Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mid-East Shock

I, like many, was shocked and saddened by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Thursday. Recognizing that there were concerns about her ties to corrupt forces within Pakistan, I think that she was still a breathe of fresh air politically for the nation. She was very much a Muslim and a partial product of the West. She seemed to recognize ways in which Pakistanian society and the West could work together toward a better Pakistan.

I am sorry that we will never know what she would have brought to the table. I am sorry that we will not have an opportunity to see what a female head of an Islamic state in a post 9-11 world would have been able to accomplish. But we cannot forget that Bhutto was a woman in a rare position in the Islamic world. I hope that other Muslim women will be encouraged by her example to work toward a better and more equitable Middle East.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Tad Fishy

Am I the only one wondering if there was some evidence of some crime that went up in smoke intentionally in the fire (you may have to log in to that took place in the VPOTUS' suite of offices this morning?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Damn Arrogant, Damn Tawdry

I need someone to tell me why it is preferable to have a former felon in the military, than an openly gay (non criminal) person. Have the Christianists reached that point where sense and sensability are thrown out of the window? Have we as a nation become so obsessed with what gay men do sexually (remember, women are still considered "available" to men, even if the women aren't interested) that we abandon reason?

It is high time to lift the ban on gays in the military, and it is high time for the military to return to the standards that help to set it apart from the armies and navies of the world.

It makes no sense.

On Friendship

Without fail, I become pensive toward the end of the year. Have I done all that I hoped during the year? Have I managed to progress mentally, physically or spiritually in that time? And I often consider my friends, acquaintances, buddies and cronies at this time, as well.

So often, people enter into and exit from your life, and there is neither a rhyme nor a reason that can explain why. It's just my responsibility to be respectful of the situation at hand and move forward.

This year there are two people who stand out in my mind. The first person passed away unexpectedly this summer. Her death was a blow to a burgeoning friendship, and it is a loss that I still cannot quite understand. She was indeed that person who seemed to see the best in a circumstance; that focus was her guide. She spoke to the best of us who were blessed to be around her, and I am glad that I was able to spend time in her midst.

The second person is somewhat enigmatic, fascinating. The detective in my psyche (or should I say historian) is awakened when we are together. Though we met in January, it still feels as though we are in the phase of discovery. I have no idea what to expect, and that can be both exciting and maddening. Yet, I sense that he is truly genuine, and that is a good thing. I look forward to seeing what happens in 2008.

I take friendship very seriously. These are the people we elect to have in our lives. Family (though I love mine dearly) is not normally chosen. I have been blessed with having made solid selections of friends over the years, and though I lost a potential friend this year, I hope that the new person still in the picture remains. We shall see.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oh, Y'all Got Ta Go

I would like to say thank you to all of the people who worked diligently during the Civil Rights Revolution (or as it is known in the academic history community, the Second Reconstruction). The world has benefited mightily from the righteous efforts and innumerable sacrifices that you made. However, when I read Andrew Young's comments about Barack Obama (and Young is faaar from alone in his sentiment), I was reminded that many of these folks need simply to retire. The young folks (you know, the ones who actually paid attention to your rhetoric, and have tried to live by it) need to go ahead and step up to the plate.

And I know that Young (and those other folk) has lost his mind, if he thinks that Bill Clinton is "every bit as black as Barack." Now, I respect my elders, but when they say stupid things, I would be remiss not to call them out. I mean really. That don't make no damn sense.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

"The Weary Blues"

Though I know Langston Hughes had different issues on his mind when he penned that poem, I cannot help but feel that the phrasing is perfect for what we, as a nation, have experienced under the current administration. Here in DC, there is a sense of "just when you think that they have reached the lowest point...," and then new information comes to the fore about the machinations of the POTUS and his band of merry people.

I am ashamed that our country has a leader who sanctions torture. Sen. John McCain is correct in excorriating the administration for letting torture become a tool in interrogations. Disingenuous Republicans and spineless Democrats (as is now coming to light thanks to the Washington Post) gave the POTUS a pass on this (I know that Rep. Harmon has stated that she sent a confidential letter denouncing the torture tactics to the CIA) back in 2002. In this instance one side wanted to look like it was doing something useful (not), and the other side was worried that they would be called unpatriotic and soft on defense.

I am tired of hearing the POTUS trumpet the line that there hasn't been another attack in the U.S. since September 11, 2001. Anyone who pays a modicum of attention to the loons in al Qaeda could tell you that just becuse nothing has happened between 2001 and today on U.S. soil, it does not mean that something isn't being planned. The first attack on NYC was in 1993. Nine years later, those fools came back. Since we seem to have dropped significantly our efforts to capture bin Laden, I pray that we don't see something horrible in the next administration (regardless of who wins).

I am not going to talk about Iran (which is still dangerous, and I am sure that the outing of Valerie Plame, who was working on the very issues that the U.S. is concerned with, only helped us. Please.).

Those who know me understand that I am very measured and deliberate in my pronouncements and opinions (for the most part), but I have moved into an uncomfortable space when it comes to the POTUS (I can't even come close to discussing my thoughts about Voldemort...I mean the VPOTUS). His departure cannot come soon enough, and I think that for the first time in a long while, that is the sentiment of a majority of the country. I will never understand those folks who are among the 30% who still support the POTUS. I also think that it is true that we would not have reached this point if then POTUS Clinton had done a quarter of what we know POTUS Bush has done. There is no doubt in my mind that we would have removed Clinton from office.

Perhaps when I am old, I will read a new history of this current administration, and many of the details will come to light. Perhaps I will understand a little more clearly then. I know that Bush is banking on being exonerated by history. However, I think he might need to start practicing his own version of "The Weary Blues," just in case.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The "Brown Menace"

I need someone to help me understand why the issue of illegal immigration is being framed singularly as an Hispanic related issue. I was listening to NPR a bit ago, and this very issue was the subject of the report. One gentleman in Georgia pointed out that (and I am paraphrasing from my memory) that any Hispanic owned business that lost money and customers was fine with him, because that would mean that the illegals weren't being helped.

What is with this "brown menace" mentality? I am so tired of people looking at the issue of illegal immigration through a "South of the border" lens. It's ridiculous when one thinks about the fact that Hispanic American communities date back to the 15th and 16th centuries in the Americas. It's even more ridiculous, because Hispanic are not the only group represented among illegal immigrants. Though one cannot determine that from the reporting that we have been subjected to over the years.

It's interesting that we find history repeating itself to a degree. As the masses from Southern and Eastern Europe did the Ellis Island thing, there were nativisits who worried about the "muddying" of the American populace. They were Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Jewish. They spoke different languages, and they seemed not too interested in assimilating (though, of course, this was far from the truth). The Klan even came back into dominance at the close of the massive period of immigration, in part to express their disdain for the appearance of some many Catholics and Jews.

Perhaps some of the most vociferous spokesmen and women are the descendents of these earlier despised masses. I know that there is a growing number of African Americans who are beginning to trumpet this issue. Perhaps that is the key to black-white relations in the United States, a collective disdain for the "brown menace" (and the gay agenda).

I recognize that we need to work on securing our borders, and not just in the states along the Mexican border. No one talks about building a fence along the much larger, and less monitored border with Canada. Frankly, I think that someone who really wanted to do harm to the U.S. populace would be looking to enter the country from Canada.

I also recognize that we are not going to deport the millions of people who are here illegally (and lets not forget that that those illegal immigrants represent almost every inhabited continent on the planet, not just the collective "Mexicans"). I think that, for once, the POTUS was being thoughtful in his effort to develop a guest worker program that led to a road to citizenship. I also think that until something like that comes to pass, then we should consider fining the organizations that knowingly hire illegal immigrants; we are still talking about illegal immigrants.

What I think needs to be made particularly clear is that this issue is neither simple nor without land mines. Too many of those who are quick to prod the hornet's nest don't have realistic solutions to the problem, and they don't seem to be looking for any. Immigration, legal, illegal and forced, helped to make this country the dynamic and ever changing place it is. We can never forget that, but we do need to forget making this purely an issue about the "brown menace." That's played.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Intelligence, Race and Genetics

There has been, of late, more discussion surrounding the role that genetics plays in the intelligence of racial groups. It seems that scientists are coming closer to unlocking some of the keys that determine just how intelligence is derived. Now I am all for scientific inquiry, but I have to admit that I worry that some people are simply chomping at the bit to have proof that some people are just genetically predisposed to be dumb. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, that potential gun will be aimed at those of us of African descent.

Thankfully, there has been some tempering of the growing tempest. I think that it is worthwhile to remember that we are all individuals. Genetics and environment have affected us in unique ways. But, I don't think that it is unfair to state that all men are not created equal in nature. But in trying to embrace that sense, we will find people willing to ignore the individual variations that exist among us. They will be happy to casitgate groups wholesale.

All we can do is wait to see where the research leads. I just find it unnerving that there remain people who are excited about the prospect of saying "see, I told you that black people are inferior." We have no idea what will unfold, but I know that regardless of the results, I know that I am one of the smarter beings on this planet. What?

Friday, November 16, 2007

"The Motorcycle Diaries"

I am a huge fan of Gael Garcia Bernal, and I bought "The Motorcycle Diaries" based on my faith in his acting. I'd certainly heard of the film, but I wasn't quite moved to go see it in the theater.

I have had a chance to see it, and I thought it was an excellent coming of age film. It focuses on the trip through South America that Che Guevara ("El Fuser") took with his friend Alberto Granado. Though I am not one of those Guevara devotees (and many of them usually know not much more about the man than the fact that his image is on a tee shirt), I can respect his desire to see and better understand the larger world. And as history shows, that trip was impactful for him (supply your own judgments regarding his subsequent activities here).

I have longed to feel that sort of travel inspired transformation in my life. I've been blessed with opportunities to visit a solid part of the country, exploring historic sites, talking with locals about the histories of their communities. Yet, I have never done a real tour of the United States. I certainly recognize that there may still be patchy places in the U.S. for an African American to visit, but after my travels thus far, I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of us are basically decent folk.

Critics of "The Motorcycle Diaries" have called it a love letter to the continent of South America. I would have to agree with that assessment. The scenery is stunning, from the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, to the wide expanse of the Amazon. By the conclusion of the film, I was ready to pack my bags and retrace the path that Guevara and Granado took. Beyond that, the music of the film seemed to encapsulate the beauty that emerges on screen. Gustavo Santaolalla deserves much of the credit for the original compositions heard on the film.

All of this is a long and drawn out way of saying check out "The Motorcycle Diaries." It was worth the time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Musical Muses--Just for Theo

There are four female artists whose music/lyrics represent aspects of my personality. They are Sade Adu, Suzanne Vega, Bjork and Erykah Badu.

I wrote a post earlier about my love for Sade. I see her as the epitome of sophistication. She is completely and totally cool. From her carriage, to her delivery of her songs, there is a sensuality and sense of comfort with her being that I would love to emulate in my life. So, Sade represents a way I would like to present myself to the world.

Suzanne Vega, in many ways, represents my intellectual perspective. Vega's lyrics can be extremely personal and introspective, and I can appreciate that. In a previous post, I noted that I also associate Vega with autumn (my favorite season). She comes across as crisp in her poetry (wrapped in music), cool in her musical delivery, and colorful in the images that she creates with her words.

There is no other way to describe what I feel Bjork represents in me: whimsy. Bluntly put, Bjork is out there, and I love her for it. I can think of few musical artists who push themselves to their artistic limits so consistantly, outside of the world of jazz. Each solo album is like a journey into Bjork's mind. There is an openness and honesty about who she is and what she presents to the world that I would like to emulate.

Erykah Badu reminds me of how cool it is to be a part of African American culture. Of the four muses, Badu is closest to me in age, so I feel like we have many shared cultural experiences. I love the music that surrounds her voice throughout her albums. I love the distinctly African American cultural sensability that resonates in her lyrics. Her music is simply affirming, and she represents my pride in who I am as an African American (multi-generational).

I listen to the music of each of these ladies on a regular basis, and often my mood will dictate which lady I choose hear. Mind you, I have other musicians and bands that I like (Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M, Loose Ends, Mos Def, U2, Coldplay, Floetry, Harry Connick, Jr., 10,000 Maniacs, Wynton Marsalis, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Cassandra Wilson, Eurythmics, Scritti Politti, and many others). However, these four ladies stand out, and I love them for it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dreams for Hip Hop

Last night, I was watching videos on YouTube (big surprise), and I found myself watching several videos by The Roots. I had not forgotten how much I appreciated their music (I have my baby brother to thank for that introduction), but it had been a while since I'd just sat back and let the music wash over me. I then moved on to videos by Common, Blackstar (Mos and Talib) and Bahamadia.

All of these artists remind me of how cool hip hop can be, from the beats to the lyrical flow. There is nothing better than listening to a hip hop song and just bobbing your head to the beat. Try not to do it while listening to "Respiration" by Blackstar, "The Game" by Common, or "Push Up Ya Lighter" by The Roots; it's impossible. I remember when Bahamadia let loose with "Three the Hard Way," and I was done.

I was all about hip hop and rap when the subjects were about the party or the boast. I understood and respected the protest/militant rap (Public Enemy, NWA, Too Short) that informed the public of the realities in swaths of Black America. But I can't pin point when it changed. I cannot resurrect the time when violence for the sake of violence, the rank misogyny, and the competitive consumption became mainstream in the hip hop nation. It was as though real hip hop decided to join the Underground Railroad and steal away in the night. The caricature of hip hop that was left behind will never be able to fill that void. In all honesty, it has done, in some ways, more harm than good.

Maybe the truth of the matter is that I am simply getting old. Yet I know that the messages that many current hip hop artists are putting out are detrimental to the long term survival of a people who understand struggle, survival and triumph. Those few beacons of hope, like the aforementioned artists in this post, are struggling to maintain their presence on the hip hop scene. I think that it is our responsibility to help them get beyond the struggle, and moved onto the road of genuine success.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Like many, I was surprised to learn that Albus Dumbledore was gay. It was also interesting to see the reaction of those on the far-right. People talked of feeling betrayed by J.K. Rowling. People argued that she introduced politics into a children's novel series. Clearly, these folks haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, or paid attention to the commentary of the author. Rowling, first and foremost, made sure that her books reflected the importance of tolerance for the diversity of humanity (I mean this is a world with elves, goblins, trolls and hags, to name a few). She also made it clear, through her works, that she was not particularly a fan of authoritarian rule through government. Actually, the novels showed the shortcomings and out and out failures of government. Either way, politics have always been there.

Besides, it isn't as though Rowling decided that Dumbledore was gay at the time the questioner made his/her query. She has lived with these characters for more than a decade, so I am quite sure that Dumbledore has been gay in her estimation (imagination) from the off. And in all honesty, it's not that serious.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cosby is Right

As someone who has dedicated most of his educational life to the study of American history generally, and African American history particularly, I cannot help but think that contemporary African America has dropped the ball passed to us by our ancestors. When I think about the challenges that this community has weathered throughout the American historical narrative, I cannot understand how we seem to be

Frankly, I am disappointed in who we have become. It bothers me that at the turn of the 20th century, we as a people seemed united in the desire to prove to the world that we were the equal of every individual on the planet. We held in honor those who could make it through education and hard work. We scorned those who seemed to support, through their actions, those who appeared "to prove" our not being ready to take on the responsibility of full citizenship. And I think that the evidence is clear that those past generations did their jobs.

In her book of essays Racism 101, Nikki Giovanni asked (and I am paraphrasing) why black folks were letting the challenges of this society get to us now. We'd fought larger and more dangerous battles and came out on the other side. We helped this nation take its contract with her people seriously. The efforts of those black folks and their allies moved this nation forward. Why now does it seem that we have thoroughly lost our way? Why now have we come to embrace competitive consumption? Why now?

Pundits often talk about the notion of African American victimology, and I think that indeed there are those who call themselves our "leaders" who reinforce that sensability. However, I think that a good examination of African American history will reveal stories of triumph in the face of continual and sustained adversity. The aforementioned pundits want simply to act as though years of sustained adversity do not leave psychic scars that need to be tended and healed. The aformentioned "leaders" seem to be unable to move beyond the point of scarring in order to recognize the survival. And too many of us simply do not know our history to our detriment.

I think that Bill Cosby is right. In the midst of unimaginable plenty and material success, we are not moving forward as we should. I can only imagine if the opportunities that we enjoy now were present at the turn of 20th century, during the artistic renaissances throughout black communities in the 1910s and 1920s, or during the post WWII boom.

Too many of us have abandoned education. Too many of us have embraced absolute materialism. Too many of us have lost a sense of decorum while in public ("Black America's dirty laundry gets out of school around 2:30 in the afternoon"). Too many of us have become numb to violence that would not be outside of the realm of possibility in Iraq or Afghanistan.

No community outside of African America is equipped to save African America. As Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint have said, "Come on People." We are better than this. We have within our DNA the necessary materials to be our best selves regardless of the musings or rants of others. But it is our responsibility to act like we are living in an era of unprecedented opportunity. It is our responsibility to follow the lead of our ancestors and not let "no one turn us 'round." In the end, I may be disappointed in my people, but I still have faith that we can follow Cosby's call.

About That Last Post

I read with alarm this morning that Obama is planning on doing a tour through South Carolina with Donnie McClurkin. Now the Christianists say that abortion represents their proverbial line in the sand. My comparable issue is political gay bashing, something that McClurkin and his ilk are perfectly at home doing (all in the "name of the Lord").

I hope that Obama reconsiders this joint venture. To resort to working with a known opponent of the GLBT movement that Obama proclaims to support for the most part in order to drum up support in the SC black community is just plain dumb. I have virtually no patience for black folks who bash the GLBT community. And I am tired of these same people being offended by the comparisons between the GLBT and Civil Rights movements.

No, the two movements are not the same, but they share some common issues and common goals. For example, there were (are) religious tenets cited in opposition to the goals of both movements. There were (are) irrational and visceral reactions that the opponents of both movements held when confronted with the gains earned through the work of movement activists. There is also the common goal that people should be treated equally, and that people should be judged by the content of their characters.

I think that too many black folks look at homosexuality through a racial lens. For too many, white = Gay. And I doubt that there are many black folks who see white people as oppressed in any way, shape or form. To hear folks who look like the media constructed version of a gay person (white, male, educated, affluent and fit) talk about being oppressed because of "who he is" must sound quite hollow to the average black person who has struggled simply to get ahead.

And since so many black gay folk remain closeted or too concerned about "people knowing their business," this disconnection in the dialog will remain. If Obama has someone on his campaign staff who is gay (or better yet, black and gay), then I hope that person will come forward and let him know that seeking the black vote by these means removes the curtain from the audaciousness of hope and reveals something that is quite the opposite: the politics of fear and loathing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's Obama

I have to admit that I was hesitant at first. I was concerned that if I said that I supported Barack Obama, then the response would be something akin to, "of course you do." Let me make this clear, I am happy to say that I support Obama, and not because he is African American (though that certainly caught my attention).

First and foremost, I love the fact that Obama is in an entirely different generation than all of the other candidates for POTUS. I am weary of the discussions about who did what in the 1960s. I am bored of the Vietnam and service questions. Second, I really like Michelle Obama. There is something about her that is simultaneously familiar and transcendent. It is as though she is the embodiment of "keeping it real." I would be quite comfortable with her as First Lady, something that rarely crossed my mind since I've been voting in POTUS elections (the 1988 election was my first). Third, Obama is post-Civil Rights. His world is familiar to me. It's one filled with a range of friends (racially, ethnically, politically, et. al), experiences, and expectations of excellence. No one can accuse Obama of being a racial huckster, and we have moved beyond the time for that (we never needed a time for it). Finally, Obama is substantive. His approach to a number of the issues that are important and relevant is measured and well thought out. There is no cowboy there.

The Obamas are adults. Who cares if HRC is manly or womanly enough to be POTUS? How about being an adult? How about displaying an actual range of emotions in front of a camera? I had the pleasure of meeting HRC in Brooklyn, NY back in 2005, and it was great. She was personable and funny. She was engaging, and she seemed genuinely interested in the work that I do (historic preservation), and understanding of the need for the preservation movement to be more diverse. Yet, when she stood at that podium a few minutes after that meeting, it was as though the person I'd just met retreated. The change was subtle, evident and disappointing. Adults have a range of emotions that do not require cameras or audiences to determine which one to display on call. Barack Obama strikes me as an individual who is both tough and sensative, just like an adult.

Each of the position papers that Obama has presented are well researched, reasoned and understandable considering the disparate nature of the various issues our country faces. I am ready for an intellectual to be at the helm. I am ready for an adult to run the country.

I would be lying if I didn't say that it does give me a huge sense of pride that an African American is seriously in the race for POTUS. That is not to diss Jackson or Sharpton, but they were never my cup of tea. I think it speaks volumes for our nation. It makes me proud all over again to be an American.

I look forward to an exciting primary season. I want Obama to step up his game. The HRC inevitability factor needs to be challenged heartily. But in the end, I am just glad that I lived to see the day when one of the major parties in the United States actually reflected the aspects of the diversity of this nation in its POTUS candidates. That is a part of the reason why I am a former member of the GOP (and don't fret, it was a single semester membership).

Obama in '08.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Soft Bigotry of Still Low Expectations

So Bill O'Reilly was surprised to discover that a place like Sylvia's in Harlem was a good solid upstanding normal restaurant. In an attempt to pay the establishment and its owners a compliment, O'Reilly let it be known that there are still mountains for black folks to climb (in his mind). Apparently, he was surprised by the audience and performers at an Anita Baker concert. I wonder if he thought that the band would be throwing back 40s, and Anita would be popping that booty.

It still amazes me that people still believe the worst about African Americans first, and then try to give surprised when hit with the realities that we bring to the table. Now don't get me wrong, if Flavor Flav and New York New York are your primary cultural references to contemporary African Americans, and you are juxtaposing those images with say Martin Luther King, Jr and Mahalia Jackson, then I can understand the disconnect. However, too many people who think this way work with black folks on a daily basis. They see with eyes wide open (or is it really eyes wide shut?) run of the mill, hard working black folks. But, so many (and I am certainly not referring only to white folks) people are quick to judge black folks uncharitably, and they are quite comfortable in their judgments.

It should come as no surprise that a phenomenon like "The Cosby Show" was almost alien to so many people. I nearly cried seeing the lives of people I knew and grew up with on television every Thursday. I loved the subtle message that "The Cosby Show" put forth. What black person can say that their appreciation of jazz didn't go up by the conclusion of the series? Who didn't feel validated in some way by that show? How many folks wanted to be Huxtables? I am smiling now, as I think about some of my favorite episodes and lines (Claire to Denise: "So you can take your money and go discover America."). How many people opted to check out HBCUs as a result of "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World?" Yet, the Huxtables were seen as an anomaly in the African American world. They were not seen as believable. Someone like O'Reilly would not see them as "really" black.

I am tired of hearing the pronouncements of folks who simply need to get out more. I am tired of black folks being viewed as cultural aliens within a culture that we helped to shape. And I am tired of the likes of Bill O'Reilly thinking that they know who black folks are and what black folks represent. Please.

An Iran without Gays

Only in the mind of someone whose chair is not quite under the table would come the pronouncement that there are no gays in Iran. As I am sure many others have surmised, it is only because Ahmadinejad's regime has made every effort to kill each alleged gay person it can find. If revolution ever comes to Iran again, I hope that the Iranian gay community will be leading the charge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Autumnal Dreams

Words cannot express the joy I feel when the summer recedes and autumn emerges. My mood changes dramatically (for the better). I automatically think of Suzanne Vega tunes and neo-soul songs. I can see myself in that new sweater I have been dying to be seen wearing. I long for walking under a canopy of trees as the leaves part from branches descending upon me; I love the smile that I have on my face then. It is a crisp and vibrant season, and it reflects my personality best. Change is coming, and I embrace it with open arms.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


I thought I could avoid talking about the situation with Senator Larry Craig, but it just isn't going to happen. I have to admit that I feel sorry for the man. It must be incredibly difficult to shroud one's feelings so thoroughly that one must resort to clandestine and furtive meetings with men in order to express what should be natural. It must have been painful for him to wrestle with the notion of what to do, when he was arrested. Do I fight this, and let the press have at me? Or do I attempt to sweep this under the rug and pray that no one finds out?

As the momentum of the story grew over the course of last week, I found myself bothered with all of the snickering that was going on. The maturity levels of various pundits were revealed to be as low as anyone could have guessed. It was also incredible to see how unified the GOP was in insisting that Craig resign from his seat. I am confident that no straight GOP pol would have suffered a similar fate (all we have to do is recall the story of Senator Vitter and the DC madam).

I hope that Craig is able to work this out, and I hope that his family will be prepared to handle themselves when he tells his truth.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Adolescent Remembrances

There are two novels that resonated with me when I was in junior high school, The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace. While my friends were off learning about elves, dwarves and hobbits, I was imagining myself dealing with "serious" issues of identity, discovery and friendship. I also longed to go to prep school, so that I could experience Gene and Finny's world. I longed for the city (Washington, DC specifically), because I thought that I might see some of the things that Holden saw. It was clear that I wanted to leave my corner of Virginia behind. Alas, the idea of going off to prep school (I thought that I might have been a good fit for Woodberry Forest or Lawrenceville) was immediatly removed from the realm of possibility by my family (the schools in my town were rather good), and my dreams of the city would have to wait until I was an adult.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

For The Love of Sade

I have been going through some changes of late. A friend of mine passed unexpectedly three weeks ago, and I have been trying to sort some things out of my sometimes muddled world (finishing the Ph.D, determining my next move in terms of employment, etc.). I was searching for Sade videos on YouTube, and I found a video for the song "Keep Looking." The video consisted of nothing more than a portrait of Helen Folasade Adu, and the music played in the background. "Stronger Than Pride" is an exceptional album, and this song spoke to me in ways that I'd almost forgotten. "Some will tell you that you're wrong. You do it all the wrong way...They enjoy cheapness. Don't show your weakness. Don't let them bother you, no." I needed to hear that song. "There's no use getting down. Don't walk 'round with a frown. Oh no, ahh, keep looking. There's no use sitting around with your head in your hands. Hold on, ahh, keep looking." I couldn't have put it better myself.

Sade's lyrics resonated with me ages ago, but it seems that I needed to hear them again for my current circumstances. I cannot express how important Sade's music has been in my life. "Hang on to Your Love" was the first Sade video I saw on television ("Friday Night Videos" on TBS). I begged my folks for my first London Fog coat after I saw the video for "When am I Gonna Make a Living." I dreamed of feeling the emotions presented in "Sweetest Taboo." I had my first meaningful kiss while listening to "Cherish the Day." I even felt the pain in "King of Sorrow." Sade has been there for me since 1984, and it has been a love affair that I am determined to maintain regardless of the absence of new material (though I loved "Mum," and I am not forgetting the wonderful work of Sweetback).

This is no "Ordinary Love," and "Nothing Can Come Between Us." Whenever I listen to Sade, I feel like I have been given the "Kiss of Life," and I usually "Feel No Pain." I look forward to "Every Word," because I know that Sade is "By [My] Side." I am sure that you Sade fans out there know exactly what I mean.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Waiting for January 2009

Why do I feel as though I have fallen through the looking glass? So many things seem so distorted. We have a POTUS who'd be quite comfortable considering me a traitor, because I absolutely disagree with his handling of the Iraq War. I was against going into Iraq, particularly because we had not finished the work we'd started in Afghanistan. And I do not support a precipitous exit.

I am far from a foreign policy expert, but I could tell that we were making a mistake by focusing our attention unnecessarily on Iraq. I also thought that the mutterings for democratizing Iraq were silly, especially since we had more than ample opportunity to continue supporting the fledgling Afghan democracy. I am still bothered by the fact that we appeared to stop searching for Osama bin Laden. Frankly, I am offended that the man is still alive. I am offended that the POTUS and members of his team managed to convince people that Iraq and 9.11.01 were directly related (people still believe this drivel, and it was downright disturbing to hear the POTUS allude to that bogus link again just last week).

I long concluded that the VPOTUS was simply out of his mind. I am still stuck on the fact that the man the VPOTUS shot apologized for the pain and stress suffered by the Cheney family. I don't want to know what that type of power is like. However, it provides me with nothing that exudes comfort or security. For the VPOTUS, it seems to be about unilateral power and complete secrecy. Need I mention the whole Valerie Plame Wilson imbroglio? Simply put, I feel like the VPOTUS and his closest cronies are looting our nation in ways that would make the looting that took place in the 'hoods of the 1960s seem tame. And I will add that the Constitution is getting beat like it stole something.

Never in my adult life have I felt so sad for my country. We have put in power people who seem only to feign care about the interests of the nation, foreign or domestic. We have put in power people who have die-hard supporters who look like marionettes (remember the scene in the movie "Chicago"?) dancing about and blathering the accepted talking points ("we're fighting them over there, so that we don't have to fight them over here"). We have put in power people who demonize dissent. I would say that I cannot understand how the American populace could put the present POTUS back in office for another four years of madness back in 2004, but then I have to remind myself that the POTUS' opponent was far from appealing, nor did he seem fearless enough to do what he needed to do to make the truth plain.

Therefore, I am really looking forward to that cold (I assume) day in January 2009, as the new POTUS walks down Pennsylvania Avenue. I am almost to the point where I don't care who that person is, as long as I know the current POTUS will never be at the helm again. I can't help but think of the old line "I can do bad by myself." The POTUS has fleshed out the meaning of that colloquialism in spades.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Unbearable Being of Blackness?

I have to admit that this whole issue of Barack Obama and the questions of blackness have been both fascinating and troublesome. I don't think that I am alone in feeling that there are moments when I can live my life without being reminded that I am black. Of course I don't mean that in some disparaging way. I am thinking about those moments when I am simply basking in Jeffrey (those early mornings in Maine overlooking Smith Cove (July '05), and later Blue Hill Bay (September '05), while writing come to mind as examples). Ideally, we should be able simply to live our lives in manners we choose. However, we also cannot exist outside of the cultural contexts in which we find ourselves.

What makes the Obama situation so interesting is that people are reacting to this man in so many strange ways. For some, it is a "compliment" to him that he is not "saddled" with the history of (multi-generational) African Americans. He is perceived as not being "angry." He is lauded for being "smart." For others, it is a sign that he is to be "scrutinized" because he is not of the (multi-generational) African American tradition. He is perceived as not being "black enough." He is perceived as being "inauthentic." All of this is silly. Yet, I am not sure of how I want to express my dismay.

I'm happy that he's running. I like him because he is of an entirely different generation than the rest of that lot. I want to believe that he will bring to the discussion the hopes of those of us who were raised on the notions that we can do what we want to do, because the opportunities are there for the taking. I want to believe that his multicultural upbringing and perspective will inject a dose of realism in our foreign policy.

Yet, I don't know if I can take listening to people for the next two years gush or deride his blackness or the lack thereof. I am tired of hearing the subtle message that those of us with deep historical ties to the United States are these people who wallow in the past, are expecting handouts, and are simply cockleburs in the sides of the other citizens of the United States who simply "did what they needed to do to get ahead." I am tired of people being interested in history until that history has a nexus with the African portion of American history, and then suddenly that history no longer "applies" to them. I am tired of people trying not to see me as a black person, because I know that once that sentiment is set in their minds, I have been "elevated" in their estimation; that is insulting.

I don't have time to be angry. I have no desire for a reparation (an utter waste of time and energy in my opinion). I am saddened that so many people from the United States seem to view black folks as a people apart, when in fact, so much that is dynamic about American history is because of the presence of black folks. That is where I see Obama. He is continuing that dynamism. It's not a transcending perspective. No one needs to "overcome" being black (though that seems to be the suggestion). Obama is an intriguing figure, because he is intriguing. And his being black is only one part of that.

So is it unbearable sometimes being black? There are tense moments, and there certainly are black folks who can make you feel that black folks really need to do better. But those qualities that so many of us possess, the humor, the rhythm, the deep understanding of our role in legitimizing the American contract, are the things that help to remind me that if there is a burden to bear for being black, then it is a burden I welcome. Deep down, I think Obama feels the same.

WSNS Background

I actually started the WSNS back in 2002. I was in a conversation with a neighbor of mine, both of us black, and both from Virginia. We bonded on the issue of "well spoken" black folk. Both of us experienced derisive commentary and snide remarks about the way we spoke (speak). After that conversation, I thought that it would be fascinating to bring together black folks who had similar experiences. I realized that I didn't want to limit my burgeoning forum just to black folks, so I made it up in my mind that anyone could participate.

Coming up with the name wasn't easy. I knew I wanted to use the phrase "well spoken," but I couldn't come up with an entire name for my concept. During this time, I'd been doing research on the history of the U Street area of Washington, DC. I learned about the Saturday evening salons hosted by a woman called Georgia Douglas Johnson. She was a peer of the likes of DuBois, Mary Church Terrell, Alain Locke and Roscoe Conkling Bruce. Johnson opened her home, and she brought people together to discuss the literature and issues of the day. With all of this in mind, I decided that I wanted a "well spoken" salon.

I chose the term "Negro" as a way of honoring the period of Douglas' salon. "Negro" was the term used by black folks then. It did not have negative connotation. And frankly, it felt right to me. I'm an historian, and historians can sometimes do odd things.

So that is how the Well Spoken Negro Salon came to be. I would write an essay, and I would send it out to a group of friends and colleagues and invite them to join me the following Saturday at a bar or restaurant. Originally, the WSNS met at the Capitol Lounge on the Hill. After a few months, I moved the WSNS one block over to the Pour House. But the WSNS really blossomed once I decided to have the group meet at the bar at B. Smith's in Union Station. My buddy Jim tended bar, and we would enjoy the wonderful buffet that the restaurant has to offer.

Work and travel intervened in keeping the momentum of the WSNS going, and I decided in 2005 to take a break. Long ago, friends suggested that I move the WSNS to the blogosphere, and I have to admit that I was reluctant, though I couldn't explain why. Yet, it made sense in the end, and that's why you are reading this now. It was only when I decided to start a blog that I made the slight change to "Negro's." This is my forum, but one where I want many others to participate.

Monday, July 23, 2007


I have to thank Georgia Douglas Johnson for giving me the inspiration to found the WSNS. I was fascinated by the Saturday evening salons she hosted in her Washington, DC home in the era at the cusp of the Harlem Renaissance. The likes of W. E. B. DuBois and Richard Bruce Nugent were there to discuss the issues and literature of the day. I want to have similar discussions. I want to create a forum for people to express their points of view openly. I am looking forward to learning from you all. Let's go!