Saturday, August 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mike

In the midst of all the excitement of the Democratic National Convention, I let a very important day go by without acknowledging it--Michael Jackson's 50th birthday.

In spite of all the bad press about him and questionable judgment exhibited by him, I still love Mike. Don't nobody never say nothing bad 'bout Michael Jackson around me. Like Dave Chappelle said, "He did Thriller--Thriller." I still remember my cousin and I as young adolescents, dressed out in our Jackson gear: she in her "Human Nature" yellow t-shirt and me in my black, studded Michael Jackson belt, both of us wearing our purses decorated only by his picture, slung sideways across our bodies. We would argue about who would be the one to marry him. Well, neither of us did, but he still holds a special place in my heart.

Now, he's 50, a milestone for anyone, and his music still has the power to move people. They talk a lot about "Beat It" and "Thriller" the single, which are great songs, but even now I am still discovering the beauty of "Baby, be Mine" from the Thriller album. And I can't describe the feeling of excitement I get when "Butterflies" (from Invincible) comes on. I think Mike is a genius! Even his dance moves are still inspiring people. That's a powerful legacy.

Happy Birthday, Mike! I still love ya!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Few Reflections on Obama's Acceptance Speech

I have been trying to think of what I can say about Obama's speech. I feel it is only right to speak on his acceptance speech since I've talked about other aspects of the convention. Unfortunately, there is not much to say. It was a good speech and he gave some specifics about what he wants to do in office. He had a moment of comedy--I liked the "Eight is enough" line. I was moved by the discussion of the soldiers not fighting for a red America or a blue America. Some people were bothered by his lack of actually naming Dr. King--DH included--but his allusion to him was enough for me. I was glad that he responded to Republican attacks on his character and told McCain he wasn't going there. This assertive rebuttal is something Democrats have not really been doing in the past few years. I'm not sure what that's about, but Obama seemed to indicate that maybe they have finally realized no fight-back is the possession of losers. And another thing I liked, but I liked it at Saddleback, was his position on abortion. Instead of focusing on choice after the fact, let's work on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. (I'm sure I will come back to this point in a later post.) Basically, I agreed with Obama on several things, but at the heart of it, I agree with his approach to problems. Think them through and look for common ground when there are opposing sides. H e proved in his speech that this is how he thinks when he spoke on immigration, gay marriage, and the Second Amendment.

It was a good speech. I hope that those who hadn't been listening before heard him this time and are now coming around to see that he is the better choice.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dreams from My Fathers and Mothers

I am so disappointed. I missed Bill Clinton's speech last night and I heard that it was good. I had no doubt that it would be because quite frankly, Bill Clinton is always "pimpin' ain't dead" when he's speechifying. I suppose I will have to avail myself of YouTube.

What I did not miss was the historic moment of the first African American, Barack Obama, being officially nominated for President of the United States by the Democratic party. As CNN panned the crowd after Hillary moved that he be nominated by acclamation, I saw the faces of the people, particularly the Black people, and I felt it. I saw some men about to cry, and I felt it. I thought about what this moment meant, and I felt it. Just think: Black people primarily came here enslaved--shackled, hunted, dehumanized. I am currently reading Song Yet Sung, a novel about an enslaved woman who is running away on the Maryland coast so I am daily being plunged into that world of servitude and violence. Where people have to be duplicitous just to have some sense of sanity. Where people cannot be sure if their children will be with them the next day and they cannot fall in love with anyone for fear that it will cause them to maintain an unbreakable link to slavery. Where people have no choice or control in their own lives. This is a large part of our beginnings in America. And now, now we have a Black man, chosen by people of all races, as a viable candidate for president. Who could have ever imagined that a people who weren't even allowed to read would one day have one of its own chosen to possibly be president?

As I watched the crowd, I thought about Fannie Lou Hamer and Dr. King and all the other people who gave their lives to the struggle for equality. I thought of how proud they would be if they could see us now. Fighters like Richard Wright who talked about being beaten up by White co-workers just because he wanted to learn more about the optical business (something his boss said he wanted him to do). Or fighters like Frederick Douglass who witnessed the daily despair of forced servitude and beatings and who heard the lonely songs of the enslaved. Fighters like Merlie Evers-Williams and Mamie Till who, in addition to waging their own battles for freedom, had to watch their loved ones go down in the fight. They would know that it wasn't all in vain.

I am not going back on what I have said in the past. I don't think that Obama will cure all that ails us. I don't even believe this means now every Black child can realistically dream of being the president. But I'm feeling the import of this moment. And that's enough for me this morning.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wow, I'm singing America

TD, you are so right that Michelle made me want to love my country. That's amazing. I usually dismiss minority displays of patriotism as either unthoughtful or posturing. But a while ago I realized that these Obama people really mean that stuff. ! They really are amazed by the possibilities and promise of America, even while they see the stains on the rose-colored glasses. Maybe I can both be critical and be embracing, too. Wow!

Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not simply saying that all is forgotten. That will never happen. I'm not going over to the "Love it or leave it" camp. I have too many thoughts and too much brain-activity for that. I spoke with my students today about being critical thinkers instead of sheep, so I can't very well turn into one of those sheep. Still, I've long acknowledged that this is one of the best places to be a woman in the world. But I still had such a bitter taste in my mouth about her juvenile and vacuous attitude about her painful past (not the mention present) that actual patriotism seemed miles and miles and miles down the road. Now, I'm starting to feel some pride. But that's mostly because, following the Obamas' lead, I'm trying to look at a picture of what America can be, what she promises to be. It's really a beautiful picture.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

For the Future of Our Daughters

Let's celebrate today the many women and men who fought bravely so that our right to vote as women could be secured.

She, Too, Sings America

SM, I can't wait until tonight to see what HRC has to say. I know she'll tow the party line and say she supports Obama, but I wonder how she will say it. Will it be enough to convince her supporters to get behind the candidate that already largely represents their views? And, will it be enough to convince people like me that I can respect HRC again and not continue to think of her as the desperate ex-girlfriend who won't let go of the boyfriend who dumped her? I want to respect her. I want to like her again. Just like I want to like the feminists in the movement because I think sisterhood is important. Time and time again, however, they remind me that to them, I am the darker sister and they will hurriedly send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes (to paraphrase Langston Hughes). Last night Michelle Obama showed them that Black women are beautiful and the feminists should be ashamed (still paraphrasing Langston). She presented herself to be a classy, compassionate, and articulate (can I say that?) woman, but she also proved that her family, too, sings America (okay, I'm stopping with the Hughes). She proved that hey, Black people work hard, we love our kids and parents, we suffer non-race related problems like multiple sclerosis, and we can love this country.

I hate that she earlier had to revise/explain her statement about being proud of America for the first time in her adult life because that original claim did reveal the complexities of Black folks' relationships with this country. Cindy McCain's quick rebuttal that she has always been proud of her country just showed how ignorant she can be. Of course, you're proud--your position in society as White and especially rich dictates that America has always been good to you. But Michelle's place as working class and Black reveals that in spite of the fact that America has been harsh (and don't get it twisted--she grew up during the sixties and seventies, harsh times for Black people), she can still find the good in it. Last night's speech showed us that more than find the good, she can love it. I think that is amazing. Rather than try to force Black people (or other people of color) to deny their experience, as Elisabeth Hasselbeck would like to do, I think the fact that they can love the country should be celebrated.

Last night, Michelle's speech made me really consider my relationship with the country. I was inspired when she talked about Barack's thoughts on how too often we accept the world as it is, even when it doesn't coincide with our values. It made me hopeful that we really can strive for the world as it should be.

I was also inspired by the love that she displayed for her husband last night. I know the pundits talk about how she had to humanize him (because I guess he was not human in the first place?), but I thought she really revealed a sense of love between them. It was so beautiful when she talked about how he drove so slowly when he brought her and Malia home from the hospital. And when she spoke of being married to him, loving him for 19 years. . . these things made me a little misty-eyed.

Okay, I also wanted to talk about the crazy suggestion that Black women can't expect White feminists to speak out for Michelle because Black women didn't speak up for HRC when she was under attack, but I just don't have the time or tolerance for nonsense right now. I tend to agree with the comments here, however.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Low tolerance for nonsense

I intended to post a frustrated and angry comment about the legion of people who still have their panties in a knot because Hillary Clinton isn't going to get the Democratic Nomination for President. I was going to to vent about my low tolerance for nonsense and how it's being tested now. I had a whole rant planned that centered on the points Rebecca Walker has already made quite effectively about the many reasons why my college students flat out refuse any association with (or any thorough understanding of) the feminist movement.

But then I sat down with my husband just before the first day of class at the university where I teach, with my two sweet babies asleep upstairs, and listened to Michelle Obama. The commentators wrestled about whether or not the speech was "inspired" or "moved the ball forward". They talked a lot about her efforts to repair damage from earlier in the campaign. But I realized that I didn't need her to do a lot of repair work. I know that her family is like mine; that she and her husband come from families that were imperfect and got their crap together anyway. Who are these people who need a black woman in America to say that she loves her country? I mean, isn't it common sense that ALL black people have a complicated relationship with the country? Yeah, okay, I know that common sense ain't so common . . . .

I agree with the talking heads that the speech wasn't earth-shattering. It was a nice speech delivered by a woman who is stunningly smart, erudite, and stylish. It was moving and warm, even while she pushed the same messages she's pushed for over a year. In the middle of it, though, it came to me that she was setting the table, not serving the meal. So, she didn't need to come out with guns blazing. And she didn't need to prove anything to me. So, fine.

Here's one thing that I have to say about Michelle Obama's speech: Her bringing together the two anniversaries--women's right to vote and Dr. King's dream speech--will, I hope, serve to remind all of those feminists who think HRC got the shaft that they are not the only women in America. They don't get to high-jack women's issues or concerns. Race and gender intersect, and pretending that only gender matters is a bunch of bull stinky. So, all of those women (or men) who have joined together to form PUMA have totally exhausted my nonsense tolerance. You are willing to give away everything that you say you believe in just to pitch a hissy-fit? Where exactly is all of the unfairness you are crying about? What's the specific gripe with the actual nominee? Why refuse to vote for your own party's nominee? Isn't this really about something else?

Well, the rant came out a little anyway. And I think that I'm a little worked up because this may not be the most coherent composition. In any case, I'm wondering what else there is to say about Michelle's speech and about the havoc HRC supporters are trying to reek.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Other Shoe Dropped

Growing up, I always heard that death (and birth) came in threes. Whenever someone died, we could expect two more people to die. DH dismisses this as Southern superstition, "Biblebelt Beliefs" he calls them, but it has proven true as far as I could see. When I heard that Bernie Mac died, and then Isaac Hayes the next day, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sorrowfully, I wondered, who would be the third beloved member of the black entertainment community to leave us? On August 20, I got my answer.

Julius Carry, best known to us as Sho'nuff from Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon, passed away on August 19 as a result of pancreatic cancer. He was 56. Who could forget the menacing way he challenged Bruce Leroy in that movie theater early in the movie? I still tell DH to "Kiss my Converse" from time to time.

Carry made guest appearances on many shows. I remember him as Angela's military father who wasn't crazy about her boyfriend Shawn on Boy Meets World. I also remember that he was the debonair philander married to The Jefferson's Jenny (Berlinda Tolbert), but dating Phyllis on Half & Half. He also appeared on The District, The Hughleys, Mosesha, Family Matters, and a host of other shows. But I think I remember him best (other than as Sho' nuff) as the club owner announcing "Kimberllllllllly Reese!" when Kim performed as the lead singer of the band Expressions on A Different World. Julius, you will be missed.

Although she was not a member of the entertainment industry, we also lost Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones this week. She suffered a brain aneurysm and died some time later. Honestly, I was not a fan of hers during the 2008 Democratic primary, but I mourn her lost nonetheless. She was a mother and a sister and she made history for our people. She was the first African American woman to be elected to serve in the US House of Representatives from the state of Ohio. During her terms, she worked to improve economic empowerment in our community and funding for improved health care. Surely, we cannot afford to lose any more of our strong workers.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sit down somewhere . . .

You're right on it, TD. This kind of thing just screams, "Look at me, please!" It's nonsense, and, when they get through jumping up and down, I predict that no one will care. And perhaps no one will buy this record.

Your point about the topics for songs reminds me of the stark differences between other genres, namely country music, and hip hop and her sisters. Country music tells engaging stories in thoughtful, funny, clever packages. The topics are wide ranging and creative. Solange's little trick here is not clever or engaging; it's just sensational. I don't care. I hope nobody else will.

In My Sister's Shadow

I am an older sister so I don't know what it is like to live in the shadows. I hope and have tried to encourage my siblings to create their own aura of light so that they they do not ever have to worry about any residual darkness that may fall from mine. I think they have done this as they are good at what they do and good at who they are (shout out to my parents who helped--LOL).

So, it saddens me when I see celebrity siblings who seem to be desperately trying to emerge from the shadows of their (often) more successful siblings. They do the most ridiculous things so that, I suppose, we will stop calling them Sally Mae's Little Sister and John Boy's Little Brother. And so that we will take them seriously. For instance, Ray J. Why in the world did he try to come out all gangsta in the early part of the century when he is from McComb, MS,--McCOMB!--the son of a gospel singer and the brother of Brandy, sweet pop star Brandy? And a sex tape, Ray J? Really? Then there's Jamie Lynn Spears, whom I guess doesn't really fit this paradigm as one teenage pregnancy hardly distinguishes you from the dead lights of Britney's drama. But the one that I am most appalled by at this moment is Beyonce's sister (who is still just Beyonce's sister at this point), Solange. What is this?
BEYONCE KNOWLES' little sister SOLANGE is set to shock fans on her new album by singing about drug-fuelled sex.The pretty 22-year-old, who was a mum at 18, sings about smoking marijuana and making love on a new Lil Wayne duet, called ChampagneChronicNightcap.And she insists every track on her new album Sol-AngeL & The Hadley St.Dreams is written from personal experience.She tells Giant magazine, "I am unapologetic; I don't write about things unless they're true. I'm a grown-ass woman and I've experienced grown-ass things." Source

I get that she may be grown and she wants people to recognize her "growness," but it has always been apparent to me that if you're grown, you don't have to try to prove it. You just be grown and people will recognize that. And you really don't have to put all of your business out there; grown folks keep that kind of business to themselves. If singers want to sing about adult topics, there's poor health care for adults and children, domestic violence, a rising HIV rate among Black folk, especially women, police brutality, an alarming rate of foreclosure in our community, the election. These are topics that concern grown folk. Okay, these topics probably won't sell records (but they should). One could sing about his/her take on spirituality, important (non-sexual) relationships, being a mother or father. Why is the default way to prove one's maturity sex? It seems to me if that's what someone thinks makes him/her grown, they're not really. And then to promote irresponsible sex on top of that?

I haven't heard Solange's whole album yet (and I probably won't), so maybe this song is just one anomaly among a bevy of mature, responsible songs. But this is not a good way to promote them. And it's not a good way to make a (good) name for yourself.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Better Day

So, I realized that it's been almost a month since I tearfully left my dear baby boy in his daycare class with both of us sobbing from the separation. The teacher told me yesterday that he finally decided to eat his lunch (until now, 1000s of cookies per day was the best they could get him to swallow) and he was playing when we picked him up. Yay!

It was so much easier to leave him today. Don't get me wrong, now. When I walked out the room, he scurried his chubby feet to the door as fast as he could. And was making that pre-crying noise that promised to turn into something more any second. I had to make a quick get-a-way. But I spied through the window just a few minutes later and he was in his chair eating breakfast like a big boy. No crying or whining or anything. They tell me that he blossoms in the afternoon. I'm just going to charge that to my husband, who is nobody's morning person. In fact, neither is my daughter, who , about 3 mornings a week, informs me that no she will not be using the potty and no, she does not want to wash her face, and she doesn't like her tootbrush and she wants to go back to bed.

I'm so glad that it's getting better. He's such a sweet and funny boy; I want him to have a good time. And I want the teacher to stop dreading his entrance in the morning. But for now, I'll just be grateful that he's having productive, tearless afternoons. That means that I'm also having productive, tearless afternoons. Well, tearless anyway. Yay for us!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Guy Who Makes Family Movies?

I'm no fan of Hip Hop. I never have been. I know that I am supposed to be a child of Hip Hop but when I watched the movie Brown Sugar, I felt none of the love Syd and Dre professed to feel. DH chides me all the time because I don't know the songs or the artists or, as he says it, "what's good." (I pick Kool Moe Dee over LL every time!) I say this to say that there is no nostalgic love between me and Hip Hop which makes it easier for me to denounce it as a scourge today. Okay, that's harsh. But I do see quite a bit of negativity in it. Crass materialism, ubiquitous misogyny, senseless violence, foolish anti-intellectualism--all detriments to the community. Whatever its historical value in giving voice to the people is obscured by its current influence.

But I could be wrong.

It seems that older members of the Hip Hop community are making turnarounds in positive directions. Ice Cube stands out the most for me. He was all gangsta in NWA, but now he is the star of several family movies (Are We There Yet?, Are We Done Yet? and The Longshots). What gives? Then there's Ice T who caused a hullabaloo with "Cop Killer," now playing Detective Odafin Tutuola on Law & Order: SVU. Now, Master P, who wants to be known as P. Miller, has done a one-eighty and is starting a television network Better Black Television (BBTV) that he says will provide positive, family-friendly programming. (I assume since it is Better Black TV, it is meant to be better than our current Black network, BET).

I think these changes are good, but I wonder what prompts them. Are these artists looking at the current state of Hip Hop and its influence and trying to find a way to counteract it? Are they just too old to keep moving the way they used to move? Or, are they becoming more mature as they age? Whatever the reason, their actions are enough to make me re-evaluate my perceptions of Hip Hop, at least, my perception of the old heads. I still can't find anything positive about "Soulja Boy."

What do you all think? What do you make of this change in image of Hip Hop artists? Will you watch BBTV?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Getting Back to Familiar Waters

Pearl, I feel ya. College often is a huge adjustment and it can be scary. You're being thrown, head first, literally and academically, into this new world of unfamiliar and sometimes unwelcome ideas, of people the likes of whom you've never encountered, and of tremendous and terrifying responsibilities. What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to keep a handle on who you are while at the same time allow yourself to grow into someone different? (Because why be in college if you're not going to grow?) We have to find that touchstone, that thing that keeps us grounded. That thing that keeps it all in perspective for us. Honestly, I can't recall what that was for me when I went to college for the first time, but when I entered graduate school, it was Sounds of Blackness's song "Familiar Waters."

Picture it: a young Black woman in a predominately White town at a predominately White institution. I couldn't find anyone to do my hair; don't even think about finding some place to buy it! I grew up in a predominately black community and was used to being validated in every regard--my race, my faith, my intellect. Here, I was definitely out of my comfort zone. But as I would drive to school, I would put in my Time for Healing CD by Sounds of Blackness, hit #15, and instantly, I would feel like I was home. Not only did it emotionally transport me back to a space where I was surrounded by family and friends, but it also gave me courage and peace. It helped me feel like even if I didn't quite belong there, somewhere existed a place where I did belong. Even if I wasn't appreciated there, somewhere a place existed where I was appreciated. It reminded me that the work I was doing--studying Black folk--was valid and necessary and good. It encouraged me to hold onto who I was while so many things threatened my sanity. (Certainly this song was played over and over during the dissertation process.)

In truth, whether it's being placed in an environment in which you have to take showers instead of baths or you're a racial minority in a community of strangers who could take you or leave you, life presents us with the challenge of the new and we have to rise to the occasion; we have to find a way to keep our heads even when it seems everyone around us is losing their mind. We have to find that thing that lets us know it will all be okay.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

So Much to Chew, So Little Time

I've been teetering back and forth about the focus of my first ever blog post. I can't say that I've gotten it figured out yet even now as I type...but at least I've actually logged on (I've been doing it in my head up to this point) and started down the path of putting myself out there in the public domain.

So, just now, I've decided to keep it simple and begin at the beginning. I'll walk you back to the Fall of 1993. The city is Atlanta, GA. It's about September-October-ish, and I've gotten my feet firmly planted in the soil upon which Spelman College now stands. It's about noon and, as I did every day about this time, I make my way up to the second floor of the student center (upper Manley for those who can feel me) to the familiar smells of Alma Upshaw dining hall. I pull out my ID for a quick yes-I-paid-my-room-and-board-to-eat-here swipe in exchange for my red meal ticket. That's when the hope before the hunt begins.

I wonder what they're serving today? Maybe it'll remind me of what Mama cooked at home. Maybe it'll expand my horizons - as attending a liberal arts college was supposed to do - and introduce me to a new type of fare. What do I have a taste for? What have the chefs chosen to represent the finest of what Aramark has to offer? Let's ask the lady back here with the serving gear. Um, what did you say that was? Chicken a-la-three-days-in-a-row? Really? *sigh* First the salads...then the grill line...cereal, maybe?...and then I see it. Just where it needed it to be. I sidle up to the main food line, place my tray on the rail in front of me, smile, and ask for the steamy fluffy white goodness in the rectangular tray in front of me. "May I have some rice, please?" That was all it took. A couple of generous scoops of single grains that only Uncle Ben could have perfected. Yes. Now, we can have lunch. Now, we have choices. Now, that hamburger patty over there in the grill line looks like a great choice of meat and the green beans in the main line would make a worthy side. I'm back on track and can use the money my parents are paying for me to eat here once again. Crisis averted. I live to eat another day.

Putting my meal over rice just made life for me a little better to swallow. You have to adjust to quite a bit as a first-year college student. I preferred taking baths to showers almost exclusively until I moved into the dorm and saw that bathtub...and there was no way. I went from living with a brother to living with two young women (my dorm room was a triple) and we all kept different and night. I don't like food noises and one of them smacked as if it were an olympic event. I wanted the light off when I slept but another didn't start studying until 10pm. It was a good week if you went down to the dorm kitchen and didn't smell your food cooking by somebody just as broke and hungry as you were.

I just needed something that wasn't going to disappoint me. To help me keep things in perspective, you know? To remind me that everything was going to be ok. And it was as long as somebody remembered to boil some water, add a little salt and butter, and wait for the cup of rice to rise to the occasion.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Thoughts

Here's something to ponder: how old are those girls on the Chinese gymnastics team really? I was watching the other night for the first (and probably only time this year) and I cannot believe that those girls meet the minimum age requirement of 16! My brother said that the American team should feel bad that they got beat by preteens. Obviously I am not alone in my speculation.

Speaking of the women's gymnastics teams, I read a blog post on The Kitchen Table by a Princeton professor who compared the competition to being a professor in the academy. Aside from a passing interesting in cartwheels and flipping as a child, I never really cared about gymnastics. Maybe you have a different outlook, SM, since you were once a cheerleader. I'll tell you, though, her analogy makes me look at gymnastics in a whole new light.

To comment on Michael Phelps: I can't say much because the only thing I knew about him before your post was that he was the object of that girl's affection on the AT&T commercial. But on the same night that I watched gymnastics, I also watched swimming. I saw him and the absolute love that the media had for him. I try not to root for people/teams because I think I jinx them, but I was on the verge of excitement to see America win and beat a record. However, why was the camera only on Phelps at the win? For a very long time. Was it not a relay? Did not the entire team contribute an effort? Is the media like Chuck Norris fans whose fascination has led to the creation of Chuck Norris facts? To paraphrase them: when Michael Phelps jumps in the water, he doesn't get wet; water gets Michael Phelps. Hmmm, these are just things that I was wondering.

Finally, I was also wondering why China Martha Washed little Yang Peiyi? True, Lin Miaoke is as cute as she can be, but if Peiyi can sing, shouldn't she get the glory? Besides, she is cute, too. You know, this is my issue with the Olympics in general. It's supposed to be about talent and who's the best, but really, it's about who appears to be the best. It is tainted for me by the use of steroids and questionable age and gender practices. I thought the games were supposed to be about competition, pitting one's own ability against the ability of fellow athletes from around the world to see who is the best. But if you're fudging the lines here, violating rules there, it's no longer about who's the best. It's just about who can win. Your talent, your ability doesn't matter. Then, for me, what does any of it matter?

So, these are my Olympic thoughts. Since I care next to nothing about sports, I can only speak of the drama behind the scenes. Those stories are always fascinating.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pondering the Olympics

So, this morning I heard Michael Phelps say that he was listening to Lil Wayne on his Ipod just before latest world record-breaking swim. I have to wonder now if anyone will choose to associate rap and hip hop with success and hard work. Doubtful, you say? I agree. Perhaps someone will link Phelps with the violence and dysfunction in hip hop. Don't think that will happen, either? Probably not, despite the fact that Phelps does have a DUI arrest to attest to the fact that he's not actually Superman.
Phelps is, however, almost literally the golden boy of these Olympic Games. He has been called Superman (although my husband asked why not Aquaman--ha!). And he's on my television almost every time I turn to the Olympics, even when I'm watching some other sport altogether. I mean, seriously, are there any other athletes over there? Clearly, Phelps is talented and has put in the work that leads him to win almost every race he enters. Watching him compete is exciting and he seems like a decent person who is focused on a goal; I don't take any of that away from him. I'm just throwing him into the always complicated and messy mix of American iconic imagery and popular culture.
Here's another question: Remember the 2004 Olympics when there was a lot of to do about (black) track and field athletes who were said to celebrate with too much bravado? There was a swimmer who frequently posed like Superman before he swam. I think I had to write a letter of complaint about it. Anyway, I'm trying to remember if that was Phelps or some other swimmer. Can anyone help me out?

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I just ran to the steps to yell to my husband that Isaac Hayes is dead.

I spent the last day and a half trying to compose a succinct and meaningful comment on the death of Bernie Mac. Now, I hardly know what to say at all.

I'm still a little--no, a lot--shaken up by the fact that Eddie Levert lost two of his sons one right after the other. This loss of talented, creative black men seems to be a tragic spiral that is out of control. I feel little like I did when I was in college and there was a rash of young black men, some who were college students, who died near the college. I remember feeling numb, as if this was just going to keep happening in spite of our collective grief or my individual shock. It felt as if something were wrong.

And now, I feel again like something is wrong. We might revisit The Diva's posts on creativity and the lack of it in recent years. Losing these men who offered us the opportunity to witness their deep creative efforts feels wrong. They weren't old men, and yet their bodies couldn't sustain them in a country where medical advances and nutrition are among the best in the world. I can't help but to think of the gap in life expectancy between black and white men. I know that there are myriad ills that explain that gap, but I think that these losses are tragic. They were artistically brave and left it all on the floor each time they performed. They gave us a complicated mix of masculinity, race, sexuality, and creative intellect. They didn't necessarily save lives, and they didn't win any Noble Prizes. But we are reminded of the things that make us feel alive: laughing, dancing, singing. They didn't save lives, but didn't they help us perfect the process of living?

No, Not Again

On the heels of the pleasure of vindicating itself to the nation about its racial enlightenment, the Memphis community must now mourn the loss of one of its native sons. Musician Issac Hayes died today at the age of 65. This is truly a sad weekend.

Both Hayes and Bernie Mac have provided us with invaluable gifts. They say that laughter is the best medicine, but music has also been known to heal. As a community, African Americans as well as the entire nation, suffer for the lost of these wonderfully talented individuals.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

We'll Miss You, Bernie

Bernie Mac is dead.

At times like this, there really are no words that are sufficient. He offered us the gift of laughter and for that, we are grateful. Now, we offer our prayers for his family.

Keep 'em laughing in heaven, Bernie!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Smells Like Desperation

I was quite excited by the prospect of Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House in 2007. Even as the primary season got under way, I was still excited about Clinton and earnestly trying to decide who I would vote for when Election Day came for Biblebelt. But somewhere along the way I became quite disappointed in Clinton. Perhaps it was when Bill made that statement about South Carolina's election results or maybe it was when Hillary nitpicked about Obama denouncing Farrakhan at one of their 10 million debates. Although I always kept in mind that ultimately, she was still a politician, somewhere along the way, I lost respect for her as a politician and as a woman. It seemed that Clinton felt this was her race, her time and then some young upstart came along and stole her thunder. As such, she became desperate and started doing the most ridiculous things. I picture her as this woman with her arms flailing uncontrollably.

I invoke this memory of Clinton because there is another woman who seems desperate: Nikki Tinker of Memphis, TN. I don't know much about her, but some people aren't crazy about her. I do know that she is running against Steve Cohen, a Jewish man, for the 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. This seat was previously held by Harold Ford, Jr. before he ran for the Senate and prior to that, by his father. Cohen's win in 2006 marked the first time in over 30 years that a White man has represented the predominately-Black district. Tinker lost to Cohen in 2006 and apparently, she doesn't intend to lose again.

She recently released a tv ad in Memphis discussing Cohen's 2005 opposition to renaming Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in the city and having his interred body removed. She had images of Klu Klux Klansmen in the background.

Even if we did not know that Cohen was the one who initiated the recent resolution to apologize for slavery in Congress or that he has a history of civil rights in the city, we can't overlook the fact that he is JEWISH! The Klan doesn't like Jews just like it doesn't like Blacks. Why would she make this kind of insinuation? Why does this association make sense to her?Ridiculous. She's preying on the racial sentiments of the people, hoping that they will not be astute enough to look beyond the emotionalism of her ad to see its flaws. She insults the people with this ad. And she is beginning to smell of desperation.

I don't know whether or not Tinker will make the better representative for Memphis, but I do know that it's true what men tell us all the time: women who seem desperate do not get dates. They are not chosen. As Hillary Clinton sits at home, hoping Obama can pay her bills, bills, bills , she attests to this fact. Tinker would do well not to go down this road again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Yeah, well, okay

I get what you're saying. I still don't like the way he skirted the idea that America really, really sucks for what it's done to black folk; especially when the next sentence out of his mouth expresses regret and sadness for Native Americans. To me, that sounded like he was saying that NA are really deserving of our collective compassion, but African Americans are subject to all manner of evil without even having to be sorry about it. But I think it's a good point that NA are totally pushed aside and forgotten, perhaps because a "reparations" gesture was extended.
Ultimately, the real issues seem tied to poverty as much as they are to race. Well, almost as much. That's why Obama's vision about what the country is and what it can be are so inviting. We've pretended that hard work and merit alone make "the dream" happen; perhaps we can take another step in getting real about who we are and what we're about.

Monday, August 4, 2008

In His Defense

SM, I like your analogy of Obama and dating. I think that helps us to keep in perspective that Obama is just a man. And as I've said several times during this campaign season, in the end, he is a politician, with all that implies. So, even though we have made him into a symbol ( a la Joe Louis), ultimately he is a man and he is a politician. He can't be everything we need or want him to be.

I am not so bothered by Obama's stance on reparations because (1) I already said I understand that he can't talk about specific black issues and (2) I don't think reparations will ever or should ever come in the form of a check. I do agree that America owes us equality and creating programs that should have been in place in the beginning is in no way a reparation. But Obama seems to be on to something. If we get a check, not only will many, if not most, of us be breaking our necks to give the money right back to "The Man" (I'm reminded of Dave Chappelle's sketch "Reparations 2003"), but also America will be running straight to the sink to wash her hands of any further obligations to us. Reparations will mean closure to many people, yet we will still be left with a disproportionate prison population, higher incidents of poor health and infant mortality rates, a dysfunctional and distrusting relationship with the police as well as an unbalanced portrayal in the media. Yes, we'll have our money and we'll have our land, but it won't make up for the discrimination that has negatively affected the life chances of many Black folks or the privilege that has served as a boon for many Whites. America must have a reparations mindset; it must function with the understanding that it was built on racism, with inequality coloring most of its fabric. Until there are real systemic changes, America will never be able to achieve closure in regards to African Americans. Obama can't say this, but I think his speech was inching close to it.

Consider the situation with the Native Americans. We gave them reparations and now, you don't even hear of the injustices they suffer. But they do suffer them. America's general attitude is that we've paid our debt to them and now we can go on about our lives. Obama's suggestion of an apology to Native Americans is great, but overall, we should overhaul the system so that we are a true meritocracy for everyone. And by the by, the House of Representatives has issued an apology for slavery. I think it's a good gesture although it remains to be seen if action will accompany it.

I have read some say this apology is too little too late; that present-day Americans have nothing to apologize for; and that this is a set up, a play of the race card to get Obama in office. Obviously, I disagree with all of these. What do you think about it?

And another (Obama) thing . . .

As often happens, my opinion falls somewhere in between The Diva and her husband. Yes, the country has lots to do if we are to reside in a more peaceful, secure ideological (and practical) space; and yes, black America is aching for this black man to pay us some special attention. As I was reading your blog, though, Michelle Obama came to mind. Remember months ago when she was reminding us all that Barack is, after all, just a man? Well, this is a good time to return to that thought.

I was discussing with my husband--let's call him The Ace--an article in which Obama quietly walked away from the idea of reparations. The very next sentence has him suggesting that an apology is owed to Native Americans. I knew that he wasn't perfect and that he would disappoint me in some way soon enough. Here it is. The Ace is really disturbed as well. Practically, I agree that there is no pot of gold from 1865 waiting to supply the 40 acres and a mule that we'd like to have. Heck, if we could buy a house with one full acre so that my children could play a good game of hide-and-seek, I'd fall off my chair. But I get my knickers in a bunch when anyone seems to suggest that the country doesn't even have to be sorry. I say that without taking anything from Native Americans. Certainly, having one's land stolen is no better than being stolen from one's land. And the recent episode of "30 Days" demonstrates the ways in which that community is in dire straits that neighbor those of African Americans. They deserve their apology, but so do black folk. America has made amends to other groups of people, so why so much to do with black America? What's important, though, as Obama tried to suggest, is the third tier of the forgiveness process: what can I do to make it better? He's right that the words don't make my schools equitable to the ones in other parts of the city or country. But we should start with the words. That's important, too.

The other troubling thing about Obama's statement is that he seems to be saying that reparations should come in the form of initiatives to correct inequities in schools and neighborhoods. No. Equity is what America promised in the first place, so you can't get extra credit for that. Every neighborhood should be safe with solid schools and businesses, and that is not related to repairing slavery.

And here's the final "other" thing about Obama: he's just a man. Remember dating? The first date is so exciting and fresh and promising. You like him a lot. He's so different from that last loser who broke your heart. But then, you realize that he really likes that song that makes you want to vomit. And he doesn't keep his car clean all the time. And how many times can he wear that ugly shirt? That's disappointing. But he's a good guy and he's smart and he's trying his best. It's just that, well, he's just a man. That's where I am with Obama. He made me "love this cultured hell that tests my youth" (to quote Claude McKay) . Now, I'm willing to give a little more and believe a little more than ever before. But he's not going to give me everything I need. Neither does my husband. The Diva is there for the other part of me that's needs a female sensability. I'm drinking his Kool-Aid more than any candidate in my lifetime, but Obama is just a man.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Musings on Obama

Tonight, DH and I were having yet another discussion about Barack Obama and his ability to speak to and for the Black community. He believes that Obama doesn't say enough about the condition of Black America. I explain to him that he can't say too much because he has to get elected and White America will only accept so much blackness from him. He retorts with the declaration that if he can't speak his mind now, we really can't expect much from him when he gets into the White House. It's a conversation we've had many times during this election season, especially after the Rev. Wright & Trinity situation emerged.

I suppose the members of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement agree with DH. They, too, are questioning Obama's commitment to Black issues. But I say to them what I say to my husband--this man has to get elected. And despite John McCain's insistence that Obama is bringing up his difference by saying Republicans will claim he is the "Other," most Americans already recognize his difference. For many, this difference is problematic, so if he is to get elected, he can't emphasize his "otherness." These critiques of Obama make me wonder, what do we expect of him and what can we expect of him?

I am on a listserve with my former high school classmates and the discussion often turns to Obama. They are so excited about the possibility of a Black president, as am I. In their posts they speak of how great his presidency will be and what a boon this will be for Black America. I am inclined to agree. But I am cautious, too. We can't expect him to solve all of our problems, as a nation or as a people. One of my students told me last semester that she doesn't want him to win because the country is so messed up now, there's no way he can fix it. Consequently, he and his blackness will be blamed for not fixing it and the path to another Black person winning the office will be blocked. I won't go as far as my student, but I do agree that the task before him will be a daunting one.

Here's what I'm thinking: We should look at Obama as a presidential candidate who happens to be Black rather than as a Black candidate. In this way, we will not hold him to certain expectations. He won't have to speak to every single black issue and we will be more willing to understand that he will have to be a president for everyone. So, we accept that he has to denounce Rev. Wright's ideas on race (however true many of them may be), but we expect him to get to New Orleans as soon as it's safe after Katrina. He has to get elected, but even when he gets there he may not be able to do what we want (or need, in some instances) him to do specifically for Black people. I don't think it's realistic or fair of us to expect these things of him.

Perhaps I'm just making excuses for Obama. I admit that I am still shaping my thoughts on this, so I'm open to other ideas. What do you all think?

Since I'm musing on Obama and the race, I just want to say that I think it is ridiculous for McCain to compare Obama to Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears. Aside from the fact that they are known for being shallow women who are celebrities because they are famous and thus bear no resemblance to Obama, doesn't McCain understand that Americans like celebrity? They voted for Bush because he seemed like someone with whom they could share a beer. So, Obama's celebrity can only work for him.

I have other thoughts, particularly about Obama being posited as the "Other" in this race, but I'll save that for a later time.