Finally put down some of my thoughts about growing up in the burbs, ending up in DC, and then discovering this whole other city in the same boundaries for the New York Times Opinionator section.
Washington, D.C., is a city of divides. There are racial divides, most notably a black D.C. and a white D.C. There are ethnic enclaves, with a Salvadoran D.C. sharing space with the Ethiopian D.C. There are the geographic boundaries that came to represent economic boundaries, like “east of the river” and “west of the park,” or the image divides between the tony Northwest section of the city and the formerly gritty Southeastern quadrant.
But to me, the most telling divide is a verbal one — does one live in D.C. or Washington?
Calling the city “Washington” reveals a certain experience. There are thousands of people who live and work in Washington — people with high-powered jobs, the transient class, the chattering class, the politicos, the folks who watch (or are guests on) “Meet the Press.” They rotate in and out of the White House or spend years bouncing through various continents before settling into an N.G.O. or nonprofit. Often, these are the people who refer to the city as a revolving door. Many have told me they’ve never met anyone “from here” before. (See aforementioned racial divide.)
Seemingly a world away are the lifelong residents, the multigenerational city dwellers, the folks who staff federal offices. This is D.C.: the city and surrounding suburbs are the site of the nation’s most visible and vocal black middle class. In D.C., people listen to go-go and jazz and look for long-term stability in a government job that will not change with administrations. This D.C. is where I grew up.
Article: “Dollars, But No Sense”
Publication: Bitch Magazine
Date: Summer 2008
“Pass the tissues! Why you should have a good cry at work!”
Pulling the April 2008 issue of Marie Claire out of my mailbox, I felt my eyes roll skyward. Since when does crying at work stand in for legitimate career advice?
Unfortunately, warped ideas about women, careers, and money have plagued most of the major glossies, resulting in them eschewing factual information for superficial advice, safely swaddled in discussions of relationships and feelings—you know, safe topics that girls like.
And yet, the demand for female-oriented financial advice has never been higher. Suze Orman’s latest tome on women and money, Women & Money, was given away for free on Oprah’s website; 2.2. million copies have been purchased or downloaded in the year since the book was released. Women-focused business magazines like Pink and Bee have emerged to tap into the women entrepreneurial market, often serving up advice on personal finance alongside tips on taking your company to the next level. Blogs like Savvy Sugar talk career and personal bankbook-building, as well as delivering information on global trends in business and economics. And targeted magazines like Essence and Heart and Soul have been promoting financial advice within their pages for years. Magazines geared specifically toward black women have long known that financial advice is a selling point, often advertising on the front cover each issue’s piece on money. The April 2008 issue of Essence announces that you too can “Be a Rich Black Woman;” the previous month’s issue deployed the cover’s left side to entice its audience to “Make More Money.”
Mainstream women’s glossies just don’t seem to have caught on. While men’s magazines (not the porn kind) often offer solid financial advice, women’s magazines are still more interested in telling you how to spend your money rather than how to grow it. The male/ female coverage divide is best exemplified in two articles, one from Marie Claire and one from Maxim.
Article: “The Cruelest Mirror”
Publication: Vibe Magazine
Date: April 2010
If the squawking housewives, ex-crack addicts and love triangles all make us cringe, why do we the people still tune in to Black reality TV?
We love to hate The Real Housewives of Atlanta. So says the stats: 2.7 million viewers during the season two premiere, easily outpacing Bravo TV’s more established Orange County and New York franchises by over a million viewers. What makes RHOA so special? The outbursts? The sketchy financial status of four out of five of the women? The wigs? Yes, yes, and yes. But also, because they look like us. The truth is grim: the landscape on the small screen is so uniformly pale that many of us desire to see any content geared toward a Black audience, even as we give it the side-eye.
African Americans are all over reality TV, and not because they’re on the road to Obama status. Keyshia Cole and her filter-less relatives, Terrell Owens the narcissistic athlete, and Tiny and Toya, with their aspirations to surpass baby-mama standing, have all landed shows that bank on stereotypes. The massive success of Flavor of Love spawned an entire industry of spin-offs: I Love New York, Real Chance at Love and For the Love of Ray-J—worlds where Champagne and Jaguar are the names of contestants, not prizes.
Still, we need representation. After making gains in the ’80s and ’90s with series like The Cosby Show, A Different World and Living Single, diversity on television took a tumble. It’s no secret that TV—and Hollywood for that matter—has been whitewashed since pre-satellite days. In that tradition, the 2009 Emmy nominees of color only amounted to a handful, and one of them was animated (Samuel L. Jackson, for Afro-Samurai.) Cleveland Show got next?
Part of the reason for the lack of quality (read: scripted) programming is that unscripted television costs studios hundreds of thousands of dollars to create, far cheaper than the tens of millions to produce a scripted series. Mara Brock Akil’s struggles with The Game and Girlfriends reveal that even when a Black show is given a chance, it’s still subject to the whims of White executives.
Ultimately, the popularity of Black reality TV, despite the Barnum & Bailey antics, comes because no matter what’s happening, we’re still watching. For some, Real Housewives provides relatable characters. For others, it’s voyeurism with a side of schadenfreude: “Did you see how Sheree got evicted from her mansion?” Real Housewives of DC is up next, and Michael Vick has a BET reality show premiering in 2010. So maybe it’s time to turn up “Tardy for the Party” and just embrace the chaos. We know you know the words. —Latoya Peterson
Article: Oprah’s Body is Now Public Conversation – But What Are We Really Talking About?
Publication: Bitch Magazine
Date: Spring 2009
“I can’t believe I let this happen again!”
The headline screamed at me from across the bookstore. On the cover of her eponymous magazine, a sweats-clad 2009 Oprah Winfrey looked with dismay at a recreation of her trim 2005 body. The second line announced: “Oprah on her battle with weight – a must read for anyone who has ever fallen off the wagon.”
Inside, Oprah details her recent diagnosis of hypothyroidism, writing:
It seemed as if the struggle I’d had with weight my entire adult life was now officially over. I felt completely defeated. I thought, “I give up. I give up. Fat wins.” All these years I’d had only myself to blame for lack of willpower. Now I had an official, documented excuse. The thyroid diagnosis felt like some kind of prison sentence. I was so frustrated that I started eating whatever I wanted—and that’s never good.
The article garnered more than 350 comments on the O Website, with words like “evil,” “fat,” “carbs,” and “addiction” recurring frequently. The celebrity industrial complex seized on the story, with outlets like People treating the news with the same reverence as a congressional hearing, and blogs like PopWatch and Perez Hilton snarking their way to higher page views. And The fat-o-sphere added its voice as Kate Harding of Shapely Prose and Mo Pie of Big Fat Deal tried to nudge Oprah toward some semblance of body acceptance.
And yet, in the media cacophony of opinions and unsolicited advice, there was one topic that on which everyone seemed silent: the role that race—and perhaps more specifically, stereotypes about race and weight—play in the interpretation of Oprah’s battle with her body.
Written for Spin Magazine, August 2011
In the wake of Nevermind’s historic spew and cry, the world embraced the dark side, and then it didn’t. Will it ever again?
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” started as a joke, was misinterpreted as a revolutionary message, became recast as the ultimate alienated teen anthem, bloomed into a successful crossover hit, and ultimately caused no end of grief for the band that created it. In a sense, Nevermind’s most famous single is a Greek tragedy played out over 16 bars.
Fittingly, Nirvana’s ascent to pop stardom and enshrinement in rock history occurred at a specific moment, when America’s disaffected youth inherited a terrible economy, a trashed environment, and shattered fantasies of nuclear families. Appearing against this backdrop, Nevermind was an album crammed full of angst, inner struggle, and contempt for the society that had pushed America to the brink of collapse. As song after song from the album entered heavy rotation on the radio and MTV, Nirvana reached millions of people who saw themselves as outcasts, and who began to sense some sort of redemption in the bass line of “Come as You Are.”
Unfortunately, while Nevermind has endured as a musical achievement, the widespread disquiet that allowed the album to penetrate society so deeply appears to be over. Agitated, introspective, ambiguous lyrics flickered prominently in the pop mainstream, but were totally eclipsed by the end of the 1990s, when the relentlessly peppy sounds of boy bands and teen queens began to rule the charts. The idea of pondering the wider world in a pop song fell away as the Internet’s seductive pool encouraged young narcissists to drown in their own reflections. Bland smiles replaced wry smirks.
So what made skepticism, political awareness, and soul-searching so uncool? And what happened to the lost generation that related so intensely to Nirvana? In order to figure out why teenage angst “paid off well,” as Kurt Cobain put it post-Nevermind, but then virtually disappeared from pop culture for 20 years, we need to start further back.