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But I will establish My covenant with you, and you will enter the ark - you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with y...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Review: He Talk Like a White Boy

Reflections on Faith, Family, Politics, and Authenticity

by Joseph C. Phillips, Foreword by Tavis Smiley
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Review by D.S. White for Active Christian Media

"...I was determined that if I didn't learn to like rap, I would at least develop a working knowledge of the music so I could discuss it intelligently. I dashed out to the music store and bought CDs by Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, and a list of other artists who were hot at the time. The only ground rule I set was that I had to play each album all the way through at least once. As an illustration of my lack of commitment, I soon decided that playing an album all the way through didn't necessarily mean I had to be in the same room while it played. Strictly speaking, so long as the album played all the way through. I didn't even have to be in the apartment. I will never forget putting NWA (Niggaz with Attitude) on the stereo. I almost broke my neck sprinting across my apartment to turn the volume down when 'F**k the Police' began blasting through the building."


The above quote is one of the many reasons completion of this book was mandatory. By its very title, this book makes a provocative statement which is ably reinforced by its content. The author, Joseph C. Phillips is an actor, writer, lecturer, and social commentator best known for his role on The Cosby Show as the character Denise's (Lisa Bonet) husband, Lt. Martin Kendall. He has also appeared in such films as Strictly Business, Midnight Blue, and Let's Talk about Sex. As a writer and social commentator, Joseph's work has appeard in Newsweek, Lost Angeles Daily News, Essence, Upscale, and USA Today. His weekly column,"The Way I See It", appears in newspapers around the country. He was also a regular contributor to NPR's Tavis Smiley Radio Show. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

The book is a collection of essays divided into the following themes:


  • Character

  • Family

  • Faith

  • Idealism; and

  • Identity


The author's love of his country is interwoven throughout the book. His dispair for the incremental demise of the family rings loud and clear as well as his battle to be all he can be: as a man who is black, is educated, is a conservative, is a husband, is a man of God--but most of all as a man who wants to be a good father.

He declares his political views with such conviction, that whether you agree or disagree with his stance, you're left with a sense of admiration for someone who is not afraid to stand tall and proud for their beliefs. At times the weight of the author's burden to push himself to the next level, while wading against the tide of unpopularity of his political beliefs, exhibits itself as a tad overbearing or maybe even a bit pompous. But right at the point that you're about to say, "Enough already," he pokes fun at himself with a scene like the one above which compels you to laughter; (out loud on a crowded bus) or another moves you to tears, (again on a crowded bus) and yet another fills you with gratitude and pride in being an American. (Swelling of the chest thankfully not readily apparent on said crowded bus.)

This book does what a good book should: it prods you out of your sense of complacency with your accomplishments in life and causes you to question whether you're trying to be all you can be for God, man and country.

Rating:
This book earned 4 out 5 stars for humor, honesty, faith, marital perseverance, parenting efforts, and writing style. However, I would have liked to see a few less big words.

Comparable books (from Amazon.com):

  • The Covenant with Black America by Tavis Smiley

  • Letters to a Young Brother : MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper

  • Never Mind Success - Go For Greatness! : The Best Advice I’ve Ever Received by Tavis Smiley

  • Godless: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter

  • Race Matters (Vintage) by Cornel West


Recommendation:
I am glad to have had the opportunity to share a piece of the author's heart and soul. I encourage you to purchase yourself a copy.

"Joseph. Thanks for sharing."

-----

Dee S. White writes creative non-fiction, and has just completed her first blook (book based on a blog). She is the founder of Dee411 a website with resources to combat abuse and rape. She has lived in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Maryland, New York and now resides in Pennsylvania.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

So Glad We Made It!

The following article was originally posted on September 29, 2005. This is a revised version. I'm celebrating the fact that despite all the distractions, goals etc. I've made a year of blogging, in fact, we've made a year of blogging. So even though it's customary to repost the first post, I'm going to be a bit sentimental and a bit focussed and repost Flashback or "So Glad We Made It!" now simply entitled--"So Glad We Made It!

Thanks for your patronage:



***

I was reading a book yesterday as I waited for the bus. The main character, a blonde Georgia peach, had just broken up with her fiancé.

While she was out fundraising, he had been cheating on her with a newly hired co-worker: someone Ms. Georgia Peach considered to be loud, scandalously dressed and improperly made up. Someone who although she hadn’t all the advantages in the world, still spoke her mind and was comfortable with her sexuality. In fact, this woman was someone she had never dared to be.

O … K.

That’s the point where Ms. Georgia Peach got me. That’s the point where we connected. I thought of my best friend in high school, Dyan. She didn’t have much in the way of material things, but darn if she didn’t have some smarts, some great dimples and some sex appeal. Whoooooa!

In fact that’s how we met…

It was my junior year in high school. About to pass the ladies’ room, I decided to use it then instead of later. As I swung the door open and entered, I saw four African American girls, of average height, surrounding a petite girl, who appeared to be listening defiantly as the tallest and prettiest girl took center stage; neck circulating and finger pointing as she spewed her venom,

"I don’t know what he sees in you anyway, with your ugly, ball-headed, fast self!"

I paused, as I debated whether to continue any further, cause these folks looked kinda busy, but then Ms. Pretty said, "When we get through with you, you’re gonna think twice before messing with anybody’s boyfriend," then to her "crew" she instructed, "Hold her!"

Now you’d think with the odds at four to one, Dyan would use those smarts of hers to talk the situation down? Nah … that made waaaay too much sense. Ms Thing was reading them left, right and center, setting the record straight with a pithy, "Girl please, I ain’t want your ugly wannabe-a-player-but-he-can’t-hang, boyfriend, he’s the one panting behind me like a dog! Ask my gurl here."

As though choreographed, all six heads swiveled to look behind me, I’d probably have kept on looking for her gurl, but the silence kinda clued me in that I might just be the "gurl" to which she referred. So summoning all my "down" speak, I put on my "cool" face, turned around and said, "Yeah, his simple behind always in our way, talking ‘bout can I buy you and your gurl lunch?"

By that time, I’d walked over to stand beside Dyan; how was I to know that this boy that I’d never seen, mind you, had never offered to buy Ms. Pretty lunch or either of her crew, at that? It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. En masse, the crew began closing in on us, but their main focus was Dyan.

Then, I, with courage I’d never exhibited before or thereafter, stood firm and said in my most disparagingly adult voice, "Four to one, that’s hardly fair odds, and though I hate fighting, if y’all wanna do this, y’all gonna have to go through me first."

At five-six and solid, I guess I must have presented a convincingly scary picture, because the crew backed down and backed out of the bathroom vowing to catch Dyan when her "bodyguard" wasn’t around.

Do you think Dyan’s mouth was quiet? Noooooo, she was on her tiptoes peeking over my shoulder shouting, "Bring it on!" That is, until I leveled a look at her that brought a half sheepish look to her face.

"I’m sorry," she said. "I didn’t mean to get you involved, but that’s all I could think of at the moment."

"It’s alright," I said, as I wondered to myself, Did she know the guy had a girlfriend? Did things really go down the way she said? She does have a reputation. But heck, even if she was dead wrong, Ms Pretty shoulda handled it herself, instead of tryna pull a black-mama-beatdown!

Out loud I said, "Look, I’ve seen you around my area. If you want, you can ride my bus for awhile and I’ll meet you between classes to make sure there’s no trouble?" Although she shrugged her shoulders and said, “It’s up to you." I could sense her relief.

She became the first inductee into my "Save-a-friend-from-themselves-Caribbean-Club"


I later learned that behind the facade of a perfectly made up face, a sassy mouth, an incredible sense of style, and a quick brain (she was a junior in High School at fifteen), lay the broken remains of little girl who wanted to be a doctor when she grew up, but was being molested by her much older brother, with whom she lived.

My older brother and mother were befuddled at the quick growth in our friend ship. They didn’t see what we could have in common. She was outgoing and bubbly and I was painfully shy. They also were a bit suspicious at the way she was able to come and go as she pleased. Nor could they understand why I invited her to so many sleepovers.

It made perfect sense to Dyan and me: she dealt with abuse; I dealt with guilt and constant thoughts of suicide (symptoms of what I now know as bipolar disorder or manic depression). Neither of us came from touchy feely, express yourselves families but even as opposites, we found a commonality: a meeting place at the point of our need. The need to tell someone.

My mother and brother warned me about my association with her, because of her reputation of being fast. They thought her behavior was of her own choosing, they didn’t realize it was just the symptom of a deeper problem, a cry for help, if you will. However, it was not my story to tell, so I listened, I cried, I ranted, I urged her to speak out--I even offered to go with her but her fear and distrust held more sway.

Suddenly, her popularity with the opposite sex and her earthy sex appeal, were no longer sources of envy for me. Though I must confess that I still did envy her outspokenness and the fact that she didn’t lose her optimism in the face of all she endured.

When I encountered a similar situation a year later, after moving to New York and moving in with my dad, (against the advice of my older sister), I better understood, her urge not to tell. I still don’t know how she managed her sunny disposition or held on to her dreams. Unless she resorted to a panacea of some sort, like I eventually did.

When what we’re taught as little girls is our most prized possession is taken away by force not by a stranger, but by a blood relative or someone in a position of trust, what have we to lose? What boundaries are left to be broken? Who do we trust?

Throughout the rest of our teenage years: our graduation from high school, my subsequent move to New York, her enrollment in college, my year-long sabbatical. Through it all, Dyan and I trusted each other with many a secret.

We lost touch and reunited several times in our twenties and then communication ceased in our early thirties. I’d realized but was unwilling to admit that we'd become different people, each living with the fallout of abuse in our own way.

I felt saddened and hurt that she’d not left a forwarding address or a listed phone number. For a few years afterward, I fluctuated between rabid attempts to locate her and ice cold self affirmations that she brought too much drama anyhow, but she was never really far from my mind.

A few years later, I read an email entitled "reason, season or lifetime". Its premise is that people come into our lives for different time frames, sometimes it's for a reason, other times a season and others for a lifetime. Once we realize which they fall into, we’re more able to let them go when they’ve served their purpose and it’s time to move on.

I finally realized that Dyan and I were each other's season--the season of teenage angst. We'd helped each other make it through and past our teenage years, the time frame when everything is bigger, everything is larger and some never fight hard enough to stay around as the teenage suicide statistics show.

Even though I miss her still I’m so glad we made it!

------

Copyright © 2005-2006 Dee S. White.

Dee S. White writes creative non-fiction, and has just completed her first blook (book based on a blog). She is the founder of Dee411 a website with resources to combat abuse. She has lived in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Maryland, New York and now resides in Pennsylvania. Dee receives e-mail at dee@deeswhite.com.

Reprints of the above material are okay as long as the resource box is included. I'd also appreciate an email advising when and where it would be used.)