The little girl had to be about two, not much more, and she had this little purse thingy that she was absolutely fascinated with—much more so than the high school football game her mother had dragged her to. I noticed her waving it in her mother’s face, an attempt to get her mama to play with her. The mother? She wasn’t having it.
“I don’t want to play with that,” she snapped, without even looking at her baby.
When the little girl gave another feeble attempt to get her mother’s attention, the lady was all sharp edges and thunder: “I said, I don’t want it,” she seethed through gritted teeth. “Sit it down, shit.”
Now Nick missed all this, but my heart just sank when baby girl wandered away from her mother and her two friends, and started trying to get my husband’s attention. He happily obliged her attempt to join her in playing with the purse. I chimed in with compliments on her shoes and telling her that I loved her afro puffs—something, anything, to make her smile. To deflect from the fact that her mother was acting the donkey toward her baby girl, who was looking for some motherly attention on a Friday night at 10 p.m., when she should have been home in her pajamas, in her crib, sleeping in Heavenly peace.
Peace wasn’t on her mother’s mind. Neither was kindness, particularly when it came to her daughter. Still, though I was disgusted by her behavior, it wasn’t at all surprising. I know Black moms love our babies and that we care for their every need just like any other mom—even and especially when we have to make a way out of no way. But my God, the cursing, the beating, the emotional abuse that I see some Black moms unleashing on their children in the street, at the mall, on public transportation, in school, out in public, hurts me to my core.
Now I’m not stranger to the mean mom. Y’all need to ask about my mom; she’s legend with “The Look” and, yes, the switch. With her, children were to be seen, not heard, and any misstep, no matter how slight, might incur the wrath. She was a great mom. But mean as all get out until I got older and had babies of my own. And she wasn’t alone: I grew up surrounded by Black mothers—women I loved and who loved me back—who were just plain mean. For no good reason. Read more…
Why, why, WHY is Ava DuVernay so doggone dope? After blowing us away earlier this year with The Door, a breathtaking short film she created to showcase the designs of fashion house Miu Miu, the Sundance Award-winning director of Middle of Nowhere is at it again with Say Yes, a bubbling brown sugar jewel of a film she created for Fashion Fair.
There are pretty black folks. Lots of them. Having a glorious time. Lots of it. In a fly house, in awesome clothes and pretty make-up, living, loving, laughing, dancing and doing what we do when we are happy and in a safe space that is warm and inviting and uniquely our own. Fashion Fair describes Say Yes, inspired by its lip color of the same name, as an exploration of “the power of the affirmative, and the beauty that blossoms from embracing life,”—a vision of what happens when “you welcome the unexpected.
Indeed, there is a heart-warming surprise in Say Yes, one that made me say all the way out loud, “Awwwww!” And I spied quite a few folks I admire in the party scenes, including Hollywood “it” girl Issa Rae (who has some pretty amazing projects of her own firing up!), Daughters Of the Dust director Julie Dash, soul crooner N’Dambi, and a host of others. I’m not going to give away any more of the surprise; click play for yourself. You’re welcome. Read more…
by Denene Millner
This is what I did for fun when I was a kid: I read. I cornrowed my doll’s hair. I read some more. I annoyed the crap out of my brother. And I waited anxiously for Fridays, when my Dad would let me ride shotgun while he drove around town, paying his bills. When we got back home, I read. Again.
Going outside to play wasn’t an option. Not that I grew up somewhere nefarious where little black kids had to negotiate dope boys or gang warfare to play in the park; I was raised in Long Island, in a nice house, on a nice street, with a really nice backyard. And I refused to play in it. There were bugs out there. And nobody wanted to play with me, anyway. And I took it really seriously when my parents said that I should avoid playing in the sun because it would only make me blacker. Heaven knows I didn’t want to be any blacker. At least that’s what my parents used to tell me.
Come to think of it, that was the general line of wisdom from the ‘rents whenever there was discussion of doing outside activities. You don’t want to go to the pool—you’ll get blacker. Why on Earth would we go to the beach? You just get black there. Play kickball? Outside? In the sun? Don’t you know you can get black doing that?
I got so used to them coming up with excuses for why they didn’t want to accompany me to outside adventures that soon enough, staying inside became the modus operandi—a lifetime one, really. Several decades, three kids, a dog, and a mortgage later, I still don’t do backyards or bikes or parks or beaches too much. I sit out on the deck overlooking our expansive back yard and immediately start swatting at invisible bugs—toss the ball around with the girls and then find at least five reasons why I need to be back in the house. Alas, enjoying nature is not natural to me.
I never really thought about why that is until last week while Nick and I were watching the Today show and Nick was reminiscing about how he used to see the celebrity who was being featured, Kevin Bacon, out in Central Park a lot, playing with his superstar wife Kyra Sedgewick and their kid. And I remember thinking, really? A celebrity in Central Park? Just playing with his kid and stuff?
I pondered this for quite some time and got to thinking about how many times I saw my parents just, like, playing. And it dawned on me that the last time I saw that was, um, well, never. I’ve never in my many years on this Earth felt my father’s hands on the small of my back, pushing me higher and higher on the swing as the air swirled around me, kissing my face. I’ve never seen my parents curl their toes in wet, salty beach sand or splash in the rush of seawater slamming against the shore. I’m quite sure that I’ve never seen my father’s hand in a baseball mitt, or his sneaker booting a soccer ball toward a makeshift goal, or his fingers lining up against the stitches on an oval-shaped piece of pigskin.
It wasn’t natural for them.
Wild stab at it, but I’m going to guess that they didn’t like being outside because they both grew up in the South, on farms, where being outside was all about work, hardly ever play. The two, longtime factory workers when I was growing up, also worked ridiculously long hours and, to be fair, spent their free time trying to rest up for more work on the job, or church. Not much else.
Thank God and my sporty husband that the great outdoors is much beloved by my girls, even if their mother is a total lame. They think nothing of tumbling out of our home, tennis rackets, soccer balls, basketballs, bikes, sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, and hoola hoops spilling from their arms, for the great driveway/backyard/front yard adventure. They erect humongous chalk cities replete with cafes and movie theaters and gas stations and malls on the concrete, and perform Olympic-worthy somersaults and back flips on the trampoline, and duel to the end in front of the soccer goal, sometimes with their bare feet digging into the dirt and grass while our dog, Teddy, looks on lazily. Sometimes, they hang upside down on their humongous Rainbow swing set, talking about everything and nothing. They dig in the dirt and make seven-course mud dinners and pile rocks and study bugs, even as they scurry across their little fingers. Neither finds any of this gross.
I do. But I don’t try to steal their joy. I just watch them from afar, wondering if I would have been a different, more outdoorsy girl if I had neighbors like them to drag me outside (a few of mine were forbidden by their mothers from playing with the niggers—another post, for another day, promise), or parents who just, like, made the time a few minutes or so to enjoy the backyard they’d worked so hard to have.
My Daddy lives in Virginia now, on the land he tended when he was a young boy helping his father with his burgeoning wood business. My father tends to his grass like a mother does her newborn; the greatest of care is extended to practically every blade. He’s always been a stickler about his lawn, my Daddy. Except now, he encourages his grandbabies to run circles on it and cartwheel across it and dance in the rain of his sprinkler until they are drenched and giggled out and all shriveled up. Occasionally, my girls talk their Papa into taking them to the local park, where the walking trail stretches so far you can walk from Virginia to North Carolina without leaving its bountiful borders. He walks with them slowly, steadily, tossing bread toward the ducks and geese and pointing out the beauty of the great outdoors.
He doesn’t point his face to the sun—you can get blacker that way but he doesn’t stop my daughters from doing it.
I don’t judge him.
And I promise myself to try to do a little better.
["The Sun Will Make You Black" appeared originally on MyBrownBaby in December 2008.]
by Denene Millner
Chatter about exactly what Affirmative Action does.
Chatter about whom it’s helped and who it’s affected.
And especially the chatter about how awful and ineffective it is.
I readily raise my hand to say that those who argue against it are either clueless, blind or straight lying about how Affirmative Action affects mainstream America (read: white folks), and certainly how it changes classrooms, our workforce and lives.
This Affirmative Action baby’s story? My parents were by no means rich or educated: we lived a middle class existence financed by my parents’ factory jobs, and by the looks of it, we were living the American dream: Mom and Dad had a nice house with a yard and two decent cars to get them to work and church and bowling on Saturdays. But they were only a few paychecks off of having to ask for help, and, on a few occasions when my dad couldn’t find work, they did get that help. There were no fancy family vacations. New clothes came on special occasions—the start of the school year, Easter and Christmas. And extracurricular activities we take for granted today—eating out, taking in a movie or a concert, throwing a fancy birthday party—were rare because money and time were at a premium. Basically, money was tight. Read more…
by Denene Millner
I’m used to having butterflies when I interview celebrities, especially those I adore. But I had the flight of the Monarchs rumbling in my stomach when it came time to meet up with Serena Williams, the No. 1 female tennis player in the world, who is more than a tad notorious for not being a fan of reporters.
Here’s what I expected: a mean girl with bulging muscles and an even bigger attitude, ready to give one word answers that would make my job incredibly difficult. Here’s what I got: an intelligent beauty with an incredible body and a downhome spirit, ready, willing and able to answer any question I lobbed at her with every bit the thought and grace I needed to write this, Serena’s debut solo cover story in our magazine of record.
Serena was, in a word, delightful.
I met her first at a sprawling movie studio in Florida, where Serena spent hours changing from outfit to outfit, shoe to shoe, and turning it all the way on for a cover photo shoot that stretched to six hours. Afterward, we drove back to the sprawling Palm Beach Gardens mansion she shares with her sister, Venus, to chat way into the night. She served me a big bowl of southern-styled 15-bean and smoked turkey stew—a dish prepared by her own hand. (Serena can burn, okay? Her stew was delish!) Poured me a glass of red wine. And then got busy, talking about everything from her brush with death after a pulmonary embolism to the sisterly advice that got her back on her tennis game to the legend of the Venus Hottentot to the finer points of how to make the perfect batch of fried chicken. Read more…
by Denene Millner
My mother’s “birds and bees” talk began and ended with this simple directive: “Don’t bring no babies home because I’m not trying to take care of any.” She meant that. And I was real clear about it. I was to get a college degree. A career. Love. Marriage. And then babies. In that order. She never said it, but I have no doubts that if I’d have messed up her order of things and come home with a baby in my belly, Bettye would have tried to go out like the parents of the pregnant Texas girl who sued her mom and dad for allegedly trying to force her to have an abortion.
I mean, I can’t be sure that this would have been my mom’s reaction. But it sure didn’t seem far-fetched at the time. Which was more than enough for me to keep my legs closed and my books open. Apparently, that hard-line parental message didn’t really get through in time enough for the pregnant Texas girl, who claimed in a lawsuit that after she revealed she was pregnant, her mother took her phone and car and kept her home from school as punishment for refusing to have an abortion, and even threatened to “slip” her an abortion pill. Dad weighed in, according to the lawsuit, by telling the pregnant teen she “needs an ass whoopin’,” and that he was going to “look into canceling” her health insurance. Their ultimatum for their daughter, now 10 weeks pregnant? “Continue to live in misery” at her mom’s home or “have an abortion and tell everyone it was a miscarriage,” the lawsuit said. Read more…
by Denene Millner
My mother had beautiful hands—lovely, long and fresh, just like her. She kept her fingernails dipped in maroons and dark browns—subtle, but still noticeable. Strong. As she got older, though, Mommy’s hands became gnarled with the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis, almost at the same time that a workplace accident took out a disc in her spine. She spent an enormous amount of time posted up in hospital beds and doctors’ offices—enough so that when minor things caught hold of her, like coughs or stomachaches or any other general malaise, she paid it no mind. Soldiered on.
Doing this cost my mother her life.
My mother, you see, died at age 62 of a heart attack, five days into a family reunion trip to her childhood home. She got on the plane experiencing flu-like symptoms—shortness of breath, weakness, unusual fatigue, dizziness, back pain, but thought nothing of her malaise—that is was nothing serious. And even though everyone around her could tell something was seriously, progressively wrong, Mommy refused to go to the hospital—refused to let someone take a look at her. To care for her. She preferred to soldier on. Read more…
by Denene Millner
Oh baby! The numbers of African American mothers breastfeeding is on the rise and more black mothers are forgoing formula for the breast for longer periods—a push that is narrowing gaps in breastfeeding rates between black women and other ethnicities.
A report released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control says the proportion of black mothers who started breastfeeding jumped from 47.7 percent in 2000 to 58.9 in 2008. Similarly, the proportion of black moms who were still breastfeeding after six months rose almost 15 percent—up to 30.1 percent in 2008 from 16.9 percent in 2000.
And though black breastfeeding rates continue to lag behind white and Hispanic moms—they reported breastfeeding their infants 75 percent and 80 percent respectively—the gap in breastfeeding rates between black women and white women narrowed from 24 percentage points in 2000 to 16 percentage points in 2008. Read more…
by Denene Millner
New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk program was dealt a severe blow yesterday when a federal judge ruled that a portion of the program being used in the Bronx was an unconstitutional violation of the rights of city residents who are being stopped without probable cause.
The decision should have a transforming effect on a program that has been angrily attacked in New York by civil rights advocates, legal groups, community organizations and politicians for disproportionately targeting blacks and Latinos in the city. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s 157-page ruling is especially harsh and costly for the city because the judge suggests that police officers are being improperly trained.
Christopher T. Dunn, a lawyer for the New York Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs, told The New York Times, “If New York City has any sense, it will use this ruling as an opportunity to start a wholesale reform of stop and frisk.” Read more…
Sometimes, your kids need to know you’re a little crazy. I’m a firm believer of this, and I remind Mari and Lila often: “You know your mama’s crazy, right? You better go on ‘head and let your little friends know.” Apparently, I’m not the only parent who thinks this way, as evidenced by the New York City dad who showed up to his daughter’s high school, swinging a chain and padlock in the air, talmbout, “Who’s f*cking my daughter?”
Marinate on that.
Apparently, Michael Canaii was upset that his daughter was smoking weed and not listening to him, and so he took it to the hallways of the High School of Graphic Communication Arts in New York City, where he stalked the halls, swinging the chain while threatening to fight two students, several security guards and a dean if folk didn’t square up, identify the culprits and put an end to his little girl’s bad behavior. “He was swinging the chain saying, ‘I’m going to f*ck you all up,” a student told the New York Post. Gangsta. Read more…
By NICK CHILES
As the father of three well-rounded, academically and athletically successful children, I have always been aware that fathers played a crucial role in the development, confidence and achievements of their children. But reading a fascinating story in yesterday’s New York Times, I was shocked to discover the extent to which dads have a role in the people that their children become.
As noted in the Times story entitled “Why Fathers Really Matter,” it has long been the mother who has been harangued by modern society for her choices while pregnant—she can’t drink, smoke, undergo stress, exercise too much, gain too much weight, eat the wrong foods, because they all could damage her developing fetus. Poor mothers have always been subject to the great societal wrath of friends, neighbors, casual acquaintances if she violated any of the conventional wisdom about what a mother can and cannot do. But according to the Times, choices that fathers make even long before contributing sperm to the egg also have a huge impact on that child. Read more…
As a writer Denene Millner has reached the pinnacle of success in her profession. As a journalist, she has contributed to numerous magazines that include, Essence (where she is a contributing editor), Ebony, Heart & Soul, Entertainment Weekly, Money and others. While as an author, she has authored or co-authored an astonishing 19 books that includes Steve Harvey’s phenomenally successful advice book, “Think Like A Lady, Act Like A Man,” (which was turned into a major movie that grossed over 100 million dollars at the box office.) As if that’s not enough, Millner is also a media entrepreneur whose award-winning website, MyBrownBaby.com, is one of the most popular parenting destinations on the internet. With the release of her novelization of the highly-anticipated film, “Sparkle,” just hitting stores, Millner recently gave the Robertson Treatment exclusive insight about her remarkable career as a wordsmith.
How did you make the transition from journalist to author? Read more…
Labor Day holds a very special place in my heart for a very specific reason: I grew up in a household with parents who were blue collar workers—who toiled hard and struggled mightily on the assembly lines of factories for decades so that they could provide a good life for my brother and me. We were not rich, by any means. And while their work did not save lives—Mommy did quality control at Estee Lauder, and Daddy ran the cake line at Entenmann’s—their contribution did bring some measure of peace to the world. Make-up and cake make people happy. Mostly, on this day, I celebrate their hard work—their labor—for what it did for us: it kept our family fed, housed, educated. Sustained.
This year, though, I add to my Labor Day a different kind of reflection—that of the birth labor of American women in general, black women in particular. I do so because today, women across the country are joining together today for the first National Rally for Change, a gathering to bring attention to the need for more informed birth choices, evidence-based practice and humanity in American maternity care. Rallies are being held today between 10 a.m. and noon at or near hospitals in 110 cities in 45 states by advocates with a singular mission: to call attention to the fact that the U.S. maternal mortality rate has doubled in the past 25 years and, despite that the U.S. spends the most money across the globe in maternity care, our country lags behind a whopping 49 industrialized nations in maternal survival rates. Read more…
by Denene Millner
It’s not that I’m anti-father. I have one. Married to one, too. I know firsthand the power a good black dad has in the life of children—how their presence and love and discipline and direction can change the course and work miracles for little human beings. I know, too, that though we are a society that deifies motherhood, not all black mothers are good moms—that pushing a child from your loins does not guarantee you’ll be fit and ready to properly raise a little one. Still, in my heart, I just feel like something is woefully wrong about the whole Usher Raymond vs. Tameka Raymond child custody case that, on Friday, saw the R&B superstar awarded primary custody of the ex-couple’s sons.
For the record, I don’t know Usher and Tameka beyond pictures of them as a happy couple under the stress of the ugly public glare and then an angry, divorcing couple fighting over their kids, Saks Fifth Avenue cards, nanny salaries and who loves their kids more. Though I’ve read plenty on the innanets about their bitter divorce case and public child custody tussling, I believe what I see only .01 percent of the time because, well, the internet is full of fans and liars—fans and liars who get it wrong and don’t care that their starry-eyed wrongness and desperate need to align with celebrity has a real impact on real lives. Particularly in this, the Raymond vs. Raymond case. Read more…
By DENENE MILLNER
She was in her early 30s when she passed away from complications associated with diabetes and we were all in deep mourning as we sat in her mother’s living room, waiting for the limousine that would ride us to her farewell. Memories were exchanged. There were tears, of course. And then all attention fell on us. Specifically, my baby daughter, barely two years old, and her hair. Read more…
by Denene Millner
As America celebrates the Olympic gold medal win of our women’s gymnastics team and my two pretty brown girls go absolutely ga-ga over African American gymnast phenom Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas, today I’m tossing up a MyBrownBaby salute to Natalie Hawkins, Gabby’s mom.
True, her daughter is the one who is out there leaving her blood, sweat, tears and heart on the mat, slaying routines that have earned her a place at the head of the 2012 U.S. Olympics team dubbed the “Fab Five.” But it is Gabby’s mother, a Virginia Beach, VA, single mom of four girls, who deserves praise for the courageous decision that made Glorious Gabby Gold possible: two years ago, when Gabby was just 14-years-old, Hawkins sent her daughter to Iowa to train with a new coach and live with a family full of strangers so that she’d have a better shot at making it to the Olympics. Read more…
by Denene Millner
And yet another study to remind moms-to-be that America’s maternity leave laws suck donkey booty and need a major overhaul for the sake of our children’s health and a new mom’s recovery and sanity: researchers say that working during your final month of pregnancy is as harmful as smoking.
The research, performed by the University of Essex, showed that just like lighting up, working late into pregnancy leads to newborns that are a half pound smaller than infants whose mothers quit work between their sixth and eighth months of pregnancy. The research, which sampled about 30,000 mothers across three different surveys, including one from the U.S., also showed even more pronounced results for women over age 24 and those with lower levels of education, who were most likely to do more physically demanding work. Read more…
by Denene Millner
The fight over Michael Jackson’s children and estate has turned into a messy mess of an affair, with accusations of mama kidnapping, auntie slap boxing, brothers turning against sisters and cousins “rescuing” cousins, culminating with Katherine Jackson losing custody of Paris, Prince and Blanket, the children the King Of Pop willed her to take care of when he died.
Word is Katherine, no doubt shook by Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff’s order that Tito’s son, TJ Jackson, get temporary custody of Michael’s children, is back at her Calabasas estate after disappearing for an almost two week-long “visit” at daughter Rebbie’s Arizona home, where she’s been hanging with Janet, Jermaine and Randy—playing Uno and, according to her children, following her doctor’s orders to “rest.” Katherine is vowing through attorneys that she’ll fight to get the kids back into her care. Read more…
By Denene Millner
Pinkett-Smith, who’s been working hard to fend off criticism of her parenting style, attacks against her precocious pop star daughter, Willow, and vicious rumors about cracks in her marriage to international acting icon Will Smith, says she produced the Red Table Talk series to help foster communication across three generations of her family—passionate, raw chats she’s hoping will help create a stronger relationship between her, her mother and her daughter. The three kick off the chats both by pulling questions they have for one another out of a bowl and bringing “must answer” questions they’ve jotted in their personal journals. Read more…
By Denene Millner
Section 1. 48.982 (2) (g) 2. of the statutes is amended to read: Read more…
By NICK CHILES
The family of a middle school student in Georgia has filed a lawsuit against the school district because administrators, suspecting that the 7th grader was in possession of marijuana, forced the youngster to strip down to his underwear in front of classmates. The boy had no drugs—but he was wearing Superman underwear. In the year since the traumatic incident occurred, the boy has acquired a new nickname throughout the school. You guessed it—Superman. His mother said his interest and commitment to school has suffered a severe blow. Read more…
By Denene Millner
I know. A dramatic headline. Made you look. But it’s not fiction. It turns out that the “Cry It Out” method of baby sleep training, where you ignore that your kid is screaming, crying and turning 40 shades of purple so that she can break herself out of the habit of being spoiled and cuddled to sleep, does more harm—way more—than good.
In her recent piece for Psychology Today, Darcia Narvaez, an associate professor of psychology at Notre Dame, writes that when babies are stressed, their bodies release cortisol into their systems—a toxic hormone that kills brain cells. Considering their brains are only 25 percent developed when they’re born full-term and grow rapidly in their first year, killing off baby brain cells is a huge no bueno. Narvaez notes that studies out of Harvard, Yale, Baylor and other prestigious institutions show that said killing off of baby brain cells can lead to the higher probability of ADHD, poor academic performance and anti-social tendencies, and that human babies are hardwired for hands-on comfort and care. Read more…
Who: Denene Millner
Why: MyBrownBaby.com is an online destination for thought-provoking,
insightful, wickedly funny commentary on motherhood, for and by moms of color.
Through posts penned by a collection of best-selling authors, award-winning
poets, national parenting experts and moms and dads passionate about raising
great kids, MyBrownBaby.com lifts the voices of African-American moms (and
dads!) looking for the 411 / advice / a high-five on everything from pregnancy
and childrearing to sex, work and relationships—all filtered through the lens
of the African American experience. MyBrownBaby.com was founded by longtime
Parenting magazine columnist Denene Millner, the New York Times best-selling
author of 19 books and a frequent contributor for Essence, Ebony and Jet
magazines. Read more…