Driving While Black…The unlucky American reality

My family and I have spent this past Sunday being lazy and pretty much recuperating from my stepmother’s birthday celebration. As the day drew itself out and night rushed in, I realized I would not be cooking dinner. With it being All-Star weekend, I suggested my family of four go to Friday’s where we’d be able to eat and finish enjoying the game.

 

Afterwards, we were headed home in good spirits. But all was not that smooth, as I had to give my children their hourly reminder that sibling bickering and name-calling was absolutely inappropriate and against every spiritual law of family.  Deep into the discussion, I noticed a CPD unmarked detective’s car languishing on a side street about 2 miles away from our home.  in our neighborhood (where we CHOOSE to reside, you see a lot of those, yet the crime rate is ridiculously higher. One would presume more cops means less crime, but I digress).

 

At any rate, I instinctively got a small tug of anxiety and tenseness. After all, my husband was driving and for those of you who are unfamiliar with the scenario, something about a Black man driving after dark (well anytime, but surely if it is nightfall) alarms racist cops that this might be their lucky day. And the luck is certainly not on the Black hand side. All that to say, I was only mildly surprised when we were pulled over tonight. I became incensed when the pig comes up and demands ID without initially stating why we were pulled over. Furthermore, it was quite obvious when questioned about why we had been stopped,  he tried to intimidate and made up an obvious lie about a warrant. That is a bold-faced lie, my husband has NEVER been arrested, nor detained nor any criminal activity in his entire life! But on this night, my children became near hysterical as they witnessed their father falsely detained in the back of a police car, a place for criminals.

 

Next time you are out, count the number of drivers who are pulled over for “traffic stops.” Pay attention to the number of drivers asked to step out of their cars for such stops. Of those who are stopped, ask yourself what is the common factor? If that does not paint the picture for you, recall the lives of Latonya Haggerty, Robert Russ, Cornelius Ware, or even Sean Bell, Oscar Grant and the legions of others whose lives have been snuffed out over alleged probable cause.

It doesn’t matter what kind of car. The number of passengers, nor the very obvious fact that a man is driving his wife and children home will make any impression on the “officers.” There is an “us against them” mentality, and often times tax-paying, law-abiding citizens caught up in this game of numbers.

While in college, when my husband and I were home on school breaks, we drove everywhere in his Chevy Monte Carlo….nothing fancy, but def a popular car of the times. It was also a police magnet. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times we were pulled over, car seats ripped out, he and his friends searched. Never given a ticket (not like he was actually speeding or violating any traffic laws). Nobody ever hauled off to jail (not too much crime you can get into when everything you do is with family and close friends who all attend college with you). So what conclusion can we come to?

 

I’ve never been one to accept this assumption of power and authority inherent regarding most police forces. I’ve been a victim of police brutality myself too often, most memorable being slapped, arm twisted and handcuffed by an officer who was no less than 6ft tall 230lbs. All this as a 17yr. old who stood 5ft tall weighing 94lbs.  Not to mention the numerous occasions my teenage male friends were stopped and searched by police as we walked to/from the store or ran errands for our families. Some were standing on corners or sitting on our front porch. Only thing that deterred police from harassing them was another group of Black youth had caught their eyes first.

 

My past pushed me to understand my rights for myself and my community. I enrolled in more than 12 hours of criminal justice classes during my college career. I have always been involved in some capacity or another with groups who teach and advocate for social justice.

 

At the same time, I also speak out and work within my community to fight crime, even attending CAPS meetings or covering issues in my work. Nobody, regardless of race/affiliation gets a pass from me for wrongdoing and short-changing my community.

 

So it messes with me on a personal level when “officers of the law”  charged with protecting and serving, contrarily see their role to intimidate, and assume that we are all ignorant to our rights. Interrogating the very communities they should engage and partner with. How many police officers were shot and killed in recent months? Is there not a need  to befriend the community so that we can all keep each other safe?

 

Mayoral election day is here in Chicago, and there is a constant barrage of  campaign commercials where candidates laud their platform for more cops to combat the crime. Primarily I hear this from Rahm and Chico. What will be their directives? More racial profiling? More insensitive and detached detectives to harass Black citizens? More “justified” shootings by police?

Not only does our family live in Englewood, we own property. Our tax dollars pay the salaries for the very same racist cops who treat us as enemies. Crime is a reality everywhere. If it weren’t, police departments would not exist and cops would need a new career choice. At the same time, EVERYONE is not a criminal. If you approach your job with that outlook, the rapport you have with citizens will flourish. Trust will build and someday overshadow the historical justification for “no snitching” codes that are a detriment to our community and hamper closure to criminal cases.

 

Yet, if police keep conducting themselves as a gang and community terrorists, the level of empathy and community will further dissipate so that many will not find a sympathetic bone in their bodies when tragedy trumps honor.

 

That is the reality.

 

So we must ask of Weiss, Daley, Rahm, Chico and those who advocate for more officers: How can police effectively do their jobs serving the communities they work while turning from luck and embracing spiritual laws that always win?

 

Here’s something for Chicagoans to consider as you head out to vote for Mayor…

 

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-071205cops-htmlstory,0,2906787.htmlstory



Black History Month: Relevant or Unnecessary

Every year without fail, folks pose the preposterous question, “is Black History Month relevant?

Well…I could immediately begin lamenting the train of thought that leads one to pose that question. But I’d rather share a story with you.

Not so long ago, growing up on the low end of the south side of Chicago, my neighborhood was big on history. In fact, within a 20-block radius of our home on 49th and Michigan, it was nothing to pass through vibrant Black institutions. There was Baldwin Ice Cream Parlor where my cousins and I sat in their heart-shaped chairs and ate our favorite Bubble-gum filled ice cream. On our way to and from the family’s place of worship, Pilgrim Baptist Church; a historical institution itself, we passed the Supreme Life Insurance Building.  There were the public housing developments such as Robert Taylor and Ida B. Wells homes. And the elementary schools I attended, Anthony Overton and Walter H. Dyett Middle School, which similar to a majority of the other schools in the surrounding area were all named for courageous and pioneering Black Americans such as Mary C. Terrell, Bessie Coleman, Jean-Baptiste Pointe Dusable to name a few.

Funny thing about all that history on the low end is its significance was rarely directly imparted to us children, especially concerning the names of the schools we entered everyday. Back then those institutions and businesses stood as a backdrop to a decaying community where Pony cocaine packs littered the streets, neighborhood drunks became heroes, prostitutes turned tricks in vacant lots and schools named after greatness dealt in mediocre standards.

The only time we became remotely aware of the greatness that at one time thrived in our very neighborhood was during the 28 days of February. And even then, only a select few highlighted for us.

Today, that neighborhood is no longer the undesirable “low end” but in its gentrified state is referred to by a much more distinguished name, Bronzeville. There are actual history tours dedicated to showcasing all the landmarks and legacy there.

Considering how little the children who grew up there in the early 80s and 90s were collectively taught of the greatness we were born from, I can’t help but wonder how little of ourselves we would have known if not for Black History Month.

And that’s not the only relevance Black History Month has. Here’s a list in no particular order:

Cultural exchange…

The reality, outside of our own timelines, news and RSS feeds, nobody else is really talking about contributions of Blacks, at least not in any historical context. And with the exception of a few conscious minded Black folks and curious foreigners, the study of Black life and culture is hardly a major interest of whites.

Get your mind right….

So much superfluous chatter online and talk shows, in barber shops and hair salons, relegated to ice cream tattoos, Real Housewives and The Game drama, Twitter beefs, and all things pop culture. At least folks pay a little more attention to our heritage and legacy during February.

Return of investment (ROI)

Corporations and institutions who earn millions of dollars from their strategic marketing and psychological bait of Blacks, invests a small token of those earnings to diversity and cultural programming, much of it during BHM. Not to mention some of our grand award programs and specials would sorely miss the sponsorship dollars.

BHM pays the bills…

Many a Black freedom fighter, professor, author and otherwise self-proclaimed intellectual banks on the speaking engagement and panel appearances across the county. If not for the BHM circuit, most of them would never gain access to the level of mainstream exposure (paid gigs) they garner during February.

I see Black people…

PBS and Cable networks dedicate the entire month to feature Black films and culture, i.e. HBO Lackawanna Blues, What the Lord Made et al

New school…

In these times, schools don’t bear the names of historic figures that its scholars can relate to, but named for neighborhoods or corporate donors. Kids don’t even get to wonder or Google about the greatness over the doors they walk through daily.

The vision…

When Carter G. Woodson created first the week and later the month, the intent was to celebrate all the accomplishments of Black Americans. He had already devoted his life to the research and study of Black life, subsequently forming the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The month-long celebration is merely an extension.

Which is why I just don’t understand how some question its relevance. Are you ready to say farewell to Black History Month? Have we really overcome a time for celebrating our history?

Pride and disappointment: Oprah Behind the Scenes

When I was a kid, I watched TV with my mother a lot. All the dramas of that time, both prime time dramas and daytime soap operas. But I loved watching Phil Donaghue’s talk show. He had these really intriguing people from a myriad of backgrounds. I loved the format; a host asking the most revealing questions, leading an audience yet also allowing them to ask questions. It was the audience that caught my attention mostly though, because it always had faces that resembled those of my neighbors and mine. And the show fed my young, curious and analytical mind. I was born a journalist at heart so Phil Donaghue’s show was a provision that fed that in me.

Oprah Winfrey back in the day

Yet, the game changed when along came this Black woman doing the same thing Phil was doing. Now it was no longer just the audience, voyeurs but the host, OprahWinfrey who I could identify with. I remember seeing her and thinking how much she looked like my kindergarten teacher, Miss Akebe, whom I loved.

Oprah from there to here

Instantly I loved Oprah, too. And I wanted to be just like her, in charge and telling stories, finding answers.

She's got her OWN thang!

Fast-forward to my big girl dreams, and Oprah is still the measure of possibility. Simply the best to ever do what she is doing, on her terms. In fact, this next chapter in her life is so ambitious and next level, it churns inspiration and faith into some kind of ‘dream big concoction” and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one sipping it on New Year’s day when she launched the Oprah Winfrey Network.

The 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards - Show

We celebrate Oprah and her intrepid living. We embrace her accomplishments as our own. We own a pride manifested simply because of her being, after all she epitomizes the very best of our people for the world to see.

And maybe that all equates to illusions of ownership. Maybe we believe we can claim Oprah…that she somehow belongs to us.

That would explain why I always feel a stinging pang of disappointment when I faithfully tune in. And though the inference is there in her selection of guests and topics for her show, the Oprah Season 25: Behind the Scenes gave us all clarity. As O herself coined for us, she gave us our very own “Aha moment.”

This program was to honor the 464 staff employed by arguably the most influential woman. (I would be remiss not to note how monumental that feat is for a Black woman). Oprah opened the program by saying, “Over the past 24 years you’ve seen me as the face of the Oprah show. But, I do not do this alone. Now meet the team behind the scenes, they are the best in the business.”

And then we got our “big reveal.” From all appearances, it looks as if only 5% of her staff looks like her, shares her roots. Still, more telling than that is the fact that her senior staff is void of ANY color. Hmmm.

I can’t help but feel some kinda way. Does this mean that in her estimation, the best creative minds, the most astute producers in the business do not look like her. On behalf of all the intelligent, talented, creative, tenacious, ambitious, capable and trained producers like me; I have to wonder almost like a child whose parent won’t claim them “why am I not good enough for her.”

Too deep huh? Maybe. Maybe not.

I can definitively tell you that producers often have just as much power (if not more) over the messaging and tone of productions than the hosts. Which is why I feel caught up in this quagmire of feelings back and forth between pride and disappointment when I look behind Oprah and see no Black women, no Latino representation nor heterosexual men in senior level production positions.

My feelings are further validated when one of her senior producers, a white gay male, adamantly fought against a segment he thought would give a platform to anti-gay rhetoric. This was his rationale…

“As a gay man, I have a strong opinion. We have 130 slots left to change the world; make our mark, I don’t understand why this would be one of them. We don’t just portray the reality on our show. We pick and choose what we want based upon criteria of how we want to produce the show.”

See, producers bring their perspective and experiences to their jobs just as much as anyone else. Is it wrong to feel Oprah owes it to her community, to ensure our perspective adequately represented? What does she owe the many little Black girls and boys who grow up training and aspiring to be like her if not empowering job opportunities? If Black women are not up to her standards, why not adopt a school of journalism at an HBCU?

Her philanthropy cannot be challenged. O gives unequivocally. But what of the missionary who does not see the value in those she shares gifts with? The exchange is only valuable when the philanthropist realizes there are gifts to receive from the recipient as well. No greater fulfillment comes from reciprocity that you can repay to your charitable giver.

Miss O summed up her next level living with her vision for OWN. She says it is “a network that empowers you the viewer to turn your dreams into reality.”

I wonder if I, as a viewer, will see myself enough to feel empowered.

Then again, maybe Oprah doesn’t owe me a thing…

Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls

Rocking and Whipping into 2011

Last year, or the year that ended yesterday, I crossed paths with so many remarkable sisters either on a personal level, virtually, or through their craft. The gift of these women was ever more awe-inspiring when I got to meet many of them in person and form authentic, enduring connections. These women and their voices have empowered me in my work moving into this New Year, new decade. Their voices honor community, invoke a spirit of self-love, and celebrate the power we all have in common. I salute them all and share their gifts with you so you too can connect to your purpose in 2011.

Divine Purpose…
Surprisingly, my most profound moments of 2010 came for me at the very beginning and end of the year. Both are testaments of how divine spirit navigates our lives and fulfills our wildest visions. Going into 2010 when I was called to lead the Chicago/Windy City Cares Mentoring Circle of the National Cares Mentoring Movement, I gave only a fleeting thought to the possibility that I’d get to meet, let alone become a true comrade with its national founder, Susan Taylor. You know who she is, but if not get your history lesson on. While I’d dreamed all my life of writing for Essence Magazine, this current work is beyond anything I imagined myself bold enough to take up. But Susan has proven to be committed to work that touches and saves the lives of our children, thereby saving our community. And her solution to our most alarming plights is all so simple, mentoring our youth. To that end, Susan’s work ethic and passion for our people is selfless and sets a standard for what we owe our community. Her motto, ‘Not on our watch.” Find out more about NCMM or connect with a mentor opportunity in your community.

A New Way Forward…

Then in early December I attended the inaugural healing retreat and release of A New Way Forward: Healing What’s Hurting Black America. Side note: ANWF manual was also edited by Susan Taylor. That’s just a minor detail when you take into account the power of this weekend. The experience awakened something in my spirit that had been shut down since the violent and senseless murder of my good friend/brother in March 2010. After that tragedy, I closed off unconditional love for my community, for my people. But sharing in the trainings, hearing the testimonies, and seeing the abundance of love from others who have been wounded while giving to others allowed me to open my heart. Adding to that were the numerous powerful sisters I met like Dereca Blackmon , Oakland Bay Area spiritual/community activist and member of Oakland Cares Mentoring Circle; Tracey Bell Borden, who moved fashion forward in the fight for justice in the Oscar Grant murder, using fashion to amplify the message during demonstrations you could spot her designs of Grants endearing face and freedom phrases on T-shirts and art; then there was funny lady Meshelle Shields who is not only a comedienne, but SWB (Sister with a brain) She’s on leave from her doctoral studies in Psychology at Temple University. The chance to reconnect with the wonderful Asha Bandele was also a highlight of the weekend further cemented by the simple fact that she understood the relevance of the date we all convened to begin a historical healing. It was also the anniversary of the assassination of Chairman Fred Hampton, Sr father to our mutual friend Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr.

Dereca Blackmon fighting for justice in Oscar Grant murder

Funny sister, Meshelle Shields, the Indie-Mom of Comedy

But here is some more sister goodness!

I have to be honest and put it out there. Tracy Taylor is my best friend, my closest confidante outside of my hubby for the past 13 years. It is because I am privy to her personal struggles and challenges that I am so in awe of her ambition and tenacity. Tracy moves against all odds and creates the reality she dreams of and subsequently dreams of creating the best visions of Blacks on screen. This year she took her web-series, The New 20s, to new heights. From major screenings including Writer’s Guild Of America Web Series Screening, LA Web Fest; and featured in film festivals such as Mid Atlantic and the Texas Black Film Festivals; not to mention the awards and commendations. Still, the web can’t hold her, The New 20s made its television debut in New York during the series’ run at the New York Television Festival’s Spotlight Series. Major moves indeed. Be sure to check out The New 20s and look for the next season coming Spring 2011. So yeah, I am her unofficial publicist and president of the Tracy Taylor fan club.

Digital sisterhood
You’ll probably see a common theme in this write-up and that is “connections.” Ananda Leeke is definitely connecting sisters through her research for her memoir coming Dec. 2011. I love how she defines digital sisterhood and how she helps other women stand in their own power. I can’t wait until the book is published. But then again, I don’t have to because I’m following her on Twitter.

I have never had the pleasure of meeting nor virtually connecting to these ladies, but their work has touched me deeply. Check them out…

When I heard Majora Carter’s feature on Democracy Now back in the spring, she reaffirmed my vision of changing the vacant lot a few doors from my house into a community garden. Because of her, I marched into my Alderman’s office with a plan for transformation. Proud to say we are building the blocks to have the garden started in spring 2011.

Watch her TED Talk on Greening the Ghetto

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf


Turning the page…
I’d taken my kids to the bookstore to browse, see what new books they wanted. My daughter spotted a new novel by Jewel Parker Rhodes. I surprised her with it for Christmas. It’s about a girl living in Ninth Ward-NOLA and how she pulls from the best of her to survive Katrina. Powerful story. Needless to say I fell in love with it myself.

It was purely accidental that I came upon Alisa Valdez Rodriguez’s acclaimed Dirty Girls Club which has a pretty robust cult following. I admire her fight with big media corporations to keep the integrity of her work and above all for her commitment in honoring the historical context of the African Diaspora, especially as it relates to the connection Blacks and Latinos. I love a Latino sister that celebrates her roots from the Motherland for sure!

Keepers of the culture

It was a bittersweet year for black art and culture, especially here in Chicago when we lost the mother of Black Art, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, who founded the Dusable Museum of African American History. Though she passed at the age of 95, she lived a full and giving life. The saving grace is that her legacy is being carried forth by Dr. Carol Adams whose leadership of Dusable Museum is fortifying the collection of works birthed by the African Diaspora. community If you visit Chicago, be sure to Du-something for history!

Let’s Move

FLOTUS Michelle Obama kick started the campaign that put America’s big problem front and center with her Let’s Move campaign, the fight against childhood obesity. Not that I’m biased (wink wink) but this sure beats “Just say No” and “Stay in School campaigns.” I’m most proud that she is bringing much needed resources to communities that are dealing with food deserts and how her work helped get the Healthy, Hunger Free Act passed.

Whip it real good!
Willow Smith. With just three words this pint sized girl made whipping your hair the coolest thing to do in 2010. I Whip My Hair is the anthem for her peers, and heck even pushed the confidence level of grown women off the charts.

Black Girls Rock

There was so much buzz following BET’s special programming, Black Girls Rock. The vibe was contagious and seemed to be an extension of the pervasive spirit evident of 2010. The founder of the organization and executive producer of the special programming Beverly Bond is a visionary and is filling an indomitable void in the media’s display of how awesome Black women are.

There was no other moment this year that shored up my definitive faith that I can step out and devote my entire lifestyle to the development of all black girls growing up in Urban America.

But of all the honorees, one voice rang with clarity, a trumpet call for the life work we are charged with doing as human beings. Mrs. Ruby Dee gave us this precious gem in her acceptance speech:
http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:media:video:bet.com:1429791

I was a lucky, lucky little kid because I was engaged very early with words and ideas. One of the jobs of an artist is to try to make real that force that you don’t really see it except when you look in the mirror. You don’t really see it until you look at somebody else…All through the dark ages of racism in America you will find women in the forefront of so much. When I think of Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary McCleod Bethune, Ida Wells Barnett, and the white sisters who joined them and helped in their struggle…all of those human beings, were just doing what they were supposed to do. They were clearing the path for the people who were to come after them. That’s what we supposed to do as human beings…we make it better.

I’m not where I’m supposed to be, then always becoming!”

And with those words, I enter into 2011!

Qualifications of a Change Agent

Saving the next generation is arguably the most pressing issue our community faces. The violence is deafening. The hyper-sexualized chorus of hot mommas and dope boys harmonizing over raging hormones and chemical imbalances is overwhelming. Startling statistics of illiteracy paralyze self-confidence and cripple ambition. There is desperation for resolve…a healing.

So many have researched and studied the systematic depression we find ourselves. From government entities to pedagogic institutions to interests groups many have invested in white papers and measured case studies. None though, have invested in solutions.

Yet there are those who know all too well what ails us. They are the ones living it. They are the ones perpetuating it. Too often they are the ones allowing our sickness to go untreated within our own families and neighborhoods.

The reality is, saving a generation is but a small facet of the problems the Black community faces. The larger of which is that generations are suffering. Mainly because for generations, able bodied and able minded people who recognize solutions that could begin to fix some of the wrongs are sitting back, waiting for the next person to save the day.

This is in large part due to how those government and pedagogic institutions identify great minds within our community who can play an integral role in their studies. These special minds are granted access to resources that enhance their natural minds. It is a wonderful thing when they return and give honor to the community.

However, because of their well-earned titles, often they are looked to be saviors. Preacher, educator, social worker, doctor, lawyer, celebrity are all assumed to be the answer. If any of them belong to a sorority, fraternity or professional organization they are really thought to possess the cure-all. Fact of the matter, while many of these people are driven everyday by a passion to help their communities, they are no more equipped to solve our issues than the other titled members of our community like mothers, fathers, uncles, god fathers, god mothers, neighbors, barbers, beauticians, shoe shiners, janitors, and elders.

Although the same government and pedagogic institutions tend to indoctrinate everyone with the belief that only the special people can help with societal dilemmas, we have got to embrace the redeeming value in members of our community who are not so sophisticated.

We have to believe, again, that though tongues may not possess articulate ponderings or because vocabularies are heavily laced with vernacular, every one of us have the ability to better our community. We all have what it takes to be a change agent.

Yet, I see it often. A school community that seeks only to provide support and resources for its students, but never fully engage families to take a responsible role. Panels are convened but missing is the voice of common people. Politicians seeking the vote from common folk, but rationing out provisions and incentives to social service agencies that manifest the “missionary” mind set that they have to deliver the community from itself, never going within to find solvent cures.

The reality is, in urban America a young black male can absorb as much knowledge sitting in a barbershop on a Saturday morning as he would sitting one week in a classroom.

There is an unassuming woman on the south side of Chicago saving lives. She doesn’t have any illustrious titles preceding her name, nor following. She is not a member of a high-profile family. This woman, Diane Latiker simply saw devastation around her and went into survival mode to ease the trauma. Diane started Kids Off the Block, an after-school tutoring and mentoring program, and infected other everyday folks like entrepreneurs and others who belong to neighborhood social clubs.

Across town on the southwest side one man, Sy Smith, leads a national movement, National Block Club University, where he empowers neighborhood residents to combat the crime in their area. He has an all hands on deck approach.

That is the point of it all. Obviously there is a sense of pride we all feel when our treasures are found and valued by others. We bask in the validation that we have produced and nurtured those who represent the super heroes amongst us. Still, there has to be an equation of value and balance. Time to stop putting it all on the shoulders of our educators, doctors, lawyers, preachers, etc. All of us can touch a life and brighten circumstances. We have to have confidence that we too are special enough to do the work of healing our community.

Question is what is holding us back from recognizing this?

Kanye, quite unnecessary but big of you to apologize to the little man

Just for clarity and background…I am an extreme critic when it comes to art and culture. It is not easy to impress me. That’s why in the summer of  2003, I was the ultimate critic of a new kid on the hip hop scene. There was a popular concert series here in Chicago called Neo Soul Explosion that featured up and coming “neo-soul” artists. Folks like Eric Roberson, Ledisi, Raheem Devaughn, Anthony David,  and Floetry. I was producing for WVON, who was the media sponsor. There was this guy joining one of the series and everyone was making a big deal over…Kanye West. My intial thoughts were “The rapper guy? Affiliated with Jay Z? Why is he performing in a neo soul concert series?” One of my excited colleagues even asked him for his autograph. I’m thinking, again, “dude is a rapper…and he is affiliated with Jay Z.” Now personal hang ups with Jay Z aside, I’d heard his single, “Through the Wire,” and while I thought is was an interesting sample and great story telling, I hadn’t heard any particular line that inspired nor empowered me, my measurements of good hip hop.

But later in the summer I heard Jesus Walks! That was the moment I cared who Kanye West was. This certified dude for me. Ever since then, I have been a Kanye West fan. he is my Chi-Town brethren and I am biased, so you should know that before reading further.

Now that we’ve got that out-of-the-way, shall I proceed? Thank you for the digital head nod.

Watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and its devastation on NOLA, there was a collective sense of helplessness; a shared sense of neglect; a communicable outrage at the lack of emergency assistance, and moreover the outright disdain shown for the American people struck by this natural disaster. Looking at news coverage, it was obvious that a disproportionate amount of those Americans had a couple of things in common. One, many were poor. More than half hey were Black. It was heartbreaking to watch, especially when you heard the words refugee and looters media notables like CNN’s Anderson Cooper used to label the survivors.

More than anything, watching as a Black person, it became crystal clear…this country has yet to value or embrace Blacks as first class citizens.  Watching as a Black person, one could not help but imagine them self in the same predicament, abandoned by their government, ridiculed and exploited by their fellow countrymen. It was a time of collective suffering for Black Americans. At what to do when you are wounded and hurting? Lash out. So it came as no surprise to me that Kanye West seized his opportunity to speak truth to power during NBC’s Concert for Hurricane Relief.

Kanye’s proclamation that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” was quite fitting. Hell it is exactly what I was thinking and what our audience on WVON had been calling in to say since the levees broke and drowned the lower 9th ward of NOLA.

Too bad more influential Blacks did not come forth to speak that same truth. Kanye’s delivery may have been brash and ill-timed. But he stepped up to shed light on a dark place in America’s history-making moments. The moment that gave yet another entry into the plight of race in our Nation.

So I find it very telling that George W. Bush would take Kanye West’s opinion of him as one of the “most disgusting” moments of his presidency. Really?

Now I’m a person one either loves or hates. I accept that about myself. There have been some pretty mean things said about me, hell but that is true about anyone who lives more than a month on this planet. Not even crying, colicky babies get a pass.  Still, most mature people understand that not everyone is going to like them. Mature and rational people totally accept that they cannot please everyone, that folks will feel some kinda way about them. That’s human nature. You chalk it up and keep moving…that is unless there is a strand of truth in their assessment of you. Well, then their evaluation haunts you.

Judging from Bush’s congratulatory remarks to FEMA executive Mike Brown telling him he was doing a “Heck of a job,” and his analysis of his administration’s response, Bush has not given a second thought to the people who had suffered.  And again, those people disproportionately were Black and poor.

The media genius Rachel Maddow shares with us how Bush in his own words proves Kanye’s theory:

I’d like to hear what legislation, commitments, initiatives, resources he developed and lead during his 8 year administration that would discredit Kanye’s observations.

Crickets….

Fast forward to 2010 when NBC’s Matt Lauer decides to take Kanye to task for his passionate remarks made in 2005. First of all, I watched the tape several times. Virtually I gave a high five to Kanye on Myspace and Facebook for his accurate summary of George W. Bush and all those who identify with his “cowboy” oil-slicked mentality. Kanye never used the word racist. Though if we could hear some of the hunting conversations between Bush and his buddies, and by analyzing some of his Presidential priorities, that point could be proven, too. But don’t put that in Kanye’s lap. He did not call George W. Bush a racist…he said the man does not care about Black people. Huge difference.

Furthermore, as a producer, I recognize the effect The Today Show team was going for when they staged Kanye’s previous remarks to play under his present interview. Every decision made by the executive producer and tech director is for effect, one that does not require the knowledge or input of the subject. And Kanye, being the intelligent Black man that he is, understood he was indeed a subject trying to be manipulated. I am proud of him for thinking through his responses and for asserting himself to Matt Laurer.

Yet, even more than his own defense, I was proud to see Hip Hip mogul and cultural influencer, Russell Simmons, send out a support signal to his young brother.

Unfortunately, not many others have seen fit to do so. Black intellectuals love to pontificate on matters like the death of hip hop and misogyny, but even James Baldwin would’ve clearly seen the juxtaposition of Black celebrity and corporate media. The thought that Black culture is to be exploited and celebrated if/when it mocks itself. When Black artists portray themselves as villains and helpless, then they are “cool.” But let them have an opinion that is remotely political and they are Muhammad Ali’d.

Not to mention the corporate triangle in all this that my boy, Davey D connected for us.

Kanye has made albums in which he questions himself and his contradictions, speaking about his tendencies to fall for the patriarchal leanings of this society when he refers to women in derogative terms. But I don’t see anyone taking him to task for that.

But I digress. All of this to say, America needs to knock it off. Stop the damn farce. Be honest about where Blacks stand in this country and how we are tolerated only if we don’t step out of the boxes deemed for us.

Then too, I’d like to give George W. Bush a few other disgusting moments from his presidency. I found this site, one of several, that gave a very thorough account of all the disgusting missteps of this duck-brain. http://www.netrootsmass.net/hughs-bush-scandals-list/

Feel free to add your own.

Oh, and just to make a point, look at how he insults a blind journalist.

Let’s face it. Bush owes the American people an apology for (fill in the blank).

Blind man insult

What’s the ‘wig’ deal…it’s post-racial America?

Halloween 2010 has come and gone this year. That’s not to say it was an uneventful season of horrors. In fact, there were quite a few shocking occurrences to usher in the traditional trick or treat festivities. Perhaps the most prevalent is the politricks for the upcoming elections, Still there was one other trick that came in the form of a supposed costume marketed by retailers, namely Kohl’s Department Store. It wasn’t entirely spooky or ghoulish as is customary for the “ultimate” Halloween costume. The item in question was simply a wig. Yes, a wig. Sounds harmless enough, right? It could have been. But… it freaked a lot of consumers out and exploded into a PR nightmare for Kohl’s.

Now, I’m sure Kohl’s and other retailers believed the costume would be a seasonal top-seller. Unfortunately, Kohl’s chose to market the wig as a “Ghetto Fab Wig.”  Granted the manufacture created the name for the wig, still the final decision rested with Kohl’s.

Outraged consumers found the wig’s name flagrantly offensive, a failed attempt at creative marketing. Social networks exploded with comments and blogs on the situation.

Eventually the company conceded with apologies and the removal of the wig from its online store.

This appeased many…and those who’d berated the company smugly tweeted, updated Facebook statuses and blogs about their assumed victory. Subsequently, Sears followed suit removing the product from their seasonal offerings, further prompting a declared social media victory celebrated with more glib posts, virtual high fives and fist bumps.

But here again, the root problem was NOT the wig.

Now that Halloween 2010 lives amongst the ghosts of holidays past, it has buried with it the impetus for a very necessary, American conversation.

In this century, where many love to wax poetic about our “post-racial” society, race, ethnicity and cultural differences seem to sneak back into our public conversation, all too often in ways that are not the most endearing. Truth is, we have never had a frank discussion on the matter in the first place, but then expect to jump over the real talk to get to the fluff. The only time we want to deal with complex issues is when a white person uses a racial slur or makes an evenly derogative comment.

Race and culture aside, it is an intricate and complex web of issues whenever you begin to discuss Black women’s hair.

The name prescribed to the focus wig symbolizes the utter ignorance related to cultural identity. It is a struggle that has always existed. And it is a painful struggle for Black women who share the history of Sara Baartman, paraded to the world as Venus Hottentot, as well as the fictitious Aunt Jemima. Over and over again in our history is a ripped wound where Black beauty has been ridiculed, parodied, yet simultaneously coveted in secret.

So when Whites use social class to describe hairstyles, fashion and the myriad ideologies culturally relevant to Black women, without an authentic understanding or appreciation, it is offensive at the surface level, and ignorant at its base. First to have some inherent knowledge for the origin and complexity of use for words is the only way to avoid misappropriation of language. Still, when a corporate entity commits the offense, it becomes much more reprehensible and is exploitative in nature.

Perhaps the virtual fist bumps and the high fives could’ve waited a tad bit longer. Because when, (as I know the situation has probably already made its way into a PowerPoint or Keynote), folks reference this as a case study for “social media activism,” I do hope they understand that this was merely a small scuffle, not credible enough to gain the title battle. We lost a momentous advantage to take up a worthy battle with deliberation. The battle yet to be won is when corporate entities confer with consumers who can speak to the messaging they aim at “targeted” audiences. It is to ensure proper representation is at the table when marketing “experts” seek to brand and promote “cultural” products as a parody. It is to put front of mind the imperative pairing of sensitivity and sensibility.

And though some may consider it a stretch, this outcome was/is the fear that caused such an emotional response from Black women following the news that Essence Magazine decided to hire a white woman as Fashion Director. We know the power put into the hands of those who first observe then seek to define us. One wrong move can crush progress and strangle race relations. Where intentions are mired with the end and hard to justify.

Even further, the battle is internal. We must define ourselves for ourselves. What we do and speak gives others consent to do the same, or worse. It is largely due to our own glamorization of certain terminology. While so many are quick to set up a “reality” scene with abject connotations to their very own culture; dismissing a group because of their social class all while sharing the same original pedigree, it gives way for misunderstandings from those on the perimeter. What is communal and a shared language amongst cultures always stands the risk of losing its meaning, but even more dangerous is the chance for outsiders to interpret the exchange with malice. This is a fact for strong consideration as we make music and art to express the gift of our culture. And it is especially detrimental if we do not consider it when purporting things as “reality,” no matter if we consider ourselves Housewives, editors, producers, journalists, and yes artists too.

Take caution in the use of language. After all I am a firm believer that words have the power to heal or kill. And so corporations and individuals must choose.

#Kohlsfail…Ghetto fab or racial and plain ignorance in all its virtual splendor?

I was perusing my Facebook page when I noticed I had been tagged in a photo. The photo was of a white girl wearing a curly afro wig. Oh. Kay…wasn’t too sure why I was tagged but hey, you know how those crazy FBers are. But when I took a closer look I saw it was an ad for Kohl’s Department Store with the flagrantly offensive words, ‘Ghetto Fab Wig.” Instantly I tried to come up with a justifiable reason anyone in Kohl’s corporate marketing department would think that this product with such a provocative title would be appropriate to place online and market. I mean granted this is the season for license of the spooky and zany, but how this one fit is still a puzzle.

The outrage soon hit as comment after comment came in like a torrent rain ordering everyone to call the corporate headquarters. And many did. However, the reps who answered would either connect you to a voice recording or give an abrasive response. Not a good look. So I did my own background search for a human connection. I found Vicki Shamion, Vice President of Public Relations. Yet, when I dialed her number, (262) 703-1464, It went straight to voicemail. I did leave a message, not as coherent nor as professional as I would have liked, but left a number for a response. I’m still waiting to hear back.

Nonetheless, I knew the outrage could not stop with a dial tone. The ad was online and in public and that is where we’d have to ask for answers, and some repudiating measures. So I took the matter over to my Twitter network. I tweeted the info, and searched for a related hashtag like #kohlsfail, but saw nothing. Surely, I wasn’t the only one who saw this. A more thorough search uncovered that folks were indeed outraged and on the case a full hour before. The #naturalhair community was picking this ‘fro apart and @Kohls_official was getting it. Eventually, they sent out some corporate responses like this one they sent me

Well, I am kind of a big deal to myself, and besides, when I shop with them it has been a distinct and unique choice, so a more personal reply to me would have been my preference. I am not one who has suddenly given instant wrath to this company. I shop at Kohl’s and signed up for email alerts from them. I “Like” them on Facebook; Purchase my children’s winter coats and thermals from there. Heck I even rush out for their Black Friday deals. So I think I deserve some explanation for this “situation.”

That explanation has not been given in almost 8 hours. What they did offer to the outraged twitter community was to pull the wig from their exclusive online shop. They have done so. However, as late as 8:30 CST the picture remained. Ironically, the picture image had been altered to a picture of a more fair-skinned woman sporting a blonde “Ghetto Fab wig” which still appears with the offensive title, and a note that reads “We’re sorry. This item is no longer available.”

It just won’t do. In fact, a Boycott_Kohls Twitter handle has been created. It has 24 followers at time of this blog. Not sure where that will lead, but I’m following to see.

Is Boycott the right measure? Is there more to this than removing the wig from the online store. I believe this is a complex issue with many layers that needs dissecting and fully explored. This teachable moment has to extend beyond a mere case study for another SM panel discussion.

I’m more than a little perturbed over this “situation.” But I’ll have to share more in Part II.
Hope you read and share your thoughts:)

I’m a Bitch

I’m a bitch. At least that is what the sister called me right after she slapped her daughter several times upside the head and told her to “shut the fuck up.” The mother had paused her reverse trek out of a grocery store’s parking space to deliver the slaps. She’d blocked traffic and turned her body full around to “really beat her ass,” as I guess the slaps didn’t demonstrate the full rage she intended. A little boy of about 5 or 6 sat next to the girl in the backseat looking on without emotion.

The girl couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. I’d heard the sound from the slap along with the reactionary cry that came on its heels. It was a child’s cry yet so full of anguish and disgrace, that I could feel the hurt…and I took it personally.
Something pulled the mother’s eyes to me, as I stood there staring into the car with my mouth hanging open in disbelief and shock. I know she could see the disgusted shade that I threw her way. If looks could kill, I was hoping to land her an eyeful to the throat. But they don’t. So she lived on and drew in her breath only to direct her rage towards me and say, “Bitch, I don’t give a fuck!”

Well, that was obvious.

I continued to stare at her and give her the evil eye, along with another woman who’d happen to witness it all, too. But she went about her business and sped out of the lot. I was thankful that for a few moments she’d redirected her rage at me and not on baby girl. I was glad La’Keisha had woke up focused on the 8a.m. trip to the local grocer. Relieved that Keisha was repressed in my body and still sleeping, not too alert and ready for the BS.

I walked into the store to do my shopping in deep thought. One thing’s for sure, it provided a moment to self reflect. A few years ago, Keisha would’ve invited the grown woman out of the car to hit a grown woman the way she hit that child, or at least told her how ignorant and common she was. Probably would’ve been mad enough to cuss her out, too. But for what?  The children witnessing yet more violence? Perpetuating the stigma to the children that fighting, cussing, and arguing is how black women get down and interact? Or worse, not getting the food for my home, locked up in a police station?

Not worth it. So I accepted being her bitch and whatever else she wanted to call me.

But something has to be worth it to advocate for children who are abused, in public or their own homes, at the hands of their mothers. The question is how?

Institutionalized policy has done a job on Black families. For instance, had I simply taken down the license plate and called the police to report the incident, what would happen? Either of two extremes. One extreme being that police would not be able to take any action, but simply make a report. The car probably didn’t really belong to the driver and so the woman would not be identified or pursued. OR, they could make out the report, call DCFS, have the lady investigated, she is found to be unfit and the children placed in child protective services or foster care to meet fates and circumstances much more horrific than slaps and blows.

This situation bothered me most of the day. Because I know that mother. She lives on my block, she is a parent at my children’s schools, and she is in my family. I went back to that parking lot today while reading Mary Mitchell’s column in the Chicago Suntimes.

And like Mary gives so many examples, we all can admit we know mothers like that. But how do we speak out and admonish her, force her to change her ways and PROTECT the children in her care.

True story…when I was little, I remember my mother telling my sisters and me that no one was to put their hands on us. If they did we should fight back and let her know about it. I took those words to heart. Nobody would cause me or my sisters harm, verbally or physically. Still I had an adult try on many occasions under the auspice of ‘disciplining” me. I was about 9 or 10 and I fought like a mad woman protecting her child. I refused to cry. I refused to be beaten.

I cried a little yesterday, though. Because from the sound of that baby girl’s cry, I know her spirit had been beaten and it was broken. I know it’ll be broken more and more, and more than likely, she’ll have her own little girl before she is healed.

Hopefully someone has some words of advice to help those who hurt in the hearts yet don’t know how to help mothers like this one and their babies.

Sweet melody for Mother’s Day

Me and my Momma

We have such intense love for our mothers. Their love and being is the first thing we know before we know ourselves. And even the most prolific among us have a hard time finding the right word to express the fullness of our appreciation and love. But there is always a song that sends the message of the majestic bond. A mother’ love for her children, and a child’s dependent ties to their mother, is one to marvel for life…not even mortality can break the ties.

So, a few years back, I got my mother a playlist of all the songs that put in to words how I felt about her. Here’s a sample of the playlist and the reasons why I chose them…. Hope you enjoy the sweet melodies of Mother’s Day:

Nobody, no song articulated the love and appreciation my generation has for our mothers like Tupac’s Dear Mama. He gave it to us raw, vulnerable and real. Our mothers aren’t the old school home bodies, many of their flaws are so much more evident than those of mothers who were conditioned by society’s expectations of a mother’s role. Our mother’s found a new way to mother, and share their struggles with us. This song is Hip Hop’s Mother’s Day anthem

Bob Marley, No Woman No Cry–This song carries the bottom note of the women who have borne children to the struggles across the Diaspora

Melodic, soulful litany to mama’s everywhere. This song was the new school tune for the old school big mama. They don’t make these kind of mama’s anymore. These song lyrics either….My number 3 pick, Boys II Men-Mama’s Song

Life sometimes throws her a curve ball, and she has to pave a new road, Raheem lifted today’s mothers up and placed light where dark stigmas often reside. Made women smile, and men remember…http://youtube.com/watch?v=StDq6r9-6-w&feature=related

Hate on him if you want, but Kanye paid homage to his momma and had everybody rockin’ it, wanted to wrap their mom’s up in his words and give them the world just like Mr. West did for Dr. Donda. “My Mama my mama!

It may be a Man’s World…but James Brown let it be known, it would be nothing…NOTHING without a woman or a girl. Momma’s make the world go round. Believe that!

If This World Were Mine, the big Luther and big Cheryl Lynn version, is definitely on the list. Luther wasn’t necessarily singing to his mama, but who amongst us don’t feel this way about our Old G?

Classic homage to mama’s all over …the only way to really show appreciations is to live the life on the principles she exemplified. Our mothers are the first to believe and see what God has given to her.

A mother understands when no one else does

She brags to all about her special child, and fosters confidence in each one of them, no matter how many she may have. They all have their special place in the world. And we can have a million accolades, folks screaming and clapping on our success, but we are always looking for her approval and recognition.  Like, Hey, Ma…I’m doing what you said I could.”  Mos Def laid it down with Umi Says.

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