Entries Posted in "June 2004"
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Ray Charles 1930-2004
June 10, 2004
My word. Ray Charles died today at age 73. These things are indicators of time. People you thought would always be around pass on and I'm once again reminded that time waits for no one. I'm way too young to talk about the "good 'ole days", but I will always remember Mr. Charles' Pepsi commercial a la "You got the right one baby!" Uh huh.
Everything I Ever Learned Was Wrong...Well, Some of It At Least
Sometimes you forget, people really are that ignorant. La Shawn Barber has an interesting discussion going on in her comments section about afroscentricism; a philosophy whereby black people are put at the center and root of all things; a philosophy with which I also happen to disagree. But that's not really my issue. What prompted me to write was not the post (which was good by the way), but the comments. Mike wrote:
Yes, white people made this country. There are many reasons for that, not the least of which was slavery. Blacks were not allowed to get an education. Therefore, they had little impact.
Those that did were always celebrated. Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and MLK. But there is no reason to celebrate someone simply because they were black and did something notable. Many people of all races did something notable, and there is little room in textbooks to discuss everyone. Often those who are covered are granted space simply because they were "the first black" or "the first woman" to do something.
Let's celebrate accomplishment, not skin color.
Oh yes he did. Go. There. I can't give this any more energy than it's worth, but I thought I'd post it so I can go back into my archives and read it one of these days when I need some motivation. I will say this: as pagan as they were, there were some other folks here before the white man. We don't really talk about them too often. But enough about that. What did
catch my interest was the proposition of another commenter going by the name of "Frank" who wrote:
Afrocentrism? Give me a break.
What Black American child really gives a d**n about "African Culture?" They are Americans. This stuff is only for the self-indulgence of the teachers.
More useful would be teaching Classical literature, with an elective on Black Americans who have "made it" in spite of Jim Crow etc..These are some of the finest Americans and should be role models - not preachers who can only bleat out loud about "social justice" but not get much done.
Someone was kind enough to step in and gently correct dear Frank with facts proving that indeed black kids do
give a hoot about African Culture. But this whole thing of Classical Literature is what got me. We should only be teaching kids classical literature? Yeah, okay.
When I recall my days of history and english classes, most of the books we read that were classified as "Classical Literature" were usually dry, circular arguments written by crusty, old, white men. This doesn't discount the fact that there are dry, circular arguments written by crusty, old, black men too; we were just never forced to read those books. Lord knows it would have been a nice change, but I digress. I do assume that said individual realizes "Classical Literature" is actually a very narrow group of elite books, many of which will always conjure up the sensation of dry heaving by former high school english students everywhere. I don't discount all Classical Literature, as the philosophies of many classical writers have shaped our culture today. My problem is less with the "category" and more with the fact that a good half of classical authors were raving lunatics while the rest were mostly strung out on some form of narcotics, namely, cocaine. And these are the people from whom we gain "great insight"? I remember being the only one in my class to even remotely find fault in the teachings of Freud. What was that he wrote about Man/Boy/Mother/Lovers? Everyone else seemed fine with the fact that this guy should have been committed from day one.
Some of the absolute worst books I've read in my entire life would fit into the category of "Classical Literature". I never quite understood it, but at some point in history, many classical authors were proverbially "knighted" and now we think the sun shines out of their rotting backsides. How many countless students must we torture by dragging them through Charles Dickens' Great Expectations? It's just not right I tell you. But back to this required reading thing. Throughout most of my history classes, I drudged my way through Calvin, Hobbs, Marx, Hamilton, Tolstoy, and later Zinn to name a few. It was all ghastly boring, and much of it didn't make sense. Life only got more confusing. Around my senior year in high school, I was introduced to existentialist thought or existentialism via 75% of the authors we were forced to read in english class. If you're not familiar with existentialism, I suggest you become so since it has infiltrated much of how people think today including but not limited to the morally relativistic creed. By definition, existentialism is
"A 20th-century philosophy which holds that humans must live their lives without any absolute values or divine laws. Many existentialists believe that since there is no guarantee of human worth or dignity, and no such thing as "human nature," humans have complete freedom to define humanity and a painful ethical responsibility to do so."
Or translated into my modern-day terms: foolishness
. But I like this definition better:
"Existentialism is the title of the set of philosophical ideals that emphasizes the existence of the human being, the lack of meaning and purpose in life, and the solitude of human existence. Existentialism maintains existence precedes essence: This implies that the human being has no essence, no essential self, and is no more that what he is. He is only the sum of life is so far he has created and achieved for himself. Existentialism acquires its name from insisting that existence precedes essence. "
Or in other words: foolishness
There were classical authors who wrote entirely from the premise that life lacked meaning and purpose. You mean to tell me that these people have something great to offer the next generation? Kafka, Camus, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, & Barth were all famous existentialist thinkers and they birthed many more after them. We've got some re-examining to do on how and what we teach in this country, because I don't think we've got it right yet. Before we start assigning electives, can we recognize that the foundation still needs some ironing out?
To Be Young, Gifted and Black
At least once a day, I look in the mirror. This is less about narcissism and more about personal hygiene. For this reason alone I would hope we all take a look at least once. There are however, days when I am fully convinced some people don't. But I digress. Perhaps the biggest jump-start to my day is the fact that when I look in the mirror, I like what I see. Not only do I like it, I love it. I've always been a pretty confident person. With the exception of some terribly awkward teenage years (which included braces, pimples, and feet bigger than my arms), I have always been comfortable in my own skin. From the time I was very young, I would sit on the bathroom sink and stare into the mirror. This ritual took place at least once a month. I would examine every crevice of my face while constantly reciting in my head, "I am me...I am me...I am me". This probably sounds bizarre, but it was quite revelatory for me. I became completely fascinated with the fact that I was a complete original. I would mentally scan all the countries I could remember from geography class to put this fact into proper perspective and I was blown away every time.
For much of my childhood, I led a compartmentalized life. My day job included attendance at a predominately white school. I learned to cope. I'd never known anything different so it wasn't too hard. The rest of my life took place in the predominately black neighborhood in which my parents chose to raise us, my predominately black church, dance classes, track meets, and other extra-curricular activities. I got the best of "both worlds" so to speak. It sounds simple but it really wasn't at all.
Attending an all-white school while the rest of my friends were in more racially diverse public schools often put me at the center of ridicule and in a perpetual state of proving my "blackness" (instead of "blackness" insert whatever stereotype you should be fulfilling). If you've ever tried this, you know it will turn you into a schizophrenic loony.
To make matters worse, my family lived in Seattle while all our other relatives lived in the South and on the East Coast. Here in the Northwest, we have a tendency to over-articulate our words. It's just the dialect I suppose. But to family members, it seemed we spoke "proper". Add this to the fact that I was a ballerina and a good student, and you get a highly conflicted childhood. This would explain my phase in eighth grade where I wore baggy, over-sized jeans, a huge FILA coat and a baseball cap turned to the side. Let us never speak of that again.
When I got to college, instead of living in the freshman dorms, I chose theme housing where I occupied "Malcolm X House" along with 30 or so other students of varying origins of black descent. I could deal with staying in X's namesake because living with all black students was my way of reconciling the fact that I'd declined acceptance to Howard University and Spelman College, both historically black schools.
I will admit, I made some great friends, but even there I was different; not because of race or background, but because of my moral standard. When everybody was out drinking, I was the one in the dorm, blasting gospel music and having a party of my own. By the time I was done with that place, everybody knew who the Cross Movement was. I never had guys in my room with the door shut, I walked around fully clothed, and was the only one up for church on Sunday morning. These seem like small things, but in college, this set me apart from the crowd. Sure there were a few dormies who went with me a couple of times to church, but 9 times out of 10, I had the whole bathroom to myself on Sunday mornings. My decisions in college earned me respect in the eyes of my friends. Trust me when I say, I don't pat myself on the back for doing what I felt I should've done.
Even today, I think very differently from much of my family and friends. Some people will read my words and discount them because I'm only 22. I'm not a member of a political party, I'm just me. There was a time when I would shrink back, but those days are over. Being a manpleaser is no life at all. It's the people that don't care what others think that are the real dangerous ones. Those are the people I look up to. I desire to be one of those people. Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play To Be Young, Gifted and Black on the struggle for equality, but more on the state of the human condition. I snag her title on behalf of all those who are young, gifted and whatever. And there are many of us (after all, young is relative). I just don't think some people are comfortable enough to walk in its fullness. Once in college, it was the first day of my "African American Politics" class taught by one of those name dropping professors who say insecure things to establish their credibility like, "So the other day I was on the phone with Condoleeza Rice and let me tell you, she's more arrogant than you think." Well, on this first day, the professor asked a couple of people to raise their hand and give her a brief definition of "who they were". Hands shot up across the room as over-zealous brown-nosers sought to make a name for themselves. The first to respond called himself, "a Queer, White, New-Englander". Nice. Interestingly enough, none of those things told us much about who he really was. The descriptors went on, "Chubby, Atheist, Liberal" and so on. Every single person who raised their hand managed to attach a false, surface, or socially engineered term to themself. Sad, but somehow I don't think anyone knew any different.
When I walk into high schools, it's like wading through a sea of insecurity. Kids dumb themselves down to fit in with the crowd. Guys play macho because they don't know what it means to be a man. Girls are scantily clad because true womanhood is far gone. We don't have crime problems, we have identity problems.
What is it about certain black men, who so hate themselves, that they go out searching for some one who looks just like them to kill? How have certain black women arrived at such a low place of self worth, that "we" would subject ourselves to be sexual objects to men? It is not just a black issue. It is a human issue. It's the question of identity and knowing the original intent for our lives.
Give somebody something without telling them its purpose and they're bound to abuse it somehow. I don't believe in peer pressure. I never have and never will. I say this as someone who has "given-in" to groupthink on more than one occasion. People who are swayed by popular opinion or the "lemming mentality" are simply people who aren't quite grounded in who they have been created to be.
Identity can only be found in one place: that is the Potter who molded us in the first place. Tapping into that is where true liberty is found. And while we live in a culture that would seek to give us a short cut to our indentity through media messages and social institutions, it's all really just to pacify the latent potential resident in every person who becomes comfortable with who they truly are. I would fear that day. Because then maybe we'd see some true originality instead of this watered down thing we call "society".
Did What I See Really Just Happen?
June 9, 2004
Did the benediction of the state ceremony at the Capitol rotunda in honor of former President Reagan just include words from the song "Day by Day" (as lifted from the musical Godspell)? It's Meet the Parents re-lived:
Day by Day, to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, to follow thee more nearly, day by day
Good heavens we need to get into our Bibles people! Surely we can do better than song lyrics.
How Boring was Your Graduation?
Last night I sat through a 4-hour graduation. The only thing that made it even partly enjoyable was that is was the rite of passage of my own sister, Amelia Juliet (pictured to the left of me). She will hate that I posted this picture in which we both look horrendously aloof and unkept and she was pulling on my hair so I look like I have no neck but oh well, it's all I have. I would like to publicly say congratulations to her for braving what I believe are four of the most terrential years of a person's scholastic life (if you go to private school). Private school completely ruins the entire high school experience. Forget football games and cheerleaders. It's all about SAT's, term papers and college applications. You couldn't pay me any amount of money to go back and repeat the homework hell that was high school.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, could have been worse than my high school graduation. It had to have been the most boring event to take place in my entire scholastic career (even worse than physics lectures). If you can, imagine watching white paint dry. This was my graduation.
Prep school commencement is less about the students and more about the endowment. There's a whole lot of fanfare, faculty speakers, and kissing up to the board of trustees. I couldn't even tell you what was said during those three gut-wrenching hours and I'm the one who gave the valediction! Now I do remember most of my speech because much to my suprise, the unpopular message on "purpose and identity" (in which I managed to knock both Oprah and Gary Zukav) I delivered was actually widely received. That could have been because my classmates were just happy to have somebody with some energy grace the podium.
Even my charismatic musings could not save the ceremony. Everyone was waiting for one moment. The moment of all moments. The presentation of the diplomas. This is were the action happens.
Why do scholastic institutions make people wait until the very last hour to receive the one document everyone is there to receive? While riding to my sister's graduation with my family, I proposed a solution to the historically dry nature of graduation ceremonies: start off the commencement by awarding all the students their diplomas. They then exit the premesis to do what every sane person who just completed a mass of thesis papers and finals would want to do: party. Then the parents, family members and friends can sit around and listen to the boring and cliche speeches on finding your own path and making the world a better place.
When my mother graduated with her Doctorate I was only 12 or so, but the ceremony was so long, I actually thought I was going to die. In fact, I think I did a couple of times. From high school all the way up to graduate school, graduation ceremonies have a long history of being drab and boring.
When the months of May and June roll around I start getting white envelopes in the mail. I already know what they are. They are promises that at least 15% of the month will be spent in boring graduation ceremonies. Last night was different. Those four hours were actually interesting. This is because my sister graduated from an "arts school" and artsy people are notoriously "diifferent". Then again, so it my sister.
Thank you Amelia for being you. It was one of the best graduations I've ever been to. And I've been to many.
Cosby Need Not Make Clarifications
June 8, 2004
It's been awhile since any single commentary has sparked this much controversy in the black intellectual community. My experience with my personal colleagues has proved that most blacks, including my own family are pretty divided on whether Cosby was in the right or wrong for his now widely famous "pound-cake speech".
I say, it really doesn't matter if what he said was right or wrong. The fact is, he said it. And that's far more powerful and prolific than our mamby-pamby commentary and opinion on what he said. In fact, most black writers' articles in response to Cosby's words say the number one thing that Cosby did wrong was actually say what many have long been thinking in a public forum.
Even William Jelani Cobb's whiny criticism of Dr. Cosby managed to begin with,
"...the comedian has been praised by white conservatives and black folk at large for essentially keeping it real. For airing dirty laundry. For saying in public what your uncle Bobby has been saying behind closed doors for years."
Christopher John Farley of Time magazine wrote an article
where he too remarked,
"There are still certain things some black people won't talk about in front of some white people. American culture may be seemingly more integrated than, say, 50 years ago, but cultural walls remain. Racial issues, in multiracial company, are often circled until they are impossible to ignore and have to be discussed; blacks, when there are only other blacks around, often cut to the chase...Last month, Bill Cosby broke the unwritten rule of keeping black dirty laundry in black washing machines."
This may be all and well, but the dirty laundry was bound to start smelling at some point or another. The biggest problem has long been that no one ever bothered to add any soap and water to the washing machine. So instead, the dirty laundry just sat there untouched and the stains set in. Cleaning up this mess is going to take more work than it would have if we started earlier.
I knew Cosby's words hit hard when major newspapers were slow to pick up the story as Matt Rosenberg of Rosenblog so eloquently pointed out late last week, "...there was a bit of a curious silence from most print-media outlets. It was mainly talk radio and a host of bloggers". When you mix controversial comments about black people made by a prominent black figure, in front of a prominent (and influential) black organization, you have a sticky situation.
I am convinced that many white writers have been slow to comment on the story because they wanted to see what "we'd" say first. To be white and speak critically about anything pertaining to the black community in this country is like roller-skating blindfolded through a field of landmines.
Although I find it interesting that no "real" transcript has been published, the Washington Post has made available the audio version of the speech. Thus far, the Charlotte observer has published the most extensive quotes from Cosby's speech. All this aside, as silent as the critics may seem, most everyone I've spoken with has something to say about Cosby's comments. It is safe to say that many black folks were not too pleased.
The aftermath of the controversial speech has left much of the black intellectual community dissecting rhetoric and the rest in silly, irrational, defensive mode. Although most in the black community would admit that Cosby's words were true, many wouldn't let him get off that easily. The week following Cosby's comments was laced with people calling the speech "classist" and "stereotyping" among other things. The knee-jerk reaction of many blacks was to flip the script and point the finger at Cosby instead of focusing on what he said.
People wrote about how Cosby should have been placing more blame on the governmental structures for not supporting lower-class blacks. Doesn't that negate the whole idea of personal responsibility? Perhaps that's just the soft spot Cosby hit with his comments. A large percentage of the American people have a strong aversion to the words "personal responsibility". Instead of bucking up, we'll change the subject or dilute its potency by shifting responsibility to the collective. NAACP President Kwesi Mfume remarked,
"It is not just the lower socioeconomic groups, it is the new black millionaires, the new wealthy as well...We all need to take more responsibility, not just poor people."
Well, duh. Thank you for stating the blatant obvious Mr. Mfume, but it seems that
wasn't the focus of Cosby's speech. A Washington Post article titled, "Some Blacks Find Nuggets of Truth in Cosby's Speech"
, included a quote from a 16-year old 3.2 grade point average student who happens to wear her pants low and her hat backwards, "you can't judge a book by its cover"
. Come on people. We need to get a grip. Do we really need to point out every poor girl named Shaniqua Watkins who has straight A's just to show that he wasn't referring to every black person in the Western Hemisphere? Can we not view Cosby's comments in the proper light and spirit in which they were given? Or do we need Cliff's Notes?
Not soon after delivering the address, Cosby went on the Tavis Smiley show to make some clarifications to his critique. You can read the full transcript, but Cosby began his comments with:
"The mistake I made was not in clarifying that I wasn't talking about "all." I think that unless it's later on, I think I said prior to this, the 50% dropout. I think I said that prior to this, "50% dropout in school." Very, very important, because with that, that means 50% of our African American males, from grade 9 through 12, in certain parts of the city, have no education."
It is unfortunate that Cosby had to come on National Public Radio and make this statement to appease the insecure consciences of black America. I felt it was totally unnecessary. To his credit, Cosby has not been silent of his critics. When Christopher Farley's article in Time Magazine accused Cosby of airing dirty laundry, Cosby fought back:
"Mr. Farley made it sound as if I had divulged some secret about which no one knew. But where is the secret? The secret walks and it talks. From the hallways of the school to the street to the corner store and onto to public transportation, the dirty laundry is out there."
Bill Cosby has the extreme privilege of having "been there" and "done that" and has surely earned his place in history as a change agent, proponent of education and one who is certainly qualified to speak to the condition of black communities. Even his critics admit that. What most critics didn't understand is that for this reason alone dear Bill does not have to bow down to the lightweight, young blood intellectuals who've attempted to pick apart his words with theory and sociology. We needed that reality check. It hurt, but so does life. We needed to hear the words of a patriarch who perhaps has been through and seen just a little bit more than many of us. The real question is: will people keeping talking about the airing of the dirty laundry, or will they clean it?
Phylicia Rashad Wins the Tony
June 7, 2004
The Cosby Show's former mom Phylicia Rashad, also known as Clair Huxtable, and one of my favorite actresses made history last night as the first black woman to ever win a Tony for best actress in her role as Lena Younger in the classic Lorraine Hansberry play, A Raisin in the Sun. Maybe this doesn't mean a lot to many, but I grew up in a theatre household so I know this is a hard-earned and deserved award. Far more so than an Academy Award for best Actress in Monster's Ball. When I found out this play was coming back to Broadway I was pleased. When I found out Sean "Puffy" Combs would be taking on Sidney Poitier's old role, I was not so pleased.
Anyone who doesn't think the institutions of family and marriage are under attack in this nation needs to go back under a rock and get a vision. Things continue to happen in this nation that merely solidify that we have lost proper perspective on so many levels. The entertainment industry becomes more of a joke each passing day.
Jenny from the Crock "Marries Again"
From the "Can't We All Just Get a Life?" files. I will only give this two seconds: J.Lo + Marc Antony = Washed Up + Stupid. Multiply that by marriage #3 and #2 (respectively) and you get boosted careers. They'll give Janet Jackson some good company. Two seconds up.
Halle Berry/Eric Benet: Dysfunction's Poster children
This is what happens when you have unresolved issues. Two dysfunctional people come together and you get a dysfunctional marriage. Last night, in a family discussion, I seemed to ruffle some feathers when I inferred that I thought that as beautiful as she may be, Halle Berry has a poor self-image and low self-esteem. That's another post. To top it off, the first interview she agreed to following her file for divorce was on Oprah. Oprah of course being someone who has lacks any credibility whatsoever on the subject of marriage. Please be quiet Oprah and stop dragging other women into your "issues".
Beware the Hustlers
My life never tires of fun and madness. I had extended family in town this past weekend for my sister's graduation so I was of course extremely busy at my parent's house. However, I did have the opportunity to take some much needed rest when my brother and I tuned in to some hot action on ESPN: The Scripps National Spelling Championship. It's safe to say, ya'll ain't ready for us! They even had the play-by-play. I felt my coolness factor slowly slipping away as I became more enthralled with my television--hanging on every letter. This was the epitome of true nerdom. Every now and then, when some pimpled-faced 7th grader would spell words like "autochthonous" or "sophrosyne", my 15-year-old brother and I would glance at each other as if to say, "how in the name of sane folk did he know that?" These kids were asking questions like, "Is this word of Greek origin?" and "Does it have any relation to the french word trouisellier which means I'm flippin' too smart for my own good." It was at that point that my brother and I decided that we were pretty dumb. I won a spelling bee once at a local level. I'm glad I never made it much farther as I am certain I would not have fit in with these nerds. There's nothing like middle schoolers asking "word of origin" questions to make you feel incredibly lame.
It was during the 13th round or so that the doorbell rang. My brother ran downstairs to answer it and I heard a male voice talking. I went down there to make sure someone by the name of "Elder" so-and-so wasn't down there preaching Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon to my brother. Instead I found my brother getting ready to hand over some money to what looked like a late-teen/early-twenties young man. I of course, stopped the transaction to get some clarity. I asked the guy what he needed. Prepare yourself for cliché madness.
"Uh yes. My car ran out of gas down the street and I am going around trying to collect some gas money"
A likely story. So I informed the gentleman,
"Well we have a few containers of gas downstairs in the garage you can use."
"What kind of gas is it?"
"Regular, Unleaded," she says.
"Well, my car takes premium."
"What kind of car is it?" she asks.
"A 1985 Lincoln Continental."
Perplexed she begs,"You have a 1985 Lincoln Continental that takes premium gasoline?"
"I dunno, it's something about the gas tank or whatever."
She declares, "Well I'm sorry then we can't help you," and closes the door.
Do I look like I came out of my mother's womb yesterday? There are so many things about this story that are worth cracking up about. So let's say he was
, telling the truth.
First of all, when you are stranded and need gas, and then someone offers you gas, granted it's not diesel, you DON'T GET PICKY ABOUT THE TECHRON. You take what you get. Are you stranded or not fool? Secondly, I KNOW this idiot could have thought up a better car than a 1985 Lincoln Continental. Are you joking me? You should just be glad that thing is still RUNNING, let alone what type of gas you have to put in it. Thirdly, how are you going to have the nerve to be broke and yet a drive a car that takes premium gas, which by the way, is about $2.85/gallon here in Seattle? Lies and the lying liars that tell them. Get out of my face, you are wasting my precious spelling-bee-watching time (my thoughts not my words).
I immediately asked my brother if he felt I was "off" and too harsh. He didn't think so. The guy probably went on to clean-up money from the remaining 10 houses or so left in the neighborhood, plaguing on peoples' consciences. Thankfully, I know how to use mine. Too bad I wasn't as merciful as Josh Claybourn.
June 5, 2004
Rarely do I ever post on weekends, but I thought it proper and respecrful this day, to acknowledge the passing of former President Reagan. To be completely honest, Reagan's death has seemed surreal all day. For someone who has been such a fixture of the culture to just be gone is strange. One would have thought we'd feel the ripples 10 years ago when Reagan first retreated as a result of his illness. Amazingly enough, despite being secluded over the last 10 years, he managed to still have an audible voice by way of his legacy. During Regan's presidency, I was mostly too young to even presume to know what "Reganomics" were or how bad or good of a president he was. But his passing is perhaps more poignant for me in that I was born into his presidency. This will be the first I've lived to see a president through to the end. No matter what peoples' politics may be, it has been said all around that President Reagan was a mand of noble character. It continues to sadden me that people can only bring themselves to say these things after a person has died. One of these days we'll get it. My prayers are with the family and all who knew him well.