Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Watch for this first signal of danger. If she begins to take off the first earring, you need to jump in quickly to defuse the situation, right away. That is the key to stopping all hell from breaking loose. If you can keep the black woman's earrings on, you might have a chance at getting away without being hurt. If one of them comes off, that's about a fifty percent chance of an ass-whupping. If they both come off, she's going to jail" (238-39).

From the moment I picked up Tyler Perry's book and read the title, I could not wait to get to the passage about black women and their earrings. I was not disappointed, and found myself very entertained even though it was a fairly short section. Last semester, I spent three months full-time student teaching at Overlea High School. Even though Overlea is a Baltimore County (not City) school, it caters to a very urban population of mostly minority students. And it has one heck of a reputation for being pretty rough. I did not find it to be nearly as frightening as its reputation would have one believe, but I did witness some pretty interesting scenes. Like any high school, there are fights. The fights I witnessed throughout my teaching experience were sometimes reminiscent of what I saw in my own school in suburban New Jersey, sometimes they involved weapons, and several times they were broken up using pepper spray. One thing was for sure, if there were girls involved (and it usually was girls), the earrings were coming off. I distinctly remember a young male teacher saying that as soon as you see the girls go for their earrings, you know there's going to be a fight. He also told me that when fights are pre-planned (as in: this Thursday, after lunch, be there) the girls will come in wearing every single ring they own in order to make the experience that much more painful, but that's another story...

You could literally point out which girls were going to get involved if you saw them come back from lunch without the elaborate earrings they had on before. If there was a fight going on in the hallway, you could see girls taking off their earrings, "getting ready to go into overdrive," and running to back up their friends (239). Yes, it was often a serious situation that I of course dealt with professionally, but the earring thing really is funny to me, I guess because I lived it.
I find myself constantly changing my mind about how I feel about this book. I definitely found it funny. Sometimes, I would find myself relating to things that were said, almost as if Madea was some kind of universal female voice. Other times, I would feel like I was excluded and on the outside, I could laugh, but did I really get it? There were also times when I felt like I was the target: "And if you really want to bust your gut laughing, watch white people dance to black music. There ain't nothing like watching a whole bunch of white people dancing to Jay-Z" (36).
For me, the book was both familiar and distant. I really heard some of the advice Madea gave, while other portions of the book seemed foreign. I really was constantly reminded of my student teaching experiences. It took time, and a lot of humor, to earn my students' trust and respect. Some of the funniest and most awkward moments were when I would ask students to shout our movie titles, characters, or TV shows that related to what we were talking about in some way. For example, static/dynamic characters or the elements of a plot/Freytag's pyramid. I learned early on that I needed to be careful when doing this because their pop culture references were VERY different than mine. They were not going to say "Harry Potter" but they did often look to Madea or Tyler Perry. I can't even count how many times I wrote "Madea" on the overhead projector. Seriously. When I had to ask who Madea was or what her movie was about and have them explain it to me, the kids would always laugh. I became very good at laughing at myself and even exaggerating my supposed uncoolness in order to make them laugh. I think my experiences with my students definitely impacted my reading of Perry's book. The book was more funny to me because I kept thinking of my students as a whole or even particular individuals. I also felt like I was being "let in" on part of their lives a little bit, which was pretty cool.

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