Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Freedom Looks Like On A Human Face

2011 is turning out to be a very energetic year already. In one country after another, there is motion. In South Sudan, 99% of the voters favored secession and they will become their own nation July 1st. Since the first of the year, the population of Tunisia has ousted their authoritarian government. And this week, in Egypt, in what appears to be, at least partially, a response to what happened in Tunisia, the Egyptians cast down a tyrant who has held them captive (with the help and encouragement of the United States) for thirty years.

The man in the YouTube video below was interviewed yesterday at a protest in front of the Egyptian embassy in London. He tries to contain his emotion, but ultimately gives witness to what it is like to taste freedom after a lifetime of waiting. Who else in the world would like a taste of freedom, I'm wondering tonight.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Charlotte O'Neal: The Red Cockatoo Feathers

I was cruising the blogosphere the last couple of days on a journey of discovery. If you slide down my blogroll, you'll find a number of interesting new options to look into, as well as a couple of new items on my "Some Basics" list.

I am always reassured when I take the time to look around that life is yet thriving gloriously. And as a way to celebrate the beauty that is all around us in spite of the Dark Forces that seem to lay wait around every corner, I'm posting the YouTube video below of Charlotte O'Neal, a Black Panther activist who, with her husband, Pete, moved to Tanzania in 1972, where they have become deeply enmeshed in the life of the community. People from the United States visit them regularly to learn and grow in their understanding of what is possible and what is important. In addition, Charlotte, called by many "Mama C", writes, sings, and performs on occasional tours in the U.S.

This video shows Mama C reading her piece, "The Red Cockatoo Feathers" at the 14th Annual International Poetry Africa Festival in Durban, South Africa, last October. I found it on the website of The Liberator Magazine. Enjoy.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Obama's got jokes?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stepping up pressure on a stalwart but flawed Middle East ally, President Barack Obama said he personally told Egypt's Hosni Mubarak Friday night to take "concrete steps" to expand rights inside the Arab nation and refrain from violence against protesters flooding the streets of Cairo and other cities. The White House suggested U.S. aid could be at stake.

"Surely, there will be difficult days to come, but the United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful," Obama told reporters in the State Dining Room after speaking with the long-time leader from the White House.

Somebody better tell the Egyptian protester in the photo above what Obama said. The teargas canister he's holding was made in the United States and he looks pissed.

Also...I guess...somebody oughta mention this to Obama so he can stop making himself look foolish in the international mass media. If he really wants the world to believe that the United States intends to "stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people," he might should ask Mubarak for the teargas back. I'm just sayin'.
NOTE: I found the photo above on the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition website, along with a list of U.S. cities where protests are about to be held in solidarity with the Egyptian people.

Whatever Happened To The Jackal?

I just learned that the infamous prison on Riker's Island in New York City holds 14,000 prisoners, about three times as many as Angola State Pen here in Louisiana. M-m-m! So of course, at some point shortly, I'll be posting again on the topic of prison.

In the meantime, I came across the YouTube video above that tells the story of what happens to put some men in those places. In her poem, "To An Aspiring Junkie," Maya Angelou wrote: "Climb into the streets, man, like you climb into the ass end of a lion." Guitarist Ronny Jordan and spoken word artist Dana Bryant communicate the same message in their own inimitable fashion.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Where Is Phylicia Barnes?

Seventeen-year-old honor student Phylicia Barnes disappeared December 28th while visiting her sister in Baltimore, Maryland. If you saw her at any point on that day or afterward, please call the number above (toll free). Make the call anonymously, if you must, but make it. Her family is in anguish. You can find more photos of her here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

He's Sorry, Alright

Last Sunday, I wrote about White violence against people of color. This week's news has been full of stories about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who offers a stellar example of just what I was writing about.

I don't remember when I first became aware of Burge. It was some time ago. And I was disgusted.

As a Chicago Police Department Detective and Commander in the 1970's and 1980's, Burge, now 63, oversaw the torture of more than 200 Black and Latino "suspects" (one as young as 13-years-old and all of whom "confessed" to the crimes with which they were charged), using techniques that included, but were not limited to the repeated use of a stun gun; hitting the victim in the head with a telephone book; applying electrical current to the victim's anus or genitals using a cattle prod, violet wand or antique crank telephone; putting plastic bags over the victim's head so he couldn't breathe; burning him with cigarettes or hair dryers; and putting a gun in his mouth, all of which are methods of physical and psychological torment that leave few if any scars.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Real Truth Behind the Murder of MLK

"The issue is injustice...Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness, let us stand with a greater determination, and let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be."

This quote is from a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., to the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, the day before he was shot and killed by an off-duty Memphis police officer.

You hadn't heard? You find it horrible to imagine? You don't want to believe me? Check out what Dick Gregory and Steve Cokely have to say about it (prepare to be seriously shocked, depressed, disappointed and angry):

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tit for Tat?

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." -- Mahatma Gandhi

It's been a rough week for America. And those of us who write for publication find ourselves in a bit of a bind. Political correctness has taken on a whole new meaning in the aftermath of the shooting spree by a mentally ill young man in Arizona a week ago yesterday. Six people are dead; thirteen more were injured. And even Sarah Palin (ever the clever) was reduced to defending her "don't retreat, re-load" rhetoric as the perfectly reasonable "political debate process" in which all elected officials participate (proving yet again that she believes no one else is paying any more attention to reality than she is).

Fwoan at For Want of a Nail discussed last week how the incident is now being used to suggest that any criticism of the Powers-That-Be may incite to violence -- using a tragedy to further entrench Power and push any fascist agenda. Jack Crow at The Crow's Eye reminds us in the wake of President Obama's oration at the funeral of nine-year-old Christina Green, one of the shooting victims, that the collective Presidency since 9-11 has been responsible for the deaths of many innocent children in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (at least), so Obama's words are disingenuous at best. And, frankly, I think about violence so much -- because we are surrounded by it 24/7 -- I sometimes worry I'm going to succumb to compassion fatigue and be found in a closet somewhere with my thumb in my mouth. Even if I'm not bleeding, I ache for those who do.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Study Malcolm, Garvey, Huey

Five years ago today, I created this blog on the socially-constructed, political notion of race. I've had a few two-month hiatuses during that time and I've seen some of the best come and then go. And I understand. But for whatever reason, I can't seem to walk away.

At five years, it's the longest commitment I've ever had. Longer than any job. Longer than any marriage. And if I don't stop soon, I may not be able to.

Last week, I got a notice of "unusual activity" on my gmail account and was blocked from entering it. They asked me for a phone number in order to send me a "verification code." More than a little wary and basically unwilling anyway, I sent out some questions to a computer savvy young person I know. But before I could get an answer, I discovered that my blogger account was also blocked.

I went into such an instant tailspin that I gave them the phone number without another thought. Hell, I'd have given them my bra size if they'd asked for it. You're my peeps. And the thought of being pushed into never-never land without a chance to say good-bye was more than I could bear.

The day may come, Faithful Readers, but it looks as if they'll have to carry me out of here. Everybody has a niche. And I'm busy on a number of fronts. But this blog is apparently my foxhole. And after five years, I may be chained to this laptop. I hope so.

So I'll go into the next five putting Dead Prez in the spotlight tonight as they tell us why it's important not just to know, but to study the truths handed down by those who went before. Upward and onward. There is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haiti Suffers Yet While the World Watches

A year ago today, Haiti -- already being described as a "failed state," where tens of thousands of children were living permanently and unprotected in the street -- was hit with a devastating earthquake. All over the world, people shook their heads in disbelief at Haiti's new "misfortune." A hundred thousand people died. At least a million who formerly had a stable and decent life suddenly had nothing. And those who had nothing to begin with found themselves in even greater misery.

Last night, I watched The Battle for Haiti, the PBS Frontline special on the 5000 prisoners who escaped en mass from the main prison in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. I hadn't heard anything about this previously, though I am more knowledgeable than most in the U.S. about Haiti, in general. And I did, in fact, already know that the criminal justice system in Haiti is beyond broken. As the Frontline special reports, men and even young boys who are accused of something as small as stealing a chicken can sit in literally hellish conditions for five or six years waiting to go to trial, if they don't have the money to navigate through the corruption.

Nevertheless, even the ones who weren't criminals when they were locked up were, I'm sure, "different" when they unexpectedly escaped their horrible bonds. And now they live -- and operate -- in the tent cities with all the other folks who are waiting for something besides more military forces to show up.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Passin' It On

It's been quite some time since I published a list of links to various things on the internet that I think are worthy of considerable note for one reason or another. But as I cleaned up my blog site recently (discovering in the process, by the way, much to my chagrin and disappointment, that some of my favorite bloggers are focusing elsewhere these days), I came across the following I thought you might find interesting, as well:

1) As an appetizer with just the right amount of spice, read what Elle at Elle, PhD, has to say in response to CNN calling "ethnic" beauty the new "It" factor for models.

2) Then, head on over to My Name is JuJuBe, to check out what Joanna, a relative newcomer to the pack I read when I can, writes on the difference between "ignorance" and "bigotry". I liked this one so much, I posted it to my list of Some Basics, which are permanent links always available to bring any new readers up to speed on what I believe to be true.

3) Sister Toldja at The Beautiful Struggler takes on Time Magazine's review of a new book on biracial identity and demonstrates why we're gonna hear more about and from her in the future, both on her blog and more than likely, I predict, on television, as well.

4) And while we're talking about books, I was very impressed with how GrannyStandingforTruth connected New York former Governor David Patterson's commutation of John White to the book Uncle Tom's Children by Richard Wright. Good stuff.

5) Finally, just because I love it so much and because I will miss thefreeslave and his blog (unless someone knows how to connect me to a new site), I am winding up with what was apparently one of thefreeslave's last posts: Black Power. Again, added to my Some Basics list to your right. And forever, loved and appreciated. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, Free, you da man.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

They're Voting Today In Sudan

While I was working toward my Master's Degree at Western Illinois University, I was engaged for a while to a man from Southern Sudan. With two youngsters to raise, a graduate assistantship to fulfill and the rigors of full-time graduate course requirements, I had precious little time to call my own. But what I had, I gave to hanging out with people from other countries, especially from Africa, as about a quarter of the students on that campus were from somewhere other than the U.S. and, as far as I was concerned, this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. It was very exciting and eventually even gave birth to my thesis, which was on Social Distance Between Africans and Black Americans and the Attitudes of White Americans Toward Both Groups.

I met Martin through a couple from Botswana. He was massively intelligent and exquisitely articulate. And his voice was like velvet, barely above a whisper. Our conversations were beyond seductive to me, so hungry for news of the real world outside our borders, so ravenous for analysis of power relations more in depth than what I was wont to get on average. I often stopped by his apartment for tea on my way home from class in the afternoon. Sometimes he would cook a chicken. We ate with our fingers and, for special occasions, peanut soup with fufu. He told me tales of his homeland, of acres and acres of mahogany; of hundreds of oil wells already dug and capped, waiting for later; and of chunks of gold lying on top of the ground in a region where people didn't value metals as much as family. But most often, he spoke of missing home.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2011 Role Models #3 & #4: Eduardo da Silva & Leonardo Bento

I thought a while about this one before I decided to post it. One has only to scan the right side of my blog to see that I have a sensitivity to the way police power is all too often used in this country and in the world. When push comes to shove, unless we're talking about serial murderers, my sympathies tend to lie, more often than not, with the underdogs -- and they're usually the ones doing the running rather than the chasing.

Nevertheless, I was moved recently when I saw a New York Times article with the video above about what's been going on the last couple of years in the City of God.

I remembered the location, 15 miles from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, because it was the subject of an award-winning film released in 2002. It was painfully dramatic, but even more dramatic was an hour-long special feature documentary I also watched while I had the DVD. Gripping was not the word for it.

Monday, January 03, 2011

2011 Role Model #2: The Rabbis for Human Rights

Many African-Americans in the United States live in what might as well be called a war zone. Unexpected violence waits around every corner in many, if not most, poverty-stricken communities as some residents are forced to engage in dangerous practices in an effort to pay the rent or alienated souls prey on others because of the demons that torment them or law "enforcement" officers, often twitchy with fear themselves and in advanced stages of White Supremacy sepsis, lash out randomly at unsuspecting "suspects" powerless to protect themselves.

A friend who lives on the border between Texas and Mexico recently told me that her region also has come to look like a war zone of late, with pit-bullish browbeaters wearing various kinds of uniforms attacking people at will and thinking up "explanations" later.

But we know that neither of these situations is precisely what is being experienced in other parts of the world, too often bankrolled by our own hard-earned wages (and I can't begin to tell you how it goads my soul to work a day every week for the U.S. government so that they can spend my money on killing people I don't know and don't want to kill). The war zones this nation's government is not bombing personally (like Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, just as examples and just at the moment -- it could change in a heartbeat) depend on a continual flow of U.S. dollars and weapons and influence to keep the process escalated and dangerous on both sides and endlessly, infinitely profitable to corporate coffers. There's a reason why we strike terror in the hearts of humans all over the world and terror is not the same as respect.

In any case, since the subject of this blog is the socially-constructed, political notion of "race," I don't write often about other things, no matter how strongly I feel about them. Like the situation in Palestine, where Zionism (a political movement, not a faith) is trying to wipe out the Palestinian people completely -- as in genocide. This week, however, I'm posting about role models -- people who are choosing to demonstrate to the rest of us how one person can make a stand, alone if need be, just because they know it's the right thing to do -- and for 2011 Role Model #2, I've chosen to feature any member of the Rabbis for Human Rights organization. As you'll see from the New York Times op-ed video above, these valiant individuals put themselves boldly in harm's way to make even the tiniest difference in the lives of others to whom it means so much.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

2011 Role Model #1: Deonte Bridges

Yesterday I promised I would spend this whole week writing about people who make a difference because they have decided to do what they can wherever they are with whatever they have. I'm calling them "role models" for the rest of us and they represent a range of individuals who are at different places in their lives, but they are all showing us how it's done.
I'm starting off with Deonte Bridges, a young man who graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia, last May. During the commencement exercises, Deonte gave the address captured in the YouTube video above.
So often, we feel as if the obstacles we face as individuals and as a society are just too massive to overcome. Sometimes we get tired of trying to rise above whatever is pushing us down. Shaking our heads in frustration, we're quick to say "somebody ought to do something," adding "and as soon as I..." (fill in the blank here), "I'm gonna step up and..." (fill in this blank, too).
But that's not how it works. Life happens. And we don't get to wait. We're presented with an evolution of realities on a daily basis. We don't have to kill every dragon. We don't have to win every battle. We don't have to bankroll an army. We just have to do the next right thing as we go along. If we're honest with ourselves, we know in our gut what the next right thing is. And if you're not sure, take a couple of minutes and listen to what Deonte Bridges -- our 2011 Role Model #1 -- has to say.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Speaking Truth to Power

According to the Roman calendar, this is the first day of a new year. A fresh start. A day to shake off the excesses of the night before and the successes or heartbreaks of the previous 365 days to move forward, hopefully upward, in the struggle to survive as individuals and as a human race. It is not a mistake that I am here at the computer at this moment on this morning. It is a commitment to myself. And to you. And to all those deep in the dungeons of the Powers-That-Be. Whether those dungeons be in buildings or camps, in our minds or in shallow mass graves.

I'll spend the rest of this week, I promise, writing about people who make a difference because they have decided to do what they can wherever they are with whatever they have. This is an unapologetic attempt to encourage, to inspire, and to strengthen as we face what lies ahead, I'll admit. God knows, I need it. And if you're reading this blog on a regular basis, I suspect you need it, as well. Not everybody finds what I write edifying.

Still, on Christmas eve, I looked into my bathroom mirror and said to myself out loud (hey, I live alone, I can do this stuff) "I am going to do whatever makes me happy every day for the rest of my life. And that's my Christmas present to me."