Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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What’s In A Name?

It’s funny how we grow up with misconceptions. I always thought that women were, by and large, expected to change their surname once married. In fact, this tradition belongs mostly to English-language countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, India, the English-speaking provinces of Canada, and the United States. In countries like Belgium, Cambodia, China, France, Greece, Italy, Iran and most Arabic-speaking countries, women are not expected to take their husband’s last name. 

Of course, just because I grew up thinking this was the norm, doesn’t mean I planned on conforming if/when I ever married. I knew plenty of women who hadn’t changed their names for various reasons (as this article demonstrates), and had always planned to keep my own for life. It was more than just professional convenience and recognition. My birth name also held significant meaning.

When my father, African American, married my mother, foreign-born and Caucasian, in 1958, his last name was Washington, the ‘Blackest Name’ in America, according to the writer of this HuffPo article. Several years later, and to the chagrin of my father’s family, my non-conformist parents decided to ditch Washington for something new – something other than what Malcolm X referered to as a “slave name.” [Watch the first two minutes of this clip to hear him explain the concept:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SldZ-r5pHfA]

My mother took on the responsibility of inventing what would be the new family name. She did it by combining letters from her and my father’s existing full names. The 4th letter in her first name was D. There were three O’s in my father’s name, three R’s between my both of their names. The 1st letter of her last name and 4th letter of his first name was E. Both her last name and his middle name contained the letter L. Thus our last name became D-O-R-E-L-L. And I, the youngest child, was the first to have that surname on my birth certificate.

[Little did my parents know the name “Dorrell” apparently dates back to an Anglo-Norman family that shows up in history around 1066 and seems to have been originally from Ariel, La Manche, Normandy. They even have their own family crest.]

When Kaz, also African American, proposed to me in April of 2010, I explained how (and why) my parents had invented my last name, and told him I wanted to keep it when we married. He then explained how important it was to him that I took his last name. “I’m old school that way,” he said. Kaz’s last name was Smith,  the most common North American surname in 1990, 2000 and 2010 according to Wikipedia. Along with WashingtonSmith is also one of the surnames of the 74 Founding Fathers of the United States.

The entire year of his illness, we went back and forth about the issue. But by the time we married, on April 22, 2011, I could no longer deny him. When I told him I would change my name, his whole face lit up with a smile. For 11 days, we were “Mr and Mrs Smith.”

After he died, I changed my surname formally, first at the Social Security Agency, then the bank, the DMV, my employer, my healthcare provider, on Facebook. I changed it on every form of identification… except one. My passport. At first, it seemed unnecessary because I didn’t plan on traveling anywhere any time soon. Then someone told me a new bride (who takes her husband’s name) has a year within which to change her name on the passport.

2.5 years later, I just applied to change the name on my passport. But apparently, I didn’t send the proper paperwork. If I don’t send it within 90 days, they will send me my old passport back. The good news is, as I recently learned, a woman who has taken her husband’s name actually does not need to change her passport. However, it is recommended that all your identification be consistent. So, now I must decide if I should go ahead and change my passport to be consistent with my other I.D., or leave it as is. 

To be honest, I have thought about one day going back to my original name. I have grown fond of my married name, which has obvious emotional significance too, but one of my fears is that, by keeping it, I might always feel like a widow to the man who gave it to me. On the other hand, if I change it, won’t this be severing the last remaining tangible thread between us?

It’s not something I have to decide right now. But the more time passes, the more I wonder what, if anything, should I do with my name… and when.

Did you change your name when you married?


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The Butler: A Conflicted Review

I’m in Brooklyn at the moment, visiting family and getting a boost of much-needed energy.  I met up with my father and got to drive the Porsche. On Sunday I’m having brunch with freelance journalist, memoir author and fellow blogger, Caitlin Kelly of Broadside. But this post is about none of the above because I just saw Lee Daniel’s movie The Butler.

[photo source: imdb.com]

[photo source: imdb.com]

The Butler is loosely based on the real-life story of long-time White House butler Eugene Allen who served every President from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. It was directed by Lee Daniels, who also directed Precious, The Paperboy, Shadowboxer, and produced Monster’s Ball, in addition to the aforementioned films. It shows the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of the White House butler, Cecil Gaines, and his son Louis Gaines, who participates in sit-ins, freedom bus rides, marches, the Panther Party and then traditional politics.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for anything that educates and/or enlightens us on the Civil Rights Movement. But is there anything in this film we haven’t seen before? No, there is not. Is this a new take on the Civil Rights Movement? No, it is not.

The only difference between this film and other films about the Civil Rights Movement is that the main character witnesses it from within the White House. While he’s serving tea, cookies, breakfast and lunch, he overhears his various bosses discuss, argue and make decisions about policies that will affect his and millions of other African Americans’ lives. This is difficult to watch because the entire time he cannot speak or react in any way. In fact, he is instructed to be “invisible.”

And therein lies the rub.  The main character is a passive Black man. His goal in the film is basically to not lose his job, to not rock the boat, to not offend his bosses or do anything even remotely controversial.

If my father had seen this movie, he would have probably walked out. Or he would have been mumbling under his breath the whole time, “This is bullshit,” and we would have been shushing him. I’m not going to judge the main character like my father would. He was a butler and there was dignity in not only his work, but also his role as a father and husband. But I do take issue with the producers. Why was this film made? What did it add to the conversation about race? How many times have we seen the African American experience told from this point of view? It’s similar to always seeing the Jewish experience told from the Holocaust point of view. The victim point of view.

This isn’t to say that the point of view isn’t valid or shouldn’t be expressed. I just don’t know that we need to see yet another rendition of a passive Black male unable or unwilling to do anything to change his genuinely painful situation. And I find it especially frustrating that this was the hero’s point of view. In my opinion, it would have been far more interesting and inspiring to tell this story from the son’s point of view on the front lines of the movement. He was the only active character.

If you think I’m being harsh, check out Harry Lennix‘s take on the film (slightly edited):

Harry Lennix [photo source: imdb.com]

Harry Lennix [photo source: imdb.com]

  “… Lee Daniels sent me the script for that film he’s making now, The Butler, about the black butler at the White House. I read five pages of this thing and could not go any further. I tried to read more of it, and I’m not a soft spoken guy, but it was such an appalling mis-direction of history in terms of taking an actual guy who worked at the White House. But then he “ni**erfies” it. He “ni**ers” it up and he gives people these, stupid, luddite, antediluvian ideas about black people and their roles in the historical span in the White House and it becomes… well… historical porn. I refused.”

Unlike Harry, I did go further than the first five minutes and I actually do recommend people see the film. Even though I had issues with it, I didn’t totally not enjoy it. It is well-made, has an all-star cast, strong performances and solid direction. Oprah Winfrey’s performance is absolutely delicious and reminds me of what a great actress she is. Also, the father-son relationship and conflict in the film is genuinely compelling.

But when it was over and my 11 year old niece turned to me and asked, “So, did you like it?” I had to pause. “Yes and No,” I told her. Yes… and no. Then we spent the rest of the walk home discussing why.

Have you seen The Butler? What did you think?

Related articles:

www.bellenews.com/search/cecil-gaines-wikipedia/#ixzz2dVrf8bDI

http://www.blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/harry-lennixs-take-on-lee-daniels-the-butler-and-it-aint-pretty


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Daily Prompt: An Unlikely Friendship

A while back I blogged about my mother-in-law. Today’s post is about my father-in-law, Ray. He is my late husband’s father, and like Kaz and my own father, is African American. Unlike Kaz, my father and me, he is also deeply religious. I mention this only to underscore that, despite our different views on many topics, Ray and I have become good friends. We’ve never met in person, but we’ve talked on the phone every 2-3 weeks since Kaz passed away two years ago.

Ray lives in Florida, about 1.5 hours away from Sanford. The other night, while discussing recent events in that city and how we wish people could relate to each other in a more humane way, Ray said: “Did I ever tell you about my friend in the KKK?”

Me: “Uh, no.”

Ray: “It started in the late 70’s. I was living in Tuson, Arizona at the time and had just joined this club for racing radio controlled power boats on the lake there. After a while, I noticed this one White guy wasn’t talking to me. In fact, he just ignored me altogether. I asked some of the other members, ‘What’s with that guy?’ They said, ‘Oh, don’t bother with him, he’s KKK.’

Well, I wasn’t gonna let something like that stop me from talking to him. One day I noticed that his boat wasn’t doing too well. So I went over to him and asked if he’d considered using a different propeller. He just looked at me strange. I told him, ‘If you use the __ propeller, you might get a better result.’ Then I walked away.

The next time I saw him, he said, ‘Hey, I changed my propeller. You were right.’ And we started talking. His name was Pat and his wife had recently left him for the preacher who lived next door.

After a few weeks of friendly banter, I said, ‘Pat, can I ask you something?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ I said, ‘Are you in the KKK?’ He said he was. I said, ‘Can you tell me why you don’t like Black people?’ He said that it says in the Bible that G-d cursed man by making him Black. I asked him to show me where in the Bible it says that.

For the next few weeks, he tried to find the passage, but of course, he couldn’t. Finally he came back to me and said, ‘I couldn’t find it.’ I said, ‘Cause it’s not in there, Pat.’ He said ever since he was a boy he was taught that Blacks were inferior. I said, ‘Do you think I’m inferior?’ ‘No,’ he said. I said, ‘Do you dislike me?’ ‘No, not now,’ he said.

After that, we became better friends. He left the KKK. The night he invited me over his house for dinner, my wife still stayed up all night worrying about me. We didn’t have cell phones back then. I told her I’d be fine, but you know, she couldn’t help it. When I finally came home, she was so relieved. I told her, ‘All we did was play pool.’

A few years later, we decided to leave Tuscon and move to Florida. When I told Pat, he started crying. ‘You’re my best friend,’ he said. We were both crying. It was sad. But you know what? To this day, Pat and I speak on the phone once a month. He’s still my best friend. I would do anything for him, and him for me.”

I thanked Ray for sharing this story, and all night kept thinking about it. The next day I called him again to ask if I could blog about it. “Sure,” he said with a laugh.

Ray, this one’s for you.

[In response to today’s Daily Prompt: A friend in need]


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A State of Conflict

I haven’t blogged in a week because I’ve been unsure how to write about what’s been on my mind, namely the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy. I don’t usually post about politics and current events, but I really can’t move forward without addressing this event which has affected my country and me personally on a deep level. Not everyone will agree with what I have to say, and that’s okay. All I ask is that comments remain respectful.

What I find so upsetting about this tragedy is that a man shot a teenager and the teenager died… and it could have been so easily avoided. The man could have not jumped to conclusions about the teenager’s purpose in the neighborhood, conclusions which turned out to be wrong and lead to the teenager’s death. The man could have stayed in his car and waited for the police to arrive. The man could have identified himself to the teenager immediately. The teenager could have continued walking home and ignored the man. The teenager and the man could have confronted each other in a more diplomatic way.

The law in Florida says the man had the right to defend himself if he thought his life was in danger. And the teenager? All he knew was a man was following him in a car. In his eyes, the man could have been a murderer, a sex offender, a pervert, or just an asshole.

How many times had this young, Black teen been looked at suspiciously in his life? How many times had he passed a White woman and felt the tension and fear in her body language? How many times had he been followed in a store? Could that night have been the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back?’ Instead of ignoring this “crazy ass cracker” or running home, he decided to confront him. Would he have done so if he knew the man was carrying a loaded weapon?

When I was discussing this with an elderly Black man the other day, he countered that the teenager should have known better than confronting the man. “Where were his parents?” “Why hadn’t they taught him how to act?”

What he meant was that every Black man in America has been conditioned to act a certain way when confronted with a person of authority, especially a White person of authority. Even if you’re not a Black male, if you’ve ever had a run-in with the cops, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a right way and a wrong way to behave, and the wrong way can get you physically harmed.

But the teenager was not a man. He was only a few weeks into his 17th year. Should we expect him to have known how to “behave?” Should he have been chaperoned while walking to the store for some candy?

My feeling is that when there is an altercation between a teenager and a grown man, the onus is on the grown man to behave responsibly, especially if he’s carrying a loaded weapon. Why would a grown man who is not a police officer get out of his car to search for (what he perceives as) a potentially dangerous criminal alone on a dark and rainy night? What if the potential criminal (in the man’s eyes) had had a weapon too? The man knew he was dealing with a teenager, and he knew the teenager had seen him. Did he expect to pursue him  and NOT be confronted?

The case upsets me on so many levels, I find myself going in circles in my mind about what could/should have happened that night, how this death could have been avoided, what would that teenager have become had he lived, what the parents must be feeling, what do other parents tell their children now, and how something like this could be avoided in the future. I think the answer to the latter lies in PERCEPTION… as in, how do we perceive each other?

Would you perceive a Black male wearing a hoodie walking slowly through your neighborhood as a threat?

Would you perceive a Hispanic man following you slowly in a car through your neighborhood as a threat?

If so, what would you do about it? How would you handle the situation?

There’s a reason why this 1973 photo taken by Joe Crachiola of five children playing in a Detroit suburb has gone viral. It captures a spirit of innocence and acceptance that so many of us yearn for. If you’ve ever watched children at play, you know that they have no concept of these matters. They have no life experience upon which to build assumptions. They relate to each other on a core basic level.

photo credit: Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

photo credit: Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

Is it only possible when we’re young? Or can we see each other as human beings, not labels, races, genders, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, etc.? Can we not jump to conclusions about each other and instead base our reactions on the individuals before us? Can we see each other as HUMAN BEINGS first?

I believe we can, and we must.