Friday, July 31, 2009

Picking through the Bones: Should the Past Have Any Bearing on the Future?

This the very last day of Relationship Week. And this week has been tremendously successful from my point of view. I sincerely thank everyone who stopped by, and I especially thank everyone who contributed to the conversation. I will return later today with a final summation of the week and what I have learned.

The notorious Karrine Steffans, better known by the sobriquet Superhead, has been ubiquitous in the media over the past few weeks promoting her latest book, The Vixen Manual: How to Find, Seduce, and Keep the Man You Want. Whatever you have to say about Ms. Steffans, she has mastered the fine art of selling herself, excuse me, self-promotion.

I watched or heard a few of these interviews, and they seem to follow a common theme. She is more than willing to talk about her current book, but should the interviewer bring up the past, she gets all indignant; she refuses to discuss anything of her past. [Click here to see or hear a couple of these interviews via the blog Witches Brew.]

In fact, in one such interview, she evokes the fact that she is now a wife and a mother of two little boys, and castigates the interviewer for bringing up the most sordid episodes of her life in light of that fact. But at this point she loses me.

Has her husband not read or heard of her first book, Confessions of a Video Vixen, in which she describes in detail her many, and I mean many, sexual exploits with entertainers and athletes of every stripe? Does she have a contingency plan for when her two precious little boys eventually ask her why people called their dear mother Superhead?

And in contemplating Ms. Steffans’ dilemma, I am reminded of a recent incident when I was introduced to the fiancé of my frat brother who moved here from out of town. She must have seen my eyes widen and registered the look of shock on my face because from where she stood slightly behind him, she immediately began to vigorously shake her head as if to say “No, please don’t.”

Back when we were undergraduates, she took her role as a sweet very seriously. She was in heavy rotation among the brotherhood, and word was there was no limit to what she would do to keep up the morale.

So, the question quickly becomes that if you were a man, would you or could you marry a woman like Ms. Steffans who has detailed her past sex life in a best-selling book for the world to see. If you are a woman, would you or could you marry a man if in his past he was, hmm, let's say a porn king. Remember the permanence of the written word; years for now that book will still be available for all to read and marvel. Remember the permenance of film. Who might be viewing his celluloid sexual exploits years from now?

But what of my clueless frat brother? He has no idea of his lovely fiancé’s past (and I ain’t about to tell him), but I know one of our brothers will eventually have one drink too many, and the ugly, naked truth will spill out. How will he react, or better still, how should he react?

When Mrs. Reddick and I got married, I never asked her about her past. I felt that what she wanted me to know, she would tell me. Not only that, an older relative, either my grandfather or an uncle, once told me to never ask a question if I were not sure I could handle the answer. And by the time we got married, I had sense enough to listen to the wisdom of old folks. Plus, I had a few bones in my own closet that I did not want to discuss.

But the fact is that we meet people and enter into relationships with people and fall in love with people without ever knowing their full background. Usually, we know only what they want us to know. And everyone has a few bones in their closet. When you see your special someone again, just look at them. And then ask yourself where they are hiding the bones.

Some of the bones are big bones, like of the tyrannosaurus rex variety, and some of the bones are of the smaller variety like those tiny pesky little fish bones you can barely see that threaten to get caught in your throat and choke you to death.

And if you love someone, I mean really and truly love someone, should the past even matter? True love is unconditional, but in the same instance, to forgive someone you must then forget that thing for which you forgive them. But sometimes things tend to get stuck in your head. Sometimes, whether consciously or unconsciously, the scenes tend to play themselves out in your head over and over again. It’s like a snowball rolling down hill. It just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and then the avalanche begins. What then?

At what point does your mate’s past, or your past, threaten the future?

Do you believe that you should know every little detail about your mate’s past? What if you found out something absolutely horrible about your mate’s past? What would you do? How would you react? How does the past affect the future?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Can Jungle Fever Drive You Crazy?

“One is very crazy when in love.” --Sigmund Freud

I said that this week I would throw out all the theory and just speak from my experience. So, here goes.

Not too long ago, I had lunch with three of my colleagues, all of whom are black women. Early into the lunch, the conversation turned to another colleague who was absent, a black male who after getting divorced from his black wife of nine months was making a very valiant effort to love every white woman in the world. And they were not at all happy about this development.

Now, I know when to keep my mouth shut, so the whole time I just kept my head down. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a salad that fast. But suddenly I heard nothing but silence. Their conversation had ceased.

When I looked up, the three of them were looking at me with such looks of derision on their faces that for a moment I looked around for an exit.

One of them finally spoke.

“Look at that, y’all. The cat seems to have gotten this soulbrother’s tongue. He’s unusually quiet on this one. Maybe he’s got a white woman bone or two in his closet.”

I sensed that a trap was being set, but I didn’t know how to avoid it.

“Well, I see nothing wrong with inter-racial relationships if that’s your thang, but I have never been in an inter-racial relationship of any kind.”

The trap was ready to snap shut now.

“You’re telling me you spent your early twenties in Europe, and you never had any type relationship with a white woman? Who you think you talking to? Boo-boo the Fool? Samantha Sausagehead?”

Laughter and high fives all around. The trap was sprung. I was caught in the snare. Where was that waiter with my drink?

“But the women I had relationships with when I was there were not white. They were European, German and French mostly.”

Now I faced three blank Negro-man-please stares. Only then did I realize the paradox of my statement, and tried to explain. But they were not having it.

What they could not understand was my explanation of my conception of whiteness. When in the United States, my conception of whiteness is subtended by a history of discrimination, of degradation, of oppression, of violence. For that reason, it becomes hard for me to imagine entering into a romantic relationship with a white American woman.

Not that I hate white women. I do not. Not that I don’t find white women attractive. I do. Lately something has happened to white women to make their behinds swell exponentially. But I cannot imagine giving myself over to a white woman like love, true love, requires one to do.

And when I speak of love, I’m talking the real thing. Not that infatuation love. Not that lustful love. But that Al Green “Make you do right, make you do wrong” love. That love that makes you give yourself over to another. That makes you drop all pretense, lower all facades.

Sigmund Freud once wrote something to the effect that if insanity is the condition of one being out of one’s mind, then love is the very first instance of insanity. To love is to vacate your mind in order to reside outside yourself with the mind of another. (Or something like that.)

In other words, love makes you vulnerable. Very vulnerable. Love makes you crazy.

The history of violent racism in this country causes me to put my guard up, to always be looking over my shoulder. To always be wary. I find it very difficult to drop my guard, to allow the vulnerability requisite to enter into a relationship with a white woman.

But notice I said “I find it difficult,” and not “never.” I stopped saying “never” a long time ago. Because the moment we utter never, the situation arises that will severely put “never” to the test.

I guess I’m just an old romantic. I actually don’t believe we consciously choose who we fall in love with. I think that love can irrupt in the strangest, most unlikely places. I believe that you simply meet a person. You get to know that person. And little by little you share small fragments of your mind, your person, with the person until finally one day you look up and you’re completely out of your mind. You’re absolutely crazy.

So, if I ever had to choose another mate for life, and should that mate perhaps be white, I would have to really go crazy, absolutely crazy. She would have to drive me out of my mind.

But isn’t that what we’re all looking for anyway? Someone who is so very special that they ultimately drive us absolutely crazy? Someone who will drive you out of your mind?

What are your views on inter-racial relationships? Are you in an inter-racial relationship now? What do you have to add to the conversation?

And please come back tomorrow when we will look for the bones in your closet.

Other blog articles of interest:

Max Reddick, “Black Mothers, Black Sons, and Little White Girls.

Von, “Are You Still Black If You Marry White.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Signed, Somebody Baby Momma: A Short Narrative by Max Reddick

Sorry, I’m late today. I got caught up trying to repair a server. Anyway, I thought I’d go off the script for day 3 of Relationship Week and leave you with a narrative. This is something else from when I was at home last month, but I thought it was too long to post, but I’ll drop it off today. Let me know what you think.

I don’t like that term, Baby Momma. To me it just seems so negative, so final. It’s like that’s all I will ever be, somebody Baby Momma. But somehow I guess that fits me now.

I asked Max to write this down for me, so I could read it back to see if it sounds as absolutely crazy as I think it does. I’ve known Max for a long time, from way back in the day. He was always writing these silly little poems and letters to all the little girls in the hood. And those silly little tricks used to fall for it too. But I never did. I guess that’s why we have remained friends for so long.

But I right now, I just need to get this out. You know, I want to talk to my friends about it, but I’m so afraid of what they will say. In fact, I already know what they will say. And I certainly cannot take this to my mother and sisters. I have heard it all from them before.

But I just need someone to listen, just listen for a second and not talk back. Not render judgment. And ladies, you know how judgmental we can be.

I met him my freshman year of college. He was a junior then. He was one of those what I call wonder men. You know what I am talking about ladies, one of those men you look at, and you just wonder. You wonder what he would look like with his clothes off. You wonder how it would feel with his hands wrapped around you, embracing you, holding you, kissing you, making love to you.

Let me take a second and tell you about him.

He was very tall; he was built like an athlete, but he had the mind of a scholar. Now I know every black person and they momma are always talking about having some Indian in them, but you could see his Indian heritage in his countenance. Both heritages, in fact, were very much in evidence. His skin was jet black, so black that sometimes when the sun would fall on it just right, he appeared purple. But his features were decidedly Indian, and he had the finest, straightest jet black hair. It is as if his hair didn’t fit him. And I used to just admire his long, straight black fingers and wonder what they would feel like on my body.

And then my wondering became an obsession. I began putting myself into his path just so he would notice me. And one day he finally did. We quickly became friends. And almost just as quickly, we became friends with benefits.

You know, I think that’s where I made my first mistake. I never took the time to define our relationship with him. He just came and went out of my life. Sometimes I wouldn’t see him for days. And during these times I would become upset and jealous. I would curse him, and I would curse myself. But other times he would be with me all day, every day. And all night.

And he would always seem to know just what my body needed. Sometimes he would make love to me slowly, almost methodically. Other times, our love making took a faster, more frenzied pace, as if we were angry at one another. As if we were trying to take out all our anger, all our frustrations, on the other’s body. But in the end, I was never left wanting. I was never left unsatisfied.

He graduated a while before I did, but he went to law school in a city not too far away, so I saw him from time to time on weekends, during holidays, and at other times when he would just show up out of the blue.

I found out I was pregnant a month or two into my senior year. I found out he had gone out and gotten married about a month or two before I painfully walked across the stage to receive my diploma, nauseous with my ankles badly swollen. My soror, who came back for the graduation, delivered the bad news.

And perhaps to spite him, or perhaps to soothe my wounded ego, I got married just as my child started walking. And my new husband was a good man. I should have loved him, but I didn’t. And I didn’t do much to hide the fact that I really didn’t love him, either. To his credit, he hung in there as long as he could before he finally decided that it would be best that he moved on.

Since then, I have been in and out of relationships. More times I have been out as opposed to in though. I guess I’m probably one of those women always complaining about not having a man. But when I get one, I just get quickly get bored with them and eventually run them away.

As for my child’s father, he took good care of her financially, but emotionally he treated her just as he had treated me. There would be times in which she heard from him very often. She spent some summers, weekends, and holidays with him. Often she accompanied him and his wife on vacations. In fact, he took her all over the world with him.

But other times we would not hear from him for months. Not a phone call. Not a letter. Nothing. But nevertheless, my daughter absolutely adores her father. You know how girls are about their fathers. In her eyes, he can do no wrong.

But here’s where it the whole thing gets a little tricky.

A few months back he showed up back in town without an explanation and without his wife. And when I found out his wife was not with him, I began to fix myself up. I went out and bought me a whole new wardrobe. Everything, underwear included. New panties. New bras. The whole nine.

And the whole time I’m cleaning out the mall, the whole time I’m maxing out my credit cards, I’m trying to convince myself that it wasn’t for him. But one day after about my third trip to Victoria’s Secret in a week, the salesclerk just looked at me smiled and asked me, “New man?”

He began to spend a lot of time with his daughter, taking her places, buying her things. And of course she was in heaven. Then he began to include me. So, the three of us would be out about town together frequently. It was almost as if we were a family. I remember this little white lady at the Memphis in May festival even commenting on how beautiful we all looked together as a family. And my child’s father didn’t miss a beat. He put his arm around both of us, looked each of us in our eyes, and replied, “Yes, we certainly do.” And now I was in heaven.

But in the evenings when he would drop us off, he never asked to stay. He never once asked me if he could spend the night. And he wouldn’t even have had to ask. All he would have had to do was to come in, take his shoes off, and as far as I was concerned, he would have been at home.

Then, one day about a week or so ago, he asked me to go on a short, day trip with him. Just so we could talk, he said. Just so we could spend a little time together, he said. Just so we could get to know one another again. And my heart leapt.

But when we set off on our little excursion, it began to rain. And by the time we arrived at our destination, it was pouring. So he stopped and got us a room at a bed and breakfast to wait out the rain. It was one of those old Southern antebellum style mansions.

And I want you to take a second to picture this. It was a beautifully appointed room with this huge four poster bed facing French doors which led out to a portico with an absolutely beautiful view of the grounds.

When we arrived, he opened the French doors leading out to the balcony and together we lay on the bed next to one another, not touching, not talking, just watching the rain as it fell on the floor of the ancient portico. Before long he put his arm around me, and I snuggled up against his chest. All the while, I could hear the sound of the rain as it fell, and I could smell its intoxicating…

Wait a minute, Max. Don’t use that. That word. Intoxicating. It sounds so cliché-ish. What’s a better word? Well, go ahead and use it. This whole thing probably sounds cliché-ish by now. This whole thing probably sounds so familiar.

But anyway, I could hear the sound of the rain, and I could smell its delicate scent as it mixed with his cologne and the smell of whatever dressing he used on his hair. And I became aroused. Very aroused. I began to kiss him on his neck, behind his ear. I kissed him on his forehead. I kissed his beautiful black hair. I tried to kiss every inch of his face until I finally found his mouth.

But then he just pushed me away.

He placed his hands on either side of my face, looked me in my eyes, and for the first time ever he did something I thought he’d never do in our lifetimes. He told me, “I love you. I really love you.” I think I saw tears in his eyes. But then he just lay back down and before long he fell asleep. And I lay my head back on his chest. And that is how we spent the afternoon until the rain finally subsided.

And as we lay there I thought to myself how perfect it all seemed. How perhaps many a little teenage girl, many a woman might dream of an afternoon like this. But here I lay with a married man who for whatever reason would not consummate our afternoon together and who was still someone else’s husband. And all I was was somebody Baby Momma.

And as he snoozed, I looked at him lying there and wondered. After all these years, he still has me wondering.

What could she possibly be wondering about? Have you ever been in a relationship that made you wonder? Do you wonder now?

And please come back tomorrow when we will discuss interracial relationships. Von, if you stop by, I’ll need your help on this inter-racial relationship thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Snake that Terrorized Me and My Family Is No More

Last week I reported that a large black snake had been terrorizing my family for about the last two months or so. [Click here to view original post.] In that report, I also related my heroic attempts to protect my family from that snake. But he always managed to elude me. He was smarter than the average snake. Now I wish to report that the snake that terrorized my family no more. He is dead.

However, I did not kill him. My fourteen year old son accidently ran over him with the lawn mower.

Pretty anti-climactic, huh? All this time I have been hunting him down, and he's killed in a lawn mower accident.

I’ve been pursuing this vile reptile for weeks, and my son absentmindedly kills him. He didn’t even realize what he had done at first. He was cutting the yard, listening to his mp3 player, when he ran over something causing the mower to cut off.

I went over to assist him, and when we flipped up the lawnmower, there lay the snake’s torn, ruptured body twitching in the throes of death. And at the first glimpse of just a portion of the snake’s tail, my son took off running. Well, I ran too, but I was really running to get a hoe or a shovel in case the snake wasn’t really dead.

But now everyone is treating him like he is some kind of hero. Now my neighbors are gathered in my front yard congratulating him. One neighbor even commented that the shake was probably the same snake that had his daddy running scared all this time.

Huh? What? Just move on lady. Those opened toe sandals probably fit you at one time. But now that your monkey-like, prehensile toes are hanging over the front, it’s time to give them up and get a new pair.

And that’s probably halitosis you have. I’ve been wanting to tell you this for quite some time, lady. Your breath smells as though you’ve been eating chitterlings straight from the bucket.

And you probably think that dirty, matted wig on your head looks natural, but I peeped that hot mess a long time ago.

Now you’ve made me get all ghetto. Everybody, just get your nosy behinds out of my yard.

My wife is promising to fix all his favorite foods for dinner. He’s a vegetarian so that probably means a whole bunch of spinach or something. I was looking forward to that roast I saw thawing in the frig. Guess that’s out.

But I ain’t hating. Let him have his time to shine. But I just want you to remember those times Ifearlessly put myself between that snake and my family. Remember those times I risked my own safety protecting my family. And even as these fools over here sing his praises, be my witness that it was I who intrepidly pursued this creature without flinching.

Some people are just too lucky. Given another week, I would have gotten the snake anyway.

Can Men and Women Really Be Friends?

Now for day 2 of Relationship Week. For those of you returning, thank you. Thus far this week is turning out to be a success. For those of you just arriving, take a look at what has been said so far and add your voice.

Let me preface what follows by tendering the definition of friendship I will be using. I took the liberty of borrowing this definition from @girly1121 who is a new blogger at Latte Then Thoughts Blog:

When I think of a Friend, I think of someone that is there for me no matter what, someone I can share my thoughts, feelings, ups and downs and they are not going to judge me.

I once had a Friend like that. We were good friends for quite a while. Sometimes I really miss her friendship.

She was a young, single black female. I was a young, married black male. Perhaps when I think about it, it couldn’t have lasted anyway.

We worked the nightshift together. And I guess it was only natural that we should have become friends. We were raised in the same geographical area, and had many shared experiences. Plus, I welcomed the familiar accent; it soothed me and reminded me of home. And we had the same quirky sense of humor.

So, eight to twelve hours a day, five days a week, we spent the night talking and laughing together and plotting how we were going to get out of a job we both abhorred and move on to bigger and better things.

I found it humorous when our co-workers began referring to her as “my work wife.” But I grew wary when our co-workers began whispering of an affair between the two of us. I wanted to do nothing to disrespect my wife and family.

But nevertheless, our friendship escalated. We began to have phone conversations during the day, sometimes several times a day. And my wife and I visited her home several times for dinner or a party, and she visited ours several times for the same reasons.

The turning point in our friendship came one weekend when my wife and children were out of town for some family function, a wedding or funeral or something. I really don’t remember. But on a Saturday night when we were off, she called me seemingly upset. She asked that I come right away but wouldn’t give me a reason.

I didn’t feel right about the whole thing. I had never been to her home except in the company of my wife. And on the drive over, the advice of the minister who had counseled me and my wife before we got married kept playing in the back of my head. He had advised me that the very best way to keep from cheating was not to allow myself to get into any situation in which I had to say no.

And then I thought of my frat brother who always seemed to be in trouble with his wife for cheating. A young, single woman who he was “friends” with called him over to help her move some furniture, and they managed to move some furniture all right.

So about halfway there, I turned around and went back home.

From then on, our friendship went downhill. We became downright nasty toward one another. More and more, we spent the night arguing and insulting one another until we just stopped speaking at all, and she finally just went to the day shift.

From this experience, I can only believe that it is practically impossible for heterosexual men and women to be just friends given the definition tendered above, especially when one party is married and the other is not. There is always a certain sexual tension present that if not resolved can only turn affection into resentment.

Perhaps if we had both been single and the relationship been allowed to run its natural course, perhaps if we had an outlet for that tension that had built up between us, I can only imagine where the relationship might have gone.

Since then we located one another through a mutual friend via Facebook. We have exchanged cordial greetings and messages, and she even sent me a birthday card. But I know nothing of her life now, and as far as I know, she knows nothing of mine.

Also, since then I have had many female friends. In fact, I have many more female friends than male friends. But besides those childhood friendships that I maintain from afar, most of what I am referring to as friends are only really acquaintances that I hear from or see from time to time. We have a short conversation, catch up on what has transpired since we last saw one another, and then move on with our lives.

Am I too bound by my own experience to believe that heterosexual men and women can be best friends? Can heterosexual men and women be just friends, and what would that friendship look like, consist of? Do you have a close friend of the opposite sex? What has sustained your friendship?

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Fact Is I Need You…Teach Me How to Love [Guest Post]

This evening Charles J., a long time reader and frequent commenter, will act as guest host. In fact, he was such a frequent and fervent commenter that challenged him to have his own say in 750 words or less, and he responded.

Charles describes himself simply as a young, black male from Baltimore, Maryland, who is, above all else, enthusiastic, persistent and authentic .

Recently Charles was certified as a diversity practitioner, and he splits his time between consulting and facilitating discussions on diversity/inclusion issues and investing in real estate in the Baltimore metro area.

“I Wish I Could Love Every Girl in the World” are the eponymous lyrics from the new Lil Wayne song that is playing somewhere on the radio right now, and I can’t get it out of my head. I’m a 25 year old young black male and that pretty much sums up my group.

Marginalized for being born Black yet privileged for being born male, we young Black men have a huge inner conflict going on. Hmm, let’s see. Hyper-masculine, non-emotional, violent and useless baby making machines are the primary charges hurled at us daily. So what is our relationship to women? Two words: messed up!

I have a few thoughts…

Men but Not White Men… Black but Not Women

So, we’re men, and stereotypically we are supposed to be big, strong and not very good at expressing ourselves other than through sports, sometimes music, and sexual prowess. White dudes don’t get us fully but neither do Black women.

We are conditioned by society to get all the women we can and not allow ourselves to be hurt mentally or physically just like white guys, but we are talked about and downed by society for doing it. My question is what are Black men supposed to do with our emotions?

I've come up with a theory after listening to woman participating in a diversity training program. They explained that the roughhousing of men and young boys is actually just another form of aggression.

After listening to those statements, I thought as a man what can I do in public with ease and still be looked upon as a man—cry or fight? After easily picking fight, I came up with a theory that men are really allowed one emotion and that is aggression. And only being allowed one emotions can lead to women being abused (mentally and physcially) by their husbands/lovers etc. Okay, I know that may be a reach, but follow me for a few minutes.

My theory is that men abuse woman because the system (our society) deems that aggression is the only emotion that men, especially black men, can display so when we get upset/angry we can't discuss it because that's too girly. Men are told to let out your frustration in a few ways—fighting it out (fighting another man/ hitting a wall), smoking/drinking your hurt away, or taking it out on a woman (having sex to your frustration goes away).

So when a man gets frustrated or feels less than a man how can he feel in control or have some type of power? Can he talk about his feelings? Probably not or he will be called a punk or a sissy. Hmm, so that just leaves aggression. So...

  1. The wall gets punched,
  2. the E&J gets drank,
  3. the woman on the side gets slept with, or the strip club gets visited, and
  4. the wife that he loves who wants him to talk about his problem gets slapped for asking too many questions.

This leaves women, especially Black women, used and abused. Young black men are trying hard to find a way to relate and truly love the women in our lives, but we need to be taught correctly. If we start teaching our sons it is okay to express themselves in other ways, the will lessen the chances of our daughters becoming victims of assault by those she loves. This “boys will be boys” bull is old; let's try to think outside of the box.

Adjectives like caring/sensitve/thoughtful should be able to be applied to any gender, period. I guarantee if we start thinking outside of the box, we will have more fulfilled men and more secure women.

Do Black Men and Women Hate Each Other? (Love Is the Root Politic)

Welcome to relationship week here at soulbrother v.2. This week I am conducting an experiment of sorts. I am going to devote the entire week to discussing a single subject—the relationship between black men and women. Let me preface the week by stating that I am not a counselor of any kind. And I will be writing from my experience which may or may not coincide with your experience; however, I am counting on you to fill in those blank spaces that may irrupt when my experience and knowledge break down and fail to adequately address the subject at hand.

I just got on Twitter last month. And you meet a lot of interesting people through Twitter. Von is one of those persons. Von blogs over at Black Conscious Thought.

She checked out my blog, and tweeted her approval, and then we entered into a conversation centered around issues pertinent to the African American community. We were not that far into the conversation when she asked me what I thought to be a very strange question:

“Do you think we really hate each other?”

Confused, I quickly tweeted back, “Who?”.

“Black men and black women. Do you think we hate each other?,” was the answer. “Sometimes it seems we hate each other.”

I must admit that I hadn’t given it any thought before Von posed that question, and I’m not sure what answer I gave her. But now having had time to sit and ponder the question for a bit, I can give a more well thought out answer.

And that answer is no, I don’t think we hate each other. In fact, I think black love is alive and well. Perhaps, the issues affecting black love seem more dire, more real because of our proximity to them, but no more dire or real than in the larger populous.

However, there are still a number of issues we must deal with. There are still some obstacles to us being where we desire to be, namely we often find ourselves at different places at different times, and we are often not honest about what we are really looking for, but perhaps the biggest impediment is that we look outward as opposed to inward in defining how we conduct our lives and affair.

Let’s begin with this personal story. Recently when out and about, I ran into a lady I dated perhaps twenty years ago. I was genuinely surprised and glad to see her. But when I called to her, she just gave me this blank look and then turned her head. Thinking that perhaps she did not recognize me, I went over to greet her.

What I got from her was an angry, spiteful grimace. I went in for the obligatory hug, but she gave me the stiff arm. Of course, I was a puzzled as to why she was acting this way, but soon through clenched teeth, she gave me an answer.

“You hurt me!”

But that was twenty years ago! What happened to time heals all wounds? Perhaps I should give you the back story.

We met after we both had just gotten out of unhappy, tumultuous marriages. During our initial meeting, she told me she was concerned only with raising her two sons. She only wanted companionship, someone to kick it with and have a few laughs every now and then. We both seemed to be on the same sheet of music, so we entered into an agreement of sorts.

But about a week into this thing, she had cleared drawer space and one side of the closet for me and presented me with a key to her apartment. Perhaps, I should have recognized the signs and walked away at this time, but I chose not to.

As time went on, it became clearer and clearer that she was looking for a bit more than mere companionship; she was looking for another husband. So, I decided to just step away from the situation before either of us became overinvested in something that was not to be. And she pitched a fit—an absolute fit.

But I don’t blame her. I should have decided to leave even earlier. It was unfair to her that I stayed as long as I did knowing that my idea of where the relationship was going did not coincide with hers.

And she was a very nice person, a very desirable mate. Had we met at a different time in our lives, who knows the possibilities? And if she had been a bit more honest as to what she was looking for, perhaps if she even knew what she was looking for, it would have saved a lot of hard feelings in the end.

But keep in mind, she has been walking around harboring these ill feelings for twenty years or so. How has this affected her views of the opposite sex and how she has dealt with the opposite sex? Remember the ripples caused when you throw a rock or some other object into the water. How have these ripples caused by her hurt and anger affected others who have in turn affected others?

Now, let’s take a look at African American men and women in relation to the larger society and culture. How much do you think the images posited by the various media affect the ways in which we deal with one another and live our lives?

In dealing with relationships with the opposite sex, my greatest teachers have always been my parents, my grandparents, and my in-laws. From them I learned that every day cannot be a good day; the secret is to control that which is within your control so that the good days outnumber the bad. From them I learned of the joy in struggle, and what two people can achieve even when the odds are arrayed against them just by being of one accord. But perhaps most importantly I learned that when in a relationship, each party must unselfishly give of him- or herself if they desire the relationship to move forward.

But how many people don’t have these role models to draw from? More and more people are taking their cues and lessons as to how to conduct themselves from the various forms of media. And often the information gained from these various media are false, based on the cultural imaginings of writers who are themselves often the product of dysfunction.

But for those who have no better frame of reference, these false images become real. For those who have no greater frame of reference, the images become scripts to be lived out in their own lives. And the result is a replication of the very dysfunction we witness on television, in the movies, on the radio each day. The result is that we are convinced that somehow we should hate each other, that somehow love is a game, a competition between the two sexes to see who can get the upper hand, and we act accordingly.

But this is what it all boils down to: Love is the root politic. One cannot truly love another until they love themselves first. And love of self allows one to pursue those ends which will nurture that love, which will celebrate that love, which allow that love to flow freely between oneself and another.

What do you think? Do you think black men and black women somehow hate one another? What can be done to make our relationships stronger?

Also, later today Charles J. will join us with a guest post, and join us tomorrow when the question will be, can men and women truly be platonic friends?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

African Americans, Jews, and Assimilation: A Response to Anonymous

Next week is “Relationship Week,” a week of discussing relationships between African American men and women, over here at soulbrother v.2, and I am busy at work planning and preparing for what I hope to be an insightful dialogue. However, I would like to use today to wrap-up some business left over from this past week.

One of the main reasons I created this blog was to create conversation and dialogue around issues and events I found of interest or importance to the African American community, whether those joining in the conversation or dialogue agree with me or not. And thus far, thanks to you, I have been relatively successful. I get many comments expressing many diverging viewpoints.

But I’m sometimes frustrated by those persons commenting as “Anonymous” because besides from leaving a reply on the comment board, I am not able to contact them further to follow up and continue the conversation.

I received one such comment this week. [Click here to read the original post.] It is the longest and most comprehensive comment I have ever received. I am posting the comment below in its entirety not to call this individual out, but to provide a reference point for my comments which follows.

I have to split this because of character limits, so it is in 2 parts

Part 1:

1) Readers should know a bit about whom they're reading, so I'm a middle aged, white Jewish male, eastern European ancestry.

2) To blackwomen..., the accounts I've read said that Gates showed both his university ID (the house is owned by Harvard) and his driver's license, which has his address. They also said that Gates went around back and entered the house through the back door. While there, the cabbie tried to force the door, and that this is what the neighbor saw. This is not to excuse what happened, just to show that the neighbor was not reporting Gates but someone else that she did not recognize.

3) I think all groups other than the ones that came over from the UK have had to scrub their rough points off before being accepted fully into the middle or upper classes, starting with the Irish, and continuing through all the other European ethnics.

Tangent: Once upon a time, until some time after WW1, what we now describe as ethnic differences were once considered racial ones (with all the genetic implications of that word). Ever wonder about the apparent redundancy in the phrase 'race, creed or color'? Growing up, as I did, in the 60s and 70s, race and color were pretty much synonymous. Well, people (e.g., Th. Roosevelt) used to speak of the English race, the Irish race, the Swedish race, the German race, etc., etc. Nazi ideology had nothing on this perspective in terms of the basic analytic framework, just the bloody mindedness of the conclusions drawn from it. WW2, as well as the tensions during WW1 between those of English descent and those of German and Irish descent put an end to this line of thought, at least among respectable folk: there was a reason that (someone named) Eisenhower was head of army, Nimitz head of the Navy, to show that this war was against Germany, not Germans or the 'German race'.

Anyway, all those now considered white have given up cultural traits once considered distinctive, in return for being given a seat at the table, i.e., entry into the middle and upper classes. It's called the melting pot, or assimilation. At the same time, what is considered mainstream, or at least near mainstream has expanded to incorporate parts from these immigrant cultures. I can see it in the history of my own family; it's not just between my immigrant grandparents and myself, I can see the difference in each generation since them, becoming more at ease with, and more similar to, what is considered the mainstream. At the same time, I don't think anyone, certainly from the northeast or old industrial mid-west, who is famliar with different white ethnics, would have any difficulty pegging me or even my kids as Jews; even though no one in the family has been bar/bat mitzvahed (with all that entails and implies) in over a century.

It appears to me that this tradeoff is finally spreading beyond those of European ancestry, to those of East Asian ancestry, and perhaps beginning to extend to (some) whose ancestry is from sub-Saharan Africa, even those descended from American slaves.

I express no value judgement about this process/tradeoff. I am just observing that it is typical for all the previous immigrant groups that have managed to make their way out of the poor immigrant ghettoes to which they were initially consigned.

4) I don't know if the distinction between racism and racialism is useful, but it certainly exists. So long as racism had the force of law, it was much more difficult to reduce its consequences. Despite the ravages of things like deindustrialization and crack on poor and working class communities, many of which are predominantly African American, the black middle class is larger and, I think, more secure, than it has ever been before. The last generation has seen progress on issues of race, painfully slow certainly, but it would likely not have been possible without the dismantling of the legal framework. Lacking legal supports, what was racism is softening into racialism. How's that saying go? "I'm not where I want to be, but thank God, I'm not where I used to be."

Again, a similar process occurred for Jews in Europe. Once Jews had legal rights in western Europe, following the Napoleonic Wars, they began to enter mainstream society often even without converting. With more, and more regular, experience of Jews, prejudices against them slowly declined. Of course, events intervened, but ...

I am not suggesting that the experience of African Americans has been similar to Jews. Rather I am looking to history to see if it contains any useful lessons, and to draw informative parallels, and it is Jewish history that I'm most familiar with.

If it came across that I was trying in any way to 1-up African Americans, I apologize. I don't think the experience of suffering Jews and African Americans in the U.S. is or has ever been in any way comparable, and the only reason for comparing the European experience of Jews to the experience of African Americans is perhaps for some sick drinking game.

I was trying to address 2 issues raised in the original post, and doing it as well as I can, given the limitations of my experience. One is the racism/racialism distinction. The second was the one raised in this passage:

Basically the theory provides a very narrow prescription for complete personhood. It informs me how I should speak, how I should dress, how I should conduct myself, both in public and in private. And if, after following that prescription to the tee, I am approved by a panel of those who would be my peers, I can join mainstream society and culture with all the rights and privileges thereof. I have earned a place at the table. In other words, check your right of self-definition at the door.

The public side of this is something that all ethnic groups have had to come to terms with, wearing a mask in public to hide differences, or anything else distinctive. This has implications in the long run for the private side, which I hinted at in my comment, but I don't think it has much to do with self-definition in the short run. We may not like it, but many of us wear masks, and don't feel that they define us (perhaps confine us, when they are on, like tight shoes, but that's another issue).

Of course, police have always treated African Americans differently, entering houses without permission or warrants, beating, killing, etc., etc. Of course this is part of the racist structure of our society, and it weakens the public/private distinction made in the post. What this incident shows (as if we didn't know this already) is that our society does not yet accord African Americans the same respect and rights that it does to whites, even ones who behave according to all the rules one can imagine applying to whites, and more.

I don't have any clear thoughts about what to say next, so I'll end now.

As an undergraduate, I spent my senior year working on my honors thesis under the direction of a Jewish rabbi who taught Jewish History and Culture at the university. At the time, Jewish and African American relations had taken a turn for the worse, and I could not figure it out given that during the Civil Rights Movement we were primarily allies, and I also sensed similar histories.

One of the first observations I made was that thousands of years ago, Jews made sure their laws and customs remained intact whatever the situation the Jewish people as a nation found themselves in. That was achieved through the codification of the Torah.

To explain this further, the Jews had a document which took control of the telling of their history, which acted as a prescription for daily conduct down to the most minute detail, and most importantly, which bound them together as a people.

No such document exists for African Americans. Our ancestors originated from various locales throughout Africa, from various tribes. There was no one tradition, one cultural heritage, one common history, but many. However, within the peculiar institution of slavery, many of these local heritages, many of these local traditions, many of these local histories were lost, plowed under by a culture and civilization who early on realized that complete and utter subjugation could not be achieved over a people who know themselves, who knew their history and their place within the history of nations.

And following the inevitable demise of that peculiar institution, no group of people attempted to assimilate into the mainstream society more than African Americans. However, we were rejected at every turn. So, we turned inward and, for better or for worse, developed our own traditions, our own customs, and began, for the first time, to research and write our own history.

Some of those coping mechanisms we developed within that enclosed space instigated by exclusion and discrimination were positive. They allowed us to survive under the most oppressive conditions. But others were negative.

But we hold these traditions, we hold these customs, we hold this history particularly dear; it is part of us, and we are part of it, and we hold in great disdain anyone or anything which attempts to damn the river that flows between.

However, now that the doors to the mainstream society and culture are finally opening, we are asked to disavow that sustaining culture as conditions for entrance. We are asked to deny a rich vibrant culture and history running alongside and within the national culture and history. But it is this culture and history that we cling so desperately to, that sustains us even in the face of a great many hardships.

I will stop now. I have perhaps gone on far too long given the medium. However, this exegesis of the similarities of Jews and African Americans and the subject of assimilation is wholly incomplete, but it is a beginning.

So, Anonymous, if you would like to continue this conversation, just drop me a line at and we can continue. Perhaps, this is the beginning of a very fruitful dialogue.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New Music Find: Jose James

When I first ran across this one over at The Assimilated Negro, I was tempted to drop it on you right then instead of waiting until tonight. But I managed to remain disciplined.
Anyway over the course of the week, I’ve been savoring the music of José James. This guy is an absolute beast. I’m not quite certain why I hadn’t heard of him before now. This is some of that new space age baby making music.

To check out some more of José James’ music, click here to check out his MySpace page.

And as always, let me know what you think.

GOP Nutz Watch Nutz Newz of the Week: Week Ending 07/24/2009

It’s that time again. Time for us to give deez nutz a quick onceover.

Where do we begin? Let’s begin with the very mother of foolishness, the biggest nut of them all, Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin was relatively quiet last week. But this week, as her governorship winds down, she got her some more face time on all the media outlets. But I don’t think it is the kind of face time she really likes or craves so desperately.

Even as she moves hurriedly towards the door of the governor’s office, Palin was hit with, what else, another ethics charge. [See full story here.] She quickly reacted by citing this new ethics charge as the reason why she was resigning in the first place. But could the real reason be because she seems to keep getting caught?

It seems the soon to be ex-governor Palin’s main complaint is that people keep calling her on her foolishness. Every falsehood, every gross exaggeration, every vindictive deed, every misappropriation and misuse of funds she gets called on. And this is what’s really driving her nutz. Before she hit the big stage, much of it she would have gotten away with, but in the big leagues, every move you make is under scrutiny. And I guess she just can’t handle the heat. But anyway, let’s allow David Letterman to properly frame her farewell:

Elsewhere in the nutty world of the far right, the conspiracy theorists were busy at work clinging tenaciously to the ridiculous already debunked charge that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen, therefore is not the legitimate president. If he is not the legitimate president, then who is? But I digress.

The theory would most likely die out on its own. Most of the right has given up on it, but the nuttiest of the nutty just won’t let it die. And with members of the mainstream media like CNN’s Lou Dobbs lending it credibility by re-visiting it day after day, the conspiracy theory survives to live another day.

From the language of the “Birthers,” it becomes painfully clear that this whole missing birth certificate theory is not so much about justice as it is about race. If you observe the clip below, the lady screams emphatically, “I want my country back!” Inherent in that statement is the implicit notion that somehow “others” have taken the country via a coup of some kind. There is more than one way of calling a man a nigger. You be the judge:

But if deez nutz are anything, they are predictable. And if there is one thing we can predict out of them is hypocrisy. And this week more information was made known about “The C Street House,” a house that serves as a home away from home for at least five GOP congressmen. At this house, the congressmen hold group prayer sessions, prayer meetings, and seek Christian counseling. And it is also notorious as the spot where the latest GOP sex scandals either jumped off or were discussed.

South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is said to have visited the house at one time or another, and he even cited the house in his long, rambling speech confessing his infidelity. John Ensign lives at the house, and he too sought counseling there during his affair with a staffer. Another GOP senator was reported to have even carried on an affair right there in the house.

Prayer and Christian counseling, huh? I don’t ever remember church being like that. But take a look at the following video and article and decide for yourself. [Click here for article.]

Another thing we can depend on deez nutz to do is to stand in the way of real progress. This week they set their sights on healthcare reform. But actually they did not have to do much. Some members of the Democratic Party did their job for them. Not only that, Harry Reid is spineless.

But while opposing healthcare reform, they could posit no ideas of their own. In fact, all they had to offer was rhetoric and outright lies in an attempt to stir up opposition to President Obama’s efforts to spearhead healthcare reform. Such has become their standard response. Listen to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ healthcare bill floor speech:

But before I leave, I would have to have one last word on the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates. Of course Dr. Gates’ arrest has been discussed and dissected across the range of media so I will not rehearse the details here; however, I will take the time to disclose what I think to be Dr. Gates’ real crime, the reason he was really arrested.

Dr. Gates was arrested because he dared question the powers that be. He was arrested because he wouldn’t act the part of obsequious African American male as the law expects, even as his manhood and subjecthood is being assailed, but chose instead to protest. This must have thrown the arresting officer off-kilter. This must have enraged him. And despite the officer stating that race was not an issue, we all know different.

And the racially tinged politics of the conservative movement was very much in evidence. Despite all their talk of the sanctity of the home, they failed to come to Dr. Gates’ defense when all Dr. Gates did was to protest that his home was being violated. Instead they took the side of the Cambridge PD in surmising that Gates perhaps had a racial chip on his shoulder. Post racial my black assumptions.

And that’s you nutz newz for the week ending July 24, 2009.

And remember, your favorite soulbrother is always hard at work watching deez nutz so you don’t have the discomfort of watch them for yourself.

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