When Will BET Pull Its Jeans Up?


I almost never watch award shows - no Oscars, no Grammys, no VMA's.

The prewritten jokes these shows insist on including in their presentations are usually so bad they would fall flat on their own, but when they are half heartedly delivered by half lit guests, they are guaranteed to bomb.

So I was outside doing some yard work when the BET awards came on. I knew this because S. stuck her head out of the basement door to tell me. But since I didn't normally watch these things, she wasn't surprised when the "naaaw" popped out of my mouth.

As I started emptying my weeds from the bucket I'd collected them in, I could see shapes wiggling on the big screen TV across what looked like a stage, even from where I stood all the way out at the edge of the patio. The mower came out next, trimming the grass I'd planted back in April down to fairway length. By the time I finished watering the backyard, it was almost dark. I opened the door to the basement, kicked off my shoes, and joined S. on the couch in the basement just as Jamie Foxx was finishing an electric guitar solo.

S. was shocked.

I figured I would only sit there with her for a few minutes, to try to put in a little togetherness time, but once I sat down, I was hooked.

Overlooking the ignorant sketch Jamie Foxx did with Martin Lawrence that reprised the roles of the fictional ghetto women they made famous - Wanda and Sheneneh - I was entertained enough by the high notes of the evening to overlook its weak moments.

I guess I don't listen to the radio enough - I kept asking S. "who is that" over and over as the singers and presenters came to the stage. Maybe it was the picture of a dead man, hovering above everything, that gave the performers, even the not so good ones, an extra "oomph". Maybe it was the idea of an awards show whose theme for the night was based around the music of a man and a family who actually sang real songs over originally produced melodies that provided a level of gravitas that has probably never existed at a BET awards show.

By the time Don Cornelius came out, after a rousing tribute by a well dressed Johnny Gill, Tyrese, and a younger singer I've never heard of, I was almost ready to give Debra Lee, the president of BET, some props.

"She looks like she had been up for days," I said to S. about Lee as she addressed the audience.

"I imagine so, with all the last minute stuff they had to do."

I smiled. "I think she was up for days trying to convince the bigwigs at MTV to cough up some real cheese for a change to pay for all this."

We joked some more about Ms. Lee as she stood on stage, thanking her staff, and her audience, and her performers. To me she looked like a school superintendent. School superintendents almost always look alike - well fed and well turned out - no matter how bad their school system is.

From there on in was mostly the grown up end of the show, with the O'Jays and Maxwell showing us how good African American men could look as they entertained us. The guys with their pants hanging off their asses? Including Jay-Z? The guys with the tattoos and piercings from here to next week? They weren't African American artists. They are Ridiculous American artists. They are Stupid American artists. If there is anybody who just "happens to be black", it is these clowns.

I thought about Al Sharpton, who was in the audience, IN A SUIT, him and Jessie Jackson and all the other reverends and community leaders, who have insisted for so long that we have to meet our youth in the streets where they live. Is that because we want them to stay in the street?

I thought about Ms. Lee, superintendent of BET, and wondered if her children wore their pants hanging off of their asses, or had tattoos over half of their bodies, or pieces of metal sticking through their tongues. Is her bonus based on maintaining the Negro status quo on BET's shows? But then again - if she gave us programming more like they have at TV One, which doesn't have an audience large enough to sustain itself, would BET end up in the same boat?

Then I thought about Mark Sanford, and all his sanctimony, and started thinking about how sour this was all starting to sound, especially when I knew damn well that I'd grown up on rap music, and had listened heartily to the raunchy strip club raps by Uncle Luke and all the rest - but in the strip clubs, where they belonged, not on TV where every third word had to be bleeped out.

I thought about all this for awhile, but the thing that kept coming back to me as Jamie Foxx called it a night was the double breasted pinstriped suit that Don Cornelius wore. It was the same style of suit he'd worn for years as the host of Soul Train. It didn't matter whether the acts he interviewed after they performed on his show were wearing bell bottoms, or go go boots, or shiny space age suits, or barely anything at all - you knew Don was going to be there in that same old suit, with that same old clear, crisp Roscoe Lee Brown style diction, and that same old halting attempt at pronouncing a new slang term, as if he was a professor of music instead of a TV producer.

It was that classic double breasted suit, updated with an even more sophisticated chalk stripe and double vented jacket, more carefully tailored to a younger, more athletic frame, that Maxwell wore to complement his new haircut while he performed. That white ticker tape looking stuff that floated down from the ceiling as Maxwell pranced around the stage reminded me of the classic picture of the Obama family during the election that has them showered with the same stuff.

Maxwell gets it.

Don Cornelius never forgot it.

And I've seen The Jigga Man in suits - nice ones - and pants that fit around his waist, so I guess he must be backsliding. Or trying to sell some records.

When will the stragglers amongst us decide to pull their jeans up - or better yet, buy some real damn pants - and rejoin the rest of us African Americans?

When will we, the silent majority, put our clickers where our mouths are, and tune in en masse to the things we say we want to see when they finally get on TV?

In the meantime, will someone please tell me what "autotune" is?






Growing Up With Micheal Jackson





    "I rock in the tree tops,

    all the day long,

    rockin' and a robin

    and a singing this song..."




"Rockin' Robin"
was one of my first records. The IPod equivalent in the seventies was a little square suitcase - mine was covered in orange vinyl - that held a record player and a tinny sounding speaker. You could plug it in on a porch or a stoop and play the latest 45's on it. The Jackson Five was still together, and the records were still plastered with that awkward looking blue Motown label that would make you dizzy if you tried to follow it around the turntable as it spun at 45 rpms.

The black adapter for the 45 sized records was easily lost, which meant all of your records had the little blue, green, orange or yellow inserts snapped into the hole in the middle so you could play them over and over.

The Jackson brothers looked like new money whenever you saw them on TV, their afros freshly barbered, their dance moves crisp, their voices strong and earnest. They were the pretty, camera ready incarnation of James Brown's gritty anthem "Say It Loud (I'm Black And I'm Proud)".

The tone of baby brother Micheal's voice matched your own prepubescent screeches as you tried to sing along.



    "Let's dance, let's shout,

    shake your body

    down to the ground..."




You listened to "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground" on your Sony Walkman, or the K-Mart knockoff from Korea that replaced it after you'd dropped it enough times, but you told everybody it was a Run-DMC remix. The Jackson Five had gone minimalist, jettisoning the Five because the original name belonged to their old boss Berry Gordy.

They left their brother Jermaine behind at Motown too, because he was married to their old bosses daughter. It took a little more makeup to keep those child growing into man faces baby smooth, but the dance steps were as crisp as ever.

You'd moved on too - the record player was now a boom box, and you'd had to learn new skills - namely, how to take a pencil and stick it into one of the spindles in the cassette case to take the slack out of the magnetic tape whenever it was spooled too loosely because you had rewound it back to the beginning of the same song over and over.


    "Come on and groove,

    let the magic in the music

    get to you,

    'cause you're not bad at all..."



It was almost like magic when the radio DJ played "Off The Wall" on your mother's car radio, repeating the last song played at the dance your mother was picking you up from. The otherworldy sound effects heightened your memory of the girls you finally convinced to get on the dance floor with you, magnifying their budding curves and allowing you to read more into their sparkling eyes than they ever intended. Micheal had gone from front man to the man. The era of music videos meant the singer could divorce himself, figuratively and literally, from the band.

You'd had to learn to begin to do the same thing - to begin to emerge from the pack, to begin to decide to do things that were different from what everybody else wanted.


    "People always told me,

    be careful what you do,

    don't go around

    breaking young girls' hearts..."



Maybe it was the influence of rap music, maybe it was the improved sound systems in family sedans - whatever it was, the bass driven "Billie Jean" helped Micheal elbow his skinny self back in amongst the pack for the newly licensed drivers, who had finally earned the right and the privacy during solo drives to play what they wanted. If you were cool, you sported the Member's Only jacket. The hopeless faithful didn't waste any time shucking and jiving with any imitations - they went straight for the jugular, buying exact replicas of the Gloved One's video attire.

In fierce competition with beatboxing and break dancing for our attention, Micheal held his own. But we were growing goatees and mustaches now. And some of us, too many of us, had had to start dealing, waaay waaay too early with the fact that the kid was our son.

His Highness's face was changing too, though, but not like ours. It was still baby smooth, with new cheekbones.


    "The way you make me feel,

    you really turn me on,

    you knock me off of my feet,

    baby,

    My lonely days are gone..."




Moonwalker Number One been gone so long MJ didn't just mean "Micheal Jackson" anymore. But the premiere of his "The Way You Make Me Feel" video was still enough of an event that jaded college students stopped what they were doing to check him out. Still suburban-centric, but newly afro-inspired, we speculated as the wind whipped through his hair on the screen about the how and the why of the new nose, the new skin tone, the lack of hipbone.

Even though we'd gotten better at the love chase, a little help from the music man never hurt.

In that video, it looked like Micheal was in a new place, out in the desert, shorn of all but the most ethereal wisp of a shirt and Peter Pan pants, ready to spread his wings to figuratively fly away.

So were we.




I couldn't have recorded the tidbits I've shared above any better if I kept a diary. No matter how bizarre and twisted things may have gotten for Micheal Jackson in his later years, it's these moments, these slices of time in my life that have been indelibly marked by his music.







Sanford Spills Secrets



Remarkable.

That is the word that came to my mind about ten forty five last night after watching Larry King and Anderson Cooper do their part to fill the world in on some of the details behind the affair Governor Mark Sanford recently had with an Argentinian woman. Sanford's hangdog face looked even more forlorn as he proceeded to explain to the reporters packed in at his news conference yesterday what has been going on in his personal life for the last few months.

What was remarkable about his confession was the amount of intimate details Sanford chose to reveal. He reminded me of Gary Cooper, not because of his looks, but because of the shy manner in which he tried to avoid looking at the cameras, the way Cooper used to do when he was forced to come clean about his feelings for the romantic interest in his pictures.

It was a Shakespearean soliloquy come to life, giving his air of resignation to the public flogging that is sure to follow for weeks to come the feeling of a grand, epic failure in the tradition of the great Elizabethan dramas. Sanford's statement was the kind of thing that the Lifetime Channel has built its entire stable of made for TV movies around - the cheating husband.

In my mind, at least at first, it was a fitting comeuppance for someone who could treat the plight of Ty'Sheoma Bethea and the rest of my undereducated South Carolina brethren as if they were nothing more than mere chaff to be separated from the wheat.

But as I watched the political pundits and so called relationship experts on CNN, the disgust I felt rising in my chest wasn't for Sanford's bone headed and clumsily executed attempt to re-experience the throes of new found love, but for the dry, wooden sanctimony that these talking heads seemed to manufacture as they regurgitated the same old tired and inaccurate reasons on why these things happen.

My father, who is a big fan of Sanford and his no nonsense, bare bones style of leadership, has often told me the story of what happened immediately after Sanford's father's death. The Sanford sons buried their dead heart surgeon father themselves, some of them digging the grave while Mark himself built the casket.

    "You hammer the nails closed, you carry it out there in the back of the pickup to a certain part of the farm. You lower the thing down there. You and your brothers do it on your own, and then grab shovels. We say a little prayer, fill the grave, walk back up to the house. It was an intensely personal experience that really hit home for me: you ain’t taking any of this stuff with you."

    Mark Sanford


To my father, this illuminated Sanford's commitment to his parsimonious economic policies. To me, though, it has always spoken to a deeply emotional current raging beneath the surface of the son's taciturn exterior, to physically bury your own maker.

I was awake last night long enough to see a few pictures of Sanford's wife. I thought about the things we do as Americans to women in our society as the array of photos of the governor's wife, an ex-investment banker who was the mother of his four sons, flashed across the screen, the things we do to idealize their femininity, while divorcing them from their sexuality, as if those four boys had popped neatly out of the accessories section of a Talbot's catalog. I thought of the perverse way the press has castigated any woman who has not fit their preconceived mold of proper political wife, whittling away all these years at the public's imagination until all we are willing to accept is the narrow field of view they have convinced us to adopt as our own.

Next door to me lives a middle aged Puerto Rican woman who is married to an American man from Seattle. She understands this mainstream American fetish for women who are supposed to act like men well enough to play along when necessary, displaying the demure restraint that is the hallmark of professional women all across the country. She can often be seen nodding gravely, or flashing a quick, clipped off at the wrist wave the way women do in any downtown office building.

It is when this neighbor woman takes a moment, when we are all in the driveway, catching up, or in somebody's house, sharing a glass of wine, that she taps back into her natural emotional wellspring. At times like this, it only takes thirty seconds to see why her husband married her. That a woman can flash her eyes and roll her 'r''s voluptuously without any intention of coming on to a man sexually is not a part of our mainstream American culture.

My buddy and I were talking earlier this week about the events in Iran when he asked me if I remembered an Iranian girl from back in our college days.

"Rima?" I said.

"Damn, you remembered her name?"

"Dude," I said, "I used to call her at night sometimes just to hear her talk on the phone. That voice was magic."

Governor Sanford wanted that thing that many of us want from time to time - to relive that beginning feeling you get when you are first in love, when there is more unknown than is known to you about your lover, a void you happily fill with a runaway imagination, with endless possibilities - but most of us have neither the opportunity or encounter the rare circumstance of having the other intangibles line up in such a way that we feel it is worth the risk to try to have our cake and eat it too.

Does it mean he was right to do it?

No. But unlike all the other recent lover boy politicians, beginning with the modern day Lothario-in-Chief himself, Bill Clinton, and wending our way through all the other names and faces that have been plastered all over the news these past years, Sanford seems to have chucked the "politician caught red handed" damage control playbook out of the window.

However naive it may seem, the man wants his family back. Whether or not that happens hopefully remains a decision only his wife and his sons have any meaningful influence on. May the members of the media who have not at least lusted in their hearts jump from the top of one of the nearest church steeple.

I'm not worried about my home state of South Carolina. The personal notoriety of an individual politician won't make or break it. Educating the Ty'Sheoma Bethea's will still be the number one issue when the TV cameras leave.

All politics aside, may Mark Sanford live long enough for his sons to bury him with the love and pride with which he buried his own father.






When A Text Is More Than Just A Text


I was in the basement the other night, half watching a movie, when the Resident Diva came downstairs with a couple of friends. Since it has taken the Diva, who is a new high school graduate, a while to find a summer job, we have seen more of her around the house lately than we have all year.

She has the usual teenage aversion to being around adults whenever her friends are here, which means that she normally expects us to disappear to somewhere upstairs. But I was watching Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins - even though I've seen the movie three or four times, there is something about it that makes me want to see my favorite parts over and over.

So the three girls plopped down on the sectional and proceeded to try to display through their body language that they were ready to watch the DVD they'd brought with them. I'd just gotten comfortable, though, and it was a long walk back upstairs, so I wasn't looking to move right away. After a few minutes, the Resident Diva started to pay attention to the movie, laughing at a couple of the funny parts at the beginning.

"How much longer is this?" The girl sitting closest to me, one of the Diva's longtime friends, had brought a couple of sheets of poster board with her. She was making a poster for her boyfriend to hand in his room. Her younger sister was sitting next to her, intently watching the TV screen, as if she was trying to decipher what the Resident Diva and I could possibly see that was funny about the way Mike Epps was acting when he suddenly appeared.

After a few more minutes, the Diva was bored. A conversation started between the three girls. I let them know that I'd seen the movie before, and was just planning to watch until the fight scene between Martin Lawrence and Mo'nique was over.

The girls' conversation started to veer into the mundane aspects of summer and their anticipation of what college life would be like. The girl nearest me volunteered a random tidbit - her father, she said, had been at home the last two days. She turned to her sister to say something and they began to speak in rapid fire Farsi. "Can we watch the DVD now?" came out of the older sisters mouth so fast it was hard for me to answer, because I was still taking in the exchange between the two siblings.

It didn't hit me until later, after I'd left them to watch the horror movie they'd rented, that there was a reason the sisters' father had been at home for the last few days. He was a scientist of sorts, with two PhD's in some area of environmental engineering. An Iranian expatriate, he had a regal bearing, and was very circumspect about his work, so being at home for two days just didn't fit his usual M.O.

Even though he'd left Iran at eighteen to go to school here in America, it didn't take long when you talked to him to understand that he was more of an expatriate than an American citizen, even after twenty odd years stateside. He spoke often and lovingly of his childhood, and the businesses and positions of influence his relatives had back in Iran.

His teen aged daughters, despite regular visits to Iran, were as American as they come. Thinking about it later, I didn't believe these girls fully comprehended what the civil unrest in Iran meant for their aunts, uncles and cousins - their family.

It was at the part of the movie where L.A. talk show host R.J., whose real name was Roscoe Jenkins, drove down the dirt road to the Jenkins family homestead back in a small town in Georgia that the girls' cell phones started beeping, buzzing, and issuing otherworldy melodies. Then the familiar tap tap tap of fingernails against hard plastic sound began, as if they were creating additional background music to add to the movie soundtrack.

There were giggles. Laughs. And the occasional "oooh" that was a surefire conversation starter between the three of them as they stared at the little screens on their phones, taking in the latest update about who was dating who, who was not dating who anymore, who was cute, who was boring - the normal things American teenagers fill their free time doing.

I thought of this today while I read about the way the Iranians who were protesting their election were communicating with the world, risking their very lives to tap out messages that would go around the world in a few seconds, courageous messages that were about body counts and illegal police actions, to let their family and friends abroad know what was really going on in their country. These were more than just text messages. These were declarations of independence.

It is hard to believe that text messaging, a service that I alternately see as either an aggravating, impersonal, or incomplete way to communicate, depending on my mood, can have gone from being the latest social phenomenon to becoming a critical political tool so quickly.

We watched the movie - me with joy, the girls with an increasing sense of resignation - all the way until the fight scene between R.J. and his cousin Clyde was about to begin. By the time I had collected my empty glass and checked the doors, the Diva had deftly inserted the DVD of the scary movie they wanted to watch in the player so fast the opening credits were already running across the screen by the time I was ready to head upstairs.

I left the three of them down there, safe and secure, tapping away at their phones to their friends while they settled in to watch manufactured horror, the red light of the alarm system glowing from above as if it it were an actual sentry whose job it was to watch over them.






In My Father's Arm

I posted this last year for Father's Day, but since my father asked me about it recently, I figured I would run it again this year.


Chicken killer, wood splitter, cotton picker, hog slopper, cow milker, hay baler, fish cleaner, delivery driver, egg sorter, dining hall porter, car washer, soldier, school teacher, county agent, county supervisor, speculator, marketer, business owner, project director, program manager - my father has been all these things and more.

The first house he lived in was literally a barn, a tin roofed structure scented with the aroma of the corn and the meal that used to be stored there - this, his birth home, still stands on the farm where he grew up. To stand in that barn now and look out that door, it is utterly amazing that a man whose first view was of the few cleared acres around him would see so much of the world in his life.

Both of my parents were raised in male headed households. Their fathers, born after the beginning of the twentieth century, were the kind of men who protected and nurtured their children, advocating the importance of education even though they themselves didn't have very much. Men who could also be as hard as the steel in the plows they walked behind, demonstrating through their own actions the importance of delayed gratification, and meting out stinging punishment to their progeny who forgot to toe the line.

There is no void for me and my brothers - my father, in his own way, has always been larger than life. He is always imploring us to jump higher, run faster, to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He is forever prodding us to be engaged in the economic and political aspects of our community, where ever we might live. And he is forever vigilant against those who seek to impose their will on him or his issue.

These days, my father inhabits the same suburbia the rest of America does. The kerosene lamps from that old barn have been replaced by light switches. The stifling Southern summer heat is fanned away by central air conditioning. The logs, which come pre-split, are only used for decorative fires in the winter. The only cotton that has touched his fingers in years are in the shirts he wears.

My father's arm, the one holding me in the picture above, is still there, forty one years later, when I need it. He still studies me as intently now as he did then, still able to sense instinctively when something is wrong. And all those jobs he has had, and all the stories he has told about them - now, they inhabit the stories I tell.








Flyswatter In Chief

For some reason, I happened to be in a situation similar to the one the president was in Tuesday, when a fly kept buzzing by me while I was in a meeting.

My aim was not as good as the president's. It took me two attempts to kill the nasty little booger. My execution was nowhere near as suave as the president's tightly controlled slap to the back of his own hand. The booklet I'd used to smush the pest slammed against the meeting table without warning, scaring a few of the people sitting around it.

And of course, there were no cameras to record any of my actions for posterity, so you're going to have to take my word for it that this actually happened.

With the attention this story got, I think we have officially entered the "dog days of summer".

While President Obama has been busy shuttling from meeting to meeting about his "now you see them, now you don't" healthcare proposals and worrying about the Khamenei in Iran, I've been shuttling from book to book this summer.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead kicked it off. Them by Nathan McCall was the second book I polished off, and now I'm just getting into the storyline of Man Gone Down by Micheal Thomas. I was actually reading this last book a little slower than normal, because I had no idea what was going to be next, when out of the blue comes I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everrett, a South Carolina native who stretches the definition of "story" whenever he gets in front of a keyboard, and Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr., by one of my own fiction writing buddies.

So if Brown Man Thinking Hard seems a little more literary than normal this summer, it will be because I have finally calmed down enough from last year's cataclysmic political events to and gotten my reading mojo back.




Was GM Always "Government Motors"?


My buddy called me yesterday.

"Don't you think GM has been "Government Motors" all along?" he said. "They were handing out pensions and benefits like they were the government all the time."

For a man who had just come back from vacation, you would think he would still be pretty mellow from all the sun and sand filled beaches he enjoyed all last week, but not him. Nope, he was right back where we had left off two weeks ago, when Sonia Sotomayor was the topic of discussion.

I thought about his question for a second.

"You know, I think you're oversimplifying things. What you really need to do is look at GM as if it is a financial supermarket that is attached to the car business. I don't think GM did anything wrong by offering the kind of pensions they did, back when they initiated them, or by providing the level of healthcare coverage their employees and retirees received. They counted the numbers and scoured their projections as closely now as they did then.

The thing you might want to think about, though, is a phrase nobody talks about very much anymore. "Overfunded pension fund". That was the buzzword of the eighties, wasn't it?"

"Uh, yep. You're right."

Think about it this way - if you were to put all the of the over funded dollars that were siphoned off back on the books, there probably wouldn't be a pension shortage today. Does that make any sense?"

"You got a point."

The guys who man the books at GM are like the guys who have manned the books at all major institutions since Benjamin Graham's seminal volume, Security Analysis, which detailed how to value the modern corporation.

If the houses in your subdivision were built the way the balance sheets of most conglomerates have been assembled for the past few decades, your subdivision would look just like one of the famed Hollywood backlots, with intricately detailed facades facing the cul-de-sacs even as the struts behind them struggled to keep the one dimensional structures from falling flat.

In many ways, I think we have ended up looking at GM like its problems are a moral failing of some sort, as if the company would have been okay if it had only adhered to a spartan financial regimen. But the web based businesses as we revere today didn't get here because the internet sector was super efficient at deploying investor capital - many of the companies who inhabited this space wasted billions of dollars in failing efforts to gain market share and become profitable.









Could Sotomayor Be Right About White Men?




Sonia Sotomayor just might be onto something. This quote:

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life."


just will not die. It's one of those obscure statements our lazy media will replay for the next few months as if this one sentence is the key to understanding the totality of who Sotomayor really is.

Meanwhile, everybody from Newt Gingrich to Joe Lieberman to Lindsey Graham seems to be hell bent on proving her right. These guys, believe it or not, are just like the folks who run BET - both groups seem to be committed to pimping a distorted view of dysfunctional male misogyny.

Has Gingrich just totally lost it? Telling us that "Obama has failed" already is like calling the outcome of a football game before the first commercial break. It's like a teacher handing out blank test papers at the beginning of an exam with the grades already written on them.

That metaphorical "wise Latina" Sotomayor referred to is looking smarter already.

Meanwhile, Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman are as angry as two spoiled little three year old toddlers who have been forced to share the toys their daycare provides with all the other kids. These two clowns have decided that they are just going to take their ball and go home...no, wait, they are going to SHUT DOWN THE SENATE. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

At the rate these guys are catching "foot in their mouth" disease, the "wise Latina" doesn't even have to be wise - just experienced.

What really gets me hot under the collar about these buffoons is the same thing that gets my blood pressure up when I see some of the ridiculous images of black people BET keeps showing over and over - their total disregard for reality. Most of my drinking buddies and cigar buddies are white men. Granted, none of them are congressmen or political pundits, but by and large, these guys are all pretty decent, pretty humble...well, okay, most of them aren't humble, but neither are any of the African American guys who are my friends.

What I'm really trying to say here is that when you take the preening and the posturing and the politicking away, white men are just like any other men. It's the charlatans and fakers who insist on acting out, the way kids do when they aren't getting enough attention, who are currently giving the rest of America's white men a bad name.







Brown Man's Medication Affects Dedication



This Brown Man is medicated these days - not in the kind of way that makes me feel like a zombie, but just enough to throw off my equilibrium as it begins to counteract what ails me. I didn't feel like cursing anybody on a cable news show at all last week. Now, after a week of this pharmaceutical regimen, it seems that the drugs my doctor prescribed must be working, at least a little bit, because I started writing imaginary blog posts in my head again yesterday while I ate breakfast. Which is good, because I have to be on this stuff for at least two more weeks.

Since I last posted anything almost a week ago, a lot has happened. George Foreman's son, George Foreman the Third (not to be confused with any of his brothers, George Foreman the Second through the Sixth), a graduate of Rice University, is taking a turn in the ring as a professional boxer. Tiger Woods has brought NFL type excitement back to golf, which was drowning fast without him, by winning his latest tournament.

The Los Angeles Lakers are probably packing their bags for Disney now so they don't have to fly all the way back to the West Coast after they sweep the Orlando Magic in Game Four of the NBA Finals. President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor has a broken ankle, which some smart ass on the radio will try to say is a tactic by the Puerto Rican jurist to elicit sympathy from the Republican senators who have already drawn a target on her back.

The Resident Diva would be packing for college herself, except her school doesn't start for months. Months! Several looong months, during which it looks like I am going to be learning more about the Billionaire Boys Club, hear more of the fabulous Wale (pronounced Wahh-lay for all you middle aged readers) at all hours of the night, and find out the maximum number of color combinations a Korean nail shop is willing to apply to a teenage girl's fingernails in one sitting. I finally took down the "2009 Graduate" sign today, which should be a signal to all the other high school graduates who seem to populate our house day and night these last two weeks that the party is over. But if you know teenagers, you know that I am just kidding myself.

And the grass in my backyard, that glorious patch of mud I've been staring at every night for weeks, has finally begun sprouting a thin, patchy layer of fuzzy green that looks about as sparse as the hairs on a teen aged boy's face. I feel about as hopeful as I did back when I was a teen aged boy while I watch carefully every evening for the latest tender little blade to reveal itself.

Add to all of this a book that I've finally started, one that I've been promising myself that I would write this summer instead of doing the same old complaining to my buddies about what we African Americans need to be working on to get our act together, and it looks like a long summer ahead.

No matter. Medication or no medication, the Brown Man is back in action.

Judging by some of the headlines I've seen the past couple of days, this should be an easy week.

A special thanks to Yvette Carnell for helping the Brown Man out last week with her op-ed piece, In Defense Of Sonia Sotomayor - she may have inadvertently kicked off the summer Guest Blogger series.








Have To Limit My Obama Time


S. asked me Tuesday night if I wanted to watch the NBC special that showcased a day in the life of the Obama White House.

The answer was "no" - but it was one of those annoyed "no's", propelled with a snapping delivery that cut off the sound of the "o" so sharply it qualified as a lethal weapon. It was a shame, really, because I'm sure there were a few things I might have appreciated about the special, but there are only one hundred and sixty eight hours in a week, and I can't spend all of them watching President Barack Obama.

I have to limit my "Obama time" the way parents limit their children's TV watching and video game playing. Because if you aren't careful, you can end up watching President Obama, watching debates about President Obama's policies and performance, watching First Lady Michelle Obama, and watching the children and the White House dog so much that you will literally get nothing else done.

I mean, I still have to check his Middle East speech out, the speech he gave in Egypt. I want to see the statement he made about the GM bankruptcy in its entirety, instead of the soundbites that were on the news. And it's only Wednesday, which means he is apt to show up somewhere unannounced to give another speech before the week is out. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama is on the cover of eithe Time or Newsweek - thank God I live next to the public library, so I can peruse all of the monthly publications featuring her in one fell swoop, but these weeklies throw my schedule off.

As much as I support and admire the Obamas and their stratospheric accomplishments (I wear my "Obama '08" t-shirt once a week, even now), I've got to put all of this hoopla into some kind of context in order to maintain a sensible balance in my life. A little bit of Obama adulation can go a long way. Transforming adulation into inspiration makes more sense to me.







In Defense of Sonia Sotomayor




[I opened my gmail inbox this morning and discovered a nice gift - an original op-ed article from one of my regular readers expressing her support for Supreme Court nominee of Sonia Sotomayor.

Yvette is not only a fellow ATaLien, she is also a former Capitol Hill Staffer who, in her own words, has "has a unique perspective with regard to race issues in America." She also maintains her own blog, www.spatterblog.com. Yvette has given me permission to publish her commentary here at Brown Man Thinking Hard. Enjoy
]


In Defense of Sonia Sotomayor

by Yvette D. Carnell


There is nothing so demeaning to political discourse as the injection of race as a weapon, so I’ve become increasingly livid over the past few days while watching right wing hit squads refer to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a "racist".

Moments after the White House announcement that President Obama was nominating Sontomayor to replace retiring Justice Souter, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich broadcast his objections via Twitter. He called Sotomayor a racist for a 2005 comment in which she stated "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Gingrich’s "tweet" was the shot heard round the world after which other Republicans, bloggers, and party leaders piled on to add to the chorus of ideologues accusing Sotomayor of racism. Even some liberals have suggested that Sotomayor will need to distance herself from her 2005 comment. As an African American woman, I disagree.

Sotomayor believes her race and culture give her a unique perspective which benefits her when deciding cases. To say that her experience colors her view of the world and therefore, her interpretation of the law, is not racist. It is human. Remember, the left wing criticism of Justice Roberts during his confirmation was that he too often sided with the powerful rather than with the people.

Chief Justice Roberts was raised in an affluent community and educated in private school before attending Harvard University. Yes, he excelled academically, but his privileged upbringing assured him that no matter what, success in his life was inevitable. It was Roberts’ life of entitlement which emboldened him to make racist and sexist jokes and to oppose civil rights and women’s rights. It could also be that his lack of exposure to women and African Americans who matched his wealth and pedigree inescapably lead to feelings of superiority.

The point here though is that to some extent, we all carry with us the weight and reflection of our collective experience. To say that Chief Justice Roberts’ judicial decisions aren’t influenced by his experience as a privileged white boy in much the same way that Sotomayor’s are influenced by her experience as a poor Latina girl is silly. Our experiences are our guide, that which we know to be true. To extend our experience beyond our personal life to that of our cultural or ethnic life is to acknowledge that our experience did not begin with us. Our link to humanity is based upon our willingness to absorb and learn from the experiences of those who came before us.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said "I marvel at the resilience of the Jewish people. Their best characteristic is their desire to remember. No other people has such an obsession with memory." African Americans and Latinos could learn a lot from the Jewish people. First and foremost being, how not to be bullied into relinquishing our right to apply and share the lessons of our collective experience how we deem most useful. We are betraying the lessons of our ancestors by allowing the Rush Limbaughs of the world to sideline the incorporation of their anguished experience into our present day decision making.

Our experiences matter. An experience born of oppression is in stark contrast to one born of privilege. Sotomayor is not speaking from a place of race superiority by suggesting that the richness of her culture and ethnicity contribute to her legal analysis and may even cause her to reach a better conclusion than that of her white male counterparts. She is, in fact, owning her evolution. To evolve is to grow and growth is a consequence of expansion. In essence, what Sotomayor is asserting is that her experience has expanded her perspective and, therefore, expanded the groups of people with whom she can empathize.

Empathy is not just some warm and fuzzy impediment that we must overcome in favor of reason. It is an essential ingredient for anyone who wishes to sit on the bench of the highest court in the most powerful country in the world. It is absolutely necessary for someone in such an esteemed and awe-inspiring position to fully contemplate the impact of his or her decisions on America’s citizens. A citizenry which, ethnically, culturally, and economically, are among the most diverse of any country in the world. Empathy is the imaginative tool which assists us in identifying with the thoughts, feelings, and aspirations of others.

In fact, it is not the empathy of Sonia Sotomayors that disturbs me, but the disconnect of Justices like Clarence Thomas. The degree to which Justice Thomas is disconnected from his own past is parallel to the lack of a much larger historical reference point. Such a void robs him of the internal compass from which to extend his own understanding.

Unlike Newt and Rush, I am not going to insert race into dialogue surrounding Sonia Sotomayor or Justice Thomas. But while we listen to them accuse Sotomayor and her supporters of racism, bias, and bigotry, it would behoove us to remember that the Republicans were the last ones to engage in identity politics by replacing Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas. How quickly we forget.



We Need To Shop At Think Tanks R Us




I don't know if I'm still tired from the last two and a half weekends of a fully stacked social calendar, or if the lethargy that has come over me lately is due to the paucity of current events that have been recycled the last few weeks under the guise of being "breaking news", or whether I have just got the same summer fever everybody else has - whatever it is, nothing in the world of politics seems to hold my interest lately.

S. and I were talking this morning about the fight over Obama's Supreme Court nominee, a fight that is as predictable as WWF wrestling. Sotomayor's statement about wise Latina women experiences? No blood no foul. But the cackling from the chicken coops and the catcalls from the peanut gallery will continue, the way they always do, because role playing is the real responsibility of the press and political pundits.

I told S. about my buddy's call last week, when he sounded a little concerned about Sotomayor's record. "He had told me last year that he didn't like the idea of a super liberal judge on the bench. Actually, I think he said 'we don't need any radicals on the bench.'"

S. rolled her eyes.

So when he told me what he was hearing on a cable news network at lunchtime one day last week, I had to help him out a little bit. "Dude," I said, "what you are hearing isn't news. These phrases are stacked on the shelf of conservative think tanks like cordwood, ready to be thrown on the embers of outraged public discourse whenever the fire threatens to go out."

I wasn't finished.

"Think about it - you've heard the words 'activist liberal judge' and 'legislating from the bench' so many times whenever a Democratic president nominates a Supreme, you'd think the GOP owned the copyright on them. But the reality is that the most activist judges on the court are the ones who can proclaim that they are "strict constructionists" before a single fact or unusual circumstance is considered."

I wasn't until later that day, while I was mulling over something else, that I got the urge to send my buddy an email. The email was going to say "do you know how easy it is to start a think tank?", but by the time I opened up Outlook and read through a few emails of my own, I had reformulated my idea to "I’m thinking about STARTING A THINK TANK myself."

I don’t know a think about 501(c)3‘s, but I googled "starting your own think tank" and came up with a few publications that purport to walk you right through it. Realistically, I've got a few other things going on right now that need to be completed before embarking on any new projects, but I would imagine that getting approved takes a few months, so getting one off the ground is probably a two stage

Basically, from what I’m seeing so far, you can do it online. The bottom line is the money – getting enough cash in place to pay an exec director, even a part time one, who can then turn around and be the think tank’s chief fundraiser and operations person until they can hire a staffer or two is probably the hardest obstacle.

Why am I putting so much emphasis on this "Think Tanks R Us" idea? Why do I think you should be thinking about starting one or supporting one yourself?

So we can begin to float our own messaging about our ideas in a manner that allows us to be considered legitimate shapers of the nation's public ideals. So we can create more diversity in the universe of public policy offerings that our governing bodies seem to restrict themselves to whenever there is need for public debate.

If you were to take your thumbs and hold them over the balloons in the diagram above that say "Progressive Blogger" and "Republican Blogger", then you would be looking at the old way that information used to travel in this country before the internet came along. Do not underestimate your importance in this process, whether you are a political blogger, a subscriber to political blogs, or a frequent reader of them.




top