Archive for May, 2011

Memorial Day is not the best time to contemplate one’s mean and bitchy emotions.  But I find myself experiencing feelings I haven’t had in years, possibly since childhood.  These feelings are making me doubt whether I’m a decent person.  And doubting whether you’re a decent person is an even less enjoyable way to spend a weekend.

I don’t like someone.  I wouldn’t say this person merely “bothers” me or makes me want to hide whenever I see her on the street.  No, I’m talking low down, teeth grinding, wish-I-could-hurl-a-basketball-at-her-head contempt.  Certainly, I’d feel bad if something terrible happened to the gal.  But if she ripped her favorite blouse or had a bird crap on her head, I’d pay to be around to see it.

Usually, I’m able to shrug off unpleasant behavior.  I believe people only act like jerks when life is handing them lemons.  I can look past the jerkiness and see the wounded soul.  Moreover, I have a fairly peaceful temperament, so there’s no inner rage to rattle by folks who are acting like boobs.

In truth, this person is no beast.  She’s just petty, selfish and breathtakingly thoughtless.  Though disagreeable, these qualities are not enough to flip my emotional switch from patience to disdain.  However, when these qualities result in behavior that significantly reduces my personal happiness quotient, well, heads will roll.

Fortunately, the realization that I have no fondness for this particular person was quickly followed by an important, somewhat life-altering epiphany.  Perhaps I’ve not allowed myself to dislike many people because of my own need to be liked.  If I actively dislike someone, chances are they won’t like me either.

So I guess I have this person to thank for aiding the maturation process.  What better sign of wisdom and self-possession than not giving a rat’s backside whether everyone in the world thinks you’re swell?  Once I decided it was okay to dislike this person, I stopped accommodating her ridiculously selfish needs and stopped making excuses for her grisly behavior.  I silenced my diplomatic, rational self and showed some anger and teeth.  Man, did it feel luscious.

And I didn’t even need a basketball.

[Image from http://www.blindgossip.com]

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Anyone who believed in the Rapture must be bummed today.  Who wouldn’t look forward to the end of the world in which most of humanity is left to burn in the fiery bowels of Hell?  Personally, I was hoping for the Blondie version of Rapture, where we’d see the man from Mars eatin’ cars and eatin’ bars where the people meet.  That’d be cool.  Especially if Fab Five Freddy showed up.

Undoubtedly, few events are more disappointing than not getting to meet your Lord as planned.  And imagine Monday morning at the office for these people, particularly those who’ve been smug about their impending visit to Heaven.

“So, Jerry, how’d that whole ‘Second Coming’ work out for you?”  Embarrassing.

In an effort to provide some support, I’d like to suggest a few goals these folks can work toward in the aftermath of their botched Rapture.  Get back on the ol’ horse, I say.  None of these ideas are as exciting as Christ’s return to Earth though they’re much easier to pull off.

Call out some prominent person as the Antichrist.

A basic end of the world scenario which hasn’t been used for eons.  The upside is there’s no need to have well-founded evidence.  You could virtually pick a name out of a hat.  Obviously Sarah Palin would make a fab Antichrist selection, but I assume many of our Rapturous friends dig the former governor.  The best choice would be a thoroughly vile person whose public life is so utterly meaningless that it wouldn’t be a loss if they break under the pressure and disappear.  My vote: Snooki.

One word: Technology.

Fundamentalists have to update their brand.  All this Armageddon hoo-hah tires older people and barely resonates with younger fans.  If everybody and their grandmother are online, then that’s how to reach the public.  Why not suggest there are Satanic messages filtering through the public airwaves?  Maybe call the IPad the Devil’s writing tablet.  In fact, why not just tag Steve Jobs as the Antichrist?  Considering how long I have to wait for messages to upload on my IPhone, he just may be.  

Announce Jesus is already among us. 

Tell the world Christ is already walking the planet and drop clues about where he might be.  Say he was seen crossing the Arabian Desert then a month later, leak a photo of a bearded guy walking across a lake in Cleveland.  Everyone will become intensely fascinated and look forward to each new clue.  It’ll be like Where’s Waldo?  Fun for the whole family!

See, Rapturists?  There’s still hope of making a difference.

You know, when I was in first grade, a friend brought me to a church group where I was instructed to invite Jesus Christ into my heart.  They didn’t have to ask me twice.  The thought of having my own personal savior to accompany me through the travails of existence seemed an awesome way to start life.  I prayed my itty bitty heart out and begged Jesus to come inside.  Nada.

As I got older, my spiritual quest continued as did my curiosity about Jesus.  To me, Christ was a fascinating historical figure, a great spiritual leader and a deeply complex man who accepted doubt as an inevitable consequence of human life.  I find it hard to believe a guy who preached universal love would bring only a handful of meatheads to Heaven and leave the rest of us to rot.

I kinda wish my version of Jesus would’ve dropped in on May 21st.  We could totally use the help.

[Image of “Praising Prairie Dogs” by Anthony Falbo from http://www.falboart.com/Light_Dark_Series/lightdark.htm%5D

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Disappearing down the rabbit hole of aimless internet surfing, I recently landed upon a 2009 interview of supermodel and Leo DiCaprio babe, Bar Refaeli.  She was plugging the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue after she’d gotten herself on the cover.  When Ellen DeGeneres asked how she planned to follow this bikini-clad victory, Bar answered, “it has been my dream since I’m fifteen.”  Then, giddy and at a loss, she proclaimed, “What am I going to do now?” as if she’d just climbed Everest or decoded the human genome.

I’m not saying everyone has to dream of curing cancer.  But how is a non-athletic appearance in Sports Illustrated a great achievement?  Who imagines wearing sand on their butt cheeks in the pages of a sports magazine the end all be all?

Now, I’m no dummy.  I realize SI cover girls get mad cash, an adrenalin shot to their careers and solid proof the world considers them amazingly beautiful.  Maybe it’s this last piece I don’t understand.  Gorgeous women who view modeling as an end to some greater means, I get.  But I’ve always wondered why any female over the age of thirteen wants to be a model.  Eventually, it seems every woman should outgrow the need for the world to validate her cuteness.

Around age twelve, lots of my friends and I tried to become models.  We’d arrived at that clunky stage where all we wanted was to be popular so we could dive into cliques and avoid having to construct real identities.  For girls, “pretty” was the defining characteristic of those who enjoyed pre-pubescent social success, especially once buzzing hormones led us to boys.  “Pretty” seemed the one thing a woman could be and have everything one could want from life – fame, money, friends, love.  Models were the personification of pretty, and thus, being one was the ultimate validation of one’s beauty.  Being a model was to pretty, what getting into Harvard was to smart.

There were girls already deemed pretty who apparently wanted to put an official stamp on their esteemed status by becoming models.  Then there were those of us deemed fair to middling who hoped modeling careers would somehow raise our stock.

I was the latter.  Who knows what I was thinking when I begged my mother to take me to a modeling agency.  Maybe I hoped a scout would see something no one else saw in me and I could go back to school to tell everyone I was cute so stop ignoring me.  Of course, I was rejected.  But after nursing my ego back to health, I had the wisdom to identify more meaningful, less attention-whoring career goals.  Like acting and writing.

The point is grown ups set goals that validate what’s truly unique and constant about them, right?  Like their talents or creativity.  Grown ups’ goals connect them with other people, with causes and activities that give them a charge and maybe even make a difference in how the world runs.  I mean, if you want to be a model, you just want to be pretty for the rest of your life.  All you have to show for this career choice is travel to the world’s most glamorous metropolises, a wardrobe full of designer clothes, chic parties and rock star husbands.  Actually, that sounds pretty rad.

Anyway, if Bar really needs guidance on finding goals that measure up to the Sports Illustrated cover, I can offer some suggestions.  For one, she could convince Leo to settle down and become mom to some of the best looking, most intense little rugrats this side of Tinseltown.  She could spend a year traveling the world by boat.  Work in a soup kitchen.  Become a mime.  Go back to school and become the hottest gal in the biology department.  Become an activist working to save libraries, say, or lions.  Drive Formula 1 race cars.  Open up a café on a beach in Hawaii.

Bar, my dear, you’re only twenty six.  Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues come out every year, and every modeling agency in every corner of the world is crammed with girls as cute as you.  But now you have something they don’t.  You have a bunch of money, which means, you have loads of freedom.  So, life didn’t peak when you got SI’s cover.  If you play your cards right, it was only the beginning.

[Image of Victoria’s Secret model hopeful from http://www.nydailynews.com]

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Last week’s guest post about interracial marriage got me thinking.  My dating life has always made a political statement whether I like it or not.  Not because I spout off Marxist platitudes over dinner or only date vegetarians.  Romance can be loaded for me because I’m biracial, with a white mother and black father.  Thus, everyone I date is from another race.

As a girl growing up in Ohio, being “mixed,” well, sucked.  Seeing as how there was only one other kid of color in my neighborhood of mostly Anglo folk, I was often considered an oddball.

Needless to say, boys never chased me on the playground.  Instead, they chased Rachel McCullen, a gorgeous, doe-eyed blonde from a family of gorgeous, doe-eyed, Virgin Suicides-esque daughters.  I figured I finally had my chance at nabbing a playground kiss when a black boy named Paul Brockton transferred into our school.  He chased Rachel McCullen, too.

When I got to college in Boston, the playing field leveled.  White guys, black guys, Latinos; no one turned his nose in this culturally diverse city.  However, race played a pivotal role in my romantic story.  My first boyfriend, a white dude from the South, broke up with me after he realized he didn’t want black babies.  That was a hoot.  I had trouble finding stable relationships after him, which I chalked up to my own handicap in picking out suitable mates, rather than any racial issue.  Maybe it was the whole “first boyfriend dumps you ‘cause you’re black” thing messing up my mojo.

Finally, I had an enduring romance with a Frenchman who I ultimately married.  He and his family were too liberal to let a thing like race bother them, so it was hardly a factor in our lives.  In the early days of our courtship while living in France, I accompanied my future husband to a community event where we gazed at each other from across the room.  Later, he told me another Frenchman informed him, “that island girl is watching you,” referring to me.  I didn’t want to spoil the guy’s fantasy, so when he asked where I was from, I said, “Cleveland” and let him believe it was some Caribbean paradise he’d never heard of.

I’ve always had fun playing with the ethnic confusion my brown skin and indefinable features create.  I find my face rather ordinary, but some folks just can’t figure out what I am.  Especially in Europe, where I lived after divorcing.  There, I was regularly taken for a gal from the tropics, an African princess or Cuban émigré.  I had Ethiopians ask if I was from their homeland and had a man approach me speaking Arabic.  I successfully convinced German soccer fans I was Brazilian by throwing on a green and yellow T-shirt during the World Cup.  And I had no trouble getting a Spaniard to believe I was in fact Congolese and the half-sister of Lenny Kravitz, who he thought I looked like.

In the States, most people get my background.  However, if I had a nickel for every Latin American person who comes up to me speaking Spanish, I’d never go hungry again.  Recently, I went into my favorite burrito chain with my Argentine boyfriend.  The Latino staff immediately starting speaking to me in Spanish.  My boyfriend was shocked.

“It happens all the time,” I told him.  It had never happened to him even once.

Being biracial has definitely kept my romantic life popping.  But I have a secret.  I wish I could just be in a relationship.  I wish I didn’t have to suffer the “what’s your ethnic background” inquisition every time I meet someone’s family and friends.  Wish I didn’t have to always question whether and how race would affect my life with someone.  Wish I didn’t have to fear race having anything to do with relationships that have failed.  And I haven’t even mentioned the pestering I’ve received from folks who don’t believe in interracial romance.

So, who do I want to end up with?  I could choose one race in order to satisfy traditionalists or appeal to multicultural ideals and say anyone.  But the real answer is much simpler.  I want to end up with someone who loves me.

Yeah, I could get down with that.

[Image from http://www.photobucket.com]

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This week, I’m happy to introduce my new friend, Atinuke Diver, a Boston-based writer, lawyer and author of “Yes, We’re Together” a blog that challenges the assumptions of interracial love in the 21st century.  We’re doing a swap, so check out her fantastic blog and you’ll see me there: www.yesweretogether.com.


What Law School Won’t Teach You About Loving v. Virginia: Review of “The Loving Story: A Long Walk Home

Since moving to Boston, I rarely drive, but when I do, it’s usually the four-to-five hour stretch between my parents’ home in Prince George’s County, Maryland and the home of many college friends and my in-laws, Durham County, North Carolina.  In between lies a vast, speed-trap laden forest known by its government name: the state of Virginia.  During my last drive a few months ago, a friend mentioned the Loving v. Virginia case as we passed highway signs announcing our entrance into Caroline County, Virginia and exits for the town of Bowling Green.  Immediately the car grew silent, as if we both knew, without saying a word, that the sacrifice of many made this desolate stretch of highway sacred ground.

I first encountered Loving v. Virginia during my first year of law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  As the 2004 spring semester drew to a close, our Constitutional Law class had less time to spend discussing cases, so Loving v. Virginia, one of the cases toward the end of the syllabus, got about five minutes for class discussion, ten max.  But, considering how our case book took a ten year span of litigation and whittled it down to a one page front-and-back case summary, I’m not sure dragging out a class discussion without supplemental material would have helped anyway.

For purposes of our final exam, we needed to regurgitate the Court’s finding that when Mildred Loving (a black woman) and Richard Loving (a white man) married in the District of Columbia, returned to reside in Virginia, and were convicted under Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, Virginia’s denial and restriction of the fundamental freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications, violated the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause and deprived the Lovings of liberty without due process.  Little did I know how significant this case would become in my life when just a couple weeks after turning in my Constitutional Law exam, I met the man who would become my husband.  A man (being white) that I (being black) would not be able to marry in College Park, Maryland and live with in Durham, North Carolina, but for the endurance of many people, two of those being Mildred and Richard Loving.

Attending the Tribeca Film Festival Screening of The Loving Story: A Long Walk Home served as what the great philosopher Oprah calls a “Full Circle Moment.”  First, my chosen mode of transportation from Boston to New York: the infamous Fung Wah Bus–an experience unto itself–which I became intimately acquainted with years ago as “The Official Bus Of Broke Law Students.”  During the summer of our wedding, I tried to maintain some sanity living with my parents, studying for the Maryland Bar Exam, and planning a wedding (which I highly discourage) while my husband–then fiancée–interned in the legal department of a New York City financial services firm, saving up for our new life together.  Just about every weekend, one of us would brave the erratic driving, random stops off of highway exits, and smelly bus bathrooms in the name of love and frugality. Yeah, I probably could have taken the Acela this time around, but I’m either a glutton for punishment or a sucker for nostalgia (hopefully the latter).

After a pleasant lunch to recover from my near death experience on the bus, and a stroll around the East Village, I made my way to the AMC Lowes Village and settled into my seat before realizing I forgot a most crucial element of the movie review process: Strawberry Twizzlers.  I couldn’t risk losing my seat or leaving my belongings unattended so I figured my energies were better spent trying to take notes in the dark rather than eating during the movie.  After a few opening words from Director Nancy Buirski, the lights dimmed, the film began, and I found the first words of the movie–an excerpt from the trial decision rendered by Judge Leon Bazile–difficult to hear.  Judging from the hissing and cackling from the crowd, I assumed I wasn’t the only one:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Ouch.  Deep.

An hour and fifteen minutes later the movie ended, the credits rolled, the crowd applauded, and Nancy began taking questions from the audience.  Meanwhile, I reflected on two ideas I picked up on from the film that resonated with me: First, that if you are poor, under arrest, disadvantaged, or trying to making a documentary, having a lawyer makes a difference.  Second, that aside from raising children, it takes a village to accomplish just about anything.

After hearing about Congress’ passage of the Equal Act Right, Mildred Loving wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy to find out whether this new law could help her and her family get back home to Virginia (talk about civic engagement!).  She stressed that they had three small children and could not afford a lawyer–the one moment the film brought tears to my eyes.  Kennedy wrote back saying that no, the law would not help the Lovings get back to Virginia, but did put them in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union and affiliated attorneys Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkopf.  They argued the Lovings’ appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court, Hirschkopf being just two years out of law school.  The Lovings’ access to legal services as well as statements and information presented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Japanese-American Citizen’s League, a consortium of Catholic bishops, and others, made the difference in turning the Lovings’ guilty plea, prison sentence, and 25 year exile from the state of Virginia into the chance to finally come home.

The film’s cinéma vérité style relies heavily on 1960s archival footage shot by Hope Ryden and the photography of Gray Villet.  When Nancy decided to make a documentary about the Lovings after reading Mildred Loving’s 2008 obituary (Richard Loving died tragically in a car accident involving a drunk driver in 1975), she contacted the Lovings’ lawyers who mentioned that they remembered someone shooting footage during the court proceedings.  One of Nancy’s connections put her in touch with Hope Ryden (the videographer) who lived a mere ten blocks from Nancy’s New York apartment and located the original footage in the bottom of her closet 44 years later!   Among the names of film advisors and scholars like Henry Louis Gates Jr. that appeared in the credits, one name in particular caught my eye and stood out: Jeremy Falcone.  The credit thanked him for his legal help and I thought to myself: “Hey!  I went to law school with a Jeremy Falcone!”  Knowing Nancy’s connection to Durham, North Carolina through her production company and as Founder of the Full Frame Film Festival, I thought the chances that Jeremy Falcone was anyone but my classmate were slim.  Sure enough, when I shot him an email, he confirmed: “That was me!”  Very cool.  I always knew there was a reason I liked Jeremy…

Most of all, The Loving Story: A Long Walk Home served as a timely reminder of how our lives and work, even in the simplest ways, can serve purposes beyond the short term and change the course of nations and generations.  When I reflect on my own career as a lawyer and writer and look forward to the years to come, I know that I can do better.  I must do better.

[Image from www.lovingfilm.com]

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