Monthly Archives: February 2011

What does it mean to be “ladylike?”

Is being “ladylike” outdated?  Should women who flaunt their feminine confidence be considered traitors?  Do we really have a specific definition for “ladylike” these days?

A couple of days ago I was listening to the news on the radio.  I heard this editorial spoken by a teenage girl discussing her take on being”ladylike.”  She described a conversation with her male friend.  The guy asked her if she smoked.  She claims she paused before responding and then answered no.  The guy then said, “good because that is not ladylike.”  The girl proceeded to explain why she hates it when guys tell her what is ladylike and to dress more feminine.  She tries to tie her minor knowledge of the feminist movement with her current goal for higher education.

I found this piece very hard to listen to.  I can see where she is coming from, but I do not agree with how she defines and demeans “ladylike.”  She, of course is not the only one who feels this way.

I have an issue with current members of various feminist groups and women in general who imply that “ladylike” is demeaning to women and backwards in progress.  The feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s was concerned with gender inequality.  They spoke out against injustice, burnt their bras, and tried to eliminate the glass-ceiling.  Lots of women now don’t recognize their contributions, while others take it to a ridiculous extreme.

I don’t think we should give up all the gifts that come with being a woman to fit in a certain society.  We should embrace them and evolve with them.  There is nothing wrong with having doors opened for you, chairs pulled out for you, jackets draped on your shoulder, and heavy or light boxes lifted for you.  There is nothing strange in respecting your mind, body, and spirit…and expecting the same from others.  There is nothing unconventional in being a housewife, a congresswoman, an astronaut, a rock star, a nun, a trash collector, or an inventor.  Regardless of the existing gender inequality in and out of the workplace, the only existing glass-ceiling is the one you build.

So, is there really a definition for “ladylike?”  I feel that in this era, ladylike incorporates a woman’s personality and sense of style with confidence and ambition.  The beauty of it is that it’s not cut and dried or black and white.  Take the image up top.  I would describe myself as a mix between Grace Jones, Emma Watson, and Mary Poppins.   We have the freedom to switch it up and/or refresh it.  The key to all of this is the support and love within the community.  There should be a bond between all women, regardless of occupation or style or philosophy.  We should not talk down to those who choose to stay at home and nourish a family.  Neither should we shake our heads to those who choose to work to the top and have no kids.

We really need more love…and more “ladies” in the world.

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Does College teach students to think?

Most of us spend between $0 to $40,000 a year on tuition.  That does not include textbooks – which are expensive whether or not we rent them – dorm supplies, food, and other social necessities.  After all the hype of packing everything we can think of, battling with elevators, stairs, and carts to move-in, and getting lost on campus a couple of times, we finally settle in as college students.  This process alternates and evolves as we rise up in years, but the same question stands – Is college really worth it? Does college teach us to think critically?

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum is a book that came out last month and was featured in an NPR segment a few days ago.  Arum argues that colleges around the country have increasingly continued to fail its students in teaching them critical thinking skills.  He and Josipa Roksa conducted an experiment on multiple universities.  They administered standardized tests to students to measure their improvement in critical thinking.  The results showed that college should receive an F for this exam.  He points out that in the past three decades, there has been a noticeable decline in college students’ ability to think critically and perform successfully in an academically challenging environment.  In addition, students spend less hours studying, compared to prior generations.  He blames the routine  and process of colleges that grade leniently to get better teacher evaluations.  He quotes a freshmen student who says, “I thought college would be harder than high school, but its easier.”

I have almost three years of college under my belt and can attest to the fact that college did fall below my expectation in terms of challenge and exposure.  I of course cannot speak for every campus in the U.S., let alone colleges around the world, but I do feel somewhat cheated or ripped-off by what I have seen and endured.  In my experience, I have yet to be asked to write a paper on my opinion on a certain subject or my proposal for a certain issue.  Instead, I am always asked to regurgitate what the professor lectured in class.  In addition, my time is taken up by tedious assignments that have no impact or relevance to the overall depth of the subject or to the improvement of the students’ learning experience.  Don’t even get me started on discussions in class.  If it doesn’t end up with the professor talking to her/himself, then it is filled with random fluff by certain students who are eager to win participation-brownie-scout points…

Professor: “why do you think the orange is orange.”
Student: “Well, I would deposit that the orange has a certain connotation to its orangeness, which is the reason for it to be orange.  Unless, of course, the political situation of the economy in the atmosphere of the philosophy would have some sort of resistance or support to the orange.”
Professor: “Yes, that’s a great point…”

…And the hour and 50 minutes continues to slowly feel like its growing into years.  It would be nice if professors could ask concrete, thought-provoking questions to push our critical analysis/thinking ability by not encouraging what I call “fluff.”  I guess they don’t because they risk being poorly evaluated at the end of the semester or no way to grade participation.  Which brings me to another point, what is up with those random participation points?  I understand for its significance in high school due to the shorter class periods and smaller classrooms.  But for college – where some of our classes have 300 people, no attendance is taken, your name is of no significance, and the subject is boring – why would the professor even venture to place a percentage on participation?

Moving on…are we really getting our money’s worth?  Before I entered college, I used to have this fairy-tale notion that college was a place where your mind was exposed to new heights, you were among intellectuals young and old, and could conquer the world with this abundance of knowledge.  Sadly, I have yet to experience any of that.  Instead, I feel we all must be drones…or just too lazy to care.  It would be pretty cool if we were like those students in London who protested against an increase in tuition.  I of course found this amusing and ironic because they were angry that tuition had increased from about free to about $5,000 a year.  In that case, we hold so much legitimacy to go on strike…just saying 😛

I still believe college (and anything else in life) is what you make it or take out of it.  However, I don’t think college should continue to short change us.  If you want to know why America continues to slip in world rankings for higher education and standardized testing, it’s not only high school we need to focus on.  The curriculum structure in American colleges is inefficient.  There is a difference between basics/well-rounded education and strategy to prolong the agony of staying in school.  Why can’t we use the concepts we learned from the Renaissance period and allow students to explore their academic passions without limitations of prerequisites, credits, and uninterested counselors?  Why must I spend two to three years of my college experience attending, studying, and stressing over courses I have no interest in?  It really doesn’t help me figure out my career path or discover my purpose in life.  It actually makes me frustrated with the sense that I’m not making progress and that my degree is just a piece of paper.

(Now this is just an analysis on the academic part of college.  Regardless of its shortcomings, I have grown a lot during this time and have met a lot of interesting people.)

But hey, that’s just my opinion.  What has your experience been?  Have any of your minds expanded to new horizons?  Has college helped you define your purpose?  Or are you ready to join my new République (j/k)?  Doesn’t matter if you just started college, you are about to finish college, or you are an alum of 100 years.  Let me know what you think.

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Lunch with Charles Burnett

I attended a lunch-in at Sankofa Café in Washington, DC with the filmmaker Charles Burnett. In a room filled with about 30 people, ranging from filmmakers of 40 years to MFA film students, we discussed Burnett’s career, the film industry versus black stories, and alternatives – digital cinema.

Burnett studied film at UCLA along with filmmaking greats like Larry Clark, Julie Dash, Haile Gerima, and Billy Woodberry.  In the 1960s, he was involved in the “Black Independent Movement.”  The films that came out of these African and African-American filmmakers had a high relevance in the politics and culture of the 1960s and stayed true to the history of the people.  Burnett has made about five major films and numerous documentaries, shorts, and TV movies.  His first major film “Killer of Sheep” (1977) has won an array of awards, including the 2007 Special Critics Award from the New York Film Critics Circle.  He told us the process of making that film and little anecdotes of its challenges and celebrations.  We talked about the difference between being a student filmmaker and a professional filmmaker.  Burnett commented on the fact that it doesn’t get easier as you transition from being a student to a professional.

As the discussion progressed, we transitioned to the obvious situation between the main stream film industry in America versus black stories and filmmakers.  There is a lack of support for stories that depict black characters as the strong and intelligent protagonist with a positive story.  The recurring theme of drugs, violence, and prison are the only ones that circulate.  Burnett told stories of how he would hold screenings of his films and very few people would show up.  An example of this that everyone could relate to was the film “The Great Debaters” , directed by Denzel Washington.  It was considered a flop by the box office. ( I loved this film) The majority of the black community for some reason did not come out in full force to see the film.  This is one of the problems that black films face.  If the community that the films are made for don’t support it, how can there be any leverage to get the mainstream film industry to support it?

The people who attended this discussion brought up ideas of building distribution companies to starting blogs for promotion to encouraging people to take entertainment and business law.  The problem that seems to persist is participation and cooperation within the community.  These same round table discussions have been going on for a long time.  Nothing that is talked about is new.  Why has it not changed?

I think one reason might be the mentality to play the blame game.  For example, back in the ’60s and ’70s, everything was about “The Man” and how it’s always “The Man keeping a brother down.”  With the exclusion of people who were young or full adults during that time, people no longer use that term, but the habit to blame some entity is still there.  It’s true that strategic people in the American film industry prefer to maintain the negative stereotypes of blacks, but that should not be held as the ultimate excuse.  This takes us to the second factor, economics.  Obtaining finances for these projects is very difficult.  One has to go through many rejections and compromises or somehow build their own.  This is where support comes in.  If the community could come together to raise funds or offer assistance, it might not be that hard.

We touched on digital cinema briefly.  Shared ideas on how to use the internet to distribute rather than DVDs or traditional film screenings.

Overall, I enjoyed the discussion and found it very interesting.  Charles Burnett is a great storyteller.  You should check out some of his films.

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Reading with Eloise Greenfield

This past weekend I had the honor of meeting the author Eloise Greenfield.  Many people might not know her work and her name may not be considered mainstream, but in my opinion her work and contributions to children and society as a whole are right up there with Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, and Toni Morrison.

Eloise was at Sankofa Café in Washington, DC for the Eloise Greenfield Tribute they are hosting all month.  On Sunday afternoons, Sankofa has reading sessions for children where student volunteers read to kids and have them participate in activities to make the stories come alive.

Before the rest of the children arrived, Eloise, her daughter, a mother of one of the kids, the student volunteer, and myself chatted for a little while.  She is soft-spoken and somewhat shy, but carries a lot of wisdom.  We asked her how and when she started writing.  She said she was in her late 20s when she started and the only time she wrote before then was when her teacher told her to.  She continued to explain that while she was working at a Patent Office typing the same words over and over, she picked up a book about how to write.  She then started writing little rhymes and enjoyed moving words around.  She commented on how difficult it was for her and other parents to find books for their children.  So, she then decided to make it her mission to provide books and poems that depicted African-American children and families in a positive and loving light.  As the conversation progressed, we shifted to talking about how difficult it is to find good quality books, films, and music that don’t depict the negative stereotypes of African-Americans.  Eloise commented that the reason why there is little quality being produced is not because no one is doing anything.  Funding and support are the main reasons.  She said that if she had not learned about rejection when she started writing, she probably would not be here now with all these books.

This particular Sunday, the children read For the love of the game: Michael Jordan and Me and The Friendly Four – both by Greenfield.  She and her daughter watched and applauded after each skit.  It was amusing to watch them because they both looked so cute.  They could pass for twins if their hair and age were the same.  After the session was over, the children, their mothers, and the volunteer student took pictures with Eloise and gave her a big hug.

My mother read a lot of Eloise’s books to me when I was younger.  My two favorites were My Doll Keshia and My Daddy and I.  I enjoyed them as books then and I appreciate them even more now.  I don’t think the impact she has made on children and their love for reading has been fully recognized.  Her books and poems have given African-American children of all “neighborhoods” the opportunity to experience stories with words and illustrations they can relate to and aspire to.  If you have kids or younger siblings, you definitely need to read Eloise Greenfield’s books to them.

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My “BaBopBye Ya” Valentine

I hear echoes of your laughter in the corners of my mind

While I memorize each detail of your intricate design

In your hair there is a symphony

Your lips a string quartet

They tell stories of a Neon Valley Street

Where we first met

Now somewhere time pursues us

As we love in Technicolor

But I dwell in silence on your words

Which move me like none other

This time I shall be unafraid

And violence will not move me

This time we will relax

This time we will stay in our movie

 

I see beyond tomorrow

This life of strife and sorrow

My freedom calls and I must go

Janelle Monáe

 

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Did you know? – Egypt

While our brothers and sisters in Egypt continue to fight for freedom, I have been closely following the situation through the Arab view and the U.S. view.  I have sadly realized that I do not personally know one Egyptian to discuss and share my solidarity with.  In addition, most people here want to remain in their bubble and feel okay to not know what is going on.  I always wanted to visit Egypt – to see where the White and Blue Nile meet, to experience a sunset among the pyramids, to discover the riches of Cleopatra and Nefertiti.  I find Egypt to be so exotic and enchanting. So, I decided to put together a little fun-fact-post about things from Egypt that interest me, outside of politics.

Did you know that braids date back to ancient Egypt?  A common look for men and women was to thread beads on braids until the entire braid was covered.  Even Cleopatra rocked braids once in a while.  They used henna to color their hair and condition it.  Wigs were also used routinely to achieve extravagant styles and to protect their own hair from the heat.

Egypt’s culture is so rich and exotic.  Even though it is difficult to find information or work by international artists in the U.S, I found two musical artists that I really like.

Source: google

Ruby (born Rania Hussein Mohammed Tawfik) is an Egyptian singer, actress, and occasional model.  She rose to fame in 2003 with her debut single “Enta Arif Leih.”  The video below is my top pick, “Yal Ramoush.”  She is so beautiful!

Source: google

Mohamed Hamaki (born Mohamed Ibrahim Hamaki) is an Egyptian singer.  In 2010 he won the award for “Best Arabic Act” in the MTV Europe Music Awards.  I like two of his songs: Leh Ya Habibi and Ahla Haga Feeki

Egypt has a fabulous sense of style.  The two major designers that I could find were Dagher Courture and Soucha Couture.

Dagher Couture: “Not every dress suits every woman. What matters is that she wears something that precisely suits her.”

Mireille Dagher Couture: Mireille is from Lebanon, but her works spans the region, including Egypt.

Dagher Couture

Dagher Couture

Soucha Couture – my current favorite! You have to check out the collections section on their site.

Soucha Couture

Soucha Couture

As for films, the only famous Egyptian actor that I know of is Omar Sharif.  He was in “Dr. Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”  He has won three Golden Globe Awards and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Of course, no one can talk about Egypt without mentioning Cleopatra.  A fictional memoir was written about her by Margaret George.  I have heard its pretty interesting and plan to read it myself at a later date. The Memoirs of Cleopatra

So, these are a few things I found about Egypt.  You would not believe how difficult it is to find authentic and unique facts, pictures, music, etc. about anything outside of this country.  If any of you have access or know more about these things, please let me know.  I definitely want to add more Egyptian music to my library and some dresses to my closet.

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The Alvin Ailey Experience

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC from February 1st thru February 6th.  Each performance included a different set of routines with “Revelations” as the finale.  I attended the February 6th Show and had an amazing second experience with the company.

Three Black Kings: Choreographed in 1976 by Alvin Ailey. The show begins with King Balthazar wearing a long white flowing skirt and an egyptian necklace surrounded by five men wearing the same skirt.  They glide and dance on the stage to an afro-beat jazz fusion composed by Duke Ellington.  Balthazar is crowned king, and then King Solomon appears.  Entering with five women dressed in pink, they glide on stage while King Balthazar and his five men walk off proudly.  As the music becomes more jazzy and upbeat, Solomon and the women dance together and invoke a sense of romance and happiness.  Solomon and one woman continue their beautiful duet as the other four women exit the stage.

Source: USA

As they finish, Martin Luther King walks on stage.  Wearing a white button down shirt and black pants, he starts moving to the music, which now has changed to soulful jazz.  He is then accompanied by fifteen other men and women and they dance in sync separately throughout the piece.  The people lift King up in support and King continues to lift them with his moves.  High kicks, precise arabesques, signature soul, and unimaginable control were the key characters of this piece.

Source: google

In/Side: Choreographed in 2008 by Robert Battle. As a dim, dark, purple light sets the stage, the dancer stands with his back to the audience.  A tall, muscular man, wearing only black briefs, begins a haunting modern routine to “Wild is the Wind” by Nina Simone.  Expressing emotions of torment, fear, and intrigue, the dancer moves robotically and fluidly.  This was a very deep piece.  It was so impressive how the dancer seemed to maintain a presence covering the entire stage, even though he was the only person there.

Forgotten Time: Choreographed in 1989 by Judith Jamison.  Twelve dancers kneel on the floor wearing nude colored body suits decorated with a few colorful lines.  Gold dots of light cast shadows on them.  In silence they rise and walk towards the left at different intervals.   The music sounds like an a capella choir singing in a shrieking tone.  As the piece progresses with seven sections, the dancers tell a story of ancient rituals of love and tribal rites of passage.

Source: google

The dancers’ acrobatic talents are challenging and gracefully performed.  With complex lifts and an amazing sense of balance, I found myself losing a sense of time as they remained suspended in the air.
Revelations: Choreographed in 1960 by Alvin Ailey.  What more can be said about “Revelations?”  The most memorable, moving, uplifting, and inspiring piece I have ever experienced.  This year, the company is celebrating the 50th anniversary of this work of art.  During the show, we saw a film documenting Mr. Ailey’s thoughts and inspirations for creating the piece and Judith Jamison’s experience with the piece.
If you have never experienced an Alvin Ailey performance, you essentially have not lived.  The above clips are only the tip-of-the-iceberg when it comes to how amazing and inspiring they are.  This was my second time seeing the company, and I must say the event was very different.  The pieces were wonderful and a new experience on their own.  However, the atmosphere of the audience left a noticeable impression.  The first time I saw Alvin Ailey was in Atlanta, GA at the Fox Theatre.  The company was celebrating 50 years as the cultural ambassador to the world.  They performed an Otis Redding Tribute, collaborated with the a capella group, Sweet Honey & The Rye, and of course Revelations.  In each section, the audience not only observed, but also participated.  They sang along, cheered throughout the routine, and got up to dance.  They even interacted with each other, regardless if they were strangers.  On the flip side, the DC audience felt so restrained and passive.  There was silence during the ballet and then polite applause when the curtain fell.  Even during Revelations, no one seemed to accept the exciting offer of the “holy ghost.”  I’m not saying this is good or bad, I am just noting my observations.  I find  the difference in culture between the north and the south of the U.S. very intriguing.  Regardless of color or race or religion, the mere act of enjoying a show or an event is not expressed in a universal way.  In my opinion, the south, in particular A-town, knows how to have a good time.
Thank you again Alvin Ailey for giving me the experience of a life time.

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