Monday, June 29, 2009

And Then the Vultures Come: On Death and Exploitation

I promise you this will be my last Michael Jackson post for a while. But I just have to say this one thing. I just have to get this out before I can move on to the other things I have planned for this week.

You know, I guess in the back of my mind, I knew it was practically inevitable. I guess I should not have been so surprised. But Michael Jackson’s death was so sudden and unexpected, I was a little off-kilter for a brief moment and let my guard down, all the while forgetting the proclivities of my fellow man. However, by early Friday afternoon, the blinders were beginning to fall away and reality began to set in.

Less than twenty-four hours after the announcement of Michael Jackson’s death, as I drove down Winchester Boulevard in Memphis, Tennessee, I saw the hawkers already out selling boot-leg Michael Jackson “memorial t-shirts.” Less than twenty-four hours! And Womanist Musings notes that merely hours after his death, hawkers were selling t-shirts outside of Ronald Regan Medical Center where he died.

And what about the media? In the last several years, positive news reports about Michael have been few and far between. At times, the media seemed more like a hostile cheering section counting down the seconds to his ultimate demise. They reported each and every incident, each and every setback, each and every peculiarity, with a seemingly unbridled glee. But from Thursday evening on, the same media that lambasted him, that ridiculed him, that treated him with nothing but scorn and derision, led the lovefest that ensued following his death.

But I reserve the very worst of my opprobrium for the opportunists turned “long-time friends and confidantes and Jackson family friends” that populated the airways. There seemed to be no shortage of people “in-the-know.” It seems that a host of people at some time or another saw the harm Michael was doing to himself and to his career with his continued and worsening addiction to prescription drugs.

And at some time or another, let them tell it, each and every individual comprising this host, attempted an intervention of some kind or another but to no avail. But the more I listen, the greater part of this host seemed to have a vested interest in a confused and drug-addled Michael. The greater part of this host didn’t push too hard for fear of being shoved away from the feed trough and losing their place.

And could someone please tell me at what point did Uncle Reverend Jesse Jackson become the Jackson family spokesman? Perhaps, the family did request his services, but from where I’m sitting, it smacks of opportunism.

You know, I don’t really know why I’m so personally offended or even if I should or have the right to be. I was never an over the top Michael Jackson fan. But from the time I was a child, he has always been there on the cultural landscape. And gradually he transformed himself into the best known entertainer in the world, an icon. So, I recognize and respect him for that and for his talent and artistic vision.

But perhaps my right to object comes from the fact that first and foremost he was a human being, and even in death, perhaps especially in death, he and his family deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But I guess human nature is impossible to overcome. Perhaps it is in our nature to always seek an advantage, to seize the opportunity.

But in the same instance, it still doesn’t seem right. First, you are reeling, trying to wrap your mind around this thing, trying to regain your equilibrium. And then the next thing you know, the vultures come.

How much of the coverage of Michael’s death is sincere adulation and how much is outright exploitation and how do we know the difference? Do we have the right to offended and why?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Worship of Graven Images

Readers, thank you for being patient and sticking with me. I know I have yet to post this weekend, but I’ve been on the road for about the last forty-eight hours with my son and brother doing the male bonding/rites of passage thing. I did get to break bread with my boy RiPPa on last evening and had some pretty good conversation. And prepare yourself, blogosphere; we ‘bout to burn this piece down!

Here is a little something to hold you while I get this trail dust off and clear my head. Enjoy.

So, my son and I are driving through Georgia, and we decide to stop in this small town to get some gas and re-up on the road snacks when this little round white lady shoves this pamphlet in my hand and says to me, “I know you’ll be there.”

Being the gentleman I am, I gave her a smile and politely took the pamphlet. However, when I finally took the time to look at the pamphlet, I was taken aback. It was a pamphlet for some Watermelon Days Festival. The little round white lady’s voice resonated in my head—“I know you’ll be there.” Was this little round white lady trying to call me a coon?

But anyway, I was more curious than insulted, and so young Aaron Beaste and I decided to stay at least for the parade. I have been to a film festival, a jazz festival, and even a crawfish festival but never a watermelon festival.

I was absolutely shocked. There seems there is this whole culture in this little town dedicated to the worship and adulation of the watermelon. And for thirty-five days, beginning on the June 1st and culminating on July 4th, there is an event each day celebrating the watermelon.

And on this day, the day of the parade, the worshippers were coming out in droves. They began lining the streets almost as soon as the sun came up. Following suite, young Aaron Beaste and I took our place among the other parade goers.

From the very beginning, it was something special. It was a spectacle. Dear reader, I wished I possessed the rhetorical gifts and language skills requisite to providing you with the proper detail.

As soon as the first note from the first marching band sounded, the people were whipped into virtual frenzy. The adults yelled and screamed as the young people chased the floats hoping to get some candy or whatever treat the float was dispensing to the audience. This whole time I’m staring wild-eyed as this foolishness unfolds while young Aaron Beaste is frantically scribbling notes in his tablet. Perhaps, he believes this will make a good movie someday.

And then the noise reached a fevered pitch as I felt the crowd surge forward. It was the coming of the Watermelon Queen and her court. People held their small children high in the air so that they might get a better look while others threw aside caution and rushed the float, stretching their hands out in hopes the Watermelon Queen would only reach out and touch them, squeeze their hands, acknowledge them.

Just an aside, but what does one have to do to become Watermelon Queen? What are the qualifications? But I digress.

Just as I thought the celebration had reached an apex, the crowd kicked it up a notch. And then I saw it. I saw what excited them so. Coming down the street was this huge replica of a slice of watermelon being pulled on a trailer. I cursed myself for having left my camera in the car.

The crowd pushed forward as they danced and celebrated in the wake of and around this huge slice of watermelon, this graven image of sorts. Suddenly, the image of Moses returning from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and finding the children of Israel worshipping the golden calf came to mind.

And I responded just as Moses did. In disgust and disbelief, I hurled the remains of the slice of watermelon I was eating down where I stood.

At that point, I had had enough of this heathenistic watermelon worship. Plus, the parade was over and the crown was dispersing anyway. So, young Aaron Beaste and I chalked it up as a very unique and enlightening experience indeed. We stopped by Kentucky Fried Chicken to pick up a little lunch and then got back on the road.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Because He Was One of Us: A Tribute to Michael Jackson

Michael Joseph Jackson

There was a kid back in the old neighborhood—I think his name was Bud or something—who we picked on relentlessly. Yeah, his name was Bud; I remember now. Anyway, we teased him. We tricked him into eating and drinking all kinds of foolishness. Bud was the butt of all our jokes.

I don’t think he was slow or anything; he was just strange. Very strange.

But as vigorously as we picked on him and teased him and made his life hell, we defended him. Strangely as it sounds, we would fight tooth and nail with anyone who dared disrespect him or raise a hand against him.

He was one of us, and any affront against him, any insult hurled at him, we took personal. Very personal. I guess in some idiosyncratic way you can say we loved Bud as best as little boys growing up among the filth and the funk of the ghetto could love and show affection.

For some reason, when I heard of the passing of Michael Jackson, Bud immediately came to mind. I guess our quirky relationship with Bud reminded me of the relationship the Black community has had with Michael Jackson for so long.

We loved him as we watched him grow up on stage performing with his brothers. We recognized the immensity of his talent even then. We loved him when he finally went solo. I still remember the debates over the identity of Billie Jean and just where that baby was.

We especially loved him when Thriller came out. Somehow we could just sense that he was changing the music industry, that he was taking over. And in the years that followed, we loved him even as he began altering his appearance to look less like us and began to exhibit stranger and stranger behavior. We were somewhat perturbed with him, but we loved him nonetheless.

And we stood with him when he was accused of the unthinkable. And we bore the jokes that arose, and sometimes we even participated by telling a few of them ourselves.

We dismissed the news that he was penniless and waited patiently for him to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and take over the world again. But I guess now that day will never come.

But we must remember that for whatever he was and whatever he wasn’t, he represented the best we have to offer. Perhaps we shall never know just how much talent he really possessed. But despite it all, because he was one of us we shall continue to love him for all that he has given us throughout the years.

And I leave you with Never Can Say Goodbye by the Jackson 5.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Max Reddick Commonsense Guide for Cheating Husbands

Man, it’s late, and I am tired, dog tired, but I need to bang out this post before morning. I should have gotten it done a long time ago, but I got caught up in some drama. Somebody else's drama.

You see, I’m sitting here minding my own business, working on my next post and watching Mark Sanford and his foolishness on cable news, when there is a knock on the door. It’s my trifling behind frat brother, and he’s crying like a baby. He sounds like the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.

Coincidentally, again he’s been caught cheating. I’m listening to him and trying to be sympathetic, but it’s hard. This is an on-going thing. He cheats. He gets caught. He comes crying to me like I’m some kind of negro Dr. Phil. He hangs around me, worrying the absolute ish out of me until his wife takes him back, and then a few months later, the cycle starts anew.

This has got to be the last time. I’m sick of it, and my wife is starting to look at me like I’m tipping out too. At the very least, she thinks I’m condoning his behavior by allowing him to run over here every time he gets caught. And my children have begun referring to him as “Daddy’s friend who always gets caught cheating.”

And the ways these guys always get caught is stupid. They are simply not using commonsense. I am not a cheater, but I do have some measure of commonsense. So, in honor of Governor Sanford and my trifling frat brother, I’ve put together The Max Reddick Commonsense Guide for the Cheating Husband based on my frat brother’s experiences.

The Max Reddick Commonsense Guide for the Cheating Husband

1. Before you get home from your tryst, check the vehicle for any evidence.

Frat, I think you were set up on this one. How else would that woman’s panties end up in the glove compartment of your car? She wanted you to get caught. Besides that, if you clutter up your glove compartment with assorted women’s panties, where will you keep your gloves? But this one leads us to my next point…

2. Don’t use the family car to ride your tart around in.

First of all, why would you want to ride your h--, excuse me, that woman of questionable virtue around in the same car your wife and children use? That’s just foul. And there are some sanitary questions that arise, too.

I know your old-school Volvo station wagon ain’t sexy, but the family minivan is only a step up, even if it is brand new.

3. If you are doing wrong, and you know you are doing wrong, keep a low profile.

I know you’re still curious as to just who told on you when you took your woman on the side and her loud behind, bad behind kids to the county fair, so I’ll give you a clue. It’s the county fair! Anyone in this county and any other county within driving distance is a likely suspect.

4. Don’t leave a paper trail.

You may have been able to explain away the restaurant charges on the credit card statement, but there is no way you can explain the check to the utility company to keep your girl’s lights on. I’m beginning to think you want to get caught! And if you are such a baller that you can afford to pay other folks' bills, I got some you can take on.

5. Don’t leave a written record.

What's with you guys having to express yourself in writing? You're cheating! You don't want any evidence that can be used against you later.

Don’t send any incriminating notes of affection or long sappy love letters via e-mail, text, twitter, or carrier pigeon. Don’t you know that stuff is stored electronically somewhere, and invariably it will come back to bite you at the least convenient time? That goes for written correspondence as well.

6. If you are going to cheat, cheat up.

Your wife is absolutely beautiful. I can’t figure out why you would want to tip out on her anyway. But if I seemed just a little distracted when I saw you and your lady friend at The Landing, that’s because I was. With those braids, she looked like one of those creatures from the movie Predator. And in case she was one of those creatures, I was trying to remember what they did in the movie to defeat them in case it was left to me to save the world.

7. Just do the right thing.

Each time you get caught, not only are you risking losing your family. You are risking losing their respect as well. Your wife told my wife that the only reason she keeps allowing you to return anyway is the children. But how much longer will that hold true?

Not only that, the next time you come over here boo-hoo crying, it may be because she decided to turn the tables and tip out on you. Can your fragile little ego handle that?

And with that, I leave you with Johnny Taylor’s Whose Making Love to Your Old Lady(While You Are Out Making Love)?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Things White People Do #8

Get drunk and slap the absolute ish out of each other.

What's In a Name?: Does It Really Matter What We Name Our Children?

Okay, enough is enough. Someone has to say something; this thing is getting out of hand.

A month or so ago, the above video had the black blogosphere all abuzz. Because two little snotty white boys did it, questions of racism were raised. However, perhaps this video is not all that off the mark.

I’m sitting here looking at an enrollment roster from an inner-city public school. And it appears that we have gone from just plain making up ish to name our children to naming them just any old thing that comes to mind. We are especially partial to expensive goods in the public marketplace or anything that sounds exotic.

But there are some things you just shouldn’t name your kids. For instance, unless you envision your sweet little baby girl becoming a stripper or a porn star, you should not name her Aphrodisiac. That’s not a good idea no matter how creatively you spell it.

And naming your twin boys Cadillac and Caviar might have seemed particularly clever at the time, but you should have passed on that idea. What kind of name is Casino? Or Gucci for that matter. Perhaps you should just stay away from expensive designer items, expensive cars, expensive foods, or anything that sounds exotic but for which you don’t know the meaning, like Diablo. That means devil in Spanish. I’m not sure if you want that label on your child. Or Capricious either for that matter.

Also, if you are going to name your children names like Precious or Glorious or Exquisite, make sure you also try to teach them to behave before they get to school. There is nothing that puzzles me more than children with such names whose behavior is completely antithetical to what their name suggests.

Finally, when choosing the spelling for your child’s name, please at least attempt to follow the spelling conventions of the English language, or any language for that matter. You can’t get mad at me for pronouncing Jamielle Ja-mi-elle even if you pronounce it like Jamal. There is no way I could have known that from looking at the spelling.

You might say I’m being a little bourgeois about this, but I happen to think that what you name your child matters in the long run. Studies have been done about this.

Not too long ago, a study was done in which study participants submitted two resumes with comparable qualifications to a Fortune 500 company. One resume used one of those made-up or cleverly spelled names we seem to prefer, while the other resume used a more recognizable, mainstream name. Who got the callback?

Invariably it was those whose names were more recognizable and mainstream. The resumes with the made-up or cleverly spelled names were virtually ignored even when, according to their resumes, they were more qualified and/or had more experience.

I know. My sister already pointed it out to me. Names on resumes could just be another racist means of sorting out minority applicants. And I do realize and concede this point. But at this point in time, that is the reality.

I do realize that it is every parent’s right to choose a name for their child. And I do realize that we would like our children to stand out from the crowd. And this is not a bad thing. I’m just saying that in naming our children, we should be more judicious and keep in mind that they will not remain children for long.

Someday they will be adults, and in the long run, a name does matter.

What do you think? Do names really matter?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ain't I a Womanist: Part II--Just What Is a Strong Black Woman?

The idea for this post originated one morning a couple of weeks ago as I nosed around over at Black Women Blow the Trumpet(BWBT). That morning the blog host featured the article “Cutting the Ball and Chain of the Strong Black Woman.” The article is very thought-provoking and well worth your time.

As I read the article, something occurred to me. I have heard the term “strong black woman” bandied about so freely and used by so many women as to become almost trite or at worst, a running joke. Who can forget the Kathy Griffin stand-up comedy special Strong Black Woman.

Most, if not all, black women I know refer to themselves as “strong black women.” However, I am not quite sure exactly what constitutes a “strong black woman.”

Often the behavior I witness that is posited as evidence of one’s strength, frequently could be interpreted by another to be a weakness, or even further, a cover for personal shortcomings and/or insecurities. Allow me, please, to provide two examples.

When I was a child, a lady and her seven children attended my father’s church. She was a very intelligent lady. In fact, if I remember correctly, she was a school teacher. However, her husband did not work and spent his time and what little money he could scrape up drinking, gambling, and chasing women. He was abusive to both her and their children.

Most of the time I knew this woman, she worked two and sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet. But she stayed with her husband up until the time he finally died of liver failure. During his funeral everyone commended her on her strength, but I distinctly remember thinking, even at that young age, how irrational it all seemed. If anything, she should have thrown his trifling behind out in the street a long time previous, if not for her own sake, for the sake of the children.

And let’s discuss for a moment one of my colleagues. She proclaims herself a “strong black woman” very loudly and to any and all who will listen and actually believes that people dislike her for just this reason. But the reason people dislike her is because she is overly boisterous, very rude, and extremely pugnacious.

Treating those around you with contempt and disrespect is not a sign of strength. Talking crazy to people and being overall confrontational is not a sign of strength. In her supposed strength, she has managed to alienate her husband, her children, her co-workers and anyone else she comes into contact with on a regular basis.

I could provide other examples, but the space allowed by this post prohibits it. However, I will leave it to you provide your own examples. I’m sure you have many yourselves.

But if I might paraphrase the blog host at BWBT, strength is evinced when you are comfortable enough with yourself to play the various roles circumstance offers, and not because that is what you believe is expected of you, but because that is your prerogative as a woman, as a human being.

As we individually work toward an acceptable personal definition of a “strong black woman,” allow me to issue this challenge to my sisters.

No one can be strong all the time. No one can be strong given any circumstance, any situation. That being said, each of us, black men and black women, can serve as the complement of the other; where one is weak the other can provide strength, and where one is strong she or he can act as support for the other. And neither party will have to posture nor feign strength, often to the detriment of self.

We can all be much better than we are. We can all treat each other far better than we do. But before we begin to do so, we must sit down as equals, as equal stakeholders. Our greatest strength lies in our unity, in our grounding with one another.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Barack Obama Parody: Something New from Jib Jab.

What do you think? Hate-r-ation or just good fun?

[Hat tip to Track-a-'Crat; Read the commentary at this conservative blog and see if your answer remains the same.]

Ain't I a Womanist: Part 1--One Brother Attempts to Ground with His Sisters

The discussion that ensued following my post on Saturday kind of got out of hand. And I apologize for that. Possibly I could have done a better job as moderator. But it did give me the opportunity to discuss something that has been on my mind for quite some time.

When I left home at age seventeen, an adult male family member advised me simply, “In any and all things, just be a man.” However, the extent of his advice stopped there; I was left to determine just what a man was.

Over the years that followed, I attempted to define manhood for myself. It was a hit or miss proposition; usually I took one step forward and two steps back. But I evolved and am continuing to evolve.

Perhaps the time of my greatest growth was my first year of graduate school and ironically, under the tutelage of a woman. I took a seminar entitled “Womanist Principles” from Professor Debra Walker King of the University of Florida, and as with any good teacher, she forced me to confront and evaluate many of my long-held beliefs and convictions. Later I served with her as a TA as well.

But I know what you are going to say. One seminar and a semester as a TA does not a womanist make. Even further, perhaps as a man, I cannot claim the label of womanist. I’ve already had that argument. But as a man, I can adopt and adapt womanist principals to guide me in the moral and ethical choices I must make. And I have endeavored to do that. However, in a recent incident I fell very short.

I was assigned to go on an out-of-town day trip with a female colleague for my job. Perhaps I should also add that this female colleague is subordinate to me.

Well, of course I volunteered to drive. And I was a perfect gentleman the whole day. Perhaps this was the source of the problem.

I opened doors for her. I pulled out chairs for her. I even purchased lunch for her. However, the nicer I was, the more I acquiesced, the testier she got. In fact, by the time we began the long drive home, she was hardly speaking to me. And then I did it. I asked about her children. She looked at me in horror and disgust and shut down completely. She still hasn’t spoken to me except when our jobs required us to speak. Needless to say, the whole incident puzzled me.

I took my conundrum to a few close friends with the hope that they would be able to show me where I went wrong. Well, you can pretty much guess what the fellows said. And most of the ladies I asked didn’t have a clue either. But finally my good friend, the one who rocks the fly afro puffs, clued me in.

The problem, she informed me, was that I allowed gender to enter into an arena in which it had no place. To put it more succinctly, instead of treating her like a competent and able colleague, I treated her like a delicate, helpless creature.

My friend continued:

“Would I have volunteered to drive had she been a man?” No.

“Would I have spent the day opening doors and pulling out chairs had she been a man?” No.

And the big one.

“Had she been a man of a certain age, would I have assumed she had children?” Perhaps, but probably no.

In my zeal to prove myself a gentleman, I only succeeded in exposing the last remnants of a learned sexism and patriarchal worldview.

But I think she was a bit too hard on me. Perhaps she was insulted by my behavior, but in another era, I would have been applauded for the same behavior. Even now I would be applauded and appreciated in some circles.

Had she just taken the time to just talk to me, politely tell me of my ineptitude, my shortcomings, I would have, I could have taken the time to repair. But now there is a seemingly irreparable breach between the two of us that I do not know how to mend.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it when I think that perhaps this could be a metaphor for African American male and female relationships overall. Both genders have varied expectations of the other, and without effective and affective dialogue, the misunderstandings will only escalate.

Sistas, I am trying, I really am. But if I and my other brothers who too are really trying are too succeed, we need your input.

Tomorrow: Ain't I a Womanist: Part II--Just What Is a Strong Black Woman?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Black Fatherhood: Reconnecting with Our Legacy

Black Fatherhood: Reconnecting With Our Legacy

How was your Father’s Day? Hope it was as good as mine. I was blessed to enjoy good food, good company, excellent conversation, and good liquor. Father’s Day is one of those holidays on which I get to drink the good stuff. Strictly top shelf. None of that whatever’s on sale for me.

Anyway, as your day winds down, take a look at this promotional clip for the upcoming documentary Black Fatherhood: Reconnecting with Our Legacy based on the book by the same title written by Dana Ross. While most documentaries focus on the deficits of Black men, Black Fatherhood explores Black manhood and fatherhood from a more positive perspective.

Beginning with a exploration of the historical legacy and roles of Black fathers, the documentary seeks to dispel the many myths of Black fathers as wholly non-existent and/or dysfunctional. It also enters into a discussion of the many circumstances and impediments to Black families and Black fathers wrought through government institutions and policies.

This one is a must see. So loosen your belt and take a look see.

For Granddaddy Love Child and Big Apple: The Father's Day Post

Today is Father’s Day, and I would like to send my best wishes to all those fathers out there, especially those who are doing it right. And also, I would like to pay special tribute to two men who are giants in my eyes.

Granddaddy Love Child

In the late 60’s and early 70’s, my father was a small station DJ in the Memphis area who went by the moniker The Love Child. He genuinely loved what he was doing and could see himself doing nothing else. But being a small station DJ doesn’t pay an awful lot, and marriage and a child forced him to change his priorities, and he had to give it up.

I guess he was pretty accepting of it all. Six more children followed, and he settled into a life of being just the average guy trying to care for his family.

As I grew up, he was a good father, but sometime during my teen years a schism developed between us. He stated at the time that I was just smelling myself, whatever that means, and that one day I would come around. Despite my rebellion, he did not give up. He kept preaching and teaching until I decided to leave home to find my own way at the age of seventeen.

Flash forward many years later. About two or three years ago this May, my brother called and informed me that our father was gravely ill and not expected to live the weekend.

Now, over the years since I had left home, we had enjoyed an amicable relationship. We called each other every now and then, and I stopped by to visit him when I was in town. But there was always this thing between us, this wall of some kind.

But suddenly, all that mattered was for me to get home to see my father. While my attitude toward him had been one of indifference all those years, suddenly all that mattered was that he lived. I caught the very first flight I could get.

When I arrived, he was in the intensive care unit. As I walked into the room, I noted the many tubes and machines which seemed to be keeping him alive. He caught sight of me as I stood inthe doorway.

He greeted me first with skepticism—“You’re here?”.

And then with joy and enthusiasm—“You’re here!”.

I got home and visited him in the hospital on Thursday. By Monday he was up and talking and had been moved to a private room. The doctor later pulled me aside and said that my presence had a lot to do with his speedy, almost miraculous recovery. And before I finally left, he hugged me from his hospital bed, and for the first time in my life, he told me he loved me, and he was proud of the man I had become.

For a moment we simply held each other without saying anything. I then told him I loved him and placed a kiss on his forehead.

Now, he has taken to the role of grandfather. In fact, he has turned into somewhat of a new-aged parenting guru. When he is around, he won’t let you so much as raise your voice at one of his grandchildren. He insists that instead of fussing and yelling, we gently speak to them and explain our expectations. He certainly did not think this way when I was growing up.

But anyway, my kids adore him. They believe him to be absolutely wonderful and can do no wrong. They have even begun to refer to him as Granddaddy Love Child and listen with glee as he launches into his “DJ voice” to demonstrate how he used to do it back in the day. Finally, he now gets to live out his DJ ambitions, albeit to a much smaller but more appreciative audience.

Big Apple

I left home when I was seventeen in part to prove just what a man I was. But what I have learned since then is that every man still craves the comfort of being somebody’s child.

For seventeen years of my self-imposed exile from my home, my father-in-law, known by all as Big Apple, has provided that comfort. And you know you got to be fly to have a nickname like Big Apple. For seventeen years, he has been my surrogate father and resident hero.

I love to listen to the stories of his exploits back in the day. He is that proverbial self-made man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Who did whatever he had to do, whatever he needed to do, to care for and defend his family.

When I think about him, I recall that line from one of my favorite Etheridge Knight poems: He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things/We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do.”

And that is just how I see him, that superhuman being that can do those things others can only dream of doing.

Recently, I stood next to him at a family function. I was surprised when I realized that we were about the same height. All this time I have known him, in my mind I had imagined him to be a much bigger man. I had imagined him to be practically a giant. I stepped away quickly for fear that I might also find him to be a mere mortal and not the superhuman I also imagine him to be.

I only hope that in the future, I too can be someone’s superhero.

Granddaddy Love Child and Big Apple, I wish you a happy Father’s Day with all the love and respect I can muster.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

SBV.2 Saturday Evening Cinema: Fela Kuit in Concert

For those of you looking for a little entertainment tonight when surfing the net is not enough. Check out this concert footage of Nigerian music legend Fela Kuit.

Part I:

Part II:

Black Mothers, Black Sons, and Little White Girls

This week I got a frantic call from my wife. The way she was carrying on I thought something absolutely unthinkable had happened to one of the kids or some other family member. But when I finally got her calmed down enough to start making sense, I was completely taken aback by the nature of her call.

The problem?

It appears that in the last week or so, the young ladies have been ringing the phone off the hook looking for my teenage son who is away at a special academic program.

And the problem?

All but two of these young ladies are white. And when she did the unthinkable by going to his Facebook page, she became even more upset. With about two exceptions, about a dozen or so little white female faces stared out at her, all of whom expressed great affection for our son and wished for his speedy return.

This is what threw me for a loop. My wife is a very intelligent, very educated, very open-minded person. Furthermore, I would estimate that a full seventy-five to eighty percent of her close friends are white.

I am reminded of a similar situation with my mother. Again, my mother is a very intelligent, very educated, very open minded person with a wide and diverse group of friends, some of whom are white. In fact, her best friend when I was growing up, my uncle and her brother’s wife, was white.

But when my brother brought home a young white girl and introduced her as his girlfriend, my mom went slap off! There was some smoke in the city that night.

I consulted some of my close female friends, all of whom are black mothers, and invariably all of them expressed the same consternation at the thought of their sons dating white girls.

I do have some qualms about my son dating interracially, but my misgivings arise from

questions of his safety. Though interracial relationships have become more acceptable in our society and culture, there exists that old guard who are resistant to the idea and who, if provoked, may be prone to resort to violence. And if someone decides to raise a hand against my son, I promise you that I’m going to go all vigilante on them.

But when I asked these black mothers why they were against such relationships, I couldn’t seem to get one constructive answer.

Mostly I got that old, trite platitude, “If they can’t use your comb, don’t bring them home.” My mother claims that the young lady my brother brought home was simply poor white trash, and she had invested too much time and energy in raising us right to have it undone by her ilk. However, I don’t know how my mother could have discerned all that from one cursory meeting. My wife claims that it is not the idea of my son dating white girls that worries her, but that my son seems to be dating mostly white girls. To paraphrase her answer, she is worried about any questions of identity he might be having.

First and foremost, I see it as a question of proximity and common interests. The school my son attends and the programs and activities he is involved in are populated mostly by white kids. So, it is not surprising that most of his friends and acquaintances would be white.

And if we take a more romanticized view of it, and I do understand he is not going to be married anytime soon, do we really choose the persons we date, or fall in love with, or ultimately marry? The heart wants what the heart wants. Usually we come in contact with these persons and grow to get to know these persons through proximity and common interests. And before we know what happened, cupid has us in his dastardly grip.

My wife and I could not stand each other when we met; I would never have guessed then that one day we would be married. But because we were put in a position that we had to communicate with one another and soon found out how really similar we are, we fell in love.

As for my children, I just hope they find someone who they are compatible with and who they are happy with, regardless of their race.

My wife called me later to say that she over-reacted. The issue was not one that she had planned on dealing with so soon, and it took her by surprise. But after thinking about it, she found her reaction to be completely irrational, and she was a bit ashamed by it all.

She wanted to discuss it further, but I had to rush her off the phone. My son was on the other line excitedly telling me about the cute little Puerto Rican girl he had met at Summer Academy.

If you are a black mother, how do you feel about your son interracially dating? And for all others, what are your views?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lord of the Flies Greatest Hits

Our Brother President Obama was all over the news this week for swatting a fly. Evidently someone found that newsworthy. Last night, Rachel Maddow made light of the ridiculousness of it all. Enjoy.

And the science behind it all (I hope my tax dollars didn’t pay for this.):

Where is Teena Marie?

Before you do anything else, check out this video of Lady Tee recorded at Sinbad’s Caribbean Concert so you can really feel me.

Back to the topic of diva’s for this Friday’s installment of “Where is…?”.

My sister-in-law jokes that I have a thing for an old white woman. It seems like every time she visits, I’m all holed up in my office with Teena Marie serenading me as I work.

Now, I’m quite sure I don’t have a physical thing for Teena, but I do have a weakness for women who can sang, and Teena Marie can sang, y’all. You know it. And if you don’t, ask somebody, anybody.

For you all folks out there, do you remember that joint she did with Rick James back in the day, “Fire and Desire”? Do you remember how everyone just knew Teena had to be black, and when they found out she wasn’t, they kind of sat there all slack-jawed? Check out the clip below from the 2004 BET Awards to refresh your memory. The two are a little rusty, but it was Rick James’ last performance before his death.

Well, I don’t think her whiteness matters all that much now. It’s been thirty years since her debut album Wild and Peaceful. Now, she’s a full-fledged sista’. Not even honorary or anything.

Rick James produced her debut album and guided her through her early career. For a while they were linked romantically, but in a recent interview, she stated that after Rick James literally died on the emergency room table from a drug overdose for the second time and had to be revived by doctors, she just couldn’t stand the drama anymore. Cocaine is a helluva drug!

In the thirty years since that first album, the singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist has put together an oeuvre of sixteen more albums. Longevity does count for something in the music industry.

However, her latest offering, the sixteen song compilation on Stax Records, Congo Square, has got to be her very best. It covers a number of genres to include soul, jazz, and hip-hop, and features an impressive list of guest artists to include Faith Evans, Howard Hewett, M.C. Lyte, George Duke, and even her daughter, up and coming chanteuse Rose LeDeau.

Click here to hear an interview promoting the CD. Notice how in the interview she references the music of our ancestors. It appears even she has forgotten her whiteness.

I won’t name any names, but a number of white musical artists have used black music to gain entry into the marketplace, but then forgot us as soon as they made a dollar or two. But Teena has always remained true to the game.

So, check out the sample clips below and pick up a copy. You’ve got to have this one!

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Also see:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Name Is Max Reddick, and I Peek at Booties

"I like big butts and I cannot lie

You other brothers can't deny

That when a girl walks in with a itty bitty waist and a round thing in your face,

You get sprung!"

Sir Mix-a-lot, "Baby Got Back"

My name is Maxwell Reddick. I have been married just a little over seventeen years now, and never have I been unfaithful to my wife. Now, I have been to the strip club about three times over the course of that seventeen years, but it was early in my marriage and only because I foolishly gave in to peer pressure. But I did not enjoy myself. And oh yeah, I sometimes peek at booties. Am I so wrong?

Yesterday afternoon my sister, the resident black feminist, and I were sitting in the food court of the local mall enjoying some ice cream when I spotted this very attractive, very well-dressed sister coming toward me. We made eye contact, and she smiled and nodded at me, and I smiled and nodded back. And just as she passed, I peeked at her booty out of the corner of my eye. And it was a very nice booty indeed.

Well, my sister stopped mid-sentence and followed my gaze to the said booty. She then pronounced me a nasty bastard, gathered her things and headed for the exit.

I must say, I was really shocked. I have been peeking at booties for a while now, at least since my mid-teens, and I never saw it as so wrong. In fact, my uncle used to say, “It’s okay to look at the pretty ponies. But the trouble comes when you try to mount them and ride them.”

Not only that, I have standards. For instance, I don’t peek at booties at church. And I don’t peek at my boss’ booty. That would be disrespectful. I don’t peek at the booties of my friends’ and colleagues’ wives and girlfriends unless I suspect them of being a less than virtuous. I don't peek at booties when I am with my wife and/or children. I don't peek at the booties of my female friends. And I just peek, not outright ogle.

My sister informed me that peeking at booties was just another form of objectifying women, turning them into sexual objects. I know all about the objectification of women, but I did not realize that what I was doing was that deep. I just thought I was merely peeking at poot-shooters. Most black men peek at booties, don’t they? Maybe it’s something in our genes.

But if it is indeed wrong, I just want to say that I meant no disrespect by it. And I will cease with all due haste. But keep in mind, I’ve been peeking at booties most of my life, and I’ll have to wean myself gradually. Maybe there’s a patch or something like cigarette smokers use to quit that I can wear. What about an eyepatch?

Sisters, and my sister, if I have offended you, I sincerely apologize and promise to try to do better.

Is peeking at booties wrong?

There Are No Whores in Rome: My Somewhat Convoluted Pro LGBT Argument

Oh, boy! Looks like Brother President Obama has torn his britches with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. They are getting a bit peeved with him, and I don’t blame them one bit.

Now, I completely understand, or at least I can empathize, with what Brother President is up against. A number of disparate groups representing a number of interests bought into his message of change and threw their support behind him. And now these groups want some payback.

I understand that Brother President can’t engage in a wholesale program of change; on a number of issues, he has to ease into it. As he is successful in many of his initiatives, he will gain political capital which will then allow him to address some of the more controversial issues. But if he moves too quickly, some of his more right leaning supporters will run for the hills.

However, on some issues I believe Brother President should drop his guard and act just because it’s the right thing to do. And LGBT issues rank right up there at the very top of the list.
Let’s look at the gays in the military issue for instance. Brother President passed this issue to the courts thinking they would make the decision for him, but they lateraled it right back to him, forcing him to make a stand. But he won’t, and it doesn’t make any sense.

Let me drop this little tidbit off as I cruise on through. While the decision to allow gays in the military is being contemplated, they are already there. Our society and culture has always made the mistake in believing those bodies we deem deviant are necessarily excluded from certain spaces and polities by the very nature of the institutions. Let me relate this little tale as demonstrative of this assertion.

A few years back I attended a conference in Italy, so while I was there, I decided to stay over in Rome a couple of days to do some sightseeing.

Well, the first day I was there, I was standing on the grounds of one of the many historical sites in the city. A group of young American males were there being generally obnoxious; I could not ascertain if they were students or members of the military. But they were good and drunk.

As I looked on at their antics half annoyed, half amused, one of them asked the question, or rather yelled the question, “Where are the whores?”. The others took up the question as if it were a mantra: “Yeah, where are the whores? Bring on the whores!”

And then what could only be labeled a postmodern moment, it was definitely post something, a black man appeared from nowhere.

His features were decidedly of African origin—very African origin. He had the widest, flattest nose and the biggest set of soup coolers I have ever seen. And he was so absolutely black that as the Mediterranean sun shone on his skin, he actually appeared purple.

He wore a three piece black suit, white shirt, black tie, a black bowler hat, white gloves, and held an umbrella in the crook of his arm. He looked like a negroid Mr. French. Keep in mind now, this is the middle of July in the Mediterranean region, and it is hot—hell hot. I’m standing there in flip-flops, shorts, and a tank top, and I’m sweating like a slave.

The obnoxious party boys were finally quiet and looking at him like he was a chimera of some kind. Then he spoke. In an impeccable British accent with a openly contemptuous tone, he spoke.

“My dear sirs, there are no whores in Rome. The Catholic Church and the presence of His Holy Pontiff prevents such. The local and the federal government entities and the Vatican saw to it that Rome was rid of this scourge a quite a while whence.”

Now I was scratching my head. No whores in Rome? I’ve visited cities all over the world, and whatever the government system, whatever the economic system, there were some hoes somewhere. After all, it’s the oldest profession in the world, and to think there could be no whores in Rome is absolutely ludicrous.

And to confirm my suspicions, as soon as the Anglo-African gentleman disappeared as quickly and quietly as he appeared, a half-moon circle of the most stereotypical, Guido the Killer Pimp looking characters—shiny silk suits, greasy hair, a neck full of medallions, the whole nine—step out of the shadows offering up for purchase what else but whores.

Instantly, this image of a slimy underbelly of Rome crawling with prostitutes and comically stereotypical pimps entered my mind.

But the upshot of this little cautionary tale is this. To think that those bodies we deem deviant can be legislated out of existence is absolutely insane. To think they will go away by simply denying their presence is equally insane. These bodies exist and will continue to exist, inhabiting all spaces and polities regardless of their supposed sanctity and orientation.

So Brother President, do yourself a favor and do what is right. When you were campaigning, you spoke explicitly of equal treatment for everyone. You promised that the humanity of all would be recognized and all would be represented. Everyone and all did include our LGBT brothers and sisters, didn't it.

And keep in mind, you are going to need all the support you can get to get your other initiatives, especially this healthcare thing, pushed through. Besides, it’s just the right thing to do.

And if anyone out there is going to Rome and wants to know where to find whores, shoot me a line.

What do you think? Is Brother President Obama unjustly dragging his feet on LGBT issues?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Freaky-Deaky Exploits of the Moral Minority

Today, GOP senator John Ensign of Nevada admitted to an affair with a family friend and staffer.

Normally, I would not have even cared. Senator Ensign’s affair is his business. I believe that we too often pay too much attention to the private lives of public figures and government officials. Obviously, Senator Ensign, his wife, and family have some things they need to work through.

However, what Senator Ensign claims to stand for obligates me to say something.

This is the same Senator Ensign that denounced President Clinton’s affair as embarrassing and insisted that he resign. This is the same Senator John Ensign that called Republican Senator Larry Craig a disgrace and called for him too to resign after Craig was arrested for allegedly soliciting sex in an airport restroom in Minnesota. This is the same Senator Ensign that actively campaigned for the Federal Marriage Amendment which sought to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman and who defined marriage as sacred. And yes, it is the same Senator Ensign who expressed aspirations to run for president in 2012.

And now Senator Ensign admits to an affair with the wife of a friend and staffer. In other words, he slept with his friend’s wife. And it appears he wouldn’t even have come clean if it had not been for someone attempting to use the affair to blackmail him.

When you are quick to pronounce judgment on others, make sure your own house is in order.

Should the private lives of government officials be so closely scrutinized?

Things White People Do #7

Sleep with their animals. And yes that is a horse.

The New Generation of the Young, Gifted, and Black: What Are Their Responsibilities to the Black Community?

I spent Sunday afternoon at Vanderbilt University in Nashville getting young Aaron Beaste checked in and helping him get his dormitory room all set up. In fact, that’s what I am doing in this part of the country. Young Aaron Beaste was selected to participate in a special program for talented youth at Vanderbilt, and I opted to stay close by (Memphis) until he’s done rather than dropping him off, driving back to Florida, then having to turn around and make that long drive again at the end of two weeks to retrieve him.

Anyway, Aaron Beaste and his sister Little Moni Beaste have participated in a number of programs similar to this one over the course of the last few years, and as I sat in the orientation listening to the very impressive resumes of the young people participating in this program, it dawned on me that my children are children of privilege, more specifically, colored children of privilege.

Allow me to briefly qualify my categorization of my children as “colored children of privilege.” In my categorization, I’m not attempting to claim baller status; my wife and I work two jobs most of the year and take any and all free lance assignments to afford our children such opportunities. But what I mean is African American children who gain access to prestigious institutions and special enrichment programs not available to their peers by virtue of their unique talents and gifts.

These students I see as tantamount to a modern incarnation of W.E.B. Dubois’s concept of the talented tenth, that top ten percent of African Americans who were expected to use their unique talents and gifts as part of a program of uplift to improve the lives of all African Americans. But does this new generation of the young, gifted, and black realize or even understand this responsibility? Or better still, do they even have any responsibility toward the African American community at all?

I was perhaps part of the first generation of young, gifted, and black to directly benefit from the Civil Rights Movement. I grew up poor and black, but early on my intellectual ability afforded me opportunities not available to my peers and allowed me access to places of privilege others of my hue were shut out of. And because in our culture privilege is usually synonymous to whiteness, just like the handful of African American young people I encountered Sunday, I invariably always found myself one of the very few African Americans in the institutions and classes I became a part of.

But we understood who we were and what we were there for. We were never allowed to forget. On a daily basis, our parents and grandparents reminded us. Our aunts and uncles reminded us. The adult members of our community reminded us.

We knew that our fate was inextricably intertwined with the fate of the African American community. We knew that if we achieved any measure of success, that success would be accorded to our singular greatness. However, if we failed, our failure would serve as an indication of the intellectual inferiority inherent of the race.

So, we clung desperately to one another, urging and exhorting each other even as we discussed our plans for transforming our community and the nation.

But in that handful of African American children present on Sunday, the new generation of the young gifted and black, I didn’t see that same urgency and affinity to the African American community. While during my generation, we few African American children sought each other out, this new generation barely acknowledged the presence of the other African American students.

While we were usually found huddled together in a group, this new generation made their already small number seem even smaller and less efficacious by inserting themselves individually in the various racially diverse groups that popped up along lines of personal interest and talents as opposed to race.

And in their personal statements, they mentioned nothing of desiring to give back to their community. They simply catalogued their accomplishments in an almost braggadocios manner, and expressed their lofty goals in the Eurocentric terms of “I” as opposed to the Afrocentric terms of “WE.”

The implications are two-fold. One the one hand, maybe this new generation of young, gifted, and black have freed themselves from the onus of race. Maybe they have learned to define themselves outside the bounds of race. And this could potentially be a good thing. For a young person, the weight of carrying the full weight of a race on your back is a heavy weight to bear indeed. But if this is indeed the case, if they believe themselves truly free from the fetters of race and the concomitant exigencies thereof, I’m afraid they are deluding themselves and setting themselves up for a rude awakening.

Also, if they no longer see their connection to the African American community, a serious schism, a naked declivity, is developing, or better still continuing in its development, in the African American community. In the future, there threatens to be one narrow group of upwardly mobile African Americans and another group of society’s throw-aways perpetually mired in the muck of ignorance and poverty.

I wish young Aaron and Moni Beaste and those talented and gifted children like them all the best, but I caution them not to forget their roots, not to forget their race bacause if you do, something will invariably arise to remind you of it, and remember to reach for success not just for you or even your family, but for something much bigger than yourself.

Does the new generation of the young, gifted, and black have any responsibility toward the African American community, and if so, what is that responsibility?

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