Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Before I ever began blogging, there were two blogs I followed on the regular—Mills’ blog Under Cover Black Man and Field Negro. Those two blogs inspired me to begin my own, and after I was up and going, Mills’ praise of my efforts and on-going support gave me the encouragement I needed to continue and find my voice as a blogger. In addition, several times he featured my blog as the “Blog in the Spotlight” which helped me grow my readership tremendously.
Cetainly, UBM’s voice is an important and long-lasting voice in the blogosphere, and will be missed tremendously. I’m not really good with dealing with death; I never know just exactly what to say, so I’ll just close thusly: Brother, the news of your passing certainly took me by surprise. I guess it all goes toward proving the very uncertainty of life; tomorrow is never promised us. However, I loved and appreciated your work while you were here, and I appreciated the assistance you gave me. Rest in peace, brother. And may the funk be with you!
Sunday, March 28, 2010
At one time, the United States of America boasted of the very best educational system in the world. However, of late that system has declined precipitously; we now rank about 10th worldwide. And consider this statistic: A full seventy-five percent (75%) of African American and Hispanic students attend school in schools or school districts that are considered failing.
This means that within an educational system already rapidly careening toward crisis, African American and Hispanic school children are already perhaps there. But how did we get where we are now? What can we, or should we, reasonably expect from our educational system?
What can we do to fix our educational system, or at the very least, make it work for us? Join us as we consider these and many more questions and issues as we discuss "Public Education and the Minority Community."
This week RiPPa and I will be joined tonight on Freedom thru Speech Radio by Professor Venus Evans-Winter of The Freire Project, Symphony of the blog Essential Presence, and national teacher trainer and teacher union official Cynthia Reddick.
You can join the conversation by going to the show’s platform by clicking here, or you can call into the show through our call-in number at 914-803-4881.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Don’t get me wrong, now. Most of the time I act very mature. I handles mine! I work very hard to provide for my family as well as give back to my community, and I give my wife and children as much of my time as I can. Isn’t that the very definition of maturity?
But every now and then the kid kicks in, and I do something crazy and off the wall. And usually when I have these episodes, my wife just happens to be there to witness either the whole thing or, at the very least, the aftermath.
However, after almost eighteen years of marriage, she has grown used to it. Or, perhaps, learned to tolerate it. Most of the time she just shakes her head, tsk-tsk-tsks, and maybe scolds me. However, every now and then, it costs me a dinner and a show or something to make amends for my more crass, egregious moments. Here are just a few that come to mind.
I Maintain a Subscription to Mad Magazine and Fight with My Teenage Son Over the Latest Issue when It Arrives My wife always points out the bookcases of serious books—literature,philosophy, and theory—throughout our home. And then she points out my collection of Mad magazines stacked in a corner of my closet and asks me to explain the correlation. But there doesn’t need to be an explanation. Sometimes I like foolishness, and Mad magazine has been a reliable source of foolishness since I was a child. Besides, all work and no play makes Max a dull, forty-something year old man.
And furthermore, if my son wants to read the new issue first, he needs to get his own subscription.
I Eat Fruity Pebbles from a Big Mixing Bowl while Watching Adult Swim Perhaps my wife would have reason to complain if this was all that I did while she was off working all day. Or if all I did was to sit around all day playing video games, but I don’t play video games; those are for kids.
But I work very hard for very long hours and believe I should be left to my own devices when I get a rare moment to relax. However, she does have a legitimate complaint when I don’t immediately wash my Fruity Pebble bowl. Once Fruity Pebbles dry out, they become like concrete and are almost impossible to get out.
I Eat Candy Incessantly and Swallow My Gum I really can’t explain this one. For some reason I really like candy, especially lemonheads, and because I am grown and can afford to buy lots of candy and no one can keep me from doing so, I can eat as much candy as I want. You can’t stop me. You are not the boss of me!
My wife has pretty much learned to live with this behavior, but after all these years, she still can’t get over the whole swallowing of the gum thing. She says that, first and foremost, swallowing your gum is absolutely gross, but how is this gross? It’s my gum. It would be gross if I swallowed someone else’s gum.
But recently she did have reason to fuss about it. During a rather long road trip, I managed to chew and swallow a whole bag of blow pops. Well, by the time we reached our destination, my insides were all gummed up by all the gum and nothing could pass through.
So as she administered some medication to break my internal logjam, she fussed and fussed and fussed which the children found to be rather humorous.
The Naked Shower Dance So, right before bed my wife begins to tell me this story of something that happened on her job. Well, at first I’m interested, but about an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes into this thing, I’ve lost all interest, and finally I just drift off to sleep.
But not to be undone, she picks up the story in the morning right where she left off. And I’m still cooperating. I’m responding where I’m supposed to respond and expressing surprise and concern where I am supposed to express surprise and concern, but the story does not end.
Finally, she’s in front of the mirror, still talking, and I’m coming out of the shower. Suddenly, a little voice in my head, I believe it was the devil, tells me to back ‘dat thang up! So, I fling the towel aside and begin to back that thing up. She gives me the side-eye but continues talking.
Then the voice tells me to do the naked running man. And of course I oblige. Now she has stopped talking and is just looking at me with this incredulous look on her face which I mistakenly take as a look of appreciation. Finally the voice, which clearly did not have my best interest in mind, tells me to get all up on her and do the prep.
Now she is just plain pissed. She grabs her things and stomps out of the bathroom, leaving me standing there naked and vulnerable and waiting on the voice to tell me what to do next, but the voice has deserted me.
She didn’t answer her phone until the early afternoon, but that was okay because by that time I had perfected my apology and secured tickets to a show she wanted to see.
What things do you or your significant other do that might be considered immature?
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
"Black Confederate" travels the country in Confederate uniform, waving rebel flag: Pride or self-deprecation?
Noted playwright August Wilson asserts that the South constitutes the true ancestral and cultural homeland of Black Americans. And whether this is true or not, I love living in the South. Even though I have and have had opportunities, perhaps even better opportunities, if I were to move elsewhere, I remain here [see my previous post on the subject]. Having lived in various places throughout the United States as well as the world, the South is where I am most comfortable; the pace of life, the traditions and customs, the familiar accents all comfort me.
But in this short clip of a gentleman, who according to him is the immediate past president of his local chapter of the NAACP and who has decided to embrace all facets of his Southern heritage and has taken to traveling the country in a Confederate uniform, waving a Confederate flag, it seems has taken his love for the South a bit too far.
Now I don’t believe Black Americans are a monolithic people, and I do respect the attitudes and beliefs of African Americans who do not think exactly like me; diversity of thought, in fact, I believe to be a good thing. But in the same instance, I believe this gentleman is a bit off his rocker. It seems self-deprecation has hit a new low. What’s your opinion?
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
It seems that these days I always begin my letters with an apology. And this one will be no different. I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. I will not use the excuse that I was so busy because aren’t we all so busy? And besides, even in the hubbub of your own life, even given the many responsibilities you have, you gave up your time to write me in an attempt to encourage me, and for that I truly am thankful.
You know the other day a good friend of mine just out of the blue asked me if I were happy. And I smiled, and told her that, yes, I was really and truly happy. But then she said that even though I was always cheerful, even though I usually had a smile on my face, she sensed that many times my mind was elsewhere. Many times I would be going through something, but only I was too prideful to admit it, to seek out someone to talk to.
She said that she sensed that I was one of those smiling on the outside, crying on the inside type persons. I don’t know where she ever got that from.
But I guess she was partially right. There are times that I am going through something. At those times, I withdraw. I become reticent. But aren’t we all going through something at some time or another? But I have learned to deal with, to cope with those times.
Let me give you some background. Every since I was a child, I have not been able to sleep most nights. When I was a child, after my mother and father were asleep, after my siblings were asleep, I would wake up and not be able to go back to sleep.
Sometimes I read. But mostly I paced the floor. Night after night after night, I would pace the floor in the darkness waiting for sleep to come. Waiting for peace to come.
Then my mother told me that when these bouts of insomnia hit, that was a sign that I needed to pray. So, I tried praying, but the peace still would not come. But at some time or another, for some reason or another, I began to write my prayers down.
And slowly these prayers began to take the appearance of stories. Sometimes these prayers would be about something that happened at school that day. Or something that happened around the neighborhood. Or simply something that was weighing heavily on my mind.
But mostly these stories would be about love. Love between men and women. The love of a mother for her child, a father for his child. The seeming absence of love from the world we live in. Just love.
And in praying, in writing, peace would finally come.
When I first got married to my wife, after the honeymoon phase passed and we actually attempted to sleep at night, I began my old routine anew. She didn’t complain all that much, but it must have been hard for her in the beginning. She must have been nervous, wondering what she had gotten into.
In the silent darkness of our small apartment, I would get up in the middle of the night, and I would pace the floor. And I would write. I would pace the floor. And I would write. I would pace the floor. And I would write. Sometimes until sweat ran down my face like drops of blood.
And in praying, in writing, peace would finally come.
Just the other night when I was up, after my wife and children had long gone to bed—my children, too, have now become inured to my nocturnal habits—the phone rang. It was my mother. She sometimes calls late at night, early in the morning, when she feels that I am restless, that I am up. She seems to be able to sense this. She seems to be able to gauge my moods even from far away.
“Are you up,” she asks me.
“Mother, you know I am,” I reply.
And we engage in small talk until I can hear the sleepiness creep into her voice. And when she no longer can hide her fatigue, when conversation becomes almost impossible because of her frequent yawning, she finally moves to end the call.
“Well, I have to go,” she says. “I can hardly keep my eyes open. Are you going to be alright?”
“I always have been,” I answer.
“Well, are you praying?,” she asks.
“Yes, mother. I am writing,” I answer.
And I resume pacing. And writing. Pacing. And writing. Pacing. And writing. Until sweat runs down my face like drops of blood and peace finally comes.
Thank you for thinking of me.
With only the greatest affection,
Maxwell Rene Reddick
Maxwell Rene Reddick
Late winter, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
For anyone who cares, I need to make a statement. My name is Maxwell Rene Reddick. And I’m afraid of becoming a racist. But perhaps racist is not the correct word to describe how I feel; however, in the same instance, perhaps it’s the only word.
You see, I am gradually experiencing an erosion of trust, a waning of faith. Suddenly, I am beginning to see my fellow Americans in a new light.
It began sometime during the last presidential election. And I am not so naïve as to believe that racism and racial resentment did not exist before that time, but I guess that the ease and the unabashed manner with which they dragged out the ghosts of the past caught me by surprise.
But then I reasoned that they had just given in to the emotions of the moment. That when President Obama took office, all the racist rhetoric would die down. That the Republican leadership would come forward as a united body and denounce the campaign’s racism and allay the imagined fears of some Negro take over.
However, they did not. Instead, they increased the rhetoric. They upped the ante. They even rolled out their own Gestapo like force skilled in the use of racist rhetoric and general mayhem. They called them the “Tea Party.” But soon the “Tea Party,” drunk off their new found sense of power, spurred on by their success, spun out of their control, out of their grasp, and they found themselves, too, at its capricious whims.
So, Saturday I’m watching the whole lead-up to the historic vote on health care reform unfold. I am seeing the crowds gather in protest on the street. I am watching the talking heads get in their talking points on the cable news networks. Then I get a text message. Someone has been called a nigger. Someone has been called a faggot. Someone has been spit on. And almost coincidently the cable network news people confirm these reports.
And I feel my ire rise. I feel a level of indignance that I have not felt in quite some time. And there is something else there too that causes me to clench my fist and bite down on my lower lip. Is that hate or just anger? And then the devil pours me another drink as he laughs at my vulnerability.
But then later I’m in my yard, and a pick-up truck passes with a “NOBAMA” sticker and a “Is it 2012 yet” sticker displayed prominently in the back window of the cab. And then a late model Mercedes-Benz passes going in the other direction. The driver has affixed a sticker with the word “SOCIALISM” with a big red circle with a slash through it.
Then I mentally count the distance between my home and the next home containing a black family. I note my neighbor out working in his yard with his shirt off—he’s really too big to be outside with his shirt off—and I think to myself, “Is he one of them?”. He certainly looks like one of them or what I believe one of them would look like.
And when I am in the grocery, I am looking in white faces, thinking to myself, “Is he one of them? Is she one of them?”. The lady at the gas station smiles at me as she swipes my card. I do not smile back. Is she one of them?
And I tell myself that I cannot be racist. Haven’t I got a plethora of white friends. But that’s the first thing racists say, isn’t it? I remember that from my first year of grammar school until my last year of grad school, I have been surrounded by white people; usually I have been the only, or one of a very few, Blacks in the class. In the military, I lived with white people, slept with white people, ate with white people. I remind myself that my aunt, my mother’s brother’s wife, is white though I have never thought of her as being white before this moment.
But I don’t think that it’s racism; I think it is a lack of trust, a lack of faith in my fellow Americans and their motives. This is, perhaps, how my grandfather felt when he was a young man. Which of you are for me? Which of you are against me? Because I have no way of knowing until you are standing in front of me, spitting on me and calling me a nigger.
However, I refuse to give in to hate. To calm my nerves, to clear my mind, I pick up a book to read, and I come across a quote by James Baldwin: “The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”
And then I realize that I cannot hate. That it is perhaps not in my best interest, our best interests. That it is perhaps not even in me to hold grudges. But I must work on this whole trust thing; I must work to rebuild my faith. But trust and faith are hard found when all around you hate and acrimony seems to be the order of the day.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Did you happen to catch the We Count!: The Black Agenda Is the American Agenda Summit hosted by Tavis Smiley yesterday? If you did not, then you can catch it here. And this summit will be our topic for discussion on tonight.
Let me repeat a question that I’ve posed many times before: What is the Black Agenda? I keep hearing about this “Black Agenda,” but as of yet, no one has been able to articulate a cohesive, coherent Black Agenda for me. And on yesterday Tavis Smiley convened a panel of august African American community leaders, religious leaders, and scholars to discuss just that—The Black Agenda.
However, at the end of four hours, I still had not gotten a better grasp of this agenda though one of the panelists did suggest that those in attendance and those looking on could purchase a copy of this agenda in the form of Tavis Smiley’s book, but no real consensus seemed to be reached.
But this show is our attempt to make sense of the proceedings of that summit. Did that summit meet your expectations? What do you think was accomplished by that summit? What are you feelings toward the proceedings of that conference? Did that summit inspire you, spur you to act?
Come and join our own august panel of guests as we attempt to get to the bottom of this Black Agenda yet again. iluvblackwomen will be in the house, as will the dynamic Brother Jesse, and California community activist Alvin Herring.
And we look forward to you being in the house as well. Remember, the show starts at 9 PM EST. You can join us on our show platform page by clicking here, or you can dial in to listen to the show at 914-803-4881.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
And, amused, I just had to smile for a second or two as I remembered spring breaks past and the whole undergraduate college experience. Do you remember those? Or, if you did not attend college, do you remember just being young with no real responsibilities and just living life to the fullest?
I studied hard, and I studied long, but I did get in my foolishness. In fact, there are some days I remember this episode or that episode, and it suddenly dawns on me just how horribly things could have turned out. When you are young, you are often under the impression that you are somehow invincible, but only later and in hindsight do you realize that though you thought you knew it all, you really knew very little.
But after listening to my students, I took stock of my plans for spring break, and oh, how things have changed. Instead of Freaknik or Daytona Beach, my spring break plans consist of catching up on all those household chores that I have fallen behind on. Plus, I have a doctor’s appointment for a colonoscopy and a prostate exam. I just hope that for my prostate exam, I get that doctor with the little tiny hands as opposed of the one who played basketball in college.
But anyway, here are those memories of college life that stand out for me:
The Church Lady Well, the Church Lady was not this lady’s given name; it was the name that I and some of my close friends gave her in our freshman year. It seemed for the first two years of school, we had practically every class together. And she would show up every day, for each class, dressed like it was Easter, big hat and all. I just couldn’t figure it out. It all seemed like overkill to me.
One semester we took an 8 AM class together. I would drag in to class in flip-flops, a tank top, gym shorts, and crusty to be damned, and there she would be sitting right up front, frustrating everyone with that big hat blocking the board.
Over the years, we became friends though. In fact, she is my colleague at the college where I now teach. And guess what? She’s still showing up everyday dressed like it’s Easter morning.
Ramen Noodles A week or so ago I came across this article about a chef selling a bowl of ramen noodles for $100 dollars. You know I had to do a double take. One hundred dollars for a cup of ramen noodles? The chef stated that the many years of tradition and experience that went into each bowl justified that price.
Well, doing college I ate many, many bowls of ramen noodles. I bought Ramen noodles by the case. In fact, I ate so many ramen noodles during college that the very sight of ramen noodles makes me gag now.
And it has been my observation then and now that ramen noodles are an integral part of the college experience for many students. So, along with that college tradition and experience, cheap, cut-up hot dogs went into my ramen noodles. I wonder how much I could have charged.
Financial Aid Dispersal Day on the Yard You could always tell when the financial aid, student loan, and scholarship checks arrived because suddenly everything on the yard would seem brand new. Everyone on the yard would show up in new clothes and shoes. Some even showed up to school driving new cars or cars with new rims and booming systems. And for a week or so, ramen noodle sales dropped precipitously.
For a brief minute, everyone on the yard was some sort of tycoon. But of course the money soon ran out, and everything returned back to normal. Speaking of return, I had a friend who took her financial aid money and purchased a $600 Gucci purse that she had had her eyes on for quite some time. And she strutted around with that purse like she owned the world for a while. But then one day she asked me to take her to the mall to return the purse. It seems she had run short of cash and really needed that $600 dollars she spent on the purse.
My Oldsmobile Cutlass Brougham I was intent on buying me a car. Suddenly, the Mercury Comet my dad bought for me just didn’t suffice. My dad recommended that I wait until he could go with me to purchase my car so I didn’t end up with a lemon. Instead, I decided not to wait for him and go at it alone.
I ended up buying a 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Brougham for $700. The advertisement in the paper said low miles and one owner, but low miles really meant the low 100,000s and the one owner must have driven that car to hell and back, but I bought it anyway.
Six months later the car developed a problem. I don’t know if it was the engine or the transmission, but you could push the pedal all the way to the floor, and the car wouldn’t go over forty miles an hour. Then came the unexplained fumes. From some undetermined location, these noxious fumes would fill the car whenever you drove it. But did that stop me from driving it? Not at all.
I, along with my frat brothers, would drive along at forty miles an hour for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time until we got light-headed. Then we would pull over and step outside the car for a while so that we could clear our heads. We might have shown up a little late and light-headed, but we did not miss one party in town.
Impromptu Road Trips Some of the best times I had as a college student were on those impromptu road trips we took all over the Southeastern United States with no planning and very little money. Somebody would just show up and excitedly inform us about a party or a Greek show in this city or that city, and we would just look at each other, shrug our shoulders and hit the road.
Sometimes I marvel that we ever made it there and back in one piece and without incident. But the old saying goes that God gives special attention to fools and babies, so perhaps that figured into the equation.
I remember one such trip from Jacksonville, Florida, to Virginia Beach, Virginia, for a Greek show and party. Seven of us stuffed ourselves into my line brother’s ancient Toyota Celica hatchback/deathtrap with a suspect braking system and tires so bald that you could see the air in them. There was an eighth but we had to leave him behind to make room for the case of oil and transmission fluid we had to take with us; every time we stopped for gas or to get something to eat, we had to replenish the car’s fluid levels.
We drove there, partied until the wee hours of the morning and had breakfast, took a quick, uncomfortable nap in the car, and then drove back. One the way back, we had just enough money for gas. In fact, we must have rode for about an hour or so on pins and needles as the gas light glowed ominously red.
Was it irresponsible? Were we a bunch of fools? Yes, but when you are young, you sometimes simply don’t think of such things. And not only that I had more fun than I have ever had in my life. I just hope my kids have a bit more sense than I did.
What are your fondest memories of college or of just being young?
Friday, March 19, 2010
Negar-Nigger-Niggra-Colored-Negro-Black-African American-Negro?: The 2010 U.S. Census and the Evolution of an Appellation
So, my wife filled out our part, person one and person two. She put herself first on the form, but it’s all good. Then she passed the form to my son so he could fill in the information for person three. And it went well until he got to the choices for race.
He read off the choices: “African American, Black, Negro. Negro? Wait a minute. Which block do I check?”
I informed him that he should just check that box and move on so his sister could fill out her section, but he refused to move on. Indignantly he said, “I’m African American. I’ll accept Black. But I’m not a Negro. If I check this box, I’m agreeing that I am indeed a Negro.”
Now, I’ve been looking on from the periphery at the whole controversy about “Negro” being included on the census. I haven’t paid very much attention to it, though, because it didn’t seem that much of a big deal. Keep in mind, two weeks or so ago I was called a nigger by a student, so Negro pales in comparison.
But can someone tell me what’s so wrong about the term Negro? And I am aware of the negative connotations surrounding the word; however, that does not mean I understand even after my son explained to me that when he hears the word, his mind automatically conjures up images of a servile, obsequious figure, debasing themselves so that they might receive favor. He says this is not what he seeks to be, and this is not what I’ve taught him up, so he does not understand why I do not understand why he objects so strongly to the word.
But at one time, even within my lifetime, Negro was the acceptable term used for African Americans. Is it generational?
I wonder what those “twenty or something odd Negars” dropped off by the Dutch slaver at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, and who were counted as part of the census the following year, thought of being referred to as Negars?
Perhaps because they were Africans, and as such, still held a memory of a homeland, a village, a place, a history—an identity, they resented being referred to as Negars. But then again, the term Negar simply meant black, so they might have accepted it without thought. Nevertheless, they did not possess the power or influence—the agency--to determine the term by which they would be referred.
And only within the crucible of slavery would the term Negar be bastardized to nigger, and because meaning is not inherent in language, the first blacks to be referred to as nigger probably did not think nothing of it at all, but after hundreds of years of degradation and dehumanization, black folk began to attach their treatment and their condition to the word, and the word began to gather the power and negativity still associated with it even until the current day.
I imagine, though, at some time somebody protested against the use of the word because in those old newsreel films and film footage taken of whites in the 1950’s and 1960’s, those “proper” whites who considered themselves more well-bred and genteel began to use “niggra” in place of “nigger” although I’m not quite sure of the actual difference it made; the semantics remained constant.
But as African Americans gained power and influence, where we could we began to define ourselves and part and parcel of defining ourselves was insisting that neither of those terms, nigger or niggra, be used in referring to us. I’m not certain which came first, colored or negro, or if they were even used simultaneously; I do, however, remember be referred to as both. In fact, until my eighty-five year grandmother died last year, she preferred the term colored.
However, now even colored appears to be deemed derogatory. Take a look at the following clip. The reporter inadvertently uses the term “colored” in discussing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People with NAACP chairman Ben Jealous. A few minutes later he feels the need, or maybe he was coerced, to come back and apologize:
I do remember the Black Power Movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s rejecting the term Negro for the same reasons my son mentions in favor of the term Black, and that was what we were referred to most often when I was a child—Blacks. However, in the same instance, I remember reading or hearing a speech by Malcom X which pre-dates the Black Power Movement in which he stated that the proper term was Afro-American which, of course, became African American at some time or another.
But I don’t even recall being referred to as African American with any frequency or consistency or seeing it show up as a choice on paperwork until about the late 1980’s. Maybe I will pull out some of my old army paperwork from that time and check there.
But anyway, over the course of my lifetime, I have watched as we have gained the agency to determine who we are and what we should be called. But of course, African America is not a monolith. Every African American does not think the same way or share the same principles and/or convictions, so it is natural that we should differ in the meaning and import of the term Negro showing up on the census.
However, just as I explained to my son, what is most important is who and what you think you are and who and what you know yourself to be and what actions you take toward that ideal; your definition and determination of self is more important than the definition and determination of those outside forces.
So, perhaps in the spirit of self-definition and becoming and the memory of those who came previous, it would be best to simply check the box other and write in “Negar,” and then with our actions and deeds, show the world who we really are.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Do you remember when over the summer, Texas governor Rick Perry threatened state secession? I don’t think anyone thought anything of it then; at the time, the right seemed particularly occupied with yelling out anything that seemed to express their extreme displeasure in the “Washington establishment” and the new socialist direction in which the country was heading, no matter how ridiculous it was or how ridiculous it made them seem.
Perhaps it was just coincidental that the face of the “Washington establishment” and the man leading that headlong charge into socialism just happened to be a black face, the first of its kind.
So by the time the secession talk came up, I wasn’t all that surprised; by that time I had seen and heard it all. But what really caused me to raise an eyebrow was when the secessionist movement actually began to catch on. A sizable portion of Texans actually supported secession or either could not make up their mind, and some fools even began to campaign on the secessionist platform.
And whatever reasons Texans might give for supporting secession, the first few lines from the Texas Secede! Website seems to imply that the president at least figures in the desire to leave the union:
“Texas is a free and independent State, subject only to the Constitution of the United States…” (note that it does not state…subject to the President of the United States…”…)
Now, I cannot insinuate race is a factor here because nowhere on this site can I find racist language, so I’ll resist making that charge. Let’s just say that Texans are somewhat intimidated by the change in American society and culture, no matter how minute, that is suggested by President Obama’s election.
However, if the secessionist movement does not gain ground, Texans have found an alternate means of affecting the historical trajectory of the nation; they’ll just rewrite history. Last week the conservative heavy Texas State Board of Education voted to transform the Texas social studies and economics textbooks into purveyors of conservative ideals and principals.
Among other things, among many questionable decisions, in doing so they downplayed the role of founding father and deist Thomas Jefferson in favor religious right icon John Calvin, opted to allow the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation’s founding fathers while ignoring the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state, describes the United States as a constitutional republic as opposed to democratic, and removed mentions of capitalism in favor of the American free enterprise system.
The really shameful part is that these distortions of history will be used for a number of years going forward and will influence millions of young Texans. Perhaps, then, Texas is hedging its bets against change by attempting to influence the young minds that flow through its school system by teaching a skewed, one-dimensional version of history. But allow me to give the state of Texas a tip.
Yes, you might be able to change the textbooks. You may be able to distort the truth and downplay the roles and contributions of minorities to this great country of ours and the state of Texas. But keep in mind that racial demographics are quickly changing. Keep in mind that soon minorities will be the majority, with Hispanics leading the charge and African Americans coming in a close second.
So how long do you think you can go on suppressing the knowledge that Tejanos were among the fallen heroes of the Alamo? How long can do you think you can go on suppressing the knowledge of liberal and minority rights group?
All those new minorities coming down the pike will undoubtedly not be conservatives despite the Texas State Board of Education’s greatest efforts. A number of these minorities will be able to think for themselves and seek knowledge of themselves and see through the many liberties you have taken with the retelling of history.
Whatever the Texas State Board of Education may have been trying to achieve, they have managed to engender their own revolution; they have given the many disparate minority rights groups impetus to unite under a common banner. Many groups have already begun to fight back. Many groups have already begun to push back and challenge the distortions.
What the state of Texas has succeeded in doing is creating a text filled with conservative fairy tales positing the state of Texas as a utopia. So in reality, Texas has managed to secede and form its own country after all--the land of make believe.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
It seemed so much easier when I had absolutely nothing and race was the only issue I had to deal with. Then the choices seemed much clearer. Then I knew exactly which side of the line I stood on, what I fought for and against.
But then enters the specter of class and suddenly the clarity of my vision becomes obfuscated by questions of practicality, of good judgment, of the actual meaning of progress. Theory holds that in order for change to take place, something must necessarily be lost; to build or improve a structure, the old must be destroyed in part or in whole to make way for the new.
Some time ago I composed a post about my two children. Their path through life has been much different than mine. I grew up in the black community, surrounded by black folk, immersed in black culture. They, however, have spent the whole of their lives in a mostly white environment, surrounded by white people, immersed in the mainstream culture.
This has not been a problem for my son. He is confident in himself and his abilities, perhaps overly confident, even to the point of being arrogant. He moves fluidly and easily between cultures. And as he does so, he wears his blackness like a badge, daring anyone to challenge him, to impugn his authenticity.
However, my daughter is much more timid, much shier, more taciturn. She is fragile and breaks easy. Her contact with African American culture has been fraught with peril, with pain. She has been made fun of for being different. She has been ridiculed for being intelligent, for enjoying reading, for “talking proper,” for not liking rap music.
And for a while she withdrew into a shell. She began to avoid contact with other little black girls her own age, and before long every poster of the many glaring down from her wall contained a white face. Naturally I began to worry about her; I became confused.
But then she started to gather her strength. She began to gain confidence. She began to assert herself. And just in time because next year she enters high school.
Recently we began to receive pamphlets from various high schools around the city, all competing for her. Three of the schools are the top college prep high schools in the city, one being judged as one of the top ten in the nation. One pamphlet came from the city arts school, again one that has been judged one of the best of its kind in the region.
And then one pamphlet came from an all-black high school on the other side of the city. For the past decade or so this school has been in a steady state of decline and has been deemed a failing institution. In fact, recently the state threatened to close the doors of the school if student achievement did not improve.
So to prevent this from occurring, about a year or so ago, school and community leaders were able to secure a grant which allowed the school to start its own college prep program. In this way, school and community leaders hoped to attract some of the better students who were being siphoned off to other, higher achieving institutions. This nascent program sent the pamphlet to my daughter with hopes that she would choose to attend.
But anyway, I gathered all the pamphlets together and called my daughter into the room. Proudly I presented all the pamphlets to her and instructed her to take them with her, read through them, and when she was ready to make a decision, come back and we would talk about it.
However, she didn’t go anywhere. With confidence and conviction, she plucked the pamphlet from the black school from my hand and held it out toward me.
“This one. This is the school I want to go to she said.” She didn’t even blink.
“Wait a minute. This one?,” I said. “Why don’t you go ahead, take them all, and think about it for a few days.”
I tried to muster my most persuasive style to cover the shock. But she would not be moved.
“I already thought about it. And I choose this one.” She still held the pamphlet up for me to see.
I tried to search for a credible argument. “But that school… That school is… Um… Why?”
My son chimed in with his own flippant comment. “Because it’s a black school. Right Uncle Ruckus?”
Before I knew it I had yelled at my son, and he slinked from the room hurt. But he could not have been as hurt as I; I don’t think I deserved to be called Uncle Ruckus. I didn’t oppose the school because it was a black school, but I opposed the school because of a plethora of other practical reasons. Or did I?
But there are a lot of things about the school my daughter does not know, could not have know from that pamphlet. She has never been to the school so she could not know that the school is surrounded by a fence complete with razor wire at the top and to even enter the school’s parking lot, you must first be cleared by a city police officer situated at the entrance.
She could not know that to enter the school you must first walk through a metal detector and then have your bags searched by yet another police officer. She could not know about the high violence rate at the school, the number of weapons confiscated from students within the past year, the shootings right across the street from the campus.
And I have it from a reliable source that the school’s college prep program is all but failing. The program could not attract enough qualified students, so in desperation, they just accepted anyone. Not only that, of the twenty-eight instructors selected and trained for the program, only eight remain. Most classes are now being taught by long-term subs. But she could not know this.
These are the reasons I oppose her attending the school, aren’t they? After all, I spent five years in grad school studying African American literature and culture, getting to know my people intimately, so there is no way I could harbor prejudices against my own people, is it?
And do you know how much time I spend volunteering in the African American community? How much I contribute each year to various causes? I do that out of the goodness of my heart. Or is it guilt?
Anyway, the shouting and slamming of doors and stamping about has all ended now. I am a few days removed from the incident, but the rift between me and my daughter has yet to heal. I was hoping she would change her mind but she hasn’t.
However, my son and I have made up. He’s sitting in a chair in the corner of my home office. I am sitting at my desk. The form I must sign indicating which school she will attend is on the desk in front of me. I must sign it and get it in the mail before Friday.
Finally, I sign the form, but I don’t check the necessary box. Instead, I just sit and stare for a moment. Sensing my continued indecisiveness, my son asks me, “Well?”.
I push the paperwork aside and put off the decision for another day. Maybe I can talk her out of it tomorrow. Or should I?
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Everyone has a story, a narrative. And everyone has had to overcome something in their lives, has had a bridge to cross in getting where they are now. If you haven’t, trust me on this, you will, and some of us may be going through something, crossing that bridge, at this very moment.
You know history, most specifically African American history, is a broad palimpsest of these stories, these narratives. If we comb through the annals of African American history, many of these narratives stand out. The narrative of Cinque and the slave ship Amistad is one. The narrative of Nat Turner is another.
Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the list of triumphant, inspirational narratives of people who refused to be slaves, who refused to be second class citizens, who insisted that their humanity and the humanity of all African American men and women be recognized goes on and on.
But these are the most popular, most well-known narratives. However, there are millions of other lesser known individuals whose names you will perhaps never see on the front page or in history books whose narratives are no less fascinating or uplifting.
These are the narratives that I find to be the most beautiful, the most compelling, those narratives of common people, people just like you and me, facing sickness, facing poverty, facing drug abuse, facing the daily vicissitudes of life, who emerge from the experience better and stronger.
And these are the narratives we will explore tonight on the Freedom thru Speech blog talk radio broadcast. We will feature the narratives of Nicole McLean of My Fabulous Boobies, Nina Brewton of Be Inspired, and Michael Stagg of My II Sense who all have beautiful narratives to share.
And we will perhaps feature your narrative, too, if you are willing to just tune in and call in. Nevertheless, this is a broadcast that you do not want to miss. You can listen or comment by dialing the show’s call-in number at 914-803-4881 or by simply going to our BlogTalkRadio page by just clicking here.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
However, many African Americans, for whatever reason, seem reluctant to seek counseling or pursue mental health services. In fact, the subject of mental illness seems almost taboo in the African American community. But this is a conversation that I really feel needs to had sooner rather than later.
Stacey Muhammad of Wildseed Films/Intelligent Media sent over this short clip from her most recent short documentary Out of Our Minds—Trauma, Depression, and the Black Women. [Click here to view clip.] Ms. Muhammad explains her film thusly:
This film explores Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and the experience of trauma, and how the lives of Black women have been affected by these experiences.The film is produced by Wildside Films/Intelligent Media in conjunction with Block Exchange Films and is scheduled to premiere at the 7th Annual PATOIS International Human Rightst Film Festival in New Orleans on March 13th.
Black women from all walks of life, speak openly and candidly about depression, mental illness, anxiety, stress, [and] why these discussions are considered taboo in the African American community, and ways in which we begin to—and continue to—heal the wounds.
As Women’s History Month progresses, I believe that this is an important and worthwhile beginning to a very necessary conversation. Take a look at the video, and let me know what you think.
And if you would like to enter into a dialogue with Ms. Muhammad, she can be reached through Intelligent Media at 484-472-3745. Click [here] to check out other Wildseed Films/Intelligent Media projects such as I Am Sean Bell: Black Boys Speak.
Monday, March 8, 2010
And yes, to answer your first question, I do have a number of other white readers, but the funny thing is that most of them, well all except you and another, choose to comment by email instead of leaving comments on the page. I think that they feel as if they will be verbally accosted or something. In fact, for a good while now, I have been carrying on a running dialogue with a Jewish man somewhere in New England. But let’s deal with those issues you have raised.
At this point in my life, I have grown bored of talking about race. I have grown tired of the subject. Yet I feel that I cannot get away from it because it somehow in someway always seems to rear its ugly head. I have friends and colleagues who say that I am fixated on race, that I overanalyze and overreach, that I am perhaps overly sensitive and feel things just a bit too deeply. But how does one feel too deeply?
My graduate school mentor, a black man, followed my blog for a while, then he just abruptly quit, sending me a message that my blog had descended into just another race blog. That’s the exact term he used, “descended.” And he stated further that I had the talent and the intelligence to do so much better and voiced his disappointment in me.
I wish that I could say that he did not hurt my feelings, that I was unaffected by the whole thing, but if I am honest, and that is what I try always to do—be honest, I can only admit that it did hurt. It hurt greatly, and it took me a while to recuperate.
I am comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit my fragility; I break easily. However, I have mastered the art of the stoic dispassionate edifice which is commonly mistaken as strength.
But just to think, I never set out to write about race. I never set out to write about racial issues. You know what I always wanted to do? Don’t laugh, but I always wanted to write love stories. I always wanted to write beautiful stories about black people meeting and falling in love against all odds. I called these my “brown love stories.” But the omnipresence of race and its accompanying issues kept presenting itself, inserting itself, as the main antagonist of any “brown love story” I endeavored to compose; black people loving other black people is truly a revolutionary act.
However, this is what I know to be true about race and its place in American politics and culture. Race is that great divider. All the political rhetoric you hear has nothing to do with politics at all. All those ideals you hear being espoused by both the left and the right in the political arena are not about ideals at all. It is all about money. It is all about power.
And as long as those in power, those with money, can keep the masses divided and resentful of one another because of something so absolutely and utterly inane as race, the longer they remain in power, the longer they control the purse strings of the nation.
Religion works much the same way. You have a select few who claim the moral high ground for themselves while castigating and encouraging discrimination against others. In doing so, they project their own perverted proclivities and repressed desires onto other bodies deemed by a cynical, hypocritical society to be aberrant.
There are many purporting to follow Christ; however, there are very few who conduct themselves as Christ conducted himself.
However, I feel I should stop now; I’ve prattled on much too long. In fact, I may just use this missive as a post since I have spent the time I carved out to write this morning composing it. It’s just that other events of the past week have caused me to be introspective, more so than usual. And writing has always been my means of working through dilemmas.
But I only wanted to thank you for taking the time out to write me and visiting and commenting on the blog. And there is no need for you to feel guilty; both you and I are products of the society to which we were born. Just as I have learned that walking around in a constant and unyielding state of rage is unconstructive and noxious, so too is possessing any measure of guilt for those things you did not contribute to or have no control over.
And what can you do? Perhaps my answer will reveal my naïveté, or better still, my idealism or romanticism, but I do believe that most important thing you can do, the most revolutionary thing you can do, is simply love and acknowledge the humanity of every man. In any and all things, love is always the root politik.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
People tease me about my office, especially my desk. Both are an absolute mess. In fact, my desk has almost ceased to function as a desk; it has, instead, become simply a place where I stack my stuff. Then the stacks eventually fall over, and I just seek out a new surface on which to start a new stack.
But there is one corner of my office and my desk that is clean and absence of the ubiquitous clutter. That corner is reserved for my friend, my colleague, who has an office just next to mine. When I am here, she is usually here too there in her corner, reading, checking papers, on her laptop.
Sometimes we chat. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we discuss books we’ve read. Sometimes we get all deep in discussing the problems and questions that have vexed mankind since the beginning of time. But mostly we just sit, each oblivious to the presence of the other, as we work on our respective tasks.
She is sitting there now, composing some document on her laptop. She looks up. She sees me looking over the top of my glasses in her general direction. And she smiles. I smile back. And we go back to work. I try to decide rather or not to let her read this once I finish, or should I just let her wait until morning when she will surely read it on the blog. I decide on the former. Some people don’t like surprises.
But she is always here because she says she hates to be alone; she hates to be lonely. She says her office is so small that the walls sometimes seem to close in around her. However, my office is no bigger. And with the clutter, with the books and the papers stacked everywhere, it is even smaller.
Nevertheless, this is where she spends her day when she is not in class. Or across the hall in some else’s office. Or down the hall in yet another person’s office. But mostly in here because the others get annoyed by her constant presence. They whisper that she is clingy. They whisper that she is a bit kooky. But I don’t mind; I actually enjoy her company.
Usually we eat lunch together too, and most of the time she pays. I don’t have the disposal income a single person without kids does, so I can’t afford to eat out every day. However, she says she doesn’t mind paying because the one thing she hates most in the world is to eat alone. She calls it her lonely tax. Yet, I still feel just a tad bit guilty for allowing her to spend so much feeding me day in and day out. But she insists.
Also, since I have known her she has had a succession of live-in boyfriends and girlfriends. The relationships never seem to work out. But such hastily entered arrangements usually do, and I gently chide her, scold her, about this even though it probably isn’t my business, but I think someone should say something. She rebuts by saying that I don’t know what being alone feels like; I don’t know how it feels to be lonely.
But I remind her that I have not always been married, that I have not always had children. I attempt to sell her on the virtues of being all by oneself. I tell her about the pleasure I get from sitting in the dark, in the silence, communicating with my muse. I tell her about the time I spend with myself, those introspective moments when I attempt to know myself better. I tell her how empowering it feels to communicate completely and honestly with oneself.
I tell her about the day I sat alone in the dark, listening to the sound of the rain on the roof, and listening to my heartbeat, and listening to the sound of the rain on the roof, and listening to my heartbeat, and back to the rain on the roof, and back to my heartbeat, until at some point I thought the two—the steady staccato of the rain and the thump-thump, thump-thump of my heart—actually synched up, and I imagined myself to be one with the universe, and I spent the evening writing and writing and writing as fast as the words could come, as fast as the metaphors and similes and images could form.
She laughs out loud and says that for a black man I sometimes say some corny shit. There is a silence. I ask her if she loves herself. Of course, she says of course, but she hesitates just a bit too long, so I don’t believe her.
And then I get to the end of the post, and debate whether to show it to her now or wait until later. She has always enjoyed what I have written; she has always insisted that I am a gifted writer and just as she is afraid to be alone, I am afraid to be successful because if I was not, I would not spend so much time doing it only to hide it away.
But I have never written anything about her, so I don’t know how she will react. Not only that she may be mad, or she may be upset, or she may be hurt, and she might just get up and leave. And I glance around at the clutter and her in her spot, and realize that at this very moment, I really don’t want to be alone.