Friday, December 25, 2009

Because I Still Believe in Magic (Merry Christmas to You & Yours!)

As a child, I believed in Santa Claus and magic much longer than most children my age, especially those children growing up in the inner-city. I almost had to.

My parents’ economic situation vacillated wildly between boom and bust; there were times when we had more than plenty while there were others in which we had practically nothing at all, in which we were scraping the bottom of the proverbial bucket.

I didn’t understand it then, and I still, even in adulthood, have not been able to understand it. Both my parents were college educated professional people, so what can explain those rough spots in my childhood when we had practically nothing? Someday I will ask them. But it was during those times of bust that my hope, my faith, my belief in magic, deepened.

I remember one Christmas in particular. I had to have been maybe as old as twelve or thirteen at the time. We were in one of those bust periods. Things had gotten so bad that year that my parents finally gave in and accepted public assistance.

But I guess cabinets stacked with government peanut butter and powdered milk and juice and other foods is better than a cabinet stacked with nothing at all, but I know this weighed heavily on my father, a fiercely proud man. In fact, once I saw my mother bring the food into the house, I knew we had hit rock bottom.

The closer we came to Christmas, the direr our situation became. And the general malaise that had settled over our household worsened when my father drug in the most anemic Christmas tree I had ever seen in an effort to raise our spirits. Instead of lifting our spirits, that tree instead became a symbol of our lack.

So, our mother began to prepare us early for a disappointing Christmas. “Children, I don’t know what kind of Christmas we will have this year,” she would tell us. And because I am the oldest, she would pull me aside and try to explain to me the best she could what was happening so that she might enlist me in tamping down the expectations of my younger brothers and sisters.

And I tried to understand. I did. But I am sure you understand the difficulty of making a child understand something so complex. When I made mention of Santa Claus to my mother, her face at once became a mask of disbelief and pity.

However, in face of such a stark reality, isn’t it only natural that a child should reach for the only surety in his or her life—their naïve but unshakable belief in magic?

On Christmas Eve, my father left the house long before I got up, and I did not see him the whole of the day. My mother sat around wringing her hands and looking forlorn and making hushed phone calls. I spent the day hoping against hope that Santa Claus was real because by this time I realized that only elves and magic could help up at this point.

Late in the evening my father finally called, and after a short hushed phone conversation with him, my mother put my brothers and sisters to bed, let me know that she had to step out for a few, and left me in charge. But the moment she closed the door behind her, I fell fast asleep.

In the morning, I awoke to the smell of a baking ham and greens and other Christmas delectables. I took a second and swallowing the lump in my throat, and not knowing what to expect, but clinging steadfastly to my belief in magic, I quickly and excitedly woke up my brothers and sisters.

When we rushed into the den, there my mother stood wiping her hands on her apron and displaying the biggest smile I had seen on her face for quite some time. “Merry Christmas,” she exclaimed. “Santa Claus has been very good to somebody this morning. But be quiet as possible. You don’t want to wake up your daddy. He’s awfully tired this morning.”

She stepped aside to reveal our little anemic Christmas tree with gifts piled high and wide underneath. And we tore into them with an amazing fervor. And then that afternoon, we had a feast the likes of which we had not seen in quite some time.

Later that night, our faces greasy from leftovers, we debated who should give credit to for such a great Christmas, Santa or Daddy. Perhaps, because I was the oldest, I should have had more sense, but I threw my support solidly behind Santa. Even though I believed, or in the back of my mind suspected, that we had such a wonderful Christmas due to the machinations of my father, I still needed to, had to, cling to my belief in Santa Clause.

I had to believe that there is a propitious force present everywhere and in all things that picks up where your efforts fall far short.

When the chips are stacked against you, when nothing is going your way, and when you have done everything within your power to overcome but nothing seems to be working, perhaps then it is time to remember when we still believed in Santa Claus, when we still believed in magic, and know that somehow something positive will happen, and things will work out in our favor.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is there a different standard of conduct for elite African American athletes and successful people of color in general?

No, this is not another Tiger Woods post. I’m too through with Tiger and his foolishness. However, this post does deal with elite African American athletes and their treatment in the media and by American culture in particular, and in the end, I extend the argument to include successful people of color.

This conversation grows out of one I began several days ago with Symphony of the blog Essential Presence about the Billy Corben directed documentary The U (a promotional clip is embedded above) which chronicles the rise and fall of the University of Miami football program during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

According to the documentary, prior to the 1980’s the University of Miami was a lily white campus in the sleepy, lily white Miami suburb of Coral Gables with a failing football program. However, this all changed with the acquisition of Coach Howard Schnellenberger who was given the charge of rebuilding the program.

Coach Schnellenberger had the genius idea of rebuilding the program by going into the inner-city and ethnic neighborhoods of Miami and stocking the Miami football program with the best players, the vast majority of whom were black, which resulted in the University of Miami football team absolutely dominating college football for more than a decade.

And this domination was thorough and complete. However, they became more notorious for their on-field antics and off-field exploits than their football prowess. On the field, they danced, they clowned, they acted a complete and utter fool even as they were completely obliterating opponents. For this the team was labeled pompously arrogant.

Off the field they conducted themselves in an even more egregious manner; over the years, several players were arrested on charges ranging for assault to dealing drugs. For this the team got the reputation of a roster of criminals funded by rapper Luke Campbell.

But for all their on- and off-field exploits, during this period, the football team not only made a ton of money for the university, but they brought the university unprecedented exposure and prestige. Every game was a sellout, not to mention the millions for bowl appearances, and because of the success of the football program, the student body population grew by leaps and bounds.

Perhaps it would not be an overstatement to say that the University of Miami is what it is today because of the success of its football program. However, the football team’s reputation as a gang of lawless, arrogant thugs prevails.

This is my question to you, and I really hate to deal in hypotheticals, but I can only wonder how America would have treated, would have labeled, the University of Miami football team if that dominant team had been anything other than a group of predominately inner-city black kids? Would the terms have been different for Notre Dame? This brings us to our favorite foil as of late, Tiger Woods.

Every since he turned pro, Tiger Woods has absolutely dominated the sport of golf. And not only has he dominated the game; he has transformed the game as no golfer has before him. But even as he cut a wide swath through his competition, he has always been seen and labeled as arrogant.

And with this latest faux pas, the media and the golf establishment appeared only too eager to pounce. The golf establishment even characterized his actions as somehow outside some unwritten moral code of the pro golfing community. But I’m willing to bet my dollar to your dime that if there was some golf groupie sex to be had, Tiger was not the only one having it.

The common dominator here is money; money has the capacity to buy access to people and pleasures not available to those without it. And I am sure that for those who have it, those people and pleasures are hard to say no to.

Furthermore, what about the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena? This is another example of athletes who have absolutely dominated their sport, yet in seemingly every move they make, in every utterance, they been defined as ungraciously arrogant.

But I have not noted any such arrogance. Instead, I see their on the court posture as extremely competitive, extremely passionate, perhaps to a fault, but not arrogant. Most competitors, most people who reach the very pinnacle of their field seem to display many of the same behaviors. So why must they downplay their ability and accomplishments for their conduct to be deemed acceptable by some undefined, ever-changing standard?

And we can extend this argument far beyond the milieu of sports. I may be wrong; sometimes I feel that perhaps I am wrong more than I am right. From the limited purview of my subject position, I may simply be inserting inequities and inconsistencies where none exist. But it seems to me that standards of conduct differ for successful people of color.

While others may be given the latitude to celebrate their victories, to indulge in the excess allowed by the access that money and power provide, people of color are required to be humble, almost obsequious, in their success perhaps so as to be as non-threatening as possible.

But again, perhaps I may be wrong. What do you think?

Monday, December 21, 2009

President Obama, you can be remembered as being pitiful or powerful, but not both

I came late to the Obama bandwagon. While I suspect many of my friends, family members, and colleagues threw their support behind him early simply because of his race, I withheld mine until late in the primary season chiefly for that same reason; I knew that the importance of this presidential race was such that we could not waste our efforts. And I reasoned that America would not vote for a black man, and Obama’s campaign would go the way of Jesse Jackson’s, or Al Sharpton’s, or Shirley Chisholm’s in the early seventies.

But I did finally come around. I did finally get on the bandwagon. And for most of the summer until well into the fall, I, along with my wife and kids, did our very best to make his campaign successful. We canvassed. We stuffed envelopes. We made phone calls. And unbeknownst to me, practically every time we got one of those email messages asking for money, at least once or twice a week, my wife responded.

I was not the only one. Many people bought into his message of hope and change. Each time I attended a campaign event, the number of people and their sheer enthusiasm and optimism completely overwhelmed me; it more resembled a movement and not a campaign.

However, all around me I sense that campaign and inaugural day ardor is dampening. I sense that enthusiasm, that anticipation—the sense of hope and desire for real change—which defined the campaign is transforming hard and fast into disaffection and cynicism. And I lay the blame at the feet of President Obama.

There is an old military axiom that states that no matter how well crafted or well thought out the battle plan, that plan must necessarily change once the enemy is engaged. So, that being said, I understand that perhaps once the president took office the realities he faced might have caused him to revisit, re-evaluate, and revise those ideals he espoused during the campaign.

Furthermore, I understand the machinations of politics. The very nature of politics implies compromise. And in making a decision, the political implications of that decision sometime drive that decision; often because of political expediency and exigency, the best decision is not always the right decision.

With that in mind, I have remained reserved while others have criticized the president early in his term. In some decisions I could readily discern the political rationale, while others I just gave him the benefit of the doubt, but with this whole Health Care Reform debacle, I can no longer remain reticent.

The president must have known, had to have known, the difficulty of passing any type of health care bill with a public option attached early on. Leading up to his assuming office, or within the first days of his assuming office, I am more than certain he discussed his vision for health care reform with Democratic leaders in order to determine where they stood; to not to have done so would be tantamount to political malpractice.

In looking back, I now realize that when he gave his health care speech in August, he knew then. His downplaying the need for the public option during that speech was a tacit harbinger of what was to come. But at the moment he realized that he could not get any decent health care bill through the Senate, if he was really serious about a public option, he should have then looked for another option, another means of pushing his legislation through.

Certainly when he realized that the other side was not going to play by the rules, when he realized that the other side was going to engage any means necessary, no matter how unethical or immoral, to preserve the status quo, when he realized that members of his own party was going to stand in the way of him fulfilling his campaign promises, he should have then accepted that the normal give and take of politics was not longer commensurate to the situation; extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions.

I understand the notion that we get what we can now and then build on that foundation. But this is the problem with that. The urgency is now, and what can be done to bring the bill closer to what is desired in the future depends entirely on factors that are rapidly spinning beyond the control of the current sitting Democratic officials. Additionally, after this debacle, how many of those seats will remain in Democratic hands? How much longer will Democrats hold the balance of power?

These are the facts as I currently see them. This is the new reality that must be dealt with despite whatever battle plans might have existed. The other side has no interest whatsoever in bipartisanship, and the senate is wholly dysfunctional and has ceased to serve its purpose. If anything, the whole health care debate has made it plain that our government officials have ceased to be beholden to the people, but have become instead vassals of various business interests and/or industries.

This changes the game and the rules of play. Rational appeals to common sense and decency are wholly insufficient and fall on irrational and immoral/unethical ears, and the traditional political avenues are strewn with duplicity and questionable motives. So, all that’s left is for President Obama to step outside his zone of comfort and make those decisions and take those actions requisite to moving his agenda forward, the agenda promised those who worked so hard to get him elected, through all available means, to include good all fashioned political arm-twisting and intimidation.

Those historical figures which proved effective in facilitating real change and engendering hope in those who followed them did so by operating outside the status quo. They did so by throwing caution to the wind and putting themselves and their aspirations in the back seat and doing that which needed to be done for the good of those they served.

It is time for President Obama to stand fully erect and go blow for blow. The time has passed for issuing passes to those who have seemingly been disloyal and disingenuous in their actions; those persons seemingly have begun to see this as not a political favor but a weakness. All attempts at negotiation and compromise have appeared to those looking on, to include me, as complete and utter capitulation; the goal of negotiation and compromise is to reach an acceptable middle ground and not give, give, give until there is nothing left to give and then call it a victory.

President Obama has secured his place in history as the first African American president; however, the question then becomes what will history say about his performance as president? He will either be seen as being a complete failure or great; the epilogue will be either very pitiful or powerful, but it cannot be both. He has allowed the opposition and members of his own party to set the terms and formulate the rules in such a way that there is no middle ground.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

We Got a Full House Tonight on Freedom thru Speech Radio

Are you satisfied with the Health Care Reform compromise? Do you think the president delivered far less than he promised? And what about Joe Lieberman? He seems to have used the whole healthcare debate to get some payback for what was done to him years ago.

How do you think all this will affect the Democrats in the 2010 and 2012 elections? Do you think they have blown it once again? They seem to have a special knack for standing in their own path.

And last week there seemed to be a rather animated discussion going on around the blogosphere surrounding the Washington Post article entitled “Successful, Black, Lonely.” Why are professional African American women having such a hard time finding mates? Are there just not enough African American men to go around, or are they simply being too picky?

We will be discussing these issues and more tonight at 8 PM EST on Freedom through Speech Radio, the blogtalkradio show I host along with OneChele of Black n’ Bougie and RiPPa of Intersection of Madness and Reality.

OneChele is ill this evening, but we have some special guest to fill the void. We have a full house. Joining us will be Seattle Slim of, Tracy Renee Jones of, and CareyCarey of Carry Me Home.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do we act differently when we think white folks are watching?: Toward a Definition of Coonery

So, this past Sunday a good friend sent over the above photo and a link to several photos like it with Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele clowning around with some of his interns. The text of the email read, “Have you ever seen such coonery in your life!?”.

I was preparing to type back my assent when my wife came into the room, so I decided to share the photo with her. “Hey, look at this, baby. Have you ever seen such coonery in your life!?”

So, she takes a peek of my shoulder, and then she reminds me that I have many similar pictures that I have taken throughout the years with students and/or assistants. But she doesn’t stop there; she throws in a clincher just before she walks off: “Were you cooning when you did it?”

Darn her for throwing in truth and reality where it does not belong. But I had to admit that she had a point. I have taken similar photos with students and/or assistants throughout the years, and coonery was never my aim; I meant only to have a little fun and/or bond with those young people under my tutelage. Perhaps my judgment of Chairman Steele was colored by my assessment of him which is right there along with foot fungus.

However, just to be sure, I shared the photo and link to my Facebook page with the question, “Is this coonery or a man simply having a light moment with his interns?”, and several people commented. The vast majority labeled his actions outright and abject coonery. However, more than one person just saw a nerdy black man having fun with his interns.

But the comment that caught my attention asked the question, “Why it is always labeled coonery every time a black man acts a little silly or smiles a bit too broadly?” I had to take a step back and figure this one out.

If it were a high-ranking African American Democrat, would we still have come to the same conclusion? Would we have called it coonery if it was President Obama in the photo clowning around with his White House interns? Would we have called it coonery if it was anyone but Chairman Steele in this photo clowning around?

Or do we simply seem embarrassed for ourselves and for Chairman Steele because we believe he is showing his black behind, and white folk might be watching?

I remember when I was growing up, and I could judge the race of the person on the other end of the phone by the manner in which my mother spoke. My mother was an English teacher, so her grammar was always impeccable; however, when she spoke to white people, she added a special tone and timbre to her voice. She seemed to believe that her already pristine speaking voice was not good enough for white people.

And recently during a discussion of culture and stereotypes with one of my classes, a young white male who works as a waiter admitted that he favored serving African Americans because we tend to grossly over tip in an effort to overcompensate for the stereotype that blacks don’t tip. But we don't want to risk being uncouth do we, especially when white people are around.

While I am at it, let me admit my own complicity in this matter. When I am with my own, I gets buck from time to time; however, when I find myself surrounded by those of a certain hue, I tone it way down. I am careful that I am not too loud or too intimidating; big, loud, bald black guys scare white people sometimes.

I remember when in high school the gospel choir advisors took us to a chorale competition at which we were the only all black choir. Before they would even let us off the bus, they gave us the long speech on how to conduct ourselves. They concluded this speech with the admonishment, Don’t you dare get in there and act black on us!”.

And as we waited to perform, we watched the other choirs laughing and joking and being teenagers while we set as straight as possible, quietly and demurely in a corner. Any attempt to smile or laugh or even talk to our neighbor was meet with a stern look of rebuke. And though we were considered one of the best choirs in the region, we performed poorly on that day; it was though our spirit was crushed. But everyone complimented us on how well-behaved we were.

However, I do know and concede to the notion that there are standards of public conduct that should and must be followed, and I am not talking about these. I am talking about those moments when we seem afraid to be ourselves, when we cannot laugh out loud or even smile, when we alter our conduct to the detriment of our selves simply because we believe white folk is watching. Perhaps, we will only be free when we can get past the notion that we must conduct ourselves a certain way simply because certain eyes are upon us.

Do we act differently when we think white people are watching? Can someone give me a definition of coonery?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Fashion Faux Pas throughout the Years

Every now and then, my children like to pull out old photo albums and poke fun at my wife and me because of past unwise choices. I guess this is a good thing, but sometimes the teasing does hit a nerve, especially when you can only admit that it is true. And then this week they got even more ammunition to question our past judgment.

We were combing through the attic to find our stored Christmas decorations when one of the children made a discovery in a box pushed way over in the corner. It was one of my old photo albums from way back in the day.

Well, they only had to thumb through the first few pages before they realized what a gem they had. Holding the dust-covered artifact over their head, they forgot putting up Christmas decorations for a while as they sat in a corner and literally rolled in the floor with laughter.

Now, I don’t care how fly you are at this very moment, at some points in our lives we have all ventured off the straight and narrow path of good fashion. We have all at some time or another lost our way. For all of us, somewhere there exist pictures of us with a hairdo, an outfit—something—that we thought at the time was dead fly, but only now do we realize how ridiculous we actually looked.

I am no different. These are my confessions.

The Leisure Suit

Perhaps I cannot bear the full blame for the leisure suit. This is one my parents and grandparents foisted upon me. I must have been about eleven at the time. My mother found these leisure suits in my size at the Sears Surplus Store, and she bought me a couple. Well, she and my grandparents liked the way they looked on me so much that they ran right out and bought me leisure suits in almost every conceivable color.

And with my mother and grandmother urging me on with shouts of, “Go ahead with your sharp self, little man,” and “You know you gonna’ knock’em dead today with your bad self,” I went out into the world each day clad in my little leisure suits confident in my flyness, though fly was not in my vocabulary at the time.

Only now do I realize just how ridiculous I really looked. I looked like a little old man. And let me give a shout out to my two friends at the time because they had to be real friends to stick with me through this.

The Jheri Curl

Just let your Soul Glo!

I don’t know who Jheri was, but I know that in the late-1970’s and through most of the 1980’s that this Jheri character got straight paid. And don’t judge me because at the time in the city of Memphis, everybody and their momma had a Jheri Curl. Literally. That’s everybody and their momma, and their daddy, and their grandmomma and granddaddy, and aunts and uncles. Err’body!

My whole family, from my daddy on down, had a Jheri Curl. My daddy had to write curl activator and touch-ups into the family budget. We call this our dark period. But after a year or so of ruined furniture and bedding from oily, greasy heads, we all come to our senses. However, in some parts of Memphis and the nation, the Jheri Curl remains alive and well.

The Michael Jackson Thriller Jacket

All I can say is that I got caught up. I watched the Thriller video and got all hyped up, and then I happened to venture into the local mall and guess what they just happened to be selling? That’s right. The Michael Jackson Thriller jacket.

Whoever thought of this had to have been a marketing genius because these jackets were flying off the shelf. In fact, when I saw them for sale, I decided to look around before I made my purchase, but when I returned there were only three left, so I bought one just so I could get it before the store ran out. And it wasn’t even my size!

Parachute Pants

And if the tight Michael Jackson Thriller jacket wasn’t enough, I even bought me a slew of parachute pants. So, there I was walking around with a Jheri Curl, a tight Michael Jackson Thriller jacket, and parachute pants trying to figure out why I couldn’t even buy a girlfriend. But then some frank young lady had the decency to point me in the right direction.

I really, really liked this young lady, and finally I worked up enough courage to ask her to the spring dance. However, when I finally popped the question, she simply looked me up and down and said, “Ain’t nobody gonna go nowhere with you when you walking around with a Jheri Curl, a tight Michael Jackson Thriller jacket, and parachute pants. You must be trippin’. You look like a broke Stoney Jackson.” She and her friends then laughed hysterically.

Well, I withdrew for a while, and over the summer I cut my hair and changed my wardrobe. When school resumed in the fall, the little girlies were all over me like a cheap leisure suit, even the young lady who had been so severe in her rebuke. And I thanked her for her advice, but I opted for someone with a better command of the English language who did not use double negatives.

And I take solace in the fact that perhaps twenty-five years down the line, some gentleman will be doing a similar fashion faux pas post about skinny jeans.

Skintight Genuine Imitation Italian Silk T-shirt

I wish I could blame this one on adult intervention or youthful ignorance, but the cause of this fashion faux pas was simply male vanity.

It was the end of the 1980’s, and I was living in the Seattle-Tacoma area at the time. I began to work out on a regular basis and before long I developed a reasonably good physique. So, I looked around and all the buff guys were wearing these super tight t-shirts to show off their muscles. And what did I do? I went out and bought me a bunch of skintight genuine imitation Italian silk t-shirts to show off my muscles as well.

Because I am an over-achiever, I bought every available color. And I bought them extra tight. So tight, in fact, that I had to have assistance in putting them on and taking them off. But two incidents convinced me that this was not the fashion choice for me.

On one occasion I was standing in line at a local department store when a kid in front of me looked at my chest and then told his mom, “Look momma. That man has nipples.” The woman looked at me, looked at my chest, and then told the kid, “Must be really cold in here. Doesn’t feel that cold, though.” #sexualharrassment

And then the last straw came when I was attempting to impress this young lady at a bar-b-q. There I was talking to her when her face suddenly took on this quizzical look, and she began staring intently at my chest. Of course I’m thinking, “She’s digging on the pecs,” so I really start flexing. I am flexing so hard, in fact, that I could feel a cramp coming on.

Just then her friend walks into the room, and she excitedly motions her over. When her friend gets there, she points at my chest and says, “Girl, this dude's shirt is so tight that you can see his heart beating!” With that they broke into raucous laughter, threw their hands up, and ran from the room to get more of their girlfriends to come and mock me. #sexyfail

I know that many of you out there have had similar fashion faux pas. Care to make your own confession?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Heavy Lays the Head that Wears the Crown (or Assumes the Presidency): Pragmatics, Peace, and the Nobel Prize

This morning President Barack H. Obama received the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Across the blogosphere, the reactions ranged from those on the right who seemed utterly disgusted that he should be given an award so prestigious as the Nobel Peace Prize, to those on the left who actively questioned whether not he should even accept the award especially after having committed 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan only nine days previous, thereby escalating the conflict.

The reaction of those on the right does not surprise me. I have a feeling that President Obama could go on a cross country tour, healing the sick, making the lame walk, and the blind eye to see, and the right would still find reason to criticize him.

And I am even less surprised by those on the left; perhaps nothing is as disillusioning and disheartening to one committed to peace as much as war and the rumors of war. And I am one committed to peace. Even as I write this, there hangs on the wall above my desk a quote from the Book of Isaiah which reads,

“The shall beat their swords into plough shears, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

However, even as I decry the rank turpitude inherent in war, I am pragmatic enough to recognize its inevitability. Men will have disputes; men will go to war. So it has been since the beginning of man. This knowledge, this indisputable truth, perhaps factored into the president’s decision.

But allow me to ask you a question. What do you think would happen if the president did as the left would have him do and pull all the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan? What would happen if this very second the president would have a change of heart and order each and every soldier deployed to theaters of combat home?

Would some deep and abiding peace suddenly settle over the region? Would the men, women, and children, the denizens of those countries, take to the streets dancing and singing and carrying olive branches and go home at the end of the day to enjoy a new found harmony?

Or would all hell break loose as the presence of American troops is replaced by an unparalleled struggle for power and control and the countries descend into completely chaotic conflagrations?

And if this is the case, who would be the biggest losers? Who would stand most in harm’s way? Would it be the most powerful and those most thirsty for power or would it be the weakest, the infirmed, the men, women, and children least able to flee the carnage that is bound to ensue?

Would we simply exchange one war for another or even others?

Alfred Nobel’s will dictated that the Nobel Prize for Peace be given to “a champion of peace.” And I apologize for my ignorance, but I am not fully aware of Mr. Nobel’s background. However, I am sure that in his wisdom and vision, he was pragmatic enough to realize that the pathway to peace must sometimes necessarily cut through a battlefield; however, recognance must be given to those burdened with the onus of facilitating such a perilous journey.

I have seen it written or heard it said many times that no one abhors war as does a soldier. And as a former soldier, I can verify the veracity of this statement.

There is nothing romantic about war. There is nothing noble about war. Every soldier knows this. Can you find the romance, the sense of nobility in being so frightened that the only thing you can taste in your mouth is the acrid, metallic taste of fear and your own bile, that your balls draw up into the pit of your stomach, or when success is defined by the untenable option of taking someone else’s life in order to spare your own?

I’m sure that the president must feel like this daily. I am sure that for the president this anxiety, this fear, is multiplied one time for every one soldier on the front line and in harm’s way. The power to send others off to war and possibly their death is a dreadful onus indeed. But heavy lays the head that wears the crown or that assumes the presidency.

May war soon be over and peace reign in its stead; I am sure only then will President Obama be able to fully appreciate this award.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Imitation of An Imitation of Life: The Tiger Woods Fiasco and Racial Identity

[photo credit: cablinasian like me]

I am not one to deal in idle gossip, and I know you all are probably so done with the whole Tiger Woods saga, but even as the story appears to die out and the media seems to want to move on, new details emerge.

For instance, the total number of women with possible romantic ties to Tiger has grown to nine, possibly ten. And if that was not enough, two of the women stated that he did not like to use condoms, so he put not only himself but his wife and other partners in danger as well. Had enough yet? But there’s more.

It was also reported that one of the women involved is offering nude pictures taken from his cell phone for sale to the highest bidder, and additionally, the allegations that some of the trysts took place in his Florida home he shared with his wife and children have caused his wife to move out.

Admittedly, I have no idea how much of this is true and how much is simply rumor and innuendo, but I do know that if you repeat a lie often enough, it sometimes takes on the guise of truth.

And in speaking to others about Tiger’s future and according to experts, the general consensus was that this incident would have not bearing on his career or his many endorsement deals. However, that was before the other women started coming out of the woodwork, and the other potentially damaging information came to light. Now, Tiger’s character is really called into question, and his future seems up in the air.

But the question I have is, if things really begin to go downhill for him, if the whole situation begins to spiral completely out of control, as it appears it is doing, and he stands to lose everything—the support of his sponsors and the concomitant lucrative endorsement deals—what will his posture be toward his ethic background then?

If you remember, when Tiger won the Master’s Tournament at age twenty-one, he made the infamous comment to Oprah that he did not identify as Black but as Cablinasian, a combination of Caucasian, Black, Indian, and Asian. He went even further in stating that it troubled him to be identified as Black.

However, if you look at recent history, many who did not identify as Black, or who seemingly had cut their ties to the Black community, came rushing back when the chips were down.

Do you remember the case of one Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson? Before his 1995 trial for the death of his wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, Simpson seemed wholly disconnected from the African American community. However, following his acquittal by a practically all-Black jury, Simpson became ultra-Black. Suddenly, he was being photographed all up in Watts and Compton with Uncle Al Sharpton, eating soul food and offering praise and worship to Black Jesus in Black congregations.

It seems that facing a prison term of life without parole helps a man finally make up his mind in matters of race and religion.

And what about Michael Jackson? People were questioning both his commitment to the Black community as well as his desire to even remain Black when his legal troubles convinced him that “It Doesn’t Matter If You Are Black or White,” the long arm of the law will come after you. And then after his album “Invincible” tanked, he too sought out Uncle Al Sharpton to shepherd him back into Blackness.

The Black community welcomed both men back with open arms. Adoring crowds even greeted Simpson in Watts as if he were some kind of conquering hero. But both these men shared a pre-fame affinity with Black folks. O.J. grew up in a predominately Black, inner-city neighborhood and shared a similar narrative with Black folk. And though fame came to Michael Jackson when he was yet very young, most Black folk of a certain age still remembered a pre-plastic surgery Michael with the negroid nose and clung tenaciously to this image.

Additionally, both men engaged in an activity that Black folk readily identified with and participated in, football and music, whereas until Tiger came along, not many Black folk had anything to do with golf.

But Tiger does not have any of these advantages; though we have claimed him and embraced him, we have never really known him, and he has never expressed any pressing need to get to know us. I wonder if Uncle Al Sharpton would be available for a back to Black tour for him?

However, in the final analysis, this is how the ball bounces. Despite his malfeasance, I feel a sense of pity for him. Deviant behavior does not just occur out of nowhere; usually it can be traced back to some root cause.

And I do not claim to be some kind of psychologist, but I seem to sense in Tiger a lost, lonely child. Just like Michael Jackson, he has been a prodigy for most of his life. He has had people continually telling him how great he is, how wonderful he is, and stroking his ego. Until now, I do not ever recall him receiving any bad press.

Now, suddenly, he has been put right squarely on front street. Now all those women who he thought really loved him—because after all, he is Tiger Woods—are requiring a check for their silence.

Also, if his wife has really left him, and she has every reason to do so, I am sure he is feeling really alone right about now. He is perhaps bewildered and confused by this whole turn of events. Not too long ago, everyone seemed to be singing his praises; he was the golden boy, and his character went unquestioned. Today he is a punch line in an SNL spoof.

But how far will his descent go? Will things get so bad that he will feel the need to become Black?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Some stuff I saw this week but I can't tell anyone because they would not believe me anyway

This morning it is cold and raining in Northeast Florida. In fact, it has been cold and raining for the last few days. But I can take the cold. A little chill in the air is okay with me. And I even like the rain. When it rains, I like to sit inside with a good book and some good music and just soak up the whole vibe. However, I cannot take them both together. Plus, it happened so quickly. One day the sun is out and its warm, and the next day you are soak and wet and shivering.

And on top of it all, I have a serious case of writer’s block. So, I am sitting here miserable on a cold, rainy Saturday morning trying desperately to will my way out of this funk I find myself in.

But anyway, did you ever see something that seemed so utterly crazy that you did not tell anyone because you knew they would not believe you anyway? Well, I seem to run across this kind of stuff all the time. In the past, I would tell others, but no one would believe me. They say I have an overactive, childlike imagination, and am prone to telling wild fantastical stories, so I just started keeping it to myself.

This week was not different. I saw a few things out of the ordinary that I would like to share with you.

A hyena on the side of the road

I know what you are saying. There cannot be any hyenas in Northeast Florida; hyenas are native only to Africa and some parts of Asia. But I did see a hyena. I was driving along and out of the corner of my eye I saw a hyena there on the side of the road watching the traffic pass.

Of course I said to myself, “Self, that cannot be a hyena. Hyenas are native only to Africa and some parts of Asia. Perhaps you are suffering from sleep deprivation.”

So, I circled back around to get a second look. And the hyena was still there. I wanted to stop and get a picture, but the flow of traffic would not allow me to do so. And when I circled back around a third time it was gone. But I tell you, I did see a hyena.

A bald man with dreads

Male pattern baldness runs in my family, so I began to lose my hair at an early age. In fact, when I was a senior in college I finally made the decision to go ahead and begin shaving my head. But that’s only after a run in with my barber who I accused of continually edging my hairline too far back. We probably could have settled the whole thing amicably if he had not said, “There is no way I could edge your hair that far back. Face it brother; you are going bald.” He could have been more sensitive.

But anyway, I had a meeting and an interview with a gentleman this week about African Americans and mental health. And when I met this brother, the top of his head was as smooth as a baby’s behind. But on the side and in the back, he had these long luxurious dreads hanging down.

The whole spectacle was distracting to say the least, but as we were talking, he was thoughtfully twirling one of the dreads with his finger when it just snapped off in his hand. So the two of us just paused for a second, gazing at this renegade dreadlock.

At that moment, I wanted to put my pen, pad, and recorder down and stage an intervention. Just let it go, brother man. Just let it go and join me in that esteemed fraternity of bald gentleman.

Jiffy Feet

Have you ever heard of Jiffy feet? It is a cultural phenomenon here in Northeast Florida/South Georgia named after a now defunct convenience store chain, Jiffy Mart, in which the possessor of Jiffy Feet walks around barefoot so much that his or her feet become absolutely black up to the ankle.

Well, the other day I was driving when I had to stop to take an important phone call, and so I pulled off the road in front of a convenience store. As I conducted my business, I glanced out of the corner of my eye at a young woman walking toward the store entrance, and in the back of my mind, I noted the interestingly unique suede shell toe high top Adidas she was wearing.

But when she came out of the store, I noted with some horror that she was not wearing suede shell toe high top Adidas but was barefoot, and what I had mistaken for a shell toe was actually her big toe nail. I looked around for the “No shoes, no shirt, no service” sign, but there was none.

Shorts with distracting stuff on the back

I don’t know about where you live, but in here in Florida, a lot of women walk around in very short shorts with writing on them. The writing ranges from cute little sayings like “QT Pie,” or warnings like “Do Not Touch,” or even one I saw recently that read, “Whatcha Lookin’ At?”.

Now, this whole thing is very distracting because you are almost beholden to look at their behinds even if you are not planning to do so or even want to do so because of the writing.

Well, this past week I accompanied my wife to the mall to pick out a birthday gift for my daughter, who turned fourteen by the way, and I happened to glimpse a woman with a behind of absolutely massive proportions wearing a pair of these short shorts. I mean, this was one big behind. And on top of that, on the back of the short shorts was an open book with the pages all outlined in this sparkly stuff so that each time she took a step, it looked like the pages were actually turning.

Since I am a bibliophile and an avid reader, it caught my attention, and for a brief second, I was mesmerized by the whole scene. But just then my wife broke me out of my trance: “I know you are not standing here right beside me gawking at that lady’s behind!”.

So, I took a step back and said, “Just let me finish this last page, and I will be done.” She didn’t seem to see the humor in my statement, though. Some people are just too serious.

Did you see anything absolutely out of the ordinary this week that no one would possibly believe?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

If we are not going offer treatment, why don't we just shoot all the crazy people & save ourselves a lot of trouble & anguish?

So, I’m on the sofa dozing, half watching one of the news channels when a bulletin flashes on the screen informing me that a gunman has just burst into a Lakewood, Washington, coffee shop and proceeded to shoot and kill four policemen who sat working on their laptops as they prepared for their upcoming shifts.

And perhaps the worst thing is that I was not shocked by a gunman bursting into a public place and randomly shooting up the place—this phenomenon seems all to commonplace now—but that the victims were police officers; at the point that policemen themselves should begin to become targets for violence, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

Then later another report came on updating the first which identified the gunman as one Maurice Clemmons and showed his picture. And when I saw that black face on the screen, it suddenly occurred to me that there was no way this negro was going to be taken alive.

But please do not get me wrong; don’t misinterpret my motives. I’m not writing this to condemn the police for shooting and killing him. The official version of events states that he “turned on police when he was finally confronted early on Tuesday,” and if that is so, the officers on the scene had every right to shoot back to protect themselves and anyone else who might have been standing nearby.

And furthermore, the victims’ families have my sincerest and heartfelt sympathy. I can only pray that they make it through to the other side of this tragedy with their spirits whole and intact. However, my ire is directed toward the system that allowed this tragedy to occur in the first place.

In reading around the web since this whole incident occurred, I have come across reports from several different sources which indicate that Maurice Clemmons may very well have been mentally ill, and in fact, he may have been mentally ill for some time.

I believe this whole incident to have been predicated by the ineptitude of families and the criminal justice system in dealing with those in our midst dealing with mental health issues.

Maurice Clemmons’s family members have gone on record in stating that they realized that something was not quite right for quite some while. And police and prison records indicate that previous to his 2000 release after then Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee commuted his 108 year sentence, he had been diagnosed with a mental illness. However, between his family and the criminal justice system, there seems to be no indication that any type of treatment was sought or offered.

Perhaps I risk a bit of essentialism here, but often families, especially African American families (I am currently researching and writing a piece on African American children and mental health), tend to, for whatever reason, shy away from seeking the appropriate help for family members exhibiting signs of mental illness until it is far too late.

And how many people do you think are currently incarcerated who may be suffering from mental illness? Sure, there are many persons in prison who should be there. There are many persons in prison acting crazy simply because crazy is what’s hot in the streets right now. But in the same instance, there are some in prison who suffer from some mental illness, the symptoms of which caused the action that lead to incarceration.

However, currently our criminal justice system is designed not to treat these people, but simply to house them for a specified amount of time before they again turn them out into the streets untreated. And then when they do something really crazy, we scratch our heads in disbelief.

However, studies have shown that there is a large percentage of mentally ill people who are not being treated walking the streets, and as long as the mental illness goes untreated, the risk of serious violence escalates. What are we going to do about it? Perhaps, simply dealing with this problem will decrease violent crimes. It will, at the very least, prevent the senseless deaths of some innocent people.

Allow me to end with this caveat. I have a close family member who is currently serving 15-20 years in a state penitentiary, and he has spent a good portion of that time in solitary confinement because of violent outbursts. He was convicted of attempted murder after he, in a violent rage, ran several people down, to include two police officers, as he attempted to run over his pregnant girlfriend and her lover with his car. But his is not his first time being incarcerated for violent behavior.

The first time he was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days after he practically beat someone to death with his bare hands over a beeper. And he spent almost that entire time in solitary because of violent outbursts while incarcerated.

Before he was sentenced in this case, court appointed psychologists informed the court of his mental illness, and even informed the court that if he were not treated before being released, he was almost guaranteed to do it again.

As his family, we were not surprised; we had recognized that something was wrong when he was still a boy. At that time, his violent rages could be contained, but when he began to get a little weight on him and grew to well over six feet, there was nothing we could physically do to restrain him anymore.

However, instead of suggesting, or insisting, that he seek help, we dealt with it by praying for him and praying over him until sweat ran down our faces like drops of blood and just not mentioning it and staying clear of him. If someone just happened to get knocked slap out during the family reunion, it was their fault because they knew how he was and should have just stayed out of his way.

But in less than two years his sentence will be up, and he will be let out of prison without ever receiving treatment. What then? If history is truly the best predictor of the future, I just hope no one loses their life in his next violent rage.

Again, I mean neither to defend Maurice Clemmons nor impugn the actions of the Lakewood Police Department; I mean only to suggest that we rethink how we deal with mental illness in our society.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Love Don't Love Nobody: Love, Respect, Marriage, and Tiger Woods

It takes a fool to learn
Yes sir
That love don’t love nobody
-- Love Don’t Love Nobody, The Spinners

Typically men are logical creatures and women are emotional. Love is an emotional word whereas respect deals with logic. -- @Luvologist

When the news of Tiger Woods’s automobile accident first broke, I thought that perhaps I would be writing about it soon. As bits and pieces of the story emerged, things just didn’t add up, and I began to have serious doubts about the official version of events. However, I held back writing my piece simply because I really disdain dealing in rumors. So, in writing this piece, though it seems our man Tiger may be in the wrong, I still reserve judgment until the complete truth emerges.

And, furthermore, I really don’t like to make essentialist claims like women do and think this way or men do and think this way; however, in discussing this issue with my wife and her very opinionated sisters as well as other women, I find that women and men differ in how they view this incident; for the most part, women seem genuinely shocked and outraged by his actions while men don’t find it all that shocking at all. And I think the difference can be explained by how men and women view relationships; it is a question of what is thought to be most important and valued—love or respect.

Allow me to attempt to explain by positing this analogy. There is a scene from one of Eddie Murphy’s old movies, Boomerang, in which the character played by Murphy arrives home early in the morning after spending the night with an old lover. He tries desperately to explain himself to his present live-in lover, who is played by Halle Berry, but she, of course, is livid and is hearing nothing he has to say.

Finally in desperation, Murphy’s character pitifully looks her in the eye and says, “But baby I love you.” And Berry’s character responds, “Then love should have brought you home last night.” *Cue Toni Braxton singing “Love Soulda Brought You Home”*

Usually at this point in the film, I skip around trying to find the scenes with Strangé; she makes my blood boil. But this is what I am trying to get across: I don’t think Berry’s character is completely wrong in her assessment. Yes, love should have brought him home, but love alone is not enough. Love means nothing if one party does not respect the other.

If I may, I will use my own experience as an example. Perhaps, I am wrong about this whole thing because my own experience stands in the way. But at this point, I have been married to my wife for almost eighteen years. And I dearly love my wife. In fact, I am absolutely crazy about her. Not a day goes by that I don’t have to stop and ask myself, what manner of root has this woman done put on me?

And in that almost eighteen years, I have not once been unfaithful to my wife. But that is not to say that I have not had the opportunity to engage in an extramarital affair or even been tempted because many times I have. Many times I have had to make the decision to either stay or go home, and the one factor driving my decision was never love, but respect.

I respect the person my wife is, and I respect her accomplishments so much so that I would never put her in a position to be ridiculed. I would never want to be the reason people are laughing and talking behind her back. I would never want to do anything to erode the respect others have for her.

Not only that, what about my self-respect? My grandfather said at one time that each time a man lies down with a woman, and vice versa, each gives up something in the exchange. And I believe that my wife and I have a mutual respect for one another. And furthermore and perhaps most importantly, I believe I enjoy the unquestioned respect of my children. What would happen to that respect if it were to be revealed that I had engaged in any number of sordid affairs which were documented by explicit text messages and voicemails? I don’t have the millions at stake like Tiger Woods; all I have is respect, and because I am a poor man, that respect is even that much more valuable.

So, if Tiger is guilty of what it is purported that he is guilty of, he probably only now realizes the depth of his folly. Perhaps, only now does he realize that not only does he stand to lose millions of dollars and his family, but he also stands to lose the respect he has worked so hard to cultivate. And perhaps over time, he will build his earning capacity back up. Perhaps, over time his wife and family will return. After all, everything seemed to work out for Kobe Bryant. But it will be a much longer stretch of time before he is able to win back the world’s respect.

Do you thing men and women view love and relationships differently? What do you believe is most important to a relationship—love or respect?

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