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Thursday, September 25, 2014

On Race: Coming to Terms with My Kelsey Problem

Hi, my name is Kelsey! We haven't met, yet, or maybe we have. Maybe you've seen me at Starbucks ahead of you and ordering three skinny pumpkin spice lattes and two iced mocha decafs while pulling my wet hair into a messy low-pony on that day you were running late for your 8:00am conference call. Sorry about that, but I had to grab some caffeine courage for my office biotches, you know! Hey, and super sorry about the maj coffee spillage that happened when my friend texted me about her bangs emergency and I attempted to hold my iPhone to read the text and then tried to reply to the text while balancing those two coffee trays. I felt to Lena Dunham that day, you know? Oh, you don't know! Really?? She's on "Girls" on HBO! I can't believe you haven't seen it!! Well, gotta run - BYYYYYYYEEEEE!

OK, that never happened. This was a fictional conversation between a fictional character named "Kelsey" and, an unwitting player in her life's drama, a fictional character that I'll call "Shandra." It's kind've funny, but, like a "Law & Order" episode, this scene was ripped from the headlines of my life, and, perhaps the lives of others. My fictional "Kelsey" is based on the flesh and blood Kelseys I meet everyday. She is buoyant, forever smiling, chirpy, and full of pluck. She is well-coiffed, though she spends countless hours with her hands in her hair - whether pulling it back with the elastic band that she always wears on her wrist, tucking it behind her ear, or maniacally running her fingers through it and furiously scooping it all to one side or the other or straight back if she really wants to get nuts. Her nails are always buffed and polished, and when they're not, she calls attention to the fact and tells a ripping yarn about why they're not done that usually involves a weird weekend DIY project with her roommates or baking brownies. Yes, brownies - Kelseys love to bake brownies and eat brownies, though not too many. And when they are seen eating their homemade confections, the Kelsey will, undoubtedly, call attention to how massive her gut/butt is, though she's usually south of a US size 8. 

Are you rolling your eyes yet? Or, are you nodding in agreement? Maybe you're doing both, like me!

Kelseys in the workplace are especially difficult to navigate. They are hardcore people-pleasers. Need someone to manage the office birthday party celebrations? Kelsey's there, with her well worn Rachel Ray cookbook and its perfect birthday brownie recipe! Need someone to work late every night for a year without asking for overtime, a raise, or a promotion? Kesley will do it, and she'll do it with a smile. She'll even come in on weekends, wearing her favorite Ann Taylor jewel tone cardi, skinny jeans, ballet flat, and plain white JCrew t-shirt, along with her faux, oversized pearl stud earrings. And don't worry, she'll stop by Starbucks on her way in for coffees for the whole team. I mean, they have to have something decent to drink with the 4 dozen brownies she managed to bake in the hours between working until 10pm on Friday night and arriving at 9am on Saturday morning. 

Kelseys function best in groups where they can stand out, although they hate to call attention to themselves. After work, packs of Kelseys (or is it gaggles, or a murder, no, that's crows) go to the nearest watering hole where they drink shots and call their fellow Kelseys "biotches" at the top of their lungs while precariously balancing an overflowing pilsner glass as they navigate through the throngs of other Kelseys looking to get their drink on! Oh, and here's another note, Kelseys always like to get something "on" - get my laundry on, get my drink on, get my tan on, get my party on - maybe it's because a Kelsey is always "on", which is why after stopping at the bar, the Kelsey then heads to the gym for SoulCycle or some sort of fitness bootcamp. Kelseys like the camaraderie of group classes or team sports, although she'll run a half-marathon for a cause, so for all you trying desperately to recruit for the company kickball team look no further than the Kelsey in your own backyard.

So, what's my beef with the Kelseys? I guess I have to go back to my childhood and my first Kelsey. At the start of second grade, the parents made my sister and I switch to a school closer to home, which meant goodbye to the 35-minute morning commute and hello to a school down the street from us. The change of venue, though, also meant goodbye to the black teachers and classmates I'd grown to love and hello to a predominately white elementary school. All at once, I was a little, fat black girl with unreasonable hair (read: nappy), a shiny face (Grandma liked to Spackle Vaseline on my face EVERY morning), a strange smile (a gap between my front teeth which I proudly display now), and no fashion sense (c'mon, I was a fat kid in the 1970s!). And there were the Kelseys - with their cool Barbie dolls, strawberry lip gloss, perfect penmanship (complete with hearts over their "i"s), and Hello Kitty pencil cases. In the presence of the Kelseys, I felt lacking.

By undergrad, I knew how to deal in the Kelsey-rich environment of my small, southern, nearly 100% white college and I seemed to thrive. But, I could see some cracks beginning to form and the Kelsey-tolerance I thought I'd built up was starting to wane. The Kelseys were the ones going on dates, getting boyfriends and fraternity pins and engagement rings from the white boys on my campus. And me - well, when I wasn't being overlooked or mistaken for one of the dining hall or cleaning staff, I was the friend or the one those white boys wanted to take to bed, but not wed. I felt shame and anger,

After school, though, I learned that I was not alone. That there were others of us who've suffered the Kelsey Curse of feeling less than. In my first job after grad school, I tried to out-Kelsey the Kelseys, striving for perky and upbeat and positive. My white supervisors applauded me, but the black women in my office were divided with some giving me a lot of side-eye and others loving my can-do attitude, and hoping that we finally had a contender to fight the Kelsey scourge!! I was doing alright, and soon, I left for my dream job in radio, but, in a stunning twist, I found that what my new boss wanted me to BE a Kelsey. You see, somewhere I'd become confused, and had taken so much Kelsey into my bloodstream that people thought that I was a Kelsey. But, I'm not, and that's when I began to understand that my Kelsey problem was defining my life. I remember, at that time, going to a vocal coach who said that everyone who hosts their own radio or TV show has to find their voice - who they are, their point of view - and communicate that over the airwaves. It sounded so simple, unless you don't know who you are, and I didn't have a clue. 

I had only defined myself in relation to the Kelseys of the world, and now I am able to see that I am more than I thought. All of the shame and the anger and the longing to belong had become tiresome. I hate thinking about all of the time I lost in the clutches of the Kelsey haze, and even though I have some minor twinges, like when I'm watching "Top Chef" or "Food Network Star" and see another black woman contestant knocked off of her game by some fresh-faced Kelsey, I'm aware of how good life is. Not perfect, but so very good. Too good to be consumed with the cult of Kelsey. So play with your hair, drink your pumpkin-spice beverage, bake your brownies, Zumba your little heart out - I'm over it, Kelsey! 

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Reality TV Vocabulary Primer

Well, the Fall 2014 television season has begun, which means lots of new shows vying for our attention. Among these shows are new reality TV shows, and while the premises for these shows may have upped the OMG-quotient ("Dating Naked" comes to mind), they all include a very basic vocabulary that lets you, the viewer, know that yes, you have stumbled onto a reality show. So, for those of you who took a break over the summer from reality TV, or those of you who are (shocking!) reality TV virgins, here is the quick and dirty, definitive reality TV vocab primer - also known as Reality TV as a Second Language.

This is reality TV's name for a friend or a frenemy who appears in your same reality TV universe.

Used as an adjective or as a noun to describe a castmate or a castmate's activities which are particularly irksome, illegal, or that could potentially cause a danger to other castmates. Used in a sentence: Kim went all crazypants shotgunning quarts of milk at Phaedra's Black Cleopatra Costume Party.

Often used as a verb (NeNe disrespected Phaedra by not inviting her to her Superhero Drag Party) to describe actions by castmates that hurt the feelings of other castmates.

The consequences from the thoughtless actions of a crazypants castmate. Drama can be caused by anyone at anytime and should be avoided AT ALL COSTS. One's ability to avoid drama is viewed as a virtue by other castmates.

Not to be confused with the epic "Beowulf" that you read in high school, this use of the term "epic" can describe a plethora of activities or items. An example: Reza's Cold Mountain theme party was epic. Or this: Reza drank an epic amount of espressos.

Used most frequently by female castmates to describe other female castmates who may no longer technically qualify for the "girl" designation. An example: This group of girls have so much drama.

Got your back:
Used as a term of endearment for one, or more, of one's castmates who consistently demonstrate loyalty. An example: I thought Tamra had my back, by I was wrong.

Loving someone to death:
A turn of phrase used by castmates to describe their love of a fellow castmate, usually declared when the castmates are inebriated on a party bus or on one of the many forced group vacations castmates must go on with cameras rolling. Usually ending with a sloppy, weird hug.

Team [Insert Name]:
Groups of girls typically subdivide into teams when drama has arisen in the group. The team name denotes the principle parties involved in the altercation. An example: In the matter of Jill vs. Bethanny, I'm Team Jill

That just happened:
Often, reality TV castmates must take on the role of narrator for their filmed realities in soliloquies spoken to their camera confessionals. In order, then, to express surprise/outrage/horror, they have developed a verbal shorthand, the phrase, "that just happened", though, spoken with a dramatic pause BETWEEN. EACH. WORD. 

Throwing anyone under the bus:
The term, used to describe an act of betrayal, is in the Top Ten Reality TV Vocabulary Pantheon! And there seems to be no shortage of buses in the reality TV universe as castmates throw each other under buses weekly, and, sometimes, multiple times within one episode. It defies the laws of physics as some of these castmates do not appear to possess the requisite physical strength it would take to toss someone underneath a bus. 

Throwing up a little in your mouth:
This turn of phrase, used to describe a person or situation so vile that it elicits nausea and vomiting, is a staple of reality TV. It seems to have its roots in the Valley Girl speak of the 1980s and that era's popular phrase, "gag me with a spoon."