Friday, August 29, 2008

the hopeful

I did watch Senator Obama's speech last night. Before I parked myself in front of the couch, I was thinking about how I might want to write a letter to my children about it. One of these days, I imagine that they'll come home from school and ask me about it.

"Mommy, what was it like? What did it mean to you?"

I used to ask this question of my parents when I was a child. My mom grew up in the same town I grew up in, before the fall of the industrial economy, white flight, and the crack epidemic ravaged the place. My dad grew up in the South before it became the New South and attended segregated schools. During their childhood, so many things happened. They were toddlers when Topeka was ordered to desegregate its schools and when Birmingham was told to desegregate their buses, but there was so much more to the Movement. I was fascinated with the twenty-five years that predated my existence in which America wobbled while turning right-side up. I read everything I could get my hands on, from the Freedom Riders to the Panthers. From Muhammad Ali to John Carlos and Tommie Smith. From Malcolm X to Thurgood Marshall. I was engrossed in Eyes on the Prize, Roots, and every other made-for-TV biography of a black hero. I excelled in school during Black History Month each year. I always wondered what it was like when history was the news. But at the time, parents were too busy being children to really reflect on the magnitude of what was being witnessed or how profoundly it would affect my life. Also, memories fade with time.

So I figured that I'd try to get my feelings and observations down while they're still fresh. I did watch Barack Obama's speech when he accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for President. I knew it was a first, and I knew that's all anyone would be talking about for months to come. Obama's candidacy has engaged so many black people in the political process. You can turn on the television, turn on the radio, go on the internet - black people are talking about this candidacy everywhere, whether or not they are planning to vote for him, though most of us are planning to vote for him in the general election. One of the most fascinating things about his candidacy is that it isn't just about electing a black man for many people, myself included. He is smart, he is personable, he has some good ideas (depending on who you ask), and he has demonstrated the ability to look and sound and act presidential. He speaks to the optimism in people and he challenges people to question their cynicism and believe in their own ability to make their country and their world a better place.

He has supporters from many different ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds and political beliefs. People flock to see him speak in record audiences. They call him a rockstar. Others say he's too popular. One thing is for sure - no American has seen anything like this ever before in politics. Whether people like him or dislike him, most do it passionately. When he speaks, people listen. Many are fascinated because other black people have run for President, like Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Carol Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton but no other black candidate made it out of the primary elections before. No other black candidate had a shot at actually becoming President before. Whether or not he wins in November, he will still have opened a door that most Americans thought was closed to black people. He isn't just black. He is also white. He has been embraced by many blacks and many whites, and many others who are biracial as well.

On the night that he became the presumptive nominee - when it was determined that he had swayed more Democratic convention delegated than his only remaining rival for the nomination - he gave a speech, and I watched as he and his wife stood before the whole country. I did cry. I was happy for my country - happy to see that this was possible in America.

And last night when he gave his speech, I didn't cry. I already had almost three months to get used to the idea that a black person could become a major political party's nominee for President. I felt the weight of the moment, but by the time his speech came, I was actually less impressed with the race of the candidate than I was concerned about how strong a candidate he was or wasn't. As he came out to talk to the 75,000 people who came to listen to his speech in a gigantic stadium, my first thought was, "I hope he doesn't mess anything up," because I wanted everything to go perfectly. My second thought was, "I hope the Secret Service [the people who are responsible for his safety] doesn't mess anything up." I thought about President Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who were assassinated when my parents were young. I thought about how the elders - my grandmother and others - were probably thinking the same thing.

And then he began to speak.

He spoke about his predecessors in his party - he thanked everyone, including his family, his running mate, his opponents. He talked about civic responsibility and his plans for the country. He criticized his opponent. He challenged everyone to make a better country. It was patriotic, it was substantive, and it was something I was proud of. I thought about how the family he made with his wife is like the family I come from and like the family I want to make one day. I thought about how the rest of the world can see a family like mine in public view - that good black families exist and are happy and normal, like many other American families from every ethnicity, religion, class, and political leaning. I knew that he had done a good job and shown why he had the chance to be our president. And because I agreed with the things he said, I hoped that one day he would be our president.

He gave the speech forty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s legendary I Have A Dream speech at the March on Washington, which happened before I was born, when my parents were in junior high school. And although he talked about the speech, it was only indirectly, and I loved that he didn't try to abuse Dr. King's legacy in that way. It would have been seen as presumptuous of him to declare that his candidacy was the ultimate fulfillment of Dr. King's dream. But he talked about it just enough to let people know that he was aware of the weight of the moment, and that his hopes are similar to the great pastor's.

I think that most of us who know our history in this country have been humbled by the idea that we are living through history. I don't know one person who isn't paying attention as this candidacy goes on. We all want to know - will he win? Can he win? Is America ready to vote for him? The ghosts of our history still haunt us and we watch and wonder. So many of us hope very cautiously. My grandma, who was born during the Great Depression, lived through a World War, and raised children in the segregated south, likes him. But she fears for his safety, wondering if his life will be taken. My parents think it can happen, but don't trust other Americans to get past prejudices and vote for him. And me? Well I don't know. I think I'm a little less pessimistic than my grandma and my parents... but not by much.

But I don't see this as a test of whether or not America has gotten over racism. It's a political contest, and there just might be enough people who disagree with him politically for him to lose the election. If he doesn't win, it might not be race that caused it. It might be, but it might not be. That's how racism works today. It's not in-your-face like it was when my parents were children. It's very quiet and sometimes when it happens, because you want to believe the best about people, you're not sure if the thing that made you wonder about racism is really racist or just something else... like political disagreement. Only the progression of time will tell us what we want to know about Senator Obama's future - America's future.

Only time will tell if my children will ever want to hear this story on a former President or a former presidential hopeful.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

C-Span, my eyes and ears

I have been watching C-Span for my Democratic National Convention coverage, and I wish more people would join me. First of all, the other major news networks aren't showing everything. It's not that I necessarily want to see everything, but I'd rather hear what John Kerry has to say than hear what Pat Robertson has to say. Another problem is all of the speculation you have to hear from pundits whose job it is to chatter on and on about the goings-on at the convention. Some of them are truly empty eggheads who just talk to fill the silence... except if they would shut up, it wouldn't be silent, because there's someone at the podium who's getting ignored by the network so that we can hear the empty egghead make a paycheck. I don't want to hear all of that. I want to make up my own mind about whether or not I agreed with something that was said, or whether I thought someone was sincere, or whether their words were appropriate for their intended purpose. There are no commercials to watch. There are no unreliable poll results to hear. There aren't any miscellaneous and unnecessary graphics floating all over the screen. And when a keynote or closing speech is finished, the impressions I have of the speech get to last, because the empty eggheads don't immediately jump in to talk over my thoughts with their commentary, which I can sometimes swear has an agenda. The empty eggs are always spinning. I'm really grateful for C-Span.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

it's whatever i'm tired

I don't have much to say about Joe Biden, since everybody else does. I heard somewhere that the cardinal rule of VP-pickin' is "first, do no harm." I think it remains to be seen whether or not Obama got this one right... and I think it will continue to remain to be seen until at least the day after election day. No gaffes willing and the creek don't rise.

The challenge is now to get through Denver without Obama getting escorted out the back door by security, without the Secret Service lunching on the job, and without Billary acrobatics. Y'all might not like me saying this but ah, I still like Bill, even though I don't trust him anymore. And Hillary, well, it's whatever. Whaddaya gonna do.

I kinda feel like this whole thing is scripted anyway. I might need to stop caring and just show up for election day. This train wreck is taking up too much of my time. I got other stuff to do, you know? Y'all got me checking political blogs and news sites three times as often as I used to before the primaries started. I'm all on my laptop on a regular basis... doing corny stuff like watching politics on TV.

That is just not acceptable. I gotta do other stuff.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


"Me, personally, fill-in-rest-of-sentence-here," is not an acceptable sentence.

It has never been an acceptable sentence. It never will be an acceptable sentence under any circumstances. I'm not an English language purist at all times, but there are certain abuses that should never go unchecked. The use of "Me, personally," is one of them.

Stop it.

Suitable substitutes, among others, include: "In my opinion," "I think that," "I believe that," "My opinion is," or simply stating your opinion without any introduction. Another option is to state your opinion and follow it up by stating that it is your opinion (and omitting "Y'ahm sayin'" or "Y'ah mean" unless you are talking with your casual acquaintances in casual circumstances, which do not include talking to any representative of the media or any person in law enforcement.)

Thank you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What's Not Going On

Pretending that America is a theocracy is Not Going On.

Matters of faith and values are not, NOT, relevant to whether or not a person is qualified to be the chief executive officer of the country. They may be relevant to whether or not you trust or respect or like a candidate, or even if you think they're going straight to Hades, but they don't have anything to do with the stuff that Americans have to deal with that the President can actually affect. I say this with the possible exception of appointments to the Supreme Court of justices who might encroach upon and further sully the separation of church and state, which I believe is an important distinction to keep up. A candidate's position on gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, even the place of evolution in a school curriculum, though important to certain people for certain reasons, should not be CENTRAL to a sound assessment of whether a candidate for president can run the country in a time of war, economic crises, educational deficiencies, and national security fears.

This is how we wound up with Bush's dumb ass in the first place. People were busy voting on Bush praying that America could "crusade" against an "axis of evil" and keep the gays from marrying, instead of electing a leader who could keep us out of the muck we're in now. I haven't yet been threatened by Adam and Steve, but Iran, North Korea Russia, inflation, and threatened retirement prospects are really starting to scare me, and I'd love to know where Dubya has been effective with any of that.

I am not saying that values are not important to me. I am a Christian in belief and not just in name. But since I'm not going to make it my absurd personal mission to go killing everyone who doesn't believe what I believe, I need to live in peace with my neighbors, and that means living and letting live. I don't see Jews trying to keep me from eating pork, or Muslims trying to make me wear a burka. Lesbians don't want me to kiss girls. Atheists don't want me to renounce my beliefs. And pro-choice activists don't want me to abort my unborn children. I don't need to tell these people what to do either. I don't want my government in my business, so I don't want it in theirs either, 'cause it just opens the door for them to come after me next.

Meanwhile, I do need my government to govern. Balance the budget, please. Fix the local, regional, and national infrastructure, please. Stop leaving children behind in the schools, please. Figure out how to stop the violence in urban communities so I can stop seeing all these damned teddy bear shrines and RIP t-shirts, please. Fix Social Security so my parents don't have to die at work, please. I WISH that the pressing issues weren't so many and so urgent that we had the time to worry about whether or not a candidate for president is going to Hades, but we don't. Can the candidate lead? Can they use the sense God gave them to serve their country well? Do they have a plan to make our lives and opportunities better? 'Cause that's what we need. You want salvation and righteousness? Go to the Lord to find it, not to the polls. Because for as much as people pull levers worrying about whether a candidate shares their values instead of worrying about their actual competence, that's how much less will be done about the issues that affect our lives and our opportunities.

We are the soul of our country, not our executive officer.

What's Going On

The Olympics are going on. I kinda don't want to watch because of the whole human rights thing, but for real? It's the Olympics. You can't get away from them. I've decided that Jamaicans deserve to be the fastest people in the world. They put up with all kinds of hell behind sorry stereotypes, and it's great to see them representing and kicking butt on the track. Oh - and the Chinese are winning all the gold medals because their athletes raison d'etre is to bring glory to the People's Republic, and has been since most of them were virtually infants, seeing as how China has known- for how many years now? - that they would be hosting in front of the world. I'm still a little scared after that opening ceremony. All those synchronized drummers? Shooo.... I'ma need the US to pay their debts. That's a lot of people. Thanks.

Mango smoothies are Going On. I'ma hook one up at home soon for the first time, and it's going to be banging. I just have to get some more supplies, 'cause ah, mango and ice ain't enough. LOL.

Vice Presidential Speculation is Going On and it is so exhausting - I wish everybody would shut up, 'cause you know what? Y'all don't know. Now if it winds up being who y'all think it would be, well, cookie for you. But I am tired, tired, tired, tired, TIRED. Y'all won't know for sure 'til we are told. I can't believe I'm stuck rubbernecking on this wreck of an election until at least Thanksgiving (it will not be over by the day after Election Day, I'm sure.)

Pregnancy is Going On. I must be at that age, 'cause all the friends I see with any kind of regularity are preggers. Right now. Plus some other people. Perhaps I should stop drinking water until this mess passes. One thing I know for sure - if I thought having men slowed us down insofar as hanging out together, that won't be anything compared to the babies. Maybe we can start a playgroup... and I'll just come stag.

Friday, August 08, 2008


During the primaries, Senator Clinton was known to challenge Senator Obama to publicly reject and denounce certain statements made by certain people that no senator concerned about the welfare of the American people should espouse. In light of recent events, I find that ironic.

At this point I think she should definitively and convincingly reject and denounce any notion that she is interested in hijacking the Democratic presidential nomination from the presumptive nominee. I think that she should tell the truth about the 18 million voters soundbite that keeps coming from her and her surrogates - that there weren't 18 million, the number was rounded upwards for effect, and that of those who voted for her in the primary, many have no plans or aspirations to vote for her in the general election. I think that she should "go hard" for the presumptive nominee or refrain from "going" at all. I think that she should end egging people on with rhetoric about her supporters needing catharsis. I think that she is responsible for misleading her primary supporters once it became evident that she did not and would not have a mathematical chance of getting the nomination. I think that, instead of asking supporters of the presumptive nominee to see things from her supporters' perspective, she should ask her supporters to take the perspective of all of those who have prudently and reasonably accepted the presumptive nominee as the eventual nominee.

Three weeks away from the convention, Hillary Clinton is not supposed to be the main news headline. This is not a time to rehash the primary, it is time to win the general. Hillary Clinton and her husband are being transparently disingenuous, doing as good a job as any right-winger at distracting from the legitimate campaign issues and undermining the presumptive nominee's campaign. Her actions and omissions are tantamount to campaigning for the other guy. In fact, the McCain camp is already beginning to use her previous statements, which were made without regard for the welfare of her party, and by extension, this nation, against the presumptive nominee. Of course it was widely theorized that this would happen as she was making these statements in her own self-interest, and she knew it then, but did not care about the consequences.

Shame on you, Hillary Clinton. Shame on you. Meet the party you are betraying in Colorado. There are people who will never, ever, in 2008, 2012, or any other year, put their trust in you. Do what you will at the Denver convention, but understand that the party you want to run will remain fractured and worse, ineffective, as long as you reach egomaniacally for the helm.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

joyful noise

I am thankful for gospel music more and more. In the midst of all that swirls around me on a regular basis, trying to enter my psyche, requiring me to guard my heart, I need a salve for my spirit. Often music is exactly what the Doctor ordered, and especially lately, the Word of God helps me to, as one of my favorite poets says, get my mind right. I am so thankful for John P. Kee today. So thankful for Tye Tribbett, who's from the same city I grew up in. So very thankful for Fred Hammond. You wanna talk about the audacity of hope? I can tell you where to get some of that.

late 911 wears the late crown

This horrible crime happened within a short two minute walk from the front door of the home my parents raised me in.

I don't know the victim or the victim's family, but once, eleven years ago, I knew the neighborhood intimately. My aunt lives around the corner. I still have some family friends there. I can still be found in the neighborhood, visiting family from time to time. But this kind of thing didn't happen near my house when I was growing up there. Things like this were the fantastic stuff of gritty urban 90's movies, not the reality of the neighborhood where I safely played softball, rode my bike, jumped double-dutch, and went to the ice cream truck. Apparently, a lot has changed in the last decade. My old hood is the new hotspot.

This crime happened in less than a week since the newly tripled police force fanned out across the city in a show of force, parading down the main avenue of my old neighborhood one cruiser after another in a cacophony of sirens, showing off. I'm guessing that was display was meant to show the criminals that "the law" was in town. Then on Sunday, the police received a phone call warning that there was a man riding the streets openly carrying a gun. Guess they didn't get him, 'cause that Monday afternoon, that man sprayed a neighborhood while exchanging fire with another man, scattering the playing children in every direction, and ending the life of a bright-eyed preschooler. The child was the son of the woman who called the police to report the threat.

There but for the grace of God goes one of my loved ones. It just hits so close to home.

Now I'm not saying that the police are to blame for the bad choices of the shooters, or the decision the mother made to let her child play outside that day, knowing that someone was riding around on a bike with a gun. But it remains to be seen why the murderer was cruising the street with impunity the day after it was brought to their attention that this guy was out there. Especially since "the law" was in town and in full force.

This is the kind of stuff that makes people from the hood reject the notion that their suspicions and chips on shoulders are figments of their imagination. This is the kind of stuff that makes people from the hood say things like, "If a man was riding a bike with a semi-automatic weapon in [insert predominantly white middle-class neighborhood here], and someone called the police, something would have been done to make sure those children were safe." It's not every theorist's favorite, "black pathology," that makes us not trust the police. It's stuff like this.

May God comfort and strengthen the family of little Brandon Thompson.

revisiting cynicism

You know, you grow up black in this country, and you think you have it all figured out: black people will never be "mainstream," black people will always be "other," and racial tension will never go away. No matter how good things are getting with black billionaires, black Secretaries of State, black Oscar winners, and the ability of sisters to wear their hair without relaxers in the workplace - one should never, ever get too comfortable. One should never, ever be fooled into thinking that we are accepted for who we really are - fellow citizens, brothers and sisters in humanity. So goes conventional black wisdom.

And then every once in a while... stuff happens. Bernie Mac's sitcom would get an Emmy nomination, for example. Or here and there, DNA evidence helps a falsely accused black man to go home from prison to his family. Or Barack Obama wins the Democratic primary in Iowa. And some of us wonder, should we toss the conventional black wisdom out the window? Maybe classism and LGBT issues are the only remaining frontiers of acceptance, tolerance, and compassion.

Then you look around and realize that, "Naaaah, it's still the same old mess."

My un-scientific review of commentary on "the Internets" has convinced me that the absence of honest and progressive dialogue about race relations is still stark, and it is still having disastrous effects on public discourse. A simple visit to a major city's newspaper's website will reveal all of the racist trolls who pop out of the woodwork to comment on articles to blame government for spoiling Negroes, or blame Negroes for every urban social ill in existence. But perhaps more obviously during this election season, the obvious place to go see how dysfunctional Americans are about race is any discussion of Barack Obama's campaign, since race almost always comes up, and when it does, ridiculousness inevitably ensues. And it's not just white folks, either - it's some of us, too. Spewing poorly-reasoned ridiculousness from every direction to everyone who's willing to listen.

I shouldn't be as surprised as I am by the amount and intensity of these rampant displays of ignorance, intolerance, and hatred, but I am. I think it may have something to do with living on the East Coast in or near major cities, full of highly educated people who are more used to diversity and who are less tolerant of political incorrectness in "mixed company." It could be that I haven't been paying much attention - in fact, that must be it. I've been so busy living the American Dream that I've forgotten that there are people who don't believe that the American Dream is possible for blacks, or that blacks are American enough to live the American Dream, or that blacks who are living it didn't/couldn't earn it like everybody else did. Let me tell you, many of you Americans are starting to get on my nerves.


I saw a comment online the other day thanking Michelle Obama for making dark-skinned sisters back in style.

"Back in style"??? Really? How 'bout I'm tired of hearing stuff like people of certain skin colors are or are not "in style."

You know what? However much we need a progressive discussion about how we psychologically process the differences in our skin tones, that progressive discussion could have happened many years ago and it hasn't happened yet and may not ever happen, so... let me just cut to the chase.

If you are, in 2008, still talking about whether or not a certain skin tone is or is not in style, you should stop talking. If you don't know why, you betta ask somebody, but then stop talking again, until somebody breaks it down for you.