This Week's Lesson: It's Hard Out There : Tell Me More When host Michel Martin suggested we do a segment about "Black Women Behaving Badly" (toward each other), I shook my head from side to side with force. ... I was out-voted, so I pursed these full lips together and pouted.
NPR logo This Week's Lesson: It's Hard Out There

This Week's Lesson: It's Hard Out There

Wow. What is the lesson I've learned this week from programming Tell Me More?

It's hard out here.

Today, the federal minimum wage jumps to $7.25 an hour. And, for a full-time worker that could mean an extra $1500 a year, before taxes. Just in case you're trying to guess whose doing the happy dance and bumping fists over the extra cash, it's your retail worker and restaurant employee.

I guess you're thinking, it's a good day for those waitresses that have to run back and forth for your "room temperature water with no ice and one wedge of lemon, please.

But, here's a secret we've heard from one or two of them: this recession has resulted in some lousy tips from all of us. So, reconsider fussing about that 20 percent tip -- whether you think they've earned it or not -- because it's hard out here.

How hard is it?

Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., poses for a photograph at his home in Cambridge, Mass., in January 2008. Gates is Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. AP hide caption

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Ask Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He was handcuffed, arrested on his own front porch last week.

Have you seen the pictures?

A white police officer has a hand on Professor Gates' arm as his more salt than peppered beard, is seen bordering his open mouth. I know Professor Gates is fussing that picture. How can I tell? Here's the story and you tell me if you wouldn't have been in a fussing mood.

Professor Gates returned home after spending a week in China, where he was filming his new PBS documentary, Faces of America. It isn't Gates' first PBS documentary. Remember his series African-American Lives, where he traced the genealogical and historical guide for comedian Chris Rock, singer Tina Turner and media mogul Oprah Winfrey?

But I digress ...

So the lock is jammed and Gates and his driver are pushing against the front door, having to force their way in. But Gates' neighbor doesn't recognize him, calls the police and the Cambridge arrive on the scene. Words were exchanged (reported that someone said something about someone's Mama) and ... you guessed it -- the well-respected Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is charged with disorderly conduct.

Now, although the charges were dropped, Gates is ANGRY. He says he was humiliated; the police officer didn't recognize him, his accomplishments, his connections to Harvard, to PBS ... to frickin' OPRAH?!

And so now, honestly, I'm wondering, how do I counsel the Black men that I love?

How do I keep them safe from humiliation and harm if Gates, an older dude with a case of jet lag, can't be forgiven for being indignant when he flashes his all-impressive Harvard employment badge with his picture, and still gets a ride in the back seat of a squad car?

I guess I should be happy he didn't get hit in his head, huh?

Did I mention that it's hard out here?

Sista vs. Sistah

When host Michel Martin suggested we do a segment about "Black Women Behaving Badly" (toward each other), I shook my head from side to side with force.

Oh, no. We ain't doing that. I don't care that Essence magazine published a piece claiming black women are routinely mean to one another. I haven't known a moment when my life and career weren't shaped, massaged, pushed forward and celebrated by black women.

I was out-voted, so I pursed these full lips together and pouted.

I have to admit that our guests surprised me. Sociologist Katrina Bell McDonald and reality TV star and author Omarosa Manigault Stallworth didn't behave so badly in the conversation, but they took each other on. My favorite exchange of the interview is when Michel plays moderator - she asks one question and lets the two women hash it out. The women are talking about reality television, delivering an honest portrayal of black women on TV, and building relationships among black women.

It goes a little something like this (from the actual transcript):

Ms. STALLWORTH: Well, I first want to point out that, you know, we, 10 years ago at NABJ, we were talking about the lack of black women on television and continue to lack the numbers of African-American women on television. And we just really can't have it both ways. We can't beg and beg and beg to see more black women on TV, and then the moment that we see more black women on TV, we criticize their portrayal, and we criticize their interactions, and we criticize their authenticity. There are some sisters who are just hood. There are some sisters who are very aggressive. There are some sisters who have really sharp tongues, and that's a part of this whole spectrum of black women. But we can't have it both ways.

And then when you say what needs to be done, I think everybody has a personal responsibility. I don't know that we have to have some national meeting where we start to modify the behaviors of black women because we disapprove of that particular behavior.

Prof. MCDONALD: Yes, I think we actually do.

Ms. STALLWORTH: Well, yeah, that's your opinion


MARTIN: You think we actually do?

Prof. MCDONALD: Yeah. I think we - I think...

Ms. STALLWORTH: But the reality is, will that happen? Probably not, because we are not a monolith and we will have sisters who are not as articulate, who are not as educated, who are not as sophisticated who will continue to appear on these shows. And we can be academic snobs and sit back and say look at their behavior and how could they behave that way? Well, clearly, they don't know better. They didn't attend a Howard. They didn't attend a Central State, and who are we to browbeat them about their behaviors if that's their true, authentic experiences?

Prof. MCDONALD: Well, again, I agree that this is not about trying to point out who's out of step here among black women. This is about a providing an opportunity for African-American women to reacquaint themselves with who we are, who we've been historically, and whether that has any place value in contemporary times.

MARTIN: We're going to have to leave it there.

Yes, Michel, but I want to end with this: Life can bring some hard lessons and a little humiliation, but I couldn't imagine a moment without my sister-friends (black or white women). They bring great humor and solid advice.

Have a good weekend. And, whatever you do, because I know it's hard out there, please don't make it harder on yourself or others.

Thanks for listening.