Monday, December 24, 2007

Frances Prepares for Santa

Frances took a picture of the note she left for Santa. She wanted to have a memory of it in case Santa takes it with him.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What's with all the Santa hate?

Does everybody hate Santa? Am I the only person who loves playing Santa for my kids and believes that no irreparable harm is being done to my children because they believe in Santa? My 7 year old already, mostly against my wishes, already knows about sex and war and racism. But she still believes in Santa Claus. What's wrong with that?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Rebecca Walker's Baby Love (or, How Pregnancy Can Apparently Short Circuit Your Brain)

I am a sucker for memoirs about pregnancy and motherhood. (I'm also a sucker for books about the lives of the Manhattan elite as detailed in books like the Nannies Diaries and Admissions, but that's another post). Perhaps it's because I found the state of being pregnant and being responsible for someone else's life to be profoundly perspective shifting (and continues to be so). I'm always eager to read about someone else's experience of that shift.

For these reasons, I picked up Rebecca Walker's latest book, Baby Love. In it Walker, daughter of Alice Walker and author of a famous essay in Ms. calling third wave feminism into being, details her pregnancy and the birth of her son. She also details the growing estrangement from her famous mother.

I want to like this book. I really do. There should be many more books about the craziness that is pregnancy (the way you practically inhale whatever food is placed in front of you, when you're not throwing up after smelling someone's too strong perfume; the way you question every life decision you've ever made; the way you want to do nothing but lay on the couch and watch birthing shows on TLC, even though every episode leaves you in a puddle of hysterical tears; the way you are convinced every other day that getting pregnant was a really really bad idea). This books offers up those kind of details, but it also comes to the following maddening conclusions:

--2nd wave feminism's deep ambivalence about motherhood, and the children they mothered, have left a generation of women deeply scarred and lost (this based on Rebecca's incredibly fucked up relationship with Alice)

--women are daughters until they become mothers; in other words, until you have grown a person inside your body, you are developmentally incomplete

--the love you have for a biological child is necessarily different from the love you have for an adopted or stepchild; it is impossible to love them the same way

--your connection to your child is forged and is irrevocable the moment you find out you are pregnant; biology dictates it

There are so many things appallingly wrong with these conclusions that it's hard to know where to begin. I will say this though: it is sad that Rebecca Walker, a woman who is an icon to so many young women, a woman who has made a career asserting the necessity of continuing the fight for gender equality, would write a book basically telling women that they are incomplete if they don't have biological children and are damaged in some way if they don't instantaneously fall madly in love with their unborn child. There are many criticisms to be lodged at the second wave, but surely, if it gave us nothing else, it gaves us the knowledge and the courage to believe that we are so so much more than our wombs.

And on a related note, Walker's brand of earth-mother, power-of-the-womb nonsense begs the question of fatherhood. Perhaps this is my on personal soapbox, resulting from the way Brian and I parent our kids and the decisions we've made about how to organize our family, but it kills me whenever I read an account of new parenthood that focuses only on the mother. I refuse to believe that my husband is the only father who went on his own perspective-shifting journey when he found out he'd be a dad, who has a deep, unshakeable bond with his children, whose idea of father-ing extends well beyond throwing a football and the ocassional disciplinary lecture. Rebecca Walker knows better than this, yet her book gives no indication that she remembers that fact.

In the end, I supposed that Rebecca Walker is allowed to have whatever experience of pregnancy that she has. She can only be the person she is , after all, even if that person is awfully self-absorbed and frustrating.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Things I Learned During Thanksgiving Break

1. Microwave pralines are pure evil.

2. Unless the rules are modified, a 34 year old can never ever beat a 7 year old at hopscotch. (#1 rule modification: the 34 year old shouldn't have to hop on one foot. #2 rule modification: the 34 year old absolutely can place one hand on the ground for balance when bending over to pick up her rock.)

3. Children will frolic in the surf, soaking themselves from head to foot, no matter how frigidly the cold the water may be.

4. I am congenitally incapable of grading papers until the very last minute.

5. "300" was a homophobic, racist, historically inaccurate, yet stunningly beautiful, film. Perhaps Brian and I will review it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An Acrostic Poem by Frances

I often joke that the only things I can write consistently and well about anymore are mothering and my children. (Ask the members of my writing group how badly the introduction to my next book is going.) This does not bode well for the successful mass market book I need to write to fund my children's college education.

Luckily, however, where my creative skill has failed, Frances's has flourished. Here is an acrostic poem she wrote for school:

Bug bit me before lunch
Emergency room
Fire on my nose
Red and purple band-aid

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Daring Book for Girls

I admit I was a little suspicious when I got The Daring Book for Girls in the mail to review. The problem with the similarly titled Dangerous Book for Boys is that its faux nostalgia implies that feminists are probably to blame for creating a world in which boys don't know how to tie knots or skip rocks or other stereotypically "boy" things. I find the very concept absurd.
So, when this book came in the mail, with it's retro green cover and silver lettering, I was prepared to be annoyed. But here's the thing: before I could get all riled up with righteous indignation at a world that still insists on making arbitrary distinctions between boys and girls, Frances got a hold of the book. As a general rule she is suspicious of anything too "girly," perceiving a surplus of pink and glitter and saccharine sentiment as sure signs of something not fun. But this book intrigued her. It showed her five karate moves, how to press flowers (which she thought would make cool bookmarks), how to play zombie and hot-lava monster tag, how to play the French version of hopscotch (which involves a snail shaped playing field and a lot of hopping on one foot--"the French really know how to live," Frances said), and how to make her own scooter. I don't know if Frances finds the instructions here "daring," but if the authors' (Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz) intentions were to introduce girls to the self-made fun from girlhood past (remember the jump rope song, "Apples on a stick, make me sick..."), then they have succeeded.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Are You a Feminist?

The nature of my job and Brian and my's politics means that Frances lives in a world in which "feminism" is a word used often and "feminists" are people she actually knows and likes. (Cate lives in this same world, but as she spends most of her time ignoring all of us in favor of wandering, dancing to the music in her head, and playing with her toes, we are unsure of how much really registers with her.)

Frances has also discovered recently the kind of quizzes that seem to abound in girl culture: are you a tomboy or a girly girl? does he really like you? are you a hater? Answer 20 multiple choice questions and any given issue of YM or CosmoGirl can reveal the secrets of the inner you.

Frances devised a quiz to determine if you are a feminist. How do you fare? (answers below)*

1. Do you like to talk?
2. Are you okay with being gay?
3. Did you get extra homework in 2nd grade?
4. Do you like monkeys?

If you answer yes to all the questions, then, according to the ever insightful Frances, you are a feminist.

*1. Obviously you have to like to talk. Feminists go to a lot of meetings, according to Frances. (How sad is it that Frances preceives that all I do is grade and go to meetings?)

2. Feminists understand that you can love who you want as long as you are happy.

3. Frances says feminists are smart and clearly, like her, would have been rewarded with extra homework while in school.

4. Who doesn't like monkeys?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stop Violence Against Women of Color

Recent events in the United States have moved us to action. Violence against women is sadly, not a new phenomenon in our country or in the world, however, in the last year women of color have experienced brutal forms of violence, torture, rape and injustice which have gone unnoticed, received little to no media coverage, or a limited community response. We are responding to:

--The brutal and inhumane rape, torture, and kidnapping of Megan Williams in Logan, West Virginia who was held by six assailants for a month

--Rape survivors in the Dunbar Housing Projects in West Palm Beach, Florida one of whom was forced to perform sexual acts on her own child.

--A 13 year old native American girl was beaten by two white women and has since been harassed by several men yelling “white power” outside of her home

--Seven black lesbian girls attempted to stop an attacker and were later charged with aggravated assault and are facing up to 11 year prison sentences

Today, people around the country are, among other acts of protest, wearing red, gathering, and reading aloud this litany.

Out of the Silence, We Come: A Litany
Out of the silence, we come
In the name of nuestras abuelas,
In honor of our mamas
In the spirit of our petit fils,
In tribute to ourselves
We come crying out
Documenting the torture
We come wailing
Reporting the rape
We come singing
Testifying to the abuse
We come knowing
Knowing that the silence has not protected us from
the racism
the sexism
the homophobia
the physical pain
the emotional shame
the auction block

Once immobilized by silence
We come now, mobilized by collective voice
Dancing in harmonious move-ment to the thick drumbeat of la lucha, the struggle

We come indicting those who claim to love us, but violate us

We come prosecuting those who are paid to protect us, but harass us

We come sentencing those who say they represent us, but render
us invisible

Out of the Silence, we come
Naming ourselves
Telling our stories
Fighting for our lives
Refusing to accept that we were never meant to survive

Monday, October 22, 2007

The McCann Sisters Perform

Here are our geeky, goofy girls (Catherine is 2 and is rarely still long enough to comb her hair; Frances is 7 and lives for the spotlight) giving a command performance for their parents.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My Inner Angela Davis

It's been pointed out to me by several folk (well, really, only one folk and she knows who she is) that this space has been rather quiet lately. There's a long, boring story about tenure and new responsibilities at work, coupled with my indecision about exactly what to do with this space that explains it all--but I won't bother you with that. Instead, I'll venture into the always fraught world of black women's hair.

Since May I've been sporting cute, shoulder-length single braids. I had braids in grad school and when I first got married and I loved them, primarily because I couldn't be lazier when it comes to doing anything to my hair. I stopped wearing braids for a number of reasons, including being too impatient to sit for the 8-10 hours it takes to do my hair, but also because I concluded (as does mainstream culture) that I looked less young and more professional without them.

My innate hair laziness took over this summer, though, and the braids returned. I loved them. I kept them in for our vow renewal in June and for the start of classes in August. And was all set to get them redone last week when a minor catastrophe occurred.

When I undid my braids, my hair was tangled at the roots, so much so that I became convinced that I would need to cut it all off. I have really thick, shoulder-length hair, so cutting all but an inch or two off is drastic. But I was willing to do it, reading the moment as the universe's way of telling me it was time to start growing a sweet Angela Davis 'fro.

The only problem was that I couldn't find anyone in Charleston to cut my hair. Admittedly, after the first two people, both black women, refused (both very matter-of-factly telling me I was mistaken about wanting to cut all my hair off), my resolve weakened. Maybe the universe wasn't telling me to find my inner Angela Davis. Maybe it was saying I needed to go back to my chemically-enhanced soccer mom ponytail.

Brian wound up having to untangle my hair. The third woman I went to relaxed and trimmed my hair, ooh-ing and aah-ing through the entire four hour process.

I wish I'd had the courage to cut it all off myself.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Afrogeek Mom and Dad review Chris Rock's "I Think I Love My Wife"

Inspired by Alison and my's review of "Becoming Jane," Brian and I bring you a review of Chris Rock's "I Think I Love My Wife." The basic plot is that Rock's character is married with two kids, not having sex, and allowing himself to be tempted by the sexy, available, willing woman from his past.


Conseula: So, my constant refrain throughout this movie was "grow up!" Actually, I used a little more profanity than that, but this is a family blog. I spent the majority of the film being absolutely infuriated with Chris Rock's character (and maybe that's the point), but I'll come back to that later. What I really want to talk about is the pop culture's erroneous notion that married couples don't have sex, primarily because married women lose all interest once they get a ring on their finger.

Brian: Personally, I don't know anything about married women and sex, or anything about single women and sex. Actually, I don't know all that much about sex. [Indeed, the two children are a mystery.--C] What I do know about is horror movies. This movie scared the fluids out of me. How is it that Conseula can't sit through a decent flesh-eating zombie movie, but she can watch a relationship movie without flinching? I shivered, huddled deep under the covers watching the train wreck that was Richard's (Chris Rock's character) life bearing down on him. I think that the most frightening part of the movie was that I could see Richard's doom approaching, while he seemed to be completely oblivious to it. I identified with the male lead, and I saw his fate as my own. (Not that I'd ever consider infidelity. I'm sorta attached to my man parts, and I want to keep it that way.)

Conseula: (He's totally not kidding about the shivering and the huddling. It was kind of cute.) While Brian identified with the male lead, I couldn't really identify with the female lead. Well, there were moments of identification, those moments when Brenda (played by the always stunning Gina Torres) called Richard on his bullshit. But mostly I didn't get this sexless, domestic goddess content to go months on end with no intimate contact from her husband. I'm also really annoyed with this notion of marriage as the place you go to die. I mean what could be better that than finding the one person you want to talk to every single day of your life and then committing yourself to that person? That's not misery, people. That's amazing. And I guess that's the point the movie eventually got to, but the idea of marriage took quite a beating along the way.

Brian: Actually, the marriage thing is working out well for me. [That's good to know.--C] I was never one of those sex-god-use-women-up-like-tissue-paper guys. I guess that is because I always saw women as people with feelings, and for that reason I saw that there was more to them than simple objects of sexual release. In the little dream sequence where Richard fantasizes that he's consuming women like popcorn, I was a little embarrassed. I can't even fantasize about women without their permission, how could I possibly be a serial boinker? Being in a committed, stable, relationship with a woman I actually respect, who I can actually talk to, is a relief for me. It's much easier than trying to live up to some false, Mandingo pipe-slinger persona.

Conseula: And there's my public service to women everywhere--saving them from Mandingo pipe-slinging Brian. I do what I can.

Brian: So, in conclusion, committed relationships are good. Nostalgia for the single life of 20 year olds is okay, and normal. Acting on that nostalgia is always stupid. And I Think I Love My Wife was an okay movie.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Parenting Season

This space has been quiet for a while, primarily due to the start of the new school year. Brian and I like to think of mid-August to early-June as the official Parenting Season. Unlike in the summers, when we certainly have to entertain children on an almost constant basis, we are, neverthless, free to do that entertaining in our own fashion and on our own schedules. Today we might go swimming, tomorrow we may hit the museum, the next day we may spend an afternoon eating ice cream and watching Nickelodeon. Plans can be made and changed at the last minute. Routines can be altered (though not too drastically lest the tightly wound among us freak out). Time can be frittered away as we master Jedi powers in the Star Wars Lego Playstation game.

But then mid-August comes and school begins and we are back on the treadmill. Make no mistake--Brian and I, and parents every where I am sure, breathe a great big sigh of relief that first school morning after children have been dropped off (there really is only so much Nickelodeon a person can watch and I'm sure whatever ancients invented mancala didn't intend for me to play it for hours at a time). But every fall I am struck with how quickly time gets eaten up with homework and PTA meetings and soccer practice and choir performances and Halloween costumes and birthday parties. And how little deviation there can be from the routine lest the whole thing come crashing down. In any case, here are pictures of the girls (affectionately called The Monkey and The Barbarian at home) as we begin the 2007-2008 Parenting Season.

Cate--who is never happier than when she's a wearing hat and glasses, spinning around in a circle and yelling "awesome!"

And Frances, future rock 'n' roll scientist and champion of PacMan World Rally.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Brian McCann is not the babysitter

Brian is in this month's issue of Skirt! magazine. And, as usual, his modesty prevents him from saying anything. Go check him out.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Punch Drunk at 2am

It's moments like these when I question my chosen profession. I have reached the end of this seemingly never-ending marathon that is the process of writing this book on James Baldwin. While I realize there will still be changes and proofing and indexing to be done once the editors see it, the backbreaking, soul-sucking, mind-numbing work of writing it will be done shortly. (I am just about done proofreading the last chapter.) But before I turn it in tomorrow, last commemorate the process. The following pictures were taken in my family's den. For the last three months my children have been unable to eat a proper meal at a proper table because my stack of James Baldwin stuff has gotten increasingly larger and higher.

Here are a mere portion of the books I have been using. Notice Stratego at the bottom of the pile? Brian and Frances had cleared a space on the table to play, and I kicked them off in a fit of writing inspiration.

Here's what my workspace looks like right now. Underneath all this paper is the draft of the next book, which needs to be at the publisher's in a few short weeks.

Here's the corner of my den. There are many, many, many corners of my place that look exactly like this. We've had to clear out kids' toys from our living room to make way for all my Baldwin crap.

I have been informed by my whole family that they will be happy when this is done.
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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

International Blog Against Racism Week

I hunker down for a few days to finish this book and when I pick my head up, the whole world has gone mad. The NAACP is following up their burial of the N-word with a defense of Michael Vick. Al Sharpton is calling for a National Day of Outrage. Barack Obama is in Vibe Magazine (he is looking pretty hot, though).

But are any of them talking about this:
In September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a "whites only" shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn't sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn't care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree.

The boys who hung the nooses were suspended from school for a few days. The school administration chalked it up as a harmless prank, but Jena's black population didn't take it so lightly. Fights and unrest started breaking out at school. The District Attorney, Reed Walters, was called in to directly address black students at the school and told them all he could "end their life with a stroke of the pen."

Black students were assaulted at white parties. A white man drew a loaded rifle on three black teens at a local convenience store. (They wrestled it from him and ran away.) Someone tried to burn down the school, and on December 4th, a fight broke out that led to six black students being charged with attempted murder. To his word, the D.A. pushed for maximum charges, which carry sentences of eighty years. Four of the six are being tried as adults (ages 17 & 18) and two are juveniles.

Or this:
After dark on June 18, the police say, as many as 10 armed assailants repeatedly raped a Haitian immigrant in her apartment at Dunbar Village and then went further, forcing her to perform oral sex on her 12-year-old son. They took cellphone pictures of their acts. They burned the woman’s skin and the boy’s eyes with cleaning fluid, forced them to lie naked together in the bathtub, hit them with a broom and a gun and threatened to set them on fire.

Gina, from my newest favorite blog, What About Our Daughters, has expressed my outrage and frustration much better than I can (check out her list of the Immorally Indifferent), so I'll just say this: in honor of International Blog Against Racism Week, I encourage you all to do something about racism. Bitching about rap music you don't get doesn't actually do anything about the degradation of black women in this country. Burying the N-word in no way addresses the structures of racism that makes the word still carry so much weight.

Instead, make some noise. Write your congressman. Donate some money. Donate some time. Call out racism when you see it (we live in Charleston people--we see it everyday). When someone tells you you're doing something racist and thoughtless, stop it. When you see someone doing something racist and thoughtless, make them stop. Step outside of your comfort zone and realize that changes you make in the way you live your life everyday--in the way you talk to and treat people, in the decisions you make, in the jokes you tell, where you send your kids to school and where you choose to live--can make a difference. It's not marching to Selma or refusing to give up your seat on a bus, but it matters.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Anxiety Dreams 'R Us

It's become conventional wisdom here at Casa Afrogeek that I am incapable of writing anything unless it's about myself. In grad school I was smart and clever and quick-witted, but 5 years on the tenure track and two kids have apparently addled my brain. So instead of having something smart to say about the NAACP burying the N-word (are they purposely trying to be irrelevant?) or how spot-on Mark Anthony Neal is when he suggests that many black intellectuals have a deep dislike of black youth and black youth culture, I will share this.

I've been working like a mad woman on the James Baldwin book (which is very near finished) and have found that I am more productive if I take a short afternoon nap instead of trying to write with sleepy brain. I woke up from this afternoon's nap in a panic because of this dream:

My daughters and I are riding on a CARTA bus on our way to meet Alison, my prolific and insanely smart friend. We never make it to our destination, though, because my daughters get off the bus at a beauty salon. Apparently I used to work there and when we enter everyone is happy to see us. The owner of the salon immediately gives me a pile of paper containing hundreds of messages from former clients. My waking mind recognizes all the client names as names of students. It is then that I realize that, in the dream, I used to be a college professor but am no longer. I don't know why I left my job or why I'm no longer a hairdresser either. The final message is from a student who is now in law school. She's telling me about having read Paul Laurence Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask" in one of her classes and how excited she was that she knew the poem already because she read in my class. When she offered a reading of the poem (the one she learned from me), however, the professor shot her down. "This poem," he said, "is not about the Negro's dissembly. It's about his dissemblage."

Then I woke up. Isn't that a crazy anxiety dream? And why is my sleeping brain making words ("dissemblage"?)? I look forward to finishing this book for lots of reasons, not least of which is a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Afrogeeks Get Married!

Okay, so we were already married. But we did renew our vows a few weeks ago. Walter took the pictures. Here we are in all our geeky, sappy glory.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Are you some kind of feminist or something?

I am used to having repetitive, vaguely annoying conversations about my name. For instance, my first name--Conseula--is spelled unconventionally (the "u" usually comes before the "e"). This causes people to pronounce it in the oddest ways (I get Kon-soo-luh alot) and to tell me "You know, your name is spelled wrong" (this happens more often than you would think). My last name--Francis--is a homonym for my daughter's first name--Frances. Do you know how many times in the last seven years I've had to answer these two questions: "You named her Frances Francis?" and "Don't you get confused?" In response to the first question, I always say, simply, that my daughter has her father's last name, not my own. Which brings me to the name conversation I rarely have anymore.

I taught Governor's School this summer and many of the kids in my class were fascinated by the fact that I didn't change my name when I got married. Here is a conversation I had on the last day of class:

Student (as I am writing down my address for her): So what's your real last name?

Me: (briefly confused by the question): What?

Student: You know, your real last name, your husband's name.

Me: My *husband's* last name is McCann. *My* last name is Francis. I didn't change my name when I got married.

Student: You didn't want to claim your husband?

Me: I "claimed" him when we got married.

Student: But don't you want to show that you're married?

Me: What does my husband do to show that he is married?

Student: He wears a wedding ring.

Me: I wear the matching ring.

Student: Why didn't you change your name?

Me: Because I am a grown up with a life and identity and profession that didn't disappear when I got married.

Student: Are you some kind of feminist or something?

So many of things I take for granted--not changing my name, not staying home with my children (a whole other conversation), feminism--were new and exotic (and maybe a little disturbing) for her. It's been a long time since I've met someone like that. Though, to be fair, she was only 17 and still has lots of growing up to do. Maybe I will be the first step in her feminist awakening.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Vow Renewal and Groovy Shoes

There's been nothing but silence around these parts lately. Finals and the end of the semester bled right into Governor's School and it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that every waking minute of my day is filled with students or grades or kids or writing. In addition, Brian and I are renewing our wedding vows in celebration of 10th anniversary. While I could bore you with details about how we eloped the first time around, or how that elopement came after I cancelled two weddings, or how shopping for party supplies and planning a menu is not as much fun as one would hope, I will instead share with you my favorite part of this whole renewal process.

These are my wedding shoes. I love them. I'm wearing them right now. I walk around in them because they make me happy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What Black Men Think PSA

Damned Straight!

I, for one, am sick of so many of the malicious untruths spread about black men.

I think that it says alot about our society, and how willing we are to believe these "facts" about.

I'm in a rush, so, I'll publish a more indepth post later.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Conseula and Alison on the Road

Alison and I went to Tucson this weekend to interview science fiction writer Joanna Russ. We weren't quite prepared for this interview when we left on Friday, so actually worked quite a bit on this trip (a lot of that work got done in the Atlanta airport during our 6 hour lay over). But, thankfully, we also go to play some. Over in her blog Alison has some pictures of the yummy frybread we got while we were on the Tohono O'odham reservation. Here are some more pictures.

We went to Saguaro National Park and got the most amazing views of desert life.

Here is Alison squinting at the sun (which was unbelievably, deceptively hot) and standing next to a small cactus.

Here I am (bottle of water in tow) next to a huge saguaro. Saguaros can grow to up to fifty feet tall and can weigh more than 8 tons.

Here is that same saguaro in bloom.

The prickly pear cactus was also in abundance. I brought home candy made from prickly pear juice.

Later that day Alison and I went to El Charro Cafe where we ate our fill of tamales and guacomole (and prickly pear and mango margaritas). Here I am enjoying the famous cheese crisp appetizer. It was so big it could have easily fed a small nation.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Market for Niggas--Taalam Acey

I came across this video this morning and thought I'd share.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

An Armed Campus is NOT a Safe Campus

Immediately in the aftermath of the shooting incident at Virginia Tech the usual swarm of loudmouths scuttled out from under the cultural baseboard and began to scream long and loud to anyone within earshot that if the students and faculty at VT had been armed that they'd have been able to deal with the shooter. (I wonder why no one mentioned arming the staff.) In truth, yes, on a college campus with a large percent of its population armed, eventually a shooter would be wounded or killed, but would an armed campus be safer than a campus where only the university police are allowed to be armed?

Lets face facts, federal, state, county, and local law enforcement personnel are screened to weed out the unstable and the unreliable. They receive training in firearms safety, marksmanship, and the use of deadly force, still, law enforcement personnel manage to mistake innocent persons for perpetrators, they miss their targets and hit bystanders, and the occasionally use excessive force.

Last night, after going through a red light, I was stopped by a cop. I made a conscious effort to keep my hands on the steering wheel where he could see them because I didn't want a nervous, pissed off, or frightened cop to make my kids orphans. If I can't trust a trained police officer not to shoot me, what makes anyone think that I should feel safe on a campus full of people who haven't been screened and who haven't had weeks of special training?

In not one of the letters to the editor, blogs, casual conversations, or radio call-in shows that I've been privy to has anyone explained how anyone's supposed to identify the shooter. If you're making your way across campus, and a friend runs up to you and yells, "Hey! Somebody's shooting people in Maybank Hall!" After you draw your weapon on a campus with a large percentage of armed people, how are you supposed to know which armed person is the shooter, and which one is responding to the shooting? How do the other armed people on campus know that you're not the shooter?

When talking to people about deadly force, I gave them this scenario: You've walked into a room in which there is one person on the floor suffering from an obvious gunshot wound, and two people facing each other with guns drawn. What do you do? Every time I posed that scenario, I'd get this response, "I'd shoot both of them." I know that these people were trying to be witty, but it was their very wittiness that exposes one of the flaws of the armed campus. I can think of many more.

If your Spidey sense (or whatever) does manage to clue you in on the shooter, are you sure that you're accurate enough to hit him and no one else? What about the other vigilantes, are you confidant in their marksmanship? What about the background of your target? Are there no innocent bystanders on the other side of the shooter? What about on the other side of that sheetrock wall beyond the shooter? Maybe you'd better add x-ray vision to your Spidey sense. Are you sure that there's only one shooter? Maybe while you're stalking the guy you think is the shooter, his buddy's stalking you.

Also, when the campus police, the local police, or the mob of students and faculty (and staff) respond to the crime, how do you identify yourself as not the shooter? Why shouldn't they shoot you?

Back when I was in the Army, soldiers who had privately owned weapons had to keep them either off-post, or locked downstairs in the arms room. If you wanted your weapon you had to give the armorer twenty-four hours notice before he'd release it to you. I guess that the idea was to keep young hotheads from running downstairs, demanding their weapons, then running back upstairs to settle scores. If the Army, after having invested a LOT of time and money training soldiers in the benefits of firearms safety, felt that it wasn't a good idea to allow soldiers to sleep with pistols under their pillows, why would it be a good idea to allow college students to do so?

I remember when the Knights of the White Camelia (an even more bedraggled version of the Klu Klux Klan, formerly based in Louisiana) was recruiting on campus at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. They came in and set up their table alongside the campus groups who were likewise recruiting. Unlike the campus organizations, they quickly drew a hostile crowd. Harsh words were thrown back and forth, but there was no violence. The university police kept the peace and the worst thing that happened was that the KWK got free publicity out of the deal. Had guns been allowed on campus, the situation could have turned into something much worse. Some of the students would surely have been armed, and without a doubt, some of the KWK would have been carrying as well.

I'm sure that there are some readers who believe that had the students been armed that the KWK would have stayed off campus. Don't be fooled. Terrorist aren't cowards, if they were, they wouldn't be effective. A misunderstanding on either the part of the students or the KWK probably would have resulted in a bloodbath, and the university police would have been out manned, outgunned, and probably helpless to intervene. Think of all the emotionally charged incidents that take place on college campuses -- Sporting events that turn violent, political protests, rivalries between fraternal organizations that often turn violent, and all of these incidents can be exasperated by youthful hormones and sometimes alcohol and controlled substances. Who believes that adding guns to the mix would improve the situation?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Brian's Geekiness Pays Off

Brian wouldn't ever toot his own horn (does that sound dirty to anyone else but me?), but he was in Head2Head Trivia today and kicked butt. Go take a look.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Gunfighter Interviews Conseula

Over on Gunfighter 's blog, people were interviewing each other. Here are the questions he had for me:

1. I know that you appropriated the term "Afrogeek" from elsewhere, but why did it speak to you so emphatically? Do you know many fellow Afrogeeks? Do you network with them/us (I proudly claim status!)?
I thought the term "afrogeek" was a great straightforward description of black people like my husband and I and I was also excited to find out there were other black people who felt the need for a term. While I have few (maybe none?) black friends who are also geeky in real life, I have found several online communities (and a few blogs) where afrogeeks hang out. We should get t-shirts.

2. Who are your favorite superheroes? What makes them your favorites? Are you a Marvel or DC person?
I'm definitely a Marvel person, though I do have a weakness for all things Batman and a giant crush on the Martian Manhunter. I love that J'onn J'onzz can take any form and still chooses not to pass as a human on Earth. And when he does go about as a human, he chooses the form of a black American man because that identity is most parallel to his experience of isolation and marginalization. My Marvel preference is courtesy of my husband who has been a Marvel zombie since he was a kid. I didn't really start reading comics until he and I were married.

3. You are an academic, which I think is seriousy cool... what is your discipline? Is it a subject you always wanted to study? Are you teaching in the subject of your academic discipline?
I have a PhD in English. My specialty is African American literature, with particular interests in literary movements and black intellectual thought. I am indeed teaching in my discipline. I think that the moment I figured out there was a job that would allow me to read and write and talk about books, I was hooked.

4. I'm a bit of a headbanger. I have always loved a lot of the old-school heavy metal. Do you enjoy heavy metal? Tell me about your history with the band "Living Colour"
I enjoyed heavy metal a lot when I was in high school. Hair metal band posters covered the walls of my bedroom. I still think G'N'R's Appetite for Desctruction may be the best rock 'n' roll album ever. I remember loving Living Colour because they looked like me and they played the kind of music I liked and I believed they understood what it meant to be the only black kid at the Whitesnake concert. My love of metal gave way, though, to my love of conscious and alternative rap. I went from listening to Poison and Metallica to listening to Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul and Arrested Development. My musical tastes in general, however, are quite wide-ranging.

5. With all of the amazing history represented in Charleston, do you find that there is any attention played to the very serious contributions made by black patriots in the American Revolutionary war battles fought in South Carolina?
I think there is very little attention paid to the black contribution to anything in South Carolina. There are certainly good people doing good work to correct the misinformation and disinformation that exists about blacks here, but there's also a lot of resistance. Charleston has a very particular view of itself--genteel, tradition-bound, honorable, aggrieved--that it couldn't easily maintain if black people and their history were fully integrated.

6. Do you prefer Kirk or Picard?
Dude, easy one. Picard, for the sexy bald head alone. (My husband says he'd rather serve under Picard because Picard's the better officer, but that Kirk has the luck of the Irish.)

7. Was Hal Jordan The Green Lantern when you first started reading the Green Lantern comics?
I haven't ever read The Green Lantern comics but I do believe Hal Jordan was Green Lantern when Brian started reading them.

8. Brag about yourself for a moment. Go ahead, it'll be fun.
I was the first black woman to receive an honors baccalaureate degree from my undergraduate institution. I recently had an op-ed piece published in The State.

If you are interested in participating, please see the following:

1. Leave a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions (if I don't have your email address, you can email me instead). I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hey Ya! Charlie Brown Style

We obviously need a little bit of levity in this space. Here's what I've been watching when I'm need of a pick me up lately. Outkast and Peanuts--it doesn't get much better than this.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Conseula's Semi-Annual Breastfeeding Rant, or Why Mammies are Still a Bad Idea

Full disclosure time: I am troubled by the cult of breastfeeding. No, scratch that. The cult of breastfeeding culture pisses me off. When we had our first daughter we decided for very personal and very real reasons not to breastfeed. When we looked for information about formula feeding, we found very little that wasn't designed to induce feelings of guilt and inadequacy in mothers in didn't or couldn't breastfeed. Apparently our decision to use formula exclusively doomed our first born to be fat and stupid and lazy. When I came out of my new mother fog, I realized (as I did about so much of the American cult of motherhood) that breastfeeding culture (though not necessarily the act of breastfeeding itself) is a tool of patriarchy. "Tool of patriarchy" is a phrase that sounds archaic, as if it should only be used in an SNL sketch mocking second wave feminism. But the phrase exists for a reason. It exists because there are actual systemic forces that combine and conspire to keep women in proscribed roles that benefit men. Breastfeeding is one of these roles.

Breastfeeding is hard and exhausting. It is also, often, isolating and lonely. Breastfeeding makes going back to work full time more difficult than it otherwise might be. It makes getting a full night's sleep nearly impossible. It places the care of an infant squarely and necessarily on the shoulders of the mother.

That's just fucked up. I reject that the cult of breastfeeding. I reject the notion that I should breastfeed because doctors say it's best. Doctors once said giving a woman a hysterectomy would make her adapt better to her role as wife and mother. Doctors once said homosexuality is a disease. Doctors let my 16-year-old mother labor alone in a maternity ward for hours because "those women just pop them out like puppies." Excuse me if take what doctors say with a grain of salt.

I also reject the notion that feeding my child from my body is my duty and makes me a good mother. The greatest benefit of formula feeding, besides allowing me to hang on to my sanity and maintain some semblance of my life apart from my children, was that it allowed my husband and our friends the opportunity to bond with my daughters in a really fundamental way. I rarely got up for night feedings with my first daughter. 2am was daddy/daughter time and I am convinced that that time and my daughter associating her father with nourishment and comfort accounts in large part for the close relationship they share now. Formula feeding allowed my husband to participate fully as a parent in a way the cult of breastfeeding seems to think is unimportant.

This morning's breastfeeding rant was brought on by this article from Time magazine. It's about the rise of wet nurses in America. Here are some gems from that article.

"Advocates argue that milk sharing lets women be good moms while fulfilling other goals."
Because good moms breastfeed, you see, regardless of whether or not they can or want to. We might forgive your going back to work if you shell out the $1000 a week for a wet nurse.

One mother who cross-nurses with her neighbor says, "It takes female friendship to another level. You're trusting another person to nurture your child."
Because while hiring someone to care for my child while I work outside the home dooms me to a special place in hell (how often do working mothers have to answer to charges of paying someone else to raise our children?), we can forgive allowing someone else to breastfeed my child because it builds female community.

Here's the best part of the article, though:
Brenda (whose last name is withheld to protect her clients' privacy), 42, has wet-nursed 10 babies in the past seven years partly to help send her own two kids to college. She has mulled over the social implications of her work--because she's black and eight of the families she has worked for are white. "A friend asked me, Don't you feel like you're the mammy?" she recalls. But she finds her job fulfilling, and sometimes amusing. "If you're someplace with the family and the baby starts to pull at your blouse or put his hand in your bra, that can be embarrassing," she says, laughing.

Imagine this scene people. A nice middle class white family is out at dinner with the black woman who breastfeeds their kid. I bet the white couple tells friends that the black woman is just like one of the family. Am I the only one appalled? Remember those tools of patriarchy I mentioned earlier? Here they are at work. Poor black and brown women do not want to breastfeed privileged white women's kids. Yet they live in a society in which they feel that their most tradeable commodity is their bodies. So they scrub white women's floors and shake their asses in rap videos and, apparently, breastfeed other women's kids. That's the patriarchy at work. The same patriarchy that guilted all those white women into needing a wet nurse in the first place.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Of Nappy Headed Hos and Condoleeza

There's probably been more than enough said about Don Imus and the Duke rape case. And I have debated whether I should add my voice to the throng. I've drafted and deleted several posts. But this won't leave me alone. So here goes.

First there are two responses to all of this that drive me insane.

"What ever happened to free speech."
To which of course I might respond, what have ever happened to good manners or common decency. Putting aside for the moment the racist misogyny of Imus's remark, we have to recognize that calling somebody a "nappyheaded ho" is just rude. Yeah, the 1st Amendment gives you the right to be a dick. But having the right to do something doesn't mean that you should. Take this for instance.

"Why do people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson always play the race card? We will never get over our divisions unless people learn to let things go."
See, the 1st Amendment allows me to call this racist idiocy. But I won't because I was raised right. I might ask though what the hell this even means. Does it mean that racism will end if we let racists be racist in peace? We can live in a less racially divisive society if only I can learn not to bother you with the circumstances and consequences of my oppression? Your need to live free of discomfort is more important than my need to be heard? And what exactly am I getting out of this? The right to be called a "nappyheaded ho" on national radio? The right to be gang raped at a lacrosse party? Thanks but no thanks.

But here's what's really bothering me about this whole thing. In the rush to defend the Rutgers women's basketball team, it's clear that they have earned our support precisely because they are not actually "nappyheaded hos." They are not the young woman in the Duke case. That nameless young woman--a single mother, a college dropout, a former exotic dancer, as every article reminds us--didn't deserve our defense. We could be outraged on her behalf. We could rail against the white male privilege run amok. But defend her? No. Her very existence proves what so many black women try so hard to disprove--we are not welfare mothers. We are not video vixens. We are not "nappyheaded hos." But getting yourself raped at party full of white men where you were the sexual entertainment doesn't really prove that does it? So there will be no defense of her, no meetings with her, no rallying around her now that North Carolina has decided she's a liar.

But the Rutgers girls, these girls, are on the Condoleeza Path of Success. They have struggled, worked hard, followed the rules, played the game and it's paying off. They have been trotted out on TV, not a nappy head among them, looking every bit the bright, high achieving women they are. And the implication, at least to my eyes, is that they deserve our protection because they are good girls. What would have happened if they had been less than good?

Maybe this all bothers me because I was placed on the Condoleeza Path of Success early in life. I learned, even though no one ever said these words, that being smart and well-spoken and modest would protect me from many of the degradations that so many black women have to live with every day. And I succeeded. I live with a certain amount of privilege that many many many black women don't have. It's amazing how people's facial expressions and body language change when I introduce myself as Dr. Francis or mention that I'm a college professor. A whole set of assumptions about me get thrown out because of that PhD. But Dr. Francis isn't exactly tattooed on my forehead, is it? I walk around in my brown skin, appearing very much the nappyheaded ho to the Imuses of the world simply because of that brown skin. It's small comfort to think that, apparently, my only defense against that is trying really hard to be Condoleeza.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Brian ran across this online and thought it was hilarious. (Although it may not be hilarious if you're conservative or if you haven't seen the Fergilicious video.) Enjoy. Let him know what you think.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Crock Pot Meatballs

Brian and I are renewing our vows to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary (which two months ago seemed like a really fun idea, but today seems like a lot of hassle, but I digress...). Anyway, we want to serve some of those yummy meatballs that people bring to potlucks in crockpots. But I don't actually know how to make those meatballs. And there are approximately 9,874,562 recipes on the internet. So that's not really a help.

Do any of you out there (all three of you reading this) have any good crockpot meatball recipes?

Also, expect a post soon from Brian about the death of his favorite superhero Captain America. He is none too pleased.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Strom Thurmond and Al Sharpton

This is sure to be all over the news tomorrow, but I couldn't wait to comment.

Professional genealogists have discovered that Al Sharpton's ancestors were slaves owned by Strom Thurmond's relatives.

Is it wrong that this news causes me all sorts of glee? I don't want to examine that reaction too closely.

Brian says that, given Thurmond's proclivities with the ladies and historical practices of slaveowners, maybe Thurmond and Sharpton are related. Hee!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More Books by Black People You Should Be Reading (and a few words about hip hop)

As I mentioned last night, the PBS documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes featured a number of critics and historians whose work I really enjoy. You'll probably enjoy them too.

Jelani Cobb
He's a history professor at Spelman College and was one of the most vocal supporters of the young women there when they spoke out against the portrayal of black women in hip hop music. His latest book is called The Devil and Dave Chappelle. Don't you want to read that?

Mark Anthony Neal
He's a professor of Black Popular Culture at Duke. He works primarily on black popular music, which he argues functions as vernacular theory in black culture (which is the same thing I argue about African American literature, but he sounds much smarter than I do and has published five books. I try hard not to hate him). His latest book, New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity, is a wonderfully insightful and passionate call for a new blueprint for black masculinity that doesn't keep black men locked in the soul-killing box of homophobic, misogynist, patriarchal, violent, hypermasculinity. It's a great read.

And a few words on hip hop: in the last three days I've seen and heard a number of talk show segments dedicated to the ills of hip hop. Paula Zahn' show tonight featured a poll--Hip Hop: art or poison? (Uhh, can't it be both? As a woman, I find Kanye West's "Golddigger" ["I ain't saying she's a golddigger/But she ain't messing with no broke nigger"] kinda insulting. But it's also a really, really good song.) We all seem really eager and willing to discuss all that's wrong with hip hop, very ready to chastise these artists for their misogyny and homophobia and glorification of violence. Yet, we don't seem to get that worked up about those same issues elsewhere in our society. Is misogyny particularly wrong when it comes from black men? Do we care about homophobia only when black men are doing the gay-bashing? As both Tim Wise and Michael Eric Dyson said on Paula Zahn's show, there is a lot to criticize in hip hop, but we shouldn't let that distract us from the larger issue, namely that things like sexism and homophobia (and racism) are systemic in our culture. And, I would add, let us not forget that 50 Cent and Nelly don't represent the whole of hip hop. To see some alternatives, check out Dave Chappelle's Block Party, a concert film featuring some of hip hop's finest.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Segregated Charleston and Other Thoughts for Black History Month

Today I met with a handful of female students at Burke High School. They were, as I suspected they would be, a delight. On a purely personal level, it was nice to spend time with young women who were neither the mischievious snarky six year old who lives with me, nor the distracted, jaded twentysomethings I teach.

As part of a program I'm coordinating, we are going to give the girls tote bags filled with all sorts of groovy things, including gift certificates for merchants downtown. The idea is to encourage the Burke kids to come to campus, to hang out on King Street, to feel some ownership of the city. I was reminded (I say reminded because I have been told this at least once a month since I've lived here), however, that historically Calhoun Street divides the peninsula and these kids don't feel welcome or comfortable or compelled to go south of Calhoun.

And that fact just boggles my mind. I grew up in the south. I have no illusions about how race operates in the south. My own hometown of Lafayette, La certainly had black and white neighborhoods and black and white schools. We had a black mall and white mall. Hell, my high school had a black and white prom king and queen. And I understood that this was segregation. I understood how the history of racism had gotten us to this place. But I never once felt limited by that. My individual circumstances are certainly different than most of the kids at Burke. Instead of living in a segregated neighborhood, my family lived in a trailer out in the country. I went to integrated schools until 6th grade and then to predominantly white magnet programs until I graduated. Growing up, I spent an inordinate amount of time on a college campus where my mother was a secretary. Does this account for why I felt no limitations related to race (I felt plenty of limitations related to gender, but that's a story for another day)? Are these kids doomed to always feel like they are on the margins of their own city?

In other news, I saw great documentary on PBS tonight called Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. It's about the construction of black masculinity perpetuated by contemporary rap and hip hop and was really good and eye-opening. I very much recommend it. It also featured some of my favorite contemporary non-fiction writers. I'm going to post about them tomorrow.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

W.E.B. Du Bois: Black Intellectual Extraordinaire

In addition to my daughter's drawings and an autographed photo of Jon Stewart given to me by a student, three pictures grace the walls of my office. One is a poster of the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics. The second is of James Baldwin. And the third is of W.E.B. Du Bois.

Educated at Fisk, Harvard, and the University of Berlin, Du Bois was first and foremost an academic. He was also a writer, editor, sociologist, historian, poet, and civil rights activist. He believed "scientifc study" was the key to solving most of the world's ills (particularly the problem of the color line in the United States and the problem of third world oppression globally) and dedicated his life to this kind of study. For Du Bois, being smart in the world mattered. More than that, being smart obligated you to making a difference. It is his example I think of when I need reminding that I'm not wasting my life away as an academic.

"Teach workers to work, -- a wise saying; wise when applied to German boys and American girls; wiser when said of Negro boys, for they have less knowledge of working and none to teach them. Teach thinkers to think, -- a needed knowledge in a day of loose and careless logic; and they whose lot is gravest must have the carefulest training to think aright. If these things are so, how foolish to ask what is the best education for one or seven or sixty million souls! shall we teach them trades, or train them in liberal arts? Neither and both: teach the workers to work and the thinkers to think; make carpenters of carpenters, and philosophers of philosophers, and fops of fools. Nor can we pause here. We are training not isolated men but a living group of men, -- nay, a group within a group. And the final product of our training must be neither a psychologist nor a brickmason, but a man. And to make men, we must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living, -- not sordid money-getting, not apples of gold. The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame. And all this is gained only by human strife and longing; by ceaseless training and education; by founding Right on righteousness and Truth on the unhampered search for Truth."

Recommended: Souls of Black Folk

Saturday, February 17, 2007

James Baldwin: Witness and Prophet

Okay, so I'm cheating a little bit here. I'm writing a book on James Baldwin and I've already posted my favorite passage from him elsewhere in this blog. But it's my blog and it's genius passage, so I'm going to post it again. From "Autobiographical Notes" in Notes of a Native Son:

"I do not like people who like me because I am a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.

I want to be an honest man and a good writer."

Derrick Bell, legal scholar and writer (and perhaps the subject of tomorrow's post) says that American racism is permanent, yet the fight against racism is both necessary and meaningful. What's great about Baldwin's work is that you see him, over the course of a very long and incredibly prolific career, come to this same conclusion. In his essays we see his hope in the civil rights movement, his belief that racial divides could be crossed. And then we see his grief when that hope his lost, this anger and frustration after King and Malcolm X and Medgar Evers are killed. We watch as he goes from being the darling of American intelligentsia to being the whipping boy of black nationalism. What's particularly compelling to me about Baldwin isn't that his prose is often breathtakingly beautiful and his insights spot on. It's that Baldwin never gives us anything less than an honest view of the world and himself, warts and all. He has no agenda, no ideological drum to beat. Make no mistake--he is political. He wanted civil rights as much as the next black man. But he also wanted to be an honest man and a good writer. And these desires often conflicted. That conflict is there on the page for all of us to see and his work taken as a whole is one of the most brilliant portraits of the artist we have in the Enlgihs language.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Writing from the African Diaspora--Zadie Smith

I love Zadie Smith's work. Her first novel, White Teeth, is set in her native England and explores the rich, complicated, tragic, and hysterical lives of Englishmen and the West Indian and East Indian immigrants who live among them. Like Toure, Smith doesn't shy away from the flaws of her characters, which, as it turns out, makes them much more endearing. Also, like Toure, she writes about race without apology or defense or romance. Her third novel, On Beauty, despite its flaws (she writes about American universities and it's clear she doesn't quite get how they work) is spilling over with Big Ideas and Quirky Characters. And normally that sort of things grates my nerves, but I literally couldn't put this book down. I needed to know how everything turned out for the characters, even the ones who annoyed me. She made me invest emotionally and intellectually in her world. That's exactly what good fiction should do.

I especially love her, though, for this. Zadie Smith on reading:

"But the problem with readers, the idea we’re given of reading is that the model of a reader is the person watching a film, or watching television. So the greatest principle is, 'I should sit here and I should be entertained.' And the more classical model, which has been completely taken away, is the idea of a reader as an amateur musician. An amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That’s the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It’s an old moral, but it’s completely true."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Today In Black History: Black Literature

When I started this I didn't really consider how taxing it would be to come up with a black history post every day. So here's the new plan. Everyday I will bring you a book or author I think you should get to know. One a day for the rest of the month will give you plenty of black literature to keep you busy the rest of the year. Today I bring you one of my favorite contemporary writers.


His stories portray black people in all our beauty and ugliness, in all or greatness and foolishness. Plus they're laugh out loud funny.

Here's an excerpt from "Steviewondermobile," a short story about Huggy Bear Jackson and his car, whose sound system only plays Stevie Wonder music. From the collection Portable Promised Land

So he cruised with Stevie every day. Stevie fit every mood. If he felt upbeat and wanted to groove he pushed button number one and Stevie preached: “Very supa-stish-uuus… write-ings on tha wall…” If he felt sad it was #17: “Lately I have had the strangest feel-ing…” When he had his sweet, late mother on his mind he soothed her memory with #12: “You are the sun-shine of my life… That’s why I’ll always be a-round.” When thinking politics, #73: “A boy is born! In Hardtime, Mississippi! Surrounded by… a world that ain’t so pretty!” Every June first, as the sun sang out and the days got hot, #129: “Ma cher-ee a-mour… love-ly as a summer day!” When he started a new relationship, #97: “Send her your love… with a dozen roses… make sure that she knows it… with a flow-er from your heart.” Yes, he loved Stevie’s entire catalog, even the 80s shlock like Jungle Fever, loved it with the unquestioning devotion the faithful reserve for their God. Huggy Bear was a devout Stevie-ite. To him Stevie was a wise, gifted, mystical being, most definitely from another planet and of another consciousness, part eternal child, part social crusader, part sappy sentimentalist, an unabashed lover of God and women and all things sweet and just. When he cruised down Freedom Ave blasting Stevie he was taking lessons on life. He was meditating. He was praying.

Each Sunday morning Huggy Bear rose with the sun to wash, wax, buff, and pamper his cathedral on wheels. He walked to the gas station to fill his portable can (walking ended up being faster). And then he sat and chose the day’s album, carefully matching it with his mood, spending as much time on this as many women take to get dressed for a big night. When he found the perfect album he laid back, way back, and placed the first finger of his right hand on the bottom of the wheel so that his hand rested between his legs (there was something phallic about it, but he chose not to follow that line of thought). Then he eased away from the curb and cruised into downtown Soul City and onto Freedom Ave, looking for his homeboys Mojo Johnson, Boozoo, and Groovy Lou. They were all Stevie-ites and they all had they own little chapels. Together they would turtle down Freedom Ave, all four rides blasting the same Stevie songs at the same time.

It was essential to ride down Freedom Ave in a pack on a Soul City Sunday afternoon because on a Soul City Sunday afternoon Freedom Ave was awash in music. Everyone in Soul City was devout, but not everyone was a Stevie-ite. At last count there were at least 20 religions in Soul City beside Stevieism: Milesism, Marleyites, Coltranity, the Sly Stonish, the Ellingtonians, Michael Jacksonism, Wu-Tangity, Princian, Rakimism, Mingusity, Nina Simonian, P-Funkist, James Brownism, Billie Holidayites, Monkist, Hendrixity, the Jiggas, the Arethites, Satchmoian, Barry Whiters, and Gayeity. Soul City was a place where God entered through the speakers and love was measured in decibels.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Today in Black History: Celebrate Valentine's Day with Some Black Love

Brian's working tonight, so no music post from him. Instead, I give you a poem, a song, and another poem (and some art) celebrating black love. During Black History Month we focus so much on the struggle and oppression that we forget that black people have lived and loved, have built a life and history and culture.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Seen my lady home las' night,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hel' huh han' an' sque'z it tight,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,
Seen a light gleam f'om huh eye,
An' a smile go flittin' by--
Jump back, honey, jump back.

Put my ahm aroun' huh wais',
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Raised huh lips an' took a tase,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Love me, honey, love me true?
Love me well ez I love you?
An' she answe'd, "'Cose I do"--
Jump back, honey, jump back.
("Negro Love Song" by Paul Laurence Dunbar; art by William Johnson)

Remember back in the day
When everyone was black and conscious.
And down for the struggle.
Love brought us all together.
Just sittin’ back and talkin’.
Cultivating a positive vibe.
Blue lights in the basement.
Freedom was at hand and you could just taste it.
Everything was cool. Diggin’ on me diggin’ on you.
Everything was cool and brothers were singing
"Ain’t no woman like the one I got"
("Digging You Like an Old Soul Record" by Meshell NdegeOcello; art by Dana Chandler)

I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
Taxis, subways,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem's heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day--
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.
("Jukebox Love Song" by Langston Hughes; art by Angela Hermida)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Black Music That Matters

Brian and I wanted to do a black music post in honor of Black History Month. It was to be a joint post until we remembered that we differ wildly in our taste in music (and that I tend to mock what he listens to). Our differing tastes are not that suprising. There's a 12 year age difference between us, as well as very different temperments. Brian spent his adolescence listening to swing and funk, and playing trumpet in a funk band. Funk and swing (and doo wop and Johnny Cash) are mostly what he still listens to. And any new artist he encounters has to satisfy his musician's ear. I, on the other hand, spent my young adulthood listening to grunge and gangsta rap and (oddly) a lot of Paul Simon. I am now a professor of English and bring my love of story and language to the music I listen to. I love lyrics. I also tend to love really really loud guitars and drums.

We both agree, though, that, since they were brought here in chains, black people have used music to speak to and for each other. They have used music to interpret and make sense of the world around them. They have used music to make their mark, to assert their humanity, to remind us that they matter ("I know why the caged bird sings" Paul Laurence Dunbar said; "I'm black and I'm proud" shouted James Brown). Sometimes that music has been profound. Other times it has simply been butt-shaking good. It's always mattered.

That said, we decided to divide the music post in two. I'm going first. Of course any list of this nature is bound to be subjective and reflect little more than the musical preferences of the listmaker. It is also bound to be incomplete. I freely acknowledge this and make no claims otherwise. What I offer here is a list of music by black people that matters to me.

I am in love with think-y, smart, complicated hip hop. Not the nonsense put out by Kanye West or Diddy or anybody waving the flag of the "Dirty South." People like this:

The Roots
Hip hop group extraordinaire from Philadelphia. They are renown for their musicianship (they play their own instruments instead of a "two turntables and a microphone") and intelligence. I recommend their latest Game Theory.

De La Soul
My first hip hop love. De La Soul used sampling as an art, broadened the definition of black masculinity and wrote the best ode to circle jerks I've ever heard. I recommend Three Feet High and Rising.

Tribe Called Quest
Jazzy and smart and *tight* lyrics. Recommended: Low End Theory

The group's leader, Michael Franti, went to Iraq and Afghanistan on his own, and came back with a kick ass protest album, Yell Fire!. Also recommended: Home (featuring the infectious "Love is Da Shit")

Hip hop master and record level exec. His genius Black Album was made even more so when DJ Dangermouse mashed it with the Beatles' White Album (resulting, of course, in the Grey Album)

And let us not forget the women:

Soulful, poetic song stylings from Philadelphia. See Who is Jill Scott?
Sure, there's a lot faux-mysticism in her persona, but her blend of introspective lyrics and funky hip hop grooves is amazing. Mama's Gun is my favorite.

MeShell NdegeOcello
What's not to love about bald black woman playing bass? Or this lyric: "I'm digging you like an old soul record." Plantation Lullabies is genius (and features liner notes from the inestimable Greg Tate).

And black music I keep coming back to:
Did you seem him during the half-time show?! He owned that place. In a downpour no less. In addition to being a great musician, Prince is an amazing storyteller. Have you listened to Purple Rain lately?

Marvin Gaye
What can I say about Marvin Gaye? "Trouble Man" "What's Going On?" "Let's Get it On" "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" "Heard it Through the Grapevine" Marvin Gaye embodies what is great about black music--relevant and smart and you can dance to it.

(Wow. This post took me two hours to write. Sheesh.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Let's Celebrate Whitey Gras

I was going to do a long post about black music, particularly hip hop, that I think you all should be listening to, but then I ran into this and thought I'd share:

Larry Wilmore discusses "Black Trivia Month" and proposes Whitey Gras on "The Daily Show"

Funny funny stuff.

Looking back over the Black History Month entries so far, here's what I'm struck by: I'm sorta snarky and cynical, while Brian is sweet and very sincere. That oughta tell you something about our marriage.

Tune in tomorrow for Conseula's List of Black Music That Matters

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Celebrate Black History: Hug A Black Veteran

(Before we begin, Conseula and I want to say hi to anyone here via Lowcountry Blogs.)

In 1942 the Pittsburgh Courier initiated the Double V campaign. The campaign had two objectives: to achieve victories against the Axis powers abroad, and against racial prejudice at home. This was not the first time African Americans tied full citizenship to military service. During World War I, no less a luminary than W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in the pages of The Crisis, the organ of the NAACP, that blacks should put their domestic grievances aside and to instead focus on the common foe.

Throughout American military history, from the French and Indian War, to our current military adventures in Southwest Asia, African American soldiers have served in uniform. Some rallied to the flag out of patriotic fervor, others, because of the draft, and a few sought to either seek adventure, or learn a marketable trade. All too many joined because in America we equate masculinity and power with physical bravery and physical violence. If these men, who were emasculated everyday of their lives, were able to stand against, and return fire to the French, British, Mexicans, Confederates, Indians, Spanish, Filipinos, Germans, Nazis, Italians, Japanese, North Koreans, Chinese, and North Vietnamese, then surely they were brave men and worthy of our respect.

Over the centuries, millions of African Americans joined the military, marched off to war, killed, died, or were maimed, all with the intention of proving that they were men, and that they deserved all of the rights and privileges of full citizenship. The sad thing is that common respect and courtesy, not to mention civil rights, were their due all along, and instead of receiving the respect and rights that they had thought they'd earned in uniform, too many of them returned to a life of institutional racism.

Today's Black History Minute is devoted to my grandfather August who served in Italy in World War II, my uncles Leonard and August who served respectively in the Merchant Marine, and in the Navy in the same war, to my uncle Smith who served in Viet Nam, and to every black man and woman who was ever called "Nigger" while walking in their hometown while still in uniform.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Today in Black History--Barack Obama isn't black

Apparently I missed the last Meeting of Black Folk, which is too bad because it was a doozy. Quick on the heels of Barack Obama's apparent decision to run for President of the United States, Black Folk have decided that he isn't really black. Because his father is an African immigrant (arriving here in 1959) and his mother is white, he has no claim to "blackness." As Debra Dickerson (author of a truly annoying book called End of Blackness, and no the irony is not lost on me) says in the clip, Obama is like an adopted brother. The suggestion from people who argue against his blackness is that Obama is taking unfair advantage of the cultural cache, the gravitas if you will, that comes from being black in America.

Did I miss two Black Folk meetings? Have I slipped into some alternate reality where being black is some sort of advantage when running for national public office? An advantage so great that you'd claim blackness even though you don't have to?

Of course the love affair with Obama had to end as soon as he threw his hat in the presidential ring. That's not what annoys me here. What annoys me is that of all the things smart black people could be questioning about Obama (like the fact that he voted for the atrocious bankruptcy bill, like the fact that he lacks experience for the office, like the fact that his popularity rests on white America's fascination with people who are just black enough to be titillating), they instead spend their energy arguing that he is not black.

And we wonder why black people aren't taken seriously in national politics.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Today's Black History Minute

Tonight I bring you a fine example of why we need Black History Month. It's so we can prepare people to "just say no" to insanity like this.

You see that chain Sam Jackosn's holding? Christina Ricci is attached to the other end of it, in her underwear. Don't believe me? Check out the trailer on You Tube.

There are no words people. No words.