Monday, August 18, 2014

John Oliver on the Nazi-fication of the Police in the United States

I am so furious and horrified about what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, that I can no longer bear to follow the news. But John Oliver got me to watch this 15-minute clip by reminding me that one can tell the truth, make the power visible, and speak the truth to that power, all while making those in power look just as insane as they really are.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rest in Peace, Michael Brown

Labi Siffre tells us why those cut down in their youth by run-amok "authority" figures must not die in vain. He came out of self-imposed retirement in 1985 to write and perform this song after seeing a South African film clip of a White soldier shooting at Black children.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Get On Up!

I woke up this morning already knowing I was going to see "Get on Up", the new James Brown movie that opened this weekend ("in a theater near you!"). When I read the backlash on Facebook against the movie for being made by White folks to the exclusion of Black film-making professionals other than the actors, I dismissed it, frankly. I get it. Believe me, I know there are Black professionals who can do anything a White person can. And I know Black folks are sick unto death of White folks making money from exploiting them in one way or another. It's gone from slavery to private prisons with sports and entertainment folded in for good measure. And I make it a  point to buy books and films written and produced by talented Black creators for just that reason. But I'm not going to disrespect the Godfather of Soul for anybody. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Anyway, while I was thinking about all this, I came across an essay by Kevin Alexander Gray entitled "The Soul Will Find a Way" (re-posted after the page break below). It was published several years ago on Counterpunch and it's about James Brown, but in order to do proper justice to the subject, Gray had to go deep and stay long. He wrote about growing up in a rural county in South Carolina (where Brown was also from). He wrote about being poor and Black. He wrote about love and violence. He wrote about funk and pain and glory. And by the time he cut me lose, I was limp and sweaty and remembering my youth.

See, the thing is I was born on top of a mountain in Southeast Kentucky to a pretty young woman with a knockout body and the newly returned soldier she married for his allotment check. Eventually, she told me she thought he would never come back, but life disappointed her that way many times as the years went by. And between the two of them, they made my life strange and sometimes hellish and what doesn't kill you makes you strong, they say.

I learned early what women are for in Appalachia and the buried knowledge made me tough, as buried knowledge will. But I was too intelligent to be able to accept my lot in life and so I shut myself off from other people except on the most superficial levels. And in one way or another, I have spent most of my days on Earth in that space.

Though he was writing about Black folks, Gray's essay took me back to my roots because I'm a woman from Appalachia who discovered the Black community like an explorer looking for a land she had only heard of once in a lullaby. I've never understood it all. Why I felt so drawn to include and be included by those I was forbidden to know. Why I bulldozed the boundaries between us and walked out onto the dance floor with my Black partner in 1961 when I was barely more than a child. Why I felt more comfortable with Black folks than with "my own people." Why I wound up bearing a bi-racial child out of wedlock in my thirties. How and why I learned to cross the great divide DuBois called the Color Line until my soul belonged where my skin never could.

The cost has been great because I became one of the "regulars," and not always because I was wanted. Like the feral cat that keeps trying to run into the house when you open the door, I refused to take no for an answer. And I can't explain it.

"You're not really White," I've been told for decades. Black students tell me they come to sit in on my classes sometimes to "get in touch with their Blackness." Black student groups ask me to speak or sit on panels because, they tell me, "you say things that need to be said, but nobody else will say them." And my loneliness after accepting the hugs from one after another before I leave the building is palpable.

But I remember the moment in time when the lightening struck. I was seventeen and had been ushering for plays at the theater in our city so I could watch them for free. As a reward, we were offered the perk of ushering for the Dick Clark Show that was passing through town. The show was jam-packed with popular stars of the moment and as I sat in the dark mezzanine watching Paul and Paula, Gene Chandler, and The Ronettes, I was enjoying it all, but I was my usual reserved self. Until The Tymes, I think it was, came out and performed one of their hits and swung me out into the Universe never to return.

It wasn't their voices that did it. It was the dance routine. Four Black men moving in perfect synchronicity and from somewhere deep inside me, I suddenly felt a scream rip its way up through my body and burst from my open mouth. I lost my cool completely in a way that never happened again. I never forgot that moment and I never recovered from it. But I didn't really understand its significance until I read Gray's essay and then it all came together. Four men descended from Africa, down through four hundred years of pain and anguish that produced a strength so beautiful that it was grace incarnate in African-inspired choreography. And the spirit that brought them through the fire, bringing the music with them, reached out and touched the spirit in my soul.

Twenty years later, a Black woman I had just met told me she knew the minute she saw me that I had been "shocked by the culture." Today, as I read Gray's essay and watched Get On Up and reconnected with my own personal journey of music and dance, the celebration of life I felt encompassed all the kaleidoscope of feelings that take a human into the fullness of their being. I am grateful for whoever it is I am and I am endlessly grateful for the knowledge that I am not, after all, alone.

James Brown and Kevin Alexander Gray and millions of others living and dead walk with me. And I with them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Anthony Hamilton: "Comin' From Where I'm From"

I'm posting this not because Anthony Hamilton is mega-talented (which he is) and not because all Black men have had exactly this experience (which they haven't necessarily) and not because I want to paint all women as disloyal and dysfunctional, with issues (which depends on a bunch of stuff, not the least of which is the patriarchal socialization with which we're all infected). I'm posting it because the emotions Hamilton is demonstrating here are about more and deeper than we want to think about.

White folks -- and even plenty Black folks -- want to bury this knowledge and pretend that "success" for Black men in America is just a matter of pulling their pants up and talking "proper" (White) English. It's way, way more complicated than that. And we all know it. Props to the Black men who keep on keepin' on. Somehow.

Change is constant. And nothing. lasts. forever.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Angela Davis on Palestine, G4S, and the Prison Industrial Complex

With Israel's aggression against Gaza currently demanding our daily attention, here is a YouTube video of Angela Davis speaking in Great Britain last year about Palestine, G4S (a hyper-security enterprise operating now in 120 countries), and how both relate to the treatment of undocumented immigrants and the prison industrial complex. It starts out slow, but hang in there. I promise you that you won't be sorry.

The department and university where I teach are bringing Angela Davis to our campus to speak this fall and I, for one, am very excited at the prospect. She is one of my heroes for a range of reasons, has been for a long time, and continues to raise the bar for me as the years go by. I give you Angela Davis.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunni Patterson: "We Made It!"

I have posted this before, but this needs to be viewed again and again. Because it's true. And true is as good as it gets.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr.: "We're Coming To Get Our Check."

This is a short clip that will help you to understand why Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot by an off-duty police officer to stop him from kicking off the Poor People's Campaign. At the time of this speech, the Campaign was gearing up to march poverty-stricken people -- of all skin tones -- across the country and right into Washington. The woman you see after the clip of MLK speaking is Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver adding her two cents worth.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Muddy Waters: "I Am The Blues"

When Muddy Waters sang that he was the blues, he was, of course, singing for all People of Color and most particularly, all Black people in the United States throughout its history. I can write about race and I can talk about race and I can teach about race. I can close my eyes and conjure up the nightmares of my childhood and my often disheartening and sometimes horrific treatment as a woman. I can look back on the sorrows that made me who I am. But I've never woken up Black in America and I can't sing, "I'm the blues."

After posting this, I'm going to post two more short videos over the next couple of days. All three are about the blues. The first is about being the blues. The second is about why Black Americans are still the blues. And the third is about how being the blues has turned Black Americans into the strongest people on earth.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Morris Dees: "We Should Call It What It Is"

From time to time, I read or hear about how some White people are perceived by some People of Color as having made a career out of fighting racism, benefiting economically or otherwise from their work which is seen as taking away from Black people who should be getting all the attention related to (and any benefits of) the struggle against White Supremacy. Indeed, Malcolm X once told a young White woman that there was "nothing" she could do to help his cause. But in his famous speech on "The Ballot or the Bullet" in 1964, he also said, "We will work with anybody, anywhere, at any time, who is genuinely interested in tackling the problem head-on." Later, that same year, in a speech at Oxford University in England, he said, "And I, for one, will join in with anyone -- I don’t care what color you are -- as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth."

I've been paying attention to and supporting the work of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, for decades. Today, Dees sent out the following statement related to the continual and continuing attacks on President Barack Obama because of his skin tone. I think it states the case succinctly and I'm re-posting it here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Speaking Truth To Power

Melissa Harris-Perry presented a segment on her television program recently featuring Tianna Gaines-Turner, a young Black woman who testified before a Congressional Committee on the struggle of living in poverty. Folks like Harris-Perry and Congresswoman Barbara Lee -- who are Black women, y'all, in case you still think it can't be done -- use their position and voices to empower others. Here's to speaking truth to power, no matter who you are. And here's to Tianna Gaines-Turner for proving yet again that ordinary humans, given the opportunity to step into the limelight, can shine like stars.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Shell Shocked"

A couple of months ago, I came across "Shell Shocked", a new documentary about African-American youth who are growing up -- and dying young -- in New Orleans. I checked out the trailer, ordered my copy immediately, and then sat on it for months while I was screwing up the courage to watch it.

I could tell by the trailer it had been well done. And I already knew what to expect since I live 45 miles from New Orleans and have taught literally hundreds of students who commute from there on a daily basis. I spend a good bit of time every semester, in fact, working my butt off to help shell shocked Black youth hang in there another day while they're trying to overcome the effects of their experiences, which are sometimes on-going.

Young men come into my office on a regular basis, shut the door, and weep as they wrestle with their pain and their feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and even terror that, despite their determination and their dreams, they won't live to graduate. Some, as they approach graduation, stress about younger brothers and sisters or come in to grieve the loss of yet another family member or friend.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Playing for Change: War/No More Trouble

A couple of weeks ago, a specialist put me on insulin injections four times a day. While the process of trying to stabilize this new reality is careening through my life on a physical, psychological, and emotional roller coaster, I'm often in odd states of one kind or another. It's making ordinary daily affairs (like blogging) a bit trickier than usual. In the meantime, one thing I'm clear on: there's too much injustice, too much cruelty, and way, way too much war. I'm gonna work at stayin' alive, y'all. Let's work together to make sure there's a world we can stay alive in. Shall we?

Monday, July 07, 2014

Mississippi Freedom Summer: Bob Moses on Reality Asserts Itself

Part 1

There's a new news source in Baltimore, Maryland, operating as The Real News. It appears to intend to become a formidable contender for our attention and they certainly got mine recently when they ran a series of film reports I knew immediately I must watch and share with you. The series is called "Mississippi Freedom Summer" and features Bob Moses, who was an organizer with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee back in the day, being interviewed by Paul Jay on his program "Reality Asserts Itself."

I waited until they were finished with the whole series so I could upload it all in one post. I don't know what you're going to do, but I had to watch all nine segments one after another because it's that good. It takes us back to 1964 and captures for us in the present a modicum of the tension the civil rights workers had to live in and with during those demanding times.

Friday, July 04, 2014

A Note To Flag Wavers On The 4th Of July

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not your typical "patriot." I don't believe this country has been Numero Uno in any particularly positive way for a long time, if ever. I know what the reality of our unvarnished history as a nation has been and it hasn't been pretty.

On the other hand, I don't want to live anywhere else at this point in time. I like my creature comforts. I just don't think they're more important than life -- my own or anybody else's. I'm happy to pay my taxes. I do wish the government would spend my share on things that meet the needs of the population and address issues of human sustainability instead of trying to bully other nations (because it never ultimately works) or funding local SWAT teams to kick people's doors down unnecessarily.

So I'm pretty low key on July 4th. I don't even own a flag. And I despair of folks who fly them after dark, in the rain, and when they're tattered (all of which are blatant breaches of flag etiquette). I'm grateful I'm a U.S. citizen, but maybe being born into a dysfunctional family teaches you early on how to love an institution you really can't celebrate. And, anyway, I'm clear as a bell that the government is not the nation.

But many U.S. citizens (a goodly portion of which will be in the streets in one way or the other today) don't feel the same way I do. They'll be wearing red, white and blue. They'll be flying plastic flags from their car antennas. And they'll be singing "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the top of their lungs (no matter how far off key). This post is for them.

Monday, June 30, 2014

For Tonight and Forever: American [R]evolutionary Grace Lee Boggs

Last night, I got the opportunity to preview a film that debuts on PBS stations nationally tonight. The title is "American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs" and it's only an hour and twenty minutes long, but it took me over two hours to watch it because I kept pausing the film to make sure I didn't miss a single minute while I was writing stuff down. Six pages of stuff. Not so much "notes" for this post as quotes I want to remember. "American Revolutionary" is more than a film; it's an experience. And Grace Lee Boggs is more than a 99-year-old revolutionary. She's a force of nature.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou: "The Master's House Is Burning -- bell hooks, Cornel West, and the Tyranny of Neoliberalism"

I'm not sure why, but many intellectuals make a lot of people nervous. In my not so humble opinion, intellectuals are not necessarily more intelligent than other people. In fact, I've known some who were not even particularly bright, if you know how to tell the difference. They just use bigger words or more complicated sounding reasoning because they learned how to do that and, in the process, developed an exaggerated perception of their ability to prove it -- without, unfortunately having anything worth saying to add to the conversation.

On the other hand, some intellectuals -- no matter how much they intimidate their listeners -- are not trying to and truly do have some knowledge to drop. bell hooks and Cornel West are two such intellectuals. Nevertheless, from time to time, for whatever reason, somebody who either can't or simply doesn't want to understand what they're saying tries to take a pot shot at something they've said. Last month, ran an op-ed piece by the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou addressing some criticisms against them and, in the process, not only clarified their ideas, but added a few of his own. I give you:

"The Master's House Is Burning: bell hooks, Cornel West, and the Tyranny of Neoliberalism"
by Rev. Osagyefo Sekou

Dee-1 on Jay, 50 and Weezy

Music, literature, food, clothing, and language (including slang) are all part of our shared and very popular culture. Pop culture bobs and weaves, shifts and changes, adds and subtracts, reaches back and jumps forward in all directions and constantly. And in doing so, it continually spins our human tale of woe and glory. Here's one man who believes it's time for us to take a hard look at where we are and where we maybe need to be instead.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Diriye Osman: Why We Must Tell Our Own Stories

Somalia has appeared in the U.S. news often in the last year or so. When I read this essay by Diriye Osman, I knew immediately that my readers needed to see it, as well, to develop a better, more complicated, and more beautiful perspective on this culture and its diverse population and what at least one Somali writer has to share with us about the human condition there, here, and everywhere.

"Why We Must Tell Our Own Stories"
by Diriye Osman

Monday, June 23, 2014

Using Public Schools To Make Sure White Supremacy Continues

One of the things I pay a lot of attention to in the parish where I live is the fifty-year long process of refusing to racially integrate the public schools so that every student will get the same quality of education. By this I mean adequate books, libraries, equipment, fully trained culturally competent teachers and administrators representing all ethnic groups in the region, and school disciplinary policies that reflect a commitment to embracing all children to maximize their potential as future citizens. This is not currently happening and has at no point ever happened here, as 5th Circuit Judge Ivan Lemell will attest.

It's not reassuring to discover that we're not the only ones. And, unfortunately, it's not encouraging that we're hearing more about what is being called the "re-segregation" of the public school system nationally. I have long since realized that the public being aware of stupid, mean-spirited, classist, sexist, and White Supremacist practices and policies will do exactly nothing to fix social problems until that same public understands that these practices and policies are causing and will continue to cause problems for all of us in several ways.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

If Black People Said The Stuff White People Say

I've been on hiatus for nearly two months now and y'all just sit patiently (as it were), knowing I'll be back, knowing this blog is my partner for life, knowing you're never far from my mind.

I crashed and burned again at the end of this semester. Worse than usual even. Depressed, exhausted, done, done, done. So bad I had to implement an actual campaign of recuperation. Reading novels. Watching Netflix. Taking afternoon naps. Talking to my therapist. Lying in the grass watching the clouds drift overhead. I even gave up coffee. And it still took weeks to begin to believe I might eventually return to the land of the living. (*shakes head ruefully*)

The good side to hitting bottom, though (and yes, Virginia, there is a good side to hitting bottom), is that it forces you to re-evaluate and even let go of some stuff, to change your perspective, to find a new level of self-acceptance, to embrace reality.

The subsequent problem, of course, is that when you begin to feel better, there is always the possibility -- if you're as OCD as I am after being raised with a performance standard that accepts nothing less than perfection -- you might pick up everything you let go of -- again. Hopefully -- this time -- I will not do that. Especially since, as was suggested to me the other day when I was getting a massage, if I don't learn to let go of the illusion that I must fix (and be in control of?) everything, I might have to come back and do this again to learn it (please, no!).

So, a couple of days ago, I posted the online Introduction to Sociology course I have to teach in July to pay my August rent. And I'm taking baby steps back to you today, hoping that I've learned my lesson. We'll see.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Muhammad Ali Recites A Poem For The Ages

This was part of an interview with Muhammad Ali on Cathal O'Shannon's television show in Ireland back in the day. The poem he recites (which is about the uprising at Attica Prison in New York in 1971) is beautiful and moving and I've never even heard it mentioned before today.

Notice how, after his recitation, The Champ took the opportunity to make clear that, while we have our own particular nightmares, the struggle for freedom crosses all boundaries. As a leader in the army of Black resistance, he was one of the first in the world (on any side) to publicly acknowledge this, catching hell from some for it and confusing others.

Many are only just now beginning to embrace this truth. Our situations are not the same, but we will never win without supporting each other fully in our struggles. In order to offer full support, we have to respect each other. And respect -- then -- gets respect. Black people are much better at this than White people are, by the way.

What constitutes respect? Well, Black Americans are still waiting for White folks to see them as whole human beings and full citizens in the land of their birth. Once that happens, a lot of other stuff is going to take care of itself. What gets in the way? White folks thinking that nobody deserves that but them. Sigh.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Terry Young, Jr.: "When Refusal to Worship Whiteness Is Called 'Racism'"

I really appreciate my Facebook connections -- the ones I know personally and even the ones I do not actually know, but who feed my intellectual and political soul as regularly as I eat my breakfast, which I assure you is daily. I make no apologies for this. I am not wasting my time. And while I have a subscription to the local daily newspaper produced in the little town where I live, I wouldn't think of skipping my Facebook feed for a day (especially now that I can check it on my phone).

The essay I'm re-posting today (which was originally posted on The Hampton Institute) is a perfect example of why.

Apparently, the writer, Terry Young, Jr., lives in Baton Rouge (which is not too far from me), so besides offering me an opportunity to re-post something with which I'm in complete agreement while showcasing what I consider to be a real critical writing talent, I've now been made aware of a person I want to contact to make a possible presentation on our campus. I'm a sucker for an unexpected "buy one/get two free" option. Not to mention the fact that Young turns us onto a fine YouTube video featuring Toni Morrison. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

An Open Letter To Chokwe Antar Lumumba

I know we're not connected in any personal sense, Mr. Lumumba, but writers sometimes feel compelled to wax eloquent or even intimate to and about humans they probably will never meet. I make no apology for butting into your business. I love you from a distance and I'm going to tell you why.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Albert Woodfox Speaks To The Experts

This past weekend, I visited Albert Woodfox for the umpteenth time in the last five years. All but one of the visits have been at the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, Louisiana, five hours from where I live.  At the beginning, it was a grueling trip because I wasn't used to it and I have to go up on Saturday and come back the following day for a total of ten hours behind the wheel in one weekend. Sometimes it rains and once, it poured all the way up and all the way back.

I know I could take someone else along, but visiting somebody that's been in solitary confinement for what has now been forty-two years is emotionally draining and I don't want to have to be nicer than I really am for two solid days when I've been visiting people in prison since 1971 and every visit eats my lunch.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, R.I.P.

"There are prisons made of brick, steel and mortar. And then there are prisons without visible walls, prisons of poverty, illiteracy and racism. All too often, the people condemned to these metaphorical prisons -- poverty, racism and illiteracy -- end up doing double time. That is, they wind up in the physical prisons, as well. Our task, as reasonable, healthy, intelligent human beings, is to recognize the interconnectedness and the sameness of all these prisons, and then do something about them." ~ Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Trombone Shorty: "You and I (Outta This Place)"

I don't really like to post music that isn't accompanied by a kick-ass video. But I picked up this cd the other day and the second cut almost made me pull the car over so I could focus on the words.

Sometimes, when I'm trying to get through to people -- in a classroom, around a table in a restaurant, chilling with students at the library, standing around at a cocktail reception for a bunch of middle class writers and their upper class aficinados -- I look at the expressions on the faces around me and wonder how I wound up in this place. I don't mean Louisiana. I think I've figured that out. I mean this place where I seem to be speaking some language I brought with me from some former life or other planet. The troubled blankness in my listeners' eyes, the confused tilt of their heads as they try to decipher what the hell I could possibly be talking about, the wary caution of their demeanor if they happen to be Black around White people and I start doin' my thing -- I look from face to face to face and check the body language, all the time my mouth goin' a mile a minute while the oxygen leaves the room.

Then I read a post like Lindy West's or run across a film clip of a young Black woman owning her space or I hear a song like this one and I know for sure that I'm just one of millions of men and women of all body types and skin tones and nationalities and sexual orientations and religions (or lack of religion) that threaten the system by our very existence whether anybody gets us or not. Yeah.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Amnesty International: Free Albert Woodfox Now!

A billboard campaign to mark the 42-year
commemoration launched in New Orleans yesterday.

This statement was released yesterday by the Campaign to Free the Angola 3:

As we mark the 42nd year since the tragic and as yet, unsolved murder of Angola correctional officer Brent Miller, and the 42nd year since Albert Woodfox was first put in solitary for a crime he didn't commit, we are confident that it will be the last.  We remain hopeful that the 5th Circuit will finally side with justice and affirm Judge Brady's second decision to throw out Albert's conviction once and for all.  Although he will then have to petition for bail and potentially face a retrial, freedom will not be far behind.  With the civil case only months from trial, thousands of others who languish in long-term solitary could soon have the necessary legal precedent to challenge their conditions as constitutionally cruel and unusual.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Loretta Ross: On the Origin of the Term "Women of Color"

So-called "White" people (whatever "White" is perceived to be) have a tendency to discount whatever People of Color say or even People of Color themselves before they open their mouths. Listen (really listen) to Loretta Ross for just three minutes and you'll see why that practice is stupid and even, quite possibly, dangerous. This woman obviously brings great intelligence, insight, and analysis to the table. She should be at the table more often and much, much more publicly.