be that conservatives are looking past their deeply held values because they trust Palin's qualifications and have bought into her vision for the country. I'm not buying that. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found that 43 percent of men and 57 percent of women think Palin is unqualified to serve in the oval office. Even if you assume that more conservatives than the general public think she is qualified, those numbers are low in face of the swell in the ticket's numbers. Conservatives are supporting Palin, even though they don't think she is up to the job.

That smacks of hypocrisy. Issues that conservatives have held aloft as the party's banner are now being downplayed, solely for the sake of keeping the Oval Office. It is this hypocrisy that causes the rest of us to snicker when legislators who vote against same-sex marriage and partner benefits get caught trolling airport bathrooms for gay lovers.

Friday, September 5, 2008

What does your dash look like?

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine emailed me a story about the obituary of Dolores Aguilar. The deceased woman's family wrote her a rather unflattering obituary in the local newspaper.

The obituary, written by one of the woman's seven surviving children, charges that she made no contribution to society, was mean to everyone she came across, and had spent her life sowing discord in her family. That a person could be so filled with pain and bitterness that they could find nothing positive to say of the dead (or the presence of mind to say nothing) is mournful. That someone went to their grave leaving such anguish and malice behind is woefully tragic.

A county commissioner I used to work for always said that the dates of one's birth and death are less relevant than the dash in between. Our lives are measured by the people we impact, the things we accomplish, and the feelings we leave behind - more than by the number of days we happen to stay alive.

In one of my first classes in graduate school, I was asked to write a narrative about my own funeral. That assignment gave me nightmares. I honestly had not, before that moment, thought about my life or my role in the world. I wondered who would come; what my eulogy would say; and if their would be snickers in the congregation. I had pause to question whether I had been a good daughter, friend and person. I had taken it for granted that I was, but being asked to look at me from my friend's and family's perspective gave me a great deal of uncertainty and self-doubt.

The exercise was catalytic. I think everyone should sit and think about the life they need to live to have a eulogy they can be proud of. I now think regularly of what I do with my time and my life and the impact I have on my family and friends and those I come across every day. I am clear about what I want my eulogy to say, and I spend my days writing it. Of course, there are some lines I hope get left out, but that is o.k. I know enough not to aim for perfection.

It is worth noting that days after Dolores Aguilar's obituary appeared in the newspaper, a neighbor wrote in to the Vallejo Times-Herald describing a very different woman. To Maria Guevara, Dolores had been like a grandmother. Maria described a woman who had loved her late husband and still grieved her son who died in Vietnam; who was good with people and loved animals; and whose hugs she would miss.

Dolores Aguilar must have done something right. At least one person thinks so. Who thinks your dash is worth defending?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mommy V.P.

So Bristol is pregnant. After the big announcement on the opening day of the Republican National Convention, I wasn't surprised that on Monday morning talk radio was all abuzz about it. I have to tell you, after the teenage years I had, I am not for visiting the sins of a daughter on her mother. My high school and college years were filled with activities my mother neither encouraged, facilitated, nor was aware of. Her daughter's pregnancy is certainly not Sarah Palin's fault.

I can't help wondering though, about the parental wisdom of thrusting a pregnant teenager into the national spotlight and under the unrelenting scrutiny of the media. As most parents know, parenting is filled with sacrifices. Most mothers know, many of those sacrifices are ours. While the offer of being number two on a presidential ticket is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we also get only one opportunity to do right by our children.

I hope it was at least a difficult decision for Governor Palin to run considering the impact on her daughter. I hope her daughter's pregnancy was not considered a bonus in the fight for the conservative, pro-life vote. That would be a terrible gamble that will never pay.

That being said, if the reports are true that the mother of five has been criticized in the media for running for office (I have not heard or seen any such criticism.), then I would have to join the RNC chants decrying journalists and reporters. Being a mother and trying to thrive in a career is no easy feat. Any woman who chooses to undertake those responsibilities has my admiration. Anyone who criticizes her, earns my eternal loathing.

Just choosing to be a mother can derail a woman's career. Taking six months of maternity leave can make the difference between being assigned choice projects resulting in advancement, and stagnation. That's a factor of many women's decision to have a child. It is not generally a thought for men.

My husband is a great dad. He is an active participant in his sons' care and I am grateful to have him as a partner. As with most couples I know though, medical appointments, school conferences, birthday parties, homework assignments, and other activities have become primarily my responsibility. On this day, at this time, that arrangement is ok for me. There have been moments though when I have had to decline invitations and assignments because of my maternal responsibilities and I have truly resented it. I didn't resent my children - or my husband. I resented that I had to make the choice. To face those often difficult choices and then be criticized by the stay-at-home brigade has always been disheartening to say the least.

These days I read articles in Fortune, Business Week and Working Mother that indicate that Corporate America is changing to take better advantage of the talent and expertise that working mothers bring to the work place. Shared jobs, telecommuting, flexible hours and onsite childcare are becoming more commonplace. Those are all good things, but the thing that needs to change most is our attitudes about women and parenting. I want the day to come when a mother is no more likely than a father to be asked about how she intends to juggle parenting and work. Better than that, I look forward to the day when the response of most women will be, "my husband is actually the primary caretaker."

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Even BET gets it right sometimes

On Sunday morning BET ran a news special What's at Stake. (Sorry, the showing was an encore and is not on BET's upcoming schedule.) It was a commentary on 10 things that Black America should be concerned with when deciding which presidential candidate to vote for in November. The 10 issues included health care, the economy, home foreclosures, the war in Iraq, gun control, Roe v. Wade and education. (I know, I'm missing three.)

I can't say I watched intently for the entirety of the program, but I appreciated the information and wished I could have sat and paid attention from beginning to end. The show was not to my husband's liking however. He thought it was one-sided, too obviously pro-Obama. I didn't agree, but also didn't think it would be a problem if it were in fact so.

The question we 'discussed' without resolution was whether or not BET - Black Entertainment Television - should take a position on matters relating to the black community. For my husband's perspective you can check his blog when he has one, but here's what I think: Not only should BET take a position on some matters, it has an obligation to do so and to provide well-researched and insightful support for their position. One of those matters is political candidates.

City and regional newspapers all over the country endorse political candidates and present their arguments for their position on their editorial pages. Typically, those arguments are based on the needs of the community. Why should BET be any different? True, it is not a local newspaper, but it is a major medium of information for a specific community; that has specific needs and challenges.

There is no arguing that blacks have less access to health care, even as we face higher risks than whites for strokes, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and some forms of cancer. Our children, particularly boys, are dropping out of high school at higher rates than whites and fewer blacks are going to college. A disproportionate number of blacks go to jail and serve longer sentences for comparable crimes. Predatory lending has been more prevalent in low and middle income black communities when compared with predominantly white neighborhoods of similar income. While black women have seen their salaries make steady stride, black men still make less than their white counterparts. Black professionals are underrepresented in some careers and in the highest echelons of corporations - even those whose bottom lines depends on the ongoing support of our community. Our young men are more likely to enlist in the armed services for economic reasons, and they are more likely than young white men to be victims of a violent crime.

Those are very specific concerns that face our community. Our choice for president should most certainly depend on the candidates' positions and plans for addressing those problems that are uniquely ours. BET -- and every black newspaper, radio station, magazine and website -- should support a candidate based on the organization's conviction that he will act in the best interest of the black community and inform their readers/viewers of that choice.

Radio and television host Tavis Smiley came under serious fire when he challenged Barack Obama on the issues that face Black America. Many listeners of the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, where Smiley used to give twice-weekly political commentary, felt he should have given Senator Obama his support from the moment of his announcement. I understood Tavis' position. Senator Obama should not get a free pass from blacks because he looks like us. Tavis was right in encouraging his listeners to ask tough, self-serving questions of candidates asking for their votes. I think he was wrong to not support a candidate in the democratic primaries.

It was irresponsible for someone with such a large following to not present a solid argument for one candidate or another - particularly because he had always been forthright and opinionated. His refusal to take a stance was confusing and seemed disingenuous to his listeners; and he may have dissuaded some from voting at all. He threw out questions about Senator Obama, but never provided answers and he never did a side-by-side comparison of the two candidates. I think he would have gotten a better reception from his listeners if he had endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton - who many suspect he supported.

The black community looks to our media for more than information; we look also for guidance. I think black media outlets have a responsibility to do their due diligence and take great care, but definitely provide that guidance.

Friday, August 29, 2008

We'll pass on the beauty queen

As any communications professional worth their salt would have advised, John McCain has timed his VP announcement to move buzz away from the successful Democratic National Convention. And my is that buzz loud. Senator McCain has selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Governor Palin becomes only the second woman to be on the ticket for a presidential election. Shrewd move? Maybe. Definitely ballsy. The next two months will definitely be interesting.

With his selection, McCain is wooing female democrats - some of whom are still stinging from perceived mistreatment of Hillary Clinton - as well as the Republican Party's most conservative members who have been slow to warm up to his campaign. I'm no political strategist, but I don't see how those two goals can be met with the same person. I cannot imagine that Hillary supporters (even the P.U.M.A.s) will, en masse, shift their support behind a pro-life, pro-gun candidate with 20 months of experience on the state level. I want to give women more credit than that.

Is it more important for us to get a woman into the White House than it is for us to elect a candidate that addresses the issues that matter to us and make differences for our families? I didn't vote for Hillary in the primaries, but I would have gladly voted for her in November if she had won the democratic nomination. I would have been a proud participant in an historical moment, AND gotten a candidate that holds my values and addresses my concerns. Those values and concerns are not met by Sarah Palin.

Governor Palin is no Senator Clinton. In the upcoming days, I am sure that will become increasingly evident.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A new day for the races: campaigns and otherwise

So it is now official, Barack Obama has accepted the nomination to be the Democratic Party's representative in the November elections. There is no denying it now: Barack Obama has made history.

Democratic candidate Shirley Chisholm won 28 delegate votes in 1972. Civil rights activist and Democratic candidate Jesse Jackson received 450 delegate votes in 1984, and 1200 in 1988. Republican Alan Keys has run more than one primary campaign to represent his party in the presidential elections. This is the first time that an African American/Black person has won the right to represent a major political party in general elections.

I am proud of the momentous accomplishment and exhilarated at the prospects. As a registered democrat, I am happy to have a strong contender for the White House. As an American citizen, I am relieved to have a candidate that speaks to my concerns and my hopes for my family's future. But that pride and exhilaration come from the fact that I am black. There is no denying that either. The dialogue on race has become deafening since speculation began that Senator Obama might run for president. Is America ready for a black president? Can we look past race to see the issues? Are African-Americans supporting him because he's black or will self-deprecation and doubt prevent Black America from voting for him?

I think the discussions are great. Whenever there is sharing and pooling in the marketplace of ideas we are all better for it. I also think that the senator himself has provided undeniable answers to some of those questions.

As I listened to residents of a small town in Middle America being interviewed on a National Public Radio show, I came to the painful realization that all of America is not ready for a black president. There is unfortunately a large swath of small-minded ignoramuses across this country who just can't vote for a negro. However, as the ever-growing crowds who gather at Obama events prove, that is not the case for most Americans. I am thankful that President-in-waiting Obama chose not to make race an issue in his campaign. He has made his appeal to all America and his supporters cut across race lines. There has been no battle call directed at African-Americans; but rather, a message of hope directed at all Americans. The result was the flag-waving throng of supporters who packed Invesco Field to the rafters to hear Senator Obama's acceptance speech on Thursday night. America is ready for a new way of doing business in Washington and the person delivering the message of hope in 2008 just happens to be a black man. America is ok with that.

Poll after poll has shown that the things Americans most care about are the economy, gas prices and the War in Iraq. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians. We care about the rising number of foreclosures that is threatening to lay fallow the American dream for families across the country. Increasingly Americans are becoming concerned about the economic and environmental impact of our dependence on foreign oil. And as the number of casualties go up in Iraq in a seemingly futile war, we want to see an end to the U.S. occupation. The candidate who has the best plan for addressing those concerns is the candidate who will win. Americans are looking beyond race, to the issues -- in no small part because they are so important this year. This also because Senator Obama has stayed on the issues. He has not sought refuge behind the race card, but has convinced the world of his viability based on his solid plan, expertise, experience, strength of character, insight and vision.

While the African-American community does typically celebrate black 'firsts' with pride and relish, the worry that a vote for a black presidential candidate would be a wasted vote made voting for Barack Obama in the primaries far from certain for many. Now that he has won the party's nomination, that is no longer a concern. I am certain that some African-Americans will vote for Obama solely because he is black. I am equally certain that many more democrats will vote for him solely because he is a democrat. Is anyone having a problem with that? I know the Obama camp is not. If all of Black America is going to turn out the polls (Well, we can hope.) to vote for a candidate because he is black, then I for one am grateful that the candidate would have earned my vote even if he was white.