Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fierce Advocacy Revealed on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Right now, I wish BHO had not self-identified as a "fierce advocate" for gay rights. There is not too much in his political past that reflects that. I thought it was a rather bold, almost pandering, statement when I heard it. Democratic Congressman John Lewis is a "fierce advocate." Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, on the issue of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," has become a "fierce advocate."

Congressman Alcee Hastings was on Rachel Maddow's show last night. I agreed with all of his points as to why "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" needs to go. He spoke like a "fierce advocate."

Hastings' points are irrefutable. This is becoming a national security issue; I've wondered if any of the fired service members have moved into the intelligence communities. For our sake, I hope so.

There are those who have pointed out to me that gay service members, in their experiences, simply told of their sexual orientation to get out of the service. I am sure that that is true for some. Yet, does that make it alright to lump those members in with those gays who want nothing more than to continue to serve? For those gay service members who really want to remain in the military (probably a much larger number than those who simply want out), I think that they deserve a fierce advocates like Congressman Hastings and Congressman Patrick Murphy.

Isn't it a shame that after BHO's call to Congress to take the necessary steps to begin the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" that there is no real support from the White House or Congressional Leadership? Is there really a long term strategy that the White House is devising in the quiet corners of the West Wing? Or are too many around BHO living like it's 1993?

Monday, July 27, 2009

National Parks Love

I've often wondered if I would end up working with the National Park Service someday. Lord knows I have met many people who work there currently, and I have had the pleasure of serving on at least one committee dealing with increasing the diversity of our National Historic Landmarks. And, like many people, I was reminded today that Ken Burns is setting his brilliant eyes on national parks in his latest documentary.

With my academic focus on African American history, I was particularly interested when I learned that there is an organization that works to raise funds for national parks that focus on black history. I am not sure if other national parks that have a shared categorical link have a fund dedicated to them, but I think the idea has great potential. For example, I am a huge fan of preserving American sports and music historic sites. I think those would be incredible sites for which to raise money. Another great advocacy organization is the Civil War Preservation Trust; it's dedicated to preservation of the nation's Civil War battlefields and related historic sites.

I raise this issue of the national parks simply to remind folks that we have a wide array of historic sites and national parks out there that try to tell the complex story of our nation (though there is a glaring omission for the historical period of Reconstruction). I will always encourage people to visit historic sites associated with books that they've read about a particular period in American history. Those visits can help to bring that history to life. It makes that history more tangible. And they make for rather inexpensive travel destinations, particularly in tight times.

I hope that there will be a run on the national parks following Burns' documentary, and I hope that there is a great deal of praise given to POTUS Theodore Roosevelt, my favorite Republican (check out this excerpt from the May 2009 edition of Vanity Fair on TR), for his foresight into saving more than 200,000,000 acres of land across the country for future generations to enjoy.

Remembering Author E. Lynn Harris

It was 1994, and I can't remember if I'd come to DC for Black Gay Pride weekend or was simply in town to go clubbing, but I do remember a group of us going to Lambda Rising bookstore. Someone in the group mentioned the novel Invisible Life, which I wasn't familiar with, and the conversation became animated. I was the only one who had neither heard of the book, nor read it, and the premise sounded fascinating, an exploration of the world of black gay men.

I read half of the book in the car on the way back to Richmond (I've always been a rather fast reader of fiction; with history, I make it a point to take more time); it was a captivating read. The protagonist was the good looking, middle class, future second generation attorney Raymond Winston Tyler, Jr. Through an encounter with a fellow college student, Tyler discovered that he was not entirely straight, and the novel follows him to New York City where he deals with Columbia Law School and a struggle to accept who he is.

E. Lynn Harris' books provided me with a break from my studies in history in the mid '90s and early 2000s. Harris brought to life a world of upwardly mobile gay and bisexual black men, a world virtually ignored in both African American and GLBT fiction. Harris' books reminded me that I was not alone out there, and explored the difficulties that can come when black and gay are housed in one body.

Harris became wildly popular with black women, and I have to admit that I was always puzzled by that. Perhaps it gave women a window into a world that they really didn't know existed. Harris created characters who were dealing with both men and women, some openly, many more secretively. Harris' popularity with black women came pretty close to the popularity of Terry MacMillan (and both interestingly and sadly, MacMillan's life seemed to become something akin to a Harris plot, when her husband revealed that he was gay himself).

Harris brought to the forefront the lives of black gay and bisexual men; he provided a window into a world that so many seem either to ignore or dismiss. He certainly caught my attention. Harris made me laugh with his constant food descriptors for his characters. There was one who was biscuit brown, another who looked like a Barbie doll dipped in chocolate, and another who was honey brown. At the very least, I was convinced that Harris loved food.

Though I haven't read all of his works, I've read and enjoyed many. E. Lynn Harris will be missed greatly, and I think that a fitting legacy to his effort to show us the world of black gay and bisexual men would be for someone finally to bring Invisible Life and the second novel Just As I Am to the big screen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Being Black in "Post-Racial" America II: Channeling Dave Chappelle

Before I get to what I really want to discuss, I want to put a few things out there. First, I think that there needs to be more in-depth discussions on all sides on the issue of racial profiling. Second, I would love, desperately, to see the number of crimes perpetrated by black men drop precipitously, and see that drop sustained; they screw it up for all of us law abiding black men. Finally, I want to point out that I believe that there are some who think law abiding black men exaggerate these issues surrounding law enforcement. On this, I think American history is the best evidence, and that history, coupled with too many fools committing crimes, does inform this issue. More often than not, the feelings of violation and shame after encounters with law enforcement are real, and they are based on legitimate experiences.

Now to my original point. A friend of mine sent me this link, an ABC News segment on the Skip Gates imbroglio. When I finished watching it, I felt a little unsettled. We really don't know what happened between the officer's arrival and Gates arrest. It's the classic case of a story with three sides (in this case, Gates' side, the officer's side and the truth).

Finally, a possible scenario hit me. What if this is an example of Dave Chappelle's skit "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong?" Work with me on this. Gates has had a long trip home, and he is beat. He then realizes that he can't get into the house. The neighbor sees some, what she deems, shadiness happening and calls the cops. Cops arrive once Gates is home. Is it possible that what happened with Gates is akin to the following?

What remains a mystery to me is why, after it was established that Gates was in fact the resident of that house, it didn't end right then and there. And, I don't think that the arresting officer is a racist. I just don't. I just wonder if the Chappelle idea is potentially informative.

If somehow we learn that I am close to right, then BHO may have to backtrack on his comments from last night's press conference. They did not go over very well with the Cambridge law enforcement community, I am sure.

And, if I am close to right on this, then sadly, the usual will happen. Actually, it's already begun. Charges of race hustler will fall on Gates, thus dismissing all past and any future legitimate problems associated with racial profiling. This is because, for some, whatever a black person has to say that challenges the notion of everything being just this shy of utopia in America is suspect. On the other side, Gates becomes a saint, and law enforcement officials will continue to be treated as suspect, because, for some, their worst fears will have been confirmed about "racist" cops.

It's amazing what a little time and reflection can do to one's position on an issue. I still hold to much of what I wrote on this subject before, but I now offer an update and a new angle. I am tired of the usual, and I know I am not alone.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Did You Hear the One About Obama Being a Kenyan?

I am a little confused. Where is the notion that BHO is not an American citizen coming from? I watched "Hardball" with Chris Matthews yesterday, and I was totally dumbfounded. I laughed openly at the woman from Delaware who hijacked Congressman Castle's constituent meeting, because it was clear that there was nothing BHO could do, ever, to convince her that he is not a "Kenyan."
The easy way to tackle this is to suggest that because BHO is the first black POTUS, and he had the unfortunate luck of not being a direct descendant of American slaves (though there are apparently American slave holders in his family history), and was born in what I assume to some must be the foreign country of Hawaii, that therefore, he must be a Muslim plant, a Manchurian Candidate, or perhaps just illegitimate. That would be easy.

But it does make one wonder. Have any other U.S. Presidents had their citizenship challenged? Right now, I don't know the answer to that. Maybe others will let me know in the comments section. And there are ten GOP sponsors to a bill to insist that in future elections those running for POTUS must produce a valid birth certificate (as though they haven't at some point in the past already). Isn't that just a stealth way to get BHO to do what they think they want when he runs for re-election, thus catering to these sad, pitiful people?

Check out these other bits on this subject here, here and here. Oh, and can someone make Liz Cheney go away?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Being Black in "Post-Racial" America I

When I was studying at American University, I used to live in a neighborhood called American University Park. It's a beautiful neighborhood in Upper Northwest, DC (an area also jokingly referred to as Upper Caucasia, because it is in the whitest section of majority black DC), known for some of its famous (in the DC sense) community members. Former Senator Phil Gramm (the turtle) lived a few blocks over from me, for example.

Now I recognized that I was no longer in regular DC. Though I was legally able to move about as any normal standard American should, I knew I had to do a couple of things. First, I made it a point to introduce myself to all of my neighbors (I was the only black person on the block...actually for at least two blocks for a while). Second, on my first trip to the grocery store, I discovered that there was a Metropolitan Police Officer (K-9 unit) who lived around the corner. On my way home, he was outside. I went right up to him, groceries in hand, and introduced myself. I told him (I wish I could remember his name; the kids were nice) that I'd just moved in around the corner, and that I supposed we would see each other occasionally.

For three years, I had no trouble whatsoever. In my second year there, a young black couple moved across the street from the officer. It was funny when we saw one another, because the meaning of the waving and smiles was clear: We are not alone. Yet, in my last year there, something happened, and it reminded me of certain realities.

I was walking from the Metro at twilight, knapsack slung over my shoulder, and dressed as preppy as always. A little less than a block from me was one of my neighbors (she lived in the basement apartment right under mine). As I raised my hand to wave hello, she had taken a quick glance back, made her assessment, and took off in a near run. Mind you, there was enough light to recognize people. And we'd been neighbors for almost two years at that point. I realized what was happening, and I kept walking home. By the time I got to our block, she looked back again, and ran the last bit of distance to our respective house.

When I got home, I decided to go downstairs and make mention of it. Ole girl actually denied taking off, and then she added that she didn't see me. And I noted that she was indeed correct; she didn't see me. She saw a black man, and a threat. She apologized (do you apologize when you've done no wrong?). I was polite and accepted, but I was reminded that no matter what you do, sometimes it is simply not enough to transcend perceptions and fears.

When I read that Henry Louis "Skip" Gates was arrested in front of his own home following a call to the police from a woman passing by thinking that Gates was breaking in to his own home, I immediately thought of all of the things I'd done in my neighborhood to avoid just such an incident. Had Gates done the same? Would it have mattered if he did? Why was there need of an arrest once it was clear that Gates was at home, and that the caller made a mistake? Was this caller a neighbor, and if so, how could she not recognize a fellow neighbor?

For all of this talk of a "post-racial" society, I think that it is silly. Of course we haven't transcended race. We have made strides that would have the heads of all our American ancestors spinning at the neck, and those strides have been good. Yet, for too many, crime will continue to have a black male face. And I will say that it pisses me off to no end the black men who help to perpetuate that stereotype. We, the law abiding black men, catch all the hell that should be heaped on the actual criminals, mostly because other folks haven't grown sophisticated enough to see the difference between a common criminal and say a Harvard scholar. Until that change happens, I don't want to hear a word about transcending race.

UPDATE (July 22, 2009): While checking out The Daily Dish, I came across this link to an essay that John McWhorter wrote in response to the Skip Gates incident. He put it in words that I both admire and understand, and I think he is right.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Health Care Hullabaloo

Having decided to try my hand at consulting has come with some costs, namely not having enough money at this point to afford health care. I have two cousins who are doctors, so if there were any real emergencies, I at least can ask questions without charge. In that respect, I am much more lucky than the millions of others who do not have health care.

I have long believed that health care should be a right in a country as wealthy and productive as ours.

What has fascinated me most about this health care debate is this "end of days" posturing coming from the right about even the notion of reform. For every person who crows about the prospect of government coming between a patient and his doctor, I could introduce you to real people whose insurance companies do exactly the same thing. How many people have had to abandon their doctors, because the company has changed health care providers, and your doctor is not in the new "network?" Is that not akin to a bureaucrat intervening in a doctor/patient relationship? And because health care is outrageously priced, the notion of simply remaining with your old plan is not economically feasible for the overwhelming majority of Americans.

Regarding costs, I am with the folks who are concerned about the effect reform could have on the country economically. That's what generating real ideas is about, finding potential solutions. I am sure that some right leaning think tank has written position papers on health care that do not maintain the status quo. Bring those forward, and let's see where compromise can be made.

Yet, I find it offensive that this appears, from the right, to be all about politics and political scoring, an effort to bring down the POTUS. William Kristol talks of the notion that the GOP wants health care reform. If that is the case, then where are their ideas, beyond tax cuts? And what's with Senator DeMint looking for BHO's Waterloo? If the legislation is so bad, then shouldn't the GOP be offering genuine solutions? Lord knows BHO has been extending hand after useless hand to bring this lot on board for just about all he's attempted. What he gets in return is rhetoric, and not even good rhetoric.

Let me be fair. I think that the whole of official Washington, regardless of party, has done a genuine disservice to the people who really could use universal health care. There are people who would like nothing more than see BHO proven to be nothing more than a non-U.S. born Manchurian Candidate set to destroy the country, yet they still need quality health care that they aren't currently getting. If these current legislative efforts work, they may continue to hold disdain for BHO, but they will have been helped.

Let me reiterate, health care should be a right in this country, period. There is no reason, no reason whatsoever, that this country, the greatest, should have its citizens going bankrupt just to cover health care costs. The bottom line is that those who are working on this issue (or in the case of the GOP, posturing), will have the best health care available in the country for the rest of their lives. Do they really deserve better than those who elected them?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Regarding Marion Barry

Last week, a buddy of mine called me, and he was rather apoplectic about the latest details in the saga that is DC pol Marion Barry. He couldn't understand how Barry's political ward could re-elect him considering all of the problems surrounding him, and he wanted to know what I thought about Barry (especially in light of his recent arrest for stalking his ex-girlfriend, charges which I believe have been dropped).

Barry was once a real reformist politician (he began on the DC School board, then City Council, and in 1979 became mayor) with a solid vision of what Washington, DC could be, and he started off quite strong.

By 2009, Barry had become merely a shadow of his past self. Who can forget the video of Barry smoking crack with that woman who was not his wife? Who can forget that Barry served time for those aforementioned drug offenses? Who can forget that as soon as he was done serving time that he was elected back to the City Council? Who can forget that Barry, to the shock of the nation, was re-elected mayor? Who can forget that Barry evaded his taxes, at least twice? And yet, Barry was re-elected as a member of the City Council, with solid support from the people of his ward once again.

Ward 8 is perhaps the most challenged and the least wealthy ward in the city. Maybe the people of Ward 8 see a little of themselves, or their loved ones, in Barry. Barry seems to have been embraced by his constituents both for his past political successes and his attempts at redemption following his personal failings.

What I see is a man who should have abandoned politics after serving time. The level of shame and ridicule that was brought to DC with his political resurrection was incredible. The reputation of the city is marred, yet he remains.

I don't think I will ever truly understand why Barry continues to garner support from the folks of Ward 8. Maybe it's just old fashioned politics and political patronage. Yet change is coming in the form of new residents. How long will Barry's reign last once the demographics of his ward reach the tipping point in favor of the newcomers?

After the Fall from Economic Grace

When and why did we become so wasteful?

When I started this post, I wondered if the word I was looking for was sacrifice, but as I thought about it longer, wasteful seemed the more appropriate term. Think of all the competitive consumption that we engaged in during the turn of the 21st century. It was not a mistake to re-fashion the term "Gilded Age." And as was discovered during the Great Depression, "gilded" was exactly the proper term, but I digress.

Perhaps this recession is a potential gift to our society. We've heard talk of being able to push the reset button, and begin again, whether it's the American economy or relations with Russia or Iran. I hit the reset button in my life, when I decided to leave a job, not knowing that the bottom would fall out economically a few weeks later. I have several friends, who in some way or another, are experiencing changes that will afford them opportunities to be less wasteful in their lives.

I hope that as we emerge from these rough economic times that we will come away with good lessons learned that help us to be less wasteful, fiscally and personally. Let's hope that our government will learn to be less wasteful in the long run as well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Harry, Hermoine and Ron Return!!!!!

There is no shame in my game. I cannot wait for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince to open next week. I have seen quite a few of the trailers (here's one), but I have been getting most of my coverage from...wait for it...

Any question you can think of regarding HP is probably answered on this site. Looking forward to July 17!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Thrilla in Wasilla (Wink)

Sarah Palin's resignation as Governor of Alaska was quite a surprise today. I mean thanks to Vanity Fair, she was about to be all over the news again. And, the whole thing with David Letterman's piss poor joke provided Palin with face time as well. And, I just read that Sarah Palin's father suggested to Fox News that the negative media was a part of Palin's decision to resign.

Maybe this means that she is now ready to spend the next several years immersing herself in information that will afford her an opportunity to develop an informed political sensibility. Okay, I might be pushing it there.

And why is Mark Sanford still running South Carolina?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vibe Magazine, 1993-2009

Though I didn't really read the magazine regularly, I was a little sad to read today that "Vibe" magazine was being shuttered. I also immediately thought of the movie "Brown Sugar," with Sanaa Lathan and Taye Diggs (though if I recall, Sanaa's character was the new Editor-in-Chief of "XXL," a rival of "Vibe").

In many ways, I feel like "Vibe" was there at the apex of hip hop, not that I think that hip hop is dead, by any means. But, I think that the sixteen years of "Vibe" was an incredible time for hip hop's ascension into the American cultural mainstream. The "New York Times" has an excellent article today on the whole history of "Vibe" and its broader cultural meaning. It's as though the decline, in my opinion, of the genre was a party to the demise of its most mainstream chronicler.

Interestingly, "Vibe" goes under near the 20th anniversary of Spike Lee's movie "Do the Right Thing," a hip hop movie if there ever was one. Whereas "Do the Right Thing" was raw in so many respects, "Vibe" was slick. "Do the Right Thing" seemed to be about hip hop demanding deserved respect, while "Vibe" essentially marked the "arrival" of the genre to the mainstream.

It will be interesting to see how the remaining hip hop magazines will fill the void created by this loss.