Sunday, July 29, 2007

Key to the Highway

I'm mid-trip, loaded up, and ready to head for the high country at the crack of dawn. Since I'm on someone else's vastly unfamiliar computer, I'm not even going to try to respond to my recent comments, but know I'm seeing them and hungry to be back in more direct contact with you all again. The only key on my key ring now is my car key and, according to Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, it's the key to the highway. The next time I post, I'll be there instead of here. And ready for a new adventure.

Friday, July 27, 2007

It's In There!

On a fairly regular basis, I'm asked - in or out of the classroom - what I have come to call "the question."

"I know," the European-American questioner will invariably begin, "that race relations in this country are far from what they should be..."

Here, though I have heard and responded to this question literally hundreds of times over the past three decades and am ready already to jump in with my rote answer once again, I zero in on the questioner's face attentively, waiting for them to finish, as if this is the most reasonable question in the world.

"...and I support completely the equality of all humans..." they continue, edging toward their point ever so carefully before they finally reach it, "but isn't the situation of Black people in the U.S. at least becoming better?"

By now, typically, the questioner's face is flushed. He or she is genuinely uncomfortable. And there is no doubt that they're speaking for many others present and not.

I then proceed to outline an abbreviated version of a presentation I drafted once for a "State of Black Affairs" panel I was on. It paints a pretty ugly picture of the way things really are instead of the way we think they are. It's not just White folks that don't get it. I often run into Black folks who are working hard to deny what might otherwise bring them to slap somebody. But the facts are the facts.

This is a depressing process for the listener(s). After an entire semester in one of my courses on Racial and Ethnic Relations, European-American students who truly absorbed the course content shake their heads as they say good-bye, telling me that they've been made sad by what they've learned, however committed to change things they have now become. It is sad. What has been and is being done to people of color in this country and this world is very, very sad indeed. Which makes it an appropriate feeling.

Then, I come across an article such as this and I'm reminded why it all stays the way it is. On the surface, in the face of the Don Imus' screw-up and the Michael Richards' meltdown, etc., ad infinitum, Ralph Papitto (long-time Roger Williams University Board Chairman) using the N-word during a Board meeting hardly seems notable. He is eighty-years-old, after all, and he did resign from the position he's had for nearly half his life after his little slip. But the reason I'm raising the issue is that he was so irritated by the dust he raised.

Apparently, what happened was that Papitto was feeling pressured about the lack of the Board's diversity. It currently has fourteen White men and two women (who were not identified in the article by race or ethnicity). Papitto's reaction was to whip out the N-word in frustration and then admit to the rest of those present at the meeting that he knew he couldn't say that because of what happened to Imus. Eventually, he claimed that he had never used the word before (uh-huh) and that he must have heard it in a rap song or on tv (really?). Then, when he was questioned about the incident during a radio interview, he blurted angrily, "I apologized about that. What else can I do - kill myself?"

In his book, "White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son," Tim Wise described how his anti-racist grandmother began to use viciously racist language after she developed Alzheimer's disease. While one could argue that she was no longer responsible for what she was saying, he makes a point very clearly that, in any case, the racism must have been "in there" (like the Prego Spaghetti Sauce ads say) for it to jump out like that after the controls of social acceptability were no longer on.

And that's where the rubber meets the road, if you will. I have written often about how White supremacy has always been the default position in the United States. If you're new to this party and cannot even imagine what I'm suggesting, then start at the top of the blog roll and read the first eleven posts you find listed there. Hopefully, you will come to see what I mean. It's in there, all right. Papitto knows it. And that's why he got pissed. Why, he's wondering, should he have to feel any genuine understanding or remorse for disrespecting African-Americans when everybody knows that's not the page this society is on.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Passin' It On and Seeing the Similarities

The more I read blogs from around the world, the more I see the connections and analogies between the way African-Americans are perceived and treated in the United States and the way issues having to do with other people of color play out, even in other geographical locations. For example, as Sokari at Black Looks describes the struggle of landless people in South Africa, I am caused to remember an Associated Press investigation that reported in 2001 a national pattern in the U.S. ever since emancipation and up to the present in which African-Americans were cheated out of their land or simply driven from it through intimidation, violence, and even murder. In some cases, local governmental officials approved the land-takings; in others, they actually took part. Over an eighteen-month period, the AP documented that property valued in the tens of millions of dollars was literally stolen from its original African-American owners without recourse since, naturally, the statute of limitations has run out on these cases by now.

Kyle de Beausset of Immigration Orange wrote a thought-provoking piece on the practice of importing and adopting children of color from poverty-stricken settings as if they were products on Ebay or something, while purporting arrogantly that it's an act of kindness. Similarly, U.S. slaveholders used to tell mothers and fathers of African-descent that the children snatched away from them and sold could be easily replaced by simply making another baby. And more recently, it's clear by the way African-American children are typically allowed to languish helpless and hungry in the poorest neighborhoods, pushed into the worst schools, and early routed into the criminal justice system that they are not as yet seen as fully human beings either.

At least partly because of this, young African-Americans are being increasingly actively recruited to "serve" in the military with offers they virtually cannot refuse, given the nature of their other opportunities. XicanoPwr at Para Justicia y Libertad! outlines how undocumented immigrants are also invited to "serve" (even though they're not citizens) with a green card hanging out in front of them for motivation. Assuming, of course, they don't die.

And despite the way Naomi Shihab Nye (a poet and novelist who is a U.S. citizen, but whose father was Palestinian) reminds us that one-on-one, most of us know how to get along, this YouTube video featuring a Palestinian rap group to which I was first introduced by Sokari at Black Looks challenges our perceptions concerning who, exactly, the terrorists are. If it's not immediately apparent to you how this relates to the situation of African-Americans, I suggest that you look back over the past five hundred years, then ponder the last two or three stories you heard about African-Americans dying at the hands of law enforcement officers or others enforcing the norms that still hold sway in this country, recalling this post and this one and the one on the Jena Six. And then ask yourself what terrorism is.
NOTE: The poster above is by Ricardo Levins Morales and is available from the Northland Poster Collective.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I'mahna Move Up To The Country, Baby

I'mahna paint my mailbox blue. Me and Taj gonna kick it on my porch with tall frosty glasses of sweet tea with mint. I'll wear my white straw Southern lady hat with the lavender ribbon. And he'll bring his guitar. Two weeks and counting...

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Uncivil War

One of the excellent ways the internet is serving humanity is to make what really happened in history much more likely to reach an ever-widening number of the reading population of the world. Case in point: most of us in the United States were taught in school to see the Civil War as a struggle between Bad People (largely portrayed as Southerners who wanted to keep African-Americans as slaves) and Good People (largely imagined to be Northerners who were willing to lay their lives on the line to rescue Black people and set them free). Actually, while there were undoubtedly many who fit into these two categories, they do not begin to cover everyone alive and active at the time.

In fact, as I have already mentioned in the past, even Abraham Lincoln told the Vice President of the Confederacy that emancipating the slaves in January of 1863 was just a necessary war move against only those states that had seceded so that the emancipated slaves could join the Union Army that was at that point probably going to lose without the fresh recruits. Lincoln's intention, he let it be known, was to reinstate slavery after the war, which needless to say, was impossible.

In any case, another move the federal government implemented later that same year for the same reason was the first ever war-time draft of young men to fight for this country. Irish immigrants (as you'll recall, if you saw Gangs of New York) were already being conscripted as they got off the boats from the old country. And 100,000 former slaves had stepped up without hesitation to put on a uniform, pick up a gun, and do their share. But it still wasn't enough. So Lincoln called for another 300,000 by using a draft, while giving those who could afford to pay $300 a pass not to participate.

Unfortunately, there were a huge number of White Northern men who did not have the $300 and did not want to either fight or run to Canada as many had already done. So on this date in 1863, a mob -- 50,000 strong -- ran through New York City burning down everything in their path (including an orphanage) and viciously murdering more than 1200 African-American people over a three-day period, as if they had caused the War...

Read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Passin' It On About "Whiteness"

Yesterday, I emailed someone at the new school at which I'll be teaching starting next month. My contract is for only one year, with the possibility of that being extended. But in spite of being a resident of the state I'm in now for eighteen years, I'm ready to move on, so I'm pulling up stakes completely. This means, of course, that I need a place to live in my new community, which happens to be in a state that has, shall we say, a less than stellar reputation where the socially-constructed, political notion of "race" is concerned. In fact, well, let me just leave it at that for now. Something tells me I'll be re-visiting this issue many times over the next year.

Anyway, I emailed this person, who is a friend of a friend, asking for help in locating a rental. She responded warmly and I was suitably pleased enough to be honest about what I was looking for. I started with the obvious stuff about my good credit and lack of pets and then added that I was looking for a small house to rent in a racially-mixed working class neighborhood, adding that I'm a sociologist and prefer to live in a diverse setting. There was no immediate response.

Now, I know she could have gotten busy. She was at work, after all. And I know that she might be looking around to help me out before she responds. But later, in the early evening, I made four phone calls to listings in the classified ads, none of which were returned. I didn't mention on the messages any of the details I told my friend's friend, needless to say, but as the evening wore on, I began to mull over the possibility that this situation may become problematic in various ways for me -- not to mention, problematic for others because of me.

This may seem like a no-brainer to you, but I've been trying to put a positive spin on this ball to prevent myself from running into the street with my hair on fire. Probably, I'll hear from my friend's friend today. Or not. I will, I know, find a place to live. And other people who are not horrified by me. But, in the meantime, I've decided to post links to a few internet offerings that are related to "Whiteness." Keep in mind that I don't see "Whiteness" as a heritage (where do "White" people come from anyway -- Whiteland?). I also don't see "Whiteness" as irrelevant (as long as White males have virtually every bit of the real power globally, how the hell could it be irrelevant?).

I'm going to open with this post by Tate Hill at Urban Knowledge. I was originally routed to Urban Knowledge by Rachel, who stays on top of this blackface stuff pretty well. Yes, I said blackface. You thought that was a thing of the past? Think again.

Next, we're going over to visit dna at Too Sense to read up on the way Rudy Guiliani has decided to swing the Southern votes by hiring rampant racists and having the media look the other way. Slick. But scary.

We'll follow this up by viewing an old Night Flight video from the eighties, but still SO apropos about what's important to White males invested in the current status quo, at least so far as we can tell. If it ain't so, puh-leeze show us something different!

Lest we imagine that White folks don't get opportunities to change the way things are, this article reports a "Unity Party" some people of color in Atlanta organized, but the guests of honor didn't show.

And finally, CNN recently called it funny that a White man tried to avoid jury duty by claiming to be a racist, homophobic liar. The judge asked the D.A. to look into criminal charges for the guy because he was obviously lying. My take: just because he admitted he was trying to go home does not mean that he's not all that stuff he claimed to be. I wouldn't want a racist, homophobic liar on my jury if I was on trial and I've known more than a few White folks who were all those things.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

War Is Hell

This post began as a comment on one of dna's posts over at Too Sense. The issue under discussion was the shooting of 7-year-old Tajahnique Lee, who was trying to get home on her bike when she accidentally got caught in the crossfire between two gangs of drug dealers in Trenton, New Jersey, but which could have occurred in any major urban area and many not so major. The focus of the New York Times article about the incident was that, despite the fact that it happened last year and there were numerous witnesses, no one has come forward so that the specific individuals at fault can be held accountable. The Times and their sources attribute this blanket of silence to fear of the dealers. And certainly, I would not suggest that this doesn't play a monumental role. However, I would suggest that there are multiple layers related to this kind of issue that should not be forgotten, but are, needless to say, rarely mentioned, let alone addressed.

One of them involves the fact that street drugs are the basis of an industry the proceeds of which are estimated at upwards of $80 billion annually. Sociologists have found that most of the profits go to mainstream White male businessmen who have the ability to make massive investments in any arena – legitimate or otherwise – without suspicion because of their standing in the community and often with the knowledge of police, prosecutors, and even judges who are bought off as a business expense of sorts. Additionally, multiple sources have told us that four out of five cocaine abusers are also White.

Unfortunately, however, the many African-American men who are summarily blocked out of the employment arena find themselves relegated and, in fact, welcomed and encouraged to become foot soldiers in the army to line the pockets of their much lighter-skinned bosses by delivering the “product” to their much lighter-skinned customers, where the bulk of the risk is taken by the middle-man. The effects of the policy that prevents convicted felons (and most particularly Black male convicted felons) from being hired for other jobs further exacerbates their desperation and increases their willingness to “volunteer” for this role, however dangerous it may be.

To make matters worse, the law enforcement practice of rousting Black male children as young as eight-years-old for no reason and photographing them on the street with numbers across their chests to “build a file,” just in case they ever do cross the line can cause youth to accept their “master status” as “criminals” before they graduate from middle school, ensuring that the prisons will stay full and the Wall Street investment dividends flowing.

The end result, of course, is that many people in very poor neighborhoods have at least one member of the family in pushing “product.” These very poor neighborhoods are disproportionately marked for toxic dumps, sewer treatment plants, and a lack of decent schools or other services, and have been virtually abandoned by legitimate job-providing industries. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they wind up becoming the battlegrounds of the wars not on drugs but over drugs and law enforcement not only can’t, but doesn’t necessarily want to control it in any real sense. Police officers themselves have reported to me that some of them shakedown petty dealers for payoffs. And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

So why would the African-American community “cooperate” with law enforcement? It’s a set up. The law enforcement community knows it. The dealers know it. And little girls that catch an occasional bullet in the face are just collateral damage.

Monday, July 09, 2007

I Eight It!

TheFreeSlave has spoken and, being as he's got it like that, I respond accordingly with eight random facts about myself or habits (ahem!) to which I am attached.

First, the rules:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Second, the "secrets":

1. I'm getting ready to move in three weeks to a state even more known for its "Southern-ness" than the one I've been in for the past eighteen years. This is a major move for me, as you can imagine, and I'm nervous about it on maaaaany levels.

2. I've only had a mind or mood-altering substance in my body three times in the past sixteen years -- twice right after major surgery and once six years ago when I lost my mind for a minute.

3. My only son died seven years ago (two weeks before his twenty-third birthday) as a result of his addiction to heroin. I suspect it was murder, but I'll never know.

4. My favorite form of physical exercise is swimming laps. It used to be sex, but that was before I got tired of all the drama. I don't do relationships well. Or maybe I just pick badly. It's been a while, so I really don't know. Maybe I've/it's changed. In any case, I haven't yet been willing to take a risk and find out.

5. An audience of nearly four hundred African-Americans gave me a standing ovation two years ago when I performed a spoken word piece entitled "You Called Me A What?!?" The word "what" stood for "nigger-lover." It was raw and I'll never do another spoken word performance because that was my first time and when you start at the top, you can only go down from there.

6. I decided this week to begin looking into the possibility of finishing my Ph.D. and publishing some things I've had in a file cabinet for-ever.

7. I've already written a book on race. A couple of authors who are highly published on the topic of race liked it very much, but it crosses genres and I don't know who would publish it. The working title is Reduced to Equality: My Odyssey to Renounce Racial Privilege ~ and Find Myself.

8. The last thing I bought hasn't even arrived yet. It's a collector's item: one of only three hundred copies of an epic poem published in 1964 and written by a man who eventually became my friend, Calvin Hernton. If I'm not mistaken, Calvin, who died a few years ago, once told me he was only nineteen when he wrote "The Coming of Chronos to the House of Nightsong," the story of a White woman thinking on her hundredth birthday about her Black once-lover for whom she bore a child. The lines that knock me out: "The double dying of she who rides in the middle of the wind will reign in the world like an idiot fire and every woman sees in whichever man she gives her sex the potentiality of her whorehood." Whew! I first read these lines more than twenty years ago and they still make me think.

Lastly, the eight bloggers I tag. This meme has been around to most of the bloggers I read, I think, so if I tag you and you've already done it, you can just let me know, pass on the tag, or do it again (you know you've thought of eight more things to tell us!). In no particular order, I'm tagging:

Charles at Kill Bigotry!, dna at Too Sense, Sokari at Black Looks, Stephen Bess at Morphological Confetti, M.Dot at Model Minority, Kyle de Beausset at Immigration Orange, Professor Zero, and The Angry Black Woman.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Passin' It On

While we're thinking about the courts and criminal justice (just-us?) in the good ole U.S. of A., I want to offer a few links to things I've come across recently that you might find interesting:

dna, whose blog, Too Sense, has become one of my hands-down favorites, does a bang-up job of responding to a George Will column about the new Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education.

The Associated Press offers some veeeery interesting information about Georgia's Attorney General, who is almost single-handedly keeping Genarlow Wilson behind bars for having oral sex as a teenager with his teenaged girlfriend. The interesting thing: the AG is Black...?!?

Also in Georgia (why am I not surprised?), Troy Davis -- yet another railroaded African-American man -- remains on death row after fifteen years despite Amnesty International putting out a call to save his life.

In other mainstream news, the New York Times discusses the way the Justice Department is "reshaping" its civil rights mission. The focus is OFF racial issues now and ON the crucial rights of churches that want to benefit from special governmental protections. Be careful to read between the lines on this one and remember that the "civil rights" of African-Americans has always received short shrift from this body.

And finally, Kyle over at Immigration Orange tipped me to this YouTube film that would be hilariously clever if it wasn't so agonizingly true.

Free the Jena Six!

Read any or all of the following: this, this, this, this and this. Watch this. And then DO something!

To Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, and the still unidentified member of the group, we say: Hold On! We won't rest until you're home where you belong.

And to their families, we say: You do not stand alone.

The Hate Artist

Recently, I wrote that I am caused increasingly to recognize how bound we are to the struggles of people within and outside of our immediate communities. In point of fact, we are not only bound, but similar, in that the monster we fight is the monster we all fight. This poem by Niran Okewole, which appears in the debut publication of African Writing Online, typifies this excellently and with great beauty. I have Sokari at Black Looks to thank for introducing us to this important new source of information and talent. I give you

~~The Hate Artist~~

by Niran Okewole

In the death camps there is a failed landscape
Artist with a meinkampf, brushstroke moustache
Mounting a collage of bones and hair on a canvas
Of Aryan pride.

His reincarnation in Alabama,
Worshipper of a black cross, cross upside down,
Cross burning, burning

He loves the texture of grief, like velvet,
Loves the feel of passion in heat
Waves, shock waves, the erotic melody of a
Bomb blast in Ulster or Beslan, shattering
Glass and crunching steel, the counterpoint.

Today he sculpts wood, leaving splinters in the eye
Of his imago, the other subculture.
He loves to sculpt the lean, lanky Tutsi frame,
Does Darfur bronze casts on the side.
(Nothing like molten ore for
drawing deathscapes on the skin.)

Brush strokes on tarmac, he paints with bombs,
Smouldering pastel, the soothsayer’s recompense,
Like de Chirico, wrought iron sticking out
Like ribs on the kerb, it could be blood or ketchup.

At a council flat in Leeds, munching a sandwich,
Plotting the mother of all intrigues, hate is the juice
That trickles down the chin when he
Chews on a red apple,

Libido rising at the thought of the crowd on the
Madrid metro, a baseball field in Nevada,
A market in Damascus, cinema house in Mogadishu.

Or Wimbledon. Or Kigali. Or Freetown.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Democracy or Despotism?

The sun is down. The fireworks are making much noise. But many of us are thinking tonight of what it would take for us to feel like celebrating. If you're one of them, here's something to watch while you're thinking.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Happy birthday, Thurgood Marshall!

On this date in 1908, Thurgood Marshall, the descendant of slaves, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He eventually became, as most of us must surely know, the first African-American on the U.S. Supreme Court, having originally been the leader of the NAACP legal team that won the famous Brown v. Board of Education case calling for the desegregation of U.S. schools in 1954. One can only wonder what he would think of being "replaced" by Clarence Thomas who has helped, now, to begin the chipping away process to undo Marshall's work, especially since Marshall remained on the Court long after he wanted to step down, precisely because he was concerned about this very real possibility.

When Marshall spoke with the dean at the University of Maryland School of Law in 1930 about his applying there, he was instructed that he would not be accepted because he was African-American and the school was established on the principle of racial segregation. So he went to Howard University instead, graduated, and returned to Maryland where he represented another deserving young Black would-be law student -- Donald Gaines Murray -- and won (see photo above). As sweet as that must have been, it only applied to Maryland, which is why Marshall went on to press for the subsequent ruling in Kansas that gave the legal precedent national scope.

Blessings on all legal teams all over the world this day who are struggling against power to bring justice to all!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Don't Quit

Yesterday, I got caught in a downpour. Instead of fighting it, I surrendered to the rain, standing with my face to the sky while rivulets ran down my cheeks and into my clothing and -- maybe -- healed my soul just a bit. In a world where people I love and respect are locked into cells, where people are being blown up only because they are on one piece of ground instead of another, where children are terrorized into killing other children, where parents despair and babies starve, I sometimes forget that there is reason to wake and celebrate and even dream. This planet, including the faces of its people (as are so deliciously presented in this film), is truly most beautiful. And my heart rushes out this morning to each and every one of you, singing a new world into existence, exhorting each of us to be our fullest, most joyful selves. Don't quit five minutes before the miracle.