Monthly Archives: January 2012

It’s a Celebration, Bitcheeees!

The word of the day is OPULENCE! Because I'm on that.

I can never understand how folks don’t wanna flip the wold on its head to celebrate their birthdays.  I also can never understand why other folks get so sensitive about those of us who do.  “It aint no national holiday, nigga,” they say.

Oh, oh, oh but it is.  To me it is.

The day you were born isn’t just another day for the routine.  It’s the anniversary of the day you entered the world – the day you became eligible for greatness.

Imagine if you didn’t have a birthday to celebrate.  Imagine if you were never born; imagine the experiences you wouldn’t have had and the people you wouldn’t have met.  Isn’t that sad?  Birthdays are for celebrating the fact that you’re here.  And that alone is an awesome blessing.

Today is my motherfucking birthday.  It is the Age of Aquarius.  It’s our time of year and our time in human history.  And by ‘our,’ you should know I mean ‘my.’  I see this time as the Age of Enlightenment, Part Deux.  We embrace diversity, we solicit science and reason, and we are undeterred in imagining and accomplishing great things.  We get to celebrate new thoughts, new ideas, and new opportunities to make our world better.

On this birthday and the days that follow, I plan to enjoy decadence and debauchery as much as possible.  And I plan to answer all challenges to my authority with “because it’s my birthday” followed by a *this is not debatable* face.

It feels so good to be alive, and to be happy.  I couldn’t be more grateful.

Finally, on this birthday and in the years that follow, I plan to continue my life’s work:  being as dope as humanly possible.

We gon take it to the moon, take it to the stars / how many people you know can take this far / I’m super-charged / we bout to take this whole thing to Mars…

Lift off!


Thanks, Booker T., for Red Tails

Booker T. Washington flexing with his distinguished friends, including the President of Harvard University at far right.

I purchased my ticket to see Red Tails yesterday! It’s the story of the first Black pilots to fly under the banner of the U.S. armed forces. They were the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477 Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps, and they served in a segregated U.S. Army during World War II. They trained at my and my father’s alma mater, Tuskegee Institute, right on Moton Field. They were known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Or like that proud, awestruck Black man working on the chain gang says in the HBO original movie, The Tuskegee Airmen, “they’s colored flyers…”

The tiny act of typing that last paragraph gave me goosebumps, as I’m a very proud Tuskegee University alumna. The mainstream release of the Tuskegee Airmen story recalls the roles Tuskegee University (then Tuskegee Institute), and its founder, Booker T. Washington, played in America at the turn of the 20th century.

And it recalls the debate about Booker T. Washington in which I find myself engaged at least every couple of years. Was Washington’s accommodationism, given the social, political, and cultural environment in which he thrived – the deeply segregated Deep South – really detrimental to Black social progress? I mean, did he even have any other choice?

Booker T. Washington has been excoriated for his philosophy on Black mobility, and his remarks given at The Cotton States and International Exposition held in Atlanta, Georgia in 1895, before a predominantly white audience. It’s a complicated address – a delicate balance between uplifting southern Blacks, but it is also careful not to be so aspirational as to inconvenience and discomfort southern whites. The following passage, for example, works hard to convey that Black folks shol’ ‘preciated whatever olive branches had been extended their way by good white folks. Washington coos:

I but convey to you, Mr. President and Directors, the sentiment of the masses of my race when I say that in no way have the value and manhood of the American Negro been more fittingly and generously recognized than by the managers of this magnificent Exposition at every stage of its progress. It is a recognition that will do more to cement the friendship of the two races than any occurrence since the dawn of our freedom.

Ol’ Booker laid it on thick; Washington either had the optimism of a man who had seen hide nor hair of racism before, or he was an astute politician greasing the necessary wheels and stroking the necessary egos to build the “Tuskegee Machine.” Washington goes on to say, “Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we began at the top instead of at the bottom…” Jay-Z echoes a similar sentiment in contemporary terms on 99 Problems:

…if you grew up with holes in your zapatos/you’ll celebrate the minute you was having dough. Or the freedom to taste a little bit of power, in BTW’s view.

To be sure, aint nothing wrong with being at the bottom and wanting to rush to the top when opportunity presents itself. The culture of the south in the late 1800s, however, was one hardly supportive of the lofty ambitions of a group so historically maligned, whose potential for greatness was so casually dismissed. To that end, Washington offered the following proscription against looking beyond one’s own hand for help: Cast down your buckets where you are.

Furthermore, he advises,

To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition … I would say: “Cast down your bucket where you are”— cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded…To those of the white race … were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labour wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South.

I admit it’s a complicated idea to grasp. He asks that we put aside our differences, thus ensuring our mutual economic benefit, to wit “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” White people weren’t trying to kick it with us in shared space; integration wasn’t some shit they were trying to hear. Washington’s approach is this: Dear Mr. Charlie, you don’t have to like us, but you’ll respect our ability to cooperatively make money. And also: Dear brothers and sisters, there is infinite honor and infinite power in earning the money you spend – on your own terms. He notes that:

It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house.

Washington spoke of economic self-determination for Black Americans. And he spoke to white Americans in terms they could understand and process — economic power. Supporting the prosperity of Black Americans didn’t only benefit Black Americans. Our fates were intertwined.

Washington wasn’t opposed to social and political progress on its face. Rather, he saw economic prosperity as the first step in the march toward equality. And that’s really not all that inflammatory an approach. Would it work for all time? Absolutely not. However, Washington’s efforts, his accommodation at that time and in that place, created a powerful network of educators, entrepreneurs, and political and community leaders whose contributions to American history would last well beyond him ingratiating Jim Crow. What’s that adage about teaching a man to fish?

But what do I know? I’m just a girl who loves her Crimson and Old Gold.

Support the legacy.


MLK Day

I chose this photo because I love the intensity in MLK's eyes. He'd seen the promised land; he was born for this work.

As we know, the good old 1950s and 60s weren’t so good for Black folks.  Somebody needed to do something, and it had to be done in a way that would rally national support for kicking Jim Crow in the nuts.

By the way, ever wondered who this cat, Crow, was? I thought so.

His name was Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a.k.a “Daddy,” a.k.a. “T.D,” an actor and comedian living in New York. One day, Rice came across a crippled, slavish-looking Black dude who was singing and dancing to this song:

“Come listen all you galls and boys,
I’m going to sing a little song,
My name is Jim Crow.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow.”

Later, in 1828, Rice appeared on stage in blackface makeup as “Jim Crow,” an exaggerated version of the guy he saw on the street. The act became so successful that within a few years, the “Jim Crow” character was a staple in minstrel shows across the country.

So that’s how it started.

The “Jim Crow” south, however, was a different motherfucker altogether. It’s synonymous with the second most degrading part of Black American history — where folks were “free,” but were they though? I mean, really. Pools got drained if little brown toes were dipped in them. Pools … drained. Cats were superstars, and weren’t allowed to enter the front doors of their venues. Not that they needed some obscure entrance because of their stardom; they weren’t allowed in the front door. Did Dorothy Dandridge really have to pee in a Dixie cup? Was that just a rumor…cause she was so fly…that woulda been terrible… or maybe it’s most degrading. One could certainly make the argument.

At any rate, Jim Crow laws were the manifestation of separate but absolutely unequal with respect to racial integration. Blacks on one side, whites on the other … and never the twain shall meet. We know equality doesn’t work that way. The culture and psychology of white supremacy that made slavery an institution had been inculcated; it was part of us.  There would be no possibility for separate and equal when nearly every aspect of American life reinforced the idea that Blacks were, in every way that mattered socially, inferior to whites. The psychology of equality, and thus, any real concept of equality, was absent like shit as black codes spread like wildfire across the country.

For this reason, it won’t matter at all that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first woman to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. What matters is that she did. And she did that day. In fact, I’m not even sure Ms. Parks was about that protest life like that. But I imagine it was the kind of emotion like that embodied in the following photo that swelled pride in Ms. Parks’ chest, and lit her lil flame:


Not that she’s a man, of course. But that she was mankind, human being — one who gets tired, who needs to sit, and who’s value is as much as anyone else’s.

What’s beautiful about Dr. King rising to this occasion, and to the kind of timeless influence and acclaim that earned him a spot on the National Mall, is his unwavering faith in the righteousness of Civil Rights. He believed that the freedom to live out one’s boundless human potential is a gift that isn’t man-made. And neither is it a gift that man, in his arbitrary determinations of human worth, gets to take away. Dr. King was able to wrest control of national attention.  He provided a mirror big enough for the world to see us, and for America to see itself — to see clearly that the Americans who frequented high society functions in New York were the same Americans bussin’ brothas upside the head in Birmingham.  There wasn’t a rug anywhere big enough to hide that much dirt.  We had a race problem, and let’s be honest, the world had a race problem.  The difference was that the U.S. defended dignity everywhere except under its own nose.  We had a race problem, and needed to be shamed into dealing with it.  But if the ends justify the means, well then…

That notwithstanding, for as much as the militant side of me is militant as fuck

….I can acknowledge that freedom, equality and all of that are universal values. They are God-given and people can find common ground there. I also can accept that you have to give folks a chance. Offer ’em a Billy Martin* and hope they see the light get it right. Perhaps the upside to such an act of benevolence is that, remember, the myths aren’t true. So one can be sure that when he or she does need to pull the race card, shit’s warranted it. Think “teachable moments.”

Sometimes there are excellent exceptions, and folks see the light get it right without much persuasion. The MLK monument on the Mall is one of those times. No matter his nuances, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great American. His life changed the course of this country, and probably the course of history.  The Civil Rights Movement was a force of good for the world.  That’s not to say, of course, someone else might have done it if Dr. King hadn’t, or that he didn’t have an enormous supporting cast helping along the way. What can be said, however, is that Dr. King stepped into the spotlight and wore the responsibility like no one else. He knew the risks, saw the storm, and walked toward it.  I salute that. Moreover, Dr. King’s effigy on the National Mall, among such American luminaries as Lincoln and FDR, makes the statement that we, as a country, salute that kind of courage.

I’m happy to have this day to reflect on how a single life can make such a profound impact on the world.  To be sure, the monument to Dr. King is symbolic of progress, which is, lest we forget, a quality of American history we can all be proud of.


5 Things I Hate About 2012 Politics

In advance of the punditry sure to bubble up and over in the next several months, I’ve gone ahead and drawn my line in the sand. What follows below are issues that will likely play a significant role in the 2012 election. I loathe them, and I thought you ought to know about it.

Apathy

You’re “disappointed” with politics. You’re sick of selecting “the lesser of two evils.” You feel like government is “corrupt” with a gang of “career politicians.”

You know who’s to blame? You are. Because Citizens United is barely a toddler, and all the high-office offenses which guide your disaffection with politics, are remedied by you –your political consciousness, your political presence, and your political action. Action via apathy in this regard is inertia. It’s spinning your wheels and chasing your tail; it’s a way to get you nowhere fast. In other words, let it be known for all time that closed mouths don’t get fed. It would behoove you to speak up.

Voter Disenfranchisement Tactics.

…particularly those voting-day- switch-a-roos. I’m convinced they prey upon the weakest among us. You don’t have to know why American elections are held on Tuesdays, but you should know that our elections are generally held on Tuesdays. We musn’t be so easily disenfranchisable. A asshole patriot puts up a scrawled, misspelled note announcing Election Day has been postponed to Friday the 13th to dupe test the waters, and some sucker falls for it. Ignorance aint no ways bliss, policy-wise.

“The American People”

In every election cycle, the pandering politician will defer to the sage, rational psyche of “The American People.” The American People know what they want…the American People are tired of…the American People are smart enough to…. No they don’t, and no they aren’t. Collectively, the “American People” is a C student who struggles with separating fantasy from reality. We are consumers for whom happiness is measured in things.  And for whom consciousness is, you know, nerd shit. And through it all, we feel entitled to be outraged when irrationality and irreverence begin to pervade our politics.    Indeed, deferring to us is a tremendous, albeit unavoidable, risk. We were once worthy of such a grand vote of confidence, weren’t we?  …we are who we elect.

The “Taking Advantage of the Black Vote” Meme

I bristle at the assertion that Black people should vote Republican simply because Black people have historically voted for Democrats, and because Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. (presumably God and Jesus, respectively, to Black Americans) number among their ranks. To string together the philosophies of “the party of Lincoln” with those of the Republican party that exists today is to completely misconstrue history and to undervalue the evolution of Republican/Conservative ideology. The phrase, “40 acres and a mule,” was commentary on the failure of Reconstruction efforts to redress Black economic underdevelopment resulting from slavery. Not to be outclassed by General William Tecumseh Sherman, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln’s successor, rescinded Sherman’s Special Field Orders, No. 15 (the military order which actually secured for free Blacks 4o0,000 acres of land around South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida).  As a result, them 40 acres, and the opportunities for economic parity that came with them, went back to the previous white owners.  I’m not suggesting that Black Americans should never vote Republican; a good idea is a good idea no matter the camp from which it emerges. What I demand is that the GOP work for the Black vote, and “…but you always vote Democrat” isn’t convincing enough. Al Sharpton colorfully stated a few years ago that, “We never got the 40 acres. We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the 40 acres. We didn’t get the mule. So we decided we’d ride this donkey as far as it would take us.” Given the party representatives vying for executive office in 2012, I agree with Reverend Al completely.

Independents

I think it was Bill Maher who first drew my attention to these perpetual and farcical fence-riders. These cats aren’t carefully deliberating their political choices. Instead, it seems they feed off the attention of pandering partisans. The Independent beats his chest extolling the virtues of military might while watching carefully to ensure that his Medicare and Social Security checks make it to the mailbox on time. In 21st century politics, you can’t have it both ways. Ideologically, you’re either realist-progressive, or a nostalgic conservative, seeking desperately to turn back the clock on social and cultural progress while quietly concentrating opportunity in your hands, and yours only. Andrew Bacevich writes in The Limits of Power that “When it came to ensuring … every American should get a fair shake, the contribution of modern conservatism has been essentially nil.” One more time for the slow kids in the back: You cannot have it both ways. And the choice couldn’t be clearer. Grab your balls and Pick a side.

Like it or not, election season is upon us. Choose wisely, ladies and gentlemen.