Crunch Theory

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Herbert: This world is going to Hell.

Captain: No kidding. So much tragedy in the world, and if we ain’t careful, Donald Trump will be the one regulating all of it.

Herbert: Yeah. Can’t say the writing wasn’t on the walls, though. Our elders warned us. Shoot, it’s right there in the Bible. I mean, not about Trump, but the rest of it.

Captain: Wait. What?

Herbert: The Bible? The most famous Book in the entire world? Didn’t you have a grandma?

Captain: I know what the Bible is and I know what it says. But how do you know what the Bible says?

Herbert: Why can’t I know what’s in the Bible?

Captain: You can absolutely know. I just think it’s funny you bring it up, because I can’t help but think about the revolving door of women going in and out of your bedroom.

Herbert: God knows my heart.

Captain: That’s not how it works, Herb. You can’t just–

Herbert: Anywho, you don’t even have to look in The Good Book to see what I’m talking about. The evidence is all around us. Just go to your local grocery store.

Captain: I don’t follow.

Herbert: Oreos got different flavors, dude. Oreo used to be the flavor. When I go get ice cream, I get Oreo flavor. But now they got mixed berry, peanut butter, birthday cake, punkin’ spice–

Captain: What about mint?

Herbert: Mint’s cool.

Captain: Okay, ’cause mint’s my jam.

Herbert: No doubt. But it’s just a matter of time before they got a two-dollar mixed berry, pumpkin spice, Oreo shake at Sonic.

Captain: That’s gross.

Herbert: Before you know it, there’ll only be the marshmallows in Lucky Charms.

Captain: Now you’re just being ridiculous.

Herbert: You sure about that? You see what happened to Cap’n Crunch.

Captain: Hey, now. That’s literally my cereal. Don’t talk about my cereal.

Herbert: Your cereal also has a version that’s just berries, no crunch. What you say about that, Cap’n?

Captain: Watch your mouth.

Herbert: I’m simply saying that these things going on in the world were revealing themselves in some of the other areas of our lives. All you have to do is pay attention.

Captain: I refuse to argue with you about the flavor of my cereal being comparable to ISIS attacks in Paris; violent unrest in various parts of Africa; Greek economy; continued turmoil in the Middle East; violence on college campuses; planes falling out the sky inexplicably then possibly explicably; police killing black folks left and right; children targeted in gang violence; social media done somehow turned into racial media… .

Herbert: You’re not understanding me. That’s not what I’m saying but it’s okay. The world is going to Hell in a hand basket. In this case, I’m merely drawing attention to the basket.

Captain: I couldn’t agree more. You are a basket case.

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On My Own

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Anyone worth their weight in kimchi bacon cheese fries takes decent care of their possessions. Some people even take care of stuff better than they do someone else’s. That can be scary. Don’t believe me? Ever lend somebody a cd or video game (oh, ancient one)? Better yet: ever loan a book out? One of the worst feelings ever. There’s nothing like thinking you may not get that book back, or worrying you’ll forget about it and when you realize you don’t have it, you can’t remember who you gave it to or when. Not to mention the likelihood of that person letting some third-party borrower take the book to use in a PolSci 204 or Af Am Lit 231 course as a works cited page reference, meaning now some negro is cross-country skim-reading your first edition signed Walter Mosely book and don’t even know whose library he stole from. Don’t let them bring it back you and it be all bogus…

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Book lendin’ is real outchea in deez streetz. #keepyoshelves100

Owning something like a book, a valuable piece of art, or even some kind of collectible like a World Series foul ball is one thing–personal keepsakes aside. But owning a home for the first time changes the entire game on a completely different level. I’m talking running along the top of the bricks in the sewer in Mario Bros. type of other level. Bypassing all those other smaller things you thought meant more than they actually do type of other level. I’m not saying those things aren’t important to you, but the difference is staggering.

I discovered how dust bunnies are created. I used to wonder how all of a sudden there’d be giant, fabricky clumps of lint and dust under the bed when it was time to clean my room as a kid. It looked like someone had been cleaning out the dryer lint and stashing the contents under there with my shoes. Sheep sheerings must’ve blown through the window and got caught under the television stand and behind the bookshelves. I never would have learned that dust particles link up like velcro as you sweep it up with a hand broom if it wasn’t legit my floor I was sweeping. By the time you’re ready to sweep it into the dust pan, it’s turned into a bunny right before my eyes. Taking that care, paying that much attention to an act as mundane as sweeping…man…never thought it was something I’d care that much about.

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Or light bulbs. My wife helps to make our condo a lovely home. But we have so many different kinds of lightbulbs throughout this place it’s cartoonish. The entryway lights are different from the living room lights, are different from the bathroom lights, are different from the hallway lights, are different from the ceiling fan lights. I mean, I’m gonna need to buy some stock in GE just to make my money back on bulbs.

As a grown adult person, I’ve realized–fully–what my mother meant when she said I couldn’t have that super sweet cereal: “When you’re in your own house, and buying your own groceries, you can have whatever kind of cereal you want.”

Touche.

Now, I’m sweeping my own floors, I’m buying my own cereal, and I’m homing up this place real good. Oh, and if you’ve ever lend me a book, I won’t lend it out to anyone else. It may be forever before you get it back, but I won’t give it out. It’ll be right here on the shelf. #100

Be good.

Call Back to Color

“Hey, Herb. Have you read this?” Captain held a copy of The Beautiful Struggle as he watched his roommate and best friend sip a concoction of various light liquors and bitters. He swished the fluid around in his mouth for a moment, let it rest for a moment, then spit messily into a kitchen sink full of dishes. Captain hated when Herb spent the week prepping for one of their bi-monthly parties. Daily chores would build up and near a tipping point, leaving Captain with the hefty task of cleaning the apartment, while Herb creates and forgets cocktail recipes.

Herb wiped his hands on his pants and took the book. “What is it? One of those Black Erotica books? Look, I told you, the woman at the booth told me it was like if Harry Potter was black, lost his powers, and ended up going to college at Howard.” He turned it over to read the back cover.

“I literally don’t know why I talk to you sometimes. Nevermind, dude. Give it.” Captain reached out to grab his book, but Herb swatted the hand away with a stinging slap.

“What are you reading this for? He a famous actor or something?”

“Nah, man. He just got the MacArthur Genius Grant and I wanted to check him out. Also, Kweli’s named some of his mixtapes the same thing.”

“Hm.” Many of the pages were dogeared and the would-be mixologist opened the book randomly and read aloud:

Girlfriend: Ta-Nehisi, what sort of girls do you like?
Ta-Nehisi: I like light-skin girls.

       There must have been a gasp, but I was young and must have missed it, because my next image is postconversation, sitting in the car with my mother staring at me, the car unstarted. Her eyes were power drills, and though she herself was a shade from yellow, she was a patriot of a broader Africa.
       Little Boy, don’t you ever say anything like that again. You can have your little eyes on whoever you want, for whatever you want. But you remember that these little black girls are somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister–your sister, and someday, somebody’s mother, and when it comes down, the white man won’t take time to make distinctions. You need to check yourself, little boy.*

“That’s funny to me.”

“In what way?”

“Him and his mother having that conversation in the car. The passenger seat can be a throne in the right circumstance. It can also be a witness stand, interrogation chair, the Pastor’s right hand, or a mother’s chair of reprimand. Looks like this was that and the electric chair all in one.” Herb handed the book back to Captain and began mixing another series of liquors.

“Yeah, I remember my brother looking at my red, crying face and shaking his head at me because I let an older kid take my bookbag in fifth grade. I was so embarrassed. He didn’t let up on me either.” Captain flipped aimlessly through the book as he reminisced. “That was the day he took me to the baseball field to show me how to throw a punch.”

“I thought you were a black belt…” said Herb, as he continued to practice shaking some kind of martini in two glasses held rim to rim. Most of the liquid only splashed onto his shirt.

“That happened later. The first punch I ever learned was from him. While I was sitting in that car, balling my eyes out, he asked me if the kid was black. I told him ‘yes’ through a series of hiccups and coughs. I didn’t know why it mattered, but I answered him ’cause he asked. But he said that if it was a white kid, then he would come with me to tell Mom and Dad so they could go up to the school. But when he found out it was another black boy, I had to set that kid straight myself.”

“He’s right. If word got out in the locker room that you soft, you’d still be running for your life.”

“You ain’t lyin’. Shame how we treat each other so different. White kid take my candy, I gotta snitch. Black kid take my candy, I gotta rock him to make sure everybody knows what’s up.”

“That’s how we’re brought up, homie. Prison mentality.” Herbert cuts a wedge of lime squeezes it onto his tongue, then drops the entire slice into his mouth; rind and all.

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*excerpt from The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Censorshi*

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In the age where rappers rarely make clean versions of songs for radio play (what’s a music video?), censorship done got funny. No more so than on the cable channels airing movies that have been edited and formatted for television. The FCC needs to do better with how they switch out cussin’, though. I’m not sure what they used to do, but I know they need to do something about movies like Showgirls and Jerry Maguire.

I had people over one night while in college and Showgirls came on one of the basic cable channels. No one was actually watching it but the digital bra caught my eye and I couldn’t believe it. Seriously? Animated (poorly, I might add) bikinis to cover Elizabeth Berkley’s boobies was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever seen.

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But if you ever get your hands on the edited version of Jerry Maguire, that’s the absolute best. In the scene when Cuba and Regina are renegotiating contract features, Tom says a number that Regina ain’t feelin’ one bit. Her eyebrows come together as if they are throwing up the “W” from Shaolin’s finest. She rises to her feet, points directly at Tom and says, in the voice of a much larger man, “This is some bullabullush!” They paid some dude with more bass in his voice than Tom or Cuba combined to say the word bullabullush into a microphone so that it could be used to replace a profanity. I rented the movie (on VHS) and for some reason, there was a censored version in the case. When I heard the exultation, I laughed harder than I did at the “Dr. Black” line in the Simpsons episode when Bart goes to Kamp Krusty.

The innocence of that kind of censorship is something I randomly reflect on as I age–just brought in the big three five the other day.

Be good.

Pole Position

Books. Covers. Judges. Glass houses, etc.. But I took a stripper to lunch once and I didn’t know it.

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When I was a PR intern in downtown Chicago–a sad personal finance year for me of approximately $8,000 of income before taxes–I reported to the director of public relations. Every now and then I’d be asked to hold down the front desk, answering phones, typing and printing documents for the president of the firm and whatnot. Perhaps because of my kind eyes I was also asked to entertain visitors when J Boogie, the office manager, couldn’t play host. One particular time, the guest of the hour was the “IT” guy’s daughter. I use the term “IT” loosely because this guy would take a PC that had virus-crashed, wipe it, and then set it up to be a back-up server for the director’s PC, which housed a virus but had too much important stuff on it to wipe and external hard drives weren’t a thing yet and, well, he was cheap and as unreliable as a out-of-date, virally-infected computer backing up another out-of-date, virally-infected computer.

End of digression.

The young lady sat in the small waiting area by the front desk looking at magazines. I’d been covering for J Boogie then, so the “IT” guy, who I’ll call Reggie, asked if I wouldn’t mind making sure his daughter, who I’ll call Constance, ate lunch while he “worked” on computer problems. Unfortunately, his proposition did not make me feel comfortable. I stalled. When J Boogie got back, I told him the deal figuring that I could pass the buck and continue to hold down the front while he hung with Constance. He slapped me on the back and flashed the wide grin of a cartoon cat–one that probably wore a hat or a vest or both. He was leaving this one to me. Of course.

I must admit, I don’t remember much of that day. I don’t remember what we ate–as I type this I do remember that we went to a small grocery store with a deli on he first level of a high-rise residential building in Gold Coast. What’s more, I don’t remember how we got to talking in an even flow of conversation. What I do remember is that Constance began to share. She was in her early twenties at the time (so was I back then) and her parents were divorced. She lived with her father but they were butting heads because she was technically an adult and didn’t like the rules under his roof. I asked if she would consider moving out, and while I don’t remember what she said about that, I remember that that question was what led to me asking about what she did for a living.

Constance told me she was a dancer. I thought, as one would, that she was a dancer like with a dance company or a career backup dancer. It wasn’t until she started telling me that she wanted to quit that I got curious. She’d been dancing for a few years, but she was getting tired of it. I didn’t understand. I had friends who were part of dance groups in high school and college. Surely they’d give anything to be a dancer for Janet Jackson, or Brittney Spears, or Usher, or Beyonce, right? How could Constance be fed up with the life that so many girls I knew wanted?

Oh. Ooooooooooooohhhhhhh.

Dancing had lost its glamour. The allure had faded. Men touched her, grabbed her, said gross things to her, hungered for her in a way that no longer made her feel sexy; only naked. She hated how they looked at her. Gotta be honest again: I forgot what she said she’d rather do. Where she’d hoped to go from there. But what I remember most about this entire interaction is how young she was, and how normal she was. How human. Constance was nothing like what I’d envisioned strippers to be. The women in music videos on BET UnCut seemed two dimensional: money and sex. Willing to show their bodies and gyrate for bills floating to the ground like leaves in October. No other passions or goals except to get paid to be in the biggest rap star’s next video…and maybe bedroom.

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But that was all me. I was walking the streets with a nine-month-old Saint Bernard named Naivete on a short leash. He was pulling me along and I could hardly keep my footing. I think Constance appreciated me not holding anything that she’d told me against her. I didn’t question her decisions as if I knew they were bad for her. I had no idea. Plus, she seemed to be doing just fine at doing what was best for her. Who was I to judge, either way? So I ate my sandwich (or whatever I got) and perhaps even made a friend, if only for a lunch break.

Be good.

Boiling Point

Ex girlfriends are ex girlfriends for a reason. Sometimes for many reasons. But what you have to understand is that every relationship means something. It’s a learning experience, no matter how it ends. No matter who you think is to blame for how it ended…it ended and it’s time to move on. Will there be baggage? Perhaps. Depends on how you look at it. One of my exes left me with a little hand-held bag that I’ve carried along with me through college and into my adulthood: she taught me how to make Ramen better.

Freshman year. University of Illinois. Amongst acquiring my long twin sheets, mini-fridge rental, and clip-on desk lamps, I got a little plastic tupperware thing that had a lid that held a spoon and a fork. I could microwave grub in it then eat right out of it. One of the most innovative things I’d ever seen in my seventeen years. That little contraption was specifically designed for the dry, square of noodles sold at $.15 a-piece at my local college-town grocer. My ex’s mother was a great cook and homemade chicken noodle soup was one of the dishes I asked her to make for me every other time I went to visit them in East St. Louis so it’s no wonder. She ramped up my chicken-flavored sodium cube by heritage. It was such a simple thing: hot sauce. Changed my whole life…well, my college life. That’s one piece of luggage I’m okay toting around with me.

Carry-on.

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Be good.

Defibrillator

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“You ever touched somebody’s heart?” Herb stopped chewing his unhealthy bite of burrito and eyed me as if I’d just asked him to sell me his Jordan collection. If his mother were on her deathbed and his sneaks were worth the exact amount of money needed for the operation to save her, he’d set up a Kickstarter campaign just to see if he could whip up funds. Herb would let her get as close to dying as possible before he felt like he absolutely had to sell those shoes. Probably would make her pay him back, too. Instead of answering, he just took another bite of his burrito, his mouth still full from the previous.

“A friend of mine posted on the social mediums that she had to pump her patient’s heart using her hand because some machine was malfunctioning during the surgery. I can imagine it was already a freaky thing to do, but she remembers being more freaked out about how it felt when the man’s heart started beating on its own, again. She held her hand there for a second longer to feel that sensation; the engine of life. That got me to thinking: I wanna do that.” My friend had another look on his face, but this time he didn’t stop chewing. He waited until he’d consumed his bites before responding snarkily.

“So you finna go to surgery school, now? I hear that takes a while. You might have chosen this path a bit late, homie.” Another bite began almost before the last vowel was out.

“Naw, man. Not literally. Non-literally. I want to be able to reach out to people in a way that can jumpstart their passion for life. Just like my friend squeezed the life back into someone, I want to do that, too. There’s a lot of people out here with broken hearts, man.”

“Oh. So you want to be a gigolo? No, wait. An escort, is the politically correct term, I believe.” I put my head down on the table. “You ever seen that movie, Loverboy, with McDreamy? Trying to make all these women feel good is a tough job. But, hey, I support you. If you need a wing man–”

I raised my head and slapped my palm down on the table. “No, Herbert. I do not want to be a gigolo. It’s not even about making only women happy, which becomes evident by the end of the movie, by the way. I just want to be a person that anyone and everyone in the world can bump into and they see a spark in me, a therapeutic charge that revitalizes them. The same way that if I’ve had a bad day, whenever I see a baby or a puppy doing something cute, it lifts my spirits.” I could tell I wasn’t going to like what Herbert was about to say.

“If you want to be a baby, there are folks into that kind of fetish. They like changing diapers of grown men. Women who lactate will–”

“Why do I even talk to you? Here I am, pouring my heart out to you; expressing my life goals. All you do is make fun of me. You know what? Just forget it. Eat your burrito.”

Herbert put his burrito down and wiped the juices from his hand with one of his used napkins. “Look, I’m listening. But all I’m hearing is a lot of nonsense. You wanna be a baby or a puppy? Who is that really for, man? Puppies make you happy. That’s fine. But these people you wanna help–the ones with the broken hearts–they don’t need you. They need money, or jobs, or faithful spouses, or family peace, or drug-free children, or safer neighborhoods with schools that focus on the children learning and having valuable resources. I understand where your heart is, but you can’t be everything to everybody. There’s a cut-off point. Otherwise, you’ll give yourself away until there’s nothing left.”

I must say, I wasn’t expecting that. Reason. Logic. Sense. Especially from Herbert’s mouth, which had a piece of cilantro wedged between the front two teeth. I was about to ask him how I can appease this feeling of helpfulness mixed with helplessness when he cut me off. “Unless you trying to gigolo. ‘Cause that’s different. Let me know how those first few sessions go ’cause I’m looking for a side gig.”

That’s when I got up and left him and his cilantro at the table.

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Shake Ups to Wake Ups

Dudes hug. Simple as that. We–as in black men ‘we’–use euphemisms like “shake up” instead of hug, but just because the act begins with a handshake doesn’t negate the fact it ends in a kind of hug. Nevertheless, hellos and goodbyes at parties and get-togethers are punctuated by fellas hugging ladies, ladies hugging ladies, and fellas shaking up with fellas as manly as possible.

Avoidance of the word ‘hug’ might have everything to do with my age bracket, the continued focus on the masculinity of black men among black men and the black community, or a combination of the two…plus other reasons. Either way, the variation of man-hugs, for me, began when my teenage brother and his friends taught seven-year-old me that there was an alternative way for black guys to shake hands.

The degrees of involvement in dude-on-dude shake-ups include but are not limited to the following:

1.) hand-clap, hand-clasp, pressing of the thumbs together, pulling away of the hands while both dudes are about at arm’s length (not unlike a micro thumb-wrestling match that ends in a draw), then release

2.) micro thumbwrestle, but before pulling away the hands, you lean into the other dude and gently press your shoulder to his chest and he does the same (similar to how women can give sideways hugs when they don’t want to press their breasts against you, often due to the level of comfort that have with you), then release

3) micro thumbwrestle, low-comfort sideways hug, bring the free arm around for a half-hug, then release (see figure 1)

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Figure 1

The degree chosen often depends on the relationship between dudes or the amount of time between hang outs. Dudes who see each other weekly may keep it to #1s, whereas dudes who haven’t seen each other in months or more are more likely to use #3. But a change soon cometh, for me at least.

A little over a month away from the big Three Five, I’m noticing my deepening appreciation for relationships. I’ve always cherished family and friends, but there are some men who have been entirely too instrumental for a handshake-prologued, one-armed, bro greet. These people have been fixtures in my life; fathers and brothers in blood and spirit who are partially responsible for who I am. I love these dudes. They deserve better.

Example: a week or so ago, my best friend’s step father, who we affectionately call, Kermit (not because of all of the iced tea he drinks or his penchant for staying out of other peoples’ business) called me to help put an air conditioner in. It was one of those joints that still uses freon and weighs fifty pounds or more. When his wife, who I affectionately call, momma, called me to see if I could come help, I was just leaving my actual mother’s house. The timing was perfect. Doing chores at my momma’s house when momma called to ask me to lend a hand. When I got over there, I hugged them both. We chatted, moved furniture (ironically, I did have iced tea), and before I left, I hugged them both. They are my second parents. Their influence is invaluable. The first time I talked to a girl on the phone it was on their land line. So when any of the guys from that family see me, they get hugs.

Other example: my Godsons and nephews get hugs. I pick them up. I squish them good. Because being a black man is powerful. Being a loving black man is even more so. Gestures like hugs teach boys the importance of showing affection to people you care about.

So now, I’m less likely to hold back. Life is sacred. It’s too precious to stay hung up on foolish bro codes of conduct. Case in point, my groomsmen–brothers in blood and in spirit. On the day of my wedding, them dudes got real hugs.

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Be good.

PS–do a gif search for black dudes hugging and see if you see as many as heartfelt as Cory and Shawn…

Water Spout Philosophy

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It’s been a while and I know what you’re thinking: no, I did not walk mouth first into the giant spider hanging at face level from a tree the other night. Thank goodness. Had I been looking at my phone for Drake v Meek beef updates, or paying more attention to the teens smoking on the bleachers at the park… You know that myth about how many spiders a person accidentally swallows while sleeping? Yeah, I would have been on the short list of people to accidentally do that while awake. A breeze kicked up and made a branch sway a bit lower than normal and when I ducked to dodge the branch, I saw the spider in time to not elevate my palate to include arachnid tar tar.

But what I didn’t know about spiders until Stephen Tobolowsky mentioned it–you may know him as Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day–is that they’re artists. When they construct a web, the intricate patterns reflect ultraviolet light that appears, to insects, as a flower. Spiders themselves also give off UV rays so they include themselves in the imagery, as well. Furthermore, the way spiders see is completely different than the way, say, a fly sees. Imagine one of those street painters you’ve seen in viral videos; they paint upon the canvas, completely covering it with color except for a person-shaped silhouette left bare. Then, the artist puts the brush(es) down and steps into place, their body completing the painting, and it is a portrait of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. or a still life of a bowl of Oreos or a spider in a web. But, because the artist perceives things differently than the viewer, imagine that artist has vision in only one eye, is color-blind, and is painting upside down. Not a perfect comparison, but you get my drift.

Now, I can’t take credit for the idea of spiders as artists. Ned Ry…er…Stephen Tobolowsky presented that comparison. And I believe him. As much as spiders don’t stand a chance in my house, especially with my wife around (they gotsta die), their notion of “art as purpose” and “art as survival” is concrete. I crave that with words. Art as purpose. Art as survival.

Words are my world wide web.

In other words…

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(in my Batman voice)

Be good.

Rachel…No Longer One of Our Friends

Type “r” in Google search and “Rachel Dolezal” is the first option, right now. Go ahead. Do it. Open a new window and try it. Okay, maybe not when you read this, but trust me while I was writing this, that was the absolutely case. See?

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With all of the Twitterbees going crazy with the #AskRachel posts–when I’m not spitting into my hand with laughter–I do have a vague sense of dismay. I mean, this whole thing is like if Diff’rent Strokes meets Outer Limits in a Stephen King setting with “story by” credit attributed to Walter Mosely and edited by the folks on Love and Hip Hop. But I digress.  Aside from the outright lying, the cultural appropriation, the hiring of a dark-skinned man to play her father, and the creepiness of claiming two of her adopted brothers as sons, I do wonder which policies she was advocating for will come to a grinding halt because of her, shall we say bending, the truth like Beckam. All she had to do was be white and stay that way. But now it’s like in Law & Order when we find out that a snitch has been lie-snitchin’ and then all of the previous cases he done lie-snitched on are called into question. She just called for whatever relationships she was building, assets she was acquiring, or locks she was dreading to come unraveled and fall into a perm-free pile of straight blond strands on the salon floor.

“Clarissa! Girl, get off yo’ damn phone and come sweep up this hair!”

Look, I condone nothing. But it burns me up that this woman’s foolishness may lay waste to some legit good she was doing in the black community. I guess you live and you learn. But she’s been living for a while and ain’t nobody learnt that she ain’t even the Zoe Saldana in this Nina Simone of a situation. She’s straight up Betty White. (see what I did there?) Cuz I for dang sure thought the dress was blue and black. But what do I know.

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Be good.