31 January 2009

Are Politics The New Black?

These days, black seems to go with everything.

To those who get most of their information about African Americans from TV and talk radio, this newest version of us - smart, articulate, attractive, and highly skilled at marshalling resources and attracting political support - must seem like an overnight sensation, a sudden invasion of the highest levels of American political power.

Michael Steele's ascension to the head of the Republican National Committee is a bigger watershed moment in some ways than Barack Obama's rise to the White House. Even if it is window dressing, as many suspect, and some Republicans already freely admit, I would imagine shock waves are being felt around the country, especially after Colin Powell's famous interview on Meet The Press last year in which he took Republican leadership to task after endorsing Barack Obama for president.

"Will Steele be another Powell?" is certain to be on the minds of many of the party faithful this weekend.

I talked to my father earlier today about the whole thing. He's been a Republican for over 30 years. A lot of my friends ask me how I square my own political views with his. The answer is, I don't have to. We actually don't talk about politics all the time, but when we do, a lot of our discourse revolves around the philosophical underpinnings of various political stances rather than the tit-for-tat, "party versus party" type of heated rhetoric you see so much on political gabfest shows.

Anyway, since he was on the phone, I asked him about Michael Steele. He didn't immediately address Steele, starting instead with Katon Dawson, Steele's main opponent, who is now famous for having held a membership until last year in a white's only country club. My father, who is normally a big booster of all things relating to our home state of South Carolina, gave a guarded assessment of Dawson. "If Katon had gotten elected, he wouldn't have been able to be very effective because of the baggage he would bring in with him."

So I pressed him about Steele again.

"It took him six votes!" he said, as if Steele's victory had been a struggle, rather than the triumph the media has proclaimed it to be.

"But he won," I said.

We talked a bit longer. My father wondered how much that a need to pander to the nation's new fascination with black politicians had to do with this outcome. "If he doesn’t go in their trying to take over right away, he might have a chance to do something," my father said, although the tone in his voice was wary.

We didn't get a chance to talk about the party's dynamics, and how this was going to interface with the Rush Limbaugh end of the GOP. Internet blogs are already beginning to call Steele Limbaugh's assistant. It remains to be seen whether Limbaugh is willing to sacrifice the allegiance of his radio audience by attempting to push for a more inclusive party, which is certain to cost him many of his staunch "us versus them" listeners.

Ron Brown was in the same position Steele was when he was the first African American to run the DNC – the Democrats were in disarray, and the Reagan Republicans were steamrolling everything in site. Whether or not Republican operatives can be as open to working with Steele as the Democrats were when they finally warmed up to Brown remains to be seen.

If Steele is going to suit up as the GOP's "anti-Obama", then they are going to have to give him the tools to work with, and get out of the way. This was a tall order for the Democrats back in the 80's, and it is an even taller order for the Republicans today. The faith of many of the party faithful is about to be tested in ways they would never have imagined a year ago.

Are politics the new black?

Not yet.

Maybe that will be the case when we get to the point when there are viable, competitive African Americans who campaign for senator, governor, and even president under the GOP banner the way the Democrats have finally begun to do it.

30 January 2009

Obama Should Do Wall Street Road Trip

As I watched President Obama sternly mouth the words “shameful” and “the height of irresponsibility” into the TV cameras last night, I wondered if the Wall Street chieftains he was talking to really understood how long this commander-in-chief planned on beating this drum.

The normal course of events in political theatre involves this same kind of impassioned rhetoric - until the cameras stop rolling, when the glad handing usually begins. You are used to seeing important men standing closer to each other at times like this than they do with their own wives in public, their clenched jaws practically grazing the shoulders of the man they are talking to as they begin to reassure each other, sotto voce, of how little intent they have of following through on the statements they have just made.

This president was not elected because a select coterie of well heeled donors let him stand on top of their checkbooks. This president was elected by the collective conscience of a nation, by a wave of emotional fervor so powerful that people without jobs sent five and ten and twenty dollars out of their meager budgets for his campaign.

If I were President Obama, I'd be prepared to ratchet up the stakes even more if the bankers who hit the bailout line the way pigs hit the trough at feeding time keep hiding behind the kind of legalistic rhetoric about whose funds are paying for what that have me and practically every other American citizen seeing blood red right now.

If I were him, I'd go to Wall Street.

Not the normal way a president goes to New York, by flying on Air Force One.

I'd drive there.

I'd take that big fat road hog of a presidential limousine he's got and put it on the road. I'd have helicopters flying all up and down I-95. Every news outlet in the country would be following me, with reporters digging up stock footage of Wall Street's excesses and reports of the huge bonuses being paid to fill in the dead time during the five hour drive.

And when I got there, I'd march into the offices of four or five banks, one after the other, for a ten minute, on the air question and answer session with the CEO, the way Mike Wallace used to do it, badgering and ridiculing and belittling each of them every second they were on the air.

If Rush Limbaugh can have his "Obama –Limbaugh Stimulus Plan" fantasy, I figure I can have my "Brown Man Ambush Wall Street 60 Minutes style" fantasy.

My buddy, who is always prone to want to moderate my more fanciful ideas, countered my rhetoric with some middle of the road posture that I can't remember now. So I proceeded to lay out to him the history of Wall Street, going down the row of biographies on my bookshelf one by one, practically ranting at him an anecdote from each of them about Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould and John Rockefeller until he got tired of my harangue.

"The difference to me between those guys and today's CEO's," I said, "was that they had their own skin in the game. It was their own money they were playing with, for the most part."

John Thain, Vinod Gupta, Richard Fuld - how much of their own money did they invest in their companies before they got there? Dick Parsons, the new chairman of Citigroup - did he write a check for five or ten billion to the company's owners to assume the top slot?

Real capitalists put up their own money. Or have enough credit to borrow what they need. Do you see anyone lending any of these clowns (sorry Dick, but you didn't do much at Time Warner) a few billion? A few hundred million?

Nobody but us.

Its like going to a poker tournament and having the house put up your buy-in money. That doesn't happen in poker, or anywhere else in America except in the corporate Fantasy Island we've allowed these guys to build for themselves.

The problem these fake capitalists have right now?

Mr. Roark just died.

And Tattoo doesn't know how to make the magic work.

29 January 2009

Mama Said Knock You Out

The thing that Rush Limbaugh needs to remember, or maybe learn, since it doesn't look like he's figured it out yet, is President Obama's uncanny ability to appear to be something that he is not.

My buddy called me yesterday to talk about the Congressman who had appeared on the news while he was getting dressed. My buddy said the congressman, red faced and flustered, cried out to the CNN reporter interviewing him that the Republicans weren't against the country, with their opposition to the stimulus bill, they were simply against the wasteful spending it contained - "we've been set up" is the quote my buddy told me.

"Dude," I said, "Obama is not a gentleman. He is the president. He knows how to behave. He knows how the game is played. But he is not the kind of guy who waits for someone to go over the Marquis de Queensbury rules before the bell rings without getting a lick in."

My buddy cracked up laughing.

"Even your boy Rush is getting handled. He took the bait from Obama, and then swung back - at a guy who is still standing under the 'first black president' aura that has surrounded him since last week. There was no way to win that one. Now Republican leaders don't know whether to castigate Rush, or placate him, because to be on the bad side of Rush Limbaugh as a member of the GOP could mean an uphill re-election battle once you’re in his sights."

I really didn't pay any more attention to what appeared to me to be a minor trading of insults between Rush Limbaugh and President Obama until yesterday, when I ran across the "Obama –Limbaugh Stimulus Plan", written by none other than Rush Limbaugh himself. With a title that ridiculous, I had to check it out. Two things jumped out at me as I read it. One was Limbaugh's fascination with the proportions of the Obama victory:

"Mine is a genuine compromise. So let's look at how the vote came out, shall we? Fifty-three percent of voters in this country -- we'll say, for the sake of this proposal, 53% of Americans -- voted for Obama. Forty-six percent voted for Senator McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Let's give the remaining 1% to President Obama, so let's say that 54% voted for President Obama and 46% voted for Senator McCain.

As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009, $540 billion of the one trillion will be spent on infrastructure as defined by President Obama and the Democrats. The remaining $460 billion, or 46% that voted for Senator McCain, will be directed towards tax cuts, as determined by me."

I'm not going to even look at the historical implications of his plan - what president has ever won with 100 percent of the vote?

What concerns me is that the psyche behind this tongue-in-cheek jab at the President is based on some of the same kind of thinking my fair haired neighbors ascribe to here in the Atlanta suburbs. "We need to spend OUR tax dollars on things that benefit US" was the rallying cry that saw the north end of Fulton County, where I live here in Georgia, become fully incorporated, with four brand new cities springing up in the last five years to keep northside tax dollars from going to the city of Atlanta.

Now most of these cities are suffering from growing pains, even as they try to explain to their constituents why the tax relief they campaigned on to get these new cities chartered is no longer a priority.

The federally funded interstate highway system fundamentally changed the American way of life. It enables goods and services to be reasonable priced and available to a large part of the country quickly and easily. Even though the underlying philosophy behind this system was national defense, it has fostered many social and economic changes in our society by increasing the mobility of the American populace.

Would the interstate work as well if it was only built in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Missouri, California, Washington State, and Colorado? Maybe you can add a couple more states to the list, but these were probably the only states in the forties and who paid more in tax revenue than they took out of the federal government.

Which means produce can't get across the country so easily, or cheaply. That flat screen TV gets a delivery surcharge. And if you need to get somewhere in a hurry, by car, it had better begin and end in the list of states above that touch each other.

The other thing was the use of the phrase "as determined by me". Again, it is pretty obvious that this is supposed to be a humorous, whimsical piece, but the thing that the "me" speaks to, in my mind, is how important Rush Limbaugh is to Rush Limbaugh.

The thing for me about growing up with Republican parents is that I ended up going to local GOP fundraisers, delivering paperwork to the party officers, and occasionally, if I happened to get stuck in the car with my father at the wrong time of day, listening to Mr. Rush Limbaugh himself. To be a teenager, with all of the teen sensitivities to the slightest opprobrium from my peers, was tough enough, but to be a teenager whose African American parents were Republicans could be almost unendurable at times.

The future Rush Limbaughs in my town went to the private high schools, which had all become overgrown with students after the Feds finally got around to enforcing the Brown Vs. Board of Education ruling in the early seventies. There were guys who looked just like Rush does now back when they were in high school, Rush's cigar replaced by a cigarette, the hairline already fading, a polo shirt covering the beginnings of a beer gut, legs splayed out to either side of the steering wheel on a Jeep Wrangler, with a sneer on their lips that seemed to grow longer whenever they passed what was ostensibly the black high school that served the public.

You couldn't get more self satisfied than these kind of guys. After all, we were in the South, and their fathers owned stuff, like businesses, and farms, and real estate that had been paid for by their grandfathers, while my father, and the fathers of my friends and cohorts were starting out with bank loans, or SBA loans, or owner financing that they had to take care each month of before they could put any money back into their businesses.

I can't blame President Obama for doing those things that can help level the playing field a little bit. I can imagine his mother telling him, as a child who was often the new kid on the block in the many, many places they lived, "if somebody looks like they are going to hit you, get your lick in first", the same way my mother did when I was a child, because we moved a lot ourselves.

Obama cannot approach being the leader of our country as if he is on equal footing with the entrenched power structure in Congress, who are holders of the patent on turning sugar into shit, or the media establishment, who are masters of the ability to reshape reality into the political narrative of their choosing, or else the White House dining staff can go ahead and write "James Earl Carter the Second" on his place card at the head of the table.

28 January 2009

When I Get That Feeling In My Gut

I thought about a few things the other day - why I write the stuff that I do here, and whether or not what I say really has any merit in a media saturated world - and I discovered that this blog is fueled mainly by my own brand of righteous indignation.

For example, yesterday's monologue, Obama Grounds Citigroup Jet Purchase, was the second thing I wrote. The first piece I'd come up with just didn't do anything for me when I started trying to edit it. It didn't feel right. So I waited awhile, and sure enough, the Citigroup plane story came along, a story that was practically begging for me to rant about why a brand new 50 million dollar jet for a bank who was getting bailout funds was so wrong.

It was a story that hit me right in my gut.

But while I was reading the work of a fellow blogger, who was indulging in her own bit of indignation yesterday about Juan Williams recent comments about Michelle Obama, it hit me that there is a higher calling that awaits those of us in the blogosphere who write commentary about current events and politics.

At some point, my blog has to be more than a reactionary catharsis that salves my own sense of right and wrong. It has to expand the prevailing political narrative – to take the framework of the discussions on TV and radio and in print and literally push the boundaries out from around them.

William Kristol’s last column for the New York Times was published yesterday. With a mind that has produced of some of the narrowest thinking in America, Kristol's work occupied the right hand column on the op-ed page of one of the most widely read papers in the country for years. George Will, Maureen Dowd, Peggy Noonan, Thomas Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, Ellen Goodman, Richard Cohen, David Broder, all of them "columnists for life" at their respective organizations, all could join Kristol by the end of the week, and we'd be better off for it, even if they were replaced by less capable people.

These opinionistas don't mirror the society they live in, not even the elite parts they long to join, or already live amongst, but profess not to belong to - they reflect, for the most part, their own rigid tastes, their own limitations of imagination, and their own intellectual boundaries.

Bloggers like me, who carefully craft long, thematically driven posts, often have delusions of grandeur, and may even have a desire from time to time to take the place of these "columnists for life", to put our own imprint on the world's psyche. But the more I've thought about it, the more I realize how free this end of the world really is, where I don't have an editor to answer to, or an editorial policy to uphold - where I can literally write whatever comes to mind, the way I am doing right now.

I feel sorry for the Juan Williams, the Shelby Steeles, the John McWhorters, the Debra Dickersons - they have put themselves in a box that demands, in days such as these, where black people have finally begun to feel so good about themselves that we are beginning to quit worrying so much about the petty, trivial things upon which we often expend a disproportionate amount of energy, that they continue to tell the same old stories they told last week, and last month, and last year, and ten years ago - much like the conservative icon William Kristol did, hewing steadfastly to ideologies that were as outdated as Elvis.

The words that came to my mind the other day were "blogger manifesto", but out here in the blogosphere, we don't need any more quasi-official policies or programs or groups to tell us how to think. The only thing we need to do is push the boundaries of discourse outward, in whatever individual direction we deem, justified only by our own ideas of decency, by our own homegrown common sense, and by some sort of logical progression that allows others to make sense of what we’re trying to say.

So my watchword here is “righteous indignation”, at least until I get tired of this, or the wind blows me in another direction. Which means that when I get that feeling in my gut, I won't stop to wonder if that feeling is on the left side of my stomach, or the right side, or in the middle – I will simply grab my keyboard and start typing until it goes away.

27 January 2009

Obama Grounds Citigroup Jet Purchase

Our nation's 44th president, a man whose pictures from his twenties show a leanness that speaks of more than a passing familiarity with Ramen noodles, has put his foot down. Citicorp, the latest bank to need bailout funds, has requested 40 billion of our money - oops, excuse me, that's 40 billion from our "available credit balance" - to get through the latest slump in the economy.

This is the very same Citigroup that has been widely lambasted by the press over the last few days for planning to upgrade a corporate jet to a new model, ordering one that would cost Citigroup fifty million dollars.

This Obama White House did not float a trial balloon in the press. This Obama White House did not make a half-hearted plea to beg the Citigroup execs to do the right thing. This Obama White House got on the phone with whoever it is who counts at Citigroup yesterday, and told them to make this go away.

Today, Citigroup no longer has a 50 million jet on order. Or a 40 million one, or 20 million – there will be no new jet at all.

This is finally starting to make some kind of sense.

Will there be anything that the rest of the government’s elected representatives – the Senate and the House of Representatives – take from this kind of leadership? Could it possibly inspire them to quit bitching over whose sneaky backdoor proviso gets to be in a stimulus package and motivate them to put some financial relief squarely in the pockets of those individual citizens who they claim to represent?

If no one else has told President Obama this yet, then I will – there are only two kinds of legacies you will have. You will either be the first African American president, or the president who brought the nation back to its senses. So you might as well govern by relying on your common sense, rather than worry about the pundits or the polls.

All these glowing references to Rahm Emanuel's newly discovered "kinder and gentler" side in the press lately seem to be an attempt to sell us a bill of goods. As a veteran of the financial services industry, I can imagine how graphic and foul-mouthed Mr. "Kinder and Gentler" Emanuel might have acted on the phone with Citigroup once the door was closed, if it was in fact he who delivered the message.

The sad thing about the financial services business is that's the only kind of language they seem to respond to - that ugly, vile, "let me describe how I will violate you" type of exchange that leaves no doubt in the recipients mind that what they are standing in is real, real deep. There are no gentlemen in these thin air businesses - trying to treat them like they are is a waste of time.

Maybe these lily-livered banking execs will finally understand that the gates they live behind aren’t strong enough to keep us out if they continue to act like fiscally irresponsible idiots over and over again.

The good thing is, the "rope a dope" of the campaign trail is over. With no more opponents to tire out, President Obama is coming out swinging.

The great thing is, he is coming out swinging for us - the American people. Now that he's eating more than Ramen noodles, I think he may be able to go the distance.

26 January 2009

Cigar Shop Foreign Policy

A lot of the longer posts on this site have been mulled over and fleshed out while I smoked a cigar.

In the hour or so it takes to do a nice presidential sized Nicaraguan maduro justice, I believe I get to think more deeply about things. Or, if I combine puffing on a cigar with another activity, like I did yesterday when I took the blower and blew the leaves and pine straw out of the backyard, it seems to foster the kind of free association that allows me to more easily join the mundane and the profound together.

The cigar shop I frequent is an interracial men’s club - black, white, and hispanic - owned by an Iraqi American, where we solve the problems of the world, peruse the latest issues of Playboy, and trade domestic war stories on Saturday afternoons.

So the story in today’s New York Times about the magazine Cigar Aficionado caught my eye. The cover of their latest issue proclaimed "Pres. Obama: Here is what you should do about Cuba." None of this really meant anything to me until I saw this comment that Stephanie Clifford, the Times reporter, had inserted into the article:

It is an oddly liberal position for a rather conservative magazine. When one thinks of Cigar Aficionado, one thinks — fairly or unfairly - of rich, right-wing men puffing away on their Cohibas.

Most of the guys in know who smoke cigars are middle aged, middle income, middle of the road "no-wingers" who think politicians are lower than machine rolled cigars. They do everything but inhabit boardrooms.

Granted, there are a few patrons at the place I frequent who run good sized companies, and have many millions in the bank, but for the most part, those guys don’t show up all that much. I guess they can go to their lake house, or sit on their yacht at the dock, or take their slice of their fractional jet ownership to someplace exotic. For the rank and file cigar smoker, we have no place else to go but the cigar shop.

The only time you hear about Cuba at the cigar shop is when someone complains about being ripped off by a source who claims they have "authentic" Cubans. I have to agree with guys who are cigar experts – there is something different, something more potent, about a Cuban cigar, but it's not great enough for me to go through the trouble or expense of trying to get a regular supply.

There are a few of the guys who have made a pilgrimage to Cuba, who will often tell the well-worn tales of their adventures as they walked streets filled with run down, patched up cars, 1950’s era infrastructure and people who were willing to do almost anything for an American dollar.

Do we debate the idea of communism being at America’s doorstep? Nope. Do we discuss why American government is at an impasse with the Castro brothers? Nope. All we talk about is how much cheaper the Cuban cigars will be if we lift the embargo...

...for maybe five minutes, until the next game comes on.

America has proven, both here and abroad, that it can be a world class oppressor when it wants to be. But that strategy doesn’t really work – it takes a lot of resources to counter the hatred you foster in people once you put your foot on their neck.

The Cuban people are hungry. The little bit of infrastructure they have left is on its last legs. And Castro, an old guy so weak he has to be propped up by his nurses when he wants to play General, seems to be more of an enemy in the minds of our behind the times political pundits than he is in real life.

President Obama has some bright minds in his administration. They're a little busy getting up to speed right now, but once they get settled in, unleashing them on this problem wouldn't be a bad idea. Changing the Cuba narrative would be a good place for them to start, by replacing the romantic view of Cuba with the modern images of poverty and decay that actually exist.

Putting the "Cuba holds political prisoners" argument that conservatives and moderates alike have long supported to rest, especially when we are willing to do business with Communist China amid all its civil rights abuses, and call Israel an ally when it holds thousands of Palestinian political prisoners, would be a good second step.

Fearing Cuba right now is nonsensical - with some sort of change eminent in the near future, being the best solution to their immediate problems will do America more good than harm in the long run.

25 January 2009

Obama On America's Mind

Barack Obama at lunch in the White House

Barack Obama almost made me forget my mother's birthday was today. It is a date that is hard coded into my memory banks. But even though I've talked to my mother several times this week, it wasn't until Friday that I felt like I was forgetting something, and even then, it took awhile to burrow through all things Obama swirling about in my head to finally retrieve that information.

Obamamania has practically eliminated all the overdone hype for the Super Bowl we normally have to live through this time of year. I didn't think about the game until yesterday, when I saw three commercials for it in a five minute span. Maybe its the fact that its the Arizona Cardinals versus the Pittsburgh Steelers that has contributed to the diminished level of anticipation I normally have for the game. In some ways, the inauguration and its surrounding festivities were the Super Bowl, with all the same type of hoopla, fan hysteria, and musical performances - except you already knew what the outcome was going to be, and the winners were not going to Disney Land.

And like the Super Bowl, there comes a point of saturation - a point at which you start getting tired of hearing "the first African American president" from the announcers on TV, a point at which you begin to resent all the needless attention that is being paid to Michelle Obama's wardrobe, or her hairdo, or her makeup, or any one of the other fifty stupid things lazy media producers insist on using to compare the First Lady to Jackie Kennedy.

One of S.'s friends came over for dinner on Friday. We were all hungry by the time she arrived, so during the brief moments before the meal was ready to be served, with the news announcer reeling off one story after another than began with "President Obama", "Obama" or "the Obama Adminstration", I asked our guest a question. "Are you about tired of all this focus on Obama?"

"Yes, frankly I am," she said.

Then we turned off the TV, sat down to eat, and all proceeded to talk happily, in one way or another, about Barack Obama or Obama-related stories for the next three hours.

The power of this one thing is so great it seems to have the strength of a nuclear chain reaction, which releases several million times the energy of the initial reaction in the ensuing self-propagating reactions. The campaign, election, and inauguration of Barack Obama has unleashed something powerful, especially among us who are African Americans, that only seems to grow stronger with each day.

It is as if there has been a shift in the axis of the entire world, changing the angle at which the world rotates just enough to lessen the pull of gravity - because right now, not only does almost everybody seem to be walking a little taller, and holding their heads a little higher - it looks like we all intend to stay that way.

23 January 2009

Inauguration Show And Tell

The Great Uploading of all the pictures that were taken at the inauguration of Barack Obama earlier this week has been going on since Tuesday.

I've been tooling around the blogosphere, checking them out. A couple of photo essays stood out over at Daily Kos - they were a great blend of artfully composed shots and well written commentary. And the monologue by my man at AverageBro.com is hilarious - it sounds like the kind of blow-by-blow recap my buddies give me when they get back from a special trip.

Thanks to the photographers for giving me permission to link to their photos, and thanks to AverageBro, who always appreciates a few more visitors to his blog.

First up is "JJ from VA", who made this trek with his wife to the Mall on Sunday.

"This was one of the most amazing experiences of my lifetime. I've never been surrounded by so many happy, truly happy people of every imaginable race and ethnicity."

JJ from VA

We Are One-01-18-2009-114-Web

CLICK HERE to see JJ from VA's entire photojournal at Daily Kos.

From my blogroll, which I like to use as my custom built internet newspaper to see what's happening in cyberspace, I read a VERY entertaining account of Inauguration Day from an AverageBro who was just a few hundred feet away from the Ground Zero of the podium.


After awhile, ABL and I got antsy and started walking around the Section 11 (which prolly contained 10,000 seats alone) to see who else was around. In no time we ran into Common (nice guy), Tracee Ellis Ross (looks better on TV), Bill Bellamy, Evander Holyfield (sitting waaaay in the back and apparently not happy about it), Stephen Spielberg (nice guy, who oddly had to also sit in the back), Alicia Keys (far away, I only got a glimpse of her), Bill Cosby (also seen from afar), Wyclef (sitting just in front of us in the Green Zone) and finally.. brace yourselves fellas... Halle Berry.

She was dressed down (hat, big shades, no makeup), but well, it's Halle Berry. Do you ladies realize how many male-male debates/discussions have begun with the words "Well, what if Halle Berry...." over the years? She was too far from the aisle for me to ask for a photo (and she had well-disguised security, something few other celebs had), but this still made my day. 50 years from now, my kids will ask me about Inaug Day, and all I'll say is "Good Lawd, Halle Berry!!!!".

Average Bro

CLICK HERE for the entire article at AverageBro.com

Mal Harden also made the trek to D.C. with his wife.

"You may think you can imagine what a million people looks like. You can't. You may think you can imagine what a million gloves clapping sounds like. You can't. Between 20-40 baseball stadiums worth of people. Loud, enthusiastic people. :-) "

Mal Harden


CLICK HERE to see Mal's entire photojournal at Daily Kos.

22 January 2009

The Steps You Take Are Not Yours Alone

The mass of people on the National Mall who gathered to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States on Tuesday was simply stupendous. The anticipation seemed to reach around the globe. The announcers were all falling all over themselves to remind us that Barack Obama was about to be the nation’s first African American president. As we watched the Obama family settle in behind the lectern, I thought back to this time last year, when the frenzy had just begun over this one term Senator from Illinois with the million dollar smile.

How far we had come.

To some people, Barack Obama was simply a man running for president. For others of us who were African American, he was more than that. He was a man who not only looked like us, but remembered us, and sounded like he was going to work to continue to connect to us even after he joined the most exclusive men's club in the world.

In his inaugural speech, Barack Obama recognized the small village that was the birthplace of his father as a part of his heritage, but to many of us watching, he was from Alabama and Mississippi and South Carolina and Maryland and California and Illinois and Georgia and Florida as much as he was from Kenya or Kansas or Hawaii.

The president's steps and the first lady's steps as they walked down Pennsylvania Avenue during the parade weren’t just the steps of two people - they were the steps of generations of men and women denied full participation in American society by the color of their skin, the steps of millions of peoples of color who live in America today whose lives are just beginning to resemble those of our paler brethren, the steps of their long dead ancestors, and the steps for their own children, who may very likely get the chance to live as adults in a world that sees them more for who they are than any generation of brown-skinned people in the history of this country.

Some of us are almost there already. Some of our neighbors are white. Our friends are multicultural. Our educations have been obtained from the best schools in the land.

But this is not the mass of black Americans. Too many of us are still struggling to connect intimately with other cultures. Too many of us are still rolling our eyes at the thought of higher learning. Too many of us are now bound more from within than without, more from our own narrow worldviews than how the world now views us.

Those steps down Pennsylvania Avenue that Barack and Michelle Obama took yesterday, after the inauguration ceremony – they were for the mass of black Americans too. But they are not going to walk up to your home, knock on your door, then come in and take a seat on your couch. You’ve got to meet them halfway.

Barack Obama did not slide into the White House on his silver tongue. He trained his mind to think wider, deeper, faster, and longer than the competition. He took advantage of the best university system in the world. And he remembered, even after deciding to more fully embrace the African side of his heritage, to never forget how to connect to the rest of America that he grew up in.

So conjure up your own parade in your mind. Throw your shoulders back. Hold your head high. And when you walk, whether it's down the street, or in the grocery store, or the locker court, or the mall, remember that the steps you take are not yours alone – that you have just as many ancestors and forebears and modern day cheerleaders who are counting on you to stride into a future filled with all the good things America has to offer.

21 January 2009

America Is Finally Growing Up

Inaugurating Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America was like being in a civil rights march without an opposing force; like watching the Apollo moon landing without the need for a telescope; like the end of apartheid, with all of the tears of joy.

America is finally growing up. When we all can acknowledge our entire history, not just the attractive parts, when we all can accept completely the existence of perverse injustices that dominated our pasts - when the entire story of where we came from and how we got to here as a nation is recognized, fully and without restraint - the affirmations we cry out in celebration will ring truer, and the declarations we shout to the rooftops in commemoration shall carry more weight than they ever have before.

Indentured servitude, slavery, segregation, integration - Black America 5.0 is upon us, but even as it includes all of these things, it is bound by none of them. Collaboration is the last mile, the final steps in this journey to be equally accepted into all aspects of American life. Black America 5.0 will be tricky - there are going to be times, in fact, when you will wonder where you end and the rest of the world begins.

Change is good. But it is not quite as simple as flipping a switch in a dark room, instantly turning on the light. I don't know exactly what the steps are that we need to take to travel this final mile, or what order they need to be executed in, or how much the process will demand of us. But what I do know is two things: it will take the willingness and determination of the majority of this country to get there, and we already have all the tools we need right now to get started today.

Congratulations, America, on reaching a milestone for the ages.

20 January 2009

"President Obama" - I Can Get Used To This

My buddy is talking to me on the phone this morning when he says "they just interviewed John Lewis on CNN. He said 'at twelve o’clock today, a black man will be the head of the most powerful nation on earth'."

After I hang up the phone, I say it out loud.

"M-i-s-t-e-r President."

Commander in Chief is probably more accurate, but there is something about the imagery that is involved when an American says "Mr. President" out loud that means "I am ready to obey your command."

"President Barack Obama."

I am already hearing this phrase reverberating around the world in a hundred different languages.

"Pres-i-dent O-ba-ma."

I can get used to this.

Baracksploitation Is In Full Effect

Baracksploitation is in full effect, and I'm not talking about the vendors in Washington who are selling Obama memorabilia. The major networks and cable news outlets are working overtime to manufacture one Obama story after another.

As I watched commentators on every channel stare expectantly into the camera and mouth the words "first African American president" over and over last night, I thought about those little brown children all across the south in the fifties who were the first black students to integrate their local school systems, eyes from around the country trained on each and every step they took.

The nervous tension inherent in these final moments before the swearing-in ceremony, like the heightened level of anxiety you see conveyed in the faces of practically every anchor person on every channel right now, doesn't stem from Barack Obama's history making quest, but from those who have been complicit in its denial until now. It is as if the network brass have decided to make their on camera personalities sell a product whose capabilities they aren't quite sure of yet themselves.

Journalists like Soledad O’Brien, who have traded on their “maybe I’m white, maybe I’m not” brand of racial ambiguity all their lives, are almost giddy with excitement because they don’t feel like they are on the outside looking in – being able to publicly appropriate the dark roots they have downplayed all their lives looks almost liberating as I observe the extra sense of knowingness in their faces.

And for the masses of my brownskinned brethren who have never been mistaken for being anything other than African American, whose omnipresence on every stretch of space in downtown D.C. has transformed the atmosphere of the nation’s capitol into that of a family reunion, there is no part of the Barack Obama story that doesn’t deserve to be blown up to larger than life proportions.

The thing that all this attention has done is force the mainstream media to focus on the darker part of our nation's history in a way that they never have before. Listening to the news announcers in prime time talk about the historical significance of the slave labor that was essential in constructing the nation's capital, including the White House itself, it sounded to me like they were practically wading through the pages of our history books, elbowing the accepted narrative aside to finally make room for the entire truth of our country's complete heritage.

I don't see a thing wrong with this kind of Baracksploitation if it will continue to help expose America to the whole truth of its past, and connect this past to the imperfect reality of today that those odious legacies spawned.

19 January 2009

The Trifecta: King, Obama, and You

If he is nothing else, your new president is TV ready. Obama works a camera like he's Denzel Washington,one of the many celebrities who feted the new First Family last night at the Lincoln Memorial.

I am dusting off the DVD player today. We need to get some recordable discs, but its been so long since we’ve recorded anything that I can’t remember what kind to get. Actually, I think we’ve only tried to record one thing a couple of years ago, and I didn’t set the timer correctly, so I will be testing things tonight.

There are already a lot of people in D.C. - by tomorrow, it will be a veritable ocean of humanity. The vendors must be having an absolute ball, because half of the people on camera seem to be wearing knit caps with "Obama" woven into them.

Sometimes, when you are a one man show, like I am here at Brown Man Thinking Hard, you can only do so much at a time like this, when we have Martin Luther King's birthday AND the inauguration of Barack Obama back to back. So even though I will probably have more posts than average for the next few days, I'm going to point you in a couple of different directions this morning, so you can get a little bit of the old and the new.

The gang over at Jack and Jill Politics are having themselves the time of their lives - they are posting several updates a day from ground zero on the Mall in Washington, and coordinating with their team members who are running the site this week to post video interviews, pictures - all kinds of stuff. They have been a HUGE influence on me, and I always enjoy getting in the mix with their blog community.

Here in the ATL, the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., a friend of mine who is a columnist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Gracie Bonds Staples, has a front page article today, "Foot Soldiers Of Movement Are Grateful", that highlights the people in the SCLC who made it possible for King to be a civil rights icon.

I have read two daily newspapers my whole life - first as a child, when my parents subscribed to the local and state papers in South Carolina, and then here in Georgia, where I have vacillated between the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as the companion to our local Atlanta newspaper.

So as an avid newspaper reader, I am happy to see Mrs. Staples on the front page. It's about time the AJC started putting more of their black journalists on stories that feature black people - in a town like Atlanta, you would think that this would be an obvious strategy. Looks like change is finally coming to our local print news.

The media focus for the next two days will be on the memory of King and the realization of the Obama presidency. The images of these men is resonating with so many Americans right now because they are a part of a triumvirate, a trio that includes the American individual - you, me, and three hundred million others - standing in between the two of them.

What a trio!

17 January 2009

Take Your Swagger To The Inauguration

My man from Alabama called me this morning.

"Man," he said, "you'll never guess what happened."

"I have no idea."

"Got my tickets to the inauguration today."

I hadn't thought about this when he told me about the trip - I just assumed that they had tickets.

"You didn't have tickets? All those people you and your wife registered to vote? All those damn doors y'all knocked on to get out the vote? And nobody could find YOU a ticket?"

"Our congressman came through," he said. "We're supposed to pick them up from his office in D.C. on Monday. But you know what the funny thing is? A friend of mine called me last night and left me a message to call him. HE'S got two tickets for me."

"Well damn, man, looks like you've been living right after all."

"Yeah...but I was really hoping was that he was calling me to tell me he had two seats for us on his private plane."

"I tell ya, boy," I said, "you just can't do enough for a negro these days."

"What you talking about? My wife told me she was hoping they were tickets to one of the inaugural balls."

We laughed about his good fortune before I hung up the phone.

An hour later, S. and I were headed somewhere in the car when I mentioned Mr. Alabama's good fortune. "You know," I said to her, "if this had been back in our 'we'll try anything' days, I would have immediately started angling to get those two extra tickets my man has." I looked at her. "Oh well."

"The diva can stay with one of her friends. I just don't have anywhere to board the dog on such short notice."

My eyebrows jumped - maybe we weren't totally out of the 'try anything' days after all.

"But we would have to drive if we went now," she continued, "and it's so cold..."

The image of Barack Obama seems to be the only thing on TV this weekend beside reruns. It is inundating the consciousness of the nation. As S. and I rode along in the car this morning, I thought about all the people we know who have already left for D.C., or are getting ready to leave, and for a fleeting second, wondered if we were going to end up regretting not making our way to Washington D.C. for this historic event.

The diva's face popped into my head, and the regret evaporated. She is a high school senior, who has four and a half months until graduation. With classes that could potentially earn her college credit on her schedule, she has had more schoolwork this year than ever before. It has not been an easy year, but the diva has finally learned to rely less on her intellectual firepower and more on regular, daily study routines.

Education was the key for Barack Obama, and it will be the key for the diva to unlock her future.

Even though we are doing the right thing for us by staying home, it was fun, as the car tooled along the highway, for me to imagine the mad rush we would be in now to get to the cleaners and the hairdresser and the sporting goods store for some long underwear. The rush of adrenaline we would feel that would carry us all the way to D.C. on cloud nine. The swagger with which we would walk all day on Tuesday, no matter how much our legs ached, no matter how cold our toes got to be, no matter how bad the traffic was.

I hope that my man from Alabama and his wife have enough fun for S. and I while they are in D.C. If I'm lucky, they might even email us some pictures before they get back on the road to come home.

If you are going to D.C. today, tomorrow, or Monday, please - remember to swagger a little bit for me on Tuesday when you go to The Mall.

16 January 2009

Have Metro Cards, Will Travel

I talked to a couple of friends who are going to D.C. this weekend for the inauguration. My girl from Chicago is getting chemically activated footwarmers. My man from Alabama is getting long underwear. They are both stocking up on batteries. They are both putting away single serving snack paks. And they have both already received by mail the D.C. Metro cards they ordered in advance over the internet.

I could feel their Obama mojo starting to kick in as we talked, a mixture of exuberance and uncertainty - these are the kind of people who plan so much in advance that they are rarely surprised by the unexpected. But the number of visitors coming to D.C. for the inauguration of Barack Obama this weekend means that there is really no way for my friends to do anything more than plan to be warm and play the rest by ear.

My man from Alabama, who is an old co-worker of mine, has volunteered to give Brown Man Thinking Hard an account of his visit when he gets back next week. He and his wife were tireless Obama volunteers here in Atlanta last year, registering hundreds of voters and knocking on hundreds of doors week after week to increase voter turnout. They are two of the hundreds of thousands of campaign volunteers expected to throng the Mall on Tuesday to witness the swearing-in of Barack Obama that their tremendous efforts made possible.

I'm looking forward to talking to him when he gets back. He is the kind of guy whose stories are packed to the gills with details, so I'm sure you will enjoy his version of the inauguration. In the meantime, several articles in the nation's leading newspapers do a pretty good job of laying out the 411 on things to do and places to go if you are on your way to Washington. "The Inaugural Pregame Show", "Where to Go in D.C.", "Black History, Alive in Washington", and "A Neighborhood to Explore" are all excellent sources of information.

And if I could remember the name of the neighborhood eatery I went to years ago near Howard University, where I had an experience between two buns called the "Mo Betta Man" burger, I would recommend it heartily - one of those burgers could take the place of two meals.

After seeing the sobering site of that plane in the Hudson River yesterday, I've got to add this - I hope that everyone traveling from across the country to the nation's capital has a safe and comfortable journey.

15 January 2009

Interview: Author Of "Inaugration Ball" Email

Illustration By John Mavroudis

There is an email circulating around the internet has been forwarded to me almost everyday this week called "Inauguration Ball 2009". It is one of those emails that you have to scroll down through five levels of email addresses to read, because no one will take the time to cut and paste the actual message into a new email.

The text of the email is deceptive - it seems simple enough at first, the description of a dream about the ghosts of legendary African Americans mingling about at an inaugural ball held in honor of President Barack Obama - but as you read on, you start to realize that the author has done more than string together a few famous names. The make-believe world he creates captures perfectly the nuances and reactions you would expect to see in such a surreal setting.

It spoke directly to me, because I've been in that room.

We've held two Black History costume parties, gatherings where we asked our guests to dress up like someone of African American descent who has some sort of historical significance. It wasn't as hard as we thought to talk our friends into trying it the first time. It was a small gathering, but it was fun, with people coming as Oprah, Don King, General Benjamin O. "Chappie" Davis, Martin Luther King Jr, Zora Neale Hurston, Bill Pickett, Diana Ross, Condolezza Rice, Cleopatra, Colin Powell, and the Brown Man himself as Frederick Douglas, complete with the crazy hair.

Don King talked trash. Oprah gave away Matchbox cars. Diana Ross batted her eyes at the General. Martin left early because he needed to be in church the next morning. Condolezza and Zora, in an irony of ironies, talked about their kids. Malcolm X didn't have a lot to say, and the half black, half Asian guest who came as Tiger Woods brought his real life white wife.

We ate, drank, and laughed at the details of the costumes we dreamed up. It was hilarious.

In 2008, we did it again, teaming up with some friends to put it on. It seemed that everything was heightened because of the tension in the air surrounding the candidacy of Barack Obama for president. By the time we had the party in late February, Obama had vaulted into the lead for the Democratic nomination. This time around, we had a bigger, broader cross section of guests, who came as Mahalia Jackson, Angela Davis numbers one through six, Bob Marley, Bumpy Johnson, Beyonce, Billie Holiday, Althea Gibson, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, a fully dressed Buffalo Soldier, Louis Farrakhan, Harriet Tubman, Josephine Baker I & II, Claire Huxtable, two overall wearing sharecroppers, Tina Turner, and yours truly as George Washington Carver.

We milled around, just the way Kenyada describes it in "Inauguration Ball", imitating the figure we'd chosen to emulate, sharing little known stories about our characters that we'd picked up while putting our costumes together. As the house began to fill, you could feel the energy between the guests as they heartily greeted each other.

The crescendo was reached about midway through the evening, when the surprise guests of honor arrived. Except there wasn't a hush that spread over the house. I was in the basement, and heard someone cry out after opening the front door. The cry grew to a roar, but it was a jubilant sound, screaming and yelling mixed with laughter.

A few minutes later, someone in a blue suit and a earpiece came down the stairs to the basement, stopping at the landing that opened into the room to announce "the next president of the United States, Barack Obama."

Then the guests who came as Barack and Michelle Obama turned the corner and all hell broke loose. Tall, skinny, with wheatish colored skin, short cropped hair, an elongated face and lips that he had blackened with costume makeup, our Barack Obama lookalike was dressed in the same blue suit you saw Obama wear all last spring. Accompanying him was a woman who could have been Michelle Obama's cousin, with the same long legs, long arms, short torso and a wig that brought out the broadness in her cheekbones, just like Michelle's.

Barack Obama high fived Farrakhan. He shot pool with the Buffalo Soldier. He drank liquor with Mahalia Jackson, admired Josephine Baker I's handmade costume, and took pictures with everybody.

I thought about all this as I looked at the picture above this morning. Then I reread the email. The link at the bottom had "dailykos" in it after the author's name. I'm a member myself of the Daily Kos, a progressive political web portal, so I figured I could at least get the name of the author straight before I wrote about his amazing email. A few seconds later, I had his email address and a website address for him. Two clicks later, I laughed out loud - Mr. Richard Kenyada was right here in Atlanta!

Since I'd come this far, I said to myself as I explored his websites, why not shoot him an email and do a quick interview with the man behind "Inauguration Ball"?

An hour later, I had his response in my inbox.

Mr. Richard Kenyada is the author of "Inauguration 2009", which will be included in his new book titled "Reflections in the Dark Room: The Black Essays". Mr. Kenyada is a community activist in his own right, blending his technology background with a sense of service to operate "Mr. Kenyada's Neighborhood, Inc.", an organization dedicated to promoting computer literacy and computer ownership in the African American community. He also runs a discussion forum called "The Drum", a Society of Voices.

Mr. Kenyada, you have certainly got the internet buzzing over your piece.

Kris, the response has been overwhelming. I was in the middle of putting the final touches on my new book, Reflections in the Dark Room. Like everyone else, I was caught up in the election and the early voting in Georgia. The long lines simply thrilled, and fascinated me. I'll never forget... it was October 29th - 6 days before the election.

I edited a shorter version of the Inauguration Ball 2009, and I called it "Inauguration Ball" instead of Inaugural Ball so that it would be easier to track down using Google. I really wanted to see how much of a buzz it would cause. I knew it would hit the right chord with people because I wept some when writing it.

When I posted it on Daily Kos, the response was immediate and exciting. I started receiving e-mails from all over the world including two reporters from England. There were emails from teachers asking permission to use the piece in their classes. Emails from social workers who wanted their senior centers to experience the piece. And many more people just wanted to thank me.

In fact, I still receive 2 or 3 emails a day, some asking for a copy. So I had a small poster-sized print made up and I send prints to those who are very interested. When the book is available in a few weeks (early February), I'm sure that the essay will sell many copies because it includes the FULL version of the essay.

With all the famous black people in our history to choose from, how did you decide who to spotlight in your piece?

I started out with two famous people - Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X. They have always been the two angels on my shoulders, and my dream of them sharing a laugh together was the foundation of Inauguration Ball 2009. From there, it took off in all directions - politics, entertainment, science, civil rights - all pioneers in their own right. Editing the piece down for the Internet posting was the hardest thing to do because everyone belonged there.

You yourself are a community activist, operating "Mr. Kenyada's Neighborhood". Do you see any potential for the Obama presidency to inspire more African Americans to get involved at the grass roots level?

Yes! As soon as President Obama takes his seat in the Oval Room, he will be an inspiration to millions of people all over the world, but particularly African Americans, who often have self esteem issues. Obama has always stressed personal responsibility, and that's why I admire him so much.

He understands that the greatest debt owed to African Americans in the aftermath of slavery is the debt that we owe to ourselves. We have internal work to do, and it must be accomplished at the most basic levels - in our homes and throughout our neighborhoods.

The dream motif is a strong part of the African American culture. Do you think modern day Americans allow themselves to dream enough?

We all dream, but few seek seek to wake up and do the work necessary to implement those dreams. Many see Dr. King, for example, as a "Dreamer," but the reality is that his greatness lies in the fact that he rolled up his sleeves and did the work. He was much more than a dreamer; he was a doer. Black men, in particular, need to follow the lead of accomplished African Americans throughout history and step up to the challenge.

I've read in comments by you about the piece that this is the short version - the long version is in your book, "Reflections in the Dark Room: The Black Essays", which is supposed to be available this month. When will it hit bookshelves, and where can we get it?

In late January or the first week in February. The new book will be available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, but those interested will be able to come to my website, www.kenyada.com/forums where I will have a link taking them to my publisher's page for my books. And if they contact me directly, I will send them an autographed copy.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about the way "Inaugural Ball 2009" has gone on to become a viral phenomenon?

Well, it's a double-edged sword, really. It's gotten so popular that a few people have even removed my name from the emails and replaced it with their own, claiming ownership of the piece. That's a form of flattery that I could probably do without. But overall the experience has been a great one.

My 83-year old Mom in New York City received a copy, and re-read it over and over again, exclaiming to anyone near..."That's my son!" Kris, it doesn't get any better than that. I only wish my Dad, who actually marched on Washington back in 1963, had lived to see this day.

Of course, I also hope that President-elect and Mrs. Obama get to read it. I could not be more proud of their accomplishments, just as I imagine that they are proud of the accomplishments of the icons mentioned in my essay.

Richard Kenyada

14 January 2009

Comedian Paul Mooney Sums Up Christmas

"Santa Claus was good to everybody this year. He gave the black folks Obama and he gave the white folks O.J."

Paul Mooney

Sometimes it takes a comedian to tell us what's really going on. Right now, if you watch the news, it seems like we live in two Americas. Half of the country is afraid to even imagine what calamity could befall us next. They are petrified about the economy, hysterical about the Middle East conflict, and terrified of the unknown number of terrorists who are hard at work somewhere, plotting to attack the country.

The other half - well, okay, lets call it a third - this third is euphoric right now. It is as if they are wearing blinders that allow them to look past the economy, the fighting in the Middle East, and the terrorist threats to see the end of a bona fide rainbow. The light shining from the inauguration proceedings for Barack Obama has overcome the darkness of these perilous times for these people.

I am one of them.

And within this third of the country that is ready to celebrate the installation of our newest president next week, there is a sizable brown skinned contingent whose chests are swollen with pride. Whose minds are so focused on Obama's date with destiny next Tuesday in front of the U.S. Capitol building that they could care less about O.J., or Michael Jackson, or R. Kelly.

I am one of them.

Even though I laughed when I read it the first time, the thing Paul Mooney's joke gets at is the notion that white America needed to rebalance the traditional racial equation that the Obama campaign had thrown out of whack. That they intended to get this "bad negro" off the streets for life because he was found "not guilty" in the Nicole Simpson murder trial.

It wasn't so long ago, though, that O.J. was one of the most famous and beloved black people in the country.

His legendary commercial for Hertz Rent-A-Car, that showcased his record setting NFL legs in motion as he hurdled luggage strewn across an airport corridor in a suit with a briefcase, was so ubiquitous I still feel like running through the airport like he did whenever I am late for a plane.

"The Juice" had his own action figure. I got one for Christmas one year, complete with removable cleats and a washable Buffalo Bills jersey. It made me forget all about my G.I. Joe with the kung fu grip.

O.J. has seen hard times since those days. The "Trial of the Century" was so big that it spawned a legion of legal analysts. Almost all of the analysts who filled the airwaves this year with their analysis of potential legal dilemmas for the Obama campaign got their start fifteen years ago covering the O.J. trial.

Now we've got this new brother, Barack Obama, who has got us all - black white, latino - mesmerized. He is the toast of the town today. But there are going to be times, in the not too distant future, when he is going to make some decisions that will have comedians like Paul Mooney calling him "O'Tomma" instead of "Obama".

Don't get me wrong - I thought the joke was hilarious. I will be telling it for the rest of the week. But it was the picture above, with the black soldiers and the children of black soldiers standing in for the Obama family, that really underlined for me how easily many Americans could substitute in their minds one favorite black person for another - especially when the favorite black person began to rub them the wrong way.

I hope Barack Obama doesn't become the punchline of this same joke by next Christmas.

13 January 2009

Obama Will Be Split Screen President

The best thing about this Tuesday is that we will only have to hear the phrase “there’s only one president at a time” for one more week. Mr. Obama, it seems, is still swaddled in the folds of his gift wrapping, while Mr. Bush appears to be ready to tear the last handful of pages from his desk calendar all at once.

The second best thing about this Tuesday is that Jack Bauer, the hero of the show 24, will finally be able to get himself some rest after a two night, four hour marathon of shooting it out with the bad guys and double crossing the good guys

S. is addicted to 24.

I pretty much only watch the Falcons, the playoffs, and old movies on Turner Classic Movies.

But the Redemption episode of 24 came on after a late afternoon Sunday game last month, and the visuals of the inauguration of a new president hit too close to home for me to turn it off.

So I watched the show, not as the writer intended, but as I wanted to see it, substituting Barack Obama for President-Elect Taylor whenever she appeared on the screen. There’s only so much a writer can do with the script when the hero can’t die. So a lot of the scenes were pretty predictable.

Last night, as I watched Jack Bauer do more with a handgun, a trench coat and dress slacks than the entire squad of commandos outfitted with automatic weapons who were shooting at him, I had to shake my head as he escaped, just in time to get to the next crisis.

But I didn’t leave the room, because the thing the director did, just often enough to keep it interesting, was come up with a three way split screen that showed all the storylines unfolding in real time in a way that highlighted the connection between them.

I slipped back into multi-track mind mode as the bullets rained out from a FBI parking deck into a DC street in the middle of the day. I pictured a relaxed Barack Obama at Ben’s Chili Bowl, holding a half smoke aloft as he guided the end of it towards his mouth, in the northwest corner of the screen. I saw a masked Middle Eastern man in the next frame, directly opposite Obama, carrying a rocket on his shoulder during a rally in the Gaza Strip, the end of the rocket coming straight at us just as Obama sank the legendary D.C. hotdog into his mouth.

And I saw a scene from Congress that filled the bottom half of the screen, congressmen milling about the floor as a speaker passionately spoke about the need to rein in Israel while her colleagues ignored her.

By the time the show had gotten to its final cliffhanger of the week at ten o’clock, I had gotten to like the way the split screen on television had inspired me to think about other scenarios Barack Obama might be finding himself in during the coming weeks.

I saw Obama in a section of the screen, taking questions at a press conference about the passage of his stimulus package, juxtaposed beside a scene on the courthouse steps of a Midwestern city that featured a courthouse employee reading off the list of foreclosed properties for sale, both of them above the bottom half of a screen that was filled with a long conference table surrounded by the governors of the Federal Reserve, their faces looking as if they had seen the ghost of the Economy Past.

The way the world was changing so fast these days, I mused, maybe we all needed to start looking at the world as if it were a multi-screen montage. Maybe the visual evidence of the interdependence between a hotdog, a rocket, and an appropriations bill might help us get past the politics of polarization, beyond the dogmatic fervor for single issues that has come to define "business as usual" government.

We might only have one president at a time, but our next president will have to deal with more than one problem at a time, and often simultaneously with his efforts to lead and inspire the nation. Whether you said "Yes We Can" or "No He Can't" during the election doesn't really matter that much anymore - it's Americans who can think about issues from multiple points of view who will create the kind of national mood and mindset that can help our next president get the country headed in the right direction again.

12 January 2009

Our Magic Wands In The Age Of Obama

I was cooking up some pancakes yesterday morning when S. turned Meet The Press on. Bill Cosby's face filled the screen as he stared at the camera while David Gregory, the show's new host, asked him a question about his book Come On People. When I saw Alvin Poussaint, Maxine Waters, and Adrian Fenty around the table, I shook my head - this would have been a good day to have cereal so I could watch the show in peace.

It didn’t hit me how much I had enjoyed watching them until S. switched to George with George Stephanopoulos, who had a half hour interview with the man himself, Barack Obama. I looked up from the last pancake I was frying and took in the scene I was a part of with pride.

One brown man cooking pancakes. Two brown skinned teenaged girls eating pancakes at the other end of the kitchen island. One brown skinned woman reading the paper at the breakfast table. One brown skinned president elect on the TV droning on about his plans for America. And one brown haired dog staring up at all of us, hoping someone would give him a piece of sausage.

"Maybe", I said to myself, "these two girls are already starting to feel some of the positive vibes from having an African American president about to take office."

That notion was quickly dispelled when they got up to put their plates in the sink.

"Mom," our resident diva said, "do you think Obama's cute?" She and her friend giggled as her mother raised her head to peer over the top of her glasses at the TV screen, as if she didn't know what Barack Obama looked like.

As Stephanopoulos trotted out his Sunday regulars – George Will, Newt Gingrich, Peggy Noonan and Thomas Friedman, after the Obama interview, I tried to figure out just what it was that really made watching the panel of black people pontificate about America's ills on Meet The Press more enjoyable than watching the panel of white people do the same thing on this show.

The obvious answer, that I had an affinity for the group of black commentators and activists because I was black, didn’t carry a lot of weight. To me, Alvin Poussaint could have been a black version of George Will. I thought Maxine Waters was trying too hard to show that the Black Caucus would still be relevant to an Obama Administration. Fenty was so smooth he made Obama sound like a country bumpkin, and Cosby could wander off topic at a moment's notice.

It wasn't until I pushed the plate away after eating my pancakes that I figured out what it was. It came to me when Peggy Noonan made an offhand comment on the Stephanopoulos show – "its getting tough out there" – as if "out there" was a part of a different world than the one she inhabited. The real difference between these panels was in the way the two groups talked about America.

The black group, for all its shortcomings, referred to the black community and larger society in a way that said "we stand amongst you as fellow human beings." The white group, by contrast, seemed to be annoyed by all of us out there, white and black and latino alike, with an arrogant disdain for those masses of us who did not inhabit their particular rarefied slice of the universe.

I went back to the images from Meet The Press as I began to clean up the kitchen alone, since everybody else had mysteriously disappeared after eating. It seemed like more and more black people were talking about serious issues on TV these days. This was the beginning of the next new thing, I figured, that black people en masse would begin to adopt as they caught on to the trend.

I was snatched from my revere by a local show called I.Q., a modern day version of the Quiz Bowl program here in metro Atlanta that pitted area high schools against each other in a knowledge contest. The North Atlanta suburban high school represented on the show turned out to be a school a couple of miles away from me. All of its contestants were white students. The South Atlanta high school represented was on the other side of town. All of its contestants were black students.

I thought back to the news shows that had been on earlier as I finished wiping down the counter. The abstract notions they had been arguing over, the children that they had been so concerned about, the educational systems they had all complained about – it was right here on display. The I.Q. commentator's questions flew. The students pushed buzzers. They gave their answers. And by the time they got to the final round, the white students had pulled so far away from the black students it was like a scene about racial stereotypes that had been pulled straight off of Good Times.

I thought about some of the answers I'd blurted out while waiting on the kids to respond. These were not things that I had learned by osmosis growing up. A lot of it came from supplemental reading materials that exposed me to art forms and philosophies and theories that we don’t naturally talk about at the barber shop or while watching the game. Or hour upon hour spent at the library when it was too hot to play outside.

I thought about the things that we as a people do not know, not because we don’t have the capacity to retain the knowledge, but because we have not taken the time to be exposed to it. If you have a sense that this "Age of Obama" we are entering is going to change your life because someone waves a magic wand, you are absolutely right.

The thing is, we already have that wand in our hands. And the someone who will be waving it is you. We've had these magic wands all along, just like Obama did back when he had nothing but time and opportunity. Those kids on that quiz show have a magic wand in their hands too, one that I hope they will use to reach out to the parts of life they don't know anything about yet so they can play the game of life at its highest levels.

09 January 2009

The Word For Today Is "Riot"

There is only one word that you will hear for the next ten days, everywhere you turn.


But before we get to that feel-good extravaganza, I want to say a little bit about what's going on in Oakland, California right now. Because if you are in Oakland today, the word that you are hearing right now, the word that you will be hearing next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, is "riot".

I am a child of the South. I’ve lived my whole adult life here. So I am not familiar with the sights and sounds of a riot. There are plenty of black people where I grew up, and they have known in their time as much oppression as blacks anywhere else in America, if not more.

But this atmosphere that can lead to black people who are so angry, so frustrated, so powerless that they are willing to burn, loot and pillage their own community is foreign to me. I've been trying to get a handle on this, by reading some of the uncensored comments by Oakland residents that are floating around the web, as well as comments by those who inhabit similar communities who also feel like they have been at one time on the edge of doing similar things, but I've got to admit, it is not sinking in. It is physically a long way from these suburbs I live in to the street corners of the hoods around downtown Atlanta. Metaphorically, it's farther than that, a divide that is so vast at times I might as well be standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

But it's not so far that I can't understand why the central premise – a young black man who may or may not have committed a crime is arrested, handcuffed, and then is murdered in cold blood – causes the kind of emotional firestorm that it does within one’s chest.

We know all the circumstances, all the pathologies, all the root causes that can lead to riots. But what are we as a brown skinned tribe willing to commit to doing to bridge this disconnect between those of us who have the ability to internalize anger, and those of us who don’t?

I’d like to slip in an old writers trick here, and reverse the last statement I just made in a new question, one that plays devil’s advocate by wondering if those who don’t internalize anger well could be on the right side of things, but I can’t bring myself to do that today - I know as well as you do that there have been never been any meaningful changes made in American society because we as black people burned down our own homes and businesses.

And yet some of us, who know better, who have educated themselves out of the hood, or earned themselves out of the 'hood, and even those of us who have been suburbanites all our lives, 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.

Don’t let the smooth taste of the champagne you will be drinking on January 20th fool you – there are many, many of us who will have very little to celebrate when Barack Obama takes his oath of office.

I hope Barack Obama comes to own the office of the presidency as well as Roosevelt, or Kennedy, or Lincoln did. But while he gets busy in the Oval Office, doing what he has to do to keep the country together, we need to own ourselves, both individually, and as a collective, in a way that begins to include more of us who are angry, frustrated and powerless.

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 its not supposed to look anything like this.

Three links to three different perspectives that were on the scene:

Oscar Grant was shot in the back by a BART cop and all Oaktown gets is knucklehead rioters

Reportback From The Oscar Grant Protests/Riots

Oakland businesses clean up after riot

08 January 2009

Even Obama Must Be Getting Tingly These Days

This is getting to be like the week before Christmas, when you start to have presents lying under the tree - watching Barack Obama get off of the presidential plane on Monday, then seeing him yesterday, meeting with all the ex-presidents at the White House, it is starting to feel realer than real that this black man will be the president of the United States of America in less than two weeks.

Even Obama, "Mr. Cool" himself, has got to be getting a little tingly right about now.

The Super Bowl is usually the event that gets the big build up in January, but not this year. People are starting to get that far away look in their eyes when you say "January 20th", like they are about to go on a vacation they’ve been saving for all their lives.

I myself am getting restless, like an overfed tiger at the zoo. I'm walking a little taller, like I've just discovered how to stand up straight after all these years of slumping my shoulders. I can't even watch my favorite political pundits on TV lately, since they all seem like they are just killing time arguing over the Obama appointments until the Big Day arrives.

And as I read the jubilant messages from that select group of people across the blogosphere, who are not just going to be in D.C. next weekend, but are going to be there with the actual invitations to the Inauguration Ceremony that they have begun to receive, I start to wonder - am I missing out on a big part of this if I am here at home in Atlanta with my party hat and my noisemakers on the biggest Tuesday of the year? Should I try to talk S. into making this once in a life time trek to the nation's capital to join the millions of other black people who will line the streets around the Mall?

Unless someone from Oprah's staff calls me with some tickets and a room in the mansion she's renting for the week, on January 20th, I'll be in the same VIP section I sat in on Election Night - right here in the basement in the ATL. With a bathroom, bar, and big screen TV - three of the four "B's" that normally satisfy 80% of a man's urges - you would think I should be happy to watch history unfurl itself with my remote control in hand.

If you are fortunate enough to be going to D.C. next weekend, pack plenty of longjohns and enjoy yourself. And email me some pictures.

If you are among the super fortunate, who have received an invitation like the one in the picture above that allows you to attend the actual ceremony – I'm greener than the Incredible Hulk right now, but please - email me some pics anyway.

And if you are going to be in your hometown, or in your basement, or at work, you can email some pictures too.

I will post them all.

Now where do they sell those black balloons with the "O" on them?