#AskMe Tees are the brainchild of Washington D.C. entrepreneur Ayanna Smith. Ayanna has created a timely remix of the slogan tee – and we love it! These T-shirts encourage people, friends and strangers alike, to talk to each other by offering intriguing questions as conversation starters.
It’s a clever concept. #AskMe Tees promote listening and discussion in an age where it has become increasingly common for people to dismiss each other or make unfounded assumptions. The #AskMe Tees (and other #AskMe accessories) are emblazoned with light-hearted questions such as #AskMe who made the potato salad and #AskMe about my superpowers to other more provocative and socially-conscious questions like #AskMe Why Black Lives Matter, #AskMe why I voted for him, and #AskMe about autism… don’t assume. Whichever #AskMe Tee you choose, remember to be ready for a conversation!
Ever since I was four years old, I remember feeling powerless. I didn’t know it by name then, but looking back, powerlessness is what drove me every night, after I slid under my Raggedy Ann sheets and comforter, to wish and pray that when I woke up, I’d wake up a boy. Not because I felt like a boy inside, but because boys got to have what I couldn’t. Hair that didn’t have to be detangled or combed or braided. Action figures instead of dolls. Race cars with race tracks and pants to play in—always pants. In my four-year-old mind, boys had everything. Freedom. Choices. Power. Pants. But every morning like clockwork, the sun rose, I looked down, and I was denied yet again by The Man Upstairs. I was still Team Pink. I was still a girl.
I wore my disappointment more stoically than my dresses, because somehow I knew this was not a conversation to be had with either parent, or even my big sister (who was obsessed with boys in the acceptable way—with crushes and smiles and day dates to ice skating shows). I didn’t know how to voice the palpable inequity I was absorbing from our society, my culture, the media. That boys were considered the stronger, smarter, faster sex, who should be deferred to and in control. What I couldn’t find words for, but knew from the tips of my bobble ball hair ties to the soles of my patent leather Mary Janes, was that the way girls were devalued wasn’t fair, square or remotely close to justified.
Girls were just as smart and fast and valuable as boys—and once in a while, in between ads for EZ bake ovens and hungry toy babies and household products that would save me from a lifetime of dishpan hands, my TV echoed parts of this truth to me. I saw the “Bionic Woman” and “Wonder Woman” and Billie Jean King with the big glasses and small tennis racket beat the old, blustering Bobby guy in “The Battle of the Sexes.” And then there was Nadia from Romania who proved her ability at the Montreal Olympics, though her dainty and pretty were remarked upon more often than her athleticism and artistry. Even after her repeated displays of superlativeness, she stood there, half-smiling, as they gave most of the credit to her male coach. They might not have been black like me but they were girls like me, girls who liked to rip and run and use their bodies and brains for something other than to attract boys.
In my home, the messages were similarly mixed. My mom had a job just like my dad did. And as a teacher, when I went to work with her, I got to see a woman in charge. Of the space, the lessons, the students. I saw her leadership there, as well as in the house. Mom had as much authority as Dad (if not more) and my dad did the cooking. And since both parents were college graduates and educators, my sister and I were expected to do well in school, go to college and have a career.
Mom even gave my sister and me “School Years” memory books so we could track our progress from Kindergarten through High School. Who our friends and teachers were, our activities, awards, and what we wanted to be when we grew up. This aid to success ended up being one of the most painful reminders of the limited expectations the world had for me. The occupations listed for “Boys”? Policeman, Fireman, Astronaut, Soldier, Cowboy, Baseball Player. But for “Girls”? Mother, Nurse, School Teacher, Airline Hostess, Model, Secretary. In that order.
There was a “fill in the blank” space, so every year from Kinder on I filled it in with “Doctor.” By third grade, someone with a pink marker lined through my “Doctor” and checked “Secretary” instead. I rebelled with my blue marker and rubbed over the pink check next to “Secretary.” I didn’t remember this until I recently found the book, but it spoke volumes that someone in my life thought I was fantasizing if I wanted to be a doctor. In 1976. The same year of the U.S. Bicentennial, 200 years after independence from tyranny was declared and where colonists believed their liberty was worth their death. I, too, was fighting for liberty. My liberty. I wanted Batman, not Barbie, and I was tired of feeling wrong about it.
Years pass, and compliments about my cuteness are directed to me instead of my parents. I didn’t do anything to be cute—DNA did that—so this always feels weird. My mum tells me to not question or argue but just say “thank you.” Dutifully, I do. But being valued solely this way never sits right with me. I wanted “boy-style” compliments, about how clever or strong or skilled at whatever I was—praise that felt earned. I did receive some of this from the adults in my life, right alongside advice like, “Always have bus money so you don’t have to depend on boys for rides,” or, “No one buys the cow if the milk is free,” or, “It’s just as easy to marry a rich man as it is a poor one.”
When my parents separate and divorce, this family fracture ironically gets me more of what I want. Guilt presents include video games and model cars and Star Wars toys. And pants—jeans and corduroys! My mom says when she was younger, she was a tomboy too. She enrolls my sister (and eventually me) in softball, and buys me books about skateboarding but stops short of the skateboard—she thinks I will fall and break my head. If I were a boy, I think, she’d let me break my head. I try to build my own with a plank of wood and wheels from Mom’s ancient metal roller skates. It travels six inches, I fall off and it falls apart. When my dad gets a housekeeper for his new townhouse, she cleans my room and asks him how old his son is. Suddenly Dad won’t buy me any more model cars.
As puberty dawns, boys are still getting the better deal. Most of them grow into muscles and height and undeniable physical dominance. But should this give them more rights? Should more strength automatically equal more power? Boys (and several girls) seem to think so and this thinking is validated at every turn. In government, in movies, in the workplace, in classrooms. They can pick up girls at random and the girls squeal and laugh and cajole the boys to put them down instead of throwing them into the ocean/pool/sofa cushions. All in good fun, right? Not at all a display or reminder of dominance, right? Boys get to act on crushes and initiate kisses and ask for dates without being considered “fast” or “sluts” or “whores.” They also get no periods, no pregnancies, no abortions.
I am handed deodorant, pads and Judy Blume books as my teenage girl starter kit. I dislike the changes and growing pains and expectations of “blossoming into a young woman.” I focus on grades instead of gregariousness—studying instead of a social life. My big sister Lesa, a natural at young womanhood, follows in our grandmother and mother’s kick steps and becomes a varsity cheerleader. I scoff and diminish her choice by saying I’d rather be who people cheer for. Because some girls make fun of other girls for being too “girly.” I do not see the insidious danger of this for decades.
By 1986 I am a senior in high school, and being in the “smart girl” category has been a boon for me. I am not offered a cent for a cute outfit or a good hair day, but Dad pays good money for As and Bs. I also get to wear pants and sneakers and no make up everyday and no one cares. Mom and Lesa are officially the “pretty girls” with pretty power and that is alright by me. I have no jealousy or longing for “pretty” status— though most girls aspire to this, it seems more like a curse than a gift to me. Yes, my mother and sister get preferential treatment and constant compliments, which they enjoy. But I also see them experience the flip side. Men and boys would stalk them both. Put their hands on them without permission. Recklessly follow after them in traffic. This was weekly if not daily for them; for me it was rarely, but it should have been never. It should always be never. But as 99 percent of girls and women will tell you, it’s never never. I am approached by a pimp on a bus who tells me I look sad and he can take care of me. I exit at the next stop and walk the extra mile home to escape him. I am told to smile more times than I am asked for my opinion. One afternoon I’m followed by a man who screams I should be walking behind him and don’t know my place. I run into a 7-11 and stay huddled near the Ms. Pacman machine until he disappears. Oh hell no. Screw being treated like prey. Screw pretty.
Instead I want to be strong and quick. And thanks to Title IX, I can put my body in service to sports—softball, basketball, cross country. I do them all and excel at none. I am average in every way, but the existence of these girls’ teams does not live or die by any one of us having to prove exceptional ability. We have the freedom to suck and stay funded, just like the boys’ teams. This makes me wonder if society needs a version of Title IX not just for the sports field, but for every field. Shouldn’t we demand and legislate programs that provide equal opportunity for both sexes everywhere? So then over time, like with sports, this parity would become the norm? Why not try this out in politics, I think—like maybe in the Senate? After all, there are 100 senators, two from each state, so why not make them 50:50, one male and one female? Wouldn’t that be true equal representation? But I don’t know what to do with these notions, so I keep them to myself. What kind of power do I have to make them happen, anyway? I don’t my want my “smart girl” rep to become a “naive, silly, pie-in-the-sky girl” rep.
High school also offers me a lifelong mentor in the unlikely form of tough-as-nails, no nonsense, AP U.S. history teacher Mr. Safier. He values effort, intelligence and discipline above gender, race, class… or anything else, really. Finally I am celebrated for what I believe counts. Safier is more than safe harbor. He is an equalizer. After repeatedly killing it in his classes, one boy writes in my senior yearbook he’s lived in academic fear of me for almost two years. I love this. Now I have proof. Brains are my field-levelling power. And they are what get me into a top-notch university.
At first, college feels different than high school—better—like there is gender parity. Like “smart” is all that matters. Smart whomevers travel to Boston from wherever to spend four focused years getting smarter. But then the parties start. The blue lights, safety phones and shuttle bus stops are pointed out. Boys casually notice, girls mark their maps. We have political debates. Ideological tangles. We openly protest to take back the night. I make male and female friends of every race and religion and orientation and it all feels equitable and the way the real world should be. I don’t shave my legs all winter. I march with the Black Student Union to the freshman quad to demand I don’t remember what from the Dean. One Christmas I fly home sporting fake Malcolm X glasses, leather Africa medallions and a lot of opinions. My dad picks me up at the airport and later asks everyone in the family but me if I’m a lesbian. Dressed like that, politicized like that, with my “tomboy” history—what else could I be?
What my father does ask me about is what I want to do after college. Whatever it is, I’m told, I should want my boss’ job. That’s where the power is. If you don’t want your boss’ job, you have the wrong job. So if I still want to be a doctor, become Chief of Surgery. If I want to teach, become Teacher of the Year. I do journalism for fun at college because there’s no television station, so I tell him maybe I want to write. Then, Dad says, become the publisher. He sends me articles on mastery and how to achieve it. The bar is set high—as high for me as for the boy he never had, I think, so I accept his challenge. I try to jump that high. Into top positions. Into leadership. Into power.
Unlike Dad though, I think public sector work is for the birds, even when in the “power position.” Dad had achieved that – he rose from community college counsellor to assistant Dean, Dean (the youngest dean in California ever at the time), Vice President, President, then Chancellor of an entire district. He was the top dog, the leader. But then sometimes he would say if he were in the private sector, he would be a CEO making ten times as much money. But it just so happened his heart was in education, and he chose it over what could have been real wealth. Another mixed message I struggled to process. Go for heart or for money or for power? And do they have to be separate?
My power equation, I came to realize, extended beyond my father’s. Mine was leadership, plus affinity, plus money. And, luckily, I told myself, my heart was in writing—television to be specific—a very lucrative field. (Journalism, I’d discovered, paid even less than teaching). So I told him I wanted to follow the Hollywood path. I wanted to come back to California. Come back home.
Lori Lakin Hutcherson was shocked when she was unable to find a website dedicated to positive news about black people. So she started one
Why did you start the Facebook page that became the website, Good Black News?
I actually started Good Black News by accident. It was 2010 and, in my work as a film and television writer and producer, I was collaborating with author Terry McMillan on the film adaptation of her new book. Before our writing session started one morning, she was telling me about a story she’d barely come across in the news: at an all-black academy in Chicago, 100 per cent of the seniors were accepted to college. Terry was wondering why there was no major news media coverage of this great achievement, and lamenting that the mainstream media primarily focused on negative news about African Americans. I figured that there must be a site dedicated solely to positive African American news, so searched the internet. To my shock, I couldn’t find one. In that moment I decided I had to create it, even if just a page on Facebook. So I did. And it slowly grew from there.
How do you think the mainstream media is biased towards people of colour? What damage can stereotypes do?
The media bias reflects the bias intrinsic in US culture and society. People of colour are often seen as threats or exceptions, but not commonly enough as typical human beings. More often than not, you’ll see adjectives or nouns that refer to someone’s ethnicity or skin colour rather than their name or age, or you will see images that are dour or intense instead of happy or light. The damage these micro-dehumanisations can do is reinforce prejudices about people of colour, as well as teach and perpetuate them. So every time I put up a positive story, I am conscious that I am combatting all of that, as well as offering a bit of uplift for anyone who comes across it.
What steps do you take with your stories; for example with headlines and photos, to make them more representative and balanced?
First of all, I make sure that they are accurate and informative, and properly credited and sourced. Secondly, I like to find the best image possible to represent the person or the subject of the story; if all anyone sees is the photo or the headline, I want to make sure either or both offer a story, as well as positive impact. Lastly, I like to put names in headlines. A person’s name offers individuality and acknowledgement that I think impresses on readers a level of humanity that descriptors just don’t. It may seem subtle, but to me, it’s not. Imagine, for example, the differing impact of The Autobiography of a Black Muslim v The Autobiography of Malcolm X or The Diary of a Jewish Girl v The Diary of Anne Frank.
What reactions have you had to Good Black News? Have any surprised you?
The majority have been positive, which isn’t surprising as much as it is heartwarming. It’s humbling knowing that what myself, my fellow editor Lesa Lakin and our volunteer contributors do is helping so many people access information and stories they might not otherwise have heard of. What has surprised me – even though, thankfully, it’s not a large number – is that there are people who spend their time trying to troll and mock and denigrate a site dedicated to sharing positive stories about people of colour. Each time I come across a wayward comment, reply or tweet and block it, I think ‘Who has time for this kind of vitriol in their life?
People of colour are often seen as threats or exceptions, but not commonly enough as typical human beings
Which sorts of stories are most popular?
Education stories. Whether it’s a boy or girl genius graduating college at 14, or a formerly homeless teen going to the Ivy League, or senior citizens finally getting their high school or college diplomas, education stories are always popular. Education has been the most accessible and democratic way people of colour have been able to improve their lives in the US. To go from it being a crime to learn to read and write, to earning PhDs and running universities – yeah, those stories always resonate.
GOOD BLACK NEWS proudly celebrates its seventh anniversary today, with our followers across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, WordPress, our RSS feed, and LinkedIn. Although initially launched on March 18, 2010 as a Facebook page (read the detailed story behind GBN’s creation here), in September 2012, GBN created this dedicated website, goodblacknews.org, which has allowed us to expand our presence on the internet and provide archives and search functions to you, our loyal readers.
And as of last week, we are proud to share that because of the existence of Good Black News, Founder and Editor-in-Chief Lori Lakin Hutcherson is featured in (and earned the international cover of) Australian quarterly Dumbo Feather.
The outpour of appreciation you’ve shown us via likes, comments, shares, reblogs and e-mails means the world to us, and only inspires GBN to keep getting bigger and better and create more original content.
Good Black News remains a labor of love for our Founder/Editor-In-Chief (Lori) and Lifestyle Editor (Lesa Lakin), and we must gratefully acknowledge this year’s contributors: Rebecca Carpenter, Susan Cartsonis, Julie Bibb Davis, Alyss Dixson, Dan Evans, Gina Fattore, Eric Greene, Thaddeus Grimes-Gruczka, Ashanti Hutcherson, Warren Hutcherson, Brenda Lakin, Joyce Lakin, Ray Lancon, John Levinson, Jason Lief,Neeta McCulloch,Hanelle Culpepper Meier, Jeff Meier, Catherine Metcalf, Minsun Park, Tajamika Paxton, Patrick-Ian Polk, Flynn Richardson, Rosanna Rossetto, Gabriel Ryder, Terry Samwick, Becky Schonbrun, Susan Shaffer, Callie Teitelbaum, Teddy Tenenbaum, Arro Verse, and Joshua A.S. Young. You are all deeply, greatly appreciated. Special thanks to Maeve Richardson for re-conceiving and redesigning all the GBN logos and banners across social media.
Please continue to help us spread GBN by sharing, liking, re-tweeting and commenting, and consider joining our e-mail list via our “Contact Us” tab on goodblacknews.org. We will only use this list to keep you updated on GBN and send you our upcoming e-newsletter (fingers crossed!) — nothing else. And, of course, you may opt out at any time.
GBN believes in bringing you positive news, reviews and stories of interest about black people all over the world, and greatly value your participation in continuing to build our shared vision.
Thank you again for your support, and we look forward to providing you with more Good Black News in the coming year, and beyond!
I know everyone wants this election to be over already – you’ve seen every debate, every news clip, every “shocking revelation”; been inundated in your social media feeds for what seems like an eternity with everyone’s thoughts, opinions, screeds, salvos and takes on who is or isn’t a worthy presidential candidate and why. So here, in these last days, I’ll weigh in with what my choice ultimately boiled down to for me: When the final results are in, what do I want to be able to say to my 9 year-old and my 7 year-old about who their next president is?
In 2008, this moment was revelatory: I was bathing my then almost 2 year-old son Xavier (who since birth has been negotiating the challenges of cerebral palsy and epilepsy) when Barack Obama was officially proclaimed the future 44th President of the United States. I looked at Xavier… he smiled. I teared up, my heart swelled and I told him it was just proven without a doubt that the impossible IS possible, that his own potential was limitless and he could be whatever he wanted to be when he grew up.
In 2012, more of the same – but now I got to say it to my then 3 year-old daughter Phoebe too, who in her lifetime has never known a president OTHER than Barack Obama. Wow. And now in 2016 she has the potential to see a woman rise to the top post of our nation for the first time in U.S. history – which will also be a truly awesome milestone of possibility to celebrate.
But even more than that, I want to be able to tell my children whether or not I or their father agree with the politics of our next president, that our next president is worthy of our respect and support. That our president at her or his core is a decent human being who is doing her or his best to make our country stronger and create more opportunity for the majority of Americans. That our president values and respects women, the LBGTQ community, people with disabilities, people of color and people with varied religious beliefs.
For me, it is glaringly obvious that there is only one candidate in true contention for the Presidency who fits that description: Hillary Clinton. Which is why my sister and our Lifestyle Editor Lesa Lakin produced the ad below and why I agreed to have me and my children take part in the political ad below (we are at the :12 mark). I wanted Xavier and Phoebe to know who I supported, and why it was worth putting ourselves out there to do so.
As difficult and divisive as our current times can be, as I do here on Good Black News, in everyday life I work hard to stay focussed on the positive (and some days, as we all know, that is REALLY REALLY hard). I always want my children to live in a welcoming atmosphere of possibility, encouragement and hope. Of civility and decency. Of responsibility, fairness, and a willingness to admit one’s mistakes and do better. I want the same values they are learning to live by at home and school – to listen, be polite, not name call, take turns, share – to be values I can say our nation’s leader lives by as well. Come Wednesday morning, if Hillary Clinton has won, I can say that to them.
But if she doesn’t win… frankly, I don’t know what I’m going to say.
Today I woke up to a Facebook post that my roommate from college shared on her feed. Her response to that tauntingly generic Facebook encouragement— “What’s on your mind?” seemed a little more perturbed, urgent and determined than usual: “This is a must read! #blacklivesmatter#takeaknee and if u don’t like my hashtags feel free to unfollow me.” Whoa… okay, she had my attention. I found my glasses and I was in. The share was an essay by Solange Knowles about her recent experience with racial discrimination at a Kraftwerk concert.
The essay is entitled “And Do You Belong? I Do…”, and the title is a pretty good indication of what follows. Here we go, I thought… I am about to read about how someone had caused Beyoncé’s sister to feel some type of way. I knew it would be a truthful expression of Solange having to deal with some, well… ignorant mess. I’ve certainly been there. This was going to be a level of discrimination probably more than the norm though, because why else make such an effort to share?
Solange’s essay is thought-provoking and definitely worth the read. She is insightful and honest about her past experiences with racial discrimination, as well as her recent encounter while trying to dance and enjoy music with her family.
Though the content of the post is not surprising – again, so many of us have been there – the trash throwing did surprise me. (Yes, someone throws trash at Solange and her family.) Really?? It was taken there??? But instead of responding in the moment in a way that likely would have brought negative attention to her and her family, I have to applaud Solange for instead turning to Twitter, then laying it out there again in writing, as well as covering the anticipated naysayers with intelligent responses.
We are reminded by her action that knowledge is power, well-chosen words are power, and speaking up in protest is power. I think it’s important that she bravely lays it out there for the world to hear.
According to usatoday.com, former NBA great Michael Jordan has today not only spoken out against police violence towards people of color and the retaliatory violence that has ensued, but in an effort to help ease tensions, he has also put his money where his mouth is, donating $1 million each to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly-established Institute for Community-Police Relations.
In a statement shared via The Undefeated on Monday morning, Jordan said the following:
“As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers. I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones, as I know their pain all too well.
“I was raised by parents who taught me to love and respect people regardless of their race or background, so I am saddened and frustrated by the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse as of late. I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent. We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.
“Over the past three decades I have seen up close the dedication of the law enforcement officers who protect me and my family. I have the greatest respect for their sacrifice and service. I also recognize that for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine. I have decided to speak out in the hope that we can come together as Americans, and through peaceful dialogue and education, achieve constructive change.
“To support that effort, I am making contributions of $1 million each to two organizations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly established Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The Institute for Community-Police Relations’ policy and oversight work is focused on building trust and promoting best practices in community policing. My donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s oldest civil rights law organization, will support its ongoing work in support of reforms that will build trust and respect between communities and law enforcement. Although I know these contributions alone are not enough to solve the problem, I hope the resources will help both organizations make a positive difference.
“We are privileged to live in the world’s greatest country – a country that has provided my family and me the greatest of opportunities. The problems we face didn’t happen overnight and they won’t be solved tomorrow, but if we all work together, we can foster greater understanding, positive change and create a more peaceful world for ourselves, our children, our families and our communities.”