I saw a video on Facebook the other day called Mexican Hacks. It featured a young man chronicling his experience with Mexican cultural quirks that he jokingly explained were ruining his life. It was funny, but it also made me think of all the things I do in my own home that might be labeled under the “black experience” and would be funny to share with others. So, I made my own list of black hacks--let’s call them #blahacks. Or, let’s not.
Hack #1 - Vaseline
This is number one because it is truly an important part of my lifetime experience. I only believe my dedication to this product is a cultural anomaly because I’ve seen the weird looks I get from students whenever I pull out my medium-sized jar from my desk while teaching to reapply to my lips, or massage into the skin between my thumb and forefinger. If they think that is weird, I’d hate for them to see the large jar. You see, the way I use Vaseline can be best described by the way the parents used Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And that is to say, for everything. The only difference is, it actually works! What other product has so many uses? I use it for lip softening, of course, but also for so much more. My go-to uses include lip gloss, skin beautification, shiny edges (this meaning hair), foot/heel softening, and these are just the daily perks. In the just this year alone, I’ve used it to stop a squeaky hinge in a car seat, help a student remove a plastic ring that was threatening to completely cut off his circulation, and remove a name tag a child had permanently affixed to the main gym floor before a basketball game. As I write this, I can think of at least four more stories that included Vaseline as the hero of the day, but I have other hacks to get to so those are stories for a different time. But I don’t think it is belaboring the point to say, that Vaseline is truly the most influential product of our time.
Hack #2 - Sauces
I list this because every black home I’ve ever been to has had an “unusual” amount of sauce in their refrigerator. And by unusual, I mean, completely filling both doors and at least ⅓ of the shelf space. I grew up with such a fine assortment of barbecue sauce, ten types of mustards, multiple fruit and spiced jellies and jams, chutneys, hoisin, fish sauce, malt, rice, wine, apple cider and distilled vinegars, cocktail, tartar--I haven’t even scratched the surface. I use this sauce to make marinades, or mix things together to create new, even better sauces, and yet, I never seem to have enough. Ironically though, we don’t really use any sauce on a semi-regular basis outside of ketchup. Go figure. Which leads me to the next category,
Hack #3 - The Condiment Drawer
Yeah, I said that right. Surely no black home is complete with a drawer stuffed full of packets of ketchup and assorted condiments. Why do we do this? Many reasons--like, first, they’re free. Why would I throw free stuff away? Second, I might need them. At least once a year I pack the boys a hot dog in their lunch and need four packets of ketchup. Mostly, I find myself running out of soy sauce and those thousands of packets are desperately needed to finish a fried rice recipe. I took stock of my inventory the other day, and was pleased to the point of tickled by the realization that my collection included such gems as jams and syrup alongside the old staples of mayo and duck sauce. I have a drawer to rival any, and one day when you need a million tiny servings of Asian mustard, well, I only hope you have my number. Who’s laughing now, Karen?
Hack #4 - Bags in Bags
Many people probably have found themselves storing plastic bags in another plastic bag, however, I’ve included it here because of the prominence of this phenomenon in my home. We have what must amount to hundreds of grocery bags stuffed strategically in various places throughout the house (the pantry, linen closets, laundry room, and all bathrooms). We even have a dispenser for these bags on the inside of the pantry door, but it is admittedly difficult to use because even in the container, the bags are stuffed in other bags. At first, we hoarded them because they were the best method of diaper disposal. When you have diapering for an entire decade straight, you come up with tried and true methods. Now that we no longer have that need, we occasionally find other reasons to use these little gems. I guess the white equivalent of this would be the gallon-sized baggie. I’ve noticed that whenever I’ve found a situation that calls for a bag, I come to the table with an old Walmart bag, while my friends have those proper Ziplocked gallon bags with their use written in Sharpie on the front. Like, always. Need a snack or lunch packed? Have to have an extra set of clothes in your backpack? Taking Valentines, treats, or supplies to school? I’ve got a bag for that! And luckily, my kids haven’t yet expressed embarrassment at having the opaque brown or gray plastic wrapped around their belongings. And before you judge me on harming the environment, please remember you can always bring the bags back to Walmart to be properly recycled. Which is exactly what I intend to do with my bag collection as soon as my kids go off to college. Unless we use all of them to pack their stuff.
Hack #5 - The Whipping Belt
Now, before you call CPS on me, this belt isn’t actually used for discipline. No, my discipline methods are a mixture of yelling, threats, begging, and carefully applied guilt. The belt is only a tool--a mere resource for behavior modification. In fact, you can’t actually use the belt on the children. Much like a monster seen too soon in a horror movie, a belt loses all authority and effectiveness when used in haste. That is why the selection of the perfect belt is more an art than a science. First, you need one that is not actually needed as a clothing accessory. When used correctly, this belt will find itself all over the house and therefore not very useful when needed to hold up trousers. It needs to be worn and pliable enough to make a nice noise when cracked--aim for a crack that can pierce the sound of shenanigans from downstairs. The farther your noise can carry, the more efficient for your use. Play with lengths and widths to get the desired effect. And remove the buckle--more parents are harmed by a buckle to the face while trying to achieve the loudest threatening sound than any misbehaving children, or so I’ve heard.
There you have it, the first in what I hope is a continuing set of Black Hacks. Or, #blahacks (nope, I still don’t like it, but I thought I’d try again.) If I think of more, I’ll let you know. The problem is, as I teach to my students, culture is invisible to the inhabitants, and usually only noticed after the response of a norm being broken in front of an outsider. So the next time one of my white friends looks at me with wide, confused eyes, I’ll be sure to write it down.