Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Light-Skinned Men Organize!

Although I couldn't get permission by press time to post the following email I received from film producer Sheldon Lane, I'm going to chance it anyway. All that can happen is that I'm asked to remove it. However, I think this post is important enough to risk punishment--as long as it doesn't involve water-boarding. Read it and tell me if you don't agree.

Light-Skinned Brothers Start Voter Registration Drive For Obama

New Group Organizes For Change!

Extremely pleased that the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama is "bringing light-skinned brothers back", a new organization of black men of very light complexion have launched a voter registration drive aimed at "getting every light-skinned brother to the polls on November 5," said the organization's founder, Dan "White Boy" Williamson.

Williamson organized Light-skin and Interested in True Equity (LITE) to give men like himself a platform to share their experiences for healing purposes and to advocate for equity, especially in the dating game and in the entertainment world.

"Through my research, I have found out that we still do well in corporate America," he admitted.

"(But) these dark-skinned brothers have been on top of the dating and entertainment games for a long time," said the 40 year-old Williamson.

"It's been about 30 years and it's about time! I knew things were looking up for us light brothers when Wesley Snipes got into all that tax trouble with the IRS, " he added. "Folks asking if Barack will paint the White House black if he gets into office. I hope not. I hope he paint it high yella. Call it the High Yella House. That will stop all the cruel ridiculing."

Light-skinned activists also point to the recent incident with Tyson. The male supermodel's recent public display of nakedness was simply another sign that the winds of complexion popularity are changing, explained Williamson.

"He's desperate because he's not the 'it' guy anymore," said Williamson.

The Coalition urges all light-skinned brothers in politics, entertainment, and those in the dating circuit to take their games up a notch because "the playing field just got level again."

When it comes to light-skinned black folks, a double standard seems to exist. I'm not sure how much of an issue it is now, but back in the day light-skinned men were considered weak and effeminate. Except for Ron O'Neal's Superfly, there was rarely any light-skinned, or high yella, male movie heroes. From Richard Roundtree's Shaft to Calvin Lockhart's Rev. Deke O'Malley in Cotton Comes to Harlem to William Marshall in Blacula, chocolate brothers were definitely happenin'. True, there was always a Harry Belafonte or two, but the majority of black heartthrobs looked more like Sidney Poitier. I remember my best friends, The Twins, admonishing me not to go out with "yella mens" because they were all latently homosexual. How's that again?

Yet, on the female side, light-skinned women fared better than their darker sisters. Why? In fact, a lot of light-skinned women were actually biracial, but either were coerced into the One Drop Rule, or readily accepted their blackness without attempting to claim their other heritage. Check out Halle Berry today, and in the past stars like Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Lonette McKee, Irene Cara and Jennifer Beals. All of them are either biracial or multiracial, but were presented as being only black. Their lighter skin made them more desirable in Hollywood than the average brown-skinned sister, yet they were still considered monoracially black.

How did browner skin come to be associated with masculinity in the first place? Well, I'm not going to attempt to answer that here, but if you have any ideas I'd like to hear them.

Ah, if only Wesley Snipes would speak to us, but he's too busy applauding his incredible good luck in the photo above (which I snapped at the Pan African Film Festival).

Until later, I am...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sweet Rice Chronicles

1,000 lashes with a wet udon noodle for me! I totally spaced and forgot to mention this lovely site I ran into last week. For the "black mothers of blasian, black and Asian children", this blog is an information outlet filled with book and film reviews (including Watermelon Sushi) featuring Afro-Asians. Big up to Renee Tecco and her editors!

Your Hip Hapa,

Knee-Grow-fied Hair, Zebra Couples, And The Fresh LaFlesh

Dear Gentle Reader,

I feel so weird these days wearing my hair in a limp, stringy style I like to call "The Sophisticated Knee-Grow". And, as soon as I took a hot iron to my wavy tresses, I noticed how many sistahs do something similar to achieve a so-called "relaxed" hairstyle. Does that mean if we leave our hair in its natural, curly state, it's "tense" or "uptight"? Why must we make the effort to get our hair to "chill" anyway?

I suppose our approval ratings among the dominant majority go up when our hair is not so threatening as it is when worn natural or in an Afro, braids, or the mack daddy of them all--dreadlocks. There's no getting around it, mixed/black and black hair is political. Back in the day, you were either with us (sportin' a big bushy natural) or with them (toning down any perceived statement of anger with a perm and a press). As militants, we were proud to have hair that was untamed--just like us. Nobody named Toby around here! Nowadays, though, it seems that the 1970's never happened. I see so many weaves and wigs on sistahs in every walk of life. And, look at me. I'm using a hot iron! Why? As usual, I have no answers; just lots of questions.

Speaking of Knee-Grow-fied hair, I recently attended a screening of Samuel Jackson's new flick, Lakeview Terrace, in which Mr. Jackson plays an L.A. cop incensed that his new neighbors are a zebra couple. More about that mess later. But in one scene, his teenage daughter, wearing the "Sophisticated Knee Grow" hairstyle, emerges from their next door neighbor's swimming pool. As Kerry Washington's character hands the teen a towel, Kerry's Chaka Khan-like curls bounce and glisten in the sun. The women's hairstyles are a study in contrast. The teen then tells Kerry, "I like your hair". Instead of the obligatory "thanks" that Kerry utters, I think she should have said, "Well, youthful sistah, now that you got your hair wet, just go take a nap without drying and it'll go back home for you." Get it? Take a nap? A nap? Anyway, it was clear that the screenwriters had no clue about black women or, more importantly, the importance of black women's hair to other black women.

What a disappointment. I was looking forward to seeing how Hollywood would approach the story of a black man enraged by his new neighbors being a black woman and her white husband. But not once are we told anything of the history of interracial relationships. Why do so many black men see red when they see black and white? Hello! Does anyone remember a little thing called slavery? How about when white slavemasters raped black female slaves while black male slaves watched helplessly? If the writers would've written that fact in as a sort of a collective consciousness inherent in some black men like Samuel's character, I would've bought the story. But, no. Warning: Spoiler Ahead! Instead, this movie, directed by Neil Labute (In The Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors) wants us to believe that the real reason Samuel's character got his drawers all up in a bunch is because his own black wife died in a car crash in the middle of the afternoon while--get this--she was riding around with her white male boss. Lawd. Here's a rare opportunity to put real issues on the table, and what we get is Kerry 's character and her husband (Patrick Wilson) avoiding the "i" word (interracial) like the proverbial elephant in the room. I know there are mixed-race folks out there just dying to share their well-told tales with the world, and instead we're regulated to Hollywood telling us how it is (not!).

Anyway, don't go looking for any history lessons in Lakeview Terrace, but do look for my friend, VALERI ROSS, who plays "Old Lady" in a scene stealer. Me and Val go way back. That's a pix of the talented actress above with me outside an L.A. restaurant circa 2000, I think. The woman between us is writer/teacher Gabrielle Pina.

So far, it's been a wonderful week. The chill author of Biracial Hair, Teri LaFlesh, sent over photos of herself looking fresh in a Hip Hapa Hapa*Teez t-shirt. Instead of hatin' on the sultry sistah, get your own shirt and then send me a snapshot of you in it so I can post it here and on the new Watermelon Sushi website which will be up soon. It will so be up soon! Yes, it will! And, don't forget, you earn a rear crawl credit with your purchase. Contact me at for more info.

Meanwhile, I remain...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hip Hapa Homeez' Work Goes On And On

Aloha blendies, mixies, and multis everywhere!

This morning, our new Watermelon Sushi associate producer in Tokyo sent me the following link and promptly ruined my day. Seriously, this is a sad story so have a box of tissues handy while you read it. Mahalo nui loa, Derrick.

Amazing, isn't it? How humankind divvies itself into groups based on ethnicity? I know that among wildlife there is sometimes a self-enforced thinning of the herd, but don't humans actually have the ability to reason--to analyze and to rationalize? Or, are we just animals walking upright?

If you haven't read the article above yet, you won't know that I'm talking about mixed-race babies in Japan that were abandoned by their American military fathers and Japanese mothers. Often, the mothers came from poor families made even worse off by post-war shortages and economic despair. What this article doesn't cover, however, is the number of babies born out of wedlock to pure-blooded Japanese parents and given away. I'm sure it was nowhere near the numbers for the hapa kids though. I'm just thankful that my father honored his duty, married my mother and brought us to America. What my fate would have been as a half-black child in Tokyo....I can't even imagine. No disrespect to other women under similar circumstances, but one thing I know for certain, my Moms would've never given me up for nothin'. She's just that kinda lady.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Teri LaFlesh in the flesh! I've been wanting to say that ever since I bumped into Teri in cyberspace. This sistah with a Caucasian father and African American mother has written the most fascinating book called Biracial Hair. Check out Teri's website and her blog to see for yourself:

And, today, I heard from Allison who calls herself a CHEW. She's Chinese and Jewish, and creative as all get out. I've listed the link to her blog, so go for it:

Besides building the new Watermelon Sushi website, I've been busy with so much Hip Hapa Homeez work that I didn't realize the latest taiga was on NHK. As much as I loved the Shinsengumi and Yoshitsune series, I am really digging this one starring a GIRL! Atsuhime (hime means princess) is fetched to the Shogun's court to convince him to pick a certain successor. It's all castle intrigue with servants weighing in with guarded opinions. In one hilarious scene, the Shogun is tossing beanbags and throws one at the head one of his advisors because he doesn't like what he's saying. Pure Japanese humor, but I love it! There's just something about feudal era drama that sucks me in like a whirlpool.

The pix this week are from left: my Moms about age 20 in Tokyo wearing a handmade (no pattern, no sewing machine) outfit she created; me in Jamaica with my Jah-fro waaay back in the day; and, Teri LaFlesh and me with my new straight tresses yesterday (thank you, Teri!).

Until next time, I remain...

Your Hip Hapa,

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Old Hair/New Hair

Aloha No, Straightened Hair, And A Dedication To Sergio Goes

"You look younger," my neighbor told me tonight as I was taking out the trash.

"Really?" I replied, doubtful as I remembered sleeping only six hours the night before.

"It must have been my trip to Hawai'i," I told him. "I felt so relaxed--like I was home."

Even though my last week's Honolulu island hop ended on a bittersweet vibe, I enjoyed moving among people who looked like me. If you're of mixed races and it shows, being in Hawai'i is like being on a planet filled with all your multiracial brothers and sisters. Sure, there are lots of "pure-blooded" East Asians among other races living there, but there are also many folks that are racially unidentifiable--like yourself. And, that feels comfortable. When you're comfortable, you don't frown or wrinkle your face up in defense. So, you look younger!

Of course, I was also happy to be "home" because I got to spend time with my old buddy Scott Lee who greeted me with a fragrant traditional lei and lunch at our favorite King Street Chinese restaurant. Scott Lee and I go way back to 1994, and we love to "talk story" about local culture; of which Scott's an expert having lived on Oahu all his life.

I also hung out with my friend, Lucy, an NYC transplant and professional photographer. Besides munching on a vegan lunch in Kahala and a homemade dinner at her Kailua home on Windward side, we also indulged in a lot of girly stuff like trying on make-up at Ala Moana Mall. We also got our hair done by a young woman selling electronic hair straighteners at a booth.

That's right. After 20 years of wearing my own personal natural--long, thick, wavy, hair with frizzy ends--I allowed myself to get talked into having an electronic implement iron out the ripples of my tresses to give me straight hair. When Adee first approached me, I balked. After all, I am of the natural garden variety. Rarely do I wear make-up, other than lip and nail color, and I don't like fussy hairstyles. But as Adee smoothed out each strand, my thoughts went from skeptical to amused to impressed. I hadn't had straight locks since the mid-1980's when I would spend precious hours rolling my hair in curlers the size of soup cans then sitting under a scorching dryer with a magazine hoping against hope that it wouldn't rain in Seattle where I lived then. Just one drizzly day would undo my hours of hard labor. Later, when I became more of the artist that I am today, I chucked the rollers and hair dryer and went au natural.

When Adee was done, I just knew I had to have the straight look--at least for a while. Call me a sell-out, but I dig variety and my waves had become boring to me.

My friend Lucy saw it differently.

"But you just said at dinner the other night that one of the problems you had with Michelle Obama was her hair," she reminded me. "You didn't like that she relaxes it."

"Yes," I argued weakly, "but I'm half Japanese and I'm just trying to look more like my mother. Besides, my 'do is chemical free."

All I knew was that I wanted a different look, and looking different made me feel different. Somehow, I felt Native Hawai'ian with my new flowing hair. As I walked around Waikiki tossing my untangled mane, I felt that the locals thought I was Native Hawai'ian, too.

Still ain't buying it? Well, here's what hair author Teri LaFlesh told me when I admitted to using a straightening rod on my hair.

"Hey, I checked out your hair! Even straightened it has so much presence. Hair is a crown, and you wear yours with such flair."

If Teri, the hairx-pert, says it's okay, then ya'll back off.

On to a much sadder note. While in Hawai'i, I discovered that a friend had passed away there in July. Although I hadn't been in touch with Sergio Goes for awhile, I always remembered his warm graciousness. Co-founder of the Cinema Paradise Film Festival, Sergio issued me a press badge in 2003, then went out of his way to invite me and Lucy to all of their Red Carpet events and parties. A filmmaker himself, he also gave us copies of his documentary called Black Picket Fence. The story of two aspiring rappers in a NYC project is told with Sergio's deep sensitivity and humanity. Originally hailing from Brazil, Sergio had a keen ability to hone in on things American and his film shows that. Sergio was also known for his amazing photography which appeared in most of Honolulu's local publications. While it hurts to lose such a downright nice person, I feel fortunate that I knew him at all. This week's blog is dedicated to the memory of Sergio Goes. That's him with Lucy in 2003 in the picture above.

To see my straightened hair, watch for the extra blog following this one.

Mahalo nui loa and aloha no. Rest well, dear sweet Sergio.

Your Hip Hapa,