Ash Wednesday is the moment in the church liturgical calendar when we pause as a community to remember Jesus’ temptation by the devil. Taken into the desert and offered all that the human heart could desire, Jesus said no. He prayed, he fasted, he suffered.
Not the stuff of headlines in today’s glitzy, glamorous society, particularly on the heels of the Oscars.
The day begins the season of Lent: 40 days of contemplation of this self-sacrifice in preparation for Easter. In this period many give up something as a way to experience the spirit of the season. Your craving for it is a reminder of the ways we can discipline ourselves (the anticipation of Lent is what created Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras).
More modern interpretations include beginning a new, positive habit during Lent as a spiritual practice. In 2008 I tried a mashup and focused on eliminating a bad habit: anger.
Ashes symbolize many things: the dust humans are made from, the dust we will return to. They’re often used to mark the forehead of those who attend this special service as a visual reminder of the impermanence of life.
Whether or not you are a Christian or belong to a denominate that observes Lent, this season, think about joining in either by abstaining or beginning anew.
For me, I will try the impossible: put something above my love of the carbonated beverage that is Coke. Even writing that sentence has me missing the feel of bubbles on my tongue.
But if it weren’t precious, would it be a sacrifice?
The first time my son asked me if I was a princess, I was sitting on the stool in front of my dressing table, putting on makeup. Having grown up in the school of hard knocks, I didn’t hide anything from him.
“No,” I said. “I’m not.”
His wide eyes registered his surprise. Ever since the summer, when he graduated from the world of cuddly animals – think Happy Feet – into movies with people, life had become infinitely interesting.
We said nothing further about the subject of princesses.
A few days later, he asked me again. I was better prepared.
“Mommy are you a princess?”
“Yes,” I said. “In fact all women are princesses.”
He nodded as if this made perfect sense. Maybe because in the Disney universe, all the main characters are royalty (or marry into being royal).
When I found out I was having boys, at first I despaired. My world was very female centric and I wasn’t sure how to approach having the first male grandchildren. Now I see motherhood of little men for the opportunity it is: a chance to frame the world in a way that empowers them to treat women as equals, deserving of respect, regardless of the titles they may hold.
The composing/choreographing team of Ariel Grossman and David Homan, are also husband and wife. I love to support creatives and young creatives like these soon-to-be parents are inspiring. Their plans to expand on an original production of Vashti, which successfully premiered to 450+ people at Ailey March 2013 with another woman centered, Biblical story.
Esther tells the story of a woman who saved her people by risking her life and revealing her true identity. Their interpretation of the Biblical tale as a contemporary ballet with an 11 movement work for clarinet, violin, guitar, cello, and piano. Live music at the show (then released as a recording).
David’s last CD was played on over 127 radio stations in the US and Canada.
The third Monday in January may mean a ski holiday for those grew up in the United States in the 80′s. For 28 years, this has been the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the long weekend commemorating his birth, and his fight, as a private citizen, for civil rights for great grandchildren of African descendents in America. He is more than a soundbite and a day off, however, even to those of us who were not on his mind when he was marching or sitting in jail.
The history of race relations in America has been dominated by a black/white dichotomy that often ignores the multi-hues that make up the famed “melting pot.” I’m not saying that the history of slavery, plantations and an agrarian Southern economy is not important. Nor that the resurgence of Hollywood interest in examining this dark period, from Django Unchained to 12 Years a Slave, isn’t artistically and thematically significant.
I am saying that to grow up in-between black and white in America, brown in my case, meant knowing your place was next to impossible.
I remember moving to Palo Alto, California, before it was the home of Facebook or Google. A few weeks into my new school, the teacher sent the three black kids and the one brown (me) to the library to meet with a reporter to talk about the important of MLK Jr. and the relatively new holiday. This was circa 1987/88.
I was terrified.
All the way down the hallway to the library, I racked my brain about this man I knew nothing about. I had never heard of him before.
The other kids, if they had, said nothing to me, the new girl, about anything.
We were posed around a children’s book, me standing at the shoulder of a girl, who was holding two pages open, one of them with a black and white photo of a man with a wide forehead and regal smile. I scanned the page, desperate for clues.
The caption said something like Dr. King went to jail several times for his beliefs. The reporter asked me later what I thought of MKL Jr.
I dutifully repeated the only semi-fact I had at hand.
“He went to jail for what he believed in.”
I wished there had been more print on the page, or I had a few seconds more to flip through that book and read up on this man everyone was sure I knew a lot about.
The reporter was disappointed that I didn’t have more to say. He (she? A 9 year old’s memories are not that reliable) moved on to someone else.
But the spark had started: I knew I was different from other people. And they were different from me a hereto unexamined fact. What I thought up until then was unclear. Had I thought the whole world was Indian? I knew people looked different than my family; my teacher didn’t dress like my mother after all. I had led an unexamined life, despite moving from India to Canada at a young age.
I went around school, asking classmates, what made this unknown category of black.
“They can’t have red hair,” someone said. The wisdom of 9 year olds only left me with more questions.
Like Harriet the Spy, one of my childhood heroines, I wrote that and a myriad of other semi-facts down.
I wrote it down, despite knowing that with my South Asian man, red was a color I couldn’t aspire to either. The world was no longer as I knew it.
As I grew older, and moved across America, from California to Texas, to Florida, and then North Carolina, part of a family of nomadic academics, my on-the-spot racial education continued. And what I was learning was even more conflicted.
Being Indian, I was part of the “Model Minority” as an Asian. Our type of immigrants were white collar professionals, assimilated into American culture by speaking English, owning homes, sending children to good schools.
My friends in high school and college, whose parents wouldn’t speak to them if they dated a black person, would welcome me into their homes, hold my hand at dinner, and smile hellos to my parents.
“But I don’t think of you as black,” they would say if I mentioned how uncomfortable I felt about being brown in the South.
“But I’m not white,” I wanted so desperately to say. During a classroom enrichment activity, designed to highlight class privilege, I stepped back with all the black kids, even though my parents had taken me to museums. I couldn’t fathom stepping forward and being ahead, in line with all the white kids.
Instead, I wore lots of (hot pink) lipstick to hide my brown lips, complied when a friend asked to see my gums (he wanted to see if they were the same color as his), and fretted I was not as attractive as my white girl friends*, doomed to spend the rest of my life alone. White men, I knew, would not find me attractive. And living in central Florida, then the capital of North Carolina, my future stretched long and lonely.
Which brings me to the recent media storm around women of color appearing on high profile magazines.
In their rush to democratize the notoriously Caucasian magazine industry, and hopefully open up notions of beauty, the editors of women’s magazines are making obvious blunders in whitewashing the very women they’re hoping to honor. There’s Mindy Kaling and Elle debacle, where the gorgeous, regular woman size 8 Mindy was not only cropped, instead of full length, she is the only cover to appear in black and white. Or the speculations that the luminous 12 Years a Slave actress, the rising star, Lupita Nyong’o's skin had been lightened in a Vanity Fair spread; whether or not it was the lighting or Photoshop, the effect is the same. Lighter, the beauty industry keeps telling us, is more beautiful.
— Goldie Taylor (@goldietaylor) January 15, 2014
All of which was brought to my mobile device when I cropped out my own toes in an Instagram photo. That’s right; they were too dark for me to think they were lovely. I did the same with my fingers holding the baby (whose face is very white, like his East Asian father’s).
You’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I am an otherwise confident, educated, credentialed published author, mother of two, wife of seven years. And yet when I see my skin, the darker on my hands than my face, I cringe.
Different people have different tributes to Dr. King Jr. For me, as a brown person growing up in America, by starting the process of living black and free, he and all the other fighters in the Civil Rights movement made Gandhi a part of everyday American parlance. A fact I will be forever grateful for as an Indian American adult. Gandhi’s own political consciousness was stirred in South Africa, when he saw the treatment of blacks and browns under white supremacy.
Both demonstrated that people with dark skin can and should occupy public spaces – both literally and figuratively – like anyone else.
A black president, the first Indian American Miss USA (she’s darker than the average almost white Bollywood star), and I’m still a teenage girl, worried my fingers are too dark to be attractive.
From this MLK JR day forward, I vow not to hide my hands or feet from Instagram or anywhere else. A small step to be sure, but if we can resist the assertion of governments to own our bodies, how much more insidious is the beauty industry, in cahoots with the media, gaining our permission, voluntarily, towards self-hatred?
Tupac Shukur immortalized the saying, “the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”
I’ll do my part to say I know this to be true.
Innovative public service ad campaign by Whistling Woods International to challenge the habit of leering at women in India.
The scenes bring up the age old question: do we have a right to stare at a woman because of how she is dressed?
With over 2 million views, their message is a conversation starter.
“Qatar: Small nation with a big heart.” That’s the Ooredoo slogan you can see on signs around the city of Doha. The visual is a friendly, colorful, multiracial society where we all get along. Recently, however, the atmosphere has been tense. Whether it’s the constant road work, squeezing the already congested main arteries of the city (and raising our blood pressure) or the increased scrutiny by the international media of conditions facing migrant laborers, raising questions about the fairness of the sponsorship system, even the uncertainty of a new leader and changes in policy life in one of the world’s safest countries seems tenuous.
The mandate to override holiday, winter or Christmas festivals in schools because they may take away from National Day, celebrated on December 18th, contradicts the slick marketing promoting an easy plurality. This year’s National Day theme, “One Love” with a pair of hands intertwined, suggests others also know the different communities making Qatar our home need a little a morale boost. Perhaps even a visual reminder of how we relate to one another.
This year the attack and murder of several young women, both of them school teachers, raises uncomfortable questions about the changing nature of this formerly sleepy city where you could go to bed with your front door unlocked.
A few days away from National Day, I hope the residents of this country I call home, where I met my spouse, gave birth to two children, and used as the setting for three books, I know we can work together through these growing pains.
This is my grown up Christmas wish.
If you’re unfamiliar with the song, the chorus says: “Here’s my life long wish. My grown up Christmas list. Not for myself but for a world in need. No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts…”
Have a listen.
From laborers, to white collar professionals, to nationals, I hope we can continue to participate in conversation, actively listening, rather than growing more isolated in our specific perspectives.
What about you? What are you wishing for this Christmas?
This week was Diwali, the festival of lights in Hindu culture. It’s also the week that the blog tour for my latest novel, An Unlikely Goddess has kicked off. Blog tours are great fun because it’s a virtual version of a book tour without the sweaty palmed anxiety about whether or not people will show up to hear me.
What’s also fantastic about blog tours is that each host can set his/her topic, based on what’s of interest to their particular readership or interests.
And is there a lot to talk about with this book!
J.C. Martin wanted to know about Hinduism’s attitude towards daughters since the book opens with a mother’s surprising reaction to the arrival of her first child.
Mahesh Harvu asked for more information about how to write a book and, perhaps of equal interest, how to publish a indie eBook.
Aya Walksfar interviewed me on a hybrid of issues from feminism in South Asian society to how to get to that to-do list we all have.
Hope you’re hop around with us and stop in to whatever subject is most interesting to you.
I sat in the movie theater on a Sunday afternoon, tears streaming down my cheeks. The roughness of the concession stand napkin was all I had to staunch my sorrow at the end of Fruitvale Station. The film depicts the last day of 22 year old Oscar, a guy trying to make ends meet in Oakland, CA who was killed by police officers on New Year’s Day in 2008. Unarmed and shot in the back, Oscar’s story resonates with current events surrounding the shooting and subsequent trial of 17 year old Travyon Martin in Florida. Both men were black. Both men were trying to get home. Both were the victims of the use of excessive force.
As sad as Oscar and Travyon’s stories are – particularly to those who knew them well – their deaths represent a unexplored phenomenon in America. That of violence amongst males between the ages of 10-24. The CDC reports that from 1994-2010, the highest homicide rate nationally is in this age group. Perhaps even more alarming is that this group has a “consistently higher than homicide rates for males of all ages combined.”
Violence against each other is killing young men in America. And though this is apparently a 30 year low for the age group overall: the stories from the high risk group are more gripping than ever. Captured by cell phones, championed by social media, and brought to us via the 24 hour news cycle, we are dealing with the aftermath of violence but not the murky causes.
Maybe as my friend suggests, it is guns and racism. Maybe, as I was arguing, while we walked out of the movie theater, it was socialization. Men caught in a fight cannot back down without threatening their masculinity. Does violence then come down to worries about perception?
If you look more closely at the data, the highest casualty rate is among Non-Hispanic, Black men between the ages of 10-24 and when measuring them against themselves, the highest risk group is 20-24 years old.
Watching films like Fruitvale Station or the keeping track of the events in the Zimmerman trial – which had elements reminiscent of cinema despite being heartrendingly real – the unasked question lingers. And it isn’t about race or about guns per se.
Again and again, in scene after scene, we see men who have been taught not to back down in a conflict. The escalation of aggression in American male culture is silent, untreated killer. Guns or racism may be the trigger, but the inability to back down, to bring calm to a situation, to take a step back; manliness is inseparable from the assertion of dominance.
Whether the cop who clings to his authority or the youth who can’t lose face in front of peers, males engaged in a conflict often cannot step aside once it begins.
What do we teach our boys about how to handle conflict? From an early age if a toddler comes crying about someone hitting him on the playground, what are the messages we give him? Later, in teenage years with bullying, we may hope our child is the bully and not the bullied.
As adults, few men have the skills to deal with interpersonal conflict. Women, on the other hand, who was socialized in groups and for consensus, can talk, and talk and talk about or through a problem. Do young women have an inert advantage over men in backing down from escalating aggression that might get them killed? Statistics suggest this might be the case. The CDC reports “There was no difference in homicide rates for females by age.”
You can read more about these staggering numbers relating to male youth homicide and most of the facts are not surprising. Death by firearm is highest among young, black males. The homicide rate of young, white males of the same age group is less than a half of that of black males.
There is a war going on in America. And it has as much to do with how young men interact with each other as what weapons are available to them.
My husband rarely gets involved in public debates. The last time he had an opinion was the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election. These days he’s a bit gap mouthed about the reaction to American football player Aaron Hernandez who has been imprisoned over murder charges. A bad week for Hernandez, who it must be said has a load of circumstantial evidence weighing against him, including possible destroyed evidence.
The New England Patriots, Hernandez’s employer to the tune of a multi-million dollar, multi-year contract, fired him on the day of his arrest. They even offered a jersey exchange. As in fans could turn in their Hernandez jerseys for any other player they chose. Needless to say, the jerseys are already rising in value, very close to becoming collectors’ items.
American pop culture has no shortage of athletes who have trouble managing their personal lives. Think of the O.J. Simpson car chase and you have the worst of celebrity culture and the justice system crashing head-on.
What happens next for the young Hernandez, only 25 years old, remains to be seen. What is clear is that there are two courts: one of public opinion and one governed by legal courts. In the age of social media and the twenty-four hour news cycle, however, the lines between the two are more blurred than ever.
The first time I met the Emir, in 2005, as I was shaking his hand, he told me how happy I was going to be in Qatar. Two children, one husband, six years of marriage, and a PhD later, I can’t agree more. He is a visionary ruler and a very humble man.
“Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s decision to cede power willingly is a first in the modern history of the region. The norm is for Gulf leaders to rule for decades until their death or until circumstances conspire to overthrow them, such as the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The second reason Tuesday’s transition is historic is because the son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, now becomes the youngest monarch in the region. He is 33.”