In this episode Kwasi brings back Dutty Bookman to discuss the movement he has helped dub as the Reggae Revival after a panel at SXSW 2027. He also speaks to Koro Fyah of the Bevel Rock camp about his ABC’s at SXSW as well. Bomani interviews the founder of the Uganda’s Bavubuka Foundation, Babaluku, and their chief archivist Gilbert Daniels about Hip-Hop in Uganda and the Lugaflow movement. Bomani and Kwasi also discuss spirituality in independent music, and how the community discusses things like sin. A must listen!
Watermelon day is a celebration of summer and summers favorite fruit. Established by the national watermelon association (NWA), it is now celebrated nationwide. In Washington DC Bomani Armah began celebrating watermelon day with festivals featuring music and art in Northwest DC starting in 2011. Today not only does watermelon day feature summer’s favorite fruit it also features everything black, red and green (the colors of The African flag). Watermelon Day has come to also stand for black cultural pride. Inspired (instead of being repulsed) by the stereotype that black people like watermelon, the DC Watermelon Day celebrations ask and answer the crucial question: Why should black people care if they are associated with love and eating watermelon? We, as an ethnic group and a culture, should decide what parts of our history we embrace and reject, without consideration to what those who are outside of and opposed to us think. Watermelon is incredible healthy and practical while having a long history of sustaining and sweeting the lives of black people eve since they arrived here enslaved. To this end watermelon day has featured black businesses, Black books, African drum and dancing, as well as spoken word poetry, hip-hop, rock’n roll and funk music.
Seven years ago around this time, we had just elected a black president. I remember the buzz in the air that lasted long after election night. Everyone was trying to figure out the new world we were in, and just happy to have lived to see it. That year I ended up over my best friend’s house on the weekend after NYE to watch the Rose Bowl. I don’t remember anything about the game, except for that before the end of the 1st quarter the announcer pointed out the black head referee and said, “This is the first black man to be head referee at the Rose Bowl”. My boy and I looked at each other for second, serious screw faces and heads cocked sideways, then we burst out laughing. Full belly laughs. Not that we thought the first black referee at the Rose Bowl was a joke, just that all “first black” (or any black) accomplishments now paled in comparison to what we had just accomplished just weeks earlier. We had moved on in the last few months before that football game, where our goal posts for what we considered success and black historical relevance had changed. The same has happened to the art of black filmmaking.
What are we marching for?
When I ask this question I am not being satirical. I’m not being an asshole trying to demean the efforts of thousands walking down the street with a backhanded question. I really want to know. I have the utmost respect for people who put their time, energy and body on the front line of non-violent protest.
My fear is that due to the one-dimensional way that the civil rights movement is taught, most of the people activated to do something about obvious injustice don’t know the art and science of the marches they admire in grainy black and white videos of Dr. King. They don’t know that the major aim of Dr. King’s marches was to embarrass the federal government (which was working relentlessly to claim it was more progressive than communist countries) into taking action. On top of that, not all the grainy black and white films are of marches or of King/NAACP/SCLC marches. There are dozens of strategies that marches work for, and not all of them are to beg the Federal government to do something about the local governments.
Are we marching like Garvey?
Garvey inspired young people to galvanize into a nation and repatriate to a nation that recognizes our humanity from its inception. Garvey was not asking for anything from the government. He was trying to show his people the strength they had in numbers, and the pride and real progress they could garner if they banned together as a nation.
Are we marching like Malcolm?
The Nation of Islam (then as now) can be seen marching in formation all over the country in black neighborhoods, but never to ask the government for anything. Their strategy for marching was to let the people in their black neighborhoods know that they were there, they were organized, they were disciplined, and they were going to control their own neighborhoods. This tactic would do the people of Ferguson well, considering that they have almost no representation on the city council or the police department.
Are we marching like Huey P Newton?
The Black Panther Party was marching, in the infamous footage we always see of them with guns, specifically as a counter to the police department. As you may know, the outlandish rate at which black men met untimely demise at the hands of law enforcement is hardly a new phenomenon. Now we simply have video cameras in everyone’s pocket, and social media so we can skip over the racist gatekeepers of national media. The Panthers wanted the police to know that they were armed and ready to die defending their families from the police. Republican icon Ronald Reagan even changed California gun laws to combat the radical idea that men and women were not going to simply be victims of the Oakland police department any more.
But let’s say we are marching like Dr. King. A noble cause, that forwarded the plight of black people in this country when it comes to blatant Jim Crow discrimination (but not financial discrimination or law enforcement discrimination). Can we expect the federal government to step in the way it did for them? We aren’t protesting against local election boards, or retail shops, or public transportation. We are protesting against law enforcement: The blue line and the originators of the “no snitching” rule. We cannot expect the National Guard to be called out on our behalf the way Kennedy and Johnson did for King and all the others who forcibly integrated the South. The National Guard has been called, not to defend us but to control us because we have a problem with unarmed black men being killed. What use is it trying to get the federal government involved if the President considers himself proof that institutional racism isn’t an issue any more? Obama is the black president who believes that being “neutral” means being “not-black” even on issues like police brutality. What other President could stay so quiet about an issue that affects a demographic that voted for him at a rate of the mid to upper 90 percentile?
For the past several weeks I’ve been joking from the stage and online about waiting for the “I wish a mufucka would” march. It becomes increasingly clear that this is what needs to happen though. Police and District Attorney’s are a team, together called Law Enforcement. They would like to keep the precedent that if they can claim a civilian resisted arrest in any form, that civilian’s death is justified. We can tell by the Eric Garner video that this idea simply isn’t true. Unless you truly believe a young Mike Brown (with his whole life ahead of him) committed suicide by police because he got caught with a five-dollar box of cigarillos, the argument that a wounded man 100 feet away was an imminent threat is garbage as well.
We know from our history that Dr. King’s marches had no effect on one of his main causes. The march on Washington was a march for “Jobs and Justice”. Black unemployment rate is still twice that of whites, and our median income gap between blacks and whites is greater than it was in South Africa at the height of apartheid. Marches, like the ones Dr. King lead, make the federal government react to the appearances of racism, but not the systematic racism that this country was based on.
Should we march? Yes. I was at the Million Man March, and it was one of the most important moments of my life. We weren’t marching asking for anything though. We were marching to show ourselves our strength in numbers, and to promise each other we would strengthen our communities. We should march to galvanize our communities and to insist amongst ourselves that law enforcement comes from our communities, not the occupying armies that exist in Ferguson and NY. Marching to activate others to our aid will not work.
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
It’s amazing the things people discover by accident. Discovering that my sons where learning the poem that began with those lines was the end of my children’s public education. You see, I don’t pay attention to Columbus Day. Other than wishing there was a hell for him to burn in every October 12th, I could care less about the man and the day dedicated to him. So when I decided to pop in on my sons’ class a year ago today, it was not to make some social political statement about the use of erroneous history in our school systems. I didn’t even realize the date yet. Being self-employed just gave me the luxury to find out how they were adjusting to being in the same class.
We had been trying to keep the twins in different rooms, letting them develop their own personalities and reputations separately. These early years are the most important ones for children to discover themselves. In Pre-K a teacher notoriously said to me “Your son hit Mary during recess”, to which I responded “Which son?” and she answered, “I don’t know, one of them”. I couldn’t believe she had the nerve to say that to me. What was I supposed to do with that information? Was I supposed to punish both of them? My sons are twins, and I don’t expect people who see them on only Thanksgiving and Christmas to tell them apart, but this was their teacher. Their differences are obvious, from the shapes of their faces, their height and build, the sounds of their voices, and their general approach to life.
Here in the 1st grade, they had both tested into the T.A.G. (Talented and Gifted) class, and there was only one of those classes in the school. We could have picked which one was going to stay in the class, to keep them separated, but then that seemed unfair to the one not getting the more rigorous education. Their mom and I aren’t the easiest parents to deal with in the public school system setting. We have our own ideas about what was appropriate for our children, going as far as telling the teacher and principal in kindergarten not to expect our sons to have their homework done all the time. It was just too much, and we planned on letting them just be 5. Our belligerence might have been more bearable if we weren’t so active, but at least twice a month both of us where in the classroom, and Eshe was volunteering so much at the school that she went on field trips with children that weren’t even her own.
So here they were at the beginning of the school year, in the same classroom, with an obviously talented and caring teacher. She was 8 months pregnant when the school year started, and was counting down the days to leave. You could feel it in the air. So when she was replaced by a long term substitute, a retired teacher they brought back for the months the original teacher was on maternity leave, we weren’t upset about it. She was old school. I don’t think she had the energy to have lasted the whole year but she was a loving and determined teacher, giving the kids all she had for the few months she was substituting. On the day I happened to walk into the classroom, she had just started the day’s lesson on Christopher Columbus.
October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!
As an educator myself, I know that the 1492 poem isn’t used in schools any more. At least not used in schools where the parents of the students actually read books like Zinn’s “A People’s History”. Maybe (shoot probably) in places like Texas, where they have replaced the term “slave holders” with “planters” in the history books, they still have their students read fanciful recollections of our countries glorious founding. But in Maryland you won’t find the 1492 poem unless it has been heavily edited to be more factually correct. My sons joined their classmates in working on the handouts the teacher on maternity leave had left. It was pretty much factual. Columbus set sail and landed in the Bahamas. It didn’t go into how much of a mistake it was, maybe just mentioning it. I would have had my students using a thesaurus to find new synonyms for “dumb-ass” to describe Columbus, but I had missed my chance to be the radical teacher. This is the reality we are faced with. This is the education my children are going to receive, and I have to find ways to augment it separately. Then the substitute, in what she thought was a stroke of genius, pulled out the teaching material she had been using her whole career to teach about Columbus. She passed this lie of a poem to every student in the classroom. Me, trying to stay cool and remember the rules of observing a class, waited until she was by herself to tell her that I am positive she is not supposed to use this poem. “It isn’t true” I tell her. “But it rhymes, so it’s easy to remember, and the kids love it!” she says with a smile. I’m a smart ass, with a desire to argue and debate in the marrow of my bones. I have no idea how I was able to let her say that and not respond. She didn’t say “no, it is true” she said “but it rhymes, it’s easy to remember and the kids love it”. I could have had a field day on her ass. That would have made me the angry black radical in her class. I didn’t have time for that.
I pulled Olu and Dela to the side instead, kneeled down real low so I could look them in their eyes, and said “hey guys, you are doing a great job in class today. I just want you to know that this poem about Columbus is bullshit (I’ve taught my sons that curse words should be used sparingly, and to only accentuate an important point) and Columbus was one of the worst people. Ever! We’ll talk about it more later”.
This Columbus Day gaffe strikes extra close to home, and made me feel even more convicted about my initial promise to homeschool my children, because at one point I was training to be a high school history teacher. Back in the 1996, I was a wide eyed freshman at the University of Maryland, who knew deep in his heart all he wanted to be was a teacher. After enrolling in the school of education as a secondary ed and history major, I had all the fanciful dreams of teaching kids the “real” history of America. These dreams came to a screeching halt when I had a conversation in 1997 with one of my frat brothers’ mother who was a teacher. I gave her my pie in the sky reasoning for teaching kids history and she tells me, “you are going to be frustrated your whole career. You won’t be allowed to teach history the way you are imagining it. There is going to be a curriculum and a script you must stick to, and that’s it”. I discovered that being a public school teacher wasn’t for me. I can’t live other people’s inconsistencies. Maybe my own, but being paid to teach children something I didn’t believe would have driven me mad.
“Indians! Indians!” Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
This sent my young idealistic mind into a tail spin that I have never recovered from. Trust me, my closest friends and the people I admire most are educators. Our nations school system is setup to teach our children “what to think” more than it is “how to think”, but teachers everywhere (especially here in the state of Maryland) are dedicated to giving students comprehension tools and life lessons beyond the facts that are crammed into their heads to pass standardized tests. I have no fear that my children would be okay in the public school system, but my goal for my children is for them to be more than okay. I don’t want my sons to discover the African diaspora, and the world before European domination at a later age. I want them to know the history of where they are from first, and learn this alien system second. Discovering later what it means to be part Cape Verdean, descendants of West Africans, part Native American people of South Carolina, and how these people had their own civilizations before being virtually annihilated by those who followed Columbus, is not the perspective I want for them. Discovering that I had forfeited control of the process was too much for me to handle. Realizing that the school hadn’t even started deifying the slave-holding founding fathers was giving me nightmares.
By some stroke of fate I had stumbled into my children’s class on the right day. But unlike Christopher Columbus, stumbling like a toddler onto the “new world” and destroying it, I discovered my reasons for originally wanting to homeschool. This forced me to rededicate myself to that mission. Homeschooling has not been easy. I am still learning how to balance my business and homeschooling, with homeschooling being the top priority. But I have discovered many resources and a village of people willing to help our children become the people we know they can be. I hope to share more of that in this blog and in my art as we discover new ways to see the world. But today I thank Columbus, well, the teacher who shouldn’t have had my sons read that Columbus poem. It was the discovery I needed.
The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.
At four o’clock Eshe called me with anger in her voice “I can’t believe the teacher gave them that damn 1492 poem! They had it in their hands when they left the building. I took it out of their hands and ripped it up. I’m sure all the other parents thought I was crazy. I don’t even care! I told them that this wasn’t true and they said ‘I know, Daddy already told us’. Remember when we were talking about homeschooling?”
“It didn’t work out with me an your mom
But yo push come to shove
You were conceived in love”
– Will Smith (Just the Two of Us)
If you had told me my night would go like this, being out bowled by not one, but two six year olds, I would have never believed you. But here I was, Bomani Armah, in the middle of a suburban MD bowling alley. 4 year-old birthday parties crescendo into “how old are you!!” to our right. Twenty-somethings on double dates try to alternatively look cool and cute as they bowl to our left. Olu Armah is hurling duck-pin balls at unsuspecting pins like Aung bending fire. The projectile ricochets off of the left bumper, then the right bumper, then lines itself up right down the middle. Dela, his twin brother and partner in crime, is giving vivid play by play of the 45 seconds it takes for this ball to creep down the lane. Dela has already finished his round, scoring a full 1 point more than his Dad. Now, can they do the impossible and take the top two positions of the night? A strike from Olu puts him in 1st place by a healthy margin (considering our scores looked like impressive math test scores, but miserable bowling rounds). The ball didn’t exactly crash into the pins, more like scooted them over impolitely. But fall they did, and we all erupted like Tiger Woods winning the masters. The twenty-somethings flirting to our left, and the gang of pre-k’s and their parents on our right, roared and hi-fived Olu. As the noise quieted, and Dela rushed to reset the game, his mother Eshe Armah hands me a drink. “You suck at this” she says through a laugh. “Yet someone how I’m still 11 points better than you!” I snicker back. Cheers. On to the next round.
I am fortunate, because this is what single parenting looks like at least every other month for me. I’ve seen horrible fights over custody, child support, education, religion, and just residual animosity from failed relationships. Having bitter squabbles in court, and neutral child transfer locations assigned by a judge, was not the reality I had day dreamed about. It is a blessing to not have landed in one of those situations. Wish I could credit myself for that stroke of fortune but my failed marriage has proven I’m not that good at predicting relationships. … Continue Reading
“…See I don’t want him, if he ain’t made no arrangement with you/ I hope you would’ve done the same thing for me too” – Erykah Badu from “Booty”
Can we stop lying to ourselves for a moment? Can we stop pretending like it’s some historical anomaly for the most power military general on the face of the planet to be having sex with more than one woman? We would do better as a society if we’d stop lying to ourselves about monogamy.
…I’m sorry. I wanted to start this story off with some cute antidote, or a lighthearted take on this situation, but this has gotten out of hand. Especially considering that this is the conversation we are having about Petreaus, and national security, at the time that we have a war going on in Afghanistan and bombings going on in Iraq and the Gaza Strip. Compared to great military leaders from the Bible like David & Solomon, Petreaus is a freakin’ saint. … Continue Reading
Busboys and Poets is a community gathering place. First established in 2005 Busboys and Poets was created by owner Anas “Andy” Shallal, an Iraqi-American artist, activist and restaurateur. After opening, the flagship location at 14th and V Streets, NW (Washington DC), the neighboring residents and the progressive community, embraced Busboys, especially activists opposed to the Iraq War. Busboys and Poets is now located in three distinctive neighborhoods in the Washington Metropolitan area and is a community resource for artists, activists, writers, thinkers and dreamers.