Disruptive Mama Ruins Mary Poppins

mary poppins blackfaceI grew up loving Mary Poppins. Though born more than ten years after it was made, I even got to see it on the big screen when the good people of St. Vincent DePaul daycare took us downtown on the train for a special screening. Full of funny words, housecleaning with a song, chalk drawings that become real, a harsh father who is made loving again, what kid could resist it?

I thought I’d enjoy re-watching this classic with my own children. But I did so recently and noticed some disturbing aspects of the movie (I’ve never read the books). This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and I’m not a historian nor am I going to take the time to go back to the film and get exact wording where I’ve missed it. I think my perception of the film as a white mom who is multitasking while her kids play the movie on repeat is actually a valuable filter in this case.

  • The children request a nanny who is “fairly pretty,” as if a woman matching society’s beauty standards should factor into her value as a childcare professional.
  • There is much made of the mother’s suffragette status, but no reference the role Black women played in the suffrage movement. It may be a small plot point and not seemingly worthy or exploring in detail, but the suffrage movement in the US and elsewhere (in this case the UK) is universally presented as driven by white women, thereby cementing society’s false image of white women as more intelligent, passionate, and having more agency.
  • Speaking of Black people, let me recount how many non-white actors and extras there were in the movie: NONE. While certainly white people made up the majority of the early 20th Century population of London, there were people of color as well. When we don’t represent people of color in movies that become sources of nostalgia, we associate those wonderful lands of childhood imagination with whiteness.
  • Banks was verbally and emotionally abusive. He devalues his wife and children and attempts to use totalitarian control to run his household. His wife is savvy and does a fair job of puffing up his ego while quietly running things “behind the scenes,” but she must exert any control she has in ways that will not alert her husband to the fact that she does anything less than worship him. As for the children, he dismisses their thoughts and wishes out-of-hand. The fact that Mary Poppins comes in and changes his heart re-enforces the false notion that abusive men can be changed if only they are loved and shown a better way. This is exactly the thinking that has us indulging abusive men as a society and has their partners feeling guilty if they push back against abuse or leave it all together. In other words, the famous “I’ll just fix him!” narrative.
  • Let’s talk about labor rights. This nanny, whose bedroom is adjacent to/part of the nursery, requests only one day off every two weeks. Right, then.
  • After taking the children on an adventure in which they have jumped into a cartoon chalk world, Mary Poppins tucks them into bed at night adamantly denying that any of it happened.
  • Is the chimney sweep scene, where all the white characters end up black with ash, a nod to blackface performances? I can’t say for sure, but it’s creepy. And when I looked it up, I discovered this note regarding one of the booksMary Poppins Opens the Door: “One quick word of warning: the American edition currently most widely available contains a few words in the first chapter that are reflective of attitudes in the period, but which parents may find offensive, perhaps especially since the character receiving the racial insults is, as careful readers may note, in blackface.”

In short, the beliefs created by and/or adhered to by Mary Poppins, not unlike many movies from the inception of film until, well, now (but exemplified by this Golden Age of Hollywood), become interchangeable with the warm fuzzy memories of our childhood. While Mary Poppins is set in Britain and based on a British author’s books, it is a product of Hollywood and undeniably a thread in American culture.

When I think of the era hinted at by Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” part of that is the world of old movies. The ones in which everyone is white, except for the cheerful slaves or odd foreigners. The problem with trading on that nostalgia is that those worlds never existed. America was never all white (after all, white people stole this land from people of color) and there is nothing cheerful about being a slave.

I’m not suggesting that we trash these old movies, though, truly, would that be so bad? But if we want to share these films with our children now, let’s be sure to discuss what’s wrong with the picture they’re painting so they don’t perpetuate racism, classism, and abuse and they can learn to view modern media through a critical eye as well.

Speaking of modern media, I’m curious to see if the late 2018 remix will do better, but not holding my breath.

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Provenance (a Poem)

Provenance

necklace

The monsters are winning battles.

We’re taxing the poor to feed the rich,
Nazareth cancelled Christmas,
What we’ve done to Jerusalem is so bleak,
No birth or rebirth can be imagined.

But still I hope, and for very good reason.

The necklace that arrived for me today, with a card wishing me, “Happy everything!”
Holds a modest purple flower of abundance,
A forget-me-not framed in the white lace of peace,
A lace of unabashed, paper-thin bravery.

Made in Poland, where they’ve known joy in the wake of crushing sorrow,
It comes from my sister—my witness;
She sees, still, the horrors of our family unfolding.

But, also, we experience together,
Nature, emerging in easeful defiance
From the decay.

Grass wends its way through concrete,
Lilies of the field neither toil nor spin;
We gasp at Rumi’s angels, one for every green sprout,
Whispering, “Grow, grow.”

There is one such angel near this necklace.

It’s a necklace my daughter can wear,
When the lines of life’s hurts and joys have re-cast her face;
She will caress its smooth center and strong edges and say,
“Thank you. This belonged to my mother,”
In a world that’s held itself together enough to care about necklaces,
And their provenance.

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The Story I Can’t Tell You, Per Patriarchal Gag Order

20171123_034743The patriarchy is real.

While its poster boys seem to be tumbling like dominoes, there is still great risk to those who speak out.

I can’t write publicly about some of my particulars—you know, the ones that are so raw, honest, and scary specific that my story becomes universal and I feel seen and may even be able to help someone else feel seen?

As an artist whose love language is language itself—I am gagged by a legal system that would punish me with the deepest of heart wounds if I told you what my life is now.

The frustration of it is that I’ve finally come to a place where I have all the courage and none of the fucks to give. I’m strong enough now to tell you everything—to feel that tuning-fork vibration when you say “me too” and “thank you,” to not worry if you grow bored and click somewhere else, to fix myself a steaming cup of turmeric tea when you respond with analytical reasons why what happened to me couldn’t be the truth. St. Felicia would be proud.

Across the internet, people are discussing how they will engage with or disengage from the work of the abusers and assaulters. I’ve done it too. In fact, I even decided that rather than be someone who bans books in my home, I will print relevant articles about the problematic fucks on my bookshelf and tape them into their books so that, when my children come across their ideas, they will have a grain of salt at the ready.

But as we come to terms with this body of work produced by agents of the patriarchy, have we stopped to wonder about those who have been made silent by it? Have we mourned their voices?

I haven’t been writing, for many supposed reasons. I realize now its because the story I most need to tell is one I legally cannot share. My closest friends know it. In secret Facebook groups, women like me trade our stories like precious gems, supporting them on beds of velvet as they pass lovingly from hand-to-hand.

I had coffee with one such woman the other day, a rare treat of safety and understanding in the analog world. We have a new and very promising friendship. While I revel in the relief of shared experiences, I also mourn that I don’t yet know her favorite movies, authors, painters. I don’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up, what she studied at school, or if she has a bawdy sense of humor. Because we first are sorting through the muck, carefully holding each other’s tragedies in the sunshine and saying, “I see you. I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve this.” As important as this is, I am sorry that it will take even longer to learn about the parts of us we don’t share—the deep, mundane, and profane ones that make her uniquely her and me uniquely me.

I don’t have a list of five ways you can support a woman artist who has had “do not cross” tape wrapped around parts of her own story.

You are at just as much of a loss as she is if, at best, you can read her unborn masterpiece between the lines. There is no War and Peace or Of Mice and Men in those narrow, wordless spaces.

Meanwhile, though I can’t describe what cut me, I can tell you that there is a crudely made cross at the side of this winding road where I died. I can write of the sulphur in the matchstrike as I lit the candle of Guadalupe for mother’s love; and of the flowers I gathered and placed there, knowing they would certainly decay once I left the hairpin curve and its bottomless drop-off behind me.

I will share my rebirth with you—what I see as the new, pink skin forms and the scar tissue knits itself together, shiny and strong. I’ll take what I can get; which is, after all, much more than most have in this world.

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When You Dismiss My Internet Friendships as Shallow

internet_friendsSomeone told me over the weekend that they have real friends, not “internet friends.” It was meant to be a verbal stab. But the place it landed was shiny and tough with scars from the many times extended family have complained about me using my voice, especially in a public forum.

I’ve been accused of posting my thoughts just to get “likes” and attention, been told that many people who support me in public are talking about me behind my back. This shot is a repeat; complaint number 137 turned into an implication that my relationships are fleeting, shallow, and false and that my voice is a betrayal. The narrative is that I’ve sold my soul for the false promise of the obviously inferior internet friendship.

The exchange was a reminder of how little that person understands what is important to me and what real friendship is.

It’s 4am. I’m staring at my journal thinking, do I even want to give this incident the dignity of taking up space here? Should I devote any more energy to this absolute ignorance? Maybe this precious time in the dark, before the demands of the day begin, should be a time for gratitude or meditation.

Then, I hear my housemate’s soft voice emanating from her room. She’s doing a last, out-loud readthrough on her piece about the violence of capitalism. She’s at the part of her essay that extols the virtues of complaint in our positive-vibes-only world. “And are you familiar with a certain Mr. Jesus of Nazareth, a.k.a., The Christ?” she coos in Marxist lullaby. “That man was a power complainer.”

I smile and reflect on how Alexis came to be in proximity to me, sitting at our dinner table to share in our food and our favorite-parts-of-the-day ritual, retreating afterward to her space to put her deep thoughts and feelings into words.

I met Torski at a careers conference 8 years ago. She and I hit it off, and we kept in touch via Facebook. She decided to try a drop-shipping business, and I tried it with her. I attended a drop shipping conference in Vegas where I met Torski’s friend Karen, a powerhouse business coach who knew just how to put an unwanted male hanger on in his place. I loved her right away, so she and I kept in touch. The drop shipping didn’t stick for any of us.

But Karen and I formed a mastermind with another friend via Facebook groups. Each of our businesses made great strides that year. Karen said I should get a reading/business consult from Alexis Morgan. Alexis and I were both in Chicago, so we met up, and did some stuff together before life had us in different states for a while. But when Alexis wanted to come back to Chicago, she PM’d me, and we were soon making arrangements to turn our back room into a little apartment for her.

I think about my other internet friends. There’s Ana and the natural hygiene community she founded that is just as much about our personal ups and downs and generally curious conversation as it is about exercise, sufficient sleep, and the eating of raw fruits and leafy greens.

There was a time when I didn’t want to join support groups because I didn’t want to identify as a “survivor of X.” Gotta keep it positive, right? Well, I’ve discovered there is great healing in sharing with people who understand what you’ve been through, learning from those further along their path, giving a hand to those coming behind you. I’ve found those supports online, full of a camaraderie and understanding I didn’t find anywhere else. And it turns out, the dear friends have helped me make sense of the rough bits so that they’re not so front-and-center, so there’s room in my purview for genuine goodness, not Band-Aid positivity.

I think back to finding a copy of “War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims” by Melody Moezzi at my local library when I lived in Lake County, IL, feeling isolated both as a Muslim and as an artist and political radical in the suburban landscape.

The Muslims profiled in Moezzi’s book were people I could relate too. They were Muslim, but not bigots. They were Muslim and truly fighting for women’s rights, not saying that the real feminism was to be “protected” by veils and gender-based exclusion. They were Muslim and felt free to explore the meaning of prayer as it was performed in the mosque, in the mountains, or not at all; Muslim and loving who they loved, regardless of ignorant fatwas.

When I shared this with my therapist, she suggested I send the author a friend request. “Really?” I thought. Isn’t that kind of stalk-y? But I did, and she accepted and is still an “internet friend,” today, one I’ve grown richer for.

Ditto Dr. Amina Wadud whose book, Qu’ran and Woman, was a breath of fresh air after being surrounded by centuries of male scholarship on Islam. She introduced me to the concept of being is a state of Islam (submission to the Divine), versus attempting to live up to expectations of other Muslims. I was beside myself when she accepted my friend request, and though we don’t interact much, her loving, adventurous presence in my feed make me feel like I have an internet auntie who is also a brilliant thinker and spreader of joy.

Dr. Wadud’s daughter Ferishte, it turns out, is friends with Alexis. We’ve connected with each other too in this small online world, and I’ve learned much from her about being a badass woman and working with energy and intention.

A week ago, I made a vulnerable post that resulted in much moral support online. It also led to friends meeting me in the “real” world and providing much needed tactical assistance.

The internet has provided a platform for me to interact with people and ideas in ways that are valuable, no matter where they fall on the virutual/IRL continuum.

Friendship does not isolate.

Friendship does not devalue.

Friendship can live online.

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Teach Your Children Not to Harm a Hair on a Black Person’s Head

Face of a black boy in close-up.

Photo by Bahman Farzad

The morning of the Charlottesville Nazi march, my white-presenting daughter rubbed her black friend’s short hair and told him it felt like dog hair.

This happened in front of me and his mother. We’d been lost in our adult conversation, and neither of us knew how things had gotten here. “Your friend is in charge of his body,” I told my daughter. And she took her hand back in recognition of the bodily autonomy principle I’ve ingrained in my children to make sure they know they are in charge of their own bodies and to keep them from physically terrorizing each other as they work through their sibling rivalry.

It was one incident amidst a lovely two-hour visit. We all said goodbye and made vague plans to meet again soon.

But, as I reflected on our time together, the hair touching stuck with me. I hadn’t done enough in just stopping my daughter and affirming the boy’s right over his body. My daughter had no understanding of why this was especially important for someone in a black body.

That afternoon, one of my Facebook friends, the best friend of my housemate, was sprayed by pepper spray protesting the white supremacists in Charlottesville. I wished I was there, that I could do something. And I realized that I might not have. If I had no children, yes, I would have been there. But I’ve struggled with the notion of keeping my children safe and keeping me alive to be their mother versus the idea that that is a privilege black Americans don’t have. They never know when their body or their child’s might be violated.

I still don’t have an answer for that dilemma. But one thing I can do is make sure my children know that black bodies need to be respected and kept safe.

I wrote to the boy’s mother and told her that I realized there was an extra layer to my daughter touching the hair of her black boy and that I would make sure my children understood why that was unacceptable. She’d spoken to her son about it. He had chalked it up to my daughter’s 7-year-old innocence. I said that, yes, it was innocence. But if it ever happens again, it’s ignorance.

As much as we’ve talked about social justice and the racist foundations of this country, my kids and I had never gotten so granular as talking about the bodies black people occupy, the bodies that receive the damage and poison of a society that doesn’t value black lives. But we talked about it over dinner that night. I made the connection for them between racism and the harm it does to black bodies. I probably did it imperfectly, but they now know not to touch a single black hair unless they become a hairdresser with black clients or, possibly, are intimate partners with a black person who gives them permission.

I’m still not certain if or how I fit in on the front lines with cars running people down and pepper spraying Nazis, at least until my kids are grown. But if we can raise a generation of white children who wouldn’t harm a hair on a black person’s head, that is something.

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Consent and the Myth of the Cold Woman

Isn’t it funny that women are called cold, but no one questions why a man could be turned on enough to fuck a woman who has become a still mass of cells, each of them quietly (or noisily) saying, “No. I don’t want this!”

I hereby flip this. Any man who calls a woman cold is in fact outing himself as cold-hearted. Said woman is exactly the opposite of cold. She is so full of life, so sentient, that she cannot stand an assault to her personhood and must go into self defense mode, playing dead as evolution has taught her to do when a wild animal is near and she cannot run or fight.

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Sisters’ Book Burning (Fiction)

book burning

Getty Images

Upon waking, the first thing I felt was cheated. I’d planned it out, gotten my throat to swallow that disgusting crap, yet here I still was.

The crank window got me. Opening it was a laborious thing, like some occupational therapy exercise of 30 little circles. Who would have opened it on a freezing January night? The cold whiteness and freshness of the room held the answer. Angel.

I never thought of killing myself again.

It’s not that my life hasn’t been turned upside down and inside out. But since that day nearly three decades ago, I’ve been feeling my way towards home.

There is this green, lusciousness like a bubbling swamp or kudzu growing up from my womb and taking over my heart and my arms and my throat until I can’t contain it. This Greenness (yes, it deserves to be capitalized) has grown in love and heartbreak and it demands to be let out.

And to let you in.

It tells me it its tendrils have held you too, that it is mending your heart even now, if only you will let your sweet organ continue to beat a while longer.

There used to be a wall between us, me and the Greenness. It was a wall of infatuation with my man, a wall of agreeableness and low self-esteem put up by so many cat calls and lipstick commercials. All I felt when The Greenness fought like a wild animal against its lobotomy was a little constriction on my heart before I drifted off to sleep at night. Hardly noticeable.

Letting my fears and insecurities run the show didn’t turn out so well, so the Greenness is demanding the stage. The first thing it wants to tell you is that it knows about the men who tried to spray Roundup on you. From your father—who, knowing your sprout would curve in ways he found seductive, and probably thinking it incredibly literary and deep, in the tradition of Lolita and Freud, was inappropriate in his behavior and in his leering boys-will-be-boys energy, to your husband who has gone from being your oppressor to being the “whipped” man because he hasn’t figured out how to be a partner and can only think to end his oppression by making himself lesser than you. “Why don’t you just decide everything,” he insists, without a trace of sarcasm.

Of course, these two men are just the bookends, holding up copious volumes of gropers, detractors, and mansplainers. These pamphlets, novellas, and tomes have set the stage and parameters of my life too.

But let’s do this. Let’s tag the whole lot for a yard sale, a trip to the donation center, a book burning. Our lives will not be about them. They will be about us and the rainforest that emerges in our wake as we reclaim our factory-farmed, urban-creeped landscape.

Your own glorious story is waiting for you to write it.

But for that to happen, sister, you must hang on one more day.

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