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!