On being a Democrat

I’m a moderate, pragmatic Democrat. Apparently that annoys Bernie supporters. I am not the Democratic establishment, although I have participated at the local and state level because I care. The Democratic party is messy, it is like herding cats, and it is not perfect. The policies of the Democratic administrations have benefited me over the course of my life. I will not begin to enumerate how now.

I remember what it was like to be a divorced, struggling mother with a small child. I remember charging her diapers on a small limited credit card each month while having to pay back student loans. I remember holding my breath wondering if a purchase would go through or if I had reached my limit. I remember that I could not afford to get Chinese food before she was born it was a luxury; but after she was born, I always found money to occasionally take her to her special place- McD, and later to the Varsity.

I remember struggling to make my house payments and car notes as I struggled in the lower middle class. I was never on welfare or subsidized housing, only by the grace of God, and remembering my mother’s words. My mother taught me very early in life as I watched her pinch pennies, that she never wanted us to be on welfare or in the projects because she “didn’t want to become complacent in a slightly better situation” than our Harlem apartment with roaches and rats. She and my father “scrimped and saved” and moved on up to a home in Queens. She didn’t lose that home when he died 7 months later and she became a single mother of three girls.

My mother took me with her to voting booths as I took my daughter, and instilled in me the importance of voting. My parents were Democrats who believed in the American dream despite all odds in segregated America.

My successes and failures are because of the sacrifices of my parents and of others, some with their lives, and I will not spit on that legacy.

So now, my daughter, a Bernie supporter, has posted on FB that she is done with the Democratic party. I had hoped that I did not raise her to be this way. I am truly disappointed.

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On Aretha Franklin’s passing

Yesterday, the Queen of Soul passed on. As the radio stations, tv stations, concert artists and even my water aerobics pool music paid tribute to her by playing her songs,  I am reminded of how conflicted I was as a young girl listening to her songs. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to dance to the fast ones, and grind to the slow ones; but I as a young girl I listened to the words- and I was conflicted. She often sang  of women in pain pining for a man who more often than not treated her badly- and she still wanted him.
Some might argue that she she also  “Respect,”  which became her theme song. But back in the day, that song was not the feminism call it is today. As a young girl, of 11 years when that song came out,  I knew what kind of respect that she was asking  for: “sock it to me, sock it to me.” Clearly,  Aretha sang many songs that were also uplifting, yet  the “stupid woman” ones stuck with me.
I listened to her songs as I hung out weekends with my aunt Vivian, as a child. Aunt Vivian  played her albums and sang along with them. So  when I hear certain of Aretha Franklin’s  songs, I immediately remember  my aunt. While I could not understand whatever love pains she was going through, I could feel the melancholy in  her spirit as she belted out the lyrics in “Loved a man the way that I loved You.”   Aunt Vivian never married. She was engaged once, but apparently she had the good sense to not marry the man as they broke up for reasons that I will never know. I do know that it was her decision, as the elders faulted her for not getting married-finally. Other relatives “threw shade” (as they say nowadays) at her for her single/”old maid”  status over the course of her life. I was socialized  to get married,  not have a baby out of wedlock and not become an “old maid.”  The socialization was successful.  But I loved and respected my aunt Vivian and respected her  life choices when I was older. Although I can’t recall the particulars now, I remember that we had a conversation where she discussed her single status with no regrets and I believed her.
Now back to Aretha, when my daughter was a little girl, occasionally an old Aretha Franklin song would come on like “Until you come back to me” and I’d warn her “do not be the stupid woman in Aretha Franklin songs.” Now I know that Aretha Franklin was not the only one singing “stupid woman” songs, and I warned my child about  those songs  too. But Aretha Franklin’s songs were almost always big, lasting  hits. The point was,  I did not want my daughter  belting out songs pining for some man ad nauseam. I understand there is  time for self-pity, but I was worried about and trying to ward off,  deep depression in her future.
And then Aretha came out with Lauryn Hill’s “Rose is still a Rose.”  Aretha had sage advice to young women: “Darlin’ you hold the power.” Advice that she may have wished her younger self had received:
“Let your life be in the sunshine
Not the darkness of your sorrow
You may see your all today
When you know it’ll come tomorrow
Tough to be, but life ain’t over
Just because your man is gone
Girl, love yourself and love to love
Cause without him your life goes on
Without him your life goes on
Without him your life goes on”
Thank you Aretha.
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Aunt Haggie’s children update 

I recently discovered that the term is still in use. The Smithsonian magazine http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/bermuda-history-and-heritage-14340790/ references the term as used in Bermuda  “‘Aunt Haggie’s children'(slow or confounding people).”  See my July 2012 post defining the term.

And now this election cycle has revealed a new group of Aunt Haggie’s children: Black Trump supporters. http://www.theroot.com/articles/politics/2016/08/donald-trumps-factory-of-ignorant-black-surrogates/

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Secrets married women don’t often disclose, and should!

“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.” “Good King Wenceslas”

Sage advice.
We women do not often share our war stories with our young. We dress our battle scars and hide them with our successes, makeup and fashion. But our close friends are privy to our journey. If I could go back and advise my younger Princeton self, I would tell her “Follow your passion, and pay more attention to your goals first.”

My grandmother gave me a clue, the night before I married my first husband: “I don’t know why you are getting married,” she said. “You are educated, you have a career, and you don’t need a man to take care of you like I did.” I was amazed, not just because my evangelical grandmother seemed to be advocating living in sin, but couldn’t she have she have shared these sentiments before the eve of my wedding day? Shouldn’t she have?


I did not go to college to “get a husband.” I had always thought that marriage was the goal of my mother’s generation, as finding a spouse while in college was often a goal of many college bound women in the fifties. I met my first husband at Princeton. We became a couple after the first semester of my freshman year. In the seventies, for women of color, Princeton, appeared to be “raining men” : black, brown and Asian. White men were often not an option for most of us. Recent studies have shown that black women are still less likely to marry outside of our race than any other group, with the exception of white men.

Although I was blessed with a daughter from that marriage, we had clearly married too young. I had never planned to raise my daughter alone. However, I was now free to focus on the career choice which was best for me and I pursued a career in law. I no longer had to sacrifice my career to follow an ambitious professional husband from city to city, state to state for the benefit of his career. Yet, I had to be mindful of the effects that my ambition and career satisfaction would have on my young daughter, and I had to try to balance my needs against hers.

After college, after the divorce, I discovered that the educated pool of single black men was substantially diminished. Where did they go? They were married. I recall a Princeton colleague who often lamented, “why didn’t someone tell me that the real world was not full of men like at Princeton?” It is an inconvenient truth that the pool of marriageable men, especially those of color, is substantially reduced after college and graduate school.

Of course, there is also the little discussed fact that the pool increases again when men are divorced, or what I call, “recycled.” In my thirties, the “recycled” age was mid-to-late thirties. These days, because people are marrying later, 30 is considered the “new 20.” In more contemporary times, given the shift/delay in maturity, I suspect that the “recycled” pool will probably be in their early forties, and unless one is lucky enough to get a widower, most of these men will bring the baggage of ” baby mama drama” to the table.

Curiously, both my mother and former mother-in-law, who were both widows, silently conveyed another truth; that they had no desire to marry again! The recycled men of their generation required too much upkeep, and these women relished their freedom and financial independence. I wish they had not been silent! Marriage is hard work!

During my single years, before my current marriage, my friends were amused at the angst I suffered while dating in my thirties, because I had married so young (at 23 years old). They had experienced the heartbreak of dating in their twenties and during their thirties, were either in marital comfort/discomfort, or nicely settled in their singleness.

Recently, my daughter expressed her sympathy about my having “to work” and be a single mother sacrificing her desired “mommy time” to put food on the table. I was surprised that she thought that I “had” to work because of the divorce. I set the record straight: any imbalance resulting from my attempts to juggle “mommy time” with “career/me time” happened because I wanted a full life; I always wanted a satisfying career and to be a staple in the community in which I lived. I informed her that I did not work solely because I needed a paycheck to support us, but did so because of who I am; a woman who never wanted to limit her options, regardless of our financial situation. Thus, I could never have been a stay at home mom!

Yes, if I could go back and advise my younger self, I would tell her to “Follow your passion, and pay more attention to the men in college/graduate school.” And, when my younger self thought that she had found ” the right one, ” I’d tell her to make certain that he’s on board with her career AND family goals, and to pay attention to whether or not he is primarily focused on his own goals and ambition. I would tell that young woman not to take herself so seriously; to lighten up, to compromise with others, but NOT to compromise herself OR her values. I would tell her that, “when someone shows you who they really are, believe them.” And finally, to tread BOLDY in the footsteps that others have left so that you may gather strength in the storms of life, in order to leave footprints for those coming behind you.

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NOT one of Aunt Haggie’s children!

Thank heavens for records of former slaves that survived to document the everyday unsung victories over the institution of slavery:

The famed letter written by an ex-slave in response to his former master’s request that he return to the plantation, soon after the end of the Civil War. Different versions of the letter bear various spellings of the writer’s name.

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy — the folks call her Mrs. Anderson — and the children — Milly, Jane, and Grundy — go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve — and die, if it come to that — than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

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Black v. White culture

Yesterday, half of the NAACP audience gave Mitt Romney a standing ovation after he addressed the convention. Extracting those members of the audience planted by the candidate, the remaining folk standing did so because that is what’s done in black culture.

Jonathan Capehart wrote about the “respect” shown by the audience in standing.Posted at 05:22 PM ET, 07/11/2012 Boos and respect for Romney at NAACP convention

In Sunday morning services all over the country you will see black audiences give standing ovations to children’s performances that clearly would have benefited with disciplined practice, because black culture (in my opinion) overly lauds the attempt; as opposed to the quality of a performance. How often have you heard in the last few days: Romney received “credit for showing up.”

I maybe be wrong for not standing when children give a lackluster performance; but when I see truly remarkable performances, I do stand in appreciation of the talent and hard work which resulted in an outstanding result. I attribute this to Biculturalism- black and white.

I believe that I am bicultural, as the term bilingual is applied to those who speak two languages. As a black girl raised in Harlem, NY by first generation college-educated, southern migrants, I was taught to be bicultural. I was educated at the premier Brearley School from sixth grade to graduation; then on to Princeton. My mother would often tell me, as I in turn would school my daughter: “I am not raising a white girl.” My mother would explain to me as she had to explain to Brearley, that they could not “stuff a square peg in a round hole” or vice versa. Daddy, for the mere twelve years of my life that he was alive, would teach me about the pitfalls of people getting “too big for their britches.” ( I originally responded to him with the question: why don’t they get bigger britches?”).

The school of Biculturalism gives hard knocks. Initially, it negatively impacts one’s self-esteem as you learn white culture. Then, since being black does not equate to being innately knowledgeable about black culture, you must continue your lessons in black culture. Black folk start to call you a “wannabe white” or not “down to earth” or “putting on airs” or “talking like white folk” and so on. You adapt, because these are important lessons. You have to filter the criticism – and you want to be able to fit in.

You learn not to be intimidated when you are the only black person in the room around white people. You sometimes serve as translator for either culture. I believe it is a duty. It helps to dispel ignorance in both cultures. But understand, I am no expert, although I have pedigree papers in white culture; as a former president of an HBCU once said, ” I am still working on my Master’s in blackness.”

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Black women as Superwomen

Ebony magazine headline SUPERWOMAN SYNDROME: Are Black Women Killing Themselves to be Strong?

Reminded me of a session in marriage counseling with husband #1. I was lamenting not being able to be June Cleaver (“Leave it to Beaver” mom) because she didn’t work outside the home! Husband#1 queried, ” haven’t you ever heard of “superwoman”? I responded “f–k superwoman” the counselor replied, “she doesn’t have time for that either.” loved the counselor!

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Aunt Haggie’s children

Aunt Haggie’s children

On a recent visit with a 90 year old cousin, she became annoyed with the imprudent behavior of her fellow church members in preparation for Sunday service. Instead of using the N word to describe their ignorant behavior, she called them “aunt Haggie’s children.” I questioned her about that term. She said, “in college, at Livingstone, the then President said that ignorant blacks acted like they were still slaves, or “aunt Haggie’s children. ” I began using the term. And I encourage all to replace the N word and callout aunt Haggie’s children whenever you see or hear one and stomp out ignorance.

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The Eastern Shore of Virginia

Reginald Giddens, Rose Giddens Steele, Reginald Jr.Steele, Virginia Savage, Herman Giddens

Painter, VA

My mother’s family is from the Eastern Shore. A unique parcel of land south of Delaware and Maryland on the peninsula. Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas were born further north on the Eastern shore of Maryland.

I spent summers on the Eastern shore visiting my maternal grandfather.   While my prep school classmates took exotic summer vacations abroad or experienced summer enrichment programs, I boarded   a Trailways bus  with a lunch bag to visit my grandfather. In the summer of 1963, when I was 7 years old, I purchased a postcard during a bus change/stop on the way. It was my attempt to document my “travels” during summer break. I sent it to my maternal Grandmother Eretta just to let her know that I was  thinking of her.  I did not remember sending the postcard until I had the occasion in 2009, to clear out her home after the death of my mother, who had  junk piled  her things after grandma suffered from dementia.

I cannot imagine what she thought when she received the postcard from me: various confederate flags of the South! Growing up in Harlem, I had no clue of the symbolism of  the Confederate battle flags.The first time I remember seeing the flag, and knowing  the terrorist history associated with the symbol, was within my first few days of arrival on campus at Princeton University.

I was surprised that  grandma had saved the postcard in a special place of correspondences received. There were not many cards that she kept; and I’ll never know why Grandma kept that card from me. 

When I hear a  screen door screech shut, memories of the Eastern shore flood my brain. As the Trailways bus pulled into the gas station at Exmore, Va, my grandfather, Reginald stood waiting with a wide grin on his face; looking dapper in his hat, short sleeved shirt, and perfectly pressed cuffed pants, neatly held up by a modest thin  leather belt.  When we arrived at his home, the screen door clacked and screeched behind us as we walked into the familiar kitchen which promised many meals  of good eating. 

Granddaddy and “Aunt” Myrt (my step grandmother)  got up early each morning before the rooster crowed.By the time  I heard the rooster crow, Granddaddy had already collected eggs to sell and prepare for breakfast; and he had completed most of his daily chores. Sometimes I woke up early enough to see him throwing the chicken feed to his flock.  

He and Myrt both made biscuits from scratch every morning for breakfast, but his were always better. He claimed that she was “stingy” with the lard. Some mornings we would eat  flour biscuits,  homemade  sausages  and cheese which  was melted on the stove served up with molasses. I can still remember the taste and the lightness of the biscuits l- a result of his perfect blend of lard and flour. Other  mornings, sweet potato biscuits were served with thick slices of fried bologna. 

Dinners were fresh vegetables of lima beans and home grown tomatoes, pork chops or  fresh killed fried chicken. He never let us see him kill the chickens and we never saw any trace of the crime. In fact, the only bad memory of  my time with him was when nature called and I had to use the dreaded “outhouse.”  It was years later when my uncle  Reginald Jr. installed indoor plumbing in the house for his father Reginald.  But during  those summers,  there was no indoor plumbing. Water was pumped from the well each day into  the enameled face basin for washing, sometimes heated on the wood burning stove, sometimes not. Then discarded out door. 

We kids always ate in the kitchen. Granddaddy would take his meals at the dining room table, but only after we had already eaten. He literally beamed when he looked at us and showered us with love,  RC colas, ice cream or anything that we might possibly want from the Bundix  store in Painter, VA. (We could not get RC colas in New York City. And my mother only bought cheap sodas on sale: 20 cans of the A&P brand for $1.  I was only able to get cokes during recess at prep school).

My grandfather drove a school bus during the school year, and in the summer took various handyman and painting jobs for the local white folk. He was an usher at the baptist church where he worshiped. And apparently was a mason; as I discovered some mason paraphernalia upon clearing out his home for sale after the death of my mother.

Black families on the Eastern shore worked summers  in the fields picking string beans, white and sweet potatoes and other crops. According to my uncle, Reginald Jr., ( knicknamed “June”) in the winters, work was scarce and the only crop available to be picked was broccoli. Black families relied on the credit obtained from Carlyle Williams’ country store for staples until the spring came and they worked to  pay off the winter debt. He remembered that  Carlyle Williams was honest  and kept a book of what the families owed. Many black families survived in the depression because of him; Carlyle Williams was “ a lifesaver for blacks, he helped  black people survive” recalled my uncle “June.”

Uncle June also told me that  many families had wood burning stoves to heat the homes or shacks were they lived. They would collect oak wood to burn in the stoves.  In the winter, white people could afford to  buy coal; while most blacks could not.  His father, Reginald Giddens Sr. worked for the coal company, and would often get coal free. At night he would “bank the fire with coal and wood, and the coal/wood kept the heat going through the night.”

I remember spending those hot summers reading any and all book I brought with me. However, the nights were surprisingly cool and my grandparents would burn the wood in the stove making the house unbearably warm. I learned very early  that when you opened the door of the pot bellied stove, you could release some of the heat which  radiated throughout the room and reduced the temperature of the room considerably, much to the chagrin of my step-grandmother.

My grandfather’s brothers were not middle class but proud hard working men. In later years, my grandfather’s brother Herman Giddens owned a country store. Reginald Giddens Sr. would purchase blocks of cheddar cheese, chunks of bologna and Karo molasses and syrup in cans for breakfast from his kin.  Billy and Bucky Giddens were the sons of Norman Giddens and operated a funeral home. Norman Giddens worked for the Railroad.

The dissonance  created in my grandfather’s  attempt to carve out an existence in Jim Crow America as a black man providing for his family; while having to  subjugate his manhood in order to peacefully co-exist with the white folk, often manifested itself in violence against his women. My grandmother bore two children from him. And, in spite of societal and economic pressures to marry him, refused to submit to a life of certain domestic violence and migrated to New York. 

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