Posts Tagged ‘black woman’

When I first issued a challenge to black women to STOP thinking about that trip abroad and START taking steps toward getting there, I mentioned one of the benefits of international travel and living abroad: creating a network.

I’m going to be honest and declare that since I left Indiana almost 25 years ago (Yikes! Has it really been that long?) I haven’t had a strong support system of black women. Not when I lived in Washington, DC nor when I moved to New Orleans. It wasn’t until Sister Sistah, a social group of black women from all over the world living in the Netherlands, found me.

About a year after that, I began blogging about my experiences living abroad and from that moment on, I began attracting a strong network of internationally minded women who had my back, which has been a major part of my success abroad.

Black Women in Europe was one of the first online communities I joined. I immediately realized that it was more than a website; it’s an invaluable resource for black women traveling to or wanting to settle in Europe. It’s a place to socialize, share stories, give advice and offer support. One of those resources is the “Sisters Sharing Knowledge” series, which gathers practical information from sisters living in Europe for other sisters wanting to be in Europe. Currently, the series shares hair care tips and advice on using social media for business and career enhancement.

I was thrilled to interview BWIE’s founder Adrianne George on my new radio program, “black and (A)broad, too”, which is hosted on The Women’s Information Network. You can listen to it here. This radio program is an extension of the travel challenge issued on this blog. Each interview is filled with smart advice and useful tips on every aspect of an international lifestyle. Whether you’re wanting to travel abroad for the first time, already living abroad or have returned home after a stint abroad, there will be something to inspire you.

In Part I of my interview, you’ll learn how Adrianne found work abroad and how that led to her being black and abroad in Sweden. Enjoy

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bholaAuthor Terry H. Bhola didn’t have  a cheap holiday in Florida in mind when he left New York a decade ago with his Italian wife. He was a man on a mission! In his honest and charming style, Bhola recounts in his memoir Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria, how he managed to find a new job, new house and a new lifestyle that weren’t always easy to negotiate. As I did, you’ll fall in love with The Rat and will even come to hate one or two of the characters who dared get in the way of Bhola’s goals.

But for now, read Part II of “black and (A)broad’s interview to find out – from an insider’s point of view – where to go and what to do if your travel challenge takes you to Italy!

The interview continues

CV: If a black woman’s travel challenge took her to Italy, where in particular would you urge her to go and why?

TB: First of all, ignore all the conventional chick-flick movies about Italy. One can’t enjoy Bella Italia alone. Italy must be enjoyed in the company of close family and friends, in my opinion. I mean, why drink a whole bottle of Trasimeno Merlot alone, right? With that in mind, I would urge everyone to visit Umbria. I will always be smitten by that place. First of all there are two big yearly events that take place in Perugia called the Umbria Jazz Festival and the Eurochocolate festival. Nobody misses them. But to see Umbria’s true quality is to see what’s waiting outside of Perugia in little gems like Orvieto, San Feliciano, Gubbio, Preggio, to name a few. What I’m saying is simple: don’t just go to Perugia to sit at a café wearing a fedora hat to crowd-watch. That’s boring. Instead, pick up a local guide, rent a car with a GPS and find some Umbrian hamlets to visit. Believe me, there’s plenty in Umbria’s visually charming landscape — and the locals are very willing to dance Liscio with an outsider. They even have their own version of the electric slide, by the way. I’ve seen it with my own eyes! Oh, and if you feel the urge to visit Tuscany, that’s fine and all, but Oscar Peterson would be the first to tell you that Umbria is where it is, if he was still alive.

CV: Can you tell our readers something about Umbria (or Umbrians) that they wouldn’t find out in a travel guide?

TB: My time in Umbria was spent mainly in the isolated outskirts, away from the gloss and smarminess of tourist attractions, mostly in my modest little garden having deep conversations with a bird the locals called a Cinciarella [Laughs]. With that said, I’m proud to say that more or less everything that’s in Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria would not be found in a travel guide.

CV: You recently published your memoir about your move to Italy with your Italian wife. Can you talk about why you felt the need to write Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria?

TB: I was sort of a call-of-the-wild boy growing up in Trinidad’s countryside, and it was all a distant memory until I set foot in Italy’s heartland. The time I spent in Umbria’s natural beauty came so unexpectedly close to my childhood, I just had to immortalize it. On the other hand, Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria is, in some ways, a love letter to my wife. She’s shown resilience and patience (mostly with me) throughout our Umbrian experience.

CV: I understand you’re already working on a second book. Is it the sequel? Tell us about it.

TB: The second book I’m working on is indeed a sequel. The context will be slightly different, but don’t worry, the self-depreciating humor along with my usual vagaries and findings will remain. It’s basically about life after my beloved Umbria, including the many times I’ve successfully smuggled Carol’s Daughter products into Italy (because as a policy they don’t deliver here). It’s really exciting because I’m doing the whole writing process all over again. I’m looking forward to letting my wife read the first draft so that she could half-playfully curse me in Monzese dialect.

CV: Thank you, Terry, for sharing your life, book and advice with us. Good luck with your second book!

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In the last few years, for me anyway, holidays in Italy have found a place in my heart, a place that Florida holidays occupied when I was in college. Just the idea of hopping in the car and heading south to sun, sand and beaches has me ready to repack my bikinis!

Seeing as that isn’t possible right now, I’ve made do with a hilarious interview with author Terry H. Bhola, a Trinidadian-born American who, for the past decade, has made Italy his home. For readers who’ve already made a commitment to our travel challenge but still haven’t figured out where to go, perhaps this interview will sway you. And, if not the interview, then reading Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria, Bhola’s memoir about his experiences in la bella Italia just might do the trick.

Meet the charming (and handsome) Terry Bhola!

portrait31

Carolyn Vines: Your background is Trinidadian. How old were you when you left the islands for the States?

Terry Bhola: I was sixteen at the time, and I remember being quite nervous because though I’d vacationed in the States a few years prior, this was to be a permanent one. Actually, wait, I was more scared than nervous; especially when I proudly exited the airplane (with my high top fade haircut and pencil mustache) to find my waiting father dramatically underweight. By the way, my first meal in Brooklyn that night was fried chicken, which was comforting.

CV: So, obviously you’re not new to the expat/living abroad experience as you now live in Italy. In what main ways does your experience in Italy differ from that in the States?

TB: Well, the food is much better and the average cost of a good bottle of Chianti Classico is about twelve euros. Then there’s the language barrier. During my first few months in Italy, for example, I came across an elderly woman in Milan carrying two white garbage bags. I’d somehow taken her for a panhandler because of her scruffy appearance and the sad way she was addressing me had me reaching into my pockets. When she noticed that the hand I was extending out to her contained coins, she started yelping and throwing her bags at me in a rage — I ran! That was eight years ago. Now, I comprehend the Italian language much better, though, speaking-wise, I’m still not conjugating my verbs as I should. But my fluency has improved a bit (since the discovery of Sambuca con la mosca), but still…

CV: How has living abroad this time around changed how you see yourself?

TB: When I was in the States it was psychologically beneficial being in a nation where people like Al Sharpton and civil rights organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) exist. I even took them for granted (like most of us tend to do). This time around, though, I’m living in a nation where none of these things will come for another twenty-something years. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s only a different perspective. It’s like discarding the reassurance of a smartphone for an old school mobile phone. The thing is, I realize now how spoiled I was back in the States. I remember lingering at 1995’s Million Man March feeling a bit delusional, but after my first four years in Italy, it all made sense. I’m so happy to have attended, and that’s because roughing it in Europe has humbled and made me wise.

CV: Do you have immediate plans to return to the States – or Trinidad – to live? Why or why not?

TB: If I sum up how immediate my plans are to leave Italy based on my small stash of unopened wine bottles I plan to drink while I’m here, I’d have to say that I’m going to be here for a while. Trinidad, for example, is an outside chance because it’s been too long since I’ve lived there. So long, that if I were to return, its first televised honor killing would be held. The States, however, is perhaps more likely. But here’s the thing: I recently injured my ankle during a day-hike on Canzo’s Horns, and when I had a precautionary x-rayed done at the hospital, guess what: I didn’t have to pay a thing. Universal health care for Italians and legal residents (though slightly flawed) is free. Please note my sarcasm when I say that I feel really bad about it.

Next time

In Part II of black and (A)broad’s interview,  author Terry H. Bhola acquaints us with the Italian Electric Slide.  Nope, no type-os there. He’ll also talk a bit about his memoir and the sequel. Don’t miss it!

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Happy Birthday Dutch Style!

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

I love my birthday. I love the cards and virtual good wishes populating my Face Book inbox. Even more I love the gifts. My favorite this year is by far the Kitchen Aid professional mixer that I’ve had my eye on for at least three years. I’m sure my husband surprised me with it because he misses his favorite chocolate cake. To show my appreciation for his thoughtfulness, I baked what had to be the moistest and most scrumptious treat to date. Was it the Kitchen Aid or was it the buttermilk I used instead of milk? The world may never know!!

What I don’t love about my birthday anymore is due to Dutch culture. To recap what I blogged about a few years ago, which you can read here, the Dutch practice a phenomenon referred to as traktatie, which obliges the jarige Job, the birthday boy or girl, to arrange and pay for his/her own birthday celebration. That’s hard enough to swallow in and of itself, but what happens when you’ve got kids? Furthermore, how does your special day shape up when your beloved daughter’s birthday is the day before yours?

Well, I’ll tell you. You spend the entire week before buying birthday gifts. My favorite was picking up Chloe’s new bike, on which I had to cycle to get it home! I wish I had a picture of my long legs and biggish belly (now 5 months pregnant) almost touching the handlebars. Then I had to bake and decorate more than 30 cupcakes to take to school last Friday for Chloe’s traktatie.

Normal life goes on, and Paige had to go to her swimming class. When we got home, five 8-year-olds were sitting in my living room watching the Winx Club, patiently awaiting their promised cupcake and limonade. Gifts were opened, pizza was eaten and everyone, including me, was in bed by 9:00pm.

Saturday morning. My first gift was there for me shining through my bedroom window: a warm, sunny morning, perhaps the first we’ve had in the Netherlands in a few weeks. We rushed through showers, breakfast and the unwrapping of gifts so that by 9:30am, we were at the hockey field cheering on Chloe’s team in its first match of the season. Chloe scored two goals, bringing her team to a 3-2 victory over the visiting club. My birthday was complete.

I’ve not “properly” celebrated my birthday since Chloe turned four and we (read I) have been expected to arrange parties and traktaties. When all is said and done, I’m happy to be able to do this sort of thing for my kids. But it is tiring, and right about now I’m considering looking into last minute holiday bargains to recover!

Next time black and (A)broad takes you away to Italy!

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Another Inspiring Black Woman Abroad

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

“I always find what I’m looking for. I always find me.” Evita Robinson

Talking about inspiration. Evita Robinson is a 20-something black woman who is the epitome of making a commitment to one’s dreams of traveling. Wanting more from her travel adventure than cheap holidays to magaluf, Robinson has taken to the road and traveled all over Asia - by herself. What’s more, she’s recorded her ups and downs, long train rides, cruddy duct-taped toilet seat discoveries in a compelling video blog. And if that weren’t enough, she funded her dream by asking for - AND RECEIVING - monetary pledges.

Still on the couch…I mean on the fence…about black and (A)broad’s travel challenge? Then watch these.

Evita Robinson - black and (A)broad loves you and wishes you success, success and more success!

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When in Spain…Learn Flamenco (Part 2)

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

Keep reading about my dear friend Denise Egidio’s experiences learning flamenco in Spain. Even if you can’t make it to Andalusia just yet, whet your appetite with a workshop in the US (links below).

A few years ago, while surfing the net, I discovered a school in Seville, Spain called Taller Flamenco, which means “Flamenco Workshop”. As a teacher with my summers free, workshops are quite practical.

Of course, any vacation requires some planning ahead (and yes, I admit, sometimes a bit of help from MasterCard and hard work afterwards!). I tend to start planning at least seven months before my trip, so that I can have most of the money set aside as well as money allotted for major bills such as my mortgage and car payment. Airline tickets also tend to be more affordable when carefully researched and purchased well in advance. Sometimes your credit card can reward you with flights, so it’s worth looking into.

Seville is in the southern part of the country, so unless you really enjoy the heat (which I do), you may do better in the spring or fall, or just look for flamenco classes in the north. I admit I prefer the southern region, Andalusia, because flamenco is very much alive and well among the locals, not only for tourists. There are many bars (and public squares) where someone will burst into song or clap flamenco rhythms. I also enjoy the dry climate, the friendly, laid-back people, the food, architecture, spectacular parks, the Guadalquivir River, the proximity to Africa, the whale/dolphin watching from the southern tip, the fresh open air markets….this list goes on!

Taller Flamenco offers many workshops throughout the year: flamenco dance, guitar, voice/singing, and Spanish language This past summer I went for two weeks; however, if you have a husband and children waiting for you, as one participant from Holland did, you may want to spend only five or six days. Instructors are excellent, and classes are small so students receive a lot of attention.

Perhaps the best feature is that the school will arrange lodging in a private home for a competitive price. I choose this option every time and highly recommend it because, among other amenities, there’s access to a kitchen, making light, simple meals much more convenient to prepare. You’ll also be immersing yourself in a real-life context and practicing Spanish with sevillanos, which will be helpful the next time you take holidays to lanzarote.

Besides the classes themselves and staying in a private house, the best part of this past summer for me was meeting participants from around the globe. There were people of all ages, some more fit than others (I’m placing myself in the category called “others” here!), and some with years of experience as well as those who were complete beginners. After classes, we got to know each other better over meals, drinks, site-seeing and shows.

Even if you haven’t convinced yourself to invest in a trip to Spain to follow a course, you can try one out in the U.S. - there are many wonderful places to study flamenco here as well! Teo Morca and the Institute of Flamenco offer great workshops in New Mexico, but I’d bet that you could find classes in almost any state.

I’m including a few links that you might find helpful at the end of this article. It’s true, some of the videos are a few decades old, but I think they’re worth watching, especially the one below of the legendary Farruco dancing with his grandson, Farruquito. Yes, the woman in the first video link is Farruco’s daughter, with the appropriate stage name of “Farruca”. I was actually at that concert this past summer, the “Potaje Gitano” or “Gypsy Stew” concert, so when I found this on YouTube I was very excited.

There are many flamenco films made by Carlos Saura and Sara Baras, which are beautiful and can be rented or seen in pieces on YouTube; and now on Facebook, there are many groups devoted to teaching about flamenco and its different palos. In addition to Saura and Baras, I recently came across “The Flamenco Clan”, made by Germans but filmed in Spanish (with the option of subtitles in English, of course) which was very well done. If you´re not familiar with the genre, these resources may help you decide whether or not to pursue classes.

Denise Egidio

Subscribe to black and (A)broad for more free juicy travel tips like this one!

Some good websites, schools:

www.flamenco-world.com

www.tallerflamenco.com

http://juncalflamenco.blogspot.com/

www.amordedios.com

www.flamencowithvictorio.com

www.nationalinstituteofflamenco.org/

www.morca.com

http://www.flamenco-vivo.org/about/nc.php

www.flamencoradio.com

www.flamencotv.es

http://www.arteypureza.com/

Videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCeAA0Ndq7c

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veV8ntYkI_4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2ALh2nXHRM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I1Yf8RHsZc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLDSN-4iIms

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOYiPV5Utro

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc1nKWcpTHc

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When in Spain…Learn Flamenco! (part 1)

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

Meet Denise Egidio, one of my dearest friends. I met her more than 15 years ago when we were both graduate students at the University of Maryland. Ana, another good friend, and I stumbled upon Denise sitting upstairs at the main library, books and dictionaries almost engulfing her. “Denise, what are you doing?” demanded Ana, her accent a unique mixture of her native Nicaragua with Miami cubano thrown in for good measure.

“I’m reading the required critical texts for our seminar,” said Denise, faint desperation growing in her beautiful green eyes.

“I didn’t know you spoke French,” exclaimed Ana, surprised but impressed (and it wasn’t easy to impress Ana).

“I don’t.”

At which Ana and I burst out laughing before briefly schooling Denise, who’d just entered the program for Spanish literature, on the dos and don’ts of preparing for graduate seminars.

Years later, Denise and I would end up sharing an apartment with another dear friend until the year Denise inaugurated our department’s graduate year abroad in Alcala de Henares, Spain. Since then, she’s lived and worked in Madrid and continues to take flamenco classes in Seville whenever she can. Below is Denise’s experience of, arguably, the country’s most beautiful art form.

Why flamenco?  Flamenco was born of the human soul crying out for eternal freedom of spirit.  The art of flamenco is living and expressing this eternal freedom of spirit.  The way of flamenco is the art of living each day to its fullest—physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally—as an individual and fulfilling your individuality as a unique creative expression of life. –Maestro Teo Morca

I believe my first exposure to flamenco was listening to mainstream Spanish pop with flamenco influence, or “fusion”. Having grown up in New Jersey, I was lucky to be close to New York City, so when I was in my 20s it was not uncommon for me to go into the city with friends. We often went to a tapas bar (no, not “topless” as my gringo friends and family would imagine when I said the word in Spanish) called la Xunta in the East Village. That was the first time I experienced live flamenco guitar and singing, sometimes accompanied by a dancer.

I was mesmerized. People involved in flamenco talk about duende, which can mean goblin, elf, or spirit. I think spirit is the most appropriate translation here. It’s the supernatural feeling that descends on the musician(s) and the audience, just for a moment, removing them from ordinary reality, giving them a glimpse of el más allá, what lies beyond. Once in a while this magical feeling grabs hold of your emotions—maybe it’s the guitar, maybe it’s the singer, maybe the dancer, maybe all of them.

Besides duende, what attracts me to the genre is the range of human emotion expressed through it. Each palo or branch of flamenco is so different; each has a different rhythm, different accents, a completely different sound and feel. There are over twenty palos! One song falling under the category of alegría, can be fast and make your feel joyful, the guitar strumming along playfully, the singer conveying the feeling of gratitude and praise for the Creator, the dancer acting this out, playing his/her “instruments” on the wooden floor and in the air. There will probably be rhythmic clapping, or palmas, and occasional shouts of encouragement from other musicians and spectators. Then, the next song, a martinete, may only be the sound of a hammer, slowly and monotonously dropping onto a piece of steel in an empty cave, then a voice, a lament of circumstances, a blacksmith chanting over a fire, sadness, conveying centuries of marginalization and racism towards the Gypsies, the Rom; but, behind that sadness, there’s strength.

So, having fallen in love with the genre, I decided to take flamenco dance classes near Times Square. Then, I was presented with an opportunity to teach at a language school in Madrid. Once in Spain, I started taking classes there. Talk about a small world! My teacher in NY (probably close to 70 years old) and the husband and wife teachers I came across in Madrid (about the same age) actually knew each other and had danced together in the 60s! The vitality of all three blew me away.

After a couple years in Spain, life circumstances brought me to Greensboro, North Carolina, where I currently live. I still wanted to take classes, but the closest weekly classes are over an hour away in the evening, and after teaching all day at a local college, it’s challenging (to say the least) to muster up the energy to take that trip and then get up at 5am the next day for work! (stay tuned for part 2 of When in Spain…Learn Flamenco!)

Links

Some good websites, schools:

www.flamenco-world.com

www.tallerflamenco.com

http://juncalflamenco.blogspot.com/

www.amordedios.com

www.flamencowithvictorio.com

www.nationalinstituteofflamenco.org/

www.morca.com

http://www.flamenco-vivo.org/about/nc.php

www.flamencoradio.com

www.flamencotv.es

http://www.arteypureza.com/

Videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCeAA0Ndq7c

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veV8ntYkI_4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2ALh2nXHRM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I1Yf8RHsZc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLDSN-4iIms

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOYiPV5Utro

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc1nKWcpTHc

Whether you’re planning holidays to Alcudia or Zaragoza, you’re sure to feel the magic and fire of flamenco!

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Discipline: The Other Side of Commitment

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

In earlier posts, black and (A)broad wrote about the significant place making a commitment has in accomplishing long-term goals like our year-long travel challenge. However, making a commitment and visualizing a desired outcome are only one side of a multi-faceted coin. Not only is action is required, but that action must be consistent. That’s where discipline comes in.

Painless gain

Like its counterpart, discipline can sound scary. It conjures up a drill sergeant, all up in your face yelling at you to drop down and give him 50 push-ups…on one arm. Alternately, it drums up images of a roomful of rowdy toddlers in need of a good dose of “consistent action” to keep them in line.

Throughout my 3-year book-writing process, I actually found discipline to be quite rewarding. After solidifying my commitment to finishing my memoir, I invested hour after hour at my computer and writing, reading, revising and rewriting sentences, paragraphs and chapters. I had three days a week of uninterrupted time at my disposal when my young children were at school and daycare.

Every time one of those precious days rolled around, I made a decision: I chose consistent action. I sat down at my computer and got to work. I didn’t do the laundry nor did I pick up the telephone when it rang. I didn’t check my e-mail nor did lost time on FaceBook. I chose instead to build up my discipline. And it didn’t hurt at all.

Discipline rewards

Besides the most obvious, tangible reward for the countless hours of consistent action – my published memoir – I got another gift that I hadn’t counted on. I was rewarded with self-confidence.

Here’s how it worked. Every time I chose to honor my commitment to writing my book, I saw progress – even if it was one measly paragraph. I congratulated myself for a job well done. On the days when the last place I wanted to be was at my computer, and there were plenty of those, I sat down anyway, promising myself a small reward after one hour’s work. I’d allow myself to unload the dishwasher or make myself a third cup of coffee or go for a short walk. I saw progress.

As I saw myself getting closer to my goal, I realized that I was a writer after all. I did have what it took to write a chapter and then another one and then another. I got feedback on the book’s various drafts and it was mostly positive. I felt good about myself and my writing, which gave me the confidence to keep up the consistent action! I had discipline.

Good things

That’s not all I had. I got the opportunity to speak at length about discipline, which was part of Creating Tomorrow’s series “5 Coaching Questions”. Trina Roach, founder of Creating Tomorrow Coaching, is part of that network of black women that I discovered while living abroad. She’s since created Uncaged Birds™, an online community of black women supporting and encouraging each others’ living and working in Europe.

Click here to listen to our interview. You’ll be inspired!

Next time

My interview with experienced traveler (and friend!) Sabinah Soemoredjo, who gives good tips on how to find Cheap Holidays Abroad.

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During my Italy Holidays this year, I’ve managed to read several brilliant books. I mean, what else are you going to do while sitting by the poolside or at the beach (in the shade, of course)?

Like attracts like

Barbara Reale, naturopath, nutritionist, fellow blogger and friend turned our writing circle on to Michael J. Losier’s best-selling book The Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Don’t Want. She captivated us with various examples of how she deliberately used this law of attraction and got what she wanted.

I recalled the few times in my most recent past when I wrote a detailed description or created a vision board of something my heart desired and that something materialized. I’d been seeking the courage to put my idea of issuing a travel challenge, and I kept hearing Barbara’s voice telling me about her experiences. I was intent on reading that book. Alas, a visit to my favorite bookstore in the Netherlands, The American Book Center, yielded no results. It could be ordered but it would take several weeks to receive it, and it would be expensive.

I went to Amazon.com, Plan B, and discovered this other book with a similar title, The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham by Esther and Jerry Hicks. I was quite impressed by the reviews but hesitated to buy it since Barbara had specifically recommended Losier’s version.

No such thing as coincidence

I didn’t buy either, preferring to wait and revisit the topic later. I thought a lot about the law of attraction. My dear, dear friend Denise (sworn Hispanophile whose story about learning flamenco in Seville will be featured her shortly) called me one afternoon, and during the course of the conversation, I brought up the law of attraction. “Oh I loved that book. It was so inspiring!” she exclaimed. “But you have to read the one about Abraham.”

I called the American Book Center and asked if they carried the Abraham version of The Law of Attraction. Yes, they did and would hold a copy for me. Filled with anticipation, I took the train the following day to The Hague. I walked to the customer service desk and gave the very pretty young Afro-Dutch woman my name. I had never seen her in the bookstore before! “Yes,” she responded with a big smile on her face, “I know which book you’re picking up. You’re going to be so inspired,” she continued as she reached for my book.

For the next 15 minutes, she gave me a quick rundown of the entire Abraham series, not hesitating to add how the video series, especially, has impacted her life for the better. I was sold, and so was the book.

Attention and attitude

I couldn’t help but stop in the middle of my reading to include in this post a couple excerpts from The Law of Attraction that blew my mind because they are in perfect alignment with the John Gray and Deepak Chopra bits that I included in an earlier post.

“When you are focused upon something that you desire, then through the Law of Attraction, more and more thoughts about what you desire will be drawn, and you will feel greater positive emotion…When you give your attention to a subject and you feel only positive emotion about it as you do so, it will come very quickly into your experience…The most important thing to understand is that your mental state of Being, or your attitude, in the moment is the basis from which you will attract more.” (Hicks, 36-37)

And then later, “By deliberately directing your thoughts …you will no longer – by responding to what others perceive you to be – be creating a future that is so similar to your past and present. Instead, you will be the powerful creator of your own experience. (Hicks, 39; italics mine)

I’ve already adopted a couple techniques, namely becoming conscious of my thoughts. I won’t go into the contents of those thoughts right now, but suffice it to say that I was in for a real (and not altogether positive) surprise. I can, however, already feel the impact that my reading of this book is having on my outlook.

Just wanted to share with you all something that’s inspired me! Have a great weekend.

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“Black and (A)broad” recently kicked off its first ever travel challenge. During the next 12 months, “black and (A)broad will serve as your travel coach to help you make your dream of traveling overseas a reality. Have you signed up yet? Then perhaps you need a little more convincing, so be sure to keep visiting the website for great information about destinations from all over the world from people who know them the best.

But for now, a few more words about commitment, an abstract term whose meaning we know, even though from time to time most of us struggle with making and seeing it through. Below are three tried and true ways to help you stick to your commitment, be it to this travel challenge, to writing a book or to a healthier lifestyle.

Put it in writing

The written word has such power – think about contracts or expertise solidified in books – and when it’s written down, we humans tend to take it seriously.

Get your commitment out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Or sign up for the travel challenge by clicking on the suitcase on the left side bar. Fill out the commitment form and press send.

A couple things: don’t think of it as something being held over your head ready to taunt you should you take a wrong turn along the way. Nor is it something you do to hold yourself accountable for down the line. Signing up won’t enter you in any contests nor will it subscribe you to this blog. You won’t receive a newsletter or updates on what’s happening in my world. But then again, you’re not accepting this travel challenge for me.

By putting your commitment in writing, you’re giving yourself a gift that you could never get from this blog (or any other): your belief in yourself to make your dreams manifest.

Visualize it

If writing isn’t your thing, perhaps you could create a vision board, which uses images clipped from magazines or photographs and other mementos to externalize your inner desires. It is just as powerful as writing down your commitment, so be careful because vision boards do work.

Flip through your favorite magazine, and when a color, image or even word catches your attention, cut it out. Do not limit yourself by analyzing what you see.

Perhaps someone sent you a postcard from Japan years ago, and you still have it tucked away in a drawer. Get it out. Maybe inspiration comes from an old shirt that for some reason reminds you of Paris. Cut off a button and paste it on your board. What about the lyrics of a song that get you daydreaming about some faraway land? It doesn’t matter what it is, make it a part of your vision board.

Once you’ve collected your visuals, buy a poster board, markers and some glue and get to work. Your vision board doesn’t have to be neat, structured or even color coordinated. The only thing that matters is that you put it somewhere visible where you can look at it everyday. Once it’s done, spend a few seconds a few times a day looking at it. The images burn themselves into your subconscious mind, which begins to find ways for those images to manifest.

Verbalize it

Whenever you’re excited about anything, what’s the first thing you want to do? Tell the world – or at least a close friend or two. But have you ever considered that when you confide in someone about your deepest desires, magic happens.

Verbalizing your desires gives them validity – to you – because they move from the realm of abstract possibilities to reality. The more you talk about your intention (or commitment) to, let’s say, rent one of the hundreds of Tuscany villas while you explore Italy, your excitement will start growing. Your eyes sparkle. Your friends ask questions. You gather more information, go further with your plans. You see progress. Your friends ask more questions. You get more information and see more progress. Get the idea?

Ultimately, your confidence soars, which feeds your determination to see your dream manifested.

When seen from this perspective, sticking to a commitment isn’t scary at all. I’ve found it to be quite a creative and inspiring process.

Coming up

We’ll be continuing our tour through Spain, and I’ll post some wonderful interviews with a couple of master travelers. Until then.

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Marbella, Spain

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

dsc_2500First stop: travel agent

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been one to use a travel agent when planning a trip. Maybe that’s because, before coming to the Netherlands, most of mine were last minute road trips so I had no need to hear about some obscure Ayia Napa holidays. Also, I didn’t understand why I should pay someone to give me information I could find out for myself. I never once considered the convenience factor.

In May of this year, my husband and I decided to take our kids on a short holiday during their May vacation (in Holland schools are out for two weeks in May). And, for the first time, we were going to travel in style! Because we’d waited until a week before the kids’ vacation, we decided to save time and go to a travel agent. I had my heart set on somewhere not so touristy, like Croatia, but hubby was determined to experience sun and sand.

Most of the May vacation packages were already sold, but the travel agent did have something left in Marbella, Spain. Because of my experiences in Madrid years ago, Spain has been rather low on my list of desired travel spots; however, I reminded myself that it wasn’t all about me. It’s a family holiday, I thought to myself; so keep your mind open.

dsc_2505Marbella: beautiful sea

We were informed that Marbella is situated on the Costa del Sol (Sun Coast) in Andalusia, the southernmost part of Spain, just about 30 kilometers from Málaga. It continues to be the favorite vacation spot for Spaniards (which resolved the tourist issue for me) and it is considered a luxury destination with plenty of beach. We booked a room in an aparthotel (has hotel rooms and apartments) right then and there.

The travel agent wasn’t exaggerating. Luxury car dealerships, designer boutiques and beautiful people lined Marbella’s avenues and boardwalk. But the atmosphere remained down to earth. We did lots of window shopping, and I never had the impression that people were snobbish. Although temps were less than desirable for a beach holiday (mid 60’s/upper teens), our favorite pastime was strolling along the ample boardwalk that divided the kilometers-long beach into sections like La Playa Deportiva (Sports Beach) or La Pescadera (Fishing Beach), where fresh sardines and the like were ours for the taking. dsc_2516

Not only did we always have the beautiful sea within sight, no matter where we sat for a café con leche, tortilla española or vino blanco, we could always watch our kids. Every few hundred meters or so was a playground, which makes Marbella an ideal choice when traveling with small children. Unlike our with French holiday experience last summer, small kids are accepted as part of adult life. Play areas aside, restaurants are happy to accommodate little critters, so we never had the feeling that our kids were in someone’s way or that they had to whisper through dinner.

Other beautiful terrain

When we tired of the beach, we sought out other diversions, one of which was an hour-long carriage ride through the old town of Marbella. It was spectacular with its winding, cobblestone streets lined with beautiful old trees and colorful flowers. The €40 we paid turned out to be our best investment as Chloë and Paige couldn’t stop talking about our horse, Chiquitete. Our driver pointed out a charming local restaurant, and immediately after our tour, we walked back to El Gallo for lunch.

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If we were looking for authentic fare, we hit the jackpot there. When we walked in, everyone glanced up at us, as we were the only non-Spanish people there. That didn’t stop us from digging into a typical local meal complete with primer plato, menu del día and a bottle of Spanish wine. I didn’t realize how much I missed eating a warm meal for lunch because the Dutch typically make time only to eat a couple cheese sandwiches and drink a glass of buttermilk!

As part of our package, we opted for a rental car. We treated the kids to Tivoli World, a small but fabulous amusement park. Since it was a Wednesday afternoon, we shared the entire park with only a handful of people, which meant no lines. The highlight for me was the Ferris wheel because of the unique view from the top. On one side lay the beautiful sea while on the other stood majestic mountains. Disneyland Paris, eat your heart out!

The next day we drove about 30 minutes to Mijas, a town known for its white houses built into the mountainside, the views from which were extraordinary. dsc_2602The girls acquainted themselves with the town with the help of a couple of friends. We window shopped and even had time to go to the bullring (the kids still talk about bullfighting) where I was treated to my own, private bullfight. All in all these were fantastic days that allowed us to reunite as a family.

Rock of Gibraltar

Since we only had one week in Marbella, Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, was another ideal day trip because of its proximity. Growing up, I’d only known this British outpost as the logo of the American life insurance company, Prudential. Their jingle to “get a piece of the rock” kept playing in head the entire 45 minutes it took to drive there, and as we approached the rock I was amazed to see that it looked just like the Prudential logo. It was awe-inspiring.

Although it’s a must-see if you’re in Marbella, it wasn’t the highlight of our little holiday. We couldn’t walk around the city center because we couldn’t find a parking space! The one public parking lot we managed to find dealt only in pounds, which we didn’t have, so we drove up the mountain to check out the national heritage tunnel that were dug into the side during WWII. After lunch with the (in)famous wild monkeys, we drove farther up (in a restricted area) where we were treated to a magnificent view of Morocco. dsc_2650

Two continents and three countries in one afternoon. Not too shabby.

Andalusia

History buffs will fall in love with Andalusia. In the 8th century the Moors of Africa, who occupied Al Andalus for nearly 7 centuries until they were dispelled by Christian armies, invaded this part of the peninsula. Cities like Seville and Granada became portals through which the knowledge of science and mathematics were disseminated from Africa to the rest of Europe. The city of Cadiz was part of the transatlantic slave trade, providing Spanish plantations in the New World with thousands of African slaves. Each of these cities is but a few hours drive from Marbella and would make wonderful day trips.

Next week

black and (A)broad’s tour of the world, or at least parts of it, will continue with more Spanish delights. If you haven’t signed up for the Travel Challenge, do it now by clicking on suitcase on the sidebar.

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Planting the Seeds

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

In my last post I wrote about a favorite childhood pastime: wishing on stars. As an adult, I’ve found myself still wishing on stars, albeit metaphoric ones, like making a commitment to blogging 3 times per week to inspire black women to take the travel challenge, which is to plan and execute a trip abroad. For the next 12 months “black and (A)broad” will become your virtual travel coach providing tips and advice on practical travel matters, loading you with information on various destinations and enticing you to with the stories of other women with international experience.

Señorita Wagner was responsible for my dream of traveling to Spain. She was my beloved Spanish teacher throughout my junior high school years. Here’s how I describe her in my memoir:

To her face we all called her Señorita Wagner, but under my breath I called her Saint Doris. Every morning her Farrah Fawcett hair came bouncing into class followed by her mile-a-minute gibberish that in time would become my second language. Miss Wagner had been in love with two things: Purdue University and all things Spanish, especially Josele Garza, a famous racecar driver. We were all in love with her. She taught us how to play “Olé”, her made-up version of BINGO. She organized in-class talent shows, in one of which Tina, Pamela, Angel, the other three black girls, and I sang a soul version of ‘Are You Sleeping Brother John in Spanish. For Parents’ Day she asked us all to prepare a Spanish dish, so I stole a dollar from my mother’s purse to buy some shredded coconut, the main ingredient in cocadas, candies made by boiling water and then adding sugar and coconut. When I bit into the first one, I thought I’d just swallowed a cup of sugar, and I was sucking the coconut out of my teeth for the rest of the day. To this day I can’t stomach coconut, but I still love me some Spanish.

By the time I was thirteen, I knew in my heart of hearts that some day I would travel to Spain. I didn’t know when or how I’d make it happen, but I held on to my deepest desire. I was almost 30 and a graduate student when the opportunity to go to Spain presented itself to me. I was approached by my department head to participate in a graduate exchange program in Alcalá de Henares, just 30 minutes outside of Madrid.

I won’t go into the details of that year abroad, but if you really want to know about my experience, you’ll have to read about it in my book! Suffice it to say that inspiration can come from the most unlikely, unexpected sources, like from “black and (A)broad. If you’ve already made your commitment to take the travel challenge but haven’t yet figured out where in the world to go, look no further than your own imagination.

At least one of the ten questions/exercises listed below can help trigger your desired destination. Be sure to allow 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to go through the questions.

1. Think back to your childhood. Was there a song that made you long to explore a faraway destination? (For me it was Teena Marie’s “Portuguese Love”.)

2. What about a movie? Bruce Lee’s movies made me want to hightail it to China while I fell love with (the idea of) Austria after watching The Sound of Music.

3. Do you have an old-fashioned atlas that you can leaf through until a place catches your fancy?

4. Pull up a world map on Google and look at all the places in the world you can go.

5. Ask yourself, If I could be anywhere in the world right now, where would I be? The beach? the mountains? somewhere hot? This is your imagination so nothing is impossible for these few minutes.

6. Follow up #5 with a list of cities/countries that meet your criteria.

7. What cultures besides your own have always fascinated you?

8. What languages have you always wanted to learn to speak?

9. Have you ever fantasized about getting’ busy with a man (or woman) from another culture? (you don’t have to tell me so be honest:)

10. If you’re into making bucket lists, where’s the one place you must visit before you die?

These questions should keep you busy until the next time when we begin our tour of the world in Spain, land of cheap holiday packages!

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Magic Stars

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

In my last post, I issued a challenge to my readers to join me – for one year – in the planning of your dream trip abroad. From now on, every post on “black and (A)broad” will contribute to making that dream a reality. As your travel coach, I’m on hand to alert you to cheap holiday offers, to activate my international network for their own stories on how they became “black and (A)broad” too, to guide you to some of the most interesting destinations in Europe, Asia, Latin America/Caribbean, and Africa. If you’ve accepted the challenge, then read on my friend!

Coaching session

About a decade ago, a dear friend turned me on to How to Get What You Want and Want What You Have, a pearl of a book by John Gray, the inspiring author of the best-selling book on relationships, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. In chapter 13, he taught me how to find my magic star and make a wish on it. “By continuing to focus and feel what you really want,” Gray writes, “you will increase your power to create your life. First in your mind and heart and then through your actions, you will be increasingly successful in creating what you really want.”

Three years ago I discovered my magic star. By wishing on it regularly, I ultimately received my deepest desire: I wrote and published my memoir. In Gray’s words I “kept my heart open and continued to want what I wanted”, even on those lowest days when all I wanted to do was give up and go have lunch with a friend or just turn on the television and forget about that crazy idea to write a book.

wishing-on-star1My magic star

What was my magic star? You really want to know, because it’s neither glamorous nor earth shattering? I didn’t think of it, nor can I claim it as my own property. It was, however, the main reason for my success. My magic star turned out to be … drum roll please … making a commitment.

For a lot of people, myself included, the idea of making a commitment can be scary because it sounds so…so…permanent and official. And, well, it is since you are giving your word to seeing an idea through to its fruition, and that’s usually a long-term process.

Thank goodness there’s always more than one way to see things. Once I figured out that making a commitment is little more than 1) focusing on my deep desire to finish something I was passionate about and 2) believing in my core that that desire would manifest, I stopped being afraid of committing myself to things.

Fear schmear

Gray asserts, “Fear is one of the major reasons we don’t give ourselves permission to feel what we want.” Rather, fear of not getting what we most want is a powerful deterrent. We simply want to avoid the emotions that accompany not getting our heart’s desire: disappointment, sadness, frustration, angry, anxiety, etc.

Deepak Chopra’s take on the relationship between fear and commitment is astonishing. I quote him at length:

“Commitment…releases all the energy you possess and enables you to take quantum leaps in creativity. When you set a one-pointed intention and absolutely refuse to allow obstacles to dissipate the focused quality of your attention, you engage the infinite organizing power of the universe.

You must be willing to put yourself on the line because when you commit yourself to anything, you express every aspect of who you are. If you give everything you have to your chosen pursuit, your strengths and talents, as well as your weaknesses and shadows, will all be exposed. Commitment brings up everything. This unavoidable fact is the reason why many people fear or avoid commitment.”

My commitment

I’m passionate about inspiring black women to travel abroad, and this idea of being a virtual travel coach and planning a trip abroad is a manifestation of that desire. It actually occurred to me months ago, but I pushed it away because, frankly, I was afraid people would think it was a stupid idea. Moreover, I was afraid that I didn’t possess the wherewithal to see this project through.

After revisiting John Gray and reading Deepak Chopra’s words, I now willingly “put myself on the line” and commit to posting about this travel challenge three times per week. I’m going to continue on this topic next week, at which time I’ll provide concrete ways of making a commitment.

In my next post I’ll start enticing you to take this travel challenge by providing lots of inside information on our first destination. Stay tuned for more…

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Tuesday’s Excerpt Day

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

I’m still trying to master iMovie. I managed to extract this segment of me reading an excerpt from black and (A)broad at my book launch last month. Enjoy!

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black and (A)broad, too: Nicole Jordan

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

Three years ago I started up this blog intending to inspire black women to travel abroad. By sharing my stories about overseas living with other black women, I could somehow remove an element of the unknown, allay the fear of racism and invite them to explore the beauties of our world.

During these three years, I’ve gotten countless emails from ladies, black and non-black – even a few men, now – asking my advice on everything from dating to finding work to parenting in a multicultural family. The question that’s probably been asked the most is how to go about being black and abroad.

In my eleven years in the Netherlands, I’ve come across some inspiring (black) women on the tram in Amsterdam, at the gym in Voorschoten and in my international women’s networking group, Connecting Women. It was at the latter that I met Canadian Nicole Jordan. We recently managed to meet up so that I could interview her for this blog. Because she has such an intriguing story, I wanted to share it with you for all you ladies out there who want to be inspired to live/travel abroad.

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Nicole Jordan is a native of Nova Scotia, Canada. She is a classically trained musician who moved to the Netherlands about four years ago with her Scottish husband, who she met while completing her PhD in England. Whew, that’s a lot of countries in one paragraph!!

black and (A)broad: “Why did you leave Canada?”

Nicole Jordan: “I was a full time musician, which means I was making quarter time the pay (laughs), so I still had to work other jobs to make ends meet. I sang in three ensembles while I was in Canada. The Orpheus Choir, the Canadian Chamber Choir and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale. I was also freelancing whenever I could get a singing gig. I worked at a bank, on a boat at a bookstore. I was working so hard that I was on the verge of burning out at 24.”

b(A)b: “How did you avoid that?”

NJ: “I started taking psychology courses at the University of Toronto. It took me a year of studying in the area of cognitive research to discover that that wasn’t what I wanted.”

“On a whim I googled music and psychology to see if there was anyone else in the world like me and found that in England there was a twenty-year tradition of music psychology research. So I sent an email to Keele University and asked if the department was taking master’s students. They were, and in August of that same year, I was in England.”

b(A)b: That was a big risk you took. If you had to give one piece of advice to a black woman wanting to study/travel/live abroad, would “take risks” be that one tip?

NJ: “My advice to black American women would be no different than the advice I’d give to anyone else. The way I made my way to Europe was through education. It took a lot of money and blind trust that I would be OK. I found an education program interesting enough to make me leap. The financial risks were the least of my concerns. I was leaving jobs, I was leaving people, and I was leaving my culture. In the end, leaving Canada wasn’t the hard part; figuring out how to stay abroad was.”

She, and her then-boyfriend, took a chance and moved to The Hague, where Nicole found a more vibrant cultural atmosphere than there was in Manchester, England.

It was while she was writing her dissertation in The Hague, “a traumatic experience”, that Nicole would come to discover herself. “I knew that academia wasn’t for me,” she said. “Being an artist, a creative soul, I needed to do something completely creative.”

That’s when she began building up a network of artists, writers and musicians through which she established her own non-profit production company, OperaDans.

b(A)b: What exactly is OperaDans?”

NJ: “We use classical or traditional music in combination with dance, incorporating literary arts. We create or support interdisciplinary or fusion productions.”

Physically, one would never say she was a classical musician; rather, with her long braids and colorful nail polish, she defies labels. To be sure, because she is a black woman people have tended to categorize her as a jazz or blues singer.

NJ: “That’s why my ensemble is the way it is: a different style of classical music. It’s intercultural and interdisciplinary. It’s fairy tales and literature; it’s dance; it’s even fashion.”

b(A)b: “So what’s next for Nicole Jordan’s OperaDans?”

NJ: “We’re preparing for a production in October called Sweet Solitude: Poet’s Edition, which is my own personal response to this experience of being a foreigner. It’s lonely sometimes, but it’s by choice. I see this similarity in other people. We complain, but we’re here by choice. There’s something in us that causes us to see this space.”

To kick off this production, OperaDans will give a mini-performance, with music by Samuel Barber, in May at Hands at Work, Laan van Meerdervoort 45, The Hague. In preparation for the May performance, OperaDans will be sponsoring a poetry contest. Amateur poets are asked to submit before unpublished poems on the subject of solitude. Writer, poet and mentor Jo Parfitt has been asked to officiate the contest. Submission deadline is March 31st.

b(A)b: “You are an inspiration, Nicole. Thank you for sharing your story.”

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Thursday night I had the honor of participating in a virtual roundtable. Trina Roach’s Uncaged Birds were myself, Love Newkirk (Germany) and Harolynne Bobi (Greece). For two hours we discussed issues that affect black women living and working in Europe.

Love Newkirk is an inspirational entertainer who uses the stage as well as television to spread her message of unity. Her efforts have put the spotlight on Afro-Germans (of African descent, born and raised in Germany) and their rich contribution to their culture.

After a life-changing accident, Harolynn Bobis decided, with her Greek-American husband, to retire in Greece. She teaches English there.

The topics on the table for discussion ran the gamut from how we, as black women, ended up in Europe to how we move our bodies, usually physically different from those surrounding us, in cultures that are governed by different codes. We touched on sisterhood, language and hair. We shared how we dealt with the stares and glares of others and how we were raising our multicultural children.

What stuck out for me was the main thing we have in common: the three of us have managed to rescue our selves from the quagmire of negative stereotypes and unflattering images that continue to fester in American institutions. We’ve refused to be boxed into the expectations that have been placed upon us. We’ve come to accept our black bodies and own what we’ve achieved with them. We’re not making apologies or excuses for where we’ve been, what we’ve done or who we are.

Trina Roach’s groundbreaking project Uncaged Birds™ is just another testament to her innovative spirit. She left a high-powered corporate career as head of human resources in a major ad agency to start her own training and coaching company, Creating Tomorrow.

“With Uncaged Birds™ I provide support for women of African descent as they more effectively tap into their innate individual and cultural strength, and utilize that strength as a powerful springboard to personal and professional success – in a safe, stress-free environment that respects our heritage and history.”
She encourages black women, “Let’s be our own role models,” and with projects like this one, she’s leading the way.

Follow this link to listen to our discussion.

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Yesterday morning I received the proofs for black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity from my page designer. After browsing over the first four pages, looking for widows and orphans, making sure the pages of text were balanced and that all the pages were there, I started feeling sick to my stomach. I stood up and started pacing around my living room trying to understand why I was so reluctant to continue doing what I’ve been looking forward to since I began my book-writing process.

Then a pang of doubt and insecurity wrenched my gut with as much intensity as the labor pains I withstood as I was giving birth to all three of my children, though not quite as excruciating. I concluded that today was the day for me to confront the anxieties I’d written my way through for the past two years. And believe me, I’ve probably written as much in my journal about my fears as I have in my memoir, always concluding that my energies were better spent focusing on writing my book than on allowing negative emotions to block me.

The trouble was, I couldn’t promise myself that I’d deal with those issues when I’d written the proverbial “the end” because, well, I’ve written it. Now what?

With the same focus on seeing my project through to the end, I sat down and finished my first set of galley changes. I sent them on to my page designer and mulled over the information I could’ve or probably should’ve included. I harped on a conversation I had yesterday with a neighbor while our toddlers were climbing on the monkey bars at the playground in front of the house. I’d told him I’d finished my book and that I was waiting for the galleys. He proceeded to inform me that two years was actually too short a time in which to write a book. In his opinion a book had to be revised continually (as if I hadn’t done that almost to the point of memorizing the thing) and that it had to have a plot (as if mine doesn’t) after which he gave me a crash course in the elements of plot (as if I hadn’t studied literature for nearly a decade). Good thing his little girl started whining about wanting to go home, otherwise I’d have been subjected to his prowess at book promotion (as if I hadn’t spent the better part of the last two years researching the art).

Two months ago I would have opened my journal and successfully found my way back to what I knew was true: that I’m disciplined, diligent, resourceful and have talent as a writer. Today, however, I convinced myself that I had no business writing graffiti on the side of a train, let alone even dreaming of writing a book. But I couldn’t’ do that because on Wednesday Chloe, my six-year-old has a half-day at school, and I had to pick her up. I had to put my insecurities aside and make sandwiches for two first-graders, carry tents to the playground and run interference in their spats with the neighborhood kids.

A few hours later, Chloe’s friend’s mother picked her up and I got on my bike and went to the store to buy dinner: chicken wings, buttermilk, potatoes and cauliflower. I ran into a friend at the cash register. The first thing she blurted out was that she’d finally finished reading my manuscript although, she had to admit, she’d read it off her computer and not continuously (over coffee a couple months before, she’d offered to give me feedback on my unfinished manuscript).

“So, what did you think?” I drummed up the courage to ask.

“It has potential. But I have the feeling it’s not done.”

Had I pointed out that, in fact, it wasn’t done and that her version was a draft I may have been able to prevent her further comments, made, I felt, because she didn’t know what else to say.

“You’re still planning to publish it yourself, right?”

I nodded.

“Is it too late for you to send it to a publishing house?”

And then,

“If I were you, I would think about putting it away for a while and then reading it through one more time. It has so much potential and it would be such a shame to publish it before it’s done. Can you wait and publish it in December?”

Hello, you have an unfinished DRAFT.

I’d already put it aside for nearly two months and incorporated many of the suggestions made by other readers who’d already read it and commented in a timely manner.

“No, I’m not going to make anymore changes. I feel like it’s ready, and I want to be done with it. I’m not convinced that changing anything will make it better, it’ll only make it different.”

Then she brought up the success of another writer who we both know because we all live in the same village. This writer managed to land a major book deal, and her just-released book is already on the best-seller list.

“Have you heard about such-and-such’s book? Oh such-and-such is doing phenomenally because such-and-such got a book contract and you should reconsider doing it yourself.”

That was the last thing I needed to hear while I was feeling so insecure, even about the wisdom of my conscious and well-thought-out choice to publish independently. I also needed to pick up Paige from daycare so we said our good-byes and off I cycled.

By the time I got home, it was already a quarter after five, and my chicken still needed to marinate in the buttermilk for a half hour. I’d never get dinner on the table by six, which is when I like to eat so that the girls have time to relax before going upstairs and getting ready for bed at seven. I turned on Sponge Bob and started preparing the breadcrumb, Parmesan cheese and tarragon mix that would coat the marinating chicken.

I called Jo Parfitt, my writing mentor, to see if we could get together that evening so that I could pour out my feelings over a bottle … er … glass of wine. She wasn’t available, but when she asked me what was up, I started talking away. I’d hired her to edit my manuscript, which she did beautifully and professionally, but she did more. A published author herself, she was always willing to listen to the fears and anxieties I’d experienced throughout my own process. Because she’d had similar experiences herself and had heard the same sentiments from at least a hundred other writer’s she’d mentored, I believed her when she told me my feelings were normal.

“If you ask ten other people what they thought, you’ll hear ten different answers. You know I loved your book because the themes of identity and the expat experience resonate with me. Take a week to pull yourself together if you need to, but you don’t need to rewrite anything.”

As I was listening to Jo siphon inspiration into my thirsty ears, I put the chicken in the oven. Five minutes later I noticed the breadcrumb mixture in the Ziploc bag still sitting on the counter. Shit. I pulled the chicken out of the oven and tossed it in the bag, poured it out onto the cookie sheet and threw it back in the oven.

“Mama, what’s this?” asked Paige, holding up a bottle of Dutch syrup. “Can I look in it?”

“Nee,” I mouthed, trying to concentrate on Jo’s words of wisdom.

I set the cauliflower to boil and put on the potatoes just in time to hear Jo suggest I discuss my situation at our writing circle the next day. Jo had started a “Writing Your Life Story” group shortly after we’d met and invited me to join.

“That’s a great idea. I have to go now and concentrate on dinner.”

I went to place the phone back on it’s charger just in time to see Paige gulping down the syrup, straight from the bottle.

After my husband put the kids in bed, I asked him if he’d listen to me vent. I told him about the events of the day, and he smiled.

“Carolyn, I’m going to give you the advice you gave me when I was feeling insecure [about his ability as CEO to pull his company through the economic crisis, which he did successfully, I might add]. Have faith in yourself. How many people have told you that they loved what you’ve written? Who’s blog won an award - the jury’s choice, no less? Everyone isn’t going to love your book, especially if it’s not about something they’re interested in. Has the neighbor ever written a book? No. Is that friend at the grocery store a professional editor? No. You’ve got to believe in yourself.”

The next time he asks me for my advice, I’m going to keep my big, fat yap shut.

*

This morning I hosted this month’s writing group. When it was my turn to share what I’d written, I read this post and asked them what they thought about the situation. This was their feedback:

“An artist friend once told me that he never finishes a painting; he just stops at an interesting point. It’s the same with a book.”

“It sounds to me like your neighbor is jealous. Not everyone can write a book. If it flows, a book can be written in two months.”

“A writer’s mood affects everything. After I’d written this book for my family, I was anxious to have it printed. A friend of mine who’s a printer offered to lay it out and print it for me. While he was doing it, he had a mild heart attack. I blamed myself for being in such a hurry. He convinced me to let him finish the book after he’d recovered. He finished it and then had a mini stroke, which left him blind in one eye. I blamed myself. If you’re filled with doubt and insecurity, everything you hear will confirm what you’re feeling even when it’s not the other person’s intention.”

“Publish it now.”

“I have the same thing with translating. I polish my work, but at some point I know I have to let it go. One person can say the same thing ten different ways, so the more you polish, the higher the chance you’ll end up saying the same thing a different way. Publish it now if you feel like it’s done.”

“One of the things I loved most about your book was its rawness. Please, don’t perfect the life out of it.”

Jo ended the discussion by telling me about a client of hers, who also read my manuscript, who made the following comment: it reads like she’s a professional writer.

For anyone out there who’s writing a book or painting a landscape or sculpting a piece, I can’t stress enough how important it is to surround yourself with supportive people. When you don’t manage to write your way through your doubts, let an inspiring mentor, a loving, supportive husband and an encouraging writing circle be your journal.

I’m going to release my memoir the beginning of September as planned.

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Stolen Identity: Angelina Jolie to Play Cleopatra

Is it a case of stolen identity? That’s what Shirea L. Carroll’s article, “Another White Actress to Play Cleopatra”, posted on Essence.com suggests.

In the widely quoted statement, Carroll argues, obviously piqued, ”Honestly, I don’t care how full Angelina Jolie’s lips are, how many African children she adopts, or how bronzed her skin will become for the film, I firmly believe this role should have gone to a black woman” before lamenting, “Were Vanessa Williams, Halle Berry and Thandie Newton unavailable for auditions that day? Why does Hollywood think it’s even slightly plausible to cast white women in roles that would be more sensible to cast a black actress for? Especially when that role is an African queen.”

No one knows for sure what the African queen Cleopatra looked like, and comments on Carroll’s and other articles posted on the topic state that Cleopatra was of Macedonian descent. Fine. But the issue, as I see it, is that far too few examples of black female rulers have been rescued from the archives of history so when there is a positive black female historical figure we’d like to claim her. For Carroll and others, this is a case of stolen identity.

For decades on end we’ve criticized Hollywood for its refusal to cast black actresses in positive leading roles. Haven’t we tirelessly voiced our dissatisfaction at watching while our identity as black women continues to be distorted on the silver screen? Hollywood directors, producers, writers and casting agents are obviously not listening.

And why should they? Don’t we continue to go to the movies despite our requests for change falling on deaf ears? A recent article in the Atlanta Post states that “The vast majority of African-American consumer spending is done by females. Some marketers say 85 cents of every $1 spent by blacks last year was spent at the influence of black females. Others estimate black female buying power at upwards of $565 billion last year alone. Either way, the buying habits of this group of consumers could well decide the fortunes of many of the world’s largest corporations.” Surely a big chunk of that $565 billion is spent at the movies.

I’ve never been a fan of Jolie’s and Cleopatra has been over done, so I’m not particularly bothered by this movie. Cleopatra wasn’t the only African queen in history, although she’s arguably the most famous. Others remain relegated to the ranks obscurity. How many of us have ever heard of Queen Nzinga Mbandi of Angola (1582-1633) “who was constantly at war with the Portuguese for control over the slave markets.” (taken from Luiz Felipe de Alencastro’s O trato dos viventes).

In her scholarly text The Air of Liberty: Narratives of the South Atlantic Past, Dr. Ineke Phaf-Rheinberger, a former professor of mine, recounts an episode that has “survived oral and written reports”:

“In the name of her brother, King Ngola Mani a Ngola, Nzinga visited Luanda in the early 1620sNzinga visited Luanda in the early 1620’s for peace negotiations and was received with all the honours due under conventions of international diplomacy. Unfortunately, during the conversations with the Portuguese governor in his palace, no seat was offered to her, whereas the governor himself was seated in an armchair. Unflustered, Nzinga ordered one of her slaves to cower down and serve as her stool, thereby preserving her dignity and self-esteem. Now she could proceed to negotiate a treaty with the Portuguese governor face to face and on equal terms.”

Perhaps a slave-owning African queen wouldn’t quite satiate Hollywood’s desire to idealize history, but she sure would invite a more complete portrait of the black female legacy, especially when it is understood that Nzinga’s stand against European imperialism has turned her into an icon with modern-day Afro-Brazilians. But these images stored in the collective identity of black women remain relatively unknown so that when one is denied to us, like Cleopatra, I can understand the resentment that follows.

However, when I stop personalizing Rudin’s decision to cast Jolie, and look at the dollars and “sense” of it, I can also understand that he’s banking on her star power as an A-list celebrity to bring in the white movie-goers and her having adopted African children to seduce the black crowd. The bottom line is profit, and it doesn’t much matter if it’s Angelina Jolie or Anne Hathaway (yes, I’m trending), as long as the movie is a box-office smash. The question is: does it make sense for black women, “a commanding force in the US economy”, to line up to see this movie or any other that doesn’t mesh with our personal politics?

I’ve had my beef with Hollywood’s poor depiction of black women in its films. In my upcoming memoir, I censure the industry for casting us as either prostitutes and drug addicts or as the asexual, matronly best friend supporting the white leading lady. Either way, our identity as black women has been distorted at best. Nowadays, I rely on borrowing videos from friends or wait until movies are broadcast on primetime Dutch television. Rather than stop at blogging my reactions to unfavorable or nonexistent depictions of my identity, I stopped going to the movies.

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Black Women Working Abroad

Author: Carolyn van Es-Vines

In the early stages of my book-writing process, before deciding to publish independently, I sent out about 30 query letters to agents and publishing houses. I got a response back from an editor at Seal Press, the publisher I was most interested. I was thrilled at the editor’s request for a proposal, which I sent a couple of weeks later.

The editor was impressed with my writing ability and agreed that black women traveling was an intriguing and necessary topic about which to write. She was less enthusiastic with my proposal to write a memoir about how traveling and living abroad transformed my identity as a black woman and suggested I consider writing a how-to guide for black women who want to travel.

In the end, for various reasons, I decided to follow through with my original idea of telling my own story in my upcoming memoir black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity (to be released early September 2010), although not before I started interviewing other black women about their process of overseas living. To increase the credibility of my research, I also created a survey and asked over 100 black women to respond to what they wanted to know about overseas living. A resounding 80% of the respondents were curious about working abroad.

I contacted Trina E. Roach, founder and owner of Creating Tomorrow, The Leadership Consultancy, who I’d connected with through my blog. She graciously responded to my interview questions about working in Germany, where she’s lived for 30 years. And she should know. She turned her study abroad experience into a dynamic coaching practice that’s taken her all over the world.

She recently launched Uncaged Birds to offer a source of support for and to inspire a spirit of community among black women living in Europe. “With Uncaged Birds™ I provide support for women of African descent as they more effectively tap into their innate individual and cultural strength, and utilize that strength as a powerful springboard to personal and professional success – in a safe, stress-free environment that respects our heritage and history.” Roach encourages black women to be our own role models. In July  she’ll be launching a virtual roundtable on blog talk radio called “What’s a Nice (Black) American Girl Doing in a Place Like This?”, a series of three 90-minute sessions in which black women discuss their experiences abroad.

created and produced an innovative program on blog talk radio, Five Coaching Questions, and is currently producing a pioneering virtual roundtable.  is a series of three 90-minute sessions in which black women discuss their experiences abroad. Roach designed the program to inspire a spirit of community among black women living abroad as well as to motivate a successful experience. Yours truly will be a panelist.

1. What did you do before moving to Germany? What led you to launch your own successful consultancy?

I came to Germany to study in 1975 after spending a year in France. While at university I gave English lessons for individuals and companies in the area. I continued to do this while my children were small. During that time I segued from English conversation to Business English to team teaching the Fellowship Program at Opel AG, which prepares people from Opel to study at what was then General Motors Institute of Technology in Flint, MI.

While I was teaching at Opel, I saw many people coming back for additional courses as their own careers progressed. Although I was happy with my job at that time (especially the flexibility while raising small children), I realized I didn’t want to be doing the same thing five years down the line. That motivated me to literally step out of my own comfort zone and investigate my other career options. I had used an article about branding as part of my lesson plan for the Fellowship Program, and found myself intrigued by the subject. When I saw an ad in a Frankfurt paper about a position with a branding agency, I spontaneously applied. I started off there as a secretary/junior project manager and left four years later as project director.

While I worked for that specialized agency, I realized that we were literally being called in to work on Steps G to J of the marketing process for any given brand. We had little input into what went on before, and little influence on what happened afterwards. When it came time for me to make my next career move, I decided to apply for a job in classical advertising to get a chance to be more involved in the ‘big picture’. I knew very little about advertising then, so my interviews at both international and local agencies were a real eye-opener. I had, for example, a very good interview with a managing director for a large agency in Frankfurt. He basically recommended that I sell myself to an agency as my own profit center based on my brand-naming experience (something that wasn’t yet pursued very professionally by ad agencies here), because - with my lack of advertising background - I would probably never get the job I actually deserved in terms of seniority/pay. The very next week I was offered the job he said I would most likely never get.

After working for several years as a marketing consultant in advertising for a top-ranked international agency (job title: management supervisor) and handling close to 100 million marks in billings with my team, I became more and more involved in the German networks training program. The agency had a large apprentice training program (’Ausbildungsprogramm’) and was also seriously committed to personnel development. My last six years with the agency, I was Head of Human Resources Development (Middle Europe), which included heading the apprentice training program, designing and coordinating the program for the in-house academy, as well as creating and leading my own training sessions in presentation skills and people management.

As time went on, however, I became more and more involved in admin work (which I hated) and less involved in the processes where I feel I add the most value. That was the final motivator for me to establish my own consultancy, where I could again concentrate on those skills.

2. What advice would you give to a black woman wanting to work in Germany?

Most importantly is to be here for interviews. Although it’s possible to line up meetings by email or phone, actually being able to say you will be in country for a few weeks for a face-to-face meeting should be a prerequisite. If possible, plan in at least three weeks/a month, so you not only have an opportunity to meet with as many companies as possible, but also have a chance to go in for a 2nd (and - possibly - 3rd) interview if there is a company particularly interested in you.

Obviously, international companies are a great place to start. Your native speaker status in English and your intercultural skills - in addition to your expertise in your field - can certainly work to your advantage. Another option would be to look into German companies that are beginning to expand internationally. There you could position yourself as a (an additional) facilitator for their internationlization process.

Obviously, the ability to speak/read/write at least some German is a huge asset; both in terms of the value you add, as well as in terms of the benefits you reap from your experience here .

3.  What chance would she have of working in Germany without a work permit?

Without the necessary paperwork (esp. work permit) the only legal way to find a job in Germany is to find a company willing to sponsor you. To do that they must, however, prove that you bring special skills that aren’t readily available in the German market.

An alternative might be to actually be hired on by the US headquarters/subsidiary of a company, and have them ‘put you on loan’ to the German office for a prescribed amount of time. (see: example above)

4.  What skill set should a black woman possess if she hopes to work in Germany?

In addition to expertise in whatever field she is in, I believe it’s imperative for anyone working in another company to have strong intercultural competencies, a basic knowledge of local customs and history, as well as strong basic knowledge of the local language.

In terms of intercultural competency, I would also include an awareness that people outside the States have a different history where race is concerned, as well as a different ‘take’ on race. Not necessarily better or worse: different. Finally, the American way isn’t always the right way by default…

5.  What are two main differences between the German work ethic and the American? What about 2 differences in the work setting? What about salaries?

I think both countries have a similar work ethic, but it’s manifested in different ways.

Americans are quicker to get things done, and take into stride more easily that there might well need to be course corrections along the way, while Germans focus more on getting things done right, which often means they are slower out of the starting block than their American colleagues.

Americans believe in working a lot. With the loosely meshed social support system, Americans work more hours/multiple jobs in order to achieve more (bigger homes, number of automobiles, etc.) but with comparatively less security. Germans, on the other hand, believe in working hard and playing hard, which explains the relatively long vacation time here (and other parts of Europe) compared to in the States. Though things are changing, they also profit from a tighter social support system.

American office culture is generally more informal. People tend to address each other by their first names and are more collegial. In contrast, the office culture in Germany (still) tends to be more formal. People more often refer to one another as Mr./Mrs., and use the formal “Sie” as opposed to the informal “du” to address people.

More American women work outside the home. In many cases it’s a necessity, but there is also a social trend that encourages mothers to work. As a result, there are also more women in high(er) positions. Significantly fewer German mothers work. The availability of decent childcare is limited, making full-time employment difficult if a good support network is lacking. Although the number of women who (have to) work is rising, there is still a strong belief that it’s better for the development of (small) children if there is one parent in the home as primary caregiver.

It’s hard to compare salaries, simply because different industries have different standards. Overall I would say that Americans have a greater sense (also: need) of job mobility and therefore - in some areas - greater chances to increase their income. Germans in general have more benefits (healthcare, job contracts, etc.).

6.  What are the advantages of being a professional in Germany?

Working as a professional in Europe tends to increase opportunities to work internationally. Depending on your field, the likelihood that you will be in contact with people from offices in other countries is quite high. Both in branding and advertising I traveled Europe extensively for work and have held training sessions from Amsterdam to Moscow and from Tallinn to Istanbul.

Thank you, Trina.

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Last week I read this article, which was posted on the Guardian on-line. I was ready to take comedian Ben Voss apart. I cut my fingernails because I didn’t want anything to be in the way when my fingers raced across the keyboard of my MacBook Pro as I wrote a scathing reaction to this white comedian’s caricature of black women.

Because I believe in artistic license, I was going to start off by writing that I trust Voss’s sincerity in claiming the identity of a black South African woman to unite people. I wasn’t even going to allow any opening for a discussion of racism. I’m convinced that when this word is invoked, minds shut down. Furthermore, when this word is invoked, it evokes an image of powerlessness. Worse still, it makes victims out of black women, and I don’t consider myself a victim.

Brian Logan, the journalist who wrote “The Comedian Making South Africa’s World Cup a Laughing Matter”, described Voss’s act as a “caricature of the Rainbow Nation’s new elite: loud and proud, nouveau riche and corrupt” and images of American reality series, namely The Real Housewives of Atlanta flashed through my mind. Indeed, Nene Leakes and her crew are loud, proud and have come into wealth (usually on the coattails of their athlete husbands). I was ready to rant about the legitimization of this one tiny aspect of the identity of black women: we black women can be loud and sassy. Sometimes we need to be loud and sassy. But, if you’re not a black woman, you need to lay off appropriating this one facet of our identity for comic effect.

Yes, the sassiness that only black women can pull off is funny, especially when we employ it to recount to our girlfriends our reaction to a colleague’s off-color comments or when a boyfriend starts trippin’ or if our children think they’re grown enough to talk back to us. In my upcoming memoir, that loud and sassy black woman appears as the voice in my head that challenges, taunts and pushes me to stand up in the face of fear whenever I want to sit on the couch wrapped up in my own misery. That sassy miss is a part of my identity all right, but that’s just it: she’s a PART of my identity. I’m also loyal, nurturing, loving, lovable, intelligent, talented, creative, entrepreneurial and brave. I would have asked Mr. Voss why he couldn’t have chosen one of those qualities as his point of departure to speak out about corruption.

In fact, I would have asked why Eddie Murphy couldn’t show the creative aspect of black femininity in Norbit or any of his portrayals of black women in the popular Nutty Professor series? Is there a trace of these positive qualities in Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma? What’s the difference between a black man’s appropriation of a black woman’s identity and that of a white man’s? If I wanted to go there I could have asked what the difference is between racism and sexism? But I didn’t want to go there until I watched Voss’s act.

Enter YouTube. I watched a few of Voss’s one-minute sketches and was surprised at how tastefully he donned the garb of his character. Beauty Ramapelepele, whose “husband is a construction mogul responsible for the … football stadium” and who “landed the biggest fabric contract in the country’s history” (to manufacture the team’s soccer uniforms), is more clueless about business than a distorted caricature of black women. Admittedly, I don’t know any South African women, so I can’t say which feature is being exaggerated, the most obvious of which – blacking up – was absent.

While engaged in activities as banal as making a cup of coffee, Beauty takes a shot at the country’s “ruling class” by mocking its distaste for black- and brownness. After sending off her dog Cornbread to eat his bowl of caviar, she can’t help but to compare the ruling class to dogs licking their own balls. To be sure, Voss uses ridicule to censure that lot of oppressors.

After watching, my question was: did he have to use a black woman to make his point? I can concede that the unlikely combination of the powerful white man and the less powerful black woman would likely stun an audience. What I would find more stunning would be Voss’s using his venue to allow black women to speak for themselves. In one sketch, Beauty’s showing her ineptness when confronted with the basics of conducting business on a wide scale: a computer (a MacBook Pro, no less, and internet networking). Her black housekeeper is standing silently in the shadows pulling faces at Beauty’s awkwardness. Why not allow Beauty to engage that obvious representation of the black underclass in a constructive dialogue about how specifically the nation’s ruling class oppresses them?

I would not be opposed to a man, black or white, using black womanhood to protest social, political and economic injustices if and only if he understands the full, complex context of black women. Is he intimate enough with black women, and I don’t mean sexually, to understand her experiences, struggles and dreams? Has he invested time and energy in asking how she feels about her delegated place in society? Has he engaged her in constructive dialogue, ultimately discovering how she would voice her needs had she the appropriate venue? Is he willing to use her words instead of his own? Will he please consider other aspects of black female identity other than the loud, sassy one because, quite frankly, we’re tired of seeing it.

Last week I read this article, which was posted on the Guardian on-line. I was ready to take comedian Ben Voss apart. I cut my fingernails because I didn’t want anything to be in the way when my fingers raced across the keyboard of my MacBook Pro as I wrote a scathing reaction to this white comedian’s caricature of black women.

Because I believe in artistic license, I was going to start off by writing that I trust Voss’s sincerity in claiming the identity of a black South African woman to unite people. I wasn’t even going to allow any opening for a discussion of racism. I’m convinced that when this word is invoked, minds shut down. Furthermore, when this word is invoked, it evokes an image of powerlessness. Worse still, it makes victims out of black women, and I don’t consider myself a victim.

Brian Logan, the journalist who wrote “The Comedian Making South Africa’s World Cup a Laughing Matter”, described Voss’s act as a “caricature of the Rainbow Nation’s new elite: loud and proud, nouveau riche and corrupt” and images of American reality series, namely The Real Housewives of Atlanta flashed through my mind. Indeed, Nene Leakes and her crew are loud, proud and have come into wealth (usually on the coattails of their athlete husbands). I was ready to rant about the legitimization of this one tiny aspect of the identity of black women: we black women can be loud and sassy. Sometimes we need to be loud and sassy. But, if you’re not a black woman, you need to lay off appropriating this one facet of our identity for comic effect.

Yes, the sassiness that only black women can pull off is funny, especially when we employ it to recount to our girlfriends our reaction to a colleague’s off-color comments or when a boyfriend starts trippin’ or if our children think they’re grown enough to talk back to us. In my upcoming memoir, that loud and sassy black woman appears as the voice in my head that challenges, taunts and pushes me to stand up in the face of fear whenever I want to sit on the couch wrapped up in my own misery. That sassy miss is a part of my identity all right, but that’s just it: she’s a PART of my identity. I’m also loyal, nurturing, loving, lovable, intelligent, talented, creative, entrepreneurial and brave. I would have asked Mr. Voss why he couldn’t have chosen one of those qualities as his point of departure to speak out about corruption.

In fact, I would have asked why Eddie Murphy couldn’t show the creative aspect of black femininity in Norbit or any of his portrayals of black women in the popular Nutty Professor series? Is there a trace of these positive qualities in Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma? What’s the difference between a black man’s appropriation of a black woman’s identity and that of a white man’s? If I wanted to go there I could have asked what the difference is between racism and sexism? But I didn’t want to go there until I watched Voss’s act.

Enter YouTube. I watched a few of Voss’s one-minute sketches and was surprised at how tastefully he donned the garb of his character. Beauty Ramapelepele, whose “husband is a construction mogul responsible for the … football stadium” and who “landed the biggest fabric contract in the country’s history” (to manufacture the team’s soccer uniforms), is more clueless about business than a distorted caricature of black women. Admittedly, I don’t know any South African women, so I can’t say which feature is being exaggerated, the most obvious of which – blacking up – was absent.

While engaged in activities as banal as making a cup of coffee, Beauty takes a shot at the country’s “ruling class” by mocking its distaste for black- and brownness. After sending off her dog Cornbread to eat his bowl of caviar, she can’t help but to compare the ruling class to dogs licking their own balls. To be sure, Voss uses ridicule to censure that lot of oppressors.

After watching, my question was: did he have to use a black woman to make his point? I can concede that the unlikely combination of the powerful white man and the less powerful black woman would likely stun an audience. What I would find more stunning would be Voss’s using his venue to allow black women to speak for themselves. In one sketch, Beauty’s showing her ineptness when confronted with the basics of conducting business on a wide scale: a computer (a MacBook Pro, no less, and internet networking). Her black housekeeper is standing silently in the shadows pulling faces at Beauty’s awkwardness. Why not allow Beauty to engage that obvious representation of the black underclass in a constructive dialogue about how specifically the nation’s ruling class oppresses them?

I would not be opposed to a man, black or white, using black womanhood to protest social, political and economic injustices if and only if he understands the full, complex context of black women. Is he intimate enough with black women, and I don’t mean sexually, to understand her experiences, struggles and dreams? Has he invested time and energy in asking how she feels about her delegated place in society? Has he engaged her in constructive dialogue, ultimately discovering how she would voice her needs had she the appropriate venue? Is he willing to use her words instead of his own? Will he please consider other aspects of black female identity other than the loud, sassy one because, quite frankly, we’re tired of seeing it.

Last week I read this article, which was posted on the Guardian on-line. I was ready to take comedian Ben Voss apart. I cut my fingernails because I didn’t want anything to be in the way when my fingers raced across the keyboard of my MacBook Pro as I wrote a scathing reaction to this white comedian’s caricature of black women.

Because I believe in artistic license, I was going to start off by writing that I trust Voss’s sincerity in claiming the identity of a black South African woman to unite people. I wasn’t even going to allow any opening for a discussion of racism. I’m convinced that when this word is invoked, minds shut down. Furthermore, when this word is invoked, it evokes an image of powerlessness. Worse still, it makes victims out of black women, and I don’t consider myself a victim.

Brian Logan, the journalist who wrote “The Comedian Making South Africa’s World Cup a Laughing Matter”, described Voss’s act as a “caricature of the Rainbow Nation’s new elite: loud and proud, nouveau riche and corrupt” and images of American reality series, namely The Real Housewives of Atlanta flashed through my mind. Indeed, Nene Leakes and her crew are loud, proud and have come into wealth (usually on the coattails of their athlete husbands). I was ready to rant about the legitimization of this one tiny aspect of the identity of black women: we black women can be loud and sassy. Sometimes we need to be loud and sassy. But, if you’re not a black woman, you need to lay off appropriating this one facet of our identity for comic effect.

Yes, the sassiness that only black women can pull off is funny, especially when we employ it to recount to our girlfriends our reaction to a colleague’s off-color comments or when a boyfriend starts trippin’ or if our children think they’re grown enough to talk back to us. In my upcoming memoir, that loud and sassy black woman appears as the voice in my head that challenges, taunts and pushes me to stand up in the face of fear whenever I want to sit on the couch wrapped up in my own misery. That sassy miss is a part of my identity all right, but that’s just it: she’s a PART of my identity. I’m also loyal, nurturing, loving, lovable, intelligent, talented, creative, entrepreneurial and brave. I would have asked Mr. Voss why he couldn’t have chosen one of those qualities as his point of departure to speak out about corruption.

In fact, I would have asked why Eddie Murphy couldn’t show the creative aspect of black femininity in Norbit or any of his portrayals of black women in the popular Nutty Professor series? Is there a trace of these positive qualities in Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma? What’s the difference between a black man’s appropriation of a black woman’s identity and that of a white man’s? If I wanted to go there I could have asked what the difference is between racism and sexism? But I didn’t want to go there until I watched Voss’s act.

Enter YouTube. I watched a few of Voss’s one-minute sketches and was surprised at how tastefully he donned the garb of his character. Beauty Ramapelepele, whose “husband is a construction mogul responsible for the … football stadium” and who “landed the biggest fabric contract in the country’s history” (to manufacture the team’s soccer uniforms), is more clueless about business than a distorted caricature of black women. Admittedly, I don’t know any South African women, so I can’t say which feature is being exaggerated, the most obvious of which – blacking up – was absent.

While engaged in activities as banal as making a cup of coffee, Beauty takes a shot at the country’s “ruling class” by mocking its distaste for black- and brownness. After sending off her dog Cornbread to eat his bowl of caviar, she can’t help but to compare the ruling class to dogs licking their own balls. To be sure, Voss uses ridicule to censure that lot of oppressors.

After watching, my question was: did he have to use a black woman to make his point? I can concede that the unlikely combination of the powerful white man and the less powerful black woman would likely stun an audience. What I would find more stunning would be Voss’s using his venue to allow black women to speak for themselves. In one sketch, Beauty’s showing her ineptness when confronted with the basics of conducting business on a wide scale: a computer (a MacBook Pro, no less, and internet networking). Her black housekeeper is standing silently in the shadows pulling faces at Beauty’s awkwardness. Why not allow Beauty to engage that obvious representation of the black underclass in a constructive dialogue about how specifically the nation’s ruling class oppresses them?

I would not be opposed to a man, black or white, using black womanhood to protest social, political and economic injustices if and only if he understands the full, complex context of black women. Is he intimate enough with black women, and I don’t mean sexually, to understand her experiences, struggles and dreams? Has he invested time and energy in asking how she feels about her delegated place in society? Has he engaged her in constructive dialogue, ultimately discovering how she would voice her needs had she the appropriate venue? Is he willing to use her words instead of his own? Will he please consider other aspects of black female identity other than the loud, sassy one because, quite frankly, we’re tired of seeing it.

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