Saturday, May 18, 2013

Old Clothes, New Tricks

Update on Clothing Overhaul:

I went through my dresses this past week.  This, I knew, was going to be the hardest part for me.  I love dresses.  They are easy, comfortably and preeeeety.  My goal was 6 dresses.  At the end of my first survey, I had 19 in my "keep" pile.  NINETEEN.  Y'all, that's more than THREE TIMES my goal.  (don't worry, my dad is a math teacher and my brother is a physicist.  I can totally do math...)  The point is, we're going to work on this more this coming week and maybe I'll have to re-organize my percentages and give myself a few more dresses and less of something else.

In the meantime, I've scoured the interwebs and found a few websites with great ideas for ways to recycle clothing that I can't (or, for sentimental reasons, don't want to) donate.  There are some wonderful ideas here, so check these out:

My friend Rachael (who lives and loves organically in South Africa and has an amazingly creative young daughter who could make these t-shirt bags in 2 minutes) shared this site with me.

If you're like me and can't do anything that takes skill, check out these ten no-sew t-shirt up-cycle projects.  My favorite part?  NO SEW.

Two words: Free Cardigan.  This is seriously so cool.  I looooovre cardigans.

Also, Free Vest.

Grocery Bags!  Grocery bags from t-shirts.  Brilliant.  My husband and I have such a difficult time remembering to bring our reusable fabric bags to the Grocery Store, so I figure the more I have, the more I can stash in my car so I'll just have them there when I need them.  And, guys, I have lots of t-shirts.  I lived inside a theatre for twelve years of my life and have a bazillion show t-shirts to prove it.  But I hardly wear them.  What a better way to remember those shows AND help the environment?!

I'm definitely going to teach my old clothes some of these new tricks.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


So it's been quite a while since I wrote for this blog.  The fire breathing dragon that is Graduate School has swallowed me whole and, while it is quite nice inside the belly of a fire breathing dragon, being so placed makes it difficult to write anything other than the papers that feed the fire breathing dragon.  So, I've been negligent regarding this blog.

But negligent I will be no more!  Well, at least I'm writing this one.

Seriously, though.  The people who died and were injured and lost loved ones in the collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh have not left my heart.  This blog is called ColorBind, and while I've mostly written about black and white relations in the United States, this tragedy has reminded me of the ways we (all U.S. citizens) are bound to others around the world. In addition to sending prayers, money, and help in any way that I can, I have been convicted about my clothing consumption.  So, Thursday, inspired by this site (which my sister-in-law shared with me) and this blog, I decided I am going to try -- and let me restate, TRY -- to get my clothing count down to 50 items of clothing.

Here are my guidelines for cleaning out my closet (and for buying ethically-made clothes when I need new clothes):

  • Think comfortably dressy
  • Wear neutral colors and add color to them with scarves, cardigans, and other accessories.
  • Wear clothes that fit you well.
What am I going to do with the clothes that are stained or have holes in them and so I can't donate them?  All of my ideas begin with "cut them up": 
  • Use the cloth as rags
  • Use the cloth to decorate (put it behind a frame, or use it to cover an old frame, use the fabric to cover an old lamp shade, etc.) 
  • Use the cloth as wrapping paper
  • Use the cloth as heat and ice bags (sew a little bag, fill it with rice, (regular, not instant) stitch up the open end and heat it in the microwave if you need heat, or put it in the freezer if you need ice).
  • Make accessories (headbands, belts, bracelets, scarves, mittens, a hat, etc.)

On Thursday night I went through all my shirts and sweaters.  I separated them into "definitely keep", "maybe keep", "definitely donate" and "time to cut up" piles.  My "definitely keep" pile had 15 pieces of clothing ABOVE my "Shirt and Sweater" goal.  Apparently, I'm going to have keep working on this.  Anybody want to join me?  I'll periodically write updates here (unless I don't keep the fire breathing dragon happy with papers, and he tries to digest me) and I would love it if you follow them.  If only because I'm going to need some serious accountability.  This is for our fellow human beings in Bangladesh.  This is for all those living in south Asia who work ungodly hours for unconscionably small amounts of money so that I can feed my desire to look cute.  

Finally, if any of you readers out there know of places that sell ethically-made clothing, please share! There are a lot of places that make art and jewelry, but I'm hoping to find places (especially that sell online) that sell clothing, too.  Thank you.  Thank you for joining me on this journey towards (hopefully) more ethically responsible living.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Booker T.

Yesterday I got a phone call from a teacher at Booker T. Washington High School.  I thought, "Hmmm...who is Booker T. Washington?  And why did they name a school after him?".  But I left it at that.  Later, my husband and I went to a local book store and I came across this book: Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation.  "Oh, he was a black man" I thought.  "He ate at the White House...He must be a very important person.  Why the heck don't I know anything about him?!"
Running into Booker T. Washington twice in twelve hourse is enough of a sign for me.  I've got to know about him.  So, today, I'm starting my research.  There's much more to come, but so far I'm fascinated by the following things about his life:
  1. He's a black man who is famous for his dedication to education.  How much do we need that kind of role model?!!  (thank you Geoffrey CanadaI mean it.)
  2. Despite the fact that black people built the White House and served many presidents there, Washington was the first black man to be invited to dine there as the president's guest.  This caused quite a stir, apparently. 
  3. His life is a blueprint of the interconnectedness of white and black (and even native) populations in our country.
I'm excited to share more of my thoughts as I learn what I should have learned in (my excellent and racially-integrated) elementary school...  Hope you'll come along for the ride!

Monday, June 4, 2012


Yesterday I began writing another blog post on a terribly serious topic.  I realized most of my posts are serious.  It's time for something a bit more uplifting and positive.  So, today (inspired by the song I just heard on the radio, linked below) I'm going to write about one of my most favorite aspects of black culture in the U.S.: music.
Ah, there isn't anything quite like the way jazz, soul and gospel get into my blood and move me.  If I could live 5 different lives, in one I would definitely be a black female singer from the 1960s.  Or a black back-up singer.  Or a black woman in a church that had a choir.  Alas...I don't have a voice even for a white girl. 

But, I can still pretend.  I can roll up my car windows, turn the music on loud, raise my hands and sing along with Aretha, Etta, and Gladys.   :)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

President...Or a Test Pilot.

I'm linking an article from the New York Times about the influence Barack Obama has on black children.  I've actually been really impressed with the way our President has handled the "race issue" as our Commander in Chief.  He hasn't made a big deal of the color of his skin, which signals that it's perfectly appropriate for a black man to hold the supreme office in our land.  I love that.  Quiet, simple leadership.  And when I say that, I don't mean "leadership as a black man or "leadership just for black kids" (although, as this article describes, he IS a very important symbol in the struggle for racial equality and a great inspiration for black children) I mean "leadership for us all".

The article describes the story behind this photograph of a young black boy touching President Obama's hair to know if "my hair is just like yours".  When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, the little boy in the photograph (then 5, now 8) replied that he would be very happy to be Presdient of the United States. “Or a test pilot.”  :)


This is the second time hair has come up on this blog (the first time can be found in the March 28th post Normal.).  Just about every other time I visit my friend Shikindra and her black family, someone is getting their hair done (or just had it done).  And the other day I spoke to a white friend of mine who described her newly-liberated state after her daughter's hair was cut short and she didn't have to war against tangles any more.  Now that I'm thinkin of it, in A Raisin in the Sun, (info about the play here  and here) there's a discussion regarding the natural state of a black woman's hair.  I'm beginning to think that hair is kind of a big deal... 

Anyone out there have any thoughts about how our hair is connected to our sense of self?  I'd love your thoughts!  Please post in the comments section or (if you're friends with me on Facebook) you can comment on my wall, too.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Academic Legacy

Please take a few moments to listen to this broadcast from NPR's Morning Edition.  This is an example of the awful way so many black people have been treated by academic institutions -- including the school I graduated from and currently work for.  It is also an example of how things have appropriately changed. 

This brought tears to my eyes.  Especially as I thought of the little black girl I know who lives in a poor neighborhood, has her nose in a book and just wants to be a teacher...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Children's Play

The Third Installment of "That White Woman is Starrin' At Us"

My triumphant return!  After a month of working to the end of school, I've turned my attention back to this blog...hope you enjoy!

For a little over a month now the kids and teens at church have been playing with a giant jump-rope.  The first time they did this, their rope was fashioned by tying the ends of two long jump-ropes together.  It was make-shift, but they couldn't have had a better time.  When I arrived, I walked up to the crowd of children and teens watching, laughing, singing and jumping when one of them told me I could join in.  "Come on Miss Amy" she said.  So I put down my purse and walked over to join the group of jumpers when suddenly it became very clear that I wasn't welcome there.  Another girl started yelling at me, "Oh, no!" she said, "Get out!"  There's obviously no room for a boring adult in the adventures of jump-roping kids.  But this encounter got me thinking...

It got me thinking about the history of children's games.  So, I looked up the history of jump-rope and found that it has been a part of many cultures from North Africa to Asia and Europe for thousands of years.  I continued on in my vast research of all that the Internet could tell me about children's sidewalk games and found my way to this article by Mona Lisa Saloy (yes, Mona Lisa) about African American Oral Traditions in Louisiana.

I was fascinated as I read about Saloy's study, which examined many different traditions, including sidewalk songs for games like jumping rope.  It concluded that many black families place great importance upon the ability to verbally defend themselves or humiliate others.  The clever use of rhyme, insult and wit is highly praised among those communities.  The average white U.S. citizen might recognize this attribute of black verbal history in "yo mama" jokes and in modern rap music.  Rap artists are often connected in our cultural imagination to gangs, drugs, and illegal sexual activity, but the rappist's talent is truly great and often esteemed in black communities.  Many rappists have an amazing ability to communicate piercing thoughts faster than I could even think them.  And they often rhyme -- just like the jump-roping songs on the playground.

As I read Saloy's article, I was forced to consider my own biases against stereotypical "black" verbal culture.  I am often off-put by what I perceive as rude, harsh, and ignorant language coming from some of the black people I know and I'm ashamed to say it wasn't until reading this article that I even considered that such language was a cultural tradition passed down from centuries of historical oppression.  It is increasingly difficult for me to figure out how best to love children who speak so differently than I do.  How do we embrace and celebrate the tremendous cultural heritage found in language, yet also communicate the semtiment that certain word or grammar usage will make one appear uneducated and less likely to get accepted as a university student or employee a high-paying job in the United States?  Is that biculturalism even possible?  For generations, immigrants have tried to change their language or accent; to American-ize it.  Even my own cousins, whose Italian father had to learn English when he married my aunt and who have grandparents who live in Naples and speak no English, hardly speak Italian.  I fear that being linguistically bicultural is almost impossible.  Either we are "black" or "white", "Jewish" or "American", "Irish" or "American" and much of that depends on how we speak.

But isn't that beautiful?!  The vast diversity of our world evident the moment a mouth is opened!  The poetry, passion, humor and love communicated by such a varity of languages is one of our world's greatest treasures. 

My paternal grandmother's family is the Wards.  When I visited Ireland in college, I found a keychain proclaiming that "Ward" means "Bard" or traveling storyteller.  While I have no documentable proof of this definition, I have chosen to believe it because it so describes my family.  My grandmother, my father and my brothers and I all love stories.  I, indeed, have chosen a vocation rooted in theatrical storytelling, specifically studying William Shakespeare -- The Bard of Avon.  If anyone can appreciate the creativity and craft behind black verbal culture, it should be me.  Perhaps that simple game of jump rope so many weeks ago will spur me on to a deeper study of language within culture and a deeper appreciation for speech that, despite my initial reactions, is no less beautiful than my own.

I'd like to end with a few words from Saloy's article, which center on the role language plays in developing cultural as well as individual identity....very interesting:

"Children's folklore, in general, fulfills certain functions; it reflects and criticizes society and transmits values. For most kids, their lore entertains them, teaches them how to manipulate words, helps to develop their group identity, and creates a bond. It also provides the opportunity to practice "handling" authority and informs them of their sexual roles.

The sidewalk-song of children's folklore performs a particularly important role in African American culture. When Black youth perform these sidewalk songs, they practice and learn to contribute to their rich African American verbal culture. By puberty if not earlier, the Black child must learn to "hold their own" for protection, that is, from verbal or physical abuse. It is a common Black custom to be able to "rap" oneself out of a street fight or "jive" your parents out of a deserved whipping. Therefore, this early verbal play becomes a vital link to what will later become "jiving," "sounding," "woofing," "the dozens," and eventually "rapping," all of which are common African American verbal-dueling traditions. The dueling dozens and rapping have been incorrectly attributed only to Black male culture. Girls also participate in these early raps and frequently with boys. Boys participate with girls to varying degrees depending on their exposure to sisters, girl cousins, and neighbors."