Sunday, February 25, 2007
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
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
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
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.
Recommended: Souls of Black Folk
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Friday, February 16, 2007
"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
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
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,
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
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:
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:
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?
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
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
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.
Friday, February 09, 2007
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
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.
Just remember you heard about him here first.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
A poster of this photograph graces the wall of my office. It's the first thing people see when they walk in. In grad school I had a photocopy of this picture taped inside the library cubicle where I read for exams.
I love this picture. Not only is it just a powerful image, a beautiful composition, it symbolizes for me much of the dilemma of being black in America.
In 1967, at the height of the black power/black unity movement, amateur black athletes organized the Olympic Project for Human Rights to call for a boycott of the 1968 Olympics. They issued this statement:
“We must no longer allow this country to use a few so called Negroes to point out to the world how much progress she has made in solving her racial problems when the oppression of Afro-Americans in is greater than it ever was. We must no longer allow the sports world to pat itself on the back as a citadel of racial justice when the racial injustices of the sports world are infamously legendary… any black person who allows himself to be used in the above matter is a traitor because he allows racist whites the luxury of resting assured that those black people in the ghettos are there because that is where they want to be. So we ask why should we run in Mexico only to crawl home?”
What's a black Olympic level athlete supposed to do in this situation? Because of course the OPHR is right. We still point to black success in college and porfessional sports as a sign of progress, even when so many other signs point to the contrary. But, then again, some athletes, like Tommie Smith and John Carlos, believed that they were black men *and* athletes. And not just athletes, they were runners. They were in full support of the cause of OPHR, but they also knew they'd never be that fast again. How could they not compete?
They medaled in their event and then stood barefoot on the medal stand and gave the black power salute. Then the US Olympic Committee stripped them of their medals and evicted them from the Olympic Village.
And the white guy in the picture? Australian runner and silver medalist Peter Norman. He wore an OPHR badge in support of the athletes. He was ostracized in Australia, failed to make the 1972 team (despite coming in third in trials) and became a depressed, heavy drinker. He died last year. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were pallbearers at his funeral.
You can read more about here.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Funny, snarky, smart blog maintained by two self-proclaimed Afrogeeks (yeah, I borrowed the name from them). Consider this recent comment about the much overrated film "Hustle and Flow" :
Check them out.
This site is legend in our house because it's the only piece of performance art Brian and I have both loved. (It may, in fact, be the only piece of performance art Brian has ever liked.) Go read it and then tell me the Democrats don't owe Barak Obama some rental fees.
3. Black Superhero Museum
Brian spends an inordinate amount of time here. Everything you ever wanted to know about every black superhero created since the dawn of time.
4. New and Notes
NPR's "black" news show (though, of course, no one actually says this). Get a regular dose of smart black people talking about something other than hip hop and the "n-word" (not that there's anything wrong with that).
5. Avery Center
For those of you who are local--an amazing archive/museum right in our own backyard. Their mission in their own words: to collect, preserve, and document the history and culture of African Americans in Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry.
6. Black Heritage in Charleston
And if, after you've visited Avery, you have the urge to see more real live black people in our own backyard, the above site provides you with ample links cool places to visit.
And there we are. We're all caught up. See you tomorrow.
Monday, February 05, 2007
I hate the people at work. Not my co-workers, they don't suck too much, but the customers, pee-yew! Mind you, it's not all the customers, just that select few who endear themselves to you in a manner that reminds you of an angry, red, pulsating boil on the back of your neck.
Okay, let's start McCann's Field Guide to People Who Get Under My Skin Like a Tropical Fungus.
1. The Cell Phone People. I fully understand that retail people are untermenchen who don't deserve common courtesy. While some might consider it rude to take a call in the middle of a conversation, the cell phone people don't have a problem taking any call, no matter how trivial. Listen up cell phone people! Go ahead, take your call. Please don't be upset if I turn on my heel and walk away while you're on the phone. You might not realize that I have a number of tasks that I have to complete every day. My raises and continued employment are dependent on my completion of those tasks, not on my standing there, grinning like Buster Brown's dog, Tige, while you talk to your friend about how gassy the sardines made you.
2. The Researchers. Researchers are those people who confuse a bookstore with a library. No, we don't have last quarter's American Sociological Review. No, we don't have this quarter's issue either. This is a book store. We sell stuff. I can guarantee you that, other than you, no one is coming in to buy professional or trade periodicals. They want to find out if Jennifer Aniston's boobs are real, not the results of Ball State University's research on the effects of merit pay for nurses.
Wait, don't go, I'm not done with you yet. In answer to your question, yes, we DO have a copier, and it's a very nice one, but you can't use it. Again, this is a book store, we're trying to sell books. I know, you only want a few pages out of a forty dollar book. I sympathize with you. I wouldn't like to pay forty dollars for four pages either. That's why I go to the LIBRARY to do my research. At the LIBRARY you can borrow books and not have to pay for them. What's more, the library is chock-full of copiers. You can copy stuff until your eyes bleed. Also, you might not realize it, but a library has a greater collection of books than any bookstore could possibly boast. With a library you can take advantage of inter-library loan. Bookstores might seem like they have more books, but the truth is that they have greater quantities of fewer titles.
Another thing researchers, if you're coming in just to do research, and you have no intention of buying anything other than a cup of coffee and a scone, then don't ask me to help. You're keeping me from actual paying customers, and you're keeping me from doing tasks assigned to me by the great book gods in New York. Remember the LIBRARY? At the LIBRARY there are these folks called REFERENCE LIBRARIANS. Reference Librarians actually have advanced degrees in helping people find materials on rice v. sugar cane agriculture in the antebellum South.
Finally, if you're going to get a stack of books that you don't intend to buy, don't just leave them where ever you happen to be sitting. I don't expect you to re-shelve them, but I would appreciate it if you had the common decency to put the stack on the customer service desk and not on the floor in the men's room, or between the cushions of the armchair.
I'm starting to ramble, but that's what we crotchety old men do best. I'll do another post soon.
Friday, February 02, 2007
So here goes:
What the kids at Clemson did was racist.
What Biden said about Obama was racist.
[long deleted rant]
I had a bunch of other stuff I was going to say and it was incoherent and ranty and probably best left inside my head. It's quite possible that I'm too worked up about all of this to speak rationally. I'll just end with this:
Racism isn't always a hooded figure burning a cross or mob hanging a black man from a tree. Sometimes it's simply people revealing that black people are nothing more than figments of their imagination, figures from their nightmares (to borrow a phrase from Ellison). To pretend otherwise is dishonest and dangerous and hurtful.