Culture & Lifestyle

SAD

Battling the Blues: 7 Ways to Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Many people approach the fall and winter excitedly anticipating the start of cuffing season or finally being able to pair their sexiest knee-high boots with trendy Olivia Pope-inspired coats. Unfortunately, I’m not at all consumed by the notion of cozy, romantic jaunts or flaunting fashionable ensembles that shield my body from the plunging temperatures. Instead, I’m preoccupied with summoning an extra dose of self-compassion to safeguard myself against the toll that Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, has invariably taken on my mind, body and soul every year for the past five years. 

To put it bluntly, SAD is a relentless, punctual bastard who shows up annually on my doorstep, trifling and empty-handed as ever.


Before I became better acquainted with its effects, I mistakenly attributed my annual slump to the inconveniences that seasonal changes bring (because driving in sleet and snow is a b*tch), and I thought that maybe I was traumatized by the unfortunate experience of nursing my first broken heart in the dead of winter (because that is the loneliest of loneliness). Until I was officially diagnosed with depression, those were just two of the reasons I used to try and justify why I felt like the absolute worst version of myself once the seasons started to change.

In reality, SAD is a potentially life-threatening form of depression that is directly linked to changes in the season. According to Psychology Today, SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans, most of whom are women. While it commonly strikes during the fall and winter, reverse SAD can also take its toll during the summer months. Clearly, it’s not a joke, but neither is the way I handle it. So before seasonal sadness swoops in for its annual roundup, here are seven methods I use to cope with the effects of SAD:

Be proactive. I’ve never been much of a planner but dealing with SAD has forced me to seriously step up my game. Imagine if you threw an annual party and you already knew a particular individual showed up to each gathering like clockwork to act a damn fool. This isn’t Basketball Wives, so you wouldn’t stand around and watch the drama unfold, and thanking SAD for its services and dismissing it isn’t a viable option. Instead, I like to treat SAD like that person who only gained entry to the party because they name-dropped depression at the door. 


When it arrives, I already have a plan of attack: a list of methods that did/did not help me cope in years past, the names of people who’ve agreed in advance to support me when the going gets tough, as well as some cash set aside to finance extra date nights or a quick getaway with the hubby because getting out of the house is essential to my personal self-care routine, especially when I’m depressed.

Pinpoint your triggers and avoid them at all costs. Triggers include literally anything that could potentially offset your SADness. They could range from attending family gatherings where relatives you don’t like will be present, to getting all caught up in mushy holiday commercials that make you feel extra lonesome, not to mention broke. I’m not particularly fond of either activity, so I turn down the invites (anybody who doesn’t like it can stay mad) and I hit up Netflix so I can choose what the hell I watch on TV (eff yo’ sappy Black Friday propaganda).

Be vocal about your feelings. Like the total hater that it is, SAD thrives on isolation. The urge to physically and mentally burrow into a hole with your emotions can be overwhelming, but it’s super important to remain open with a trusted friend or relative, even if you feel like a burden. Depression layers a thick haze over my self-awareness and ability to think clearly, so I tend to use others to gauge my behavior. If I slightly detect that old familiar unsettled feeling, I have no problem asking my husband if there’s any disturbing patterns that he’s observed from me. Sometimes I think I’m OK when it’s clear to him that I’m not.

Watch your diet and ease up on the booze. I know, I know. The season to be jolly beckons, plus Beyoncé warned us to “never drop that alcohol.” But when it comes to SAD, consider coming up with a personalized, liquor-free remix to “7/11.”

Also, keep in mind that you feel what you eat. Overindulging in rich, sugary, fatty meals turn me into a sluggish, anxious mess, which only exacerbates the impact of SAD.  

Get active. To someone dealing with SAD, the word exercise sounds downright offensive. But the endorphins released during a workout are the real deal. They boost your mood and your ability to focus, which will help you think clearly and balanced, unlike the muddled, irrational thoughts depression wants you to accept as the truth. I recently enrolled in a Bikram yoga class that has done wonders for my anxiety in a short period of time, so it’s officially on my list of anti-SAD activities.

Write or vlog it out. Don’t be alarmed—these personal musings are not for the ‘Gram. They’re strictly to help you come face-to-face with your reality. So many people use the mirror solely to check their physical reflection, but they never bother to look past the surface. As horrifying as it sounds, I saved a video of myself from when I was really down and watched it back as soon as I recorded it. It was extremely sobering and almost felt like observing a stranger for whom I had an immense amount of compassion. And who am I kidding—it also made me cringe like hell. But in the end, it motivated me to do whatever I needed to do to stay afloat, because I never want to see myself in that condition again.

Seek therapy. We’re only a couple weeks into the fall, but I already have my therapist on deck because this time of year is when I need that extra bit of support the most. In December 2013, my seasonal mood swings became markedly more pronounced and a heated argument culminated in suicidal thoughts, which ultimately led to my roughest bout with depression to date. I’ve grown stronger since then, but relapses are always in the back of my mind. However, knowing that I have at least one go-to person who provides ego and judgment-free assistance helps me to keep SAD in check. If the thought of speaking to a stranger face-to-face makes you uneasy, consider reaching out to The National Prevention Suicide Lifeline, or Imalive.org, an online network of certified crisis intervention volunteers. In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week, don’t hesitate to research and secure resources that help you manage. Because #Iamstigmafree, I realize that my struggle is way too real to go unaddressed because a misguided, uninformed segment of the population believes people with mental illnesses should suffer in silence.

The bottom line is I refuse to allow SAD to come barging into my party simply because my depression insists on handing out invites without my approval. I’m expecting it to arrive any day now. Meanwhile I’m busy hiding my good china, warning my other guests, and preparing myself for its impending foolishness. I may not be able to completely rid my life of the annual SAD visits, but I can make sure that it wipes its feet upon entry, and understands that while I might waver, I won’t back down from the fight of my life.

This post was published on xoNecole.

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writing

5 Fallacies of Full-Time Freelance Writing

writing

Last night, I went to sleep with tense shoulders and a clenched jaw, thanks to my masochistic habit of reading work emails on my days off. However, on this most wonderful day of hindsight-induced clarity that the Lord hath made, I vow to never — ever, ever, ever (!) — do that again. In a recent article published in The New Yorker, the author explored why Americans work so much, but just like I can’t explain my obsession with continuously checking my email, he too, came up rather empty-handed when attempting to answer his question.

Part of the blame goes to the fact that I chose to write full-time and nearly two years after taking the plunge into making my own schedule and working independently (to an extent), I still struggle to maintain a healthy life-work balance. After feeling that old, familiar stress-related neck strain forcing my ears to damn near touch my neck, I thought to myself, What part of the game is this? Truth be told, I didn’t anticipate half the experiences I’ve had with freelance writing for a living, including some of the troubles that have recently landed in my inbox.

And you wanna know something else?  I don’t feel like writing a damn thing. In fact, it’s the last thing I want to be doing at the moment. But then, I hear my voice of years past echo from beyond my old cubicle and make its way through menial tasks and co-workers I hate(d). It rounds the bend by where my old desk was located and gently taps me on the shoulder to say, But this what you asked for. You’re living your dream. And I am instantly grateful for the courage, growth, opportunities and knowledge it has brought me. But honestly, sometimes this entire arrangement feels more like a nightmare.

Two years in and I’m far removed enough from the beginning to realize that I had the game all twisted. In the emo words of Drake, “Nothing was the same” once I found out the real deal. So, in the spirit of my prior naiveté and overall shitty attitude du jour, I’m here to set the record straight for anyone who’s all googly-eyed over the prospect of living out their dream of writing full-time.

I’mma let y’all finish daydreaming, but here are five fallacies you might currently have about freelance writing full-time that are nothing more than lies from the pit of hell:

Mellifluous words of profound inspiration will constantly spew forth from my pen.

ktpng

I tried to come up with an elegant way of saying this, but all I got is HELL NAH.

I am overflowing with gratefulness that I’m living my dream.

dreams oitnb season 3 brown jumpsuit

OK, so there’s a caveat. It depends on what you’re paid to create and I’ve learned that a) sometimes I’m expected to cover topics that don’t interest me and b) I don’t absolutely love everything I create. It’s difficult to remember gratefulness when you’re struggling through a godawful assignment.  For this reason, I plan to be more selective about what I write, but depending on the circumstances, beginning freelancers may not always feel like they have that luxury.

It’s so much easier to write a book now that you’re writing full-time.

rihanna high ponytail brown coat

I mean, the ideas are just nonstop, right? You’re already writing other shit, so just ride that creative wave into a book, right?! Um, that’s cute and all, but my mind has repeatedly rejected that notion. I haven’t abandoned the idea altogether, but I’m finding less reasons to put up a fight.

People will praise me constantly for breaking into a competitive field – and I will expect and need them to care about my writing.

coming to america guy clapping

Bottom line is they really haven’t, they ain’t and I don’t.

Since you’re doing what you love, it’ll never feel like work.

tamar

SIGH. Maybe when I’m Oprah, I’ll agree with this sentiment, but until then? Lies.

And that, my dear would-be full-time writers, is ALL truth, no backspace.

 

Images: CreateHerStock; ReactionGifs; Giphy 

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little black girl sits on dad's shoulders

Always His Daughter, Never a Daddy’s Girl

Perhaps it was willful ignorance, or the deep-seated residue from surviving a traumatic childhood, but the concept of being a daddy’s girl was completely unbelievable to me up until my early 20s. Sure, I’d heard the phrase uttered on sugary sweet commercials and encountered it in a book or two, but the idea that a girl could actually be viewed as something treasured, respected and valuable in the eyes of her father was about as realistic to me as a winged horse. No matter how you tried to package it, I just couldn’t fathom a man who actually took pride in his baby girl to the extent that my father avoided acknowledging me.

Naturally, upon hearing someone proclaim to be a “daddy’s girl,” my first instinct was to dismiss it as bullshit because my father’s neglect had subconsciously caused me to characterize all men that way. Eventually, though, I met with the painful truth: Other girls had fathers who cared about them, and my dad only cared about himself.

Given the overwhelming number of single mothers running households, a father’s absence obviously isn’t a novelty. In fact, the lack of concern my father displays towards my two sisters and I would be much easier to swallow if it could be explained away by his absence. But since he was actually in the home with us, I have no idea as to why he chose not to invest in improving the odds that we’d all grow into strong, self-assured women.

My guess is because he didn’t think that was possible. What is clear is that seeds were planted in his childhood that produced the profile of a father who would eventually become his little girls’ nightmare in the flesh: a chauvinistic, narcissistic adult male. Basically, we were damned from the womb. Being female automatically relegated us to the bottom of his priority list and away from his undivided attention, which was strictly reserved for self-serving purposes, including his desire to father a son – by any means necessary.

But here’s the rawest part of it all – instead of simply replacing that absentee father-induced emptiness with pain and masking it in a thick layer of resentment, distance and divorce, I’ve remained the ever-faithful daughter, hanging in there and providing him with a listening ear, emotional availability and an openness that he never once afforded me growing up.

Until this day, we play what I like to call Hide ‘N Seek: Parental Edition where I attempt to locate and capture my father’s acceptance, which holds the key to my validity.

I chase him around trees and through fields on my last breath hoping to find him crouched in a corner smiling, exhausted from the pursuit yet relieved to finally give me what I came looking for.

Years and many therapy sessions later, I finally understood why I’m dedicated to the chase, and let me tell you, as a grown, married woman, the truth ain’t pretty. Despite receiving love (and later, support) from my mother, I still crave my father’s acceptance. I’ve convinced myself that I need it to validate my worth. It’s the reason why I’m addicted to struggle and have to fight to embrace my happy moments, even when they come as a result of good, old-fashioned, hard fucking work.

No matter how many times I’ve heard it from my mother, my husband and anyone else who supports me, I’m just now coming to terms with the fact that you can’t fully rely on ANYONE to help you accept who you are. Ultimately, that ability comes from within. No matter how broken, scarred, or raw your insides are, they comprise THE ONLY tools you have to work with to piece together and nurture your self-love.

Fortunately, the tides are turning. I recently had a breakthrough when my husband comforted me after my father’s latest self-absorbed episode by saying the words, “You mean something. You are valuable.”

So, how I still expect a man who is and continues to be so violently patriarchal to encourage me to love and accept myself is pure desperation from a woman who still needs her daddy, but has yet to come to grips with the fact that she never had him and likely, never will.

But still, a part of me wants to be a doted on daddy’s girl, and I feel guilty as hell about it.

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black_college

5 Life Lessons From Hollywood’s Fictional Colleges and Universities

Over the next several weeks college and university students across America will be celebrating homecoming: home to football games, tailgating parties, steps shows, Greek letter organizations, drunken nights followed by drunken days followed by more drunken nights and all of the irresponsible subsidiaries of alcohol and underage drinking, camaraderie, alumni mixing and mingling, and for many, a healthy dose of nostalgia.

In celebration of my 10-year anniversary as a Hampton University graduate, Class of 2005, I am beginning to feel uncharacteristically nostalgic–longing for my foregone waistline of early millennium years and questionable morals that could be blamed on and overlooked due to young age and presumably not knowing “any better” (Way to catfish young ‘Drea!).

Before attending college we all have preconceived notions of college life that have been shaped by parents, siblings, guidance counselors and teachers, and for a lucky few, college tours. But for high school students like me, who thought themselves invincible and only half listened to the advice of the ill-advised advisors, none of whom attended college, nothing molded the ideas of college more than that of fictitious colleges and universities seen on television and movies! I all but graduated summa cum laude from Hillman College.

In honor of college students past, present and future, here are lessons learned from our favorite fictitious  educational institutions from A Different World’s Hillman College to Dear White People’s Winchester University.

#truthnobackspace

A Different World, 1987-1993 – Hillman College introduced us to student prototypes we hadn’t yet seen on television. In the primarily black cast we saw ourselves, or who and what we hoped to be, in the bougie southern belle, the future doctor, the musician, the bohemian future attorney, the poetess, the mathematician and a host of other students and staff who made up our hopeful college experience. We learned that college wasn’t merely a four-year vacation where all we’d accomplish was a trial of independence and freedom and meeting friends of diverse socio-economic status. It was a place to learn and explore. The students of Hillman College were thinkers who were shown participating in cram study sessions, eating crappy food and begging for an assignment extension—you know, the real stuff that college is made of.

School Daze*, 1988

We learned that although Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) nurture a sense of camaraderie, belonging and greatness, the traces of America’s dysfunctional racial history and divisiveness shows its face even among a sea of brown faces. Spike Lee’s School Daze put a lens on the fact that while at some point there may have once been a single black America with one shared agenda, that ship had sailed.   We learned that the black experience, the college experience, is not heterogeneous.  Mission University is where we stared our issues of colorism in its face—who could forget the “Jiggaboos” versus “Wannabes” scene?  

*Talk of a School Daze sequel, School Daze Too, is said to explore “the same issues that students faced in the late ‘80s, while taking on new subjects such as the pledging process and homophobia at historically black colleges.”

Higher Learning, 1995 – Here, at Columbus University, we learned about diversity and multiculturalism in ways that previous films and television shows based on college life hadn’t explored. We were warned about date rape. We witnessed extreme racism and how the need to fit in could kill or drive you insane, or both. However, a less obvious, but very significant lesson we learned from some of the students at Columbus, was that in order for a black person to be seen, he has to work harder than his non-black counterpart. By the time we entered college we’ve probably heard from loved ones that black people had to be “ten times smarter and work ten times harder” than anyone else to receive our “just due.” It’s been 20 years since Higher Learning was released, but only recently did I learn from Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the best-selling nonfiction book “Between the World and Me,” journalist and one of this year’s recipients of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation genius grant and a once Howard University student,  that working “harder” to receive a reward or payment that amounts to the same as the person who knew less and did less isn’t considered “just due.”  It’s a travesty and theft. Consider that gem as a continuing education credit.

The Great Debaters, 2007

 

Wiley College is not a fictional institution, but a longstanding HBCU in Marshall, Texas. Though the movie about Wiley’s debate team was inspired by true events, like most other nouns in Hollywood, it is embellished and dramatized. The Hollywood-effect of the movie does not distract or take away from the incredible heights the Wiley debate team achieved, including the defeat of the USC debate team at the national championship depicted in the movie as the defeat of Harvard University.   At Wiley, we mentally and emotionally immersed ourselves in the Jim Crow era. But like a diamond is formed under extreme pressure, we surfaced from Wiley bright and shiny, flawed, but unbreakable. We learned that we—black students, black people—are a people whose minds are so incredibly valuable that they were stolen, suffocated and drowned.  And for that reason we must always be on a deliberate quest to “…find, take back and keep [our] righteous minds.”  We learned that despite the many adversities that we as a people have faced and continue to face, our voices and minds will not be silenced.  Much like the #blacklivesmatter movement and its leaders, the act of Deebo-ing politicians’ platforms who ignore our reality with attempts to criticize and attack the legitimacy of the movement, and our call for ownership of our righteous minds and bodies, we cannot be silenced.  Lesson learned.

Dear White People, 2014

When we were granted admission to Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League school where white students entertain themselves by painting themselves hues of brown and black while sipping “purple drank” from Katt Williams-esque pimp cups and black students turn a blind eye to the overt racism and white privilege and accept their place as second class. Go along to get along.   The film was in direct parallel to real life current events. Like our matriculation at Mission University, Winchester University shatters the once held idea of a singular black America. Here we received our master’s in self-identity.

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yoga featured

Baby Bend Ova: 5 Things My First Bikram Yoga Class Taught Me

After months of passing a yoga studio near my old 9-5, last week I decided to take the plunge and dip into a Bikram yoga class to de-stress. After life kicked my ass one day and took my name for a follow-up whooping the next, I figured there was no time like the present to see what was up with all the talk about the health benefits of yoga. Even if I hated it, stretching and bending in a hot room full of strangers would surely leave me with less regrets than inhaling a #1 Chick-fil-A combo and buying clothes that would land in my closet’s buyers’ remorse section.

Honestly, before I went to yoga class, I didn’t actually believe it would make me feel better than my go-to “remedies.” However, I was surprised to find that yoga yielded some unexpected results. I left the class feeling slightly dizzy but I gained a lot more clarity about myself and my environment.

I’m loud as f*ck.

shhh

As a self-professed small talk connoisseur, I’m accustomed to folks chatting it up before and after Zumba, fitness boot camps and the gym, but that didn’t happen in yoga. One by one, people entered the steamy studio, arranged their mats and took their places on the floor to stretch, sit quietly or lie down. I’m used to alleviating my fears and nervousness about trying something new by talking to my neighbor, but I was forced to center myself on my own. Yoga taught me that there’s a quiet yet effective power in working through discomfort, anxiety or nervousness in complete silence.

I’m addicted to noise. A typical workout session for me includes just as many grunts and moans of exhaustion and pain as it does reps. So, for me it was highly unusual that the entire class proceeded without said grunts and moans, even when the instructor guided us through the 26 Bikram Yoga Postures. How I suppressed a wail when attempting to hold the Awkward Pose is beyond me, but here’s what I learned: relying too heavily on noise provides an easy distraction from what’s happening inside.  I started to feel like I’m cheating myself out of some self-awareness by always feeling like I have to play music, use the TV as background noise or make a phone call when I’m alone.

Yoga taught me to give myself more chances to succeed.

 

maya

Sometimes I tell myself no before even allowing myself to get too excited over a goal. So when the class moved into the Fixed Firm Pose, I sat fixed and firm in a resounding Hell No Pose with the defiant glare to match.  In reality, neither I nor my back believed that feat was possible because, instead of giving myself permission to try to succeed, I’d already decided it wasn’t going to happen.

Concentration is EVERYTHING. Sitting, bending, stooping and squatting in a room where the temp is set at a steady 104 degrees isn’t something I ever imagined myself doing. But focusing on myself in the mirror distracted me from the heat, and it didn’t take long for this to seep over into life outside the yoga studio.

Consider this tweet after two yoga sessions as Exhibit A:

There’s only competition if you create it. So, I didn’t need an expert to tell me that it’s totally normal to feel competitive in yoga class because I feel the effects of comparison ALL THEE TIME with writing. This was my precise train of thought in yoga when ol’ girl on the next mat over began to resemble a human pretzel. But after realizing I’d gotten too carried away with the competitive, comparison bug, I chose to drop the mic on my counteractive need to compare myself to others and just continue doing it.

janelle monae yoga

Namaste.

Images: Giphy (2); Soulatlantic/Tumblr

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#MasculinitySoFragile

#MasculinitySoFragile: ‘And That’s Why They Call U A…’

There are so many ways for a woman to be called a bitch without the word ever escaping the lips of the accuser.

Before Twitter confirmed what I already knew about being called the “b-word,” I learned all about the endless ways of being referred to as everything but a child of God by the boys and men on the streets of San Francisco. From being soaked with water guns to having my purse taken and held as ransom for my “real name and number,” I’ve seen what it means to be called the “b-word” without an actual parting of the lips.

Today this type of behavior goes by popular terms like shaming and street harassment and the streets have expanded to include virtual pavements by way of social media and texting, but the lesson is still the same: Wielding the word no in response to a man’s advances is a capital offense punishable of up to 100 ways of being called a bitch, with at least 99 of those problems not using the actual word.

Despite Jay Z’s avouchment of having “99 problems and a bitch ain’t one,” even his wife, thee Queen Bey has, and is currently experiencing the punishment of brandishing the weapon No. In a recent interview, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, responded to Beyoncé’s independence, her beauty and her choice to bare cleavage with a public criticism of her wardrobe choices and her husband’s perceivable agreement of her independence. Minister Farrakhan charges Beyoncé and other women with being the keepers of the sanity of men. He asked, “How can a man think straight, looking at the beauty of Beyoncé? Help us to be more sane.” Because…#MasculinitySoFragile.

It amazes me how some respectable men can genuinely love and respect their mothers, sisters, daughters and most any other blood related female, but can so easily scroll through their timelines or woman gaze on Any Street, USA (and beyond) and proudly declare their lust or abhorrence—usually a hybrid of the two–accentuated by the “b-word” towards someone else’s daughter, sister or mother. Reject a man’s unwanted attention or disregard his demands, and while he may not call a woman the “b-word,” his lust may quickly turn into abhorrence trying to question you with, “Who do you think you are?” and convince you that “You’re not all that cute anyway.” Women keep walking, ignoring both his advances and his misguided assertion. A woman’s polite silence is usually the key to stave off further comments. Because…

Women generally exercise a great deal of decorum in the face of male insults because the oppressed are always taught to love and respect the oppressor. But this isn’t just true for women. It’s also true for the black lives that are devalued by people and systems that oppress but expect a thank you sir and ma’am while unjustly flexing their authority. It’s true for the boy wonder who demonstrates ingenuity, but due to his cultural makeup and religion, is racially profiled and oppressed. It’s true for the aging population who have paid into a system that places them on an unlivable fixed income and demands that they be satisfied with the poor conditions. It’s true for the homeless and mentally ill veterans. It’s true for every oppressed person and group of people who consistently find themselves on the wrong end of right.

#MasculintySoFragile is a reminder that the war on racism, xenophobia, and homophobia is a war fought alongside sexism. We’ve made great strides in how far we’ve come, but we may still need a few more decades, catchy hashtags and newly coined terms for those strides to be long enough to make us a nation of equals.

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taraji

Taraji P. Henson Was the 2015 Emmy Awards’ Most Unedited Black Girl

This past Sunday evening, I sat on my living room couch and begrudgingly prepared to watch and cover the 67th Emmy Awards for work. To keep it all the way Un-edited, during Andy Samberg’s opening monologue, I was ready to flip over to Basketball Wives, or as Andy said in his intro, any of those other “Wives” shows. At one point I considered pouring me a drank to get through, but that Ernest Hemingway quote doesn’t say anything about editing drunk. So much for on-the-job inebriation…

For me, watching the Emmys started off like how it feels to attend a gathering of lifelong friends — as a plus one. Inside jokes go soaring over your head (slightly above your exasperated eye rolls of alienation). Just when you’re about to throw back your fourthfifthsixth drink of the evening, out of the blue someone you can actually relate to shows up, y’all instantly get your own little party going, and it turns out to be the best. Night. EVAR!

That’s pretty much how I felt when the commercial that needs no introduction aired.  Y’all  already know what I’m talking about and thank gawd someone had the good sense to make a GIF of Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson and Kerry Washington’s black girl groove session AKA Apple commercial that presented the first relatable moment of the awards show for me.  

via GIPHY

Prior to that, Amy Schumer mentioning her plan to get blackout drunk was the only remote reassurance that this show was intended for my viewing pleasure.

Luckily, the commercial loosened me up like a few gulps of that stiff drink I so badly craved, but then came another major black girl moment: Taraji announced Regina King as the Emmy winner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for her role in American Crime.  And in true Taraji fashion, she didn’t bother to maintain any stuffy ol’ Emmys decorum. In fact, she cheered Regina on like she was a shamelessly proud mama on the sideline of her child’s first game and took her time greeting her fellow actress with a huge, genuine hug.

via GIPHY

After Viola Davis’ historic Emmy win, Taraji embraced the How to Get Away With Murder star with a warmth that was palpable, like that aunt who replaces the life she squeezed out of you with love when she greets you at the family reunion. Judging by her excitement, a stranger would’ve been hard-pressed to properly identify which of the two was the first black woman to nab the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama. The only girlfriend-in-my-head moment that didn’t involve Taraji’s magical sisterly touch was Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba nabbing her second Emmy. However, her teary, heartfelt acceptance speech made for yet another poignant moment.

This tweet basically sums up why Taraji was every black girl’s best friend at the Emmys:

Overall, the Emmys were full of unedited black girl moments. It was clear that they didn’t think twice about tempering their blackness for the comfort of the masses, which ultimately made me feel like I belonged at the party after all.

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‘Orange is the New Black’ Has Plenty Real Life Material to Use in Season 4 & I Hope They Don’t Muck It Up

Screenshot_2015-09-17-14-18-10_1

A second chance is one of the most coveted opportunities, especially considering that the next opportunity—if there is a next–could be the third and final strike.

Hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black (OITNB) delivered in its first season and over delivered when given a second chance with Season 2.  The third season of OITNB was yet another success, raking in accolades, sexy headlines and reviews that dubbed the show as “must see TV,” “captivating,” and “some of the finest television to date.”  The show has been heralded as one of the most, if not the most diverse television cast.  No squandered second chance, no third strike. 

Since its inception, OITNB has been some of the best binge-worthy television shows since The Wire (I double-dare anyone to argue that fact–“Omar comin’!“).  Viewers have laughed, cried, laughed some more and maybe, just maybe, have been reminded that the show is a loosely based narrative from the brilliant mind of creator Jenji Kohan and the misadventures of Piper Kerman.  That reminder serves as a “pinch-me-is-this-real” moment to nudge viewers into the real world where the growing rate of imprisoned women isn’t at all funny or sexy.

So while OITNB doesn’t need a second chance to improve its ratings, as the excellent writing, magnificent acting and throes of loyal fans have pretty much ensured that the show doesn’t need a boost over the proverbial fence, Season 4 will hopefully serve as a second chance for the show to delve deeper in exposing some of the growing challenges women face in America’s broken prison system. 

Okay, so OITNB is just a dramedy whose goal is to entertain, not necessary enlighten, though I think it does a pretty decent job at doing both.  And it’s not lost on me that Season 3 highlighted the prison-industrial complex and some of the consequences of privatization, like the hiring of correctional officers whose only “professional” experience is that of slanging donuts, or the Litchfield prisoners competing for the lucrative opportunity to earn $1 per day to stitch the crotch of lace-trimmed underwear. 

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These fictional scenes didn’t just manifest from Kohan’s mind to the screen; these scenarios mirror real life events.  Many companies and consumers benefit from the sweatshop-esque work of prisoners who likely will not receive a job offer from the very companies they slave for while incarcerated, rehabilitation and second chance be damned.  Just ask the 4,000 male inmates who fight California wildfires for $2 a day, their compensation for saving lives and California dollars.  The chances of them being hired as a firefighter once they’ve “paid their debt to society” is about as good as my voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election—hell nah, neva, nope, c’mon now…in case you were wondering where I or the state of California stands on the matter. 

Difficult issues of race, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status and even age are addressed in OITNB.  Many viewers were introduced to the concept of compassionate release when one of the members of Litchfield’s “Golden Girls” began showing signs of advanced dementia and was released from prison and taken to the bus station.  That particular episode had viewers Googling the validity of compassionate release and questioning the legality of the concept.  Now that, my friends, is some good TV!  It entertains, it educates, it advocates and it inspires its viewers to educate themselves. 

Departing from the Season 1 theme of Piper’s white privilege and moving on to highlighting the struggles, however vague and in some cases grossly embellished (it’s TV, what are you gonna do?), that women prisoners face has seemingly been a growing theme for writers of OITNB.  In order to maintain its popularity, modest credibility and relevance, OITNB needs to continue to mirror the problems emblematic of a truly effed up American prison system.  Art imitates life.  That said, in the much anticipated 2016 premiere of Season 4, I look forward to OITNB highlighting some of the cruelties female prisoners have and continue to face. Here’s a start (you’re welcome):

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