Friday, December 19, 2014

WTF Culture: Sorors Gone Wild


The recent airing of 'Sorority Sisters' on VH1 has many people really upset (a slight understatement). Social media lit up with emotional rants about crying and broken hearts, threats to snatch sorors up, calls for boycotts, tweets to brands ... the list goes on.

See, I’m an AKA (pledged at Omicron Iota in SP '91). I watched, got annoyed, tweeted and found myself yelling at my TV. The one-way conversation went a little like this, “Where the hell did they get these women? Who does that? Seriously? What in the...? No! Please don’t fight. Please! DAMN.”

Before you attempt to assess my mental status, let me explain. This yelling thing has somehow become a normal part of watching TV for me. My first “episode” might have been during the first season of 'The Apprentice', when Omarosa became the poster child for the “angry black woman.” Fast forward some years. The development floodgates opened and 'Housewives of Atlanta', 'Basketball Wives', 'Married to Medicine', and 'Love and Hip Hop' were created in quick succession. It seems networks and audiences (that’s us) couldn’t get enough of the “ratchet” black girls behaving badly. 

The caricature of black women -- the scantily clad, jealous, loose cannon looking for a come-up -- was everywhere. The competition to behave badly might be akin to a pyramid scheme. If you got in early you could “win” by hitting a 5 on the 1-10 foolery scale. The following season, ladies would compete to be a level 6 fool and each season thereafter, the level of foolery increased exponentially. Millions watched as our sisters (not wearing greek letters) became uninhibited representations of the worst versions of themselves.


It wasn’t heartbreaking to see this pinhole view of black women, accepted as a real and full representation of us? It is “reality TV,” right? How can we care about the Greek letters we represent more than who we are at the most basic level? Don’t get me wrong. I love my sorority and my sorors. I love what we stand for, our sisterhood, its history and legacy. BUT I don’t respect myself and my sisters because I pledged. I don’t hold myself to a higher standard just because I’m an AKA. I am a black woman first. I recognize that I (we) have an obligation to be great because too many women sacrificed and struggled to make being great a possibility.

Greek or not, we are ALL SISTERS; beautifully painted by the Creator in infinite hues, from the lightest vanilla to the darkest chocolate. High school graduates or PhDs, we are uniquely built, talented and gifted. WE HAVE TO DO BETTER!
If life really imitates “art,” the caricature of black women created to entertain will eventually become a real life manifestation through our young girls.

At this point, give me Omarosa. I’ll take a hungry, competitive, professional “angry black woman” with a purpose, over all of it now.

-- Debbie Asrate
Ethiopian born, USA raised PR Strategist and CEO of FreeState Entertainment Group.
I’m not crazy! My normal just isn’t the same as your's. @debasrate 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

WTF Sports: What is going on with the Dolphins?

My buddy?
Like most everyone, I’ve been following the story coming out of the Dolphins locker room these past several days with a certain interest in what constitutes adult bullying.

Most reasonable people agree that Offensive Guard Richie Incognito crossed erased the line between harmless NFL rookie initiations and outright harassment in his dealings with teammate Jonathan Martin.

I can’t think of a scenario where anyone expresses to a coworker the desire to “s--- in your f------ mouth” “and slap your real mother across the face” topped off with “I’ll kill you” sans consequence. Especially once the recipient of such pleasantries complains to the boss.

I concede that being a NFL lineman is not the same as being a schoolteacher or a banker, and it is a unique workplace, but let’s not fictionalize NFL locker rooms to the point where we lead anyone to think the normal bounds of human decency don’t apply within those walls.

There is more than a subtle difference between sticking guys with an excessive dinner check and using them as human ATMs. Or the embarrassment that comes from being saddled with an ugly haircut for the summer and the humiliation that comes from being called a “half n---- piece of shit.” Again, reasonable people understand this.

What struck me Wednesday, however, is the building chorus coming from the Dolphins locker room in defense of Richie Incognito. It is clear they want us all to know that despite his use of the “n-word”, their embattled teammate is not a racist. And in the absence of other facts, I am willing to give Incognito the benefit of the doubt on that issue.

Of greater concern to me is the revelation via a former Dolphins player to Miami Herald reporter, Armando Salguero, that black Dolphins players have handed out a “honorary black” designation to Incognito. I suppose the honor comes with benefits like using the n-word without fear of repercussion, while assuming none of the risks like being subjected to pesky stop and frisk procedures by law enforcement. But, I digress …

Another former Dolphins employee indicated that Jonathan Martin’s Stanford education and personal background as the son of two highly educated parents, along with the way he “carried himself”, made Martin seem “soft” and less accepted by his black teammates in particular. After conversations with multiple people familiar with the dynamics inside Miami’s locker room, Salguero wrote, “Martin was considered less black than Incognito.”


This notion that a black person who talks a certain way or who is educated beyond that of his or her peers is somehow “less black” is not novel. It stretches far back to the days of slavery when “Field Negroes” were pitted against “House Negroes” as a way to divide and conquer the race and keep the inequitable system unchallenged and in place.

Today, it keeps countless young black children from reaching their highest aspirations and potential out of fear of being ostracized by friends. I am not surprised these age-old misconceptions are alive and well inside a NFL locker room. Yet, I am surprised by the new twist.

Described as “cerebral” and “studious”, I imagine Jonathan Martin has encountered the idea before that he was “less black” sometime over the course of his young life. I bet this is the first time he finds himself positioned as such against a white teammate with highly questionable motivational skills, however.

The alleged victim of bullying remains in self-exile in California while honorary blackness has been bestowed upon his alleged bully who has been suspended by the team indefinitely and who, by all accounts, is missed dearly by everyone in the locker room.

I’d like to see just one of Martin’s fellow black teammates stand up and unequivocally defend him now in ways they wouldn't because they didn't want to, or couldn't because they were unaware of the full effect the behavior was having on Martin when he was still among them.

I’d like to see Martin build or reclaim the confidence and self-esteem needed that would have allowed him to stand up for himself sooner instead of seemingly, going along to get along.

Lastly, I’d like to have Incognito’s honorary membership revoked.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

WTF Sports: What is going on at Grambling?

Eddie Robinson didn't win all those games for this.
Can you picture a scenario where LSU football players are forced to ask for their Nike issued uniforms to be washed more thoroughly and perhaps with a name-brand detergent?

How about Zach Mettenberger being forced to lift weights on a busted, mildew-infested bench press?

Les Miles being told that he must store recently donated flooring instead of replacing the tripping hazard in his team’s locker room?

Of course, not.

This is a story of the haves and have nots.  For anyone who has attended a Historically Black College or University -- myself included -- getting by with less is just a way of life.

Before Howard University School of Law raised the funds to build a new law library, students would go to nearby American or Catholic University Law School to take advantage of whatever state-of-the-art resources we could without being an enrolled student.

Waiting in line for an entire day to register for classes or pick up financial aid checks was a rite of passage because the university could not afford fancy phone or on-line registration systems.  We made do.  These were unfortunate and minor inconveniences that we accepted as par for the course and worth the price of studying at an institution with such a rich legal tradition.

Likewise, I’d imagine, Grambling football players must take pride in being part of a program that became a small powerhouse at a time when black players were excluded from major collegiate athletic programs.  Just like Howard Law would produce a future Supreme Court Justice in Thurgood Marshall when the University of Maryland refused him admission, Grambling, under the sure hand of legendary Coach Eddie Robinson, would produce future Hall of Famers like Charlie Joiner and Willie Davis whose school options were also limited by segregation.

But this isn’t 1954 or 1964.  Integration opened up options for young black student athletes and the best among them are going to bypass Grambling or FAMU for LSU or Florida State.  The young men who commit to play for Grambling today are well aware of the competitive disadvantages they will face and the small likelihood that they will end up as top NFL draft picks come May.

What they didn’t sign up for?  Hazardous working conditions, being forced to bus thousands of miles for the pleasure of playing four quarters of a grueling game, rationing protein drinks, wearing dirty uniforms and breathing in toxic mildew during workouts.

There is a lot of blame to go around for the current state of the Grambling football team today.  They include everything from a seemingly inept administration that was hell bent on an ill-advised and counterproductive power struggle with one of the school’s most famous alumnus, former head coach Doug Williams, to a state governor locked into a political agenda that included refusing federal stimulus funds that could have put millions into Grambling’s meager coffers.

While the reasons for failure are plenty, the options for these players are not.  Which makes the stand they took – refusing to travel to last week’s Homecoming game at Jackson State – that much more admirable.  Risking scholarships, this group of young men took an undivided stand to make a statement that things must change.

It is unclear how great these improvements will ultimately be.  As of today, we’ve seen some effort at spring cleaning in the locker room and a donation of Muscle Milk so players won’t have to sip and pass, but they got our attention.  Not unlike the HBCU students who came before them who were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, Grambling players have just shown other revenue producing collegiate athletes across the country that without them, the game cannot simply just go on.  That is powerful.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

WTF Sports: What is wrong with people?

Today, I had a story on FOX published.  It was only part of a much larger story that I wanted to tell.  But anyone who has been at the mercy of editors can tell you, "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men..." or whatever. In short, shit can be out of your control. Please take a few moments to click on the link above and then read my two additional cents below.
Donté Stallworth joined Twitter in June 2009 – about three months after he had been involved in the now infamous vehicle accident that left a pedestrian, Mario Reyes, dead and Donté charged with DUI manslaughter.

Not privy to many details of the case, the public was largely outraged when Stallworth reached a plea deal with the prosecutor and received a 30-day jail sentence.  He would later be suspended by the NFL for the entire 2009-2010 season.  The plea deal he reached also called for a lifetime suspension of his driver’s license and two years of “community control,” which limited his ability to leave home for anything else besides work, legal, medical or other essential activities the court deemed necessary.

Banned from football and isolated from the world that helped, in part, to shape his identity, Twitter quickly became a welcome escape.  It allowed him to share his eclectic reading interests and conspiracy theories with thousands of fans – a treat usually reserved for his teammates or closest friends.  In between 140 character conversations about 9-11, biological warfare, the Military Industrial Complex, or more typical football banter, Stallworth was often inundated with tweets from strangers calling him a “murderer” or expressing similar pleasantries.  Most were incensed with the amount of time he spent in jail, commonly comparing his sentence to Plaxico Burress’ or Michael Vick’s.  It was constant.  It was relentless.  Many of his friends, including myself, would sometimes question why he even remained on Twitter.  Other times, we would end up getting into heated exchanges ourselves with the thumb thugs in Donté’s mentions.  Amazingly, while sometimes it got the best of him, Donté appeared to be the least affected.  He had remarkable perspective for someone under the constant fire of anonymous critics.

Four years later, the frequency of angry, hateful tweets had slowed down, but they didn’t entirely disappear.  Not unlike the awkward way game analysts on television always manage to work in details about his DUI manslaughter case each time Donté appears on screen, much of the public also seems unable to separate Donté Stallworth from that one horrible, life-altering incident.

Within twenty-four hours of the balloon accident, while bored, still in pain and looking for a distraction, Donté opened up the Twitter app on his iPhone.  He was overwhelmed by the outpouring of kind words and support from friends and strangers.  However, inserted among the “get better” and “speedy recovery” wishes, were the vilest and most mean spirited tweets one can imagine:

You should have died in that balloon today.
What’s it like to get drunk, kill a guy and still get to play nfl football? Must be nice to be above the law. #pathetic
Start walking everywhere so you don’t kill another person!
Too bad you didn’t die like that guy you ran over.
Are accidents less fun when you don’t get to kill someone?
Waste of life.
Good thing you weren’t driving the balloon. Everyone else would be dead.

Donté claims he had no expectation that people on Twitter wouldn’t be crass towards him about the balloon accident saying, “I am almost immune to that, because it has happened so much.”  For his friends and family, it was like reliving 2009 all over again in the social media sphere.  It did not matter that a number of details about the case had since been revealed, which shed more light on the reasons why Donté received such a light sentence. Among them: Donté refusing to pursue an aggressive defense supported by evidence that would have likely resulted in his acquittal had it gone to trial; Donté wanting to spare the Reyes family from a lengthy and painful legal battle – something they expressed a desire to avoid; Donté ordering his lawyers to negotiate a settlement that would ensure the future well-being of Mr. Reyes’ teenage daughter; Donté instructing the attorneys and publicists working on his behalf to not release any information that could be construed as blaming Mr. Reyes for contributing to the fatal accident.  Simply put, Donté insisted on taking full responsibility and letting the chips fall where they may.  All of this escapes his most vocal critics who have never taken the time to look more closely at the facts of the case or looked and decided to dismiss them, because their minds were already made up about who Donté Stallworth is.

The night before going up in that balloon, Donté tweeted:  “What people think of me is none of my business”, a slightly tweaked quote from new age guru, Deepak Chopra. As his friend, I believe Donté partly accepts that and will come to fully appreciate its truth eventually.

Monday, November 26, 2012

WTF Are y'all doing in the back seat?

Thing 1 + Thing 2 asked me to crank up the music from the back row of the truck last night. I thought they just liked the song. Who knew they had snatched my iPhone to produce music videos? Puff Diddy Daddies in the making. Also featuring the BEST HYPE MAN EVER!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WTF Politics: Scary Sarah Spice

Do these jeans make me look fat?
If you know me (or happened to come upon the 'about' section of this blog), you are well aware there is no love lost between me and the former half Governor of the great state of Alaska. Well, to be more accurate, Sarah couldn't identify me from a pound of moose meat, but she has been the arch nemesis in my head ever since John McCain thrust her and her brood on to the national political scene during the 2008 election. Immediately, without even having the benefit of seeing HBO's 'Game Change' nearly four years later, Sarah and Co. simply rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, the kids were cute but their mother seemed woefully unprepared for the enormous job she was campaigning for and generally uninterested in changing anyone's negative perception if untrue. I also credit her - in no small part - with the creation of 'Birtherism' and other lies and untruths that would become part of the eventual platform of the made-up nearly now defunct, Tea Party. Unable to win a presidential election fair and square, Sarah decided she would paint the country's first black President as 'other':  A foreign, dark-skinned, likely Muslim, unlikely American citizen who "palled around with terrorists." Awesome.

Post election, what soon became apparent is that Governor Palin had very little interest in governin', and way more interest in parlaying her failed bid for the Vice Presidency into a career in entertainment. The snow had barely melted in Alaska before Sarah resigned as Governor less than six months after President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009. Citing "family needs" and "ethics probes", it seemed those needs included each Palin having their individual shot at that elusive '15 fifteen minutes of fame'. In the interest of time, here's an incomplete list of some of the Palin Family's Greatest Hits:

  • To the surprise of no one everyone, Sarah signs a multi-year deal to become a contributor to non-partisan Fox News;
  • Daughter, Bristol, becomes a contestant on ABC's 'Dancing With The Stars', the reality show with the loosest interpretation of  the word 'stars' in a generation;
  • TLC takes us inside the mind of the former Governor and the interior of the 49th state with 'Sarah Palin's Alaska';
  • Bristol would also star in Lifetime's 'Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp' (indeed) with her adorable son, Tripp (get it?). The show featured her two younger sisters who could not be blamed if they resented Bristol for her sudden and singular leap into celebritydom. Poor Willow and Piper are basically forced to play Rebbie and LaToya to Bristol's Janet.
  • Bristol Baby Daddy, Levi Johnston, would even parlay the failed election into a string of infamous brushes with pseduo celebrity, including television appearances, numerous magazine covers, a Playgirl spread, a date with Kathy Griffin and most notably, a half-hearted attempt to follow in his once future mother-in-law's footsteps by becoming Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.
  • Not to be outdone, Todd Palin, the former 'First Dude' (his idea, not mine), got into the action with yet another reality show named, 'Stars Earn Stripes'. (For the love of God, can anyone identify what a 'star' is anymore?)  Here, Todd teamed up with Nick Lachey to help Jessica Simpson lose the baby weight. Wait, that doesn't sound right. Let Me Google That For You.
  • If you were concerned, extended family were not left out in the cold. Recently, Sarah's father and brother co-authored a book about the shy, reclusive, virtually unknown Palin family titled Made in Alaska. (I'm sensing a theme here.)
  • Noted lover of the written word, Governor Palin penned two bestsellers, Going Rogue: An American Life and later, America by Heart. Finally, just yesterday, in these last weeks of the hotly contested 2012 presidential election where Palin is just four years removed from seeking the office of Vice President herself, Sarah announced that she is authoring a book on foreign relations fitness!

Which may answer a lot of questions about her appearance when caught by paparazzi while walking about LA's Studio City this past Sunday. Looking fashionably Unicef slim in wedge heels and skinny jeans, Sarah looked every bit the Stateswoman. She's basically a modern Madeline Albright, if you will. Yet, when I stared at the photo, I couldn't help but to imagine Posh Spice out of the shot offering Sarah a sandwich, standing beside Kim Kardashian who was warning Sarah about the dangers of media overexposure.

Sarah Palin for President 2016!