Book Review: Tools to Cultivate the Promised Land

PromisedLandThe theme of “The Promised Land” runs throughout African-American history and culture. Enslaved people who accepted Christianity had faith that they, like the “Children of Israel,” would be liberated from bondage and live in the Promised Land. Searching for freedom and increased opportunities to carve out their own “American Dreams,” black migrants from the South fled their homeland for the industrial North during the Great Migration of the 20th century. In addition, on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. invoked the Promised Land three times in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. King implied that he, like the prophet Moses, “may not get there with you,” but “we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

In her book, Tools to Cultivate the Promised Land: Working Wisdom from My Grandparents’ Garden, Deborah L. Parker uses these biblical, historical and metaphorical references to discuss the contemporary search for the Promised Land. For African-Americans, the phrase has historically referred to “freedom” or a land of freedom, but Parker suggests no set definition, indicating varied and contested meanings. It can be a physical destination to which one escapes, but it can also be a mental and spiritual space. In fact, each person must mark his or her own “sacred space.”

Once that sacred space is claimed, it must be nurtured. Parker imparts the wisdom of the elders–lessons she learned growing up in a multi-generational family–to instruct readers on cultivating their Promised Land. Her narrative weaves in the practical advice of her maternal grandparents, Joseph Everett and Pearl Cargill Parker, and illustrates the usefulness of words and actions.

Tools to Cultivate the Promised Land is a motivational book interspersed with inspirational stories and family history. Parker is a great storyteller, and the the book is most compelling when she incorporates her own narrative into the discussion. For example, I found her chapter on racism (Weed-Whackers for Racism and Other Growth Stoppers) particularly interesting. She compares racism to weeds in a garden, which can prevent you from achieving your purpose, if you allow it. Although racism has reared its ugly head in her life, she found ways to overcome the obstacles placed in her path. She succeeded in spite of racism because she had the right “tools.”

Parker cherishes the memories of her grandparents and the lessons to be learned from both family and collective history. This book should cause readers to think about applying the lessons they’ve learned from their grandparents as well.

 

 

What Is the Most Important Lesson Your Parents Taught You?

Da Realist 1: Standing up for myself

I was very fortunate to have lots of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles around when I was a little girl. And I think I learned some of my most important lessons from them. My great aunt Audrey had a tremendous impact on me. She never had children of her own, which is probably why she liked to have me around. She was a no-nonsense kind of person who was serious about good manners and education. She used to tell me, “You MUST BE intelligent.” So, it was clear that I didn’t have a choice.

Here is Auntie, all decked out in her Order of the Eastern Star regalia.

Here is Auntie, all decked out in her Order of the Eastern Star regalia.

Aunt Audrey (or Auntie–pronounced Aint-TEE–as we called her) taught me to stand up for myself. I was always shorter than the children my age and a little timid as well. I stayed with her one summer when I was about four years old. She would drop me at “Octavia’s”, who would babysit while Auntie was at work.  At some point, she began to notice bruises on my back during my bath time. When she asked what happened, I would say “nothing.” Finally, she was fed up and said she’d spank me if I didn’t tell her what was going on. I, of course, spilled my guts. “Mike,” the babysitter’s son, was beating me up every day. He was also terrorizing his two sisters–one was younger; the other was my age. We told Octavia, but she never did anything.

Mike was one or two years older than I was, so I was afraid of him. But Auntie told me that I better not let him beat me up again. And if he tried, I was to “bite the shit out of him” and don’t let go. The next day Mike was up to his old tricks again–bullying. He hit me, and I latched onto his closest body part, which just happened to be his stomach. I’m good at following directions, so I did not let go. Octavia came and tried to pull me off, but still I hung on until my jaws were tired. According to Auntie, he’s probably still got teeth marks on him today.

Octavia asked me why I had bitten her son. And I was happy to relay that “my Auntie told me to bite the shit out of him.” It’s probably not advice that anyone would give children today, but my aunt was old school. I did not become a habitual biter as a result of the incident, but I did learn that I could stand up for myself. And I’ve had to do a lot of that over the years.

Da Hype 1

If you sit down for any length of time with either of my two parents, they are certain to engage you in a conversation of politics. Both of my parents were working class, blue collar folks, who were heavily engaged in their unions. In places like Maryland, that also meant that they were engaged in the activities of the Democratic party.

My parents never banished me to a place for kids only when an adult conversation was in process, so I heard their thoughts on politics and their thoughts on the way politicians operated our city, state, and federal governments. My first political education came from my home. And, as I became older, I was even expected to participate in those conversations.

When Mrs. Amina, the lady up the street needed people to knock on doors for voter registration and to ensure that voters had a ride to polls, my mother was happy to volunteer me for that job. That was my civic duty. So, when the time came for me to vote, I did so, without reservations. I knew what the inside of a polling booth looked like because I had gone in with my mother for years before.

So, I learned how to engage in politics from my parents. They taught me to stay politically aware, engaged, and most of all active.

Ok, 2 Dope readers, it’s your turn. What’s the most important lesson that you learned from your parents?

Natural Conversations: Deep Conditioners

conditionerWith approximately a year of being “natural” under my belt, I have finally managed to get my hair routine under control. I no longer buy every new product that I see because I am satisfied with the products that I am using. There is, however, one exception–deep conditioners. I am still searching for the perfect one.

I use a deep conditioner about every two weeks. I’ve tried Shea Moisture’s Deep Conditioning Masque and found it to be just okay. After using it with heat and without, I never noticed an improvement in the condition of my hair. I also used Naturally Silk Elements three step conditioning process, which includes a pre-treatment oil, deep nourishing conditioner, and intense repair serum. My hair felt brittle after using this, so I didn’t give it a second chance.

Interestingly enough, the deep conditioning product that has worked best for me is the one that I tried first, Palmer’s Coconut Oil Formula with Vitamin E Deep Conditioning Protein Pack. (I’ve been told that there is also an Olive Oil Formula that is very good, but that is not available in my local stores.) After using it for the recommended 10-to-20 minutes, my hair feels stronger, yet soft. The package weighs 60 grams (2.1oz), which is probably enough for just one application unless you have the teeniest of TWAs, and costs about $1.50. So far, I like this deep conditioner the best. It is working for me, but I am still searching. . .

Any suggestions? Do you have a deep conditioner that works well for you? Please share it with us!

Foto Friday: Presidential Inquiry

Scheels

Scheels

By nature, I’m a curious person. Maybe it’s the historian in me. I want to know the reasons why things are the way are. Since I moved to Iowa, I have wondered about the statues outside the Scheels sporting goods store at the local mall.

Outside the entryway are sculptures–on the left, one of George Washington holding the Preamble to the Constitution. . .

George Washington

George Washington

and, on the right, one of Thomas Jefferson holding the Bill of Rights.

Thomas Jefferson holding the Bill of Rights

Thomas Jefferson

Is it just me, or does a mall in Iowa seem like a strange place to see bronze sculptures of Washington and Jefferson? I wanted to know why they had sculptures. And also why they chose these particular sculptures. I went inside Scheels to ask and was directed to an assistant manager (the cashier didn’t know) who told me that the president of the company is a “history buff,” and he chooses presidents to sit outside each store. That was all the manager knew. Upon further investigation, I learned that Scheels also has bronze sculptures of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan outside other locations.

Statue signature showing it was produced by the Lundeen Brothers.

Statue signature showing it was produced by the Lundeen Brothers.

The bronze sculptures are the work of Mark and George Lundeen, who have a studio in Loveland, Colorado.

Top Five Poetry Lines

National Poetry Month Poster, www.poets.org

National Poetry Month Poster, http://www.poets.org

April is National Poetry Month, and I love poetry! I still have the first African-American literature anthology that I ever purchased. I remember going the through book and reading the poems out loud with a friend of mine. And I even try my hand at free verse every now and then.

Last week USA Today posted ten notable lines in poetry. Today it’s time for the 2 Dope Sistahs’ Top 5 Poetry Lines.

5. From Langston Hughes’ I, Too, Sing America

I, too sing America./I am the darker brother.

4. Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

stealin my shit from me/don’t make it yrs/makes it stolen

3. From Nikki Giovanni’s Beautiful Black Men

I wanna say just gotta say something/bout those beautiful beautiful beautiful outasight/black men/with they Afros

2. From Paul Laurence Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,/It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes

1. From Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise

You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies,/You may trod me in the very dirt/But Still, like dust, I’ll rise.


 

Well, what do you think of our choices? Do you have a favorite line of poetry? Please share it with us.

 

Hair We Go Again

Fist pickI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When we started in this blog in 2013, I never dreamed that so many of my posts would be dedicated to discussing hair. Eventually, Da Hype 1 and I began a category we call “Natural Conversations” in which we–as relatively new naturalistas–discuss what products work best for us. But most of our “hair posts” have not been in that particular vein. In fact, they usually involved one or both of us defending some black woman or girl who was being attacked because of her hair.

Enter the Steve Harvey Show (March 26, 2014). Let me preface this by saying that I am no fan of Steve Harvey’s radio show, his daytime talk show, his books or advice on how women should behave to get a man. But I was reading a post on the For Harriet site about one of his recent shows, and I decided to watch the clip. What I saw made me angry and sick to my stomach at the same time. A newly-wed African-American couple was there seeking advice because the husband did not like his wife’s natural hairstyle. Throughout their nine-year relationship, she had always worn weaves but didn’t want to wear them anymore. When he came home and saw her hair, he behaved like a child or, perhaps, more like a character from some melodramatic nineteenth-century novel. He ran from the house. He then returned to ask his wife if she were wearing a wig. And, if so, she should remove it.

To his credit, Steve Harvey chastised the husband for his extreme behavior and for making his wife feel less than beautiful. He said, “It ain’t your damn head!” Here, I had to laugh because I told my mother something similar–”That’s your head”–when her husband threatened to leave her if she cut off all her hair. But then Harvey brought out psychotherapist, author and blogger Curly Nikki to show some alternate style options. It appeared that his wife’s puff style was really quite distressing to him. Finally, Harvey offered the wife a year’s worth of hair appointments at a salon in her area specializing in natural hair.

Hold up. Wait a minute. So, the solution to the husband’s obsession with a long, silky, Brazilian weave was to find natural styles that were more pleasing to him? I’m confused. Wasn’t it the husband’s attitude that needing “fixing” and not his wife’s hair? Oh, so this actually wasn’t new advice. Steve Harvey was on script: Fix yourself so you can get/keep a man. 

I was angry with the husband for being self-centered and insensitive yet sickened by what appeared to be his self-loathing. A few questions have gnawed at me since I saw this clip:

  1. What did this man think was going on under his wife’s weave for nine years?
  2. Doesn’t he realize that the same hair that he despises also grows naturally out of his own head?
  3. Does he love his wife or the weave?

I suppose I’m asking too much. This is daytime television, after all. Every time I see a discussion on natural hair, it is shallow and disappointing. This wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.

___________

Click here for the For Harriet post, where you can see the Steve Harvey clip.

Below are links to some of 2 Dope Sistahs’ posts on black hair:

The Jigaboos vs. The Wannabees: The War on Black Hair

How My 6-Year Old Protested her Natural Hair & the Role Tiana Parker Plays

Spoken in Jest: Sheryl Underwood & Afro Hair

Blackness on Exhibit: Choosing to Objectify Our Own Bodies

Beautiful Black Girls

Book Review: The Cross and the Lynching Tree

James Cones_The Cross & The Lynching Tree“I wrote because words were my weapons to resist, to affirm black humanity, and to defend it.”

“Being able to write about lynching liberated me from being confined by it. The cross helped me to deal with the brutal legacy of the lynching tree, and the lynching tree helped me to understand the tragic meaning of the cross.”

I teach a black nationalism (BN) course that looks at the earliest manifestations of the ideology in this country and how it still presents itself today. Black nationalism, loosely, subscribes to the idea of creating a separate black state/body politic. When that is impossible, the ideology seeks to create all-black institutions or programs. So, when black people thought that slavery would have no end, many believed that the answer lies in emigrating to Africa and the Caribbean, places where there were large populations of blacks.

Many of you who are familiar with black nationalism, are familiar with the particular versions that emerged out of the 60s: the Black Power Movement and the Nation of Islam. When analyzing the writers of the 60s, my students always made comments on the significant influence of the Nation of Islam on black nationalist ideology. Many asked if Christianity spoke to black nationalism in any way. The question drove me right into the pages of James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011). Reading this book made me sorry that I had not read his other work sooner.

In his Introduction, James Cone addresses the premise on which he compares the lynching of hundreds of African Americans in this country to the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He argues that, because the “cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the ‘cost of discipleship,’ it has become a form of ‘cheap grace,’ an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission” (Kindle location 198). Because of the ways in which white supremacy has historically and continually used Christianity as a tool of oppressing African Americans, specifically where lynching is concerned, Cone argues that theologians cannot thoroughly engage the the meaning of Christian identity in America by negating the role of white supremacy.

I really enjoyed Cone’s book and appreciated it from both an academic and spiritual perspective.

Foto Friday: Springfield Race Riot

Springfield, Illinois is the home of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Springfield was also the site of a race riot in August 1908. Sculptures commemorating the riot are located across the street from the Lincoln Museum.

A scene from the Springfield Race Riot

A scene from the Springfield Race Riot

The outrage from the riot led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.

Please click here for more on the history of the race riot.

"Acts of Intolerance"

“Acts of Intolerance”

This sculpture by Preston Jackson was inspired by photographs of the riot’s aftermath.

Springfield Race Riot marker

Springfield Race Riot marker

Historical marker, Union Square Park, Springfield, Illinois.

Springfield3

Close-up of sculpture.

Springfield2

Close-up of sculpture.

2 Dope Bookshelf: Women in Academia

Last weekend, at the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy Conference, I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop facilitated by Carmen G. González, professor of law at Seattle University School of Law and co-editor of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Prof. González outlined some of the challenges confronting women of color as faculty members and then discussed “practical strategies” to address those challenges.

It was a powerful session, with many of Prof.González’s examples resonating with those in attendance. She stressed the importance of telling one’s story as the contributors to Presumed Incompetent did. Later I talked with her at her book signing, and she wrote in my copy: “Please share this book with others.” Now, I know she probably wrote something similar in all the books she signed that day, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. This 2 Dope Bookshelf includes Presumed Incompetent and some additional titles that may be useful for women in academia.

 Women in Academia

womenask

Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, 2009.

 AcademicMotherhood

Maria Castaneda and Kirsten Isgro, eds., Mothers in Academia, 2013.

PresumedIncompetent

Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris, eds., Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, 2012.

WomensRetreat

Atsuko Seko and Mary Alice Bruce, eds., Women’s Retreat: Voices of Female Faculty in Higher Education, 2013.

TellingHistories

Deborah Gray White, ed., Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower, 2008.

Wacky Wednesday: The Most Surprising Music on Your iPod

The most surprising artist on my iPod? Well, you know that the 2 Dope Sistahs are old-school hip-hop heads, but our music tastes are also eclectic. I’ve already revealed that I listen to Mozart in a previous post. I wonder, Is there anything more surprising than that?

BillyJoelIt may surprise you to learn that I have Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits on my iPod. I started listening to Billy Joel in my 5th grade music class. Every Friday our music teacher allowed students to bring in albums (yeah, we had albums back then), and we took turns listening to everyone’s favorite songs. I was never permitted to leave the house with one our albums though. One of my classmates must have been Billy Joel’s number one fan because he always brought his Billy Joel album on Fridays. It certainly wasn’t something I listened to at home, but I’ve liked the “Piano Man” ever since.

So, 2 Dope Readers, we really want to know. What music would we be surprised to learn is on your iPod?