Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Sade Saturday

Even though she hasn't put forth a song since "Mum," to bring awareness to the horrors of Darfur, Helen Folasade Adu (and the band Sade) remains my favorite artist. While scanning through YouTube, I stumbled upon the video for one of my all time favorite Sade songs: "When Am I Going to Make a Living."

I fell in love with both a London Fog coat and the promise of the UK. I convinced my family that I needed a London Fog, needed. I just knew that my adolescent sophistication could be secured only with the addition of that item in my wardrobe. And I just knew that my life would mirror what I saw in that video: urban streets, multi-cultural friends and hot styles. Sigh.

Then there was the UK. During the 80s, the R&B music coming out of the UK was incredible. Groups like Loose Ends, Five Star and Soul II Soul were dominating the U.S. charts, and I was all for it. From the general vibe, to the accents, to the cosmopolitan air of London, I was riveted to these images of black folks from the UK. Yet, I haven't been back since I was a baby.

This video brings back so many vivid memories, so here is to a beautiful Saturday in winter, as well as to a time when the possibilities seemed endless. Thank you Sade.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Once Upon a Time, When Republicans Were Black

For six weeks, back in 1986, I was in College Republicans (technically, I think I paid for the year, but I stopped after those six weeks). Like many college freshmen, I wanted to challenge the things I'd learned from my family. I sought answers to questions that I had in my mind about a number of things. That's what the college experience is for. Therefore, having been raised in a powerfully politically Democratic household, I wanted to explore the other side.

Some of the basic principles of the GOP made sense to me and seemed reasonable (strong defense, fiscal conservatism, smaller government, etc.), and I was a fan of Jack Kemp (before he ran for VPOTUS with Bob Dole). But, it was the people who threw me off. I went to my first and only College Republicans regional meeting. I found myself in arguments about whether or not apartheid really hurt the black population of South Africa (and how the media information we were receiving was mere propaganda). I listened to someone tell me that affirmative action really was a disservice to white people who really deserved those positions and college places. And for the life of me, I could not get any of the other black folks there to talk with me. Since I was in the closet, and the culture wars were still based on race, I did not have to hear madness on GLBT issues (thankfully). I left that meeting early and in disgust, and I have not looked back.

I am thinking about this as the GOP prepares to name its new Chairman, and there is a black man seeking the job: Michael Steele. Coming from Maryland, and having been Lt. Governor, Steele has a perspective on how to be a winning GOP candidate in a very blue state. I think that he might be exactly what the GOP needs now in this time of transition. However, at this point in the process it looks like Katon Dawson, the guy who had to drop his membership in an all-white club in South Carolina, is leading the race. Wouldn't that be interesting? The U.S. elects the first black POTUS, and the GOP's potential new front man is a guy who had no problem with an all-white club until just recently.

Personally, I would like to live to see the day when one couldn't assume a person's party affiliation based on demographics. That is genuine progress. Yet, I hope the GOP will not build its potential for progression on the backs of the GLBT community, because sadly that has been the way that the GOP has been able to attract minority (particularly black) support. Isn't it time to move away from scapegoats and boogey-men?

Sometimes, it really is hard to believe that the Republican Party was the party of the black man (remember women couldn't vote at that time). It took something as cataclysmic as the Great Depression, and as earth shaking as the Civil Rights Movement, to break those bonds. Perhaps during its time in the wilderness, the GOP might want to brush up on its history. Michael Steele might be able to help.

UPDATE: Michael Steele is the new GOP Chair.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Our First Lady

I am a long time fan of Michelle Obama. I even wrote a post about her roughly a year ago. She was the reason I looked more closely at BHO. Her comments resonated with me. Michelle Obama's life reminded me of my own. She could easily have been someone in my neighborhood whom parents would urge their children to emulate, if they wanted success.

I raise these points in light of the comments given by Fox News pundit Juan Williams. During an appearance on Bill O'Reilly's show, Williams, in issuing a warning to the First Lady to check herself, stated the following: "Michelle Obama, you know, she's got this Stokely Carmichael in a dress thing going. If she starts talking..., her instinct is to start with this 'blame America,' you know, 'I'm the victim....'" (here is a link)

I have one conservative friend who is convinced, like Williams, that Michelle Obama is an America loathing, greivance peddler. I have told my friend, often, that he would need to catagorize the overwhelming majority of multi-generational African Americans the same way, including me. To point out the flaws of your country, and to try to fix those flaws is not a sign of hating the country. She is comfortable telling it like it is, and so am I.

This issue was on a couple of the blogs that I read, and two threads really stood out for me: Jack & Jill Politics and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The responses are generally angry, and I certainly can understand why. I would encourage you to check out some of the things that are being posted.

It is sad to think that there are some who have allowed their understanding of black folks to have been shaped solely by faux "race" men and women who feel as though they speak for all black folk. It is equally sad to see a black person, who, through his own experiences, should understand precisely where people like the Obamas are coming from, yet join the crazy chorus for lack of something more substantive to say.

The Obamas are in a position to revolutionize how the world looks at black families; Michelle Obama is in a position to revolutionize how the world looks at black women. These are heavy burdens to bear. But, as I sensed way back in that first lunch, she is more than capable of handling her business. So, yes Juan, Michelle Obama is a revolutionary, but she is a 21st century revolutionary (no anger or afros necessary). And please know that this revolution will be televised (and digitized, and blogged, and tweeted...), and the soundtrack definitely will be hot.

Monday, January 26, 2009

About That Water to Wine Trick...

As we approach the first full week of the Obama administration (and it feels as good to type it, as to say it), I think that we all need to take a step back and remember that BHO is just a man. He is neither Jesus nor Satan. Water will not turn to wine upon his touch, and the fires of hell will not rise up from the Potomac. But, he is in charge of our government. BHO, in that wonderfully sober Inaugural Address, gave us a history lesson last Tuesday, with a little church thrown in for good measure.

More than anything, I loved the fact the BHO called on the citizens of the United States to "...pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America." It was a call to arms of sorts. It was the antithesis of the former POTUS' call for us to go "shopping" in the wake of September 11 and the subsequent wars. It was a reminder of the BHO campaign line of the American people being "...the change we are waiting for."

Though I know, and I hope many others realize, that BHO cannot produce miracles, I am excited that the petulance of the former administration is not evident in the current. I am reveling in the sense that an adult is at the helm. BHO will make mistakes; we all do. BHO will disappoint; remember Rick Warren? But I sense that BHO recognizes the gravity of the situations at hand, and that his recognition is not colored with the lens of partisan political posturing. And that sense feels very good right now.

I will admit that when I watched the Inaugural Address, I wasn't listening intently. I basked in the image of the moment. Yet, when I read the address, I understood exactly the message that BHO wanted to convey both to us and the world. He wanted to remind us of who we are as Americans. He wanted us to reflect on our accomplishments as citizens over time. Ultimately, BHO needed to bring us back to the fact that nothing in life comes for free and without struggle. It was an appropriate message for these troubling times.

Besides, we really don't need to break out the wine right now. Water will do just fine.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Maddow Loving

I don't know why it has taken me so long to discuss this issue, but I have decided to remedy this situation forthwith. I am so loving Rachel Maddow.

I have not had the pleasure of listening to her Air America radio program (oh, but I will), but I did have a number of opportunities to watch her smart and incisive commentary on MSNBC during the primaries and the general election. I was also one of those individuals who secured a place in front of a television to watch the debut of her prime time show.

Watching Maddow's television show is like having a conversation with a clever and wickedly intelligent friend. I find myself nodding my head in agreement continually. I adore the snarky quality of her commentary, and I laugh openly at many of the idiosyncrasies of politics that Maddow points out on each show. Her show is pitch perfect for my political perspective.

Love Her!! You feel smarter too now, don't you? Vain to deny it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama

So many people have said "not in my lifetime" when asked the question of whether or not they thought they would ever see the day when a black person became POTUS. I was among them, comfortable in my sense that this country wouldn't do anything of the sort, but hopeful that someday, long after I'd gone, that perhaps....

Though I was not on the Mall today, I am in Washington, DC, and over the course of this weekend, I have been amazed by the sense of joy that has permeated the city. Even the presence of Rick Warren on the podium today has not diminshed for me the beauty of this moment. I live in a different nation now. I live in a nation that indeed is a land of genuine opportunity for anyone who seeks it. As much as I have loved my country, that love has grown. My sense of connection to this place where my foreparents (the black ones anyway) were slaves is deeper now.

I can only imagine the ghosts of the those black folks who helped to build the majestic symbolic buildings of this city rejoicing in the beauty of this day, knowing that their struggles were not in vain. And I hope that the newest generation of black folks will look to the Obama family as role models to emulate, not some random pop figure of the moment. I want this moment to be a clarion call for black folks in this nation, a call to be our better selves, a call to reach back to the sensabilities of the generations before us who endured real hardships and move forward as fully vested members of the American community.

It's all just so amazing right now, and the tears are coming again.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

And They Wonder Why

One of the most fascinating things I've noticed in politics is the push by some members of the GOP to claim the vision of Dr. MLK, Jr. as representative of their political philosophy. How often have we heard the line that we should be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character? It's a point I certainly believe in, and I don't doubt that there are some Republicans who genuinely believe it as well. I do, however, believe that they are few in number. I believe that this line is used simply as a convenient weapon of words in order to dismantle programs that have helped to move some things forward in our society, and to dismantle them while pretending that the world has changed (I will not quote Treebeard here, though I am mighty tempted) and offering no viable alternatives. Issues of race, particularly with the rise of BHO, are supposed to have currency no longer.

Yet, how can Republicans begin to think that the rest of us simply don't get it. As black folks have advanced in ways that are unimaginable to the black people who were here a century, and certainly two centuries, ago, we generally are told, sometimes blatantly and often subtlely, that we should not look back. We, the multi-generational American black folks, are supposed only to focus on the future. If we do look back, and if we do ask questions, or feel, then we are divisive. I think that the Department of Justice's former Voting Section head voiced for many of his philosophical compatriots this sentiment when he described the former head for U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Mary Frances Berry, as the way he liked his coffee: "black and bitter."

But on this, the 80th birthday of Dr. MLK, Jr., I want to ask Republicans to examine the totality of his words, his political positions, and his deeds. I want Republicans to remember that some of the same people who were a part of the dramatic rise in the GOP's stock in the white south, were on the opposite side of Dr. MLK, Jr.'s philosophy, though they were Democrats at the time. And I want everyone to feel free to reflect on the contributions of the broader black community to the American story (and not just in February). I want the black story integrated into the American narrative; it deserves that place of honor.

So to Republicans, stop asking why your party looks like something P. W. Botha would have been proud of. Examine your own house. The Democratic Party does not have to have a lock on diverse communities, but they at least have enough home training to make them feel comfortable enough to seem like they are a part of the party, and not gate-crashers. I am speaking as a former (albeit brief, six weeks back in my freshman year of college) Republican. I felt like I was among people who saw Dr. MLK, Jr.'s dream as a nightmare. And I still see that sentiment in the people who populate the party today. I have grown, and I have changed. And if the Republicans want to get a sense of what Dr. MLK, Jr.'s dream really means, then they need to do the same.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Did I Say That?"

I've long held the belief that many top tier Democrats are privately supporters of same sex marriage, but would never say so publicly for fear of political repercussions from the right. I am also of the mind that more GOP elected officials are not really that pressed about the gays in their midst, as they pretend to be for their supporters (remember the revelation of all the gay GOP staff members following the Mark Foley scandal?).

Therefore, I am not shocked that BHO was a one time supporter of same sex marriage. The Windy City Times, the gay rag of Chi-town did a story on BHO back in 1996. BHO, at that point in time, was an unequivocal supporter of same sex marriage. Naturally, and sadly, as BHO moved up the ranks of the Democratic hierarchy, he managed "to find religious" reasons for shifting his position.

Whether some believe it or not, the gay rights movement is the civil rights movement of our times. As with the "official" Civil Rights Movement (note the capital letters), politicians who took the bold step of supporting black folks back then suffered somewhat for their principled decisions (see FDR, Truman and Johnson for some highlights). Perhaps BHO will find his personal courage and eventually re-affirm his 1996 position. It was the correct one, and it was politically bold of him to voice it. However, hiding behind religion for political cover is not becoming of any politician, especially the future new POTUS.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Where the food at?"

I know that's right! That is a quote from the POTUS-elect. BHO made his pilgrimage to one of the most iconographic landmarks of black DC, Ben's Chili Bowl. If you haven't been, I would recommend it highly. Though it has changed a little over time, it is still an excellent dive-like spot. And it is an official historic landmark in Washington. It is in its 51st year of operation (it was one of the few open businesses when U Street was a veritable ghost town, in the years following the 1968 riots).

I love an excuse to have a half smoke.

What got me more than anything was BHO's question. I freakin' love it! How many of us have asked the same question in the exact same way? I know the folk in Ben's were too through when they heard that come out of his mouth. I also hope that this is a sign that BHO will venture more frequently into "unofficial" Washington. He will be most welcome.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Jack Johnson

I am not a boxing fan. I have no real interest in catching the latest bout on HBO. I don't know who the current champions are at this moment. But when I took a U.S. Sport History class in graduate school, I learned the story of Jack Johnson. I'd heard of Joe Louis. My grandparents were huge fans, and both could recall listening to the radio as teenagers when Louis beat Max Schmeling (in their second meeting) in 1938 in 124 seconds. But Johnson captured my imagination. He captured it enough that I decided to do a study of white Southern newspaper coverage of his and Joe Louis' championship reigns for my Master's thesis. I thought I would take time in this centennial era of his reign (1908-1915) to give a little history lesson.

During the late 19th/early 20th century, the heavyweight boxing champion was seen as the strongest man in the world. So it should come as no surprise that blacks had been barred from competing for the title. It took the title going to the Canadian Tommy Burns, and a global chase that ended in Sydney, Australia, before Johnson was able to get a legitimate shot. When the fight was announced (set for December 26, 1908), American boxing fans were particularly venomous in their comments about the taint of the whole affair, and they were concerned that if the "big negro" won, that it might send the wrong message to the broader American black population. When Johnson won, as honest followers of boxing suspected would happen, the campaign began to tear down the symbolic importance of the heavyweight boxing champion. White fistic fans felt that the sport lost its luster, and interest in the sport dropped. A few writers were quick to remind black Americans that just because Johnson won, it didn't mean anything was different with regard to their "inferiority." Meanwhile, in black communities around the nation, there was absolute rejoicing. The "talented tenth" and the "remaining ninety" understood that a new barrier had fallen.

There was no denying Johnson's skills in the ring. Current sports writers and boxing historians have argued that Johnson was perhaps the best defensive boxer of all time. He was able to taunt his opponents to the point where they became the aggressor, and then Johnson would cut them to ribbons. However, it was his out of the ring activities that got him in all sorts of trouble. This man was openly consorting with white women at a time when a black man could be lynched just for looking at one. Johnson was getting paid to beat up white men at a time when even the threat of violence to a white man would get a black man killed. It is incredible to consider when you think of the time. And the fact that no one, as far as the record shows, attempted to assassinate Johnson is remarkable.

But it was 1910 that was the high water mark for Johnson's reign. The author Jack London was one who led the call for former heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries to come out of retirement and be the "Great white hope" and restore order to the world by putting Johnson back in his place. Jeffries agreed to this match, and the fight was set for July 4, 1910 in Reno, NV. The major newspapers of the country dispatched reporters to cover the camps of the boxers. It was incredible to see the front page coverage in the lead up to the bout. Booker T. Washington didn't even get continual front page coverage around the nation for his activities, thus belying the claim that he was the most famous black person of the era. Whites were convinced that Jeffries was going to right a wrong.

Sadly for them, that was not to be. Johnson completely demolished Jim Jeffries, and following the announcement that Johnson won, riots broke out in different parts of the country. People lost their lives and were injured that night, all because a black man beat a white hope. It is incredible to consider that now, when people assume that rioting is the dominion of black folks.

Johnson, over time, simply got on the nerves of everyone. Folks, black and white, did not appreciate his marriages to white women (three in total), nor did folks appreciate the fact the Johnson was determined to live his life as any other heavyweight boxing champion would. For that I commend him. He was clear that his stature afforded him a certain lifestyle, and he intended to honor that. His reign, however, came to a close in 1915, though there was a question of whether or not he threw the fight. But Jess Willard got to go down in history as the "great white hope" who defeated the "dark menace."

Johnson's life is really interesting and strangely swashbuckling. I would encourage folks to learn more. You can always start here. He is indeed one of the most fascinating figures in American history.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


I can't recall the last time I was so happy to see a year come to a close (maybe 1993, the year I came out of the closet, and the year I was trying to decide if graduate school could be a form of salvation; it was). I left a job where I was growing more miserable by the day. I embarked on exploring the world of bears in the gay community (long story there, that I think I'll keep to myself), and that has been both fascinating and challenging. I've entered the early stages of middle age, and this first year was more tumultuous than I expected. So, I wish to leave behind all that was negative that came out of 2008. It is over. The past is now prologue, and I am ready to face the new year.