Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Celebration of Blackness!

         February is the most fascinating month of the year for several reasons. Not only is it the shortest month on the calendar but the 28 days increases to 29 every four years. My Great Grandmother was born on February 29th so by the time she was 80 she had only had 20 real birthdays. That's bullshit if you ask me! By the time I arrived at the pearly gates I would've asked Jesus for a refund on account of my being gypped on over 60 birthdays worth of presents! I hope Grammy is in Heaven's V.I.P. section. She deserves it. My Grandmother was also born on Valentine's Day which makes February an especially important month for me. Besides all of these close family connections during this very special time I have come to find that since moving to America there is yet another tie that connects me to this completely unphonetically spelled month! Black people! Yes, that's right. February is the month where the people of color get to celebrate their ashyness. And since coming to the United States of Slavery, I have joined the Blacks in the month long celebration. For the last 4 years I have studied closely and learned the customs and idiosyncrasies of the 28 (or sometimes 29) day holiday!

           For all of the Whites whom read my Blog, you can think of African-American Black Negro History Slave Month as an extended Kwanzaa. I recall in Elementary School that we had a relatively watered down version of Black-oriented festivities. One year we studied Malcolm X, the following year it was Martin Luther King, I think after that it was Flava Flav, I'm not exactly sure, it was all such a blur. At that point in my life, the Blacks looked all the same to me anyhow. Recently, I have come  to find that in America, this month is SO much more than reading books! I have turned to my colored counterparts to help guide me late in life to the traditions of Black America. So please allow me to outline several important things that one must know about African American culture in order celebrate this month appropriately.

The Black Handshake (Blandshake)

          Let me make it clear that it's not as though I had never seen a Black person at all until I moved to the States (I'm not Sarah Palin!). More specifically I had never had any Black friends until my 20s. More importantly I have found that Black culture is incredibly different in the U.S., thus my fascination with the Black handshake. The first time I engaged in this activity it was completely involuntary. In my first week in New York City I was introduced to a person of color. He greeted me with a special handshake. I had no idea what the Hell was going on. It all happened so fast! He grabbed my hand and twisted it this way and that, something happened with the thumbs, and it was followed my some very aggressive slap on the back. "Was I just molested?" was my first thought. Do I need to call Nancy Grace? He definitely dominated the handshake on account of my having no clue what to do, so I simply followed. I did the reverse of what he did and tried to coordinate my movement in a way that this man wouldn't think I was a complete idiot. This continued to happen on several occasions when being introduced to Black men. One would think that I would eventually get the hang of it and become somewhat acclimated and comfortable with the gesture. However, with me, things that would seem logical tend not to become reality in my experience. The reason why it was so difficult to get the hang of it was because it seemed that with each Black person I met came a completely new handshake that I had never seen before. This threw me off a little. How was I to memorize each person's encrypted code of greeting gesture? Is there a place online I can research this. Is there an app on the IPhone that has a laser beam that can detect what a person's handshake will be prior to meeting them? Do they post it on Facebook? I felt completely overwhelmed! Thus, I consulted a friend. A few months living in New York City I had made a few colored friends at school. In my frustration of trying to assimilate to the culture I asked one my friends to teach me how to properly shake a Black person's hand. He explained to me that although each person has their own individual "swag" (the Blacks use this word like the Whites would use "style") on it, there are a few basic templates that most Blandshakes are based off of. After several tutorials, hours of practice, and patience I have now mastered the basics of the Black handshake. I have a limited but solid repertoire. However, my initial instincts in the "follow the leader" department were absolutely correct. As a Canadian, I will never have the instincts of the Black American so it's of the up most importance that I allow the African-American to determine which greeting he would like to engage in. Generally speaking, each person sticks to the same one. I realized that it was necessary for me to keep a notebook of handshakes associating each one to a particular person so if I met someone on one occasion I would be fully prepared to anticipate their handshake upon the second meeting thus impressing them and making them feel comfortable with my shade of Blackness (mine is Gingerbread by the way). Therefore, I haven't spent anytime developing my own handshake because it would be completely useless. However, I have realized the importance of perfecting some of the signature moves that the Blandshake utilizes. The gestures a Black male uses in shaking another Black male's hand are as follows but are not limited to: finger interlocking, the thumb press, snapping, the head roll, the fist bump, the neck pop, the chest bump, the ambiguously gay ass smack, the reach-around, and the one-handed shoulder smack. Those, of course, are merely the essentials. I have been experimenting with a variety of possible combinations in order to further establish myself in the Black community. The Black handshake is really my way of saying, "Guess what bitches, I like chicken too!"

Chicken (Speaking of which...)

       I've never been the best carnivore. Lately, I've been slowly veering towards the world of vegetarianism. However, in February, it's vital for me to let go of my dietary habits and adopt a love for poultry. Black people take their chicken VERY seriously. I'm not sure what it is about the bird that is so fascinating to them but I think it has something to do with its pageantry. A chicken in its live state is dressed in a plumage of feathers strutting around shaking it's tail feather; it's practically a hip hop video! So I suppose it's only natural for the Blacks to adopt this mammal into its culture of food. Even in my Caucasian environment of the family household we certainly embraced Shake 'N Bake as a staple in our dinners. However, in the Black community, the way that one consumes chicken is very specific. Fried chicken is certainly the most popular among the coloreds. There are many chain "restaurants" (I use this term loosely) that embrace African-American chicken. Popeye's is the first that comes to mind. For those Blacks who choose to take a slightly classier approach to fried poultry; "Rosco's House of Chicken and Waffles" is the next step up. Chicken and waffles is a phenomenon that has fascinated and bewildered me since the day I heard of it. It is seemingly perhaps the most ridiculous idea I have ever heard in my life. Why on Earth would anyone want to put those two things together on a plate? Surely, someone would need to be pregnant with twins at the time to crave such an unflattering duet. Or so I thought. I actually tried this cardiac disaster one time and I must say it was positively delicious. There's something about the way the syrup casually and unexpectedly drips onto the chicken that delights me to no end. I was very surprised that I enjoyed something that I imagined to be so bizarre. Never did I think I would ever top that kind of sense of adventure. Again, I was proved wrong when I came across an even more insane idea. Leave it to the Black community to constantly keep you guessing. They always come up with uniquely bizarre and creative ideas, especially in Atlanta! One time, here in Texas, I went to something called a "Soul Food" restaurant. The term "soul food" basically means that everything you are served will be enormous and so will your ass by the time you've finished the meal. The restaurant was called Buttons and they were having a free tasting the day before their grand opening. The company I had just starting working for had been invited which is comprised of mainly Black employees. We all sat down and were served a plethora of food with many different dishes. Most of the food was covered in gravy (or "smothered" as the Blacks say) so it was very difficult to determine what food group I was consuming. After that meal I'm pretty sure that in the Black culture, gravy IS a food group. At one point a plate was brought out with my new favorite, chicken and waffles! Next to it was another plate of chicken. I was immediately confused. "Is that chicken different than the chicken with the waffles?", I asked. "Oh that's chicken fried chicken." was the response. "I'm sorry what?", I asked. "It's chicken fried chicken?" my friend responded. Have I lost my mind? "How can a chicken be fried any other way than in the manner of a chicken?" I asked. My fellow employees tried to explain me to how chicken fried chicken is just a chicken that's fried "like" a chicken. "As opposed to a chicken fried like a hippopotamus?", I wondered. The more they tried to explain, the more confused I became. I'm on board with chicken and waffles, I really am. But "chicken fried chicken"? That's a little too progressive for me.


        As a devoted drinker of adult beverages I appreciate a very large range of liquors. I have understood that there are certain forms of alcohol that are for Brown people exclusively. These include but are not limited to: Hennessey (or Henny), Courvoisier, Ciroc, Alizé, and Patrón. Black people, much like myself, often  enjoy a variety of spirits but the ones I have mentioned are always a staple during the month of February. In fact, Black people should be drinking plenty during this month. It is a celebration after all! What's a party without Alizé? Speaking of which, the popularity of Alizé has so much to do with the color it brings into the lives of colored people. Alizé comes in three varieties: Gold, Red Passion, and Bleu Curacao. However, these three versions must be referred to in a very specific way in the African American community. They are known as  Red, Blue, and Yellow because it's the color of the beverage that is used to celebrate one's Blackness! I personally enjoy the blue one. However, I think they should create a Limited Edition BLACK Alizé to formally celebrate African American Negro History Slave Month!


       It's no secret that African Americans have large bums. That's why they're so good at sports. I've covered this topic in previous blogs. I do not want to exhaust the issue but large asses have become a much more prominent part of my life since moving to Texas. I think the moment the plane crossed into the border my booty grew an extra size. The thing about a large posterior is, it's a very difficult thing to hide. Personally, I don't see what the big deal is. A large tukkus is a wonderful thing and should  be celebrated. Certainly, the women in Dallas understand this, as they wear bikini tops and coochie cutters (White people usually call these "short shorts" or "Daisy dukes") to the club. Although, I see no problem with embracing all of Africa in the bum department, Black men seem to have taken this idea one step too far. This idea has been manifested in a phenomenon I like to refer to as "overpants". I was taught as a child that there is a very specific way that one should get dressed in the morning. First, you put on your underwear and then the pants go over top. African American men have decided to boldly go against this convention and reverse the order and thus "overpants". You can't properly refer to underpants as underpants if they're not UNDER YOUR PANTS! So many Black men wear their pants around their ankles with their underwear exposed for the world to see. Again, it's not as though I had no idea that this trend existed. I had seen it in music videos and in the movies, but I had no clue that people actually engaged in this ridiculous and totally unrealistic way of dressing. So when I actually became exposed to this face to face (or I suppose, face to bum) I was slightly appalled. Although, I think it's important to have an open mind and to recognize that sometimes our initial reactions can be somewhat of an exaggeration. It's not as though an underwear-clad bum is the worst sight in the world and it certainly has nothing to do with me anyway. It's up to each person how they choose to dress themselves. In keeping with this idea of acceptance I decided experiment in the idea of overpants to see how I would feel. One morning I stepped out of the shower, I pulled my white Hanes briefs up around my waist. I searched in my drawers for the largest pair of jeans I could find and I stepped into the gaping blue pant legs and slid them up just above my knees. I grabbed my belt, wrapped it through the waist of the jeans and tightened it to the smallest buckle and fastened it. The moment I let go, the pants dropped immediately to the floor. "This isn't going to work." I said to myself in disappointment. I decided to take a new approach. I went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife to created small hole in the belt that would make it fasten 3 sizes smaller than the smallest setting. "Brilliance!", I exclaimed in total victory. I tightened the belt to the new found anorexic setting around the top of my thighs and stood up straight. The pants didn't move! This was a complete success. However, I realized quickly that I would eventually want to actually go somewhere. I knew that walking would be an issue. Surely, if the homothugs can do it, so can I! I discovered quickly, that if I wanted to move one leg forward I would need to begin in a very wide stance. So I opened up me feet and stood broadly. I slowly moved my right foot forward but I felt a slight slip on the left side of my pants so I hesitated. After several failed attempts at walking I finally mastered a technique to keep the pantaloons lifted above the knees. Not only must one keep a very large and wide stance, but it's also very important to turn your feet out like a duck. This is essential because one must never pull one's pants up! You are not allowed to touch them. The beauty of overpants is that you have scientifically and artistically mastered a technique of duck walking while magically keeping your pants gingerly above the kneecaps with style and grace. This also develops a natural limp in one's walk which is a very important aspect of the Black man's swagger. There is a rhythm and a slight lean to the left that creates a rhythm in one's steps as though there was a prosthetic leg involved. For years I thought the African American walk was merely affectation but I have come to discover that the "gangsta lean" is out of complete necessity to keep the damn pants from falling to the ankles! I have become quite fantastic at overpants walking but I have yet to venture outside the four walls of my apartment in such an outfit. I would need several months of training before I could seriously endure a day's worth of sagging pants. One needs much inner thigh strength to hold up the pantaloons for a period that exceeds 5 minutes.

Speech Impediments

         I grew up with the impression that Canadian culture was just a byproduct of American culture. The majority of our television stations are American, the products that we purchase come from the States, and so often the U.S. becomes our first place of choice for vacation because of the affordability and accessibility. So it became quite a surprise when I moved into Brooklyn that I had much difficulty understanding what the Hell Black people were saying. Certainly, not every African-American adopts urban speech but it became quite apparent that Ebonics as seen on television is a much watered down version of the actual thing. At first, I thought it was that people for some unknown reason just didn't know how speak good English yo! After some time I came to find out that Ebonics is truly its own unique language with rules and regulations just like "proper" English. The more time I spent around people who used what I referred to at the time as "broken English", the more fascinated I became in the world of Ebonics. As quickly as I was to turn my nose up at it in the beginning, I was just as quick to study and adopt it on occasion for comedic purposes. Somehow, me repeating Ebonic phrases with my Black friends became a large point of hilarity between us. Ebonics, simply sounds wildly ridiculous when combined with a Canadian accent. I practiced several commonly used phrases and tried to pick up as much as I could so I would be able to at first understand what people were saying and secondly to communicate with people. After some time, I realized that the shoe was on the other foot. Many folks had difficulty understanding what I was saying. I ignorantly forgot that like EVERYBODY in the world, I have my own accent and use of language that is specific to where I come from. Canadians have very cold faces, so we tend to speak quite slowly. African Americans on the other hand speak at a pace only matched by diarrhea following the consumption of a Mexican 5 bean taco salad. The adjustment was very difficult for me. However, after much practice, I perfected my delivery of a few urban phrases.  They are as follows:

"WHAT CHO NAME IS?" - This is a phrase that African Americans use to find out one's first name.
"WHO DAT IR?" or "WHO DAT BE RIGHT DIR?" - This is a phrase used to find out whom someone is that one is unable to see at the moment.
"WHACH Y'ALL FINNA DO?" - This simply means "what are you guys up to". Specifically the word "finna" refers to the idea of "fixing to" which is actually quite proper. Who knew?

I decided to use capitals to illustrate the volume in which Black people would actually use these terms. I'm not sure if there's something happening in the ears of African Americans. But I do know that as a Canadian I prefer to stand far away from them when they speak in order to avoid a burst eardrum. I think part of the reason that Black people talk so loudly is so that they are able to be heard over the movie that they are watching at the time. When Blacks go to the movie theater, it is required that they have full-fledged conversations with the screen for the entire duration of the movie (with the exception of the first 10 minutes because they have not shown up yet).

Closing Remarks

          It's important to recognize that there are many more African American celebratory gestures during this fabulous month of February. There are simply to many to list. I, however, have covered the basics so that we can all, regardless of ethnic origin, can celebrate Black culture for 28 (or perhaps) 29 days. It's important to remember that we are ALL Black during this month. So grab a chicken wing, shoot back a shot of Alizé, and start talking loud during the premiere "Big Momma's House". I wish you all a blessed weekend filled with Blackness!

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