Adventures in AmbiLand

Ambi = Ethnically Ambiguous

Ambi-Encounters: Those Are Foo-Lah-Nee Earrings You Know December 29, 2008

Yay- I finally got my Fulani earrings back.  Here’s a pic of me with my old ones.

Me, My Fulani Earrings and I

Me, My Fulani Earrings and I- Chicago River Summer 2007

So my mother took a trip to Amsterdam and brought them back for me. Oh the irony- Italian mother goes to Netherlands and buys me the African earrings. Never heard of them? here’s a little history (foreshadowing folks, foreshadowing)  The ones she picked out were simply gorgeous, silver and undoubtedly the real deal. “They were kind of expensive, but they reminded me so much of you,” she told me.

It was amazing because unbeknownst to my mother,  I was smitten with the earrings since the first time I saw them on my friend Lello a few months before.  Lello was always wearing some fabulous stuff that she picked up in Italy or Ethiopia, so I figured there was no chance I would ever find a pair.

One day one i came home only to realize that one had fallen out of my ear at some point during the day- I’ve been longing for them ever since.  I was gifted a few dollars over the holiday so I saw it fit to cop these  replacement Fulanis in brass:

Brass Fulani Earrings.

(Available at shady-face Pearl of Africa)

They look great even though they are [obviously] a bit brassy- and slightly heavier than my silver pair.  I really cant complain though!

Aesthetics aside- my absolute favorite part of wearing Fulani earrings are the conversations they inspire- it goes a little something like this.

Black woman who thinks I’m White (BWWTIW): “I like your earrings.  Those are Foo-Lah-Nee earrings you know.”

AmbiJawn: “Reeeeeally?” I say cluelessly, feigning ignorance each and every time.  Every time. (What can I say, sometimes I can be an ambi-a##hole hahaha)

BWWTIW: Yes- Fu- la- ni- they are from West Africa.

AmbiJawn: They are AFRICAN?? I love Africa, it’s such a great COUNTRY!!

.

.

.

.

I got mine in Amsterdam”

BWWTIW: *Disapproving Sigh*

Ok Ok i’m just kidding about the clueless act, but 9 out of 10 of all Fulani centered conversations with strangers DO end in a history lesson.  It’s a fact. It’s Ok though- These kinds of misunderstandings are all part of being an Ambi, and I have learned to love it.

So yeah- Holla at a player when you see her in the streets–  I’ll be the Ambi chic rocking the 1.5′ brass Fulanis- They are Hand-Made in Mali you know!!!

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Ambi @ Home. December 28, 2008

Anyone who knows me in “real life” knows that I have a whole lot of other things to do besides blogging about Obama and racial ambiguity on the internet.  I’m talking about RESPONSIBILITIES people- you know, like raising a child, running a household…stuff like that.  Were it not for the child I would probably have been out running these streets for the past 5 years, instead of keeping the home fires burning like I’ve learned to do so well.

During the past year,  I have achieved a level of domesticity that has surprised even me. Last summer I finally moved into a really nice space, a space that deserves good furniture and curtains.  I am trained as an artist, so naturally I enjoy the decorating aspects of home-ownership the most (much more than say- the orgazational aspects). Because I am a nerd, I must research all endeavours thoroughly before diving in.   I research furniture retailers to find the best quality and price, I read books like Apartment Thearapy,  I peruse magazine like Domino and Real Simple.

Occasionally, my domestic nerdery is rewarded by finding the perfect home item, for the perfect price.  This week between the the recession in combination with the after Christmas sales- I recieved the best gift ever from the retails Gods- I purchased about $500 worth of curtains for about $100.  And I’m not talking about stuff I bought just because it was on sale, I’m talking about curtains in the exact color and size I was looking for.  Pier One and West Elm– We salute you.

Not my stuff- but this is an example of some of the colors I am using in my house.
This is not my stuff- but this is an example of some of the colors I am using in my house.

P.S. Check out this this amazing baby nursery:

Birds, leaves and this shade of green=a few of my favorite things.
Birds, leaves and this shade of green=a few of my favorite things.

From:http://projectnursery.com/2008/11/get-inspired-a-babys-nest/

 

Is Barack Obama African American?

AmbiJawn says: Yes Of Course!

There are many Americans who beg to differ.  During a recent “Talk of the Nation” segment titled  Obama And The Politics Of Being Biracial host Neal Conan asks the audience:  “Does it matter what Barack Obama calls himself?  Why?”

White and Multi-Racial people flood the phone lines,  using like “hurt” and “insulted”  that Barack Obama considers himself African American.  One caller was offended that Obama “doesn’t acknowledge his white ancestry”.  Guest hosts Annette Gordon-Reed and  Dawn Turner Trice address these concerns in a much more graceful and evenhanded way than I could ever dream.  They speak so well! They are so well spoken.

As a person who has lived in ambi-world all of her life, I find it all highly entertaining.  It’s as though some folks feel that mixed people are somehow responsible for the “one drop rule and other uniquely American concepts of race.  The option of those with a black parent or African lineage to call themselves anything other than African American is a relatively recent phenomena (more info on this here).  I am tickled by the degree to which people are either uneducated about this facet of American history, or simply in denial.

There are many people who would rather just forget “that whole slavery thing”.  As Americans, we are all “hurt” and “insulted” by the history of slavery–this goes for those with white ancestry, black ancestry, both and “other”.   I think it’s safe to say  that most people around today give slavery the thumbs down!  It doesn’t mean that we can forget the past–understanding the past is essential to moving forward.  We as a nation must recognize that acknowledging the past is not analogous to condoning it.    While we have powerless to choose our past, we have all the power in the world to effect our future.

Micheal, can you clear this one up for the people??

One that note, I will leave you with an with an excerpt from  the essay  “Illogic of American Racial Catagories” by Paul R. Spickard which explains, well, the illogic of American racial catagories:
More to the point is the question of to which socially defined category people of mixed ancestry belong. The most illogical part of all this racial categorizing is not that we imagine it is about biology. After all, there is a biological component to race, or at least we identify biological referents–physical markers–as a kind of shorthand to stand for what are essentially socially defined groups. What is most illogical is that we imagine these racial categories to be exclusive. The U.S. Census form says, “Check one box.” If a person checks “Other,” his or her identity and connection with any particular group is immediately erased. Yet what is a multiracial person to do?

…The salient point here is that once, before the last third of the twentieth century, multiracial individuals did not generally have the opportunity to choose identities for themselves. In the 1970s and particularly the 1980s, however, individuals began to assert their right to choose their own identities–to claim belonging to more than one group, or to create new identities…. By 1990, Mary Waters could write, “One of the most basic choices we have is whether to apply an ethnic label to ourselves” (p. 52). She was speaking of a choice of ethnic identities from among several White options, such as Italian, Irish, and Polish. Yet the concept of choice began to apply to mixed people of color as well.

…That choice is still available to mixed people, but it is no longer necessary. Today a person of mixed ancestry can choose to embrace all the parts of his or her background.

 

Obama- The college Years December 23, 2008

Filed under: Photo Essay — lauren @ 4:14 am
Tags: ,

obama_youth_011

Obama: The College Years

Wow- What  a cutie!

Coming up next on Adventures in AmbiLand: A review of NPR’s take on”Obama and the Politics of  Being Biracial.”

Stay Tuned.

 

Ambi True Life: I was Just Another Mixed Girl with a Reeeeeeally bad haircut. December 19, 2008

Mixed kids with bad hair- I know you’ve seen them!  Walking down the street with their white parent, hair looking unkempt, tragic. Hair that is badly in need of conditioner, wide-tooth comb and some Carol’s Daughter.  I knew this one mixed girl- she looked like she had just stuck her hand in an electric socket! Oh wait, that wasn’t some kid I saw on the street- that was me in the 5th grade 😦

Don’t get me wrong- my white mother had my hair was looking right and tight throughout early childhood.  My curls were kept under wraps,  combed through, and braided up.  I was just never allowed to wear it out.  Eventually I got fed up with the restrictions and the massive tangles and decided I wanted a short hair-cut   I wanted to be just like my cousins, aunts and Denise from the Cosby Show. who were all rocking some fabulous late eighties short styles:

80s Denise Hair =F.R.E.S.H. And look at lil Rudy!

80s Denise Hair =F.R.E.S.H. And look at 'lil Rudy!

Except my mother took me to the Supercuts by our house (Midtown Atlanta) for the haircut.  The owner- a small Mexican dude with a big personality, was not familiar with “Denise Huxtable” style.  The only “black” style he could do was a boy’s box cut.  By the time he got through hedging me up, I was looking more like Cockroach than Denise 😦

Me + Cockroach in 1988 = twinz

Me + Cockroach in 1988 = Twins

This was undoubtedly the darkest chapter in my hair history.  It happened when I was 10 and I refused to go near another pair of scissors until the age of 12.  By eigth grade my hair had finally grown back, even curlier than before.  I couldn’t complain though, at least people had stopped mistaking me for a boy!  Right around the same time Appetite For Destrction had reached its’ pinnacle of popularity and the white boys at school had become fond of telling me how much my hair reminded them of elusive lead guitar player of thier favorite band: Slash from Guns and Roses:

me+slash=hair twins

Now, Slash is not a bad looking rock and roll dude- but that was not exactly a compliment considering the fact I was a preteen girl, and no one has ever really seen his face.  Surprisingly these young men were not usually being mean-spirited by their comparison.  Some of them even said it to me like it was a compliment.  I realize now that it was their way of putting me and my hair into context.  There were no other mixed people around with which to categorize me.  For a lot of these boys, I was the only mixed person they knew–well– just me and Slash, of course.   But I was the first one they had met.

After revisiting this image of Slash from  The Black LIst, I’m ready to admit that our hair texture is quite similar- except my hair is probably twice as thick.

Needless to say, I was one ambi-middle-schooler who was slightly less than successful in the social arena…


 

First! : My Thoughts on America’s First Black President

Here’s an Essay I wrote in October about Barack Obama…

First!

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The author- Nov 4th, 2008.

I knew a boy named Kamali once, he wanted to be President. We met in 2000 on a spring break trip to Barbados. I went for the beach and to hang out with my roommate Nia and her friend Louis.  Louis and Kamali were studying abroad at the University of West Indies (UWI). Their dorm suite became our hotel for the week. The UWI dorms were similar to log cabins due to their modest construction and glassless windows. The moist warm breeze swept gently through the open-air lounge which separated the two tiny bedrooms on the second floor. The space felt so welcoming and relaxed after the long crowded flight from Philadelphia. Kamali smiled as he introduced himself and returned to the kitchen where he was preparing a special meal for our arrival.  The group was in the midst of a conversation about politics. Apparently Kamali had just announced his intention to be the first black President of the United States.

Artists: Corey Perez and Garret Bodette

“That’s impossible!” I said.

It was a gut reaction; I said it without even thinking. Kamali emerged from the kitchen to see where this voice of self-assured discouragement had come from. I will never forget his face.  There was such hope in his eyes, a childlike optimism seldom found in adults. His intentions felt so sincere, yet so naïve.  Poor guy, I thought. With those kinds of delusions, he does not have a chance. As much as I hated to trounce upon his whimsical musings, I had to do something.

Nia, a close friend and consistent ally, fully understood my perspective and agreed with my sentiments.  Even as students from privileged backgrounds attending a highly prestigious school, the thought of a black President was positively unimaginable.  We calmly explained to Kamali that even if he were to be elected  president (which he would not), his assassination would be inevitable. The thought of it was simply too much to bear and we wished to spare ourselves the heartbreak. It is okay, we told him, we would not  worry too hard about this scenario, considering it was one Election Day that would never come.
Sure we knew plenty of affluent black people, our fathers for example—Nia’s dad a lawyer and mine a doctor. But President? Nope. Sorry. There was no way “they” (meaning the majority of American citizens) would allow a black man to be President. The election of a black President was not going to happen in our lifetime, or any other time for that matter, and we held this veiw with conviction. The mere thought of it was preposterous. The more Kamali tried to defend his position, the more outlandish it sounded.

Maybe Kamali didn’t see himeself as a African American man the way we did—see Kamali was mixed, black and white.  To look at Kamali, with his blue eyes and bronzed skin, you might mistake him for a white man at first glance. His sunny and proper demeanor would only serve to further this assumption, depending on what stereotypes are inherent in your perception.
Being biracial myself, I understood the complexities of growing up this way in America.  My racial ambiguity attracted attention and I had become accstomed to the relentless line of questioning usually beginning with the hopelessly innocent, yet tragically phrased question: What Are You?  I spent much of my childhood in Atlanta explaining, arguing, clarifying and/or qualifying my racial identity to other children.  And we all know how insatiably curious and highly inquisitive children can be. It was all very uncomfortable.  By the time I reached college my response to the “what are you question” was condensed to a one word, one drop answer: Black.  If anyone needed a more detailed explanation, they were welcome to come find me after class.  I would be at the Black Cultural Center plotting the revolution with the rest of the few and chosen black students who CARED.   I was suspicious of any person with a black parent who did not feel the same way.

Perhaps Kamali was misguided, fulfilling some kind of “tragic mullato” myth like I studied in my Harlem Renaissance class. Maybe he did not understand the reality we were living in.  Didn’t he know that white society would never fully accept him? He must be confused I thought. I had to save him.
“You are mixed,” I said, stating the obvious in between bites of the coconut rice he had prepared. “Your eyes may be as clear blue-green as the Caribbean Sea, but you are still a black man. Your eyes and you father’s white skin do not make you any less of a minority in the United States. White America will not be electing your toasty almond self into the Oval Office any time soon—and by soon, I mean never.”

Looking back I marvel at how unbelievable we found Kamali’s aspiration, how foolish we thought he was to even dream of such a thing.  I imagine my skewed perspective had a lot to do with being a minority at a majority white school.  Disenchanted to say the least, my own sense of optimism languished after four years of working to assert my cultural perspective in an academic world that marginalized my identity at every turn. Or at least, this is how it felt at the time.

Yes I Did...Think i was Angela Davis in College. (artist Shepard Fairey of course.)

Yes I Did...Think i was Angela Davis in College. (artist Shepard Fairey of course.)

“To top it off Kamali, to top it all off, your name is Kamali. I mean come oooooooon you could be white and you would still never be elected with a name like that!  The sooner you face the facts, the better off you will be.” I rested my case.  It was a hard line to take with my young multi-racial , but I took it only out of concern and love for my fellow mulatto. At the time, I felt accepting such a reality was the only choice we had.

This was of course before any of us had heard of a state senator from Illinois whose middle name starts with an H and rhymes with ‘ussein.’ Imagine the surprise that would come to all of us just eight years later.
~~~~

Here we are on the eve of perhaps the most important election in recent history.  The possibility of electing America’s first black President is very real, not only in my lifetime, but relatively early in my life. With the election several weeks away, I have only recently become comfortable enough to believe my five-year-old son could actually grow up with a President who looks like him.  Not that having a black President is the panacea for all that ails this country, but this candidate is someone who is in line with my views politically, exceedingly qualified for the position AND happens to be a black man. I find it amazing.

While I, and millions of others will be affected deeply by the prospect of Mr. Obama’s victory, not everyone cares. Take my friend Craig, for example. Craig is nice guy! I have known him for a while, and by all external accounts he could be relationship material! Well, that is until we started talking about politics. No, we do not have opposing views. It is just that he has no views.

“I don’t vote, I don’t care,” he told me.

Considering my passively democratic stance in past elections, I could understand. Could I agree? No, but I understood. That understanding has diminished in recent months.

“Even now? You don’t care?” I asked “Even now?”

“Nope, No, Naw not at all,” he said.

I chuckled to myself as I envisioned all that relationship potential flying out the window like a stack of dollar bills. Potential aside—the real tragedy is this young man discarding his right to vote like an old lottery ticket, not realizing it may have actually contained the winning combination. Not voting is a choice that seems innocuous enough, yet the effect can ultimately be devastating. Craig’s disinterest does not make him a bad person. However, doubt that I could deal with that level of apathy in a life partner.

Craig is not the first of the men in my life to present me with this malarkey about not participating in the political process. Even so, I have witnessed some of my most anti-establishment acquaintances changing their mind more and more as the election season progresses. My boyfriend from tenth grade called me from Georgia the other day and told me he had just registered to vote for the very first time at the age of 29. Furthermore, his father had done so also. “And that means a lot cause he’s old as sh#t!” Joseph said, in his familiar southern drawl.  I was touched to hear about his newfound interest in the political process, and to know his dad had finally thrown in his towel of resistance and registered to vote after nearly 40 years of eligibility. It made me feel strangely hopeful.

yup!

yup!

Then there are those who would be down-right dissappointed by the the possibility of Barack’s victory.  There is a song on the classic hip hop album- De La Soul is Dead- entitled “My Brother is a Basehead.” I hear this song echo faintly in the back of my mind as I explain to people my older brother William is voting for John McCain. Not to say my brother is an illegal drug user; however he is, in fact voting Republican in this election.

my brother is a basehead

my brother is a basehead

People who know our family often wonder how two individuals who are products of the same household could turn out so differently. While I am somewhat confused about his choice, it should not surprise me at all. He went through this stage when we were kids. Some time toward the end of Reagan’s second term, seemingly overnight, my brother became a Republican.
The year was 1988; William and I were studying the election in our combined fifth and   sixth grade classroom. Growing up in midtown Atlanta, our school environment was decidedly liberal considering the surrounding community. Atlanta is a predominantly black city and the section of  Midtown  and where we grew up was known for its prominent gay community. Everybody I knew, children and grown ups alike, considered themselves to be a Democrat. Everyone that is, except my brother William.

“I’m Republican because I like money and actually that’s why I have more money than you.”

It was true, his money collection far exceed mine, for no apparent reason. As siblings, we earned the same meager allowance each week and received the same amount of money from relatives for birthdays and holidays. We both saved practically every penny. Yet he had so much more than me. The secret, he told me, was his political
affiliation. He would solidify his cause on rainy days when I would be drawing or painting and he would sit across from me at the kitchen table counting his money like Scrooge McDuck, Donald’s rich uncle.

dead or alive- which one is it guys???

Hip Hop- Dead or Alive- Which one is it guys???

Luckily, the childhood Republicaness faded away with the onset of puberty, but the history remains.  My brother had always voted Democrat, which made his unwavering support of the McCain ticket even more perplexing. He is a law school graduate who runs homeless missions in distressed areas of Baltimore and DC on the weekends. During the week he helps disabled Americans collect their Social Security benefits in court. My brother is all about helping his fellow man — it just so happens this November that man is McCain. He likes that he is a war hero, and admires the way he has suffered for this country and lived to tell about it.

“Suffering builds character, it’s right there in the Bible, Lauren. Nothing against Obama, if he was running against anyone besides McCain I would vote for him.”

On October 10th , my birthday, I received a text from William.

Happy Bday and as of last mon, I have decided to vote for Obama.

It was the violent and intolerant spirit the McCain campaign had begun to conjure up by “going negative” and attempting to paint Obama as a friend to domestic terrorists. After this untrue negative assault on Obama’s character, my brother was finally able to draw the line.

Yay Best Birthday Ever! I replied.

Relieved, I immediately contacted several family members to tell them the good news. Several days later when I received the following email addressed to me, my two other brothers and mother:

I am sorry to disappoint everybody, but I rebuke my support for Obama. Go McCain.

Wow, this little bit of cyber communication really did make me laugh out loud. I think it was the “Go McCain” he added at the end. I called him that evening to get the scoop on his change of heart. As it turns out, just because the racist underbelly of America had become exposed at McCain rallies, does not mean he should lose my brother’s support.
“At least the man is showing some remorse,” he said

I held my tongue in an effort not to strain our occasionally tenuous relationship.

Always the contrarian! I thought to myself.

I had actually been more surprised by his sudden endorsement of Obama than I was by his swift yet seemingly inevitable return to the far right wing. Like the elephant symbolizing the GOP, my brother’s stubbornness is legendary and he cannot be moved. And that was that; this was one vote Obama would not receive, at least not this year. Nobody could ever say my brother is not consistent with his views, however this will be the first time in his adult life that he will vote… Republican.
~~~

Hmm...I wonder if this Hope stuff will ever get old.

Hmm...Will this hope stuff will ever get old??

They say there is a first time for everything; who knew this election would elicit so many firsts out of so many people? It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone and try to do things differently like my friend Joseph and his father have done this year. It takes strength to stand up for what you believe in like my brother William, especially in the midst of dissention from loved ones. It takes a certain kind of fortitude to set your goals higher than anyone around you would dare to imagine, like Kamali.

I think back to the conversation we had in that tiny lounge at the University of West Indies in Barbados. We really hurt Kamali’s feelings that day. His aspirations to be President ran as deep and as true as our doubts that it could ever happen. It was as though we had somehow betrayed him by our own unwillingness to dream with him. For Kamali, the greater tragedy would have been not to dream and not to envision his greatest aspirations. Hope. It is more than just a political catchphrase for many, especially in the face of this undoubtedly historic election. It is something I probably could have used more of back in college and especially on that sticky day in Barbados. I wonder what Kamali would say if I had a chance to speak with him now.

“I got next!” I would have to assume, right after “I told you so.”

___

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“You know, they said this day would never come.

They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose.

But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do.

You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days. You have done what America can do in this new year, 2008.”


 

Ambi: A Brief History December 17, 2008

Filed under: About — lauren @ 6:23 am
Tags: , , , ,

As described by my friend Rhome:

Well, the story is hazy but I think the term originated between me and a few friends. What it IS NOT is a referall to the Ambi skin care products. Some people misunderstand (or hate) and think the term “ambi” applies to any light-skinneded black person. It’s simply shorthand for “ethnically ambiguous”. The term was formally immortalized on “Land of the Ambis” from the 2003 Poem-Cees release Paranoia, produced by me.

Rhome is careful to point out that the concept for “Land of the Ambis” actually originated from his band-mate Patrick.  Rhome says he contributed only to the musical aspects of this unheralded classic, not the lyrical content.  In other words: Don’t shoot the Producer sistahs!!


Not reading all that?

Ambi Ethnically Ambiguous