19 May 2006

Feeling Better

I decided I'd feel much better about myself today if I'd posted to my blog before I went to my swim class. My Thursday and Friday swim classes with the women I most affectionately call "my old ladies" are the only real moments of structure in my life.
I love them because they inspire me. They show up weekly, as their schedules permit, and I love that they have these busy lives even though they could just sit around being grandmas. They've taught me just how skin deep beauty really is. That our inperfections (remember we're in bathing suits) are as beautiful, natural and human as what we might laughingly refer to as our perfections. They remind me of my grandmas. Only since I don't officially belong to them, I get a degree of candor about their lives that my grandmas would never reveal to me. Our naked steamroom talks are like fellowship meetings among women who've lived (and live) active productive lives. Their reassurance of me finding what I'm looking for in this life is comforting because I can trust their collective "don't worry about that sweetie, you have plenty of time". They have collectively been all over the world and still travel every summer. They give me recipes and tell me about the special days and activities they still share with their girlfriends. They tell me about meeting their husbands and their grandchildren's triumphs and problems. Most importantly to me, they see me as one of their own. But as a young woman with infinite possibilities who is taking advantage of life. They know my money woes are temporary although I feel like it's the end of the world sometimes. Coupled with my own experience, I know it's not the end of the world. They also want me to buy property. To go to jazz clubs to find a boyfriend- a jazz musician preferably (but been there- done that). To continue to travel and be free. I just love them. And now I'm on my way to go work off this ass of mine in the second of the 2 intense aqua-aerobic workouts of the week. I'm still taking aspirin from yesterdays. And they move. I'm sweating in the pool. But I know if they can do it, I can too. When I began going about a year and a half ago, I was gonna chicken out. I hadn't been in a pool outside of vacation splashings for years. That's when Miss Ruth said "well you're here now, go put your toe in the water. If you don't like it- take a nice steam." A year and a half later, that's what I know tell myself about everything I get scared about.
It also doesn't hurt that comparatively I look like, to quote Miss Victoria "a Playboy Bunny". Nice.

16 May 2006

Dying to Get Rich

In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles produced, directed, edited, and starred in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which has now been dubbed the first “blaxploitaion” film. The films of the decade that followed used the commercial success of this film showing a Black man against the system and diluted the revolutionary-ness of the image to cater to white mass-market sensibilities. It’s this marketing and the re-appropriation of the caricature to a commercially viable creation that concerns me. As long as rappers can espouse “thug life” as cool and make lots of money from it- for themselves and more for their white owned record companies- this stereotype retains it’s power to terrorize white America while creating dangerous situations for Black men at large. The phenomenon of racial profiling is hinged on this caricature.
In Sweetback the movie’s stars were the Black community. In later movies, such as New Jack City (directed by Melvin’s son Mario Van Pebbles) the idea of community is used only to create a market for its own destruction. I use New Jack City as an example because it shows the generation of children born in the blaxploitation era and raised in the Reaganomics era of excess. Given the rise of drugs and violence in everyday urban life and the image of whites living “Dynasty” lives on TV, these children (now teenagers and adults) see money as the great equalizer. But the pursuit of material comforts demand an individualist capitalist modus operandi that is destroying the Black community and making Black men moving targets while commodifying Black women. In New Jack City, while they gave away turkeys to the community at Thanksgiving the “Cash Money Brothers” were in the process of turning a low-income apartment building into an all-inclusive crack haven. Therefore their seemingly generous gesture was really just a marketing scheme to win the trust of the community they were about to decimate and murder for profit.
Now with the popularity of everything hip-hop, what began as protest and revolution in lyrical and musical style, the line between commercialism and revolution has been smashed. Hip hop/ rap is used to sell everything from Kentucky Fried Chicken to Chevy cars. Hip-hop as a culture has, beginning in the mid ‘90’s become about “money, hoes, and clothes- all a nigga knows” (Notorious B.I.G. “Juicy”). The line between fiction and reality in hip-hop has blurred and the drug dealers become rappers Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Doggy Dog, Fat Joe, Jay-Z, Master P. are just a few of the more popular (and lucrative) examples. The violence needed to become a successful drug dealer bled into the reality of being successful rappers. Even rappers who had more middle class upbringings, like Tupac, fed into the brute stereotype because it sold albums. The “badass” moved from being an agent for revolution to a puppet for capitalism. Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac paid for their roles with their young lives.
The flip side of this image is the searing of it in the minds of white America. The brute image was created to instill fear of free Blacks into the minds of the post Civil War white consciousness, particularly white women. The conglomeration of the sexually indiscriminate and uncontrollable Black buck with the violent animalistic Black brute is what can be seen today most in media images. D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was the visual marriage of the two images locking the Black man’s sexuality with violence leaving the brute image as a predominate staple of American popular culture. In the “Law and Order” clip I showed in class the perception of the threat of rape, whether real or imagined, got a man killed. The perception of violence got Amadou Diallo massacred. Emmett Till was murdered for allegedly looking (sometimes the story is whistling) at a white woman in Mississippi in the 1950’s. It’s a commonly held perception that Black men are dangerous and they are being sold as such. From the Supreme Court to Brentwood, even outside of the hip-hop community Black men are dangerous.
But are they? I think so. I think so not because of the threat of physical violence but as a Black woman who is acutely aware of the psychic violence that is currently breaking down the Black community and communal ties. I’m aware of being called a bitch or a ho or being perceived as a gold digger or being bought for the price of a dinner. The media doesn’t tell me that’s how I’m treated, experience does. The rapper Nas released a song “You Owe Me”; he tells a young lady that she owes him her body because he’s bought her things. Female rappers aren’t blameless either; they perpetuate the wonton sexuality slave masters used as an excuse for their rapes of female slaves. Yet my concern is with the Black men, because it’s costing them their lives.
Sweetback was necessary viewing for the Black Panther Party because a Black character standing up for himself and rebuking a comfortable life as a nonentity was unprecedented. He used his sex to get himself out of trouble and even his sexual encounters were communal activities. He moved from being controlled by it to controlling it and using it as power. There are still flaws in that schematic, but he’s not a victim. Nino Brown killed his “brother” G-Money in New Jack City over what came down to his capitalistic individualism at the expense of the Cash Money Brothers (his created community), but still in the midst of that, a woman he “took” from G-Money. The notion of being “your brother’s keeper” keeps literally getting shot to bits and forget about being “your sister’s keeper”. There is no responsibility taken by these men (and women) for their actions. Yes- as an artist one should have the right to express themselves however they see fit. But it’s the proliferation of this one image for more than a century that is obviously gotten into our psyches as well. The saddest part is that as evidenced in the Fat Joe and R. Kelly video “We Thuggin’” simply being Black and Latino means thug… because they’re singing, dancing, talking about what they have and ogling women. That’s not thuggin’ not by Nino Brown’s standards. The contemporary rappers with their “ghetto fabulous thug” mentality now equate sex with money with power and it’s destroying the community- by my estimation.

12 Things The Negro Must Do For Himself

Ask Yourself: Are We Living The Dream?

If The Negro Would Try

"The Negro race has never tried to do very much for itself. The race has great possibilities. Properly awakened, the Negro can do the so-called impossible."

Carter G. Woodson

12 Things The Negro Must Do For Himself by Nannie Helen Burroughs
(Circa Early 1900's)

1. The Negro Must Learn To Put First Things First. The First Things Are: Education; Development of Character Traits; A Trade and Home Ownership.


The Negro puts too much of his earning in clothes, in food, in show and in having what he calls "a good time." The Dr. Kelly Miller said, "The Negro buys what he WANTS and begs for what he Needs." Too true!

2. The Negro Must Stop Expecting God and White Folk To Do For Him What He Can Do For Himself.


It is the "Divine Plan" that the strong shall help the weak, but even God does not do for man what man can do for himself. The Negro will have to do exactly what Jesus told the man (in John 5:8) to do--Carry his own load--"Take up your bed and walk."

3. The Negro Must Keep Himself, His Children And His Home Clean And Make The Surroundings In Which He Lives Comfortable and Attractive.


He must learn to "run his community up"--not down. We can segregate by law, we integrate only by living. Civilization is not a matter of race, it is a matter of standards. Believe it or not--some day, some race is going to outdo the Anglo-Saxon, completely. It can be the Negro race, if the Negro gets sense enough. Civilization goes up and down that way.

4. The Negro Must Learn To Dress More Appropriately For Work And For Leisure.


Knowing what to wear--how to wear it--when to wear it and where to wear it, are earmarks of common sense, culture and also an index to character.

5. The Negro Must Make His Religion An Everyday Practice And Not Just A Sunday-Go-To-Meeting Emotional Affair.

6. The Negro Must Highly Resolve To Wipe Out Mass Ignorance.


The leaders of the race must teach and inspire the masses to become eager and determined to improve mentally, morally and spiritually, and to meet the basic requirements of good citizenship.

We should initiate an intensive literacy campaign in America, as well as in Africa. Ignorance--satisfied ignorance--is a millstone abut the neck of the race. It is democracy's greatest burden.

Social integration is a relationship attained as a result of the cultivation of kindred social ideals, interests and standards.

It is a blending process that requires time, understanding and kindred purposes to achieve. Likes alone and not laws can do it.

7. The Negro Must Stop Charging His Failures Up To His "Color" And To White People's Attitude.


The truth of the matter is that good service and conduct will make senseless race prejudice fade like mist before the rising sun.

God never intended that a man's color shall be anything other than a badge of distinction. It is high time that all races were learning that fact. The Negro must first QUALIFY for whatever position he wants. Purpose, initiative, ingenuity and industry are the keys that all men use to get what they want. The Negro will have to do the same. He must make himself a workman who is too skilled not to be wanted, and too DEPENDABLE not to be on the job, according to promise or plan. He will never become a vital factor in industry until he learns to put into his work the vitalizing force of initiative, skill and dependability. He has gone "RIGHTS" mad and "DUTY" dumb.

8. The Negro Must Overcome His Bad Job Habits.


He must make a brand new reputation for himself in the world of labor. His bad job habits are absenteeism, funerals to attend, or a little business to look after. The Negro runs an off and on business. He also has a bad reputation for conduct on the job--such as petty quarrelling with other help, incessant loud talking about nothing; loafing, carelessness, due to lack of job pride; insolence, gum chewing and--too often--liquor drinking. Just plain bad job habits!

9. He Must Improve His Conduct In Public Places.


Taken as a whole, he is entirely too loud and too ill-mannered.

There is much talk about wiping out racial segregation and also much talk about achieving integration.

Segregation is a physical arrangement by which people are separated in various services.

It is definitely up to the Negro to wipe out the apparent justification or excuse for segregation.

The only effective way to do it is to clean up and keep clean. By practice, cleanliness will become a habit and habit becomes character.

10. The Negro Must Learn How To Operate Business For People--Not For Negro People, Only.


To do business, he will have to remove all typical "earmarks," business principles; measure up to accepted standards and meet stimulating competition, graciously--in fact, he must learn to welcome competition.

11. The Average So-Called Educated Negro Will Have To Come Down Out Of The Air. He Is Too Inflated Over Nothing. He Needs An Experience Similar To The One That Ezekiel Had--(Ezekiel 3:14-19). And He Must Do What Ezekiel Did


Otherwise, through indifference, as to the plight of the masses, the Negro, who thinks that he has escaped, will lose his own soul. It will do all leaders good to read Hebrew 13:3, and the first Thirty-seven Chapters of Ezekiel.

A race transformation itself through its own leaders and its sensible "common people." A race rises on its own wings, or is held down by its own weight. True leaders are never "things apart from the people." They are the masses. They simply got to the front ahead of them. Their only business at the front is to inspire to masses by hard work and noble example and challenge them to "Come on!" Dante stated a fact when he said, "Show the people the light and they will find the way!"

There must arise within the Negro race a leadership that is not out hunting bargains for itself. A noble example is found in the men and women of the Negro race, who, in the early days, laid down their lives for the people. Their invaluable contributions have not been appraised by the "latter-day leaders." In many cases, their names would never be recorded, among the unsung heroes of the world, but for the fact that white friends have written them there.

"Lord, God of Hosts, Be with us yet."


The Negro of today does not realize that, but, for these exhibits A's, that certainly show the innate possibilities of members of their own race, white people would not have been moved to make such princely investments in lives and money, as they have made, for the establishment of schools and for the on-going of the race.

12. The Negro Must Stop Forgetting His Friends. "Remember."


Read Deuteronomy 24:18. Deuteronomy rings the big bell of gratitude. Why? Because an ingrate is an abomination in the sight of God. God is constantly telling us that "I the Lord thy God delivered you"--through human instrumentalities.

The American Negro has had and still has friends--in the North and in the South. These friends not only pray, speak, write, influence others, but make unbelievable, unpublished sacrifices and contributions for the advancement of the race--for their brothers in bonds.

The noblest thing that the Negro can do is to so live and labor that these benefactors will not have given in vain. The Negro must make his heart warm with gratitude, his lips sweet with thanks and his heart and mind resolute with purpose to justify the sacrifices and stand on his feet and go forward--"God is no respector of persons. In every nation, he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is" sure to win out. Get to work! That's the answer to everything that hurts us. We talk too much about nothing instead of redeeming the time by working.



In spite of race prejudice, America is brim full of opportunities. Go after them!