Monday, January 31, 2011

What have I gotten myself into?

As you may already know, I have made a trip to New York for restaurant week. For the beginning of my vacation, go check out Maddie's post. Now the dining has begun.

Last night I joined Lisa at Perilla. (For those of you who watch "Top Chef," Perilla is Harold Dieterle's restaurant.)

We started with the spicy duck meatballs. Lisa had heard that these were one of the specialties. I don't recommend them for David as they are indeed spicy.

Next up was the fish special of the day -- a Montauk fluke, if I remember correctly.

And to finish it all off, gingerbread cake.

The food was delicious. The company wonderful. And fortunately I have more hours before I must dine once more. I have realized this will be quite the challenge. While I love tasting new things, I just can't seem to eat as much as I used to. And hopefully my future photos will be of better quality.

Friday, January 7, 2011


This is probably going to be one of those posts that Nat used to love back on my old blog. All I know is that Fluffycat has been hearing my rants all week and has been saying I should just write a post about it all. Especially since there are already so many out there on the topic.

It all started on Facebook. One of my "friends" (I call the folks that I have added merely for gaming purposes "friends.") posted a link and stated how she was horrified that a publisher had an edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which the n-word had been replaced. There were all these cries of censorship. I clicked through further and saw that this edition was a response to teachers who had complained that the book had been banned in their districts because of this word but they desperately wanted to teach it.

People have argued that the removal of the word waters down the message of the book. That it is all an effort to sanitize history. That the teaching of the book in its original form allows for the discussion of race in our society. Perhaps.

If you know me, then you know that I'm a former teacher. In my years of teaching, I chose to have my classes read The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. This book too contains that nefarious word. I had to figure out how to deal with a word appearing in a book that I had made clear should never be spoken in my classroom. I likened it to teaching about the caste system in ancient India. But it really wasn't the same. It was much more personal.

This is what probably made it easy for me to teach that particular book. I had 90 students -- 89 of whom were people of color. I had it easier than the white teachers in the school. My students and I shared a common unspoken history. They assumed that I would understand their feelings about race in society. Let's get real. In all my years of teaching parents of color would be overjoyed to see me in the classroom. They figured that their child was being taught by someone who could understand their history in a way that a white teacher just couldn't. Our common ground put me heads above these other teachers. I could have honest conversations with them about academic English and perceptions of others. And even more importantly, I could code switch if the situation warranted it. (Because like it or not, Ebonics is an actual dialect with linguistic rules. And if I code switch around you, it means that I am very comfortable with you and so can let my guard down.)

But back to Huckleberry Finn and the whole brouhaha. My first complaint is that everyone seems to be upset with the publisher. They are in business to make money. They identified a need and they have tried to fill it. That's the American way. They are not the people with whom you should be angry.

If you want to be angry, get angry with the people who created the need for this new edition -- the school districts that have banned the book. Now things get tricky. Because how public education is structured in this country, you can only really protest if you live in an affected district. So that then brings up the question of a nationally standardized education system. Without that, you can talk until you're blue in the face and still not make change.

I have also taken issue with the doubt in teachers' abilities. Yes, it is clear that those who want to ban books have no faith in the ability of teachers to handle the material well with students. Of course the same could be argued of those who are crying censorship. Really? A good teacher cannot convey the ideas of racism present in the book without this word being included? Seems like these people do not believe in public school teachers as well.

Have I mentioned that my first year teaching, I had to teach ancient Israel -- from a textbook in which the chapter was almost completely made of Biblical quotes? And that I had a student whose parents are atheists. But they had no doubt in my ability to handle the material appropriately in the classroom and instead had issue with the district's approval of the use of the book in the classroom. Oh, and the reason why I thought of this? Race and religion? Both protected classes. As well as gender. But really it gets down to the fact that I was fortunate enough to be in a community in which the parents trusted me to handle difficult topics well - whether it be highly controversial or watered down. Also how does one draw the line between acceptable and offensive? Who gets to draw the line? There have been many cases that the objection to the n-word in the work in question was raised by blacks. So their continued pain is OK for the common good? And what is this common good?

My other issue has been the feeling that some have had that the inclusion of this word opens up conversation. Sorry but I'd like to see some empirical data on this. In a population that is mostly made up of people of color, it really doesn't. Well maybe it would have if I hadn't taken advantage of other teachable moments earlier in the school year. People of color are aware on a daily basis of the role that race plays in this society. Frankly the whole argument over this past week has felt like white people trying to show how progressive and accepting they are. "We are incensed. These are things that we should be discussing." Nice lip service but are you really discussing it all? Are you trying to get to the heart of it all? If you are not, then as the saying goes, "If you are not a part of the solution, you're a part of the problem." All I've seen is a bunch of posturing without sincere effort. Here's the thing. I dare you to ask a person of color if they are not aware of the impact of race in our society. Frankly there's only one group of people who need to be made aware of this. But they're too busy patting themselves on the back that we have a black man as President.

As the week has progressed, more thoughts have swarmed through my head. "A classic"? I challenge you to look at the list of books that are considered to be classics in this country. Now I want you to tell me the percentage of those books that were written by women or people of color. Yes, white men wrote the majority of the classics; they are the ones who had access to publishing. Knowing this last part, are we to treat all their books as some Holy Grail or the like? I mean would we feel the same way about their books if other authors had been given equal access at the time? I don't know about you but I'm tired of someone who is nothing like me defining who I am -- whether it's about how I should look, act or read.

I also dare you to look at a banned book list and see how many of the books deal with themes of race or gender. And instead of saying, "This is wrong," I want you to take it one step further. I want you to ask why this happens still today. And then I want you to think of ways to change this. This means doing more than complaining about how this is wrong; it may even mean you putting yourself on the line.

Frankly I'm getting tired of trying to reach out to people who don't really want change -- even if they proclaim that they are open to change. (Saying you want change but not doing something concrete about? Yep. You're in this category.) I am tired of giving my perspective to people who tell me that I'm wrong and can't really know. Since I'm that silly black woman girl. (Hmmm. Just got me thinking. The editors were wrong. They should have used "boy" instead of "slave." Because "boy" feels just like that other word, just a little more polite.) I dare you to have real conversations. To make real change. It's time to put your money where your mouth is.

Monday, January 3, 2011


You spend over 40 years raising them and you think to yourself that by the time they're in their 60s, it's OK to kick your parents out of the nest. Silly me.

It started an envelope found in my mother's mailbox on December 24. According to the information in it, my father's two rental properties were up for foreclosure. I wrote on Facebook that I was beyond livid. And then I let it go.

This was followed by a phone call from a cousin last night. A quick internet search verified the information. My father had lost the house he had had with my stepmother since 1986. Called my cousin back and then a few other relatives as well as close family friends. No one knew. One of my uncle's responded to the news with, "Nothing happens without God's permission." By the time I got to the fourth or so phone call I could no longer hold back the tears.

My father had sent me a text message this past week saying how he had missed my presence at Christmas dinner. I chose last night to respond. "Did you bother to remove anything from the house before the bank sold it in the foreclosure? Like photos? You continually lie and that's why I can't be around you. As I said before, I wish you well in life but you can't be a part of mine."

He replied this morning. Explained that he is a recovering alcoholic (because apparently wine is not alcohol) and that lying is part of his disease. I know. But it's still lie after lie. That he plans on making amends to all those he has hurt. That he's dealing with the foreclosure and is trying to buy the house back from the people who bought it. (Ummm. Apparently they are already living in the house. And they bought it for less than half of the market value.) And the closer? That he really needs me to be his daughter again. My mother says that my response to all of this should be, "Fuck you." I am thinking, "There is no need to make amends to me as there is nothing you can say or do that would ever make me trust you again."

Fortunately I had today off from work. So after a few more tears this morning, I realized that I was hungry. And I wanted beef. Comfort foods. Because sometimes that's how I take care of me.

The summer I was ten, my grandmother bought me the cookbook pictured above. (Silly me forgot to include the cookbook in the photo.) I read through it and prepared my first dinner ever. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas with pearl onions. This time I added gravy. And I decided to use a little more "grown-up" recipe. It was just what I needed.