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.