Monday, November 30, 2009

I wonder what my mother is doing right this second (Someone is praying for you)

[For LP, LN, & LT: You would be surprised to know how much I fret about your well-being sometimes, but I am confident in the knowledge that joy comes in the morning.]

I will not be long this morning; I have something I really must do. You know I always like to begin each morning with something positive. More often that not, things tend to end just as they begin. If we begin the week on a positive note, perhaps that positivity will carry throughout the week.

But for some strange reason I dreamed about my mother last night. And I know what you are thinking. No, I did not eat pork or anything spicy before I went to bed. In fact, I had a very healthy, very nutritious meal that my wife prepared for me and my family with love and care. But back to my dream.

I dreamed that I was back at home in my mother’s house. I walked through the house calling her name, but she did not answer. Then I stood quietly for a minute and listened, and I could hear her voice coming from behind her bedroom door.

So I knocked on her door, but she did not answer. I knocked again and again but still no answer. I then cracked the door just a little to peek in, and there was my mother on her knees in prayer, her face twisted into a desperate, pleading scowl. As I got even closer, I could see her face shining with sweat as if she had been on her knees for quite some time.

And in my dream I was so unsettled by the whole scene that was playing out in front of me, and so frightened at what might be going on in her life that would cause her to pray with such determined fervor that reaching out, I called to her, but she still did not respond. When I got close enough to her so that I might hear what she was saying, I could hear only the same name being repeated over and over again as if it were a mantra—“Max…Max…Max…Max…”

I began shake her and shake her in an effort to bring her out of the seemingly hypnotic state she was under. And finally she stopped and she looked at me and she smiled. “How are you doing this morning, baby?”

I was practically in tears at this point, but I managed to tell her that I was alright. Through my tears tied to terror, I managed to tell her she could get up now, that I was okay. She need not pray for me any longer. But she just smiled and shook her head, and she told me that she was already assured that I was okay because all this time I had been away, she had been down on her knees praying for me. And she couldn’t stop now, because she knew I was too arrogant and full of myself to get down on my knees and pray for myself.

With that she put her hand to my face, hugged me, and left a kiss on my cheek. And then clasped her hands back in front of her, closed her eyes again, and twisted her face back into a scowl, and began once again to pray, to plead—“Max…Max…Max…Max…”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Education of Max Reddick: Things I've Learned while on Twitter

A few months ago after I first launched my blog, my blog big brother RiPPa of The Intersection of Madness and Reality suggested that I set up a Twitter account to assist me in publicizing it. I was a little skeptical at first, but I must admit that he was right. In the few months that I have been active on Twitter, my readership has grown in leaps and bounds.

Not only that, I am constantly amazed at the range of people who I have met since being on Twitter. I have amassed a little over 1,500 followers in the short time I’ve been on and that 1,500 includes people who I might never have met or had occasion to have a conversation with otherwise.

For instance, most of my Twitter-friends are either poets, writers, or bloggers, but I am also Twitter-friends with a voodoo witch doctor from the Mississippi delta, more than one hardcore gangsta’ rapper, a nudist or two, and a self-described marijuana enthusiast. In addition, I regularly tweet with an internet porn star and two female Twitter-friends who engage in sadism and masochism and run S&M sites.

The internet porn star always tries to get me to check out her site, but once I see you booty butt naked in various compromising positions, that changes the whole dynamic of the relationship. And the S&M ladies are always giving me relationship advice, telling me to try this or that, but the thought of being tied up and whipped on my naked behind with a riding crop just doesn’t do it for me.

I did buy studded leather thong drawers from one of their sites, but I threw them away after the first wearing because I couldn’t figure out how to get them clean, and I was too embarrassed to take them to my cleaners. Plus, the studded leather thong drawers made my naughty place sweat profusely and unnaturally.

In addition to all the people I have met, I have had to almost learn a new language. Because you have only 140 characters to express an idea, many of the most common terms must be truncated. For instance, thank you becomes simply TY. And by the way is BTW.

Some of my favorites though are WDDDA which means “where dey do dat at?” which is used to express surprise when confronted with something out of the ordinary, and ROTFLMBAO which means “rolling on the floor laughing my black ass off.” This one is to be used when something is extremely funny such that it forces you from your seat onto the floor where you roll around in raucous laughter until your behind detaches itself from your body. I have not had occasion to experience this phenomenon yet, but I have come close on occasion.

There are also acronyms that the tweet-peeps (that is how us real tweeters refer to ourselves) use to describe their lifestyles. I found out just yesterday that by adding LTL to your Twitter name identifies you as “Living the Life.” Now, “Living the Life” can mean one of several things. In the main, it means that you are “ballin’”, that you wear only the finest clothes and jewelry, drive only the finest cars, and drink only top shelf alcohol.

However, lately I am beginning to suspect that “Living the Life” means that you are being irresponsible with your flow (income) and spending money you don’t have on things that you don’t really need and that when I see you conspicuously and unexpectedly absent from Twitter for days on end, your fiscal mismanagement has caught up to you and your utilities to include your cable are probably in a state of suspension until you can get back on that come up (earn more money) so that they might be reinstated.

And I have learned even more useful terms as well. For instance, the other day my family and I were out and about all day and became very hungry. We stopped at a Chinese restaurant, and instead of me simply eating my meal, I “went in on it.” And I cannot tell you how much better the food tasted and how much more satisfying the meal was when I “went in on it” as opposed to simply eating it. Later in the week I “went in on” a McDonalds Filet-O-Fish with the same satisfying results.

Also, through Twitter I have been introduced to the concept of “going hard.” Recently I had a stack of papers to grade and a number of other tasks to perform, but instead of just approaching the tasks as I normally would, I decided to “go hard.” And before I knew it, I was completely finished and in record time. That going hard stuff really works, believe it or not.

So, thus far I have enjoyed my time on Twitter. Not only has it helped me to grow my readership and even keep me entertained at times, it has been a very educational experience. If you are not on Twitter, come on over and check it out. If you are and have not followed me yet, please do so and become a part of my Twitter experience.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Psychology behind Black Friday: The Big Bone Theory

Okay, Thanksgiving has finally come and gone, and I had a wonderful day. I hope you found equal enjoyment in the day.

And I am more than aware of the history of imperialism and genocide subtending the holiday; if we really view the holiday with a critical eye, it is almost as if the nation takes a day off and feasts in celebration of the decimation of a people.

However, even in light of this, I choose to observe Thanksgiving. Notice I didn’t use the word celebrate. I choose to spend the day with my family and friends. Sometimes life becomes so hectic that I get to see these people, even those living only a five minute drive from me, only infrequently, and this day becomes one in which we can all get together and put aside petty internecine quarrels and just enjoy each others’ company.

But I still cannot for the life of me understand the psychology behind Black Friday. Even as Thanksgiving wound down and we worked to sweep away the remains of the day, I could hear people making plans for Black Friday.

Some of them planned not to even sleep. They had set an itinerary that included visiting Toys R Us at twelve midnight, then swinging by Old Navy at three in the morning, followed by a trip to Best Buy at five, and ending with an excursion to Walmart.

As they formulated their plans, I watched their faces twist into masks of almost sinister, diabolical anticipation. Mothers who only moments before had lovingly prepared plates of food for their children and had gently swept the crumbs from their laps and wiped their cherubic little faces were suddenly given to masterminding hostile shopping forays into various locales throughout the city.

And as I looked on not knowing whether or not I should also be afraid, I wondered what drove them, what motivated them. What could transform mild mannered mothers and grandmothers into marauding shopping soldiers? Then I glanced across the room at my children’s dog, and I began to formulate a theory.

Sometime following Thanksgiving dinner, someone thought it would be hilarious to give my children’s nine pound rat terrier a huge ham bone. The bone was so big, almost as big as he is, that he could only move it inches at a time, but to the delight of the crowd, he doggedly (pun unintended) pushed and pulled that bone until he got it right where he wanted it, and then set to stripping it of whatever meat that remained.

Now he and his bare bone are ensconced in a corner where he vigilantly stands guard over it; however, the children are using his big bone ambitions to manipulate him. If they want him to go into another room, they simply grab his bone and protesting all the while, he follows behind. They are using the bone to force him to do all kind of tricks that I didn’t even know he knew how to do. Evidently, this dog is some kind of canine savant who has kept his talents hidden all this time.

And also I am seeing a side of him that I have never seen before. In his pre-big bone life he was a mild manner, playful little pup, but suddenly, when you get near his big bone, he turns absolutely viscous. This animal is suddenly exhibiting traits I never knew him to have, and it took the big bone to bring them out.

I may be oversimplifying this whole Black Friday thing a bit, but based on my empirical data, Black Friday is the simply the equivalent of my children’s little dog’s big bone. The department stores and other retail outlets offer us a big bone in the form of fantastic deals on merchandise that has been steeply marked up in the first place, and we lose our collective minds. We rush from store to store in the wee hours of the morning spending, and in most cases overspending, obscene amounts of money, and then we go home to sleep, consoled by the thought of how much stuff we managed to amass and how much we saved in the process of doing so.

Then a week later, the same stores run the same sales all over again. And as we get closer and closer to Christmas, and the stores get more determined and desperate to move as much merchandise as possible, the deals get even better, so we go out and spend even more money.

Come New Year’s when the spell wears off, reality sets in, and we begin to receive those credit card statements, we’ll all probably be cursing our collective selves. But I am not trying to chastise or criticize anyone. I just got way too much time on my hands today just to sit around and come up with stupid theories and philosophize about nothing.

Plus my wife and mother-in-law are out there somewhere in that barbarian horde of shoppers. When they left here, I could not even recognize them as the people I have grown to love over all these years. It was almost as if they were in some kind of trance. Their eyes were glazed over, and they moved methodically, robotically like cyborgs. So please don’t even tell her I wrote this, or she’ll probably return home and in her frenzied, out-of-mind state, hit me upside the head with that same big bone that inspired this post.

Recommended reading: “A Brief History of Black Friday

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wishing Everyone a Very Happy Thanksgiving

I must admit that I don’t understand the motivation and rationale behind Thanksgiving. Of course, I understand that Thanksgiving is a day set aside so that we might give thanks for the bounty of the past year, but I don’t really get the traditions behind the day.

So we give thanks by overindulging, by stuffing ourselves until we are utterly miserable? I have often questioned the rationale of showing thanks by engaging in a day of sanctioned gluttony. Just doesn’t really seem to make sense. Wouldn’t make better sense to show our thanks by spending a day of fasting and thoughtful reflection?

But who am I to go against the grain? Who am I to upset the applecart? So I will spend Thanksgiving indulging myself in direct proportion to those blessings that have come my way this past year, and those blessings have been many. In other words, I am going to make a pig of myself again this year, and by late this afternoon, I will be cursing myself for overdoing it once again.

But in all seriousness, I have plenty this year to be thankful for. I am thankful for having been blessed with a loving wife and wonderful children. I am thankful that we finish this year with a roof over our heads and food on the table; there are so many others who cannot make that claim.

I am thankful for the talents that have been given me. I am thankful for the opportunities I have been given this year as well as the opportunities that are to come. I am thankful for a future that looks bright.

I am thankful for supportive and understanding friends. I am even thankful for those who come against me; in responding and dealing with their negativity and opposition, I emerge on the other side a stronger, better individual.

I am thankful for the prayers of my mothers and my aunts and other family members and friends who continue to pray for me even when I am too foolish (or too arrogant) to pray for myself.

If I were too continue with those things I am thankful for, this list would continue ad naseum; however, there is one more thing that I feel I must give thanks for. I am thankful that I continue to have readers to come over and read my pitiful commentaries and occasionally leave a comment or two. Thank you and I wish you and your family and love ones a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Evolution Is Beautiful by Nature: The Revolution Inherent in Evolution

This morning I awoke and ventured over to my poet friend Poet Rhythm’s site, SisterGarten, where she has composed a wonderful piece dealing with musical artists and artistic evolution entitled “In the Shadows of Our Younger Selves.”

And even as I was finishing my comment on the post, the phone rang, and on the line was a cousin from home calling to see if I would be coming home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. As I spoke to him, a line from Poet Rhythm’s post suddenly came to mind—“Evolution is beautiful by nature”.

As a young person, everyone has that favorite cousin, that cousin a few years older than you that you completely idolize, that you follow doggedly behind and try to emulate in all things. Well for me, that cousin who phoned this morning is that cousin.

When we were children and young men, we were so close that when someone saw one of us, they naturally looked around for the other. However, as adults there is a certain distance between us, both literally and figuratively.

At one time after I left home, we spoke on the phone frequently, at least once a week. Then the frequency slowed to once every few weeks. Then, we spoke only every few months or so. Now we usually only speak when I drop into town.

And it’s not that my affection for my cousin has lessened in any way. I wish that we could speak more. I really wish that we could find more occasions to laugh together, to enjoy each other’s company. But now our conversations have ceased to be unique; each is an exact facsimile of the rest. The main topics he wishes to discuss are women, cars, and weed,and in that exact order.

Additionally, he still lives with his mother. He has several children by several different women which I suspect he doesn’t support because he only works enough to take care of his car, the only thing he owns. The attention he gives that car baffles me.

He is the same person I idolized as a young man, that I sought to emulate. And that is the problem.

I know so many people, and I meet so many people who seem unwilling or unable to change, to evolve. They are the same people today that they were last year. And the year before. And the year before that.

And I hear these people complaining, bemoaning the fact that they seem to find themselves in a rut, wishing that somehow, someway, something different, something spectacular, something dynamic occurs in their lives to make their lives better, but when you suggest that they might want to change a few things, they balk at the notion. Perhaps the familiar, even if it is inimical to their happiness, to their self-fulfillment, is more desirable than the unfamiliar as suggested by change.

But I believe change to be necessary. I see change as inevitable. In fact, to not change or evolve is unnatural. If you are the same person right now that you were last week, or last month, or last year, or five or ten years ago, something is wrong. To change, to embrace change, to embrace evolution is naturally beautiful.

To be able to stand back and take account of yourself, to be able to honestly assess and admit your faults and shortcomings, is a necessary part of change, of evolution, and is truly a revolutionary act. Most of us would rather close our eyes to the worst parts of ourselves and remain stagnant rather than evolve into the best person that we can possibly be.

But back to my cousin. I last saw him this past summer. In the cool of the evening, we sat under a shade tree in his mother’s front yard just as did as young people. We talked, we laughed, and we teased one another just as we did as young people.

And at some point in the evening we decided to walk to the corner grocery just as we had as young people. To my surprise, the corner grocery had not changed all that much since I had last been there about twenty years ago, except then it was owned by a Jewish family, and now it is owned by a Palestinian family.

When we returned from the store, he uncapped his quart of Colt 45 malt liquor, poured out just a bit for the brothers no longer with us, tilted the bottle to his lips, and took a long, deep swig. He then held the bottle in my direction just as he would have when we were young people. But at that moment I hesitated for just a moment before finally accepting the bottle and taking my turn.

When I gave the bottle back, he looked at me for a long second. And as he examined my face, I suddenly felt ashamed. I felt out of place. Suddenly this familiar front yard of this familiar house is this familiar neighborhood felt so strange, so foreign.

“You’ve changed,” he finally told me as he gazed at some unidentifiable point across the street. And as I struggled to come up with a rebuttal, as I struggled to come up with a reasonable argument to defend myself, he let me know that it didn’t matter. That he was proud of my change. He was proud of the man I had become. That he wished he too could change, but he simply did not know how.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Brown People

Recently while looking through a series of family photo albums, I ran across a photograph that I had all but forgotten about. It is a photo of my youngest daughter posed against a palimpsest of black people of varying hues. Her eyes are wide open as if she is surprised, and the biggest smile she could possibly muster is spread across her face. In front of her, her hands are clasped together in utter glee.

When I showed this old photograph to my wife, the two of us almost laughed until crying while remembering that moment and the events that lead up to it.

When my son and daughter were still very young and forming their view of the world, they perceived and spoke of everything around them literally. For instance, they divided their world to the extent of their knowledge into two groups of people—brown people and white people. And when a white classmate asked my daughter why she was black and how she got that way, my daughter promptly corrected her and informed her that she was not black; she was indeed brown.

But that incident sparked a journey of discovery on my daughter’s behalf to somehow learn all she could about brown and white peoples and the differences thereof. She became a keen observer of people. Often either my wife or I would catch her just staring at people, until one day she finally declared that she really could not tell the difference between brown people and white people except for their skin color.

Then one weekend, my wife and I took our children along with us to Tallahassee, Florida, as we went to celebrate Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University’s (FAMU) homecoming. And if you have ever been to Tallahassee, Florida, during FAMU’s homecoming week, you know that the locals pretty much vacate the city, leaving it to the family, friends, and alumni of the predominantly black university.

So, for a period of about a week, we were virtually surrounded by “brown people.” We dined with them and worshiped with them in attending an ecumenical service. We went to an old-school concert with them. We went to pep-rallies and tailgate parties with them. We even managed to catch a step-show, my children's first, the battle of the bands, and finally the game.

And this whole time my children’s eyes, especially my daughter’s, were big as saucers as my grandmother was found of saying. I don’t know if it was all the excitement and festivities; I don’t know if she was surprised by seeing so many “brown people” she did not know in one place. Nevertheless, she soaked it all in.

Then there was that one particular moment that occurred just as we were leaving the stadium. I’m not certain what happened, but as the crowd surged out of the stadium entrance, a bottle neck occurred preventing anyone from moving forward. And I expected the worse. I expected people to begin pushing and shoving and cursing one another, but that did not happened. Instead, the crowd, that huge throng of “brown people” broke into an impromptu rendition of the Negro National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as they swayed back and forth in time to the melody.

As a warm wave of emotion, well-bring, and community spread through the crowd, my daughter must have gotten caught up in the fervor of the moment because she suddenly threw her arms up in absolute delight and exhilaration, brought them down and in clasping them in front of herself exclaimed, “I JUST LOVE BROWN PEOPLE! I LOVE BEING A BROWN PERSON!” Those within earshot of her proclamation laughed at her temerity. It was at that moment that my wife snapped the picture.

Since then my daughter has learned a little more about the world. Since then the realities of race have become a bit clearer and a bit more complicated to her. Since then she has witnessed “brown people” at our very best as well as at our very worst. She often admits in frustration and utter disbelief that she cannot understand for the life of her why we act the way we do sometimes. But in the same instance, I watched her swell with pride on election night in 2008.

She had gone along with us as we canvassed neighborhoods and attended rallies and other campaign functions. She felt as if she was a part of and had helped contribute to the moment she was witnessing.

After her mother and I had finished laughing and reminiscing, we called her in, showed her the photograph and asked if she still remembered that moment. She just smiled, chuckled a little, and nodded her head yes. So, I went a step further. I asked her that in knowing all she knew about “brown people” now, did she still love them? Did she still love being a “brown person.”

She fingered the photograph for a moment, and she ran her finger across the backdrop of “brown people,” and she told me unequivocally, “Yes, I still do. And perhaps now more than ever. I love ‘brown people,’ and I really love being a ‘brown person.’”

It was really a moment for all of us which my son promptly ruined by only half playfully spouting some nonsensical stream of black power rhetoric in the background. I know that he loves "brown people" too. He just expresses it differently.

And by all means, love yourself and be a blessing to somebody today!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Have a Church Home (Gimme that old time religion)

Occasionally I have documented my frequent crises in faith here on my blog. As someone who views the world with a critical eye, those glaring contradictions in religious teaching and religious practice seem to stand out even the more and have caused me to shy away from organized religion. But as one raised in the church, as a scion of a family of ministers, the guilt of being out of church, of being outside the circle of fellowship always weighs heavily on my mind.

Yet, I’ve come to terms with this. After going from church to church and being thoroughly dismayed at what I’ve found, after watching the church seemingly change its mission and focus away from the more pressing needs of the community and toward more secular and political ends, after watching Christians seemingly become more critical and condemning of supposed sinners and not the sin, all the while ignoring their own propensity toward hypocrisy, I have chosen to follow Christ and not men; I have chosen to worship God in deed and not rhetoric while all the while praying and reading my Bible and seeking the Truth.

However, I always get tongue tied when faced with that one question: “Just where is your church home?”. That old feeling of guilt returns when I am forced to answer that I don’t have a church home. They become impatient and incredulous and, more often than not, insulted when I attempt to explain why.

But then on last evening during a moment of prayerful contemplation, I had a sudden revelation. My mind traveled back over a span of time to a specific moment in my life. And I realized that I do have a church home and have had one for quite some time.

In 1972, I joined and was baptized into the Cane Creek Road Missionary Baptist Church in the small, rural enclave of Bemis, Tennessee, right outside Jackson, Tennessee. That was the same year that a visiting church caused a scandal when, in the middle of a hymn, they jazzed it out a bit and began to sway in time with the music.

That year Cane Creek Road Missionary Baptist Church was an old turn of the century clapboard building that sat at the end of a long, winding, dusty, unpaved rural road. I don’t remember how the building was heated during the winter, but I do remember that during the summer, the deacons opened the windows in a vain attempt to catch a breeze from the outside while a row of rotating fans hanging from the ceiling did all they could.

But it seemed to never be enough because everyone, all the sisters in the church anyway, always seemed to be fanning themselves with those paddle like fans with advertisements for Stephenson-Shaw Funeral Home one side and a big picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. or John Kennedy on the other. And from my family’s place in the pews, out of the raised window I could see the cemetery adjacent to the church where generations and generations of my family were buried, where my grandfather and grandmother are now buried, where I have instructed my wife to spread my ashes in the event of my demise.

Cane Creek Missionary Baptist Church is the church my grandparents were married in. It is also the church in which my mother and her siblings were raised and baptized in and married in. And it is the church in which my first and most basic concepts of religion and Christianity were formed.

It is where I learned that love and not hate was the most important Christian message, that Christ has no respect of person, of position. It is where I learned the concept of community. It is where I learned to recognize and acknowledge and acknowledge the humanity in every human being.

The service was not aired on the radio or televised; perhaps no one even knew of the church’s existence outside those in the immediate community. But for that handful of people the church did reach, the experience was real. On Sunday morning and throughout the week, the church served God by serving the community from the highest member down to the very lowest member.

Its purpose, its mission, was one of uplift. It was there to provide solace and a place of respite to those trying to make the most out of an already precarious and complicated existence. And if I am not mistaken, despite my time away, despite the distance separating me from the brick and mortar edifice, I am still a member of that church; I have never abdicated my membership.

So, it took me a while to remember, to recall, but I do have a church home.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

According to my family, I need a makeover: Several new looks I am considering for fall

A weekend or two ago, I decided to go shopping to pick up a few clothing items for fall. However, much to my chagrin, my wife decided to turn my solo shopping trip into a family outing. So, we piled into the car and off we went to my favorite haberdashery. Well, actually it was to Dillard’s in the local mall, but haberdashery sounds way more upscale, so we’ll stick with haberdashery for now.

Anyway, when we arrive at Dillard’s the haberdashery, and I begin selecting pieces I like, but everything I pick up my wife and kids veto. I select a pair of shoes, but according to them, I already own similar shoes only in different colors. In fact, my son points out that the pair of shoes I was holding that I really liked looked just like the pair I was wearing. I got the same response when selecting shirts and ties. And they really rolled their eyes when I attempted to choose clothing I considered casual.

Now, I believe that I stay fly, whether the look is business or casual. However, according to my family, my fly-osity is in question. According to my family I am stuck in a time warp; I have been wearing the same thing, only in different colors, for at least the last twenty years or so. They produced the family photo album as evidence.

And furthermore, they insisted that before I buy another article of clothing, I seriously consider trying new looks. But they could not agree on what that new look should consist of. My children could only agree that I should do away with the polo shirts and khaki’s on the weekend and go with something hipper.

My wife thought I should do away with the button downs and loafers and go with something more fashionable, more current. Additionally, she thought I should add some color to my wardrobe, and do away with the navy blues, grays, and blacks. In her words, she would like to see me dress a little sexier.

So, I have pulled together a number of looks. Some are looks that appeal to me, and others are looks that were suggested. Won’t you help me decide which I should choose?

The Skinny Jean Look

This was my daughter’s idea. I informed her that I work in a professional environment and jeans were frowned upon, but she produced this photo of the Jonas Brothers to suggest that skinny jeans could be dressed up with the addition of a few accessories and the right footwear. But there is one deep philosophical question that has dogged man since the introduction of skinny jeans: “If I squeeze my big behind in a pair of skinny jeans, are they then still considered skinny jeans?”. Mull that question over of a moment.

The Badass Professor Look

In response to my daughter’s pop inspired skinny jean look, my son thought that I should go for a more radical, angry black man look, and he tendered this photo of some internet personality known as “The Badass Professor.”

So, I’m checking out this look. Perhaps, I can deal with this; I already have the bald head and beard, though my beard is not as impressive as his. However, I would have to seriously alter my deportment. You have to have attitude when wearing a look like this if only to dissuade snickers and comments about the hot pink shoes.

The Lenny Kravitz Look

I asked my wife to articulate just what sexy consisted of. She instead ticked off a list of celebrities she considered sexy. And Lenny Kravitz appeared at the top of that list. I’m confused here. If a light-skinned brother with an afro is sexy, what do you think of me, a brown-skinned ball headed brother?

But I don’t think this look would work for me anyway. How long does it take him to get dressed in the morning? And above all, I don’t think I am creative enough to put together an outfit like this. Possibly I would have thought of the leather jacket with the faux fur collar, but I would never have thought to overlay that with a crocheted sweater and then accessorize the whole ensemble with pearls and other assorted necklaces. Fashion need not be this complicated.

The Don Cherry Look

Possibly this look would fulfill my wife’s desire to see me insert more color into my wardrobe. Canadian ice hockey commentator for CBC Don Cherry is known for his, umm, unique wardrobe in which he makes very creative uses of color. His fashion sense is so renown that sites exist for the sole purpose of tracking his unique fashion choices. Take a look at this site, Don We Now Our Gay Apparel. Bright colors play in the entertainment sphere, but how would they play in academia?

The Andre 3000 Look

Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin has always been on the cutting edge of fashion. He seems to have this whole fashion thing down. As you can see from this photo collage, he can put together an outfit for any occasion. For those playful party times, I could wear the costume outfit from the top left wig and all. And because my chest would be bare, it would be considered sexy. As for the office, either of the outfits feathered on the right would do and these would fulfill the color requirement, plus I like to wear hats to keep the sun off my bald head. And the outfit on the bottom left could be worn on those casual days, though I suspect that I would sweat like a slave wearing this get up in Florida.

I’m leaning toward this look, but I have one more that I am seriously considering.

The Prince Rogers Nelson Look

I have been a long time Prince fan. In fact, the very first concert I attended alone was a Prince concert. But who can deny Prince’s superior, though unique, fashion sense?

When I showed the above photo to my wife, she informed me that I already had an outfit like this. She then went into our bedroom and returned with a pair of silk pajamas she bought me for Father’s Day a couple of years ago. She is such a kidder!

But this outfit has it all. It appears to be very comfortable, and I could wear it in situations calling for casual dress as well as situations calling for a more formal look. And you must admit, it is colorful and sexy. I just don’t know if they have those fly little boots in my size.

And in taking even further inspiration from the Prince Rogers Nelson book of fashion, how’s this look for those casual days around the office? I could change the Casual Friday game with this look! It is a perfect Casual Friday look for Florida where it is hot practically year round. And on those days when there is a little chill in the air, I could just throw on some leg warmers and a long purple trench coat without missing a beat.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When black conservatives speak in terms of "they" as opposed to "we," I can only shake my head

Let me preface all that I have to say this morning by point out that I am neither Republican nor Democrat. Nor am I an Independent. In fact, at this time I have no affiliation with or membership in any political party or organization.

I feel that I must begin with that disclaimer because in the past when I have been critical of any party or politician, I have been accused of being decidedly partisan. However, this cannot be further from the truth.

But if I must choose a category, a label, I would more than likely categorize myself as a pragmatist. When making any decision, political or otherwise, I measure the ideal against the reality and seek a solution in the nexus that lies between.

Now, having said that, allow me to begin this exposition. The other evening I had occasion to have dinner with a group of my colleagues, all of whom categorize themselves as conservatives. We get together every now or then just to talk and argue politics and other interesting news stories. The discussions do get heated, but we all manage to leave as friends. And I knew all of the gentleman present except two African Americans gentleman who were guests of one of the usual participants.

But as discussion ensued, something very curious happened. As we argued back and forth, as we conceded certain points while standing firmly behind others, the two African American conservative gentleman refused to concede any point. When the other conservatives reluctantly admitted, with more than a little embarrassment, the specter of racism that has become part and parcel of the conservative movement, they refused to do so. When the other conservatives lamented the lack of a coherent message, platform, or obvious leadership, they actually sneered at them.

If fact, these two African American conservatives were even more dogmatic in their responses than their white colleagues. It is almost as if they had absorbed every talking point from every right wing talk show and were repeating them verbatim. But this is not what disturbed me the most.

I was most dismayed when every time they spoke of African Americans and the African American community, they spoke in terms of “they” as opposed to “we”. In fact, at one point I corrected one of the gentlemen when he used “they,” by asking the question, “Do you mean we?”. But he only continued, this time emphasizing the word “they”. It is almost as if the two gentlemen had divorced themselves from the African American community completely. And they were most strident in their denunciation of that community, so much so that I could see the embarrassment on the other conservatives’ faces.

And don’t get me wrong. The problems in the African American community are myriad; however, I tend to believe these problems have more to do with class than race. But also keep in mind that past racism and discrimination have set the stage, provided the impetus, for many of these problems.

And even further, no political party has effectively addressed these problems. They have instead chose to settle for short term politically expedient balms as opposed to long term fixes.

But it appears that in considering the problems facing the African American community, black conservatives have taken to attacking the people and not the problem, the individuals as opposed to the behaviors. By framing the problems in terms of "they" and not "we", their problems and not our problems, thereby excluding themselves, they reveal a belief in a certain racial transcendence, a post-race America, that evidence does not support.

Certainly, racial transcendence is what we are working toward. Certainly, racial transcendence is at the very root of all African American civil rights efforts. We desire to be recognized and counted as individuals, not as a group. If I might paraphrase MLK, Jr., we desire to be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin.

But do you think those disrupting town hall meetings in protest of health care reform, those teabaggers holding up placards of an African American—let’s just suspend the fact that the African American in question is the president of the United States—clad in primitive garb with a bone through his nose, those representing him as a terrorist, those ripping up photographs of Rosa Parks and other icons of the Civil Rights Movement, do so without thought or regard to race?

If so, then why do they choose these particular images? Are there not other images that would better articulate their dissension, their grievances?

Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but when I hear Socialist, when I hear Nazi, when I hear alien, what I really hear is nigger, nigger, nigger; there is more than one way of referring to one by that racial epithet without ever articulating the word.

But let us suspend judgment for a moment. Maybe there is a certain thread of truth in conservatives’ arguments. Maybe the president along with the left is really plotting a Socialist takeover of the government. It is unlikely, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they actually believe this, and they are protesting out of love for country and nothing more.

Perhaps their solutions to the morass this country this country finds itself in are the best solutions though I still do not know what these solutions are because none have been put forward.

However, as much as I attempt to hear conservatives’ message, as much as I try to measure the reality against the ideal, I cannot hear, I cannot concentrate, I cannot even begin to think or reason above the din of the clamor caused by the ever increasingly racist rhetoric.

And because I am a prideful person, because I insist that in dealing with others they at least recognize and respect my humanity, I cover my ears and turn away. I will not be insulted and degraded to my face.

And also, I recognize the inextricable link between me and all other African Americans regardless of class, regardless of level of education, regardless of any other factor that might distinguish us, and I fully realize that in deploying this racist rhetoric, they are speaking in terms of the collective and not the individual. They are naming each and every one of us, not just a handful of those that seemingly will not conform to societal standards.

They speak in terms of “they” without respect of person or individual, and I refuse to take part in my own degradation by speaking in those exact terms.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Any answer to the question of African American progress is necessarily economic in nature

It had to have been the early seventies. I accompanied my uncle to a used car lot to look around, and found myself entranced by this red, shiny Cadillac parked in front of the car lot’s office while a mechanic poked around under the hood.

Soon, a gentleman I took to be the owner walked up and asked the mechanic poking around under the hood what he thought. The mechanic told him that the engine would soon be going and would need to be replaced.

The owner stepped by for a second, took his hat off and scratched his, and finally arrived at a decision. He told the mechanic that he was not prepared to put that much into the car. Additionally, he told him to just shine it up really well and put some new tires and hubcaps on it. He smirked as he finished the last sentence of his command: “Some nigger will buy it.”

And sure enough, I went into town with my grandmother and my aunt and there in front of the Madison County courthouse was that same red, shiny Cadillac with the hood up, except this time a young black man was the one poking around under the hood as a black woman and three children waited in the car. Out of sheer curiosity, I went over to get a good look at the tires as my grandmother and aunt spoke to someone they knew.

Despite evidence to the contrary, little by little, more African Americans are entering the middle class. Perhaps, that pace has slowed to a trickle; it is certainly not at the same rate as in the early seventies. But as we become more prosperous, are we being any smarter with our money?

The ongoing recession has exposed a weakness in the African American middle class. Many of my friends, many people I know, have managed to acquire all the accoutrements of wealth, the outward evidence of wealth, without building wealth. And as the recession has ravaged the nation, it has devastated the African American middle class. As the old saying goes, when America catches a cold, African American develops pneumonia.

And as we continue our climb onward and upward, the answer to any question of how we are to overcome the many obstacles in our path is essentially economical.

Keep in mind that economics brought us here in the first place; greed predates racism. The falsehoods and pseudo sciences supporting the hierarchy of being and the notion of race were all products meant to convince the church and the public of the inhumanity of Africans and other colored people so that they might receive their blessing, or at the very least their apathy, in their dehumanization of colored people the world over.

And it was not a certain change of heart, a great moral awakening, that forced the release, the manumission, of those held in bondage. The decision to even consider freeing the enslaved came about because slavery went against the ideology of the Republican Party. In 1860, the Republican Illinois gubernatorial candidate declared, “The great idea and basis of the Republican party, as I understand it is free labor…To make labor honorable is the object and aim of the Republican party.”

In other words, the presence of slavery debased the notion of labor and laborers, and even more importantly, Northern industrialists were nervous that should the South follow their model of industrialization, they could not compete with the slave labor.

Also, keep in mind that economic considerations were largely behind the gains won by the Civil Rights Movement. Every act undertaken, every strategy and tactic deployed in the Civil Rights Movement had been undertaken and deployed in the previous decade. However, two develops facilitated its success: the ability to send images long distances at rapid speeds and America’s aspirations as a world economic power.

It proved a hard sale to convince foreign nations, especially foreign nations run by brown and yellow people, of the unlimited opportunity available in America when the salesman were preceded by images of Negroes being sprayed with fire hoses and bitten by police dogs in the street. So, something had to give.

With the release of African Americans into the mainstream and into the middle class, you see a proliferation of images of African Americans on the television and the big screen. You see a proliferation of African Americans in public life. But these proliferations of images were designed to take advantage of the new prosperity this so called equality allowed.

And one last closely related analogy. I keep hearing and reading that the increase in the number of portrayals and representations of gays and lesbians in the media is evidence that Americans have become more acceptable of the gay and lesbian lifestyle. But I don’t believe this to be so. The rejection of marriage equality in various states stands as evidence.

But the reason we see the number of portrayals and representations of gays and lesbians in the various media, and the reason gays and lesbians seem to be acquiring more and more power is because sometime in the early nineties research and marketing professionals realized that gays and lesbians perhaps had more disposal income than any other group in America.

And with that revelation came the realization that to gain access to that disposable income, the various media would have to find or make opportunities for these portrayals and representations for advertisers to wrap their product around.

Although we are loath to admit it, wealth and power are necessarily commensurable in this nation. And for you to gain access to the latter, you must have the former. So it goes without saying, if African Americans are to move forward, if African Americans are to gain real power and influence, we must work to build economic muscle. We must work to build real wealth and not just to attain the outward evidence of wealth. And we must eschew the bright, red, and shiny even with new tires and hubcaps.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Is this world really getting worse, or is it just an illusion? Or does it even matter when our children are under assault?

At one time, somewhere around the middle of the semester I always assigned my freshman writing students a writing prompt designed to facilitate the development of their skills in composing a written argument. That prompt asked them simply,

"Is the world really becoming a more morally corrupt and dangerous place to live, or is this an illusion created by the ever increasing number of media and speed of communications which allows more information to be communicated across greater distances in a shorter period of time?"

This prompt came to mind recently when I sat down to compose a post commenting on the Richmond, California, case in which a number of people raped a fifteen year old girl following a homecoming dance as many watched and some even took pictures.

Even as I began that post, I still struggled with attempting understand the death of Somer Thompson. Somer Thompson was a seven year old girl who lived not far from me who disappeared on her way home from school. Police found her body several days later in a Georgia garbage dump about fifty miles from where she was abducted.

I think the Somer Thompson case really hit home because she lived so close to me, and from the moment authorities announced her disappearance, I and the rest of the community hoped against all hope that she would be found safe and sound. However, I think the discovery of her body shocked and dismayed the whole community.

And my mind went back to that prompt when today I learned of the fate of five year old Shaniya Davis. Shaniya’s mother reported her missing about five days ago, and after an extensive search, police found her body off a road near Sanford, North Carolina. Later it was revealed that she had not been kidnapped as reported, but instead her mother had sold her child to be used as a prostitute. According to reports, the actual police report states that the mother, “‘[K]knowingly profide[d] Shaniya Davis with the intent that she be held in sexual servitude’ and she ‘permit[ted] an act of prostitution’.”

I believe reports such as these affect us all; however, these reports are especially frightening, especially alarming to those of us who have children or even those of us with grandchildren or young nieces and nephews or any young people in our lives who we care for deeply and worry about incessantly.

Every since our children were babies, my wife got into the habit of getting up suddenly and frequently throughout the night and walking the entire length of the house to look in on the children, to see them, to touch them, to determine if they were still there and were alright.

And I teased her about this habit. But lately I have been making my own trips down the entire length of the house, and often we pass each other, one going and the other coming. Nevertheless, we continue our journey just so we might see for ourselves that our children are still there and they are safe.

When they are away from home, we don’t speak of it, but I know that in the back of each of our heads, we are wondering just what they are doing at the time and if they are okay. And when they are only a few minutes late arriving home from school, the panic begins to rise. We begin to peek out of the windows, and if necessary, walk to the end of the drive.

They are older now, and we would like to give them more freedom. We would like to see them explore the world, learn of the world on their own. After all, we will not be with them always, and in just a few years they will be out of our house and on their own. But even then I don’t think we will ever quit worrying about them, fretting about their safety.

But is this world getting worse, or is it just an illusion? At one time I would have chosen the latter. At one time I sincerely believed that we are no worse off than before, that we now simply have access to so much information that in the past we would never have known that we simply are imagining a monster in every closet, under every bed. However, I don’t know now; I really don’t know.

Perhaps, it has happened previously, but I don’t ever recall a fifteen year old being raped while others looked on and took pictures. I honestly don’t ever recall so many children disappearing only to turn up dead or never turn up at all. And certainly, I have never heard of a case when a mother sold her own five year old child into prostitution.

Perhaps, I am simply growing old. Perhaps, I am just becoming more cynical. Nevertheless, I cannot help but be frightened for my children. I cannot help but be frightened for all children. Maybe it is an illusion. Maybe it is not. But what difference does it even make when our children seem to be under assault from all corners?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Max Reddick Supports Single Mothers

I have a friend, a very good friend; her beauty and spirit never cease to amaze me, to intrigue me. And my friend also happens to be a single mother.

We communicate fairly often though not as often as we once did. However, in the middle of the night while I am up thinking, writing, enjoying the solitude, I sometimes get forlorn, frantic messages from her: “Did you read what she said today? Can you believe that? I think she is singling me out.”

Evidently, somewhere out there in cyberspace an African American woman runs a site for women that seems to disparage single motherhood. The site seems to find fault with those who just happen to find themselves raising their children on their own. But I don’t think the blog author means to be disparaging. I really don’t. However, I do see how her commentary might be misinterpreted that way.

And for a young single mother already questioning the choices she’s made, already trying to piece together a life out of the emotional fragments of a failed loved affair, already trying to find her way in a world that seems dead set in preventing her from moving onward and upward, already struggling with the many exigencies of raising a child or children alone, I see how the blog author’s remarks might seem disheartening and sometimes insulting even.

So I try to calm my friend. I try to offer whatever salve I have for wounds—a poem, a short story, a song, a bawdy joke—but nevertheless I don’t think it is ever enough. So, I try to simply let her know I understand, that about eighteen years or so ago for a timeframe of about a year and a half, I too found myself in the situation of being a single parent.

Mostly what I remember about that time frame is the constant fatigue that dogged me. And I remember having to set aside my dreams, my aspirations for the sake of someone else. I remember being lonely, very lonely for the company and affection of another adult.

I had to work to keep a roof over our head and so that we could continue eating. I did get child support, but even with that support, it seems like I was always short of cash, always behind playing catch-up, always struggling. So , I had to take extra hours at work, but when I did so, I always felt so guilty about being away from my child for such long periods of time. Not only that, I had to make time for karate and football practice and the many other extracurricular activities children participate in.

And when he came to stay with me, I was in school pursuing my degree, but school became the first casualty. I found that school and work and parenting seemed so unmanageable, so I limped through that semester, and it would be almost a year before I could resume my studies.

Also, in seeking out companionship of the opposite sex, I was always tried to remain cognizant of the fact that I had a young one at home; I did not want to give my son the wrong idea about relationships between men and women by parading a string of women in front of him. And perhaps I was not always as cognizant as I should have been, but I did my best.

But the greatest effect I believe this period to have had on my son was the absence of an alternate worldview. In other words, because I am male, the way in which I attempted to raise my son, and the values I attempted to inculcate in my son, were informed by my positioning as a black male. And at that time I had that whole manly man thing going, so I didn’t see the need to hug him or to teach him that it was okay to feel and show emotion; I thought it would make him a soft man. However, looking back now I realize that perhaps had I sometimes placed my arms around him and hugged him and told him I loved him that perhaps he may have been an even better person because of it, especially during this period of adjustment following the split between his mother and me.

But I was blessed to have found someone who would eventually become my spouse who joined with me in assisting me in raising my son. Not only that, his mother always remained in the picture and partnered with me in assuring that my son had those things he needed both emotionally as well as materially.

In addition, I don’t think I ever felt the stigma often associated with single parenthood as I understand many women to feel. Many people judge single mothers without ever taking the time to consider how they came to be single mothers in the first place or judging the father by the same standards.

Recently a colleague informed me that she used her married name for fifteen years following her divorce simply because she didn’t want to be judged by outsiders, and she didn’t want her children to be stigmatized in school as being the children of a single mother. But because I was a single father, which perhaps was fairly rare at the time, people bent over backwards to help me, to praise me. And that sentiment perhaps still exists.

However, I do know that with time things will get better. But for the time being, keep in mind those things you want for you and your child or children. For the time being, decide what you want for yourself. Then seek out every opportunity that will move you closer to these goals, every opportunity that will make the lives of you and your child or children better.

And surround yourself with a network of people who will not judge you and offer you the emotional support you need and go about the business of raising your child or children. And if it means anything at all, you have my undying understanding, admiration, and support. I know firsthand that it ain’t easy, but you are doing it. You are doing it.

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