Sunday, April 22, 2007

speaks for itself



in this space, i posted a video that i received from a poet friend. it's on her myspace page, and it's being passed around seemingly because it was banned from y.outube. it's by some dude out of new york, rapping about "y'all should all get lynched," (that was the hook) - which message was addressed to people he accused of being fake gangsters, liars, bitches, hos, nasty broads, etc. the video had images of the targets of his words, mixed in with images of black people actually getting lynched, mixed in with images of sambos and blacks with exaggerated nappy hair, dark skin, and big lips, not unlike the images in the closing scenes of spike lee's bamboozled. after talking with my beloved, who pointed out that spreading the video full of offensive images was tantamount to spreading the offensive and reprehensible ideas and images i hate to see on bet, i took the video down.

i hesitated to take it down.

i liked the juxtaposition of "cooning" images and images of the people i think of as modern day coons. i liked the hostility with which the guy talked about how shameful it is for people to glorify cooning in this day and age, especially in light of all that our ancestors have gone through to give us the freedoms we enjoy today. but that wasn't all. his tirade was littered with nigga this, nigga that. he showed images of young women shaking their ass for attention. he repeatedly said that the perpetrators, the (dare i say it) infidels, should get lynched.

my argument was that i would trust the reader and the viewer to know what i do and do not condone. his (good) point was that perhaps that trust would be misplaced on certain viewers - that posting it is akin to stabbing yourself in the leg (hurting the integrity of a people i strive to honor) just to get attention. so, if i err, let it be on the side of caution - i took the video down. the original post remains as i originally drafted it.

i won't say i agree with every single thing said, for example - that anyone needs to by lynched or that many of those images didn't make me cringe (in fact, they perpetuate the problem addressed in the video)... but this discussion needs to be had and it needs to be honest. and not because defenders of that radio "personality" blame our culture for what he said. we have to do it because the brother has a point. i dare anyone reading this to watch a full afternoon of bet and tell me that you want your kids watching it day in and day out. i dare anyone to watch this video and tell me if you want your children to idolize the images you see. it's one thing when adult entertainment is marketed to and shown to adults. it's another when it's marketed to children. it's even yet another disturbing thing when the line between adult entertainment and mainstream entertainment becomes so blurred that many parents are not disturbed by the content of the entertainment that comes into their home. i know i sound older than my years saying this, but - i fear that our values are being eroded, that we tolerate too much, that our children are becoming prematurely knowledgable beyond their years about adult matters, and that we are failing in our duty to make them appreciate our long hard past.

when i first saw the chick.en nood.le soup, i saw minstrel show shuffling. a kid 15 years my junior probably doesn't know what a minstrel show is.

i'm juuuust old enough to remember when calling another black person (or anyone else) a nigger or a bitch or a ho was something that could get you cut. you BETTA had been joking with the right one when you said it. it wasn't speech for mixed company. it wasn't something grown folks said around children. or at least, it wasn't something you could repeat. it wasn't something that even friends said to each other without consciously thinking about its potency. i remember when those words weren't said on television or on the radio. i knew of those words, and i'd heard them before, but i also knew because of their limited usage that they were not things you SHOULD say. i can't help but wonder if today's kids can make the same distinction.

these words and images are thrown around and in and of themselves, that's not a harmful thing. they're just words. they're just images. but when these words and images become pervasive, they can damage our psyche - our esteem for ourselves and each other. the elders tried to warn us. but they seemed so out-of-touch, so reactionary, so judgmental of an energetic and keenly intelligent youth. besides, every generation has admonished its children for a culture it doesn't understand. history has forgiven each successive generation - the hip cats with the zoot suits, the jazz junkies, the doo-wop street corner idlers, the soul brothers in platforms...

but this beef elders have with hip hop will not go away. and now many of its pioneers and its first flock of fans have grandchildren. hip hop has in many ways matured. innovation is still happening in that vein. creative expression is still in the works. the oldheads, the innovators -- they have a legitimate beef with the "artists" in the spotlight and the appetite for their wares. many parents, who grew up with boomboxes playing rhymes off the same radio stations their kids now listen to, understand this legitimate beef.

it's not so much that the pants are exposing these boys' boxer shorts, or even the language they use, as it is that folks worry about their understanding and respect for what their grandfathers have been through. the emptiness in the music these boys listen to stokes the fires of their fear. they worry about the future of the culture. folks, from c. delores tucker, to oprah, to the poets, to the preachers, to the old folks on the bus react by taking the current music and its videos and images to task.

of course there's much more to it than this. but i can't blog forever, can i? i maintain: this discussion needs to be had. and it needs to be honest.

what do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

who goes there?

riding the bus today reminded me of what i like about being here. the loud ugly dude who got on the bus hollering, "nigga where you at?" to some dude in the back... the wobbly seat that kept people from sitting next to me for fear of tumbling into the aisle... the lady with the raspy voice and the loudmouth kids she brought on the bus with her who were talking loudly about their playdates... the crazy chic who bumrushed the bus in the middle of the street to get on, even though she wasn't at a designated bus stop...

in the midst of all this, i felt at home. it was a welcome change of pace from the office. i felt like a part of society. maybe not the jostling throngs in the equatorially hot marketplace type of society, but society nonetheless. it's nice to talk to strangers, like when i turned to look at the girl who bumrushed the bus and said, "you crazy. you know that, right?" and she retorted, "it worked didn't it?" and we both chuckled.

...or when i was in the most stereotypically urban fast-food joint known to man - that's right, the one that communicates the very pulse of the gallery in center city - and i was watching this woman and her little girl standing in the line, holding hands. some little boy was in another line with his mom and noticed the little girl. neither of the children was any older than three. neither of them said a word. but reading their actions was comical. the curious boy approached the little girl, tentatively, gingerly... she looked at him, and unimpressed, she backed up, around towards the other side of mommy's legs. not easily daunted, the little boy wanted a closer look at the pretty girl. he paused for a second, not having gotten the hint, and then he pressed up again. she was the same size as him! maybe they could play? maybe not. girlfriend backed up, more vehemently this time, and yanked on mommy's arm to let her know she needed more space to get away from that boy. that boy's mommy came and led him away, to the little girl's relief. chuckles were had all around by the grown folks. i said to the girl's mommy, "she got the right idea," and she offered that knowing, shared laugh, which we both learned from our mothers.

it felt good.

before i came here - before i worked two jobs to save enough money to relocate myself - this was what i was looking for - resonation with others. finding myself in others and others in myself. those of us who haven't been without it may take it for granted. but i appreciate it when i get it. i remember what my lonely years were like. i thank the Creator for the bonds i have with my family and friends. and i suppose i should even express my gratitude for the wonder of finding kinship with strangers as well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

know thyself and choose wisely

i am disgusted that at least the first five minutes of my local tv newscast tonight were about the controversy surrounding that radio personality and that new jersey basketball team. i'm sure you've heard the story by now. he and his producer were yucking it up about the ladies on this team being nappy headed hos.


let me first say that i didn't find his comment amusing. i understand why those young ladies would be offended, and why others would be offended on their behalf. i think that when statements are made that have the effect of encouraging reprehensible attitudes, words, and actions, those of us who are offended should definitely speak out - go on record as calling out ignorance for what it is, lest that ignorance go unchecked, letting that which is reprehensible become commonplace.

that said, i have issues with this situation that have nothing to do with the man who issued the words. first, a little background: people in my city are dying at an alarming rate. we have more homicides in this city since the year began than there have been days in the year. i read an article decrying the lack of a qualified pool of job applicants in this city - a situation which has been brought about by the migration of low-skilled jobs out and the influx of specialized-skills jobs in, despite a school system that is strapped for cash and graduating students who can't compete in the workforce. i've read my fill of anonymous posters on local message boards condemning black people to death for a supposed cultural lack of values, because it's much easier to attribute the crime on eugenics than it is to admit that the apathy of law-abiding citizens allows the conditions that inevitably lead to high crime.

understandably, as i face the rest of my adulthood and my desire to have stability and a happy home life, my thoughts turn to home ownership. i am excited about getting ready for my own house... but i am concerned about crime, education, jobs, taxes, and while we're on these topics, the city's upcoming mayoral race. i want to know what is being done - or what i can do - to make things better here. conversely, i want to know if it behooves me as a future mother to get the hayle out of here before things get worse.

when i turn on the news, if i see people up in arms about something - marching, carrying signs, chanting, demanding accountability about something, i want to see that being done about something that will help keep our kids from harm. better education. better job training. better welfare-to-work programs. government accountability. that's what i want to see.

i don't want to have to roll my eyes when i hear one of that team's players say, in the flood of news coverage on this story, that she's been scarred for life by this insult. bless her heart. i don't know what country she grew up in, but just last year we had that michae.l ri.chards thing. before that, there was the james byrd thing. let's not forget the rodney king thing... i know she may have been in elementary school when that happened, but somebody had to have told her something. i wanted to put my arm around her and say, "my sister, i feel for you, but on the real? you need to D up." i find it hard to believe that nobody ever told her that no matter how talented, intelligent, or beautiful she may be, there will always be some misguided, hard hearted, ignorant somebody who will refuse to see her, or me, or our current secretary of state as anything but a black bitch. maybe someone did tell her and she didn't believe it, because she has been blessed with a life full of support and love. but now, i would advise her to chalk this up as a lesson learned: if you don't know, now you KNOW.

of course, this doesn't excuse ignorant, rude, crass, insensitive, boorish, base, shameful behavior. neither does this mean that we should enter the world with the same chip on our shoulder for which our loud, aggressive stereotype with her hand on her hip is so famous. from the moment our foremothers were first chained, stripped of all clothing and fondled and groped on some auction block centuries ago, we've been on notice: be strong and resilient in this place, and remember your dignity comes from within. those women knew scarred for life. being called a nappy headed ho is an incidental scratch. every black woman i know is bigger than those words, and it's our job to know it from within, no matter what that unfortunate soul said on the radio.

in any case, my point is that i never see al sh.arpton and friends unless he's fighting some b.s. battle over something that won't make it less likely for a young man be to be uneducated, unemployed, or shot to death. i don't know if that's because the media only selectively covers him when he's whining, or if it's because no matter when you catch him, that's all he ever does anyway. and unfortunately, it seems like i only see outrage over stupid isht like some disrespectful words, instead of over important issues, like when our children will finally be given the tools and instruction to get them reading at or above grade level. THAT is what is outrageous. i couldn't care less whether this radio jock gets fired or not. let's get some of these raggedy police commissioners who won't protect the public from criminals fired.

protecting our women from racism and sexism is important. so let's put our battles in their proper perspective. let's keep illegal guns from flooding our streets. let's shatter glass ceilings. let's stop predatory lending. let's find ways to employ our women and their boyfriends and husbands and sons. let's concentrate on stopping the spread of HIV. that's the kind of protection that can save lives and communities.

Friday, April 06, 2007


i've tried to type an entry at least three times by the time i was able to craft this one successfully completed sentence. blogging is harder than i remember. it's just that i don't really have anything i'm persuaded to share about my life, my observations, etc... maybe pulling myself into this hiatus from blogging and poetry performance is changing who i am and how i communicate. or maybe it's just that on this day, where i actually have the time to blog without guilt, of all the days my mind could decide to not be cooperative, this day and this time seem to have been the choice for creative inertia.

one thing about the muses - they cannot be ruled.

it's weird too. i just got off the bus and was listening to my zune media player. comm.on's be was playing, and the sun was shining, and i was walking through my cute little neighborhood and all was just nice. despite the cold weather, it was just a really nice time to have clear thoughts and let someone else's creativity inspire my own. i came in the apartment, dropped my bookbag, and danced to the music, saying the lyrics to the beat, imagining myself as somebody cool, somebody on stage, somebody free of cares besides riding the songs from bar to bar. i listened to the lyrics, how their rhythms flirted with the music and took turns harmonizing and jousting with each other and thought, i could so use this time to be creative and write something.

then come to find out i ain't got no words to cover the predominant conversations of my mind. my city's crime problem. my quest for homeownership. my struggles with discipline and time management. my obligations to my family. having no particular place to be this resurrection sunday. feelings of self-imposed alienation from the arts community i embraced. it's all swimming up in there, but too much for me right now, at this moment as i type, to try to flesh out into something that makes sense to me to type onto this blog.

so i'll end on the thought that sometimes the mind won't cooperate with the feelings. but just because i didn't write a particular song, it doesn't mean that there is no music in me. it'll just have to play on some other day, when i don't have time to write and should probably be doing something else...