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!
The simplest statement,
spoken from the heart,
is more profound
I fixed a four year olds favorite toy
With little more then the flick of a button
He looked me in my eyes
And smiled like he was opening a birthday present
postmarked from heaven
“wow daddy, u r superman batman!”.
This little vessel with limited life lived
And an inkling of a vocabulary
Wanted me to know I was greater then any super hero he could fathom
Love is a language of laughter and tears
But the most telling moments are ones of silence
We have built this house
Where love reverberates of walls
And this isn’t sound
The squeek of the door
The creaks in the floor
The pitch. The mood
We’ve tuned each other out
every story has been told
once melodic yarn spun across bedroom floors
like sunsets on desert horizons
like red wine on breath
like new velvet yielding to my fingers
now just drone on
at one time the tenor in my voice held you
Now you wish I would hold my tongue
The drum major in a war of words
the frustration is audible, so we change the play
Lost in translation
Not worth the frustration
There are no words for what I’m saying to you
Not what but how
In my silence I have no choice but to be true
Your laugh brings color to white noise
Your accent flavors my morning
Your silhoutte leaves me dumbstruck
Heart valves as metronome
Our minor disagreements show the beauty in dissonance
Our bedsheets soak in the echo of last nights love making
As you say my name in your own time signature
Struck a major chord
When the cacophony of life perferates ear drums
Leaving sky lines bleek
the air blanketed in rotted dreams
like raw nuckles on granite
the rhythm of your words is the percussion
that gets me back on beat
the perspective that brings my world back to scale
the conflict that resolves into harmony
in this duet, we pluck heart strings
until we hear
Lost in translation
Not worth the frustration
There are no words for what I’m saying to you
Not what but how
In my silence I have no choice but to be true]
In light of the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, host Michel Martin explores the challenges of mentoring and how that role is changing. She speaks with a diverse panel of mentors: two fathers and a young journalist. Join Bomani Armah, Phil Lerman (author of the “Dadditude” and former producer on America’s Most Wanted) and Malik Washington. Click here or on the photo to listen to the whole episode, and here to read the blog by Bomani that inspired the conversation
As he so aptly puts it “I’m not a rapper, I’m a poet with a hip-hop style”. Bomani’s internet smash hit “Read a Book” is the subject of a short animated film that debuted on BET in June 2007 to much critical acclaim and controversial backlash. He is featured on the first single/video from Mello-D & The Rados: “Cool Witchu”, which aired on BET’s “Rap City” and peaked at #3 on national college radio charts. Bomani’s music video for “The Hustle” aired at the San Francisco Black Film Festival in 2006 to rave reviews. Bomani’s 2008 release Radio Friendly blends his fluid and funky production style with his insight-fully poetic yet accessible lyrics. As a editorial writer he has been published in the Washington Post and TheRoot.com. Bomani produces and engineers for other artists and has scored numerous movies and television shows. Mr. Armah has worked as a consultant teaching creative writing, music and video production for American University, The Washington National Cathedral, The University of the District of Columbia, The National Youth Leadership Council, The National Organization of Concerned Black Men, The American Poetry Museum, Martha’s Table, and Words Beats & Life Inc. In 2012 Bomani is releasing his first book and accompanying album entitled “Circumlocution Vol II”. He will also continue being the drummer and front man for his #funk#rock#gogo#hiphop band Immaletchufinish.
This is my second home. 6pm, a crowded room of 12-18 year-olds, fresh off of their Doritos and grape soda hi’s. One of the more affable students, a 12 year old whose futile attempts at being gangsta only make him more lovable, for the first and only time gets a running start and jumps onto my back. Instinctively I reach behind me, grab him by the shoulders and begin to flip him over me. We are both laughing hysterically, and enjoying this moment. From the clues I’ve gotten from his grandparents, he doesn’t have a lot of interaction with grown men. Not in school, not at home, not in the streets that baby sit him, but here he’s my kid. Then another of student yells out “PENN STATE!”
And there you have it.
Like the rest of the nation, I have finally had a moment to breath. To inhale the stale stench of the Penn State phenomena, process this betrayal of the children, and the details of this heinous crime. This is the time to ask the cliche question “so what did we learn from this?”. In this instance that question can be quite chilling because almost all cases like this involve someone who is taking advantage of their position as a leader, mentor and educator of young lives. These crimes are perpetrated by people who are assigned the task of seeking out, and taking advantage, of teachable moments. For all intents and purposes Sandusky and I are in the same business, actively looking to have access to children, to help them through teachable moments. His alleged crimes casts a shadow over me and the millions of adults who have the trust of parents, children and communities. The “joke” a student yelled at me was just an extended part of the assault that Sandusky has perpetrated on all of us. The children involved in these crimes undoubtedly have asked “what did I learn from this? About proper adult behavior? About my own sexuality? About how the world feels about me?”
Some of the minor question us responsible adults must answer include: What have we learned about the “more popular than Jesus” Penn State football program? What have I learned about my own patronage in the national religion that is football? What have I learned about my own age and the skewed reality of the 20 year-olds on a college campuses? What have we learned about one of the most adored phrases in youth work, “at-risk-youth”? What can we learn from the soft language used to describe this situation by reporters? (Why is anal rape described as “molesting”? To molest means to bother, and what happened to these children was more than a bother). Above all these, the question that is really important to answer now, and correctly is: What have we learned that will allow us to prevent this in the future?
I have always been disturbed by “To Catch a Predator” with Chris Hanson, and not for the same reasons that most people are. Yes, I was blown away by how many adults are pulled into this trap by the lure of sex with a 12 year old boy or girl. It was heart wrenching to see that law enforcement would continue to catch men in this trap, from every conceivable demographic, as long as the trap was left open. What disturbed me even more is that Chris Hanson and his producers did episode after episode without ever exploring the issue of why. I understand that the show was really about the salaciousness of the crime and the ratings it would attract. But at some point when was Chris going to tackle the question of prevention from the root level and discover what went wrong in the minds of these men? Like any other issue mass media attempts to address, they prove that they are smoke fighters and not fire fighters. What happens in the life of a human that turns them into sexual predators?
A few years ago I got a contract teaching summer creative writing classes at the Washington National Cathedral. As part of my contract I had to take part in a workshop that lasted several hours about sexual predators. The workshop seemed to be new, and birthed out of their genuine concern for the safety of their young people, and quite possibly the heat that religious community was getting from the Catholic pedophilia scandal (there are many who think the Washington National Cathedral is a Catholic church instead of a Episcopal institution). We watched videos and listened to testimonies from former victims, parents and even a perpetrator of sexual abuse, then engaged in discussions and a point by point plan as to how to detect such abuse, and make sure that as an educator and care taker you aren’t mistakenly caught up in a scandal such as this.
I thought that maybe this was finally my opportunity to get answers as to why people do this. By the end of the session the facilitator had still not addressed what caused a person to become such a monster, even though a convicted and confessed pedophile was featured prominently in the video we watched. So when they asked if there are any closing questions I took that as my opportunity to ask. “What causes people to do this, and how can we detect the signs of pedophilia in a person before they turn into actions?”. The answer was so vague that I can’t quote it directly, but it was something like: people who are going through really low times in their life sometimes look to take advantage of someone else to feel some sense of power. That was the least helpful answer I could have gotten. “People in a low period in their lives?” That puts way to many people I know in this suspect line-up.
In our society pedophiles need to just disappear, evaporate into dust. They should be killed and tossed into the ocean. I understand that sentiment. The thought of my sons being sexually abused is greeted by nothing less than homicide, a violent quick death for the perpetrator no matter what the consequences are for myself. But we are learning that the instances of pedophilia are so prevalent that we can’t just kill it away or wish it away.
So I go online and look up statistics on pedophilia. I’ve seen numerous studies and reports with figures, charts and percentages. As much as I want to re-post them, what almost every study admitted to was that we have little to know idea about the prevalence of this crime because people are so afraid to come forward. When experts have to estimate that their figures are probably off by 10-40%, that is basically admitting that they know nothing. So what do we really know?
What we do know, and what institutions like Penn State need to understand, is that having a pedophile infiltrate your organization is not a reflection of the organization. Professionals in this field, the psychologists, psychiatrists, law enforcement and youth workers, are clueless as to why this happens and how to prevent it without catching someone and prosecuting them afterwards. Organizations that are tied up in potential scandals do not need to be ashamed, initially they are victims as well. Pedophilia is a problem that our society has only begun to admit too, let alone understand and prevent.
How the organization handles the pedophile does, however, show the character of the leadership of the organization. We have learned that these incidents can never be stamped out, and that the only proper thing Penn State could have done was admit to the incident and let the community and the Nation know that it wouldn’t be tolerated at their university.
So in the end I’ve learned there was only one thing to do. The next morning I told one then the other of my sons something. We had already had the proper and improper touch conversation, one that I remind myself to repeat as often as possible. What I had failed to tell them until them now, was that anyone who tells them they have done something to change how much I love them is lying and doing something to hurt them. They need to tell me about that person immediately. Predators use our children’s desire to stay loved by us to keep them silent. Yes, I can scout out the places they are, and vet the people they are with, but in the end its our relationships with our children that will keep them safe.
Thanks to everyone who supports grown up hip-hop, and my sons Olu & Dela for inspiring this song, and Eshe from bringing me Olu & Dela.
Please understand, my marketing and promotion team consists of me, myself, I and you! If you like this video, please pass it along. Forward it to great parents, soon to be parents, people who need to be better parents. Make sure to download the mp3 from iTunes, Amazon or a dozen other download sites it’s available on. I really appreciate you continually supporting my music.
“Music is the Language of Spirits”
The jury of Knowledge, Intellect, Reason and Logic
convene for as long as God blinks
and return with a verdict that is true
A truth painfully contraire to the version batted around
while lounging on our backs
with smiles flowing figure eight
enticed by flickering shadows of bare feet
dueling in the glow
of late night talk show banter
The esteemed jury of Knowledge, Intellect, Reason and Logic
is over ruled by the ultimate judge,
in a miracle baffling those with senses
tilts the scale towards uncharted depths
into corners still unsheathed by the probing light of
Knowledge, Intellect, Reason and Logic
gets heavier when it bleeds
as if God put his finger on the scale,
a cruel act of torture
that he inflicts under the guise of a clever plot twist
Before The Heart swings his gavel,
he asks for the valued opinion of Faith
who is nothing more than
The Hearts stenographer
he doesn’t discover the truth,
Faith just repeats the stanza
that pluck at heart’s strings
in a sweet refrain,
from empirical of evidence
at this moment
when reality hangs in the balance
when one prays for clairvoyance,
when 20/20 would do
Faith has overstepped his bounds
Faith has become The Hearts yes man
You see, Faith’s exploits consists of tales The Heart tells him
and The Hearts tales are of a magical place called Forever
And Faith’s dreams are held hostage by
This luminous palace called Forever
Forever will be Faiths reward
Faith’s dogged pursuit of Forever distinguishes him from Belief
Faith’s has subjugated himself even more than Trust
To be elevated to Forever’s monk
Faith sees this as a truth worth suffering for
a universe Faith can create
Disarm Faith of every weapon
But teeth and nails
Starve Faith of any glimmer of hope
or watering it with love
And it will still find a way to
scratch away Knowledge,
gnaw at Intellect,
and pull at Logic
Forever will eventually mend that wound
Forever will undoubtedly take the pain
while for the moment, mere dreams of Forever sedate the pain
Forever will eventually not look like today
Though today looked like yesterday, which looked like its yesterday
And resembles the future at the end of your nose
That you can not touch
by the siren sound of
skillfully selected truth
whispered by Faith
Keep the flesh warm when tenderness doesn’t
Shelter the soul when the walls walk away
Nothing disintegrates in for Forever
Instead stays perfectly placed and pristine
But what once were swaddling clothes for the birth of eternity
Can easily become the shroud of a dying dream
Depending on the judgment, rendered by a bleeding Heart
Could you imagine Terrell Owens patrolling the base line at Wimbledon? With his incredible lateral movement and reach he’d be a terror. Imagine him coming to the net with that vertical jump, or the way he could wear out an opponent with his amazing stamina and work ethic. Most importantly, imagine Terrell Owens with NO TEAMMATES! That’s what this brother needs, a place where he can rely completely on himself and not have to cooperate with other human beings. It would be great for his wallet too, because T.O. gets no endorsement deals. However, tennis’ biggest on court distraction and most notorious whiner, John McEnroe, is also the figure with the most endorsement deals even years after his retirement. I’d rather see T.O. on clay or hard court than in another football game.
The sad saga that is Terrell Owens career could be summed up in every football coach’s cliché speech. Since you where playing boys and girls club ball with the helmets that were half your body size, your grizzled coach screamed, “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM!” On occasion that spelling has been challenged, when literally one player has carried an entire squad because he is that gifted (i.e. Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Wayne Gretsky, Barry Bonds). Unlike other major team sports football requires all 11 people to be on the same page. And when you do have that freak of nature that can single handedly change the direction of a football game, it needs to be someone who touches the ball within the first 2 seconds and can ad lib on his own (John Elway, Barry Sanders). Even then your teammates are your most valuable commodity. But of all the people on a football field, the wide receiver is the one that needs absolutely every one of his 10 team mates to do their job right before he has an inkling of a chance of thinking of possibly making a play.
Maybe receivers like T.O. lose perspective when they watch ESPN highlights. There they are, alone, in the middle of the field catching the ball. They forget about the other people 10 folks holding up 300 lb madmen, running precise routes or making the pinpoint pass. Maybe the prototypical wide receiver is a wanna be basketball player. http://i52.photobucket.com/albums/g18/bomaniarmah/nfl_u_owensterrell_580.jpg
A tweener, 6’2” to 6’4” blessed with outstanding physical skills that grew up idolizing Jordan in an era when the NBA went out of its way to promote individuals over team. (The emergence of the Pistons, Spurs and Celtics has only recently debunked the individualism in professional basketball). This kind of player is not enough of a field general to be a point guard (or quarterback), not a pure enough shooter to be strictly a two guard (Michael Redd or Ray Allen) and too short to be a legitimate swing man (James, Bryant or McGrady). His skills, however, fit football to a T (or a T.O.). Terrell is what happens when no one explains to him that each time he catches the ball it’s not him jumping from the foul line at the NBA slam dunk contest.
What’s even more disturbing is that he is unable to see that he is the common denominator in all the equations where he gets subtracted from the team. There is militaristic group think that you learn in high school about football; it’s why all football press conferences are an inane waste of time. It’s about working hard, supporting your teammates, being on the same page, reaching goals, etc and so on. These ethics are equally, if not more important, as important as your bench press, your 40 time and any other physical metric or personal drive.
You could spend hours debating the rankings of wide receivers all time between #3 and #20, but the position of #1 is undoubtedly Jerry Rice and #2 is unquestionably Terrell Owens. You cannot overstate Terrell’s incredible stats, work ethic and physical ability. Nor can you ignore how utterly king cobra/arsenic/anthrax poisonous he must be in the locker room. He has played for coaches, and with quarterbacks, with no Super Bowl rings that are willing to take years off their life in this stressful game, but aren’t willing to swallow Terrell Owens despite his game changing stats.
In the long run, it’s okay if TO never was or ever will be a good team mate. There are other ways he can be successful and fulfilled individual. Maybe he shoulda played tennis.
The profile of national politics has changed dramatically over the past 8 months. These changing times has added a certain “tint” to politics, a brand new “hue” if you will. Okay, enough beating around the bush, where did all these colored people come from? There was a time that Representatives Harold Ford, JC Watts and Jesse Jackson represented the height of electoral politics for black people and the future of the race politically. There was also a light smattering of Latinos and other minority on the national political scene, most notably Richardson. Let’s not mention, Powell, Gonzalez and Condoleezza Rice. Though they had high office, neither were politicians, just bureaucrats and soldiers put in a highly politicized public service role. But now, in 2009, people of color have become the representative face of both parties! With “That One” Barack Obama and MC Michael Steele, not to mention Bobby Jindal, men of color publicly front both parties. How did we get here, and what does that mean for politics over the next 4 years?
First of all, let’s look at the two completely different things the brown person on the Democratic Party and the brown people on the Republican Party represent. Barack Obama was not anointed by his party, but ambushed his party with some fortuitous moments in which he made outstanding, and ground breaking speeches. He has a knack for playing a line right down the middle, when it comes to democratic politics, while offering a figurative and literal fresh face to politics. His stance on some real basic ideas about conversation, teamwork, and common courtesy seemed revolutionary after George W. Bush. No one saw him coming. The message of change, and the idea that America was ready for a black President was a shock to absolutely everyone until after the Iowa caucuses. Only then did his political party make a shift and start backing him wholeheartedly.
Barack was the physical manifestation of the idea that Democrats were diametrically opposed to everything George W. Bush had done in the White House. He was well spoken, a great listener, committed to surrounding himself with divergent viewpoints, and outspoken about the need to talk to allies as well as friends abroad. Barack Obama, through his own political positioning and uncanny timing, became the face of a new type of politics. No face says change better than one that is different from the previous 43 men who’ve held that job in history.
On top of that, for the first time in history his blackness was seen as a plus. To the millions of college students who had voted for him, and to the civil rights generation voters from all races, he was a culmination of where this country sees itself going. He was the answer to the question of whether or not America was a country of racists, especially since the Iraq war seemed to suggest that the U.S. couldn’t tell one brown person from another. Even the way he spoke and, dare I say it, his swagger, was distinctly black. He had what linguist and author John McWhorter calls “blacksense”, a way of speaking that’s distinctly African American yet comforting to white people (i.e. Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones). White people definitely had some, “look at me, ain’t I progressive” moments in the days leading up to the election and inauguration. They key element though, was that this was brought about from the grassroots by the actual man who won the election.
On the contrast, Michael Steele’s rise to leadership in the Republican Party has taken an almost exact opposite route. The Republican Party has recognized that they need to change directions, but it seems they are only interested in changing appearances. The main draw with Michael Steele is that he proves that the same old ideas are relevant in a post-racial, hip-hop, facebook and twitter type of world. They have not changed any basic position on taxes, foreign policy, sexual health and reproduction, welfare, gun control, or any other topic that has been part of the Republican platform for 50 years. Republicans have instead insisted that these old concepts are timeless, so much so that they can let the people of color promote them. This is a very blatant and insulting type of re-branding where the product has not changed a bit.
It’s actually disappointing, but not surprising, that the Republican Party would be so obviously race baiting with their public representation. Michael Steele has no experience winning anything of consequence politically outside of Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. His recent newspaper interview where he claimed he was going to give the Republican Party a hip-hop overhaul was like watching your uncle do the ‘running man” at the family reunion. On top of that I was personally embarrassed at how he was undressed by Rush Limbaugh and subsequently apologized. After looking back at what he said to D.L. Hughley he realized his words didn’t accurately reflect his feelings. Steele, that was soooo not hip-hop. You loose 25 hip-hop cool points, which brings you to a grand total of –65.
Jindal is undoubtedly a skilled politician; you must be to become a non-white governor in a southern state like Louisiana. He is also, obviously and unfortunately, not the greatest orator or a genuine street fighter, as his painful response to Obama’s address proved the other day. Both the style and the substance of his droning speech have proved to be lacking. Even before we found out that his horribly boring and ridiculously ill-thought-of story about him standing shoulder to shoulder with a local sheriff to fight big government in a time of crisis wasn’t true, we wondered about the political wisdom of using a Republican failure as an example of why Republicans should be given federal power again. I could imagine a room full of Republican power brokers, with single malt scotches and cigars, waiting to pat each other on the back. Their young acolyte Jindal would wow the masses and show that the G.O.P. has down south mixed with Indian flavor. I would have paid to see their real time reaction to his lackluster speech. It has not been said enough; that you shouldn’t trust a party who believes that Federal government can only fail to run the Federal Government. This gives them the ability to fail miserably and blame the institution, instead of themselves for running it. Jindal proved that no matter what color is on the banner of the Republican Party, their concepts have an extreme disconnect with reality. No paint job will make this jalopy run. No hired maniacs or mercenaries like Alan Keyes will make the world see them differently. It took Obama months of real difference and nuance in his stance as a Democrat to penetrate that party, and until the Republicans can find their own, their party will still lack any color.
President Barack Obama
The White House
Dear Mr. President. First let me tell you how incredibly proud and inspired I am by your ascension to the Presidency. As the father of two African American boys with “funny foreign names”, your tenure is already a success in my eyes. When I tell Olu Femi & Dela Eden that they can be anything they want, even President of the United States, everyone can nod in agreement now, instead of saying patronizingly “awwww that is so cute”. Your presidency has not even begun, but I am writing to volunteer for your 2012 campaign, under the condition that you commit to sending your daughters to DCPS for high school!
That’s right, one of the fine public schools in the District of Columbia, like Eastern, Wilson, or Ballou. I could request a public school bail-out, lord knows that would be a much wiser and more beneficial investment than many of the failing businesses that have held their hands out on Capital Hill. But as important as an infusion of money to attract talented teachers and update 60 year old buildings would be, you sending your child to Roosevelt or Spingarn would signal a symbolic and literal togetherness this city and public schools nation wide would take to heart.
I’ve approached my friends and colleagues with the idea of sending an Obama girl to Banneker, Dunbar or McKinley for the last two months, and I must admit most of them have been mortified. Their concerns have included whether or not DCPS could challenge her academically, whether it would be a secure environment for the first daughter, and whether the culture of student life at any DCPS would be welcoming for such a privileged and famous child.
First, either of your daughters would be a perfect DCPS student. As everyone knows, parental involvement is more important than any teacher or facility. Having two stay at home parents (Michelle and her grandmother) there will always be an adult to augment whatever education she is receiving at school. She will have wise women to listen to questions and concerns in the quickly evolving life of a teenager. It is too much to ask for you to turn your life into more of a reality show than it is, but just knowing that 2 generations of family are working as a cohesive unit to guide their child through public school would be an outstanding example to the other millions of families experiencing the same reality.
Will a DCPS school be safe for an Obama girl? First of all, the idea that DCPS schools are breeding grounds for drugs and violence is COMPLETELY UNTRUE. Yes, like most inner city schools, our high schools deal with their fair share of delinquencies, drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, fights etc. But, as I’m sure you know, the average DC student is unfairly lumped into a caricature of inner city high schools. The vast majority of our students at schools like Phelps and Woodson want the same thing their private school peers want, a safe state of the art environment to discover themselves as individuals, and to develop as a positive contributors to their community. Secondly, I’ve seen the secret service in action, and the cliques and crews that exist in DCPS schools are no match.
Even if the stereotypes of DCPS were a true, you have exhibited the ability to mobilize people unlike anyone since Dr. Martin Luther King. Can you imagine the ripple affect you would cause when you announce that you are sending your daughter to a public school? The level of parent and community involvement at all of our schools would increase exponentially. The fast revamping of our school systems by Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee would have an even greater sense of urgency, along with the support of a whole nation cheering on their success.
Washington DC is the seat of national politics that so badly needs changing. Washington DC should be the example of American society, shining a light to the rest of the country and the world. Washington DC is the home of thousands of African American fathers whom you have personally challenged to step up to their responsibility. Who better to lead the nation into a new era of public responsibility than the world’s most famous community organizer? Imagine a city where every citizen considers the school in their neighborhood as MY SCHOOL. It does not matter if I have a child in the local school; I take pride in the upkeep of the school building. I stop 13 year olds who are walking the street at noon and demand that they go to school. I attend and cheer at honor roll assemblies the way I do Friday night football. You, Mr. Obama, could lead that kind of community adoption of the public schools. Never before have I seen so many people claim someone as “My President”. Imagine if that energy was focused on Duke Ellington, Roosevelt, or the School Without Walls.
Sending your daughter to a DC public high school, like Cardozo, Anacostia or Coolidge, will be an important symbolic and practical step to fulfilling Dr. King’s last mission before his assassination, the elimination of poverty through economic equality. I meet students every day who over achieve at sub-par schools. I’ve taught poetry classes in December in classrooms with no heat, and locks on the library door because the school couldn’t afford a librarian. I wonder how much higher their academic ceiling would be with properly equipped science labs, motivated and positive peers, and a dynamic and involved community.
As of this year, your eldest child is 4 years away from attending high school, giving you and I 4 years to get OUR school system, and OUR cities attitude towards the education of OUR children, on point. In reality, everyone’s trepidation about an Obama girl at DCPS really just exposes an ugly truth. The idea that public schools aren’t good enough for America’s new darlings only means that public schools are not good enough for any student. I don’t believe this. I do believe that we must change both perception and the reality of public education so that when we say “Our Children Are the Future”, it is not a tired cliché.
In the end, I don’t expect for you to accept less for your daughter to make a social and political statement. I’m asking you to demand more from DCPS as a social and political statement. I am personally up for the challenge and I guarantee that the city will follow your lead. Yes We Can!
I consider myself one of thousands of hip-hop era leaders who are not completely trusted by the civil rights generation. We see their black and white news clips and are awed by their actions that have gotten us to this point. We also cringe when they bring late 60’s sensibilities to a new area of civil rights and politics, waiting for Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly to use their latest dated statements to berate all African Americans.
Such a moment happened in the political cauldron of Chicago this week when Bobby Rush took the dais at Governor Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to the vacant Illinois Senate seat. “We need to have not just one African-American in the U.S. Senate. We need to have many African-Americans in the U.S. Senate. So I applaud the governor for his decision.” This is the first of two quotes that made me cringe. This is a text book example of conflating two issues, the need for more African American representation and the political mess that is Governor Blagojevich’s pay to play scandal. It is hard for me to fathom why the congressman would make this statement, but I’ve tried my hardest to do just that.
Rep Rush made a completely legitimate point about the absence of African Americans in the countries most important governing body. What I don’t understand is the timing. The US just elected the first black president, and the appointment he is defending was made by a publicly perceived crook. He is a harsh critic of Blagojevich and as a seasoned politician would have to see that he volunteered to play the race card. The only thing that makes sense to me is that his impromptu speech was a reflex reaction from a civil rights era leader, without completely taking in the circumstances he was dealing in. I like that explanation more than the race baiting, Jesse Jackson style, that Representative Rush seems to have gotten himself into. After researching on Bobby Rush, a lot of my preconceived stereotypes of him were justified. A quick wikipedia search lead me to some absolutely amazing accomplishments in a biography that starts making noise in the late sixties when he was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. A former army soldier, he was a member of SNCC and a founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party. While with the Black Panther Party he was integral in the free breakfast and free medical clinic that developed the nations first mass sickle cell disease testing program. Rush also joined a tremendous and epically outstanding fraternal organizations called Iota Phi Theta that I can personally vouch for. Our motto of “Building a Tradition and not Resting Upon One” has guided many of my life decisions, and a lot of my perspective of this story. All this being said, Rush is the guy I imagined myself being if I was alive during the civil rights era and black power movement. Even as a 62 year old cancer survivor, his instincts to stand for the downtrodden have not dulled. Representative Rush was one of a few congressmen to be arrested in a peaceful protest against the genocide in Darfur in 2004.
So when does the torch get passed? What if a man feels that the experience of years of running, are more important than the fresh legs and perspective of the young whipper snapper he’s passing it off to. Representative Bobby Rush is the only man to ever beat Barack Obama in a political campaign. He’s quoted as saying during their contest for his Ill House of Representative seat, “Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it.”
Many in Rush’s generation feel the same about the youngsters who, like myself, would never had taken the stage in the situation to applaud the appointment of Black man when the issue at hand is more about political transparency and the fight against corruption. To many leaders in his generation, this will always be the issue, no matter what historical event we are in the midst of. Frankly, leaders like Rush don’t have to stop fighting for racial equality, because the fight is not over. But the battle fields have changed, the strategies have to change with it. Like Barack so famously said about another civil rights/black power movement era leader in Chicago, “The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress had been made”.
The second statement by Rep Rush really caught everybody off guard. “…and I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointed. Ronald Burris is worthy.” I’m extremely disappointed that Rush equated the national media, and the almost unanimous national political uprising against Governor Blagojevich to a hanging or lynching. He took this saga to a completely unnecessary melodramatic level. It’s not the move of someone who is seeing politics through the eyes 2008, more like ’88 or ’78.
Like most 30 year old urban professionals, I am completely thrilled with this election season. I am awe struck by Barack Obama’s ability to navigate the shaky political landscape that has been set before him. Between the unnecessary or ill planned wars, economical travesties, the class warfare, and the never ending battles over the government’s role in legislating morality, there are so many tangents to get lost in. Barack seems to navigate them so effortlessly. What impresses me most about him is his ability to explain color in this country. Not the black, or the white, the brown, the blue or the red, but the all important and encompassing gray. Yes, the gray area in between the dead end corners our political parties, religious views and ethnic loyalties paint us into. When it’s all said and done, more and more Americans are comfortable stating, or finally fully understand, that most issues we deal with in this country come in ambiguous shades of gray.
It’s hard getting excited about gray. Technically, it’s not even a color, but a shade. It is drab and inconspicuous; you can’t slam your fist down and proclaim it. You instead have to shrug your shoulders, in acknowledgment of the complexity of our world. Most people in blue states, or blue cities swamped in a sea of red, are forced to deal with conflicting views and perspective of the world on a daily basis. Major metropolitan cities like here in D.C., where the flags of Ethiopia and El Salvador, and Kenya, and India, and Iraq, and South Korea swirl around to make a true American flag, we understand the concept of nuance. Where mosques, and synagogues, churches, cathedrals, temples and other places of worship are all crammed into a tiny space, we are forced to recognize the common good in our paths to spiritual enlightenment. Where one block takes you from poverty and violence to affluence and frivolity and we are forced to reconcile hard work with hard luck.
Here we understand the truth to be stable, simple and plain, but seen through the veil of every ones separate and fluid reality it can appear in a myriad of ways. We understand how religion conflicts with reason, but see how it bolsters our spirit where reason has not supplied answers. We understand the power of branding, of 30 second commercials, with slogans, mottos and tag lines, but realize that any real solution to a question is long and drawn out, with caveats and variables. We are accustomed to answers that cannot be boiled down to catch phrases or repetitive chants like “drill baby, drill”. Even though we want the sun to shine bright, we go outside looking for the shade. There is a comfortable median in gray.
We do not live in a world where we see circling “all of the above” as a lack of decisiveness. We understand that between conflicting views lies the truth. We don’t waste time arguing nature versus nurture, or big bang versus intelligent design, socialism versus capitalism, and good versus evil. We accept the fluidity of reality, not as some new age, eastern “yin yang” philosophy. We understand it to be reality. Obama answers questions carefully and measured. He leaves room for change, retraction, and addendum as the situation requires it. That might be what we admire about him as a politician more than anything, that he can be bring excitement, definition and energy, to gray.
Americans have seen what happens when their politicians paint with a broad brush. We’ve experienced what it’s like being racist xenophobes under the current administration. The inability to tell one Arab/Muslim/bad guy from the next allowed us to mistake Saddam Hussein for Osama bin Laden. The inability to see gray allowed us to miss the fact that nothing is more unsettling for a secular dictator than a religious zealot, no matter what your ethnicity or geographic commonality is, and therefore any alliance between them was ridiculous. I understood that, thousands who marched around the world before the Iraq war understood that, Barack understood that too.
Americans are tired of being treated like children. We are tired of our politicians thinking that we cannot understand the finite detail of world affairs. We understand that all of our friends and allies aren’t saints (Saudi Arabia, Israel etc) and we understand that our enemies are not the spawn of Satan (Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea). We understand that we make alliances of convenience, and that the civil rights violations and potential threats a country might bear against us are always weighed against their value as trade partners and strategic military allies.
Die hard republicans are exasperated because they believe that they haven’t yelled Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers and Tony Resco’s names loud enough. They don’t believe what is really happening, that Americans HAVE looked at Obama’s associations and have decided that we are tired of caricatures and unrealistic expectations. We understand the black church’s need to be a political and social force, and to remind it’s congregation of this countries past transgressions, so as to stay on guard for new ones. We also understand how a man can be overwhelmed by his position of ecumenical power and forget to speak with clarity and wisdom. We understand that it is possible to enter into a righteous cause with someone, who unbeknownst to us has, at one point, committed unrighteous acts. We understand that if you do enough business, with enough people, you will eventually do business with a criminal. We haven’t blindly turned away from Obama’s nefarious associations; we understand these associations as a gray reality of dealing with people. We understand that if you have never interacted with someone of questionable character or intentions that it is more of a reflection of you not expanding your circle, than some remarkable “spidey sense” to be able to stay away from evil.
That is why we are not encouraged by McCain’s bold claims that he can capture Bin Laden, but are instead fearful of that level of arrogance and certainty. That’s why we are not swayed by McCain’s cries of Obama being a socialist, because we understand that capitalism unchecked is cannibalistic and must be tempered by human hands that put people above profit. That is why, at the last debate, we stood in awe, as Obama offered an olive branch of working together to reduce unwanted pregnancies instead of bickering over the issue of abortion. More than any other argument, this one needed to be painted gray, a color McCain refuses to see, because his base responds only to black and white, red and blue, good versus evil.
There is a large but shrinking violet part of the country that is comforted by absolutes. They hear, speak and see no evil when it comes to God and country. They sleep easier knowing that communists and Muslims are bad guys and that the poor slacked their way into homelessness. Their religious leaders fail them, the beloved free market turns on them, and their military might fails to protect them, yet they cannot see that any absolute in this life is destined to disappoint. The rest of us see the absence of black or white, and long for a leader who brings us together, to explain the gray.
“So, I have to ask… are your sons mixed?”
Did you really have to ask? I’m not really offended, but thank you for confirming one of my biggest, deepest, darkest, and most shameful insecurities. It reminded me of when i did this event for a black sorority. They loved my presentation, took me out to dinner afterwards and everything …I’ll get back to that story.
So here’s the thing. I didn’t realize I was so color conscious until after the initial shock and awe of the birth of my beautiful sons. Olu and Dela were 5 lbs 1 ounce, and 3 lbs 9 ounces respectively. It had been a trying, complicated pregnancy. The second born, Dela, looked like a sleeping frog, including the narrowest butt in captivity. Among his many nick names (bantam weight champion of the world, skinny mini) “frog booty” is probably my favorite. He initially had problems breathing and drinking at the same time, but he worked through that just fine and they both look like handsome humans. He’s going to be Andre 5000. He can dance, beat-box, sing and play the jembe at the same time, despite the fact that I can never get the camera on in time to catch him. If he’s supposed to be the next Einstein I hope to know how to help him get there too. The first-born, Olu, is a stud; early sonograms show him kicking the crap out of his smaller brother. He walks around with legitimate (and overly used word these days) swagger, and is fiercely independent and alarmingly smart for a 2 year old. He’s at that cute stage where he can be smart ass and be applauded for his intelligence instead of sent to the corner for time out, and he knows it.
Almost immediately after they where born I noticed that these where the palest people I’d ever seen in my life. They were lighter than all the white doctors and nurses in the delivery room. I can’t even remember how my mind tried to rationalize it. I think I kept waiting for the color to kick in, some of my friends told me that’s what happened when they where born. But no, they are still at least 3 shades lighter than their mom, whose at least 2 shades lighter than me. Ahhh, and the blond hair around the edges of their face…
Okay, lets take this even further back. Their mom is half Cape Verdean. No, that’s not the made up ethnicity Tiger Woods said he was 10 years ago (that was “Cablasian”). It’s a small island of the coast of West Africa colonized by the Portuguese, a major stop in the Portuguese slave trade with Brazil. The people there are of every complexion you can imagine. Her grand father, one generation removed from Cape Verde, could’ve passed when he joined the U.S. military in WW II, but didn’t. They eventually made an all Cape Verdean division. There are now more Cape Verdeans in the US then in Cape Verde. They have damn near taken over New Bedford. When we first started dating, she told me not to be surprised if our children have hazel eyes and blonde hair, because Cape Verdeans are a hodgepodge of DNA. She has cousins, brothers and sisters with the same parents, who look black, Puerto Rican, and “mulatto” respectively. Neither of us knew how serious that possibility was.
It’s funny, but with my African last name people often ask me where my family is from. They look at me side ways when I say South Carolina. I haven’t done the whole “Skip Gates” thing and traced my DNA. I’ve traced my fathers family on his mothers side, the Hancock’s, through a 150 year old family tree scribbled in a bible to the “Hancox” plantation, lord knows the gumbo of combinations that happened there. My fathers mother, my grand mother, was about the same complexion as my children. She deserves a whole article to herself, but that’s for another day. We keep saying we’re going to go to the county seat and check the property records and track it even further. My father tells me that I have Cherokee or Katawba in my blood lines on his fathers side. So, basically “I got Indian in my family”. My mother side is black, as simple or complicated as that is in South Carolina.
Until I can find a way to narrow that whole explanation into one sentence, I just tell people, “nah, my sons are black, just mixed the way all of us are”.
Which is a much longer answer than the, “why should it matter?” that I want to say. But in reality, I feel like I understand. I would have the same questions, I wouldn’t have asked, but I think those things. The “black power” part of me is offended that people think their mother is white. I don’t judge anyone for deciding to be with someone of another race. It’s hard as hell finding love, and I don’t stand in the way of any one who thinks they have found it. At the same time, I could never see myself dating someone who didn’t identify themselves as black. I’ve never thought someone not black could relate to me because my blackness is a huge part of my self identity.
I’ve dated black women exclusively my whole life, of every complexion and shape. I must admit, however, that I’m as partial to light skinned black women as most black men. As sort of a nod to our conditioning, a favorite club game in college with one of my best friends and I was called “is she REALLY fine? or is she just light skinnededed?”. (you’ll find that if you really look at a lot of “fair skinned” women, they don’t have as much in common with Halle Berry or Alicia Keys other than their complexion). Talking black peoples obsession with race can get you on many tangents. So…
The look on black womens’ face, especially older black women, when I’m in the mall with my sons away from their mom, shifts from “They are the cutest little things in the word!” to “Shoulda got a sista!” in half a second flat. I get all the unspoken flak from being with a white woman, without any of the perks (you know, good credit and stuff like that), and I hate that I care. I become, in their minds, what is wrong with black men. On some level I feel like I should be able to relate to people in mixed marriages who go through that on a daily basis, but that’s not hardly what I signed up for. “They’re black dammit! I’m not your favorite basketball player or successful businessman who needed a white woman to complete his assimilation into society!” That thought is wrong on so many levels, but exactly what goes in my head.
I’m worried for my sons, and the strong African names I gave them, knowing that there is no way someone from African would ever consider them black. I’m also worried, because the few group physical confrontations I got into when I was younger, where always about jealous guys going after my light skinnededed, mixed friends. I’m more worried than anything that my own latent color consciousness will affect how I interact with them.
…So, I’m at the dinner table with a group of beautiful educated black sorority women, who are all laughing and engaged because they think I’m clever and a positive role model. They think I’m admirable because of my concern for our community and our children. I’m grinning from ear to ear because “This ‘Read a Book’ guy is the kind of black man we need more of in our community”. They love the way I speak glowingly of my sons. Naturally, they want to see a picture. When my wallet gets passed around, (they try not to, but non of them are theater majors) their faces change dramatically. After seeing that, so does mine.
Imagine for a second, a 50 year old adult with their eyes squinted shut, their pointer fingers jammed in their ears, and their whole upper body swiveling like a water sprinkler yelling “La La La La La!” at the top of their longs. That is the personification of the abstinence only program many socially conscious organizations are hauling around as dead weight, after being lured by the carrot of federal funding. On any given week day you will see 12 years olds being taught a perfectly valid social value, without being give any of the necessary tools to practice it.
Abstinence only doesn’t work because of a basic credibility problem. Yes, we want our young people to wait to have sex until they are at least mature enough to understand the ramifications of their decision, if not until they are married. But abstinence only operates in a vacuum, where your children will never hear about condoms, contraceptives, abortions or same sex relationships. That reality doesn’t exist. Your child will listen and take to heart everything you tell them about sex and sexuality, applying it to their daily lives, until they are exposed to something else that you didn’t prepare them for. At that moment everything you taught them about sex comes into question.
“If mom didn’t tell me about condoms, what else did she not tell me about?”
This will serve to do the exact opposite of what you intended, pushing your child to experiment on its own, instead of trusting your judgment about sex. How can you blame them? Your advice has proven to be partial at best, and a lie at worst.
Now, at a crucial time in our countries history, the epidemic of teen pregnancy and the policy makers who decide how we combat it has come together to form a perfect storm. And we have been forbidden to talk about it. Not only are we closing our eyes and acting as if we not acknowledging our children’s sexuality will make the problem go away. We must also pretend that we don’t notice that a conservative republican, who believes in abstinence only education, has a daughter who is pregnant at 17. We are not allowed to ask her what her conversations about life and sexuality are like with her children. We cannot ask her to explain how poor, single parent households are suppose to turn the tide of teen pregnancy when the Palin’s, with an obviously strong and cohesive family unit, cannot seem to get it right.
Please don’t misunderstand my position. I too feel like attacks on the Palin family are distasteful and crass. I have no urge to rub this in their face, call them bad parents, or question their core beliefs and values. I am, however, determined to make this a national conversation about how to protect our future through proactive understanding and education about our countries sexuality. As I’m sure Governor Palin’s eldest son will be the new mascot for why we must get it right in Iraq, her infant son will be the poster child for special needs children, her daughter’s situation should be a spring board to a much needed conversation on comprehensive sexual education.
I’ve worked as a counselor and then as a consultant for a non-profit organization federally funded to teach abstinence only classes in the Washington DC public school systems. My main task eventually evolved into making the abstinence curriculum “hip-hop friendly”. I incorporated popular music videos and radio hits into the curriculum. Those extremely overt songs about promiscuous sex that your pastor rails against, we spend 3 to 4 one hour sessions dissecting in detail. It’s amazing how much 12 years understand, or at least retain, about sex from popular media, their peers and the adults around them. One of the first exercises I would do when I begin as a counselor was to ask the students to act like their were no adults in the room and give me all the slang terms for sex and genitalia they could think of. On top of the typical old sexual jargon of violence and construction terms (bang, screw, nail, smash, hit) their where some new ones (cut) some regionally specific ones (bop) and one that I only thought would creep into the minds of those brave enough to read “savage love” on a weekly basis. I am amazed how few adults know what it means, but without fail every classroom of 7th graders yelled out “tea bagging” within the top 5 responses when asked to give me slang words on sex.
Even the most protected child has to acknowledge his or her parent’s naivety about modern sexuality because of all the information blatantly omitted from their sex talks. And while this might not lead directly to loose girls and gigolo boys, it is a seed that can grow given the wrong set of circumstances and friends. This is one of few subjects, if broached early and delicately enough, that you will have your child’s undivided attention. Their natural curiosity about their body and the complete lack of concrete information about the amazing transformation they are going through makes them wide open to suggestions at the ripe old of 10 to 12 years old.
Sex is not a private matter, it is an urgent matter of public safety! For the sake of our society’s future we need to agree upon some basics facts about sex and sexuality. Your values are your own, and should be passed from parent to child in ways that you are culturally comfortable. But a shared reality is that this is a world of penises and vaginas that are constantly colliding, sharing microbes and making more penises and vaginas. This affects public health, the economy, psychological and emotional health. This reality is older and will last longer than any language that is taught in school, whether it’s Latin or html. When your 11 year old daughter hears the term “getting some head” for the first time, it would be a lot more empowering for her to be able to say “my father explained what that was, and why I shouldn’t do it, you’ve got it all wrong” instead of “what does that mean?”.
And when we are given a chance to discuss this reality publicly we cannot pass up on the chance. We can be tasteful, we can be respectful and scientific. We cannot do the age old “hear no evil, see no evil” policy that has gotten us to this point. Too many lives are at stake.
Did you notice that tremendous thunder this Friday following the awe-inspiring speech by Barack Obama from over a mile high in the sky? No? That’s because the McCain campaign stole it with it’s out of this world decision to select Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate. This announcement made her the first women to ever be considered for the position in a Republican Presidential campaign. So what makes someone qualified to by Vice President? As John McCain so famously stated, “the only job of the vice president is to check up daily on health of the president, and attend funerals”. The Vice President should be able to carryout the policy of the President if the President isn’t able to do so. That being the case, who has made the best vice presidential choice in the 2008 presidential race?
Before I compare their choices, I must say that I’m loving the idea that now all of my favorite talking point hungry, right wing pundits, are going to have to give their heart felt argument every night that they believe a mother of five with a pregnant teenage daughter and a special needs infant is completely capable of running the country. Can you imagine Sean Hannity ever thinking he was going to have to make that argument? If this had been a Democrat he would have ripped her for not paying enough attention to her family. He, and many others, have already said that Obama was neglectful and arrogant to want to be president with two young children. I’m not going to incite the wrath of million of super-moms out there who balance careers and families, but the idea that her families age and size have no bearing on her ability to perform her job is ridiculous. Especially considering the social conservative understanding of the mother as family’s primary caregiver. I’d also love to see how fervent Obama supporter, Oprah, is going to respond to this. Sarah Palin should just have “future hour long guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show” highlighted in bold on the top of her resume. No matter how you feel about the woman, her story is compelling, and if champions for women’s advancement ignore her it would be very hypocritical.
Also, following the earth shattering news on Monday, I understand that direct and unscrupulous attacks on Palin’s daughter would be tasteless and out of place. But to say that teenage pregnancy of a conservative Vice-Presidential candidate is irrelevant is insane. Cultural conservatives are active in bringing policy and legislation that affects how people live their everyday lives. From abortion rights, to sex education, to gay rights, they don’t just have theoretical conversations about how people should live. They are actively writing laws and campaigning on sexual morality. When their personal lives directly reflect or interfere with public policy position, it has to become fodder for debate. The same as when the social conservatives where planning a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage (an amendment that would have been the first to take a right instead of grant one) and Dick Chaney’s daughter was out, openly gay, and trying to adopt a child. Being unable to discuss the real life instances as it is affected by government policy is unreasonable. Besides, the teenage pregnancy in the Palin family will be exploited by the religious right, as evidence of Palin’s firm commitment to life and example of her being a super-mom dealing with real world issues. Discussing the conservative position on sex and abstinence education only makes sense, and asking how current and future policies would affect Mrs. Palin’s current situation is a fair question that the American people should demand an answer to. That would not be an unfair attack, but a necessary step to further the dialogue on the subject.
Now lets compare their choices. Barack Obama selected Joe Biden, after running his entire campaign based on change, on being a new face in the White House that is not beholden to the old ways of Washington. After basing his entire movement on that concept, he selected one of the oldest and most familiar faces in Washington to carry out his legacy if he is unable to continue it. If Obama was trying to find someone who most closely reflected his background and outlook on the future of American society, one would tend to think he would have selected fellow political newbie, Virginia first term Governor Tim Kaine. But seeing how he didn’t want to scare people with too much change at once, he went with a “safe” choice, hoping to quell any doubts about risks involved in voting for him. Despite the fact the Joe Biden had echoed many of McCain’s concerns about Obama’s experience during the primary campaign, Obama is betting on him making voters less nervous about his Presidency.
John McCain selected the first term Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin. Mrs. Palin, who is renowned in Republican party circles as a reformer and social conservative, and whose foreign policy experience, according to some bright people at Fox News, comes from her close proximity to Russia in the Berring Straight. After running his entire campaign based on the idea that the country needed someone with real foreign affairs and war time experience he selected a candidate with no experience or (by her own admission) interest in either. What McCain did do was find the biggest poster child for feminist social conservatism since Mary mother of Jesus. He has successfully satiated the desires of the Dobson crowd while trying to pilfer votes from disgruntled Hillary supporters. Whether or not ex Hillary supporters are willing to jump ship just to see a women, any women, get a step closer to the White House is yet to be seen.
Let’s take a closer look at both of these selections. The job of the Vice President is to carry out the policy of the President in the event of an unforeseen circumstance. So who is really selecting the best choice? As pointed out earlier, both candidates have picked someone who seems diametrically opposed to some of their major arguments for their own legitimacy as President. But in reality Obama’s main focus is based on a philosophy. Obama’s campaign is based on an articulated vision of America, and though it wouldn’t have the same gravitas with someone else bringing the message, it shouldn’t be impossible for another individual to carry it out. Even though Biden’s career does not represent Obama’s movement of change, it’s not impossible for someone to over see the implementation of his ideas if they truly had the desire to. McCain however, has made real life experience a major point. There is nothing you can do to replace McCain’s experience in Vietnam, or a quarter of a century in congress. McCain and Bush, until recently being exposed by Obama and the Iraqi government, have contended that the wars in the middle east over terrorism are a fluid situation that demands a long-term commitment and wisdom to act on the changing reality there. They’ve argued that his wisdom can only be gained through real world experience. This isn’t a philosophy; this is a real tangible qualification that can be accounted for by a quick check of someone’s resume. Nothing on Palin’s resume, except complete faith in the supremacy and wisdom of a Christian God, matches what McCain says we need at this critical time in history to run our country.
So what are the Vice-Presidential selections really saying about the position. Without any heads up to the Robert Rules of Order, the “vice” has been replaced by “co” when it comes to running for second in line to the President. Instead of looking for a candidate who’s resume is similar to the one that each party has ordained as THE man for this crucial time in our history, the co-president is seen as someone who is filling in the gaps in experience (and voting demographic) of the Presidential nominee. Now we aren’t selecting the next best thing in the party, but the person who represents the most polar opposite demographic of the party in order to sell the other half of the party on coming out in droves to the polling booth and be a divergent view point in the White House. Now Barrack is not only a pioneering black man from the mid-west, but he’s also a white northeast baby boomer with military and foreign policy experience. Now McCain is not only a war veteran and foreign policy guru, but also an expert on family values and energy exploration.
The McCain campaign is hoping that they will be able to counter anyone who notices the hypocrisy in their selection with the claim that they are being anti-woman. But in reality, other than successfully stealing the spotlight on Friday, how can the Republican Party possibly justify their selection of Mrs. Palin as Vice President. I’ve already heard many talking heads argue that she is not running for President, but for Vice President. No one has called them out to define the job, which in my book involves a whole lot more than stealing headlines in the weekend news cycle
The end of last summer I felt that I was in the midst of a perfect storm, that place where conscious/socially relevant art was clashing with commercial media and the on going battle that BET likes’ to call “Hip-Hop vs. America”. This storm is causing a shift in the movement to uplift blacks, and the FEMA trailers of the old movement that are not able to stand in this environment will only be able to hold on in our memories.
With the emergence of non-traditional black sports stars like Tiger Woods and Venus and Serena Williams, the business success of Oprah Winfrey and Bob Johnson, and the political clout wielded by Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Barack Obama, the plight of the “poor Negro” is becoming irrelevant to the modern white America. Yes, there is still a legitimate case for government and and social institutions to aide “poor negroes”. There is still a battle to be fought, against this countries expectations and limitations, a battle against our educational and social enemies. All of these issues are an off shoot of the Imperialistic racism that caused us to be here, but expecting this country to solve this problem, especially after we’ve achieved so many token victories, is becoming more and more difficult.
The new battlefield is for the minds of our young people, specifically the battle over what it is to be authentically black. Unfortunately, the glorification of material things, the objectification of ourselves sexually, and the use of profanity has come to epitomize the essence of “realness” in commercial hip-hop. Most surprisingly, our young people are keenly aware of this fact, as evidence by the hundreds of emails and myspace messages I received from teenagers, they just feel powerless to change it. They’ve been programmed to think that popular culture happens to them, instead of something they can create the way the forefathers of hip-hop did.
Another major element of backlash that I received comes from the idea that nothing good can come from BET. The method by which the message was delivered probably had more to do with why it was effective and was it was rejected by some black intellegencia. This has led me to another valuable lesson. Yes, the major multi-media companies that hoard cable, radio, and record labels are life-sucking vultures that prey on the African American community. That knowledge does not negate the fact that real people, who want to find a way to change the message without affecting their companies’ bottom line, run these companies. You don’t understand how many record label A&R’s (my age and complexion) contacted me after seeing the video and then peeping my music on myspace saying that they would love to find a way to prove to their boss (a middle aged non-black man every time) that this is marketable in black society. Outsiders don’t think we want this, a message with our music, despite the reactions I get from middle school, high schools, night clubs and correctional facilities when I bring my music and message directly to them.
Honestly, I don’t always want a message with my music. To stretch around and pat myself on the back, Read a Book rocks no matter what your socio-political affiliations is, just because of how fun and live it is. This speaks to a larger issue, a level of compromise that needs to come from both directions. I’ll begin with a quick personal survey. How many positive, conscious (what ever you want to call them) message songs can you think of that you would put on when you want to start a party! What songs do you hear that actually motivate you, prod you to take action? Even some of my favorite conscious songs are for listening, dissecting and then agreeing with, but they don’t push me to anything. Music is a motivating force for me. It affects my attitude, my outlook for the moments while I’m listening and the moments immediately after until I’ve moved on to the next song.
Conscious artist have to start making pop songs! Most conscious cats think their music has to sound like Premo or Pete Rock did the track and that you have to rhyme like Nas or Thalib Kweli. No disrespect to any of those artist, I am definitely a fan, and they have paved their own lane and are still speeding down it from now until the foreseeable future. But many times when I talk to like minded artist, those who want to reach out to the youth, they send me to their websites where I hear a track that sounds like the “golden age of hip-hop”, which is completely irrelevant to the young people we are trying to affect.
Quick note to all edutainers, there is nothing inherently evil, anti-community or anti hip-hop about Mannie Fresh, Lil Jon and David Banner beats. The idea of equating real and potentially uplifting music with the digging in the crates style of production is what makes conscious rap irrelevant to under 25 year olds. Besides, the synthesized/live music feel of current commercial hip-hop has more in common with old school hip-hop than anything that happened in the Golden era. When I say old school I mean really old school, not 88 to 94, more like 78 to 85. The synths and simplified drum patters with claps for snares are a lot like the original stuff Bambataa was doing. The inability to embrace the style of production seems to come from adultism and regionalism. “There’s no way these young bucks know real hip-hop” or “That down south shit isn’t real, gimme an Alchemist beat!” Once again, every style has it’s place, but when was the last time a generation was able to successfully convince the next generation that their chosen style of music is some BS? NEVER!! So let’s embrace your 808 booms and thunderclaps, even that pitter-patter snare roll that you hear in everyone’s song now, for no other reason than to incorporate into our arsenal of tools to use when reaching our young brothers and sisters with music.
These are a few of the ongoing lessons I’m learning on this journey. I thank ya’ll for coming along for the ride!!
It is always awe inspiring to stand in the shadows of momentous historic events. On my way to Jena last year we stopped and toured the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama. An odd mixture of solemnity, reverence, and accomplishment was felt in the air, mixed with the images of the girls, the explosion, and the community coming together afterwards. I spent this past Tuesday night standing under the sign of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta Georgia. This unexpected pause from sound checks and cd sales let my mind scan through a slide show of all the protests and near riots I was shown during black history month. The sense of community and camaraderie that must have existed amongst the thousands who came out to decry the evils of a racist social system had to have been palpable. This was a time when our community’s adversary was clearly defined, wearing uniforms, and based on nothing but centuries of hate.
You might have the fortune to travel down Massachusetts Ave a little later today (March 1, 2008). If you happen by the home of Debra Lee, CEO of BET, you’ll see Rev Coates and his congregation, along with numerous other volunteers getting all 60’s civil rights era on Ms. Lee’s block. Picket signs and raucous chants disturb this upper class neighborhood for hours on end during the weekend. This battle is also about images. Enough is Enough is up in arms over the portrayal of young black people in their video programming. The images synonymous with this generation seem to be the “blinged” out rappers/pimps/drug dealers with scantily clad, physically blessed and racially ambiguous women. They are there protesting the negative images shown on BET and have chosen an old school, outdated and inappropriate way to cause the change they seek. Too many people with righteous intentions are trying to cure the ills of our society like bulldozers, dealing only in absolutes with no understanding of nuance. Like Denzel Washington said in Training Day “This ain’t checkers, this is chess”. Enough is Enough, who uses my video “Read a Book” as an example of BET’s debauchery, is so caught up in reenacting the images of five decades ago that they can’t perceive what they are really protesting against, capitalism!
Picketing a corporation to make them change their practice from a proven business model is a direct attack on capitalism. Now, if you want to attack capitalism we can all turn off our cell phones, do a bug sweep of the room and discuss that in detail. But in real life, very few of Rev Coates’ followers probably understand the awesome undertaking they are participating in. All they know is back in the day, if you had a problem in the way your community was being treated you folded arms with your neighbor and sang “We Shall Overcome”. That was a completely different situation though, when the enemy was the local, state and federal government, not a multi-billion dollar corporation. Social institutions respond to social pressure, businesses react to the business pressure!
Enough is Enough’s website makes a very interesting point, that they can’t just affect the profits of BET by not turning to that particular station because most cable packages make you pay for BET whether you are turning to the station or not. They are currently working for legislation to remedy that. Until then they are reduced to chanting in front of Debra’s house. But there are ways around that, ways to affect Comcast or your Satellite provider. They can collectively decide to not buy cable until they make BET an option instead of part of the standard package. Now, this would entail missing out on ESPN, CNN, The Food Network, Oxygen, a plethora of gospel channels etc.. This might be a bit of belt tightening that is too much for his constituency, but if they are really serious about affecting BET, this seems to be the most effective technique.
The organizations website also makes another interesting point, one that Al Sharpton likes to make on a regular basis. You can’t imagine someone portraying such consistently negative depictions of Jews or gays or any other minority group the way the video programs on BET do. But the power that these groups have in thwarting negative images of them is based in their spending power, and is only bolstered by the media coverage that comes from staging demonstrations, not created by it.
Can you imagine the amount of money you lose in this country, in consumers and investors, if you offend the wrong group? The question then becomes, why haven’t black people flexed that kind of monetary muscle? The only explanation is that we, as a group, have not made the connection to the images and music on BET and the problems that we’re having in our communities. When we battled Jim Crow there was never an issue with convincing people that the system was evil, only whether or not it was safe to protest. Our mission seems to be convincing the masses that they need to be upset and take action. Maybe we are over estimating the importance of the imagery? I doubt that, but I must believe that our lack of understanding of our young people’s real issues and aspirations leads to the inability to be able to guide them away from such negative images.
Beyond the fact that BET is not a social agency and therefore won’t react to social pressure that’s not connected to any financial pressure, they’ve also seemed to miss a very important distinction. Viacom is a corporation, Debra Lee is a person. During the build up and the height of the “Read a Book” hoopla I met numerous executives from the most powerful media and entertainment companies in the country. Beginning with the staff of BET’s animation department and including sub-divisions of every major record label in the country (there are only four). I had numerous lower level executives and A&R’s explain to me how much they loved what I was doing, beyond Read a Book. They all told me in detail how they would love to sign me, but they couldn’t find a way to convince their higher ups that there is a viable market for “conscious” or “positive” hip-hop. We would talk about how tired they are of putting out the same cookie cutter thug rap, and have tried to inject some creativity into their label. At the same time, each of these label exec’s had a platinum plaque or a poster on their wall from one of the recent “ring tone” rappers. They would listen to my project and applaud the lyricism and musicality, then start talking numbers.
This experience led to a very important lesson for me. The employees of these companies know that their programming is acting as a leach, sucking the economic and artistic energy away from their own communities. But they have a job to do. Some of these A&R’s and program directors are trying to find creative ways to circumvent the current programming, but haven’t come up with a formula to beat the proven “Sex, Drugs and Money” fascination that’s rampant in our culture. I would love for Rev Coates to do a poll of his congregation on their jobs and how what they do as a 9 to 5 conflicts with the over all well being of their community. Attacking people for doing their job belies a basic misunderstanding behind the driving force of our economy.
Michael Moore made an outstanding point in the great documentary called The Corporation. He explained the puzzling phenomenon of how a billion dollar corporation would support, through production and distribution, films and other mediums exposing the negative affect of that said corporation on our community. The explanation is simple. They only look at the bottom line. Blind to actual content and intent of any particular product, these corporations don’t care if you’re chanting down Babylon, as long as people are paying to hear it. That’s also why the hilarious episode of the Boondocks (banned from TV and leaked onto the internet) is insightful and entertaining but inaccurate. The execs at BET are not planning the downfall of black people; they are plotting how to make money. If you want to debate the merits of putting making money over the welfare of your community then count me in, but realize that once again you are battling capitalism, the very root of our country. That is a much more daunting task.
Reverend Coates has tapped into something incredibly powerful. To mobilize dozens of people to protest on a Saturday or Sunday instead of watching football or going to the mall is no small feat. This shows strong dedication to a cause and a willingness to sacrifice. I applaud there willingness to take action instead of just complain, like many social commentators do. Couldn’t this energy be directed towards constructing something healthy instead of destroying something you don’t agree with? Let’s use that energy to advocate a viable alternative, or at least inform us if you already are. Give your proactive efforts as much air time as your reactive ones.
In 2008 our young people have so many options to receive their information and entertainment from. My company has various new contracts to create video content for the internet; because the surge of blogs and social chat rooms has created a market for media that many believe is going to compete with the cable television and commercial radio. There are also fledgling cable alternatives targeting our communities like TV One. The production cost of the one episode of the Oprah Winfrey show when she berated hip-hop artists and executives could be used to start a record label or online magazine that would display music and images that Oprah would be proud to support.
If you let someone choose between the obviously clean and the dirty glass of water, he’ll pick the clean one every time. This has to be a concept that Rev. Coates is already familiar with. I doubt if he protests outside of brothels and drug houses, but instead tries to make his own church and congregation a beacon of light for people to be drawn to.
I would love to see Enough is Enough endorsing a hip-hop artist, a concept that my friend and collaborator Cedric Muhammad has cleverly called a “buycott”. Someone who’s message they agree with and whose music moves young people. These artists exist all over the place but are often ignored by main stream media. The mainstream is hard headed about anything different, but I know from personal experience that when you expose a teenager, even ones who are hard core “gangsta rap” fans to a positive and creative song that addresses their real concerns and/or projects an image of their desires and possibilities that they will flock to it. Enough is Enough could stay home in their comfortable chairs in front of their computer and work as said artists promotional team. They could spend that time sending messages to their favorite radio stations, informing the hoards of music fans on myspace and facebook about this artist. They could volunteer to be apart of Nielson ratings and keep their stations turned to positive programming, both edifying themselves and affecting the all important numbers that every media corporation watches.
Wouldn’t it be gratifying to walk into Debra Lee’s office and demand that she plays the video of artist “x” because you have empirical evidence (through the work of your organization) that this message sells, that this is the clean glass that every is thirsty for, that this is the image of the future that our young people can relate and aspire to.
I believe that Coates and Co have not advocated on behalf of any music or videos because they are operating under an old activist model and it just hasn’t occurred to them to be “pro” something instead of “anti” something else. His organization even protested outside of the BET Honors Awards! Someone had to have thought for a second that it would be in their best interest to encourage this program, which was specifically designed to honor our community’s accomplishments in every aspect of society, not just sports and entertainment. At some meeting to plan that protest it didn’t occur to anyone to support this program? They then could let BET know that if they create more programming like this they can expect more support from concerned citizens.
I don’t want to believe that they avoid supporting anything because he knows that the mass media will come and give you much more than 15 minutes of fame if you are protesting something bad in our community, but won’t give you the time of day if you are working diligently on something constructive. Career civil rights activists like Jesse Jackson would never support a grassroots hip-hop movement because at its outset CNN and MSNBC would not be calling him to pontificate about it on their networks. If it became successful, however, he would jump right on and claim to be part of spearheading the movement. The grassroots movement does not have the immediate gratification of seeing people marching arm in arm, but has a long lasting affect on the issue, including the building of an actual infrastructure to combat the ills they are protesting. It will be a slow process but one that will benefit hip-hop music and whatever new art form our young people are naturally cooking up right now that will emerge in the next decade. As the great historian John Henrik Clarke once said “we must begin projects that our grand-children will finish”.
I haven’t met Rev Coates personally, but colleagues who have tell me they believe he is earnest in his intentions to improve our young people’s lives by protecting them from negative images. My challenge to him would be to use the momentum he’s created and begin inundating our youth with positive messages. This effort wouldn’t have to be created from scratch. A quick Google search and you will find numerous organizations with the same concern as Enough is Enough, but who have chosen to take a proactive instead of a reactive approach. Organizations like the Hip-Hop Assocation, Hip-Hop Caucus, and Words Beats & Life are making moves to provide our young people with creative and positive alternatives. Artist all over the country like Strange Fruit Project, Blu and local artists like Tri-Flava and Asheru project a real image of black life and aspirations.
This is what the new movement looks like, young people in front of the camera or behind the microphone, making art that deals with their life and reality, being supported and guided by the adults in their community. It’s the image of young people on their computers and cell phones, forwarding pictures and songs from their new favorite artists. They are still reachable, and they are yearning very hard to be a part of a movement bigger than themselves. It is our job to show them what they can and should be, not just fight against what they should not be. When it comes to outdated tactics, enough is enough. It is time to become proactive.
“That’s why I chose you. See . . . you one a ‘dem!!”
– Samuel L. Jackson in “A Time to Kill”
So the hubbub has finally subsided. The King of Black People (Jesse Jackson) and the Prime Minister (Al Sharpton) have officially knighted Senator Obama as black enough. Of course it took a gang of white people in Iowa voting for him before anyone felt comfortable anointing him, but it happened none the less. I personally take credit for Obama solidifying the black vote because every time someone asked me that asinine “is he black enough” question, I would quip “what do you expect the first black president to be? A dashiki wearing, afro with a black fist pick having ex-black panther?”
Since that question seems to be settled, it’s time for Barack to switch gears. Okay, maybe not Barack himself, he does a good job of appearing to be above the political and racial fray. But his supporters need to start pushing the idea of how white he is. Yes, that’s right; Barack Obama is as white as he is black. The one drop rule is not a genetic law or a social fact; it is a construct of this countries racist imagination. For Christ sake, he’s distant cousins with Dick Cheney. We need to start stressing the idea that his universal appeal is partly due to him being white, like all the presidents before him.
“But Bomani, we need to appeal to the historic significance of him being black, or try to make him non-racial!”
Nothing is further from the truth. In all honesty, the more I watch him talk and interact with people, the more I’m convinced that he is a “soul brother”. He walks with a rhythm, slaps skin when he shakes hands with even the most white-bread politician, and speaks in a cadence that would make Rudy Ray Moore proud. Even though these attributes are part of the reason he has garnered support in the important blocks of voters like African Americans, liberals, anti-war activists, and the highly educated, it will also serve to galvanize a voting block that hasn’t had to come together in the history of our country. That is the all important “Aw Hell No!” voting block.
That’s right; the “Aw Hell No!” political block in our society has lain dormant for 200 years, waiting for a moment to flex its political muscle. Don’t forget that this country is over well over 60% white and well under half of the population votes. That means there are a lot of white people who could care less about the political process. They believe that national politics are really out of their reach and that it’s not worth taking off work to participate. As long as the Federal government stays within some superficial norms, they aren’t worried about who does what in November. That’s until a black man (and to be honest a, woman) had a chance to be president. This attack on the laws of the universe is destined to cause a spike in once apathetic voters.
This is the part of the editorial where I resist the temptation to stereotype all the members of the “Aw Hell No” voting block as backwoods, tobacco chewing, and cousin screwing hicks. That would be too easy and probably in accurate. This group has young and old members, in the rural areas and urban communities. “A.H.N.” members are comfortable in their existence and just aren’t ready for such a dramatic change. Most surprisingly, some members of this block have spoken glowingly of Senator Obama, maybe even attended his rallies. They won’t realize they are members of this group until the curtain is closed behind them in the voting booth.
For this reason, Barrack’s white heritage needs to be played up as much as possible. He needs to start posing with his mother’s family a lot more, not the United Nations crew of brothers and cousins he’s normally seen running with. Staffers need to start snapping as many pictures as possible of him putting mayonnaise on his sandwiches and shaking hands straight up and down (no more low fives that evolve into a shake with that pat on the back). He should also be banned from speaking at any kind of Baptist church, just churches that have only a pipe organ as an instrument and sing their songs solemnly and straight from a hymnal. Barrack should be given diction lessons so he can stop cutting of his y’s (like “li-ber-teh” and “e-kwa-li-teh”). And for heavens sake, when he’s campaigning this summer, avoid outdoor rallies!! We can’t afford him getting any darker. (Is there some cute, anglo sounding nick name that we can use as short for Barrack? I’m open to suggestions.)
“But Bomani, playing into racial stereotypes has to be counter productive! And having him fake anything takes away from the realness that gives him such broad appeal!”
Look, after he wins the presidential election I will personal show up on Pennsylvania Ave during his inauguration procession to the White House, wearing red, black and green and screaming “Barrack, Bomaye!!”. Until them I am not taking any more chances acknowledging him as a black man. If you want him to win the election I suggest you do the same.