Monthly Archives: August 2011

Love on Top

When Beyonce Knowles revealed in the most spectacular way the news that she and Jay-Z were expecting a little one, reactions from the people were varied. Y’all can be mad funny actin sometimes…

In my house, there were smiles and squeals of joy for a happy couple. A happy, married, Black couple — a singer and a rapper, no less — who shared with the world news of the little life their love had created. Across the twittosphere, there was the snark and irreverence that we’ve come to expect. But also, there was glee and hosts of folks congratulating Bey and Jay, knowing full well that neither Bey nor Jay would ever even read their lil tweets o’love and congratulations. Those people didn’t care though. They seemed genuinely happy for these two. Genuinely happy for the seemingly solid relationship they’ve built and reinforced through creating life together.

Look how she looks at him. He's the only one she sees.

The “great reveal of 2011” was definitely a dope moment. In the beginning, I wondered why Beyonce The Silhouette Knowles would perform at the VMAs in all those clothes. Why wasn’t there more pyrotechnics and wind and more hair slinging? Why was she goin hard, but not nearly as hard as we’d come to expect from ol Bey?

Then she dropped the mic. And rubbed that belly, and it all made sense. And to top it off, there was the expression on her face.

This, my friends, is elation. You can’t take it away from her, and you can’t keep us from feeling it through the screen.

And there was Jay’s reaction, too.

Peep the salute.

This, my friends, is pride. Not braggadocio for a material thing whose luster will fade in time. This is Man acknowledging and affirming his Mrs., and their young’n.

As far as we know, Jay-Z and Beyonce have been together nearly 10 years, and married for 3. That’s married. Not engaged. Not something similar to marriage, but married. Wedding rings. Vows. “…forsaking all others” and shit. So there’s something to be said for that kind of longevity between two über-stars. Their star power individually is eleventybillion volts. Thus, sharing that kind of power could have spelled disaster early. But it didn’t. Because people who want to be together will eventually work it out, becoming a far more formidable force together, than they would be apart. Nothing’s perfect but its worth it…

I don’t usually get caught up in who’s marrying who, and who else is having Lil Wayne’s baby. But I admit to loving these two, and to loving watching their relationship flourish. They’ve been so private for so long, which probably is why they’ve been successful and seemingly happy as a celebrity couple. We don’t know everything, and we don’t need to know everything. We can share in their felicity, but we don’t have to live vicariously through them. For this reason, that they shared such an intimate gift so publicly felt like a *Jigga Salute* to fans, who have respected their space and rooted for them from afar.

Finally, let me disabuse this chauvinist assumption that Bey is now in the clear because she done landed herself a good, rich man. Lest you forget, like Shawn Carter, Beyonce Knowles is a brand. An enterprise. She was on her way before she began a relationship with Jay-Z, and her stock will likely continue to rise for as long as she does what she’s done to make good on her own name. See that?

She does what she’s done to make good on her name.

Beyonce is just about as self-made as her man. They are equally yoked. Even if there’s a hundred million dollar difference between them, she’s still in the hundred million dollar club. In other words, Jay may wear the pants, but she wears the pumps. It’s a perfect match. In fact, I don’t know that any other romantic situation is possible for these two. What single woman (I mean “single” woman as opposed to “harem” of women) could capture the attention and affections of a rapper mogul, but a femme mogul-in-the-making? Perhaps Kim Porter knows. Perhaps, but probably not.

Beyonce doesn’t “need” Jay-Z to take care of her; she doesn’t “need” any man to. She acquiesces because he captured her attention and affections too. Folks criticized “4” for being…I don’t know…I don’t know what folks expected it to be. What it sounds like to me, though, is a familiar Beyonce meme: celebration of womanhood. “Girls Run the World” sends a powerful message about the strength of femininity.

My persuasion can build a nation…

Boy you know you love it how we’re smart enough to make these millions/strong enough to bear the children/then get back to business.

I love that.

But “4” also succeeds in celebrating grown ass decisions about love and happiness. “I Care,” “1+1,” “I Miss You,” “Best Thing I Never Had,” and “Start Over” lead us lovingly into “Countdown,” “End of Time,” “Rather Die Young,” and finally, “Love on Top.” “4” definitely feels like Beyonce’s baby. And parts of it feel like a love letter to her husband. It really seems fitting that the only entity able to eclipse the Knowles-Carter shooting star would be the little fella or the little lady they created together. Talk about Love on Top.


Wake Up, Stay Woke.

Tuskegee University, my *first* alma mater. My first love.

I ran across this piece on education from The New York Times:  “Do We Spend Too Much on Education?”  The author questions whether the economic cost of education is worth the promise that “it’ll all pay off” eventually.  He argues:

For some people in some careers, some colleges may be worth the price they charge. But millions of other people are paying more than quadruple what their parents paid 25 years ago (plus inflation) for a vague credential, not much knowledge or skills, and a crippling amount of debt.

So unless you’re a doctor or a scientist, your college degree is little more than a “vague credential.”

Not to be remiss in understating the full value of college education, the author reminds us that “… learning should be done throughout life, and technology creates more ways to learn every year.”  You don’t need the “antiquated debt-fueled luxury” of  the college classroom! You can learn everything you need to know from the #innernets. But what if your spectrum of knowledge is already limited?  What if all you know how to do on a computer is check your facebook page, and play solitaire when the comcast bill doesn’t get paid?  What if you’re 23 and you need to compose an email to see a man about a job.  And you haven’t a clue what to do once the internet explorer finishes loading on your dial-up connection.

This visual might seem extreme to you, but I promise I’m not engaging in hyperbole to oversell the point.  This is real life and I’ve witnessed the education struggle first-hand.  Imagine being post-college age and not knowing the difference between city and state.  Continent and country.  Africa and New Jersey.  Education in America failed somewhere.  And it appears it happened well before the recruiters from University of X showed up in high school cafeterias, flaunting their college-boy elitism.

Our values have changed.  What we value has changed.  I wrote recently about the price of entertainment, which at present, seems to occur at the expense of knowledge.  I concluded that our collective desire to be coddled by amusement supersedes our hunger for information.  And so, “Molly.  We in danja, girl.”  Adding fuel to this fire, it’s now permissible to challenge the “value” of the education itself, instead of questioning why it costs so much.  And perhaps, why the education we receive won’t fit the workforce we enter.  No, no.  That would be too much like right, as they say where I’m from.  Better that we nix the concept of college altogether, and save ourselves the debt.

Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The college experience is about learning as much as you can, and preparing as best you can for a bright future.  Countless mamas have declared over the decades that they don’t want their babies to struggle the way they did.  And without exceptional talent, exceptional ingenuity, blessings from above or wherever, or a Midas touch, education was the single best way to combat strife.  I mean, you mighta still struggled, but at least you met it armed, as opposed to fear-struck and stuck.

College isn’t just about what you learn in class.  It’s about what you learn having a roommate for the first time.  Living away from your parents.  Living away from the comforts you’ve always known.  It’s about learning that you probably shouldn’t drink that much bad liquor if you don’t want to feel that shitty the morning after.  It’s about learning the definitions of consequence and responsibility through youthful trial and error.  And learning that nobody has to treat you special just because you’re you — you were a big fish in a small pond.  And now that the pool is bigger, you must be that much more extraordinary to be considered extraordinary.  College is about transforming the invincibility of your teenage years into the humility that must accompany the rest of your life’s journey.  Because in college, you learn that everything you know isn’t everything there is to know.  And that challenging you culturally, emotionally, and intellectually, while equipping you with advanced knowledge is valuable in a way that transcends money, and eclipses fear of debt.

Cornel West’s opinion piece published today in The New York Times, gets right at the heart of how virtue in American values has devolved.  Professor West writes:

…Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists….King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

Whole lotta college words in there, ain’t it?  However, don’t miss the power of  West’s prose because you’re too lazy to learn the meaning of a new word.  He’s saying wake up.  In fact, he’s screaming it like Laurence Fishburne’s character did at the end of School Daze.  Understand that they understand you’re too distracted by everything else to recognize the wool is being pulled slowly but surely over your glazed-over eyes.  Your intellectual curiosity is dulled by fear and irreverence.  In other words, you don’t need college because you’ll be “crippled” by debt.  And you’ll likely get drunk and have a hangover in class anyway.  So why bother?

Fam, your ambition is misdirected.  You think you can “make it” if you can just get that bullshit youtube video of you doing some bullshit to go viral.  And you can, and it might!  But consider this:  what are you offering for public consumption?  What are you leaving as your legacy?  What, of yours, are future generations building on?  Some bullshit.  And that’s ok with you because at least you made it.

Learning from the accumulation of information available on the internet is not the same as practicing the wherewithal  to understand, and apply, and critique and build on said information.  These skills are sharpened and refined by the college experience, by the kind of knowledge that is acquired in college.  Neil Gabler explains it well in his piece also from The New York Times, The Elusive Big Idea“.  College is about so much more than the classroom lecture and the decreeing of the “vague credential.”

Coming Out: A Year Later

Folks came outta the woodwork with support. It meant the world to me. Thank you.

One year ago today I chose to endure whatever uncertainty lay ahead — whatever comforts I might lose, and the relationships that might be forever bruised so that I could live an authentic life.

My heart beat so fast, and determined as I was to say what I needed to say, the words felt stuck at every turn — in my chest, in my throat, on the tip of my tongue.  But I needed to say them.  I couldn’t go another second  in that closet.

And inauthenticity is that.  closet.  It’s stifling.  You can’t spread your wings in there.  You can’t blossom.

Telling my mom that I was “for all intents and purposes, gay” was the hardest conversation I’d ever had with anyone.  It was awkward.  And when she hung up on me, I knew that our relationship would never be the same.

But coming out to my parents was a necessary risk.  I’d grown exhausted with hiding parts of my life — significant parts and significant people, and the significant experiences we’d shared.  I’d built relationships that I was grateful for, and proud of.  But for years, I sacrificed celebrating the full joy of those relationships, fearful that my folks would find out.

The catalyst for my coming out day was a question about why I didn’t own any dresses or skirts.  My mom was aggressive in her incredulity about what, then, did I wear to work?  What did I wear on special occasions?  ”I don’t wear dresses,” I said.  In that moment, that statement affirmed for me and about me so much more than a sartorial choice.  I wasn’t the woman my mom had expected me to be, and the time had come for me to say that.  Coming out was about telling the truth — my truth.  For me, “I don’t wear dresses” also meant, “Mama, I like girls.”  I was breaking the ice.

My double life jig was up.  My parents needed to know the truth and I needed to live in the light, like, all the time.  I needed to not need to change my phone’s wallpaper every time I went home.  I needed to not need to explain why I was at Her house again, or why She was always with me.  I needed to not have to worry about whether a picture I posted, or something I said seemed suspect.

Every time I switched pronouns or pretended lovers were only friends for the sake of maintaining comfortable conversations, I devalued the sincerity of my emotions.  I reinforced the notion that there was something about my feelings that was shameful, that what I’d shared with the women I’d dated was less special because we were two girls.  Hiding was a personal conflict I could no longer ignore.  Love feels too good to not share and show off a little.  But how real could it be if I wouldn’t risk a little consternation to tell the world, “Nah, that’s my lady.  She’s much, much more than just my friend.”

I determined in a moment that I couldn’t concern myself with what “they” might think.  It was a gut check;  I wasn’t fit to live the life I’d envisioned for myself if I punked out when the road got rough.  Greatness requires the guts to withstand trial long enough to reap the triumph.  If I wasn’t willing to stand up for who I am, and protect who I love, then I didn’t deserve to be great.

I still struggle with anger and resentment at my parents’ reactions.  Although my dad handled things better than my mom,  his worldview and mine clash too, sometimes.  So, to say it’s been “difficult” this last year would be a gross understatement, as all of my strength has been tested.  And while the best lesson my mama ever taught me had to be learned at her expense, I am grateful I got it.  I know without question that there is nothing “wrong” with me, or the way I think, or the way I feel.

I’m glad I came out.  In fact, if I had to do it all over again knowing how difficult it would be and how much pain it would cause, I’d make the same choice I did last year.  I am stronger emotionally and spiritually because of that choice.  I am free because of it.

Obama vs. The Ambassadors of Blackness

What's the situation with the professor's teeth though?

I can’t let the bandwagon lambasting of Professor Cornel West and Tavis Smiley go unchallenged.  Nor can I accept the berating of liberals and progressives who are expressing their disappointment with President Obama.

Firstly, President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress of 2008-2010 shared some great victories.  They passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and raised the minimum wage.  In response to the implosion of the global economy as a result of predatory banking practices, they created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enacted a series of stiff financial industry reforms and regulations,  and resuscitated an automobile industry that was about 20 minutes from being dead on arrival.  The Democrat-led Congress passed Health Care Reform, which will extend affordable healthcare to millions of Americans.  Health Care Reform also makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny individuals coverage based on pre-existing conditions.  For the record “pre-existing conditions” can be serious illnesses like heart disease or cancer, and they can be as petty as a previous ankle sprain that never quite healed.  So beginning in 2014, if you need medical coverage, you can still be eligible for it instead of restricted from it because you caught some pre-existing bad luck.

The Obama administration also ended the cowardly and immature Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.  And coincidentally, they’ve stated publicly that they will support a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   This means that the federal government will extend to legally married same-sex couples the same benefits and protections provided to heterosexual married couples.  All in all, the President has been highly successful on progressive issues.

But President Obama still is not above constructive criticism.  Much has been made of Tavis Smiley’s and Cornel West’s rebukes of Obama’s policies as they relate to the poor, and specifically, to Black Americans.  When I say “much has been made,” what I mean is much shit has been talked, and much mud has been slung at Smiley and West.  The cynic in us is convinced that these brothers believe they are self-appointed ambassadors of Blackness who can and will criticize the Black president without flinching — but mostly for the purpose of furthering their own interests.

The headline that surfaced on the Huffington Post this week, “Tavis Smiley:  Obama Is the First President Who Hasn’t Invited Me To White House” doesn’t help in putting the Smiley-West Self-Aggrandizement theory to rest.  But perhaps I can get you to see this differently.  I posted an article recently on President Obama’s reluctance to deal directly with the role race plays in American society, and in his Presidency.  I see his resistance (either willful or unintentional) toward Smiley and West as part of his and our discomfort in talking about race.

For all their shortcomings, neither Professor West nor Tavis Smiley has ever minced words in describing the plight of the poor, and exposing the disparities that continue to hold Blacks back.  Now, if in your mind you intend to hit me with a personal accountability/responsibility retort, let me reassure you:  A case can certainly be made asserting that “The Man” has raised his boot up off your neck some.  That notwithstanding, the wealth gap between Blacks and whites continues to grow.  Black unemployment today sits somewhere around 16%, while “general” joblessness hovers at 9%.  Projected figures show Black unemployment soaring to 20% by 2012.  Soooo…yeah…

If I hear another person hop up on their post-racial soapbox to inform me that President Obama is President “of ALL of America and not just Black America,” I’m not sure what heinous act of defiance might package my response.  But it will be heinous, and it will be defiant.  I took my rose-colored glasses back to the unattainable utopia store a couple years ago, and so I am well aware that Obama must govern as a “pragmatist,” and a centrist who pretends to be color-blind.  Thus, holding a fried chicken and watermelon summit with Cornel West and Tavis Smiley talking 20% Black unemployment succeeds in making the color-blind see, and it forces us to delve into the clusterfuck that is American race relations. Because either there is something inherently wrong with people of color that renders them incapable of “succeeding” at the same level as whites, or there is something amiss structurally/institutionally that is worth exploring.

Finally, conventional centrist rhetoric likes to reassure the people that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  In other words, economic policies that benefit the majority of the people also will benefit Black people (and poor people and Latino people, etc.).  I suppose the inverse of that is the proverb, “when America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu.”  I mean, do you treat your cold the same way you treat your flu?  Will some chicken soup and a few “feel betters” soothe your fever and body aches?  Or are you at CVS in your robe and slippers looking for the Thera-flu — the joint that will remedy your shit directly?

Professor West and Tavis Smiley acknowledge without apology that cats don’t have the sniffles anymore.  This financial flu is full-blown in Black America and it’s spreading like gossip on my granny’s block.  Obama’s allegiance to the illusion of compromise and political pragmatism essentially has him prescribing Flintstones vitamins — the gummy kind — to cure what ails us.  And that shit’s not good enough.  Obama is brilliant and charming and handsome, and he undoubtedly is the best choice going into Election 2012.  But he deserves this criticism.  And I’m not mad at West and Smiley for giving it.

**For the record, I refuse to speak on Steve Harvey’s contributions to this discussion.  That cat is a coon, and coon opinions don’t count. You don’t see anyone trying to pen down Soulja Boy’s feelings on the subject either, do you?**

The Price of Entertainment

Re-redistributing the Wealth.

In recent months, I’ve been branded a “serious” person.  I suppose it’s because, in spite of myself, I get turned on by big words and political debates.  I watch documentaries about World Wars and the commercialization of food — I use phrases like “the commercialization of food.”  I think I can comfortably assume that when folks characterize someone as “serious,” they do so with little or no ill-intention.  They mean to distinguish you from the masses for whom everyday life out in the world is serious enough — the people who choose not to compound their personal problems with foreign peoples’ shit or U.S. Congressional back and forth over some arbitrary issue.  Life is hard out here, y’all.  And folks really just wanna be entertained.

But entertainment in lieu of information comes with a hefty price tag.    If we were capable of both, I’d bypass my soapbox  and turn to The Bachelorette to keep up with pop culture.  But we aren’t capable of both.  How else do you account for Flavor of Love?  Soulja Boy?  Kim Kardashian?  And what the fuck is a Bad Girls Club?  What’s so special about them that they get to be on tv?  Who are these hoes    “bad girls”?

I firmly believe that life and art are symbiotically related; they feed off one another, for better or for worse.    There was a time when artistry was defined by the voice it gave to the reality its artists lived.  Jazz from Black musicians during the 40s was syncopated rebellion against inequality and discrimination, and upbeat swing that might lead you to believe shit was actually cool for folks.  Likewise, the condition of urban life in some of America’s best known cities gave birth to hip hop music and hip hop culture.  Brothas and sistas rapped about selling dope, and about “gang banging” to survive and to establish some semblance of family and protection, because this was the life they knew — the only life they knew.  There are some contemporary moments that hearken back to that era, too.  On Say Hello from the American Gangster album, Jay-Z’s like:

 We aint thugs for the sake of just bein thugs/nobody do that where we grew at, nigga duh/the poverty line we not above, so out come the mask and gloves cause we aint feelin the love/ we aint doin crime for the sake of doin crimes/ we movin dimes cause we aint doin fine/one outta three of us is locked up doin time/you know what that type of shit can do to a nigga’s mind…

There was once substance in what also entertained us.  And where there was substance, there existed the potential for information and education.  It appears that what drives us now is our need to be entertained.  We live to see manufactured drama unfold, to watch cats shuck and jive for our limited attention spans.  “Reality” tv shows, for example, aren’t even shows about real people anymore.  Their casts are now chock full of caricatures of personalities, which must include:  the promiscuous gay guy; the kinda sorta lesbian that will do it to a dude given the right vodka proof; the bitch; the Black; the loose white girl; the one who’s a little off and might have some undealt-with mental/emotional situations, and the white boy (who is either country-boy-virginal, or frat-boy-asshole — there are no in betweens in reality tv).  This isn’t the real world; it’s a real-type world created for our amusement.

Last week, someone tweeted this Daily Show clip of Don Lemon lamenting that the news network he reports for — the “most trusted name in news” —  severely shorts its trustworthiness with attempts to entertain intermingled with its job to inform.

I get Lemon’s irritation.  Because it’s all fun and games until you get hoodwinked by the shuck and jive.  And that’s the price we pay.  We get exhausted at the notion of learning something new, and disenchanted with intellectual curiosity.  We get so wrapped up in what happens in fake life that we can barely come up for air when real life lays in the balance.  I’m a political scientist, and I have a fetish for learning so I admit to being a bit biased.  However, I don’t have to be either of those things to notice that what I don’t know, can most certainly hurt me.

I wrote last week about the debt ceiling debate that had been unnecessarily holding our economy hostage.  Let me be clearer about that:  it was Republicans holding the economy hostage, and it was a Republican ideologically-oriented “deal” that was passed to avert another economic disaster.  It’s important to know this because the economic forecast as a result of the passage of the “bipartisan” deal is cloudy than a muthafucka.  Yesterday, the markets plummeted in reaction, and today our nation sits at the precipice of recession 2.0.  If and when the shit hits the fan is too late to remember that you voted for the people who made these decisions.  Or that you didn’t vote for the people who would have made different ones (which, in essence, was a vote for your opposition).

Either way, the lesson going forward should be:  you can watch what happens live, but you must also watch what happens — to our lives — when our collective desire for a court jester supersedes our collective desire to know shit.