Racial Discrimination - The Reality Show


Watching the cable news pundits on TV make their obligatory references to African Americans, race, and racism these last few days, many of them as casually as if they were checking off a "to do" list at the grocery store as they rehashed the Professor Gates arrest, I wondered - what actually goes through the mind of someone who is NOT a descendant of a historically oppressed minority when they think about discrimination?

Even if you have watched Roots and the PBS specials on Jim Crow and the network specials on the civil rights movement, it was and is more of an "outsider looking in" kind of experience if you weren't black. American culture has been very good at de-emphasizing this part of our history, transmogrifying these human horror stories into a type of temporary racial exile, its effects to be sloughed off as easily as a non-slave descendant forgets about a traffic ticket they've paid.

So I figured, since we have reality shows about everything else - why not one that details the way racial discrimination has affected the African American's perspective of the American dream over the years? One that flips the script, the way they do on shows like Wife Swap, except on this show, the show's premise flip flops the entire U.S. population, shrinking the number of whites and multiplying the number of blacks:

    Imagine that you have volunteered to pretend you are a slave for a reality show where black people are the slave owners - you are unable to read and chronically hungry and run down from the substandard food you eat. The blacks are all armed with shotguns to be holstered in a quiver on their backs for instant access, and .22 pistols, which they are required to keep cocked at all times.

    The black people have been instructed to shoot at the whites randomly, while they were working, or eating, or resting during the day, nicking a toe here, a forearm there, an ear here, laughing all the while. The black people have also been instructed to draw their shotguns from their holsters at least three or four times a week, to remind their slaves why they put up with being shot at with the smaller gun all the time.

    Subliminal tapes play in the slave huts at night, tapes that reconstruct your past, explaining to you that all of your forbears had been treated the same way, that they had passed down secrets on how to turn sideways so that the bullets wouldn’t take off the entire earlobe, that you really didn’t need ten toes anyway...and that in the afterlife, if you were somehow lucky, and the masters fucked up their aim and shot you in the heart or the head, you might finally get to stop hearing the constant pop of those pistols, might finally get to stop worrying about how that shotgun blast would feel in your back if you had ever decided to run.

    The subliminal voices would switch gears about four a.m., shifting into a frenetic sing song cadence as they reminded you vociferously that your future would be no better than your past, that this life as you know it would exist for all time, that for you, unceaseless toil and weariness were the best you could ever hope to achieve, the best that your children, and your children's children could hope to achieve.

    As the show’s season progressed, you would be emancipated. You would be happy for a little while, until you realized that you were working for the same black folks that you were before, only now they paid you a few coppers...a few coppers they would get back when you paid them rent on the same shacks you used to live in for free. Most of you still wouldn't be able to read. Most of you wouldn't even believe you were really free - after all, those black folks would still be allowed to shoot at you with those .22's.

    Jim Crow would change the rules a little – the shotguns would still be there, but now the blacks would have to account for all the shells they discharged. The .22's would be exchanged for BB guns, and all day long you would feel the pock pock pock of the little copper pellets biting into your skin. Every once in awhile one would hit one of you in the eye, maiming you for life.

    Your skin, after years of pelting, would actually become thicker, until you felt like you were wearing a second coat of skin. You would learn to keep your head down to protect your eyes. You'd learn to keep your mouth shut to keep from getting your teeth chipped. And even with all those precautions, and all of those adaptations, there would still be the danger of life threatening infections in those tender areas that were not callused against this constant daily onslaught.

    Concentrating on things like learning to read well enough to refuse to sign one sided legal agreements, learning to count well enough to understand how much that twenty five percent interest rate on your second hand car was costing you, or getting your faculties clear enough to compare the cost of your industrial life insurance policy with whole life insurance would have taken more energy than you had to give after battling those BB's all day.

    In the sixties and seventies, just before the last episode, in a dramatic show of racial reconciliation, all the black oppressors would lay down their weapons on the ground in front of you, just to show you ex-slaves that they could now be trusted.

    Not because they really wanted to, but because the government made them do it.

    But with such a huge undertaking, it would be impossible to collect each and every weapon. And there would be quite a few blacks who would secrete BB's in their pockets, intending to continue throwing them at you by hand, because...well, because that's just what they had always done it.

    The eighties and nineties, the decades that would comprise the big finale, would show the black people inviting you and your newly educated, conservatively dressed brethren into their highrises offices, country club dining rooms, and even their gated communities - not in huge numbers, but enough for you to see they were at least trying to make a difference. The blacks would watch the you like hawks to see if you had retained any of those tendencies your kind were known to succumb to, if no one was watching you. And every once in awhile, just when you had gotten used to this new life, one of those damn BB's would ping you out of nowhere, just when you least expected it.

    Even now, at the cast reunion show that is set in the new millennium, though you haven't been startled by the ping of a BB or the sound of a .22 or the frenetic sing song cadence of those subliminal voices in awhile - even though you know the black people around you were simply playing their parts, acting according to the script, you are still on the alert against any of the abuse you had to suffer through on the show.

To run this type of gauntlet of perpetual psychological abuse and come out whole, in need of only a Tony Robbins tape or a few faith - based counseling sessions to deprogram yourself from recoiling at the sound of a BB hitting the floor would be unrealistic. To equate this racial ignominy to a traffic violation of sorts, the record of racial discrimination to be wiped clean because the judge simply threw the case out, would insinuate that this was an offense committed against individuals instead of an entire community.





The Inconvenience Of Absolute Truth




Suppose you were a congressman who tried to get legislation passed - lets say a federal law - that 2 + 2 = 4.

Sounds simple.

Before you know it, though, the nation would split into its usual factions.

Right wing groups would claim that making two plus two equal four is tantamount to affirmative action - "why, if God wanted twos to be equal to fours, he would have made them fours in the first place.

Left wing groups would put world renowned mathematicians on the job around the clock, generating every known numerical combination that could equal four - "because singling out the number two for special treatment, when we know there are other combinations of numbers, both whole and fractional, that add up to four - that is discrimination."

Think tanks would fill the airwaves and the internet with new releases hourly showing how this would affect the environment, or how the whole thing was an exercise in futility.

Political pundits would parse such nuances as the validity of the number theory - "is two really the description of a finite quantity, or is it the arbitrary designation of an abstract theory that is not based on scientific fact?"

All of these machinations, however, would pale in comparison to the efforts our vaunted media would put into depicting this brouhaha in the news.

"Two Plus Two Equals Disaster For The Left"

"Right Math Produces Wrong Total"

"56% Of Americans Do Not Believe 2 + 2 = 4"



As absurd as this sounds, it isn't much different from a lot of what I read in the paper everyday. We see sound bites, deliberately designed to wrest any semblance of logic from the words the speaker says, republished and regurgitated hourly.

The absolute truth is prevention is less expensive by far than emergency room intervention at the last minute. The absolute truth is that most of our big city trauma hospitals will sound their own siren in the next couple of months, declaring that they are again broke before the end of the year because of all the indigent and uninsured patients they have to serve. The absolute truth is that many procedures are performed in order to prevent lawsuits or generate revenue. The absolute truth is that our health insurance companies have designed their policies, for those who can afford them, to provide the minimum benefits for the maximum cost.

"(w + x)/y = z" is probably closer to what needed to be dealt with, if w,x, and y were the absolute truths I listed above. But you will never see anything with so many unknown variables put before Congress. Which means a third grader could do as good a job as the people you elect to represent you now.

When we can get to the point where we are not afraid to deal with multiple unknowns simultaneously, when we can have the guts, both as a government and as a nation, to let the outcome of an effort like this healthcare initiative fall where it may, instead of insisting on hammering our square peg problem through a round hole of a solution, maybe we can make some real progress.
















Reunion: The Fellas



I opened one of the tinted glass double doors to the restaurant Dantannas in Buckhead on a Monday night two weeks ago, quickly scanning the room for familiar faces, before I finally sidled up to the hostess to tell her I was looking for some friends.

"I think they're in the back."

A few steps later, I walked upon a table full of my college classmates.

The fellas.

The boys.

The posse of five that would cram into a two door Honda Civic hatchback at the drop of a hat to get to a party on the other side of Atlanta.

The guys I started college with, and marched across the stage with four years later (although I didn't actually graduate until the next year, which is another story in itself).

Now we were all alumni, all getting those same calls from the students working in the campus development office who were soliciting donations.

Alumni who are about to roll up on their twenty fifth class reunion soon.

Damn!

Just before I'd opened the door to the restaurant, while I was walking up to the building, I'd been going over in my mind the reasons why I shouldn't be here - I was still tired from our trip to the Easy Reach Beach, I was still full from a late lunch, I wasn't interested in paying fifty dollars for a steak tonight, and I was too old to be hanging out as late as I figured we would be out and still get to work on Tuesday.

All of that evaporated, though, as I saw the faces of my Ace Boon Coon buddies (that's Number One Negro for those of you who didn't have old school black parents) break into smiles when I got close. In less than three days on campus, we had formed an unlikely band of brothers that has lasted a lifetime. Together, the five of us were The Brain, The Mouth, The Fly Guy, The Clothes Horse and The Big Guy.

Our band of brothers was one short for our reunion - The Big Guy, now the Big Man, was probably incognegro somewhere in Connecticut.

As it turned out, we had more fun than I've had in years, doing absolutely nothing but reminiscing, rehashing and rearranging our past exploits.

It was a storyteller's convention, with each of us trying to elbow our way into the spotlight in order to recount our own stylized version of the decades old details of one of the many, many crazy escapades that filled our college years.

Parties.

Road trips.

All nighters (I'm talking about studying here)

Cross town treks to the fabled Spelman College gates.

And all the growing pains, social gaffes and legal jeopardy that can come with the territory when you live away from home for the first time.

A couple of us had gained quite a bit of weight. Most of us had lost some of our hair. And then there was the one guy who looked like he could have been walking out of the DUC, our campus student center, twenty odd years ago, he'd changed so little - same hair cut, same boyish grin, same Polo shirt.

We left in the wee hours of the morning.

I called one of them the next morning - or maybe he called me, I don't remember which now.

He grunted. "Hello."

I growled. "Hey."

We sounded like two bullfrogs with strep throat, our voices so low they were practically unintelligible.

"Dude, we're getting old."

"Uh huh."

"It was fun, though."

"Yeeaah."

Even though we all seem to congregate on the internet these days, where you can practically have a high school slash college slash family reunion all in one night on Facebook, there is nothing - nothing - like seeing your old friends in the flesh.






Brown And Not Brown



Since my book of short fiction, tentatively titled Rare Air, has not been picked up by any publishers yet, I figured I would make use of an excerpt from one of them to look at one of the aspects of the societal challenges our nation faces in working towards this racial utopia we all seem to want to magically descend upon us.

We don't need another PBS special on racial profiling. The challenges we have all stem from more fundamental issues that determine how we Americans look at each other, and why the idea of a "colorless neutral" has so far been a step in the wrong direction.

The story itself, "Octoroon Swoon", chronicles the internal conflicts of a male African American graduate student who has to examine his own racial identity during an affair with a fellow student, an engaged to be married black woman PhD candidate named Veronica, who physically appears to be white.

The setting of this tale on a college campus also seems particularly apropos today, given the immense and intense attention given to Professor Henry Louis Gates and his brush with the world outside the safe diversity of the ivory tower life last week.

I have always like this story because it allowed me to wrestle with some of my own demons and prejudices. And it does have all the other good stuff in it - sex, violence, revenge and betrayal - but this section in particular is one that I think takes a new look at an old topic:


    Any mention of my thesis, which sought to redefine the way Americans looked at racial identity, caused my fellow graduate students to evade my eyes, most of them reluctant to acknowledge that the hypothetical theorems I put forth, however radical, might have some validity. Philosophical Logic was the least structured of all my seminars. Also the most segregated – I was the only minority, black, brown, yellow or otherwise, in the class. Halfway through the semester, we made brief presentations of a philosophical construct of our choice to the group.

    "Let's look at it this way," I said from the front of the airless room, "that a thing derives its identity from the thing that it is, as well as the thing that is its exact opposite."

    I wrote the words "The Law of Relational Identity" near the top of the whiteboard. "If we extrapolate a little here, we can assert that people of light skinned ethnicities, which I will denote for the purposes of this presentation as 'white', have appropriated the ability to be a 'colorless neutral' some of the time."

    Muted groans emanated from the back of the class as I wrote 'white' on the board. I turned around to a room full of long faces. Only the professor seemed interested in where this could be headed. A hand raised.

    "So people from the Mediterranean are considered what under your scheme?" Jimmy, the class contrarian, was honor-bound to look for ways to show up another classmate.

    "White."

    "Uh - huh."

    "Anyway, as I was saying, people whom we regard in this country as 'white' usually see themselves as typical Americans. As average citizens." I looked at them, pale, paler and palest, staring back at me as if I were a creature from another planet, and decided to make this a little more personal. "If I were to leave this room at this very moment, there would be very little variation among the physical characteristics of those who remained.

    None of you is much lighter or darker than the other. Which means-" I turned back to the board, writing "not white" underneath "white" "-that the things you have in common – your relative skin tones, your similar hair textures – would then recede in importance as identifying markers." I wrote "black" below "white" and "not white."

    "Don’t you think you should write 'black' beside white instead of underneath it?" Jimmy asked. A few people tittered. The professor glared at the back of Jimmy’s neck.

    I erased "black" and started to write it beside "white", but rubbed the "bla" out with my finger. Smiling, I exaggerated the motions of the marker as I rewrote "black" off to the side and six inches above "white." Nervous laughter erupted when I turned back to the class.

    “The word 'black' that I just wrote on the board stands for people who have darker skin. People like me. So now we've got the signifiers 'white', 'not white', and 'black', which stand for various states of being. What I am proposing in my theory – actually, my extrapolation of the theory of relative identity - is that people who are darker skinned are unable to access a 'colorless neutral' self. That…we…are always bound to this state of 'colored' existence."

    Frowns appeared. I couldn't tell if these grimaces were in response to the word "colored" and all of its loaded imagery, or whether they just thought that my idea was stupid.

    I soldiered on. "If we express my definition of identity mathematically, it would look like this." The dry erase marker flew across the surface of the whiteboard as I scribbled the following equations on it.

      I = Identity

      IF I = {I, not-I}
      THEN {100% I} = null
      ERGO {100% not-I} = null
      ERGO: I = {I, not-I}


    A hand shot up. "You can't say that. 'I' has to equal 'I'. It can't equal '-I'. You just threw the Law of Non-Contradiction out the window.”

    "No, my premise is that identity is relational. It changes over time. Maybe you need to read a little more Heraclitus – things can change, you know. People definitely change.

    Anyway, if you substitute an ethnicity for '{I, not-I}' – let’s use 'white' - then we end up with these propositions."

    I wrote:


      white + not white = 100% of white identity



    then stopped to see if they were with me. The professor was gawking at the board and scribbling notes on his pad. Most of the others were looking at their watches, the same way I had earlier when I wondered how much longer the clowns before me were going to take.

    I'd gone this far, though – might as well give them the whole story.

    "If this makes sense to you, then you can take it a step further by expressing the balanced equation below:


      white + not white = white + not white



    I posit that canceling out 'white' on both sides of the equation leaves that individual with his neutral, or 'colorless' identity – 'not white.' If I were to do the same for 'black' –" I wrote the same propositions on the board, with 'black' inserted in the spot formerly designated for 'white', “when we get down to the part about canceling out the 'blackness', or the physical part of our identity, we find that is much easier to accomplish on paper than it is in real life."

    I wrote:


      black + not black = black + not black



    "But if an individual in real life is not able to ever enjoy being a 'colorless' neutral, there is no way in our equation as it is expressed below to ever cancel out the "black" part of the equation."

    "I don't see color," said a sensitive looking classmate whose name I could never remember.

    "Really? So does that mean I don't exist? Because me and the brownness of my skin are a package deal. Or does it mean that you've assigned a neutral value to something - the difference between our physical appearance - that actually exists?"

    "I guess…I guess you could say I've...designated...that's it...designated a neutral value for your skin tone."

    "Okay – I'll accept that." I looked at my classmates, who seemed glad that someone had pricked my theory – now they looked as if they were waiting for the air to rush out of it so that I would have to admit in the end that I was all wrong. "What about the rest of you – not that you’re a representative sample. Can you assign a neutral value to the skin tone of everyone who looks like me?"

    No one answered. The professor scribbled furiously for a moment, then pointed at the clock above my head. "Need to wrap this up, Derek - your time is almost up."

    "Whether or not I want to be 'not black' cannot alter the perceptions of the larger culture in which I exist." I erased the board as I talked. "That's all I’m trying to say. There's no Svengali in the world that can change that many minds at the same time. Thank you," I said to my professor and the class.

    Walking across the quad, I shook my head at the realities of the world I lived in. Veronica, and people like her, had an advantage over me when it came to exploiting their racial ambiguity. They could literally disappear even when they were right in front of someone, giving their ideas and their personalities more prominence in their intraracial relationships. It was the inability of people like me to be not brown, to be barred intellectually from inhabiting an existence other than that bounded by brown that frustrated me.

    Me and my brethren.



Maybe, just maybe, sometime in the near future, our nation's fiction editors and publishing houses will see that there is an audience for black fiction that isn't stuck in the "from slavery to the 60's" mindset, who are willing to support authors who are willing to write about the conundrums and contradictions that the darker slice of the American pie faces in the new millennium.

The question I have tried to pose for myself as a writer in this story is, if these characters are put in a position to define themselves, who would they be? Is the authenticity of their identities more dependent on how they define themselves, or how society defines them?

If there was a rebuilding of African American identity, what would that version of "African Americanness" look like?

If the "colorless neutral" of being white is revealed to be a cultural fiction, how would that change the dynamic of the American mainstream collective?






Book Review: "Sag Harbor" by Colson Whitehead




I loved this book.

I don't know if that disqualifies me from writing a review, but there was no two ways about it - I was bowled over almost from the start by the story, because for the first time in a long, long time, I read a story that spoke directly to me. I liked this book so much, I could send Colson Whitehead another twenty five dollars and it would still be a bargain.

I've read Whitehead almost from the beginning, when I came across his seminal debut novel, The Intuitionist, a racial allegory about the fictional world of elevator inspectors that combined insightful poetic lyricism with the taut pace and narrative structure of a detective thriller. His next two novels, John Henry Days and Apex Hides The Hurt, didn't really wow me, but Hemingway didn't have a hit every time out of the gate either, so I took them in stride, wondering how long it was going to take him to get back the authority of purpose he displayed in his first book.

Sag Harbor broke new ground for Whitehead, venturing into territory he'd been consciously avoiding ever since he started writing. At a reading he gave here in Atlanta after his book of essays about New York, The Colossus Of New York, came out, he stated during the question and answer session something along the lines that writers who wrote first person stories about events that paralleled their own lives risked crossing the fine line between art and personal confession.

This one was worth the risk.

Set in Sag Harbor, a small African American beach community in Long Island Sound, the book chronicles one summer in the life of Benjamin Cooper, a fifteen year old African American boy who spends the season at his family's beach house with his younger brother Reggie. Their parents, like many of the people who owned houses in Sag Harbor, were accomplished professionals who had careers to attend to back in New York City. Benjamin's mother had grown up coming to Sag Harbor in the summers herself, and the house the Coopers now owned had been inherited from her parents.

The advent of double income families meant that there were a lot of kids like Benji and Reggie in Sag Harbor for the summer who were left to fend for themselves during the week while their parents worked. The result was the formation of a society of sorts, that included a loose association of kids, mostly boys, who were unsupervised during the week. The resulting high jinks and tomfoolery that the boys engaged in were pretty much the kinds of things I would have done if I were in their shoes.

The thing that Whitehead pulled off in spades, at least to me, was the way he was able to transmit enough of the boys humanity in the first few chapters of the book to allow you to see them as more than children of privilege - "Black Boys With Beach Houses" was how he described his cast of characters early in the book. You didn't have to live this life growing up - I certainly didn't - to relate to this motley band of adolescents.

The mixture of bravado and adolescent yearning was so spot on I felt myself reliving my own youth as Whitehead took us through the social rituals and pecking order divinations of Benji and his friends. His deconstruction of the black teen aged boys penchant for stringing together long winded expletive laden phrases read like a "How To Curse" primer, one I must have memorized myself, because every one of my favorite phrases were there, laid out in all their glory, complete with a helpful diagram to show how we ended up with some of the more exotic derogatory concoctions.

Whitehead brought it all back - terry cloth sport shirts, IZOD Lacoste, the incessant cleaning of the white rubber soled sneaker with tooth brushes and Comet, the phrase "blah-zey blah" - it was all there, this and more, all of the nuances and details that let you understand the author knew what he was talking about.

I was impressed more with the turn of each page, until I got to the part where Whitehead broke down the ancestry of the beat Afrika Bambaataa used in the classic hip hop anthem "Planet Rock", tracing its origins all the way back to the song "Trans-Europe Express by Kraftwerk. I'd forgotten that the author used to be a music critic for the Village Voice way back when, before he became a fiction writer, but it wasn't just that - it was the way he wove this intimate bit of knowledge about pop music into his narrative, doing it in such a way that he taught me something new about "Planet Rock" even as he revived memories of days gone by, that sealed the deal for me.

The hilarity of the boys adventures was leavened by a foreboding undercurrent of family discord, a growing rift between Benji's mother and father that was often alluded to but never shown directly. Benji's parents were bit players, surfacing only briefly in phone conversations and flashbacks until well into the story. Their failure to appear weekend after weekend was in itself a source of rising tension, pushing Benji and Reggie out of their comfort zone and into a semblance of self reliance.

It is actually a book you can take to the beach with you, although you need to beware - if you are the kind of person who needs a big, dramatic climax, or are looking for a story that celebrates the nuances of the nuclear black family the way they used to do on those ABC After School Specials, Sag Harbor may not be the book for you. But if you've read this far, I'd live a little, and pick up a copy, even if you are only going as far as your backyard deck.











Fellow Blogger Genma Holmes In New York Times



So here I am reading through my Thursday edition of The New York Times last night, just tooling through the sections, back to front, when I come across The Unchilled Life, an article in the Home and Garden section about people who don't use air conditioning.

I almost folded that section up when the name of a blogger on my blogroll who used to be on my blogroll, and is now back on to stay, caught my eye.

Genma Holmes, even looking a little drained from the heat, will not be stopped.

Her blog is Genma Speaks.

If there is anybody who can bring glamor to the pest control business, she is it.

Check her out.

It's only a matter of time before Genma has her own talk show, radio show - something.




Obama Says "Any Of Us Would Be Pretty Angry"



A buddy of mine from Chattanooga must have known that I didn’t watch either the President’s address on healthcare OR Black In America II last night, because he shot me an email immediately after the president’s press conference that said, "can't wait for the blog [Brown Man Thinking Hard] on the final Question & 'STRAIGHT AT YOU' answer the Commander in Chief provided minutes ago."

Where would we be without internet video?

I guess I should have checked out the press conference in its entirety when I watched the video, but since Obama appears to be married to the national health plan he wants, listening to him recite its highlights in a primetime sales pitch at midnight didn't seem like a good career move if I planned to be awake for the final question, so I didn't waste any time on it, fast forwarding through to the final two minutes of the recording.

The first thing that came to mind was a phrase Eddie Murphy used years ago when he was being subjected to a series of questions on the David Letterman show that could only be described as patronizing to black people. Murphy looked straight at Letterman that night and said, "what kind of Negro file questions are these?"

For my money, it was the wrong damn question at the wrong damn time.

Because I doubt any other president would have been asked the same question, even though Henry Louis Gates Jr. is THE MOST FAMOUS BLACK PROFESSOR IN AMERICA, a phrase I have now seen on internet message boards at least a thousand times in the last two days.

Lynn Sweet, the reporter who asked the question might as well have been on CNN's payroll, providing them a lead-in for their much ballyhooed "Black In America II" program immediately following the press conference.

But since it was asked, and he was on TV, President Obama did about what you would expect him to do - reply squarely and forthrightly to the reporter, and by extension, the nation, in the dispassionate manner he has come to be known to display when dealing with an issue that may have some kind of personal resonance for him. Although I imagine, in the grand scheme of things, he had to be a little hot under the collar, after spending all that time trying to look like a Master of the Healthcare universe, to get that sinking feeling as he heard the tail end of Sweet's question that THIS answer would trump all the others he'd worked so hard to give.

The dismissal of the charges against Henry Louis Gates, Jr., THE MOST FAMOUS BLACK PROFESSOR IN AMERICA, helped Obama out tremendously, by allowing the president to make his comments about a matter whose outcome was already knowm. His use of a little humor reduced the tension Sweet had racheted up.

And then President Obama proceeded to recite the same type of sobering facts about BLACK PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT THE MOST FAMOUS BLACK PROFESSOR IN AMERICA that you might have expected to hear from Ben Jealous of the NAACP.

The most powerful quote of the night, the one your trusty New York Times and Washington Post reporters simply ignored in a rush to frame their stories in the familiar yet tired "this is a piece about race, people" format, was the one that Americans sympathetic to Gates plight should tattoo on their foreheads.

"I think its fair to say, number one, that any of us would be pretty angry."

President Barack Obama


"Any of us" was the phrase that paid last night, the one that sought to transform this specific incident that was experienced by a particular individual into a universal incident to which all Americans of all stripes should be able to relate.

The Obama trademark, in everything from his speeches to his books to his public appearances, is to start in neutral territory and then take his audience with him.

But with the MOST FAMOUS BLACK PROFESSOR IN AMERICA still upset, I would hazard to guess that if you see Professor Gates on TV talking about this over the next few weeks, HE will be using the phrase "any of us" in an entirely different manner.





Heal Thy Vick




Back when the Michael Vick story first broke, it brought an avalanche of vigilante journalists running to the rescue, with more mind bending methods of torture being described for Michael Vick than I can ever remember for...

...Eric Rudolph...

...Jeffery Dahmer...

...John Muhammed...

...Lee Malvo...


The only people I can think of in recent memory who have generated such rabid hatred are O.J. Simpson, Saddam Hussein, and maybe, just maybe, Mohammed Atta and friends (remember them? the terrorists who took over the planes back in 2001 on September 11th?).

I personally don't like dogs. Actually, I can't stand dogs. Even though I live with one. So I don't have any semblance of a heartstring to be tugged by that part of the storyline. Not even after seeing the horrible photos of the dogs who were mauled and mutilated beyond belief by him and his crew - cruelty that was certainly far beyond anything these animals deserved.

I also have to admit that I was an unabashed fan of Vick's athletic prowess from the start of his Falcons tenure, so much so that I would have been willing to go without another Super Bowl appearance if I could see that phenom play every fall Sunday. We saw him take the rag tag collection of players that is the modern version of the Falcons to the brink of a Super Bowl appearance.

Vick flew through the air towards the goal line pylon, the way he does in the picture above, practically every week. I can do nothing here but confess that I loved every frustrating minute of his tenure, even though us diehard fans knew that he must have been smoking a whole lot of weed, because as quick as he was at eluding pursuers, Vick could not "take it to the house" if there was more than forty yards of open field between him and the goal line. And even though he was mighty spotty when it came to knowing the intricacies of the Falcons sophisticated playbook that was supposed to neutralize the disadvantage of having undersized linemen.

So this is by no means a fair and balanced essay.

I tried to write a short story a couple of years ago about the rap world. What I ended up with was a terrible excuse for a story. I could never really get a handle on the inner turmoil that pulls the immense amount of anger to the surface that you see in the faces of rappers, the same anger and attitude that you often notice in the faces of a distinct minority of high profile professional athletes.

It wasn't as though I didn't do the research. It wasn't as though I didn't hang out in the hood and some of the clubs when I could to see for myself what went down. I even asked people I knew who were close to "the industry" to try to clue me in to the "how" behind the postures, behind the stares. I am still looking, even to this day, for the "why" - not the Daniel Moynihan type of text book, reductionist "why this happens" one dimensional answer, but the "why they choose this way of living" multifaceted reasons, ones that are likely to be contradictory and surprising.

If you read my piece on Plaxico Burress last year - When Do Rags Do Wrong - you know that I try my damndest to see the good things in these young black men that we were quick to turn into celebrity icons back when they were still just overgrown teenagers trying to man up.

Because for every Mike Tyson, for every Rae Curruth, for every Pacman Jones, there are the other nine out of ten pro athletes, many of them from similar backgrounds as Tyson and Carruth and Jones, who are a credit to their teams, their fans and their families. These guys had to choose to go against the tide of common sense. They had to choose to resist the kind of good advice that seems to find rich people even when they try to hide from it.

But back to this vigilante justice and Vick, which as it begins to get revved up again, now that Mr. Vick is free, is beginning to remind me more and more of the old mob rule images that pop into my mind whenever the established punishments are not harsh enough to assuage our feelings.

Would armed robbery have struck the sanctimonious differently, if Vick had tried to play John Dillinger? If Vick were a drug kingpin, would this matter as much to these self appointed arbiters of righteousness?

I hope Vick learned a lot about himself during his stay in prison. I hope he has learned how deep the affections of dog lovers run for their pets, and the pets of others. And I hope he gets to play ball again, more for our sake than his.

Christianity, which seems to count an awful lot of my fellow Americans, including a fair number of sports fans and dog lovers, among its practicing membership, is based on the concept of redemption. No matter how bad you screw up, you can be forgiven.

Absolved of your sins.

And America is based on second acts, reincarnations - if we don't believe in anything else we believe in rehabilitation. "Heel thy sick", if my Vacation Bible School memories serve me correctly, is a fairly accurate quote that seems to be sprinkled liberally throughout the Good Book.

The larger philosophical question the furor over Michael Vick's future brings to mind is whether or not we are the real Christians we say we are. Whether or not we really believe in the rehabilitative aspects of our criminal justice system, or should simply let all transgressors rot in their jail cells because they are forever fatally flawed, unable to ever fully redeem themselves even after serving their proscribed sentence.

"Heal thy Vick".






It's Some Black Guy




This Henry Louis Gates arrest story has just preempted my Michael Vick post, but I guess Vick can wait, seeing as he isn't likely to be doing a whole lot just yet after getting his ankle bracelet off yesterday.

I read the Gates arrest police report earlier, but after chairing a grand jury last year, I figured I might want to wait until more information came out. I went to The Root right away, because you might as well call it "The Blog Skip Gates Built", but nothing was there - my man The Field Negro must have popped over there right when they were finally posting a statement from the Good Post Hole Digger's people.

So we've got two stories. And you know how these "he said, he said" deals work.


Except...


...about three months ago, when the kitchen sink stopped up one evening, I walked over to the neighbor's house to my right in that dusky hour before it got completely dark and knocked on their front door. My neighbors on both sides each have fully stocked professional tool chests, which I have come to see as a sort of tool "library" if you will, places where I could check out specialized tools, like the pipe wrench I was looking for that evening to loosen a too tight coupling underneath our sink.

I knocked once on the door of the house on the right, waited a few seconds, then knocked again. I stood there in front of the full length glass panels that flanked their solid wood door until I figured they must not have been home. The other neighbor answered right away, probably to escape for a few seconds the crying child I'd heard wailing when I knocked on their door, and produced the massive wrench I was looking for in seconds.

I was underneath the sink in the kitchen five minutes later, about to unscrew the u-shaped joint under the sink, when the doorbell rang. S. was doing something that made me the closest one to the door, so I got up, dried my hands, and trudged reluctantly to the front door.

The woman of the house to my right stood there, her feline Puerto Rican eyes flashing concern. "Is everything alright?"

"No," I said. "The damn sink is stopped up."

She turned and yelled to her husband, a white, Seattle bred tree hugger who is nonetheless a pretty nice guy, "they're okay."

Now I was confused. As the husband walked up to the door, the wife explained. "I saw someone at the door earlier. When my husband asked me who it was, I said 'its some black guy.' It didn't come to me that it might be you until after you'd left. Then we wondered why you would be knocking on our door - we wondered if it was an emergency - so we came over."

The husband laughed sheepishly. "I sent my wife to the door. I stood back just in case someone needed to run for help."

I've lived next door to these people since 2006. We don't have as intimate a relationship as we had with our last set of neighbors, who could give us a running account of who was at our house, how long they stayed, and what kind of car they drove, even if it was in the middle of the night. But I make small talk with these people - with the husband at least twice a week while he's outside, and with the wife whenever I run into her, which is a few times a month.

Yet I was "some black guy", just like that.

I guess Dr. Gates has even less of a relationship with his neighbors than I do with mine if one of them can not only mistake him for a burgular, but sustain this belief long enough to call the police, and THEN refuse to intervene when it becomes obvious that the black man in question is the actual owner of the house.

If I was Dr. Gates, I'd save my indignance for her trifling ass.

Gates is probably never home. Probably has a gardener to do his yard, a handyman to do the little things that need doing around a house. Probably gets his car washed at a local detailer. His neighbor may have had a better chance to get to know him through his TV specials than by speaking to him across the hydrangea bush.

But unless she moved there in the last month or two, it's mighty mighty hard to believe that she had NO IDEA what he looked like. Mighty, mighty damn hard.

Me?

I trim our hedges, tackle a few of the things that need to be done outside (so long as they aren't too high off the ground) and wash the cars myself, often while smoking a cigar. Actually, most of the stuff I do outside is while smoking a cigar.

So my neighbors, like it or not, see me and smell my stogie while they are walking the dog, going out to dinner, or welcoming guests into their homes.

My neighbors really had no excuse, even if it was approaching dark, to claim that they had mistaken me for someone else, not with the large, distinctive head shape I've got.

I believe there is something ugly going on between Gates and his neighbor, possibly something that he may not even be aware of.

I'll start the bidding at "she hates his highly educated, often celebrated Afro American guts, and wishes with a blazing fervor that he would just carry his black ass back to West Virginia, or whatever African country his DNA says his ancestors came from."

And Doc, the next time the cops show up, SHOW THEM YOUR I.D. OFF THE RIP!

We've got a long way to go, not only here in America, but around the world, to get to where we actually start living those ivory tower ideals you like to talk about when you are on PBS.





Nothing Newsworthy About Sotomayor Hearings



I didn't write a word about the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation all last week, probably because there was really nothing newsworthy going on in those hearings. The pontificators, better known as your U.S. Senate members, would have probably given me a headache if I'd listened to any of their inane and clumsily constructed interrogations - if you closed your eyes while listening to them, you probably would have concluded that you were listening to an Eastern bloc tribunal holding a kangaroo court.

Which is why I was exasperated when my buddy called me Friday to blow his top over the other hearings going on, the one that was focused on Henry Paulson and his role in the takeover of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America.

I had been sitting outside at a Wendy's restaurant at lunchtime, dipping my spoon into a half melted Frosty while I perused the New York Times, when he called.

"Why are we doing this?" my buddy wailed. "The man did what he had to do. What we wanted him to do. And now we are going to drag him through a hearing? Our country has got to grow up."

I'd been in the middle of a pretty good parody of the Sotomayor hearings by Gail Collins, a pretty good column for her given her uneven track record of producing less than scintillating articles, so I said the first thing that came to mind. "Next week, Paulson will still be rich. And nobody will care. I mean, think about it - when was the last time a Congressional hearing really DID anything?"

My buddy was still upset by the way Paulson was being treated, though. A man of means himself, he often seems to see these kind of efforts as a waste of time for people like him. We went back and forth for a minute over why this was happening as I forlornly watched the rest of my Frosty that I'd sat squarely in the middle of the Times Op-Ed section melt into a chocolate liquid.

"Dude, its a show. They'll yell at Paulson through their microphones for awhile, and he'll whimper a little bit to show he's contrite, and after they've gotten all that into the official record, everybody will go home, will go back to whatever it was they were doing before."

My buddy had calmed down some, but he was still a little testy. "Official record? It's called transparency. That's what our government is built on."

Now it was my turn to get hot under the collar. "Transparency in our government? Are you serious? You've got bills passing that nobody fully understands until they're published, when all of the backdoor deals come to light. You've got guys issuing press releases that say the exact opposite of what really took place. This is why the internet is so hot - because the conversation we're having out here in cyberspace bridges the gap between the fiction our government wants us to believe and the things we know are true."

I saw somewhere in the New York Times or on CNN that five hundred and ninety three questions were asked of Sotomayor last week. Five hundred and ninety three questions about nothing, nothing but the petty insecurities of men who really don't represent anybody but themselves, nothing but the display of deeply flawed psyches and tired ass rhetoric that these people continue to spout even as the real world has moved on.

Did any of these clowns really think that a battle hardened minority professional would wilt before their gazes, as if the bullshit they've put up with their entire lives because they look different or have a different racial heritage was some sort of adolescent hazing, to be endured for a few days here and there whenever they were advancing through life? Could they really expect someone who has lived with intense scrutiny day and night ever since she left the familiar confines of her beloved Bronx neighborhood to have a "meltdown", as if they were some privileged scion who had ascended to a governorship of a small southern state practically unscathed by by anything harsher than a hangnail, the kind of guy who could not keep his emotions in check when the chips were down?

Our government has been run mostly by ego centered, tantrum throwing tenderfoots for centuries, people whose ire rises at the slightest personal injustice. People who believe in government transparency about as much as you believe there is a man in the moon.

When we really learn how to use the power of the internet, we'll do more than just buy stuff on EBay with it. We may actually, for the first time in history, begin to see what really goes on in Washington. And we might actually get some representation that remembers what they really were elected to go the Capitol to do.








"Keeping It Real": Being Stupid On Purpose




Can you believe that there are black people out here in the blogosphere who are now BLAMING OBAMA, LIKE THEY DID COSBY, FOR TELLING BLACK PEOPLE THAT WE NEED TO FOCUS ON GETTING AN EDUCATION?

Is there that much status in being stupid?

In being stupid ON PURPOSE?

Do you see any rappers still living on the streets they came from?

Hell no!

So why brainwash our children into believing that attitude and swagger mean anything when they have no brainpower to back them up, no knowledge base upon which to anchor them, and no way to communicate with the rest of the GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT ENGLISH speaking world, whether they are white, black or brown?

If "taking it to the streets" is all we are, then kill me now.

I've been hearing all this talk around the internet today about how the education we get here in the U.S. is "Eurocentric", but most motherfuckers who can't read don't really know anything about Africa except kente cloth, Roots, and the STUFF THEY SEE ON TV that has been programmed by the same "whitey" they swear they are afraid of acting like.

Nobody here is going back to Africa. I live in Atlanta, and the line for the one-way flights back to Africa is mighty, mighty short. Maybe they are swimming back these days. But believe me, NOBODY is headed back to Africa, despite all the "Afrocentric" rhetoric. Certainly not anybody I see standing on the corner, talking about "The Man" who is holding him down.

Why is an education important? Because these "black businesses" my crazy as a loon brethren are so in love with, the ones our phonetically challenged, mathematics deficient urbanites are going to simply pull out of their asses, cannot be financed by taking a loan out on a collection of Air Jordans.

But you CAN start a business IN THE HOOD with practically no money if you have an education. Brand new lawyers who have next to no experience hang out their shingles everyday. Young doctors with 125K in loans do it and can get paid Year One if they take Medicaid patients, which our HOODS are full of. Even if you don't get that far in school, you can either learn how to navigate the government grant system to get a loan to rehab your block, or start a small retail shop - BUT ONLY IF YOU CAN READ.

If I was Martin Luther King, Jr., or the beloved Malcolm X that so many dumb ass thug wannabees holler about while they wave their 9mm's around, killing up US, our own black people IN THE HOOD with impunity, I'd look down on their ridiculous asses and say "damn all of you fools who don't know any better than to believe this bullshit."

Malcolm didn't get to be Malcolm cause he sold drugs or wore a conk. He got to be Malcolm because when his ass could have been rotting in that jail, he took the time to master the language of the land, one word at a time.

Every African in Africa who has a bit of sense and the middle class luxuries many of us here in the States enjoy know two, three, or more languages, and they live on the biggest continent in the world. REAL AFRICANS have no fear of Eurocentric educations, enrolling at Oxford by the dozens whenever they can wangle admission.

So what the hell are we afraid of? Is our poverty and ignorance so precious to us that we simply can't bear to part with them? Can't we just get a wing for this shit at the Smithsonian Institute, so you can go look at it from time to time when you get nostalgic?

If you can learn to cook crack properly, you can learn to be a pharmaceutical technician, and mix legal drugs.

If you can hotwire a car, you can learn to pull conduit and wire a house.

And if you write rap songs, SINCE YOU PROBABLY AREN'T GOING TO GET A RECORDING CONTRACT, you can learn how to understand iambic pentameter, alliteration and onomatopoeia. Which means you can probably learn how to teach the next generation of Downtown Browns how to read.

The only reason you tunnel vision, "keeping it real" Negroes even have half a chance to spew this nonsense about RayRay in the HOOD not giving a damn about an education 'cause someone like Sarah Palin is revered for knowing nothing - guess what, it's because a whole lot of EDUCATED NEGROES took one for the team for the last hundred and fifty years, all the way back to Frederick Douglass, a real "G" if their ever was one. Douglass, A FORMER SLAVE, was the owner of one of the largest private libraries in D.C., "keeping it real" one page at a time.

And I don't think Douglass hankered for one minute after that plantation he escaped.

So to all of you internet naysayers who think President Obama "overstepped his bounds", take these nursery rhyme fantasies back where you got them and quit fooling our black youth. What happens to the Sarah Palins of the world has no relevance for the average Joe "I Don't Know" Negro.

For every Sarah Palin who barely crawled out of college and blinked her way into making it big, there are three white chicks who get treated like total tricks when their ignorance shows, because all white chicks don't look like Sarah after having 5 kids, and if you don't believe how she looks didn't have anything to do with her skating her way into the governors mansion, I've got a stack of Martin Luther King's paper's to sell you.

Predicating the importance of the educations of our children on whether or not white people are overlooking these same standards for themselves is illogical. Not kinda dumb, not sorta stupid – it's the most idiotic motherfucking reasoning I can think of for just throwing in the towel on a whole generation of black kids.

The people - slaves, remember them - whose educations were eked out by candlelight when their lives were at stake didn't worry about how white men looked out for each other even if the ones who needed looking out for the most WERE stupid, BECAUSE THOSE SLAVES KNEW HOW POWERFUL IT WAS TO BE ABLE TO FIGURE OUT THE MORE COMPLEX THINGS IN THIS WORLD FOR THEMSELVES. Even if they had no freedom with which to use this knowledge.

If you are wrong, and many of us are wrong, a lot - then I owe it to you to give it to you straight. Your president owes it to you. Bill Cosby owes it to you. Lil Wayne owes it to you too - to tell you you've got a better chance of being in the NBA than having a hit rap record.

Maybe Jamie Foxx can give us a remix - "Blame It On The AC...AC-AC-AC...AC-ACADEMICS"

An education doesn't guarantee any particular job or income level, though - I'll be the first to admit that - but what it does do is provide its recipient with a better ability to see the machinations and complexities of the world for what they really are. And for many of our children, who are currently looking through poverty colored glasses, that little bit of improvement in their vision is all they need to see their way forward to their next way station in life.

So for my money, you Negroes who can make up any old bullshit reason why we shouldn't be putting on a fucking Carlton Banks outfit if we have to in order to get the knowledge we need can go catch one of those "keeping it real" bullets that always seem to be flying around the hood.

The only thing that will be "good in the hood" is when the last light in the last project finally goes out forever.

They play rap music in the suburbs too.

Cats at my Starbucks wear more Sean John than black folks.

We would still be black, though, if we had never rapped, break danced, ate collard greens or corn bread, or even if we had never once ripped a jazz solo.

Trust me.





Obama's NAACP Speech Woke Me Up



I was in the middle of an after work nap in the living room on Thursday when I thought I heard somebody shouting. I opened my eyes and realized that the somebody was Barack Obama, getting into his windup for the delivery of his final words, the way he used to do back when he was campaigning.

Damn! I guess Michael Jackson is finally dead.

As I listened to the end of President Obama's speech to the NAACP, where he broke into his patented rising black preacher cadence to finish off his address, I felt like we were all ready to get our mojo back.

When the HNIC (Head Negro In Charge) is in charge of the entire country, and not just Def Jam Records, or American Express, or an HBCU - not that any of those things are small accomplishments - the things he says really mean something.

The thing that he said that no national media source has talked, probably because they already had their articles prewritten, was about was his comment about the trip he and his family took to Africa to The Door Of No Return. After comparing the texts that were widely disseminated to what I was hearing on the video of the speech, I realized once again that between the information gap and bad information from our media, we really don't have a chance these days. So I transcribed EXACTLY what President Obama said in this section of his speech below - you can read along with the video if you start it at the 32:10 mark.

    "Some of you saw last week, in Ghana, Michelle and I took Malia and Sasha and my mother-in-law to Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. Some of you may have been there.

    This is where captives were once imprisoned before being auctioned, where across an ocean so much of the African American experience began.

    We went down into the dungeons, where the captives were held. There was a church above one of the dungeons...which tells you something…about saying one thing and doing another."


It may seem like a small thing, these few words, but in just those few seconds, I felt like the president was really talking to me about the America that still frustrates us even as it smiles and pats us on the back. Hundreds of years later, we are still doing the same thing, in our Senate, in our Congress, in our state capitols, in our corporations and our community organizations - talking about one thing and doing another.







Brown Man Tans On The Easy Reach Beach


It looks like I got back just in the nick of time, before you guys started fighting over whether Michael Jackson or Steve McNair should be named Father Of The Year. But it was hard to leave our little Georgia beach. It seems that every year on Sunday is when the sun shines the brightest, the water is just right for catching a few waves, and the people seem the friendliest on Tybee Island.

The Resident Diva and her buddy who had come along were moving real slow about midday Sunday - actually they weren't moving at all, their eyes glued to some reality show on MTV. So instead of taking our bags to the car, I scooped up a beach towel and a beer and headed to the beach.

S. decided she was hungry, so she joined me for the 500 foot walk to the string of restaurants on the strand that looked out onto the beach. I peeled off at the Seventeenth Street crosswalk, like I did every morning, while S. continued on to Fannies, a Tybee Island institution that has the best open air view of the Atlantic Ocean in town. By the time she was sitting down at her coveted spot on the second floor deck at Fannies, I had already dropped my towel and shoes and surveyed the landscape.

The thing about a little beach like this, which doesn't have the golf courses or entertainment venues or amusement parks of a Myrtle Beach, or the raw intensity of Destin, or the cachet of a Seaside or even Hilton Head, is the way it becomes a community beach, even though the people who come here are usually staying for a week or less. As I stood in the ocean, letting the water lap against my back, I could see quite a few familiar faces from the week, people who I talked to on the beach or stood in line with for breakfast or listened to music with at night in one of the nearby bars.

The building ordinance Tybee has that limits the heights of all buildings is probably the thing that has contributed the most to its character. There are no major hotel chains and no high rise condo towers, which means a large part of their tourists rent houses instead of rooms. So you see a lot of families, a lot of intergenerational groupings who come back year after year.

I thought about an exchange I'd had one morning at The Breakfast Club, another Tybee Island institution where you can get to listen to Muddy Waters while you eat your omelet. I was sitting next to a gregarious local builder, although in this place gregariousness seems to be a prerequisite to getting a highly sought after seat at the bar, where you sit a few feet from the backs of the finest short order cooks in town. The builder, after recently winding down his Michael Jackson harangue, had leaned over to me to express his condolences since I'd had to confess that I was from Atlanta.

"I got a brother up there," he said in a booming drawl, as if his brother was doing a bid in a state penitentiary. Then he lowered his voice. "You know what they call this place?"

I gave him the universal "I don't know" look, spreading the upturned palms of my hands apart slowly to cue him to go ahead with his punchline.

"They call it the 'Redneck Rivera'."

I leaned over towards him, my eyebrows raised high. "Redneck it is. The Rivera it ain't."

I thought about that exchange on Sunday as I stood there in the water, watching people do the the things that they normally do at the beach, and sorted through why I liked this place so much. Maybe, I mused, it allowed me to get in touch with my Inner Redneck. Maybe it was the prices, which were reasonable enough to allow men who painted houses and fixed cars and machined parts and assembled cars to treat their families to a nice time at the beach once a year. Maybe it was the way the public was as welcome to the beach as the people who owned the million dollar houses that overlooked the ocean. Or maybe it was the way most of the people seemed to fully and freely enjoy themselves without worrying about the time or the label on their swimsuits or the way their hair was cut.

I thought about all these things and more as I kept hearing about Steve McNair and Michael Jackson and their roles as father figures for their children. I thought about the men I'd sat next to all week, and drank beer with, and told stories with, men who planned their own itineraries, served as their own bodyguards, loaded their own bags into their own cars, found their way down the highway without the aid of GPS, men who looked into their wallets as if the money in it could run out if they weren't careful, and wondered why we allowed our media to repeat the kinds of meaningless platitudes about fatherhood they have been spouting recently about the latest deceased celebrity dads.

That's when I knew the Brown Man needed to bid the Easy Reach Beach goodbye for now and get back to work telling it like it is.







Brown Man Gets Browner



The Brown Man is at the beach getting browner.

It would probably be easier for our household to get to the beach if I ran for president and got elected. The Obamas probably leave town with less stuff than we do. And they've got help.

One of the Resident Diva's friends came along with us. The look on her face as she sat at the dining room table for an hour, watching us go through our final departure checklists and room sweeps said "it can't take all this effort to leave town for a week.

But the house is clean, all the doors and windows have been triple checked, and every imaginable convenience we could think of, from books to medicines to enough clothes to avoid any need to do laundry while we are gone, was been stuffed into the back of our truck.

On the highway down here yesterday, as we rode through the middle of Georgia to the coast, I said, "Barack Obama is going to have to have another press conference just to get on TV - Michael Jackson is on so much, I almost forgot Obama was president."

S. said, "he's probably glad for the break."

So while the rest of you guys are watching the parade of elephants or whatever the Jackson's have cooked up for their brother's send off, and Al Sharpton's latest hairdo, and Jessie Jackson's tears, and the sea of black designer sunglasses that will adorn the faces of the sea of celebrities who pack the VIP section of the Staples Center, I will be watching the waves of the Atlantic lap at the sand.

Because next week, when some of the fanfare over Michael Jackson's death finally subsides, we'll be back to the all-American lineup of distressed mortgages, depraved politicians and a depressed economy.

I'll be rested and ready.

And a whole lot browner.








"Cadillac Records" Brings Back Memories


We watched the movie Cadillac Records last night. I know, I know, the movie came out months ago, but it was finally on cable, so we watched it at home - where else can you take four people to the movies for only $4.99? With two teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and two "old folks", there was the usually inter-generational brouhaha - the teenagers had to keep shushing S. and I all night long.

Jeffery Wright resembles Muddy Waters about as much as I look like Denzel Washington, but whether it was the way Wright had his cheeks puffed out, or how he grunted through his teeth when he spoke, he did that thing that good actors can do to make you believe they are the real thing.

Maybe that means Cedric The Entertainer can't act, because no matter what role I see him in, he's always still Cedric to me. He didn't have much screen time, so after awhile you could go with the fiction that he was supposed to be songwriter Willie Dixon.

But the cat who played Howlin' Wolf, Eamonn Walker - now he looked just like the real Wolf, if you had cut off his legs - the real Howlin' Wolf was a great big man, six feet six or six feet eight, but since most people don't know that, I'll give the casting director a pat on the back for selecting such a compelling supporting actor.

I had to work hard not to laugh out loud during the movie - not because of the acting, which was pretty good, or the storyline, which was written in the familiar rags-to-riches music biopic style, but because I had grown up with all the songs and all the stories.

My father used to talk about Muddy Waters like people talk about Michael Jackson. If you asked him who was singing one of the wailing blues records he played, he say, "boy, that's Muddy Waters. Muddy Waa-ters." The second "Muddy Waa-ters" was usually uttered reverentially, as if saying his name alone brought back memories. Then my father's mouth would drop down at the corners, like Jeffery Wright's did in the movie, the same way the real Muddy Waters mouth probably dropped sometimes when he was sitting in Chicago remembering those fields back in Mississippi, and my father would slowly shake his head from side to side as that gravely voice wailed atop the guitar notes out of the big, wooden Maganavox stereo console in our living room.

So when Chuck Berry, played by Mos Def, came on screen and did his rock and roll moves with his country twang and his guitar swaying, I turned to S., after checking to make sure the Resident Diva wasn't watching me, and said sotto voce "Elvis needs to give all that money back." It was the same line my parents and their friends had said over and over for years while I was growing up, but I'd never seen what they had actually lived through, when the real Chuck Berry was on their radios back in the fifties, until I saw this movie.

I'm not mad at the producers for putting Beyonce in the movie - she was a natural choice for Etta James, all the way down to the generous padded ham hocks that helped make the real Etta James famous. But I think it took them away from delving deeper into Muddy Waters character at a time when we needed to know more about who he was inside. As good as Beyonce looked in those skin tight dresses, I still felt they would have had a stronger movie if it had focused more on Muddy's internal struggles as an aging, fading artist.

After a couple of dramatic scenes nearing the end, which prompted the noise police to double shush us, we were able to make it to the end without further incident.

The thing about movies like these that is interesting, given the juxtaposition our viewing of this particular movie with the surreal events swirling around us these last few days with celebrity deaths, is how central depravities and addictions and psychological horrors are to the lives of many who inhabit the limelight. You can't make a movie of Ike and Tina Turner, or Ray Charles, or James Brown, without including them, or else you don't have a movie.

So why, when celebrities are alive, do we insist on making them one dimensional? Would you watch a movie about Steve McNair that only included the Disney moments he shared with his family? Would you watch a movie about Michael Jackson that left out his alleged exploits at Neverland Ranch?






Girlfriend Takes Air Out Of Steve McNair




In the various stories I've read about the murder of Steve McNair, the young woman found dead with a single gunshot wound near his body has been described as a "friend", a "waitress at a restaurant McNair and his family frequented", and as "the 20 year old Sahel Kazemi who was arrested for a DUI in a late model Escalade SUV titled to Kazemi and McNair."

She was the girlfriend.

Mistress.

Woman on the side.

Take your pick - it doesn't take Columbo to unravel the mystery here, because there is no mystery. Rich, famous married men get involved with younger women all the time. It's gone on so long there is probably a handbook somewhere describing the rules of engagement for these kind of relationships.

A handbook McNair and Kazemi obviously didn't read.

I was at the W Hotel, the one located in downtown Atlanta, last Friday night with my brother, celebrating his birthday. We'd gotten a good meal at Houston's in Midtown to begin the evening and were looking to do a little carousing.

The places I normally go when I go out are little neighborhood spots out in the suburbs, or old familiar Atlanta landmarks that haven't changed in years. So when I walked into the ground floor lounge at the W Hotel, I was impressed. It looked like someone had taken installations out of the Museum of Modern Art and hung them from the two story ceiling. There were conversation areas - little groups of comfortable looking chairs scattered around the room, with vast expanses of space between them.

The curved bar was small, as bars go, so when I stepped up to it, I could see the faces of almost everyone there. I took a look around for a few seconds and said to my brother, "dude, I don't need to come back in here."

Because the women just a few feet away looked just that damn good.

I'm not rich, or famous, so I don't know how hard it is for men who are used to having everything they want to resist the temptations of the flesh.

But what I did remember after speeding up the W's elevators to their sixteenth floor outside pool and bar, where the DJ pumped it up while bikini shod women jumped in and out of the pool and variously half dressed women wandered in and out all night, was how seductive all of this used to be.

A lot of us middle aged men would like to relive our glory years, but we don't have the stamina, or the wherewithal, or the opportunity to do it and still live our regular lives. At this point your lifestyle is often self correcting, with friends and family and work and other responsibilities that keep us from acting on those urges.

As I was writing the previous paragraph, I thought about my daily routines, like the Sunday ritual I am about to perform, where I go out to get the Sunday edition of the New York Times. The girl at Publix I kid around with as I check my stuff out, the customer service person whose pants are probably a little snugger than Publix would like them, will be there when I walk through their electric doors in a few minutes, smiling and chatting, the kind of thing that convinces us that we've still "got it".

What if I were to drive up in a Hummer instead? What if she knew my name before I gave her my bankcard? What if I had nothing but time to kill when she turned around and arched back a little longer than necessary while getting a price check? There is a right answer, but the real answer is, if it was the right time of day, and I'd left home in the wrong mood, and those black pants were straining just a little bit harder than usual, I'd probably say something - something a little risque, the way I usually do now, except in this make-believe instance, I'd have every intention of seeing how long it would take for her to slide into the passenger seat of that Hummer.

Thank goodness for me I drive a Ford.

The irony of this whole thing, at least to me, is that McNair probably was killed with one of his own guns, a weapon he was often found with in his car while the quarterback of the Tennessee Titans. That instant access to a gun that he thought would keep him safe is very likely the reason he is dead today.








Syntax Killa From Wasilla Packs It In




Sarah Palin is out of politics.

She's through.

Finished.

Kaput.

Done.

I don't own an American flag, but I might have to buy one today.

I won't miss the old "syntax killa from Wasilla" one bit. She couldn't have done anything more patriotic on this Fourth of July weekend if she tried.

I don't know what significance resigning in three weeks has - whether it gives her enough time in to qualify for state retirement or some civil service benefit - whatever it is, I hope its worth it.

Because it will only take our tabloid press and paparazzi about three days to find out what the real reason is behind her sudden departure.

The thing I can't figure out is our news media. In particular, I am talking about the political pundits who get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep putting the words "Sarah Palin" and "2012 run for president" in the same sentence over and over. Even now, conservative pundits are trying to put some positive spin on this latest move by Palin, as if it is all part of a carefully orchestrated plan she has to position herself for a presidential run.

And newspaper publishers wonder why people have quit reading their papers?

Sarah Palin couldn't win the presidency of Neverland Ranch if she was the only candidate. Bubbles the Chimp probably has a higher IQ. There is no question that he’s traveled to more countries than Palin.

Something tells me, though, that you will be seeing Palin again. Without the restrictions of a public office, she could pop up anywhere - as a TV talk show host, or a FOX News analyst. She might even release a DVD on bubble gum cracking the way Jane Fonda did her workout tapes.

I have no idea what scandal is about to erupt in Alaska, but after the Argentinean love fest South Carolinians have had to suffer through, ANYTHING is possible.








The part of the Boy Scout credo that has always stuck in my mind is "thrifty, brave, clean, reverent." These were a part of the litany of ideals – trustworthy, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent - that we were expected to strive towards, not only as Scouts, but as human beings.

There always have been and always will be plenty of people who refuse to do anything more for themselves than eat, sleep and wipe their own butts. And as long as TV and the newsmags continue to tell them that they don't have enough stuff, or a big enough house, or a big enough car, or an exotic enough vacation, there will be very little "unlearning" of this kind of belief system.

The proletariat has always been screwed, and will continued to be screwed long and hard, so long as we avoid getting better educations, but master the intricacies of Playstations; so long as we skip reading the fine print, but memorize the lyrics to 50 Cent; so long as we continue to front and floss, instead of making the sacrifices needed in order to be our own boss; so long as we hang out at the club every night shaking that ass, instead of enrolling in some kind of college to study and try to pass.

And yet some of us, who know better, who talk the talk and walk the walk of community empowerment and education and "each one, teach one" will sit in front of our computers screens and our TV screens and silently nod in solidarity at the rage that palpates for the cameras.

Maybe the things we think that are solutions to this are just plain wrong. Instead of thinking outside the box, let's forget there is a box. I have no idea what the right thing to do going forward is supposed to look like, but I know damn well it's not supposed to look anything like this.

It would be easy, from an academic standpoint, to dismiss this crude minority, but the reality is that they have somehow tapped into a latent desire by a larger secondary group of us who want to connect with this outlaw nature, a desire strong enough to counter the very things we say we are working towards. Which is how you can end up talking to a black single mother with a master’s degree in education who openly acknowledges a fetish for gangsta rappers even as she teaches middle schoolers how to avoid peer pressure. Or black middle managers in corporate America who pull into the parking lot in the mornings blasting Snoop Dogg’s latest. Or black medical school interns who unwind between shifts by watching rap videos on BET.

This sentiment is so strong, so pervasive, so insinuated into the fabric of our daily lives that once in awhile, I even find myself, against all my efforts to the contrary, succumbing on occasion to the view of blackness that labels us as thugs, as criminals, as drug addicts, as welfare queens – images embedded in my subconscious that despite my own efforts may never be entirely rooted out.

The real question here is, if the empirical evidence shows that most of the activities that black people in America participate in are mainstream America activities – lawful and decent and positive - why do we as black people continue to allow this minority of us to stand for who we are? Why do we allow this minority to usurp so much of our intellectual and emotional energy?


This is an excerpt from my book Recarving Our Cultural Totem Pole.




If America Was Afrocentric...




In case you haven't figured it out, most of my posts here are really essays. They aren't as interactive or as immediate as blog posts tend to be, but I'll always be a writer first, blogger second.

But when I found myself passing the five hundred word mark while replying to a comment by one of my readers, it was obvious that this needed to become a post of its own. Danielle, who says she is a new reader of Brown Man Thinking Hard, had a few things to say about yesterday's post, "When Will BET Pull Its Jeans Up?". It seems we saw eye to eye on several areas, but she was not in agreement with me about the way I categorized some of the artists who performed on the BET Awards show.


    "I guess, my point is why can't they wear and pierce what they want."

    Danielle



They can wear what they want.

But we as African Americans have no business celebrating the choices of these people, who are essentially counterculture performers, as if their existence is central to OUR culture, the same way mainstream America doesn't celebrate heavy metal or goth music as if it is central to the mainstream ethos.

I can still recite "Rappers Delight" or parts of "The Real Roxanne" verbatim. I actually owned a record by King Tim the Third, who was on the radio, at least in the South, before the Sugar Hill Gang. And if the lyrics and the beat hit me the right way, I can get into some of the stuff I hear on the radio even today.

But if I did the equivalent of what these chumps do as a writer, you would want me tarred and feathered.

    "When I decide to have children, tats, piercing, and baggy pants won't be allowed in my house, but these artists have that right....they have the right to dress however they like. I guess my question really is do you think they reflect poorly on the African American race?"

    Danielle


If you won't allow these things in your own house, I think you've answered your own question.

The Resident Diva is now eighteen, and is starting to learn, for the first time in her life, what freedom really is. The freedom to choose to display whatever you want on your body, or the kinds of clothes you wear, she has found out, directly impacts the freedom she really wants, which is her freedom to ride around Atlanta.

The restaurant manager at the place where she began working recently has dramatized what we've been saying all along - weird or loud fingernail colors, funky hairdos, and big ass earrings are reasons for immediate termination at his shop.

And since her freedom of choice needs to be bankrolled, unless she chooses to stay in the house all summer with no cash, she has quickly changed her ways without complaint.

If wearing a dashiki means you are relegated to making half of what you think you should be paid in your field, then put that shit in a picture frame and hang it on your wall. You can look at it when you get home. Does this mean that being proud of your heritage is wrong? Not in the least.

But if America was afrocentric - I don't mean this having a black president stuff, but AFROCENTRIC, as in central to the core of what it means to be an American citizen - many of US would still be stuck on stupid. Still killing each other over nothing. Still standing on the outside watching THEIR OWN PEOPLE, the ones of us with good sense, rack up all the goodies they figured they'd be buying "when their album dropped."

This stuff on the outside, though, as delectable and as enjoyable as it can be, is just window dressing. Owning a pair of Ferragamos doesn't make me like John McCain any more than having tattoos and piercings makes a teenager like Lil' Wayne.

The problem 99.9% of the teenagers who aren't in a studio eight hours a day (I'm being generous to Mr. Wayne here, but most professional musicians are hitting the bricks hard) have is the same problem the Resident Diva has - the people who are manning the gates that are between them and the lives they want make judgments based on THEIR OWN worldview, not on the stuff they were supposed to learn from the rainbow coloring book they filled in during the obligatory diversity seminar they attended.

Selling our children a bill of goods by telling them they can have their cake and eat it too is the worst kind of child abuse. The only thing I see when I look at Lil' Wayne is Flavor Flav. I know, I know, "this guy is different", "this guy has more money than Flav did", "this guy is bigger than Flav was" - all I know is, Mike Tyson had several hundred million slip through his hands, and all he's got left is that damn tattoo over his eye and child support bills.

I'm working on a book, called "Recarving Our Cultural Totem Pole", which is centered around this very subject. Entertainment is necessary, but it needs to slide down a few notches on our metaphorical totem poles, so that we can put the things back on top that belong there, like our new president, and the positive, community BUILDING initiatives he tirelessly promotes.





top