Jan 31, 2009

Black Steele in the Hour of Chaos

Though a defeated party, the GOP still won't quite go away. First there were the comments made by the man Keith Olbermann calls "The Comedian," none other than Rush Limbaugh, who stated this week that he hopes President Barack Obama "fails," only to be followed by the news Friday that the Grand Old Party has selected an African American, Michael Steele, to lead the Republican National Committee. All of this was taking place during a week when the Republicans on Capital Hill were chugging down gallons of haterade as they try to stop Obama's economic stimulus plans, in spite of his noble attempts to bridge the so-called partisan divide. For a vanquished party, the Republicans are still making a lot of noise; at least for the time being.

First of all, Limbaugh, in saying that he hopes that Obama fails, is really saying that he hopes that the nation fails, right? Because logic would suggest that if the President fails, at this especially volatile time, then the nation would be worst off for it. For some reason though, I've missed the tear and feathers, and accusations of Limbaugh being "anti-American." I guess the anti-American tag only applies to Democrats?

Obama would probably do well not to call Limbaugh's name, because every time he does, it's a scenario not unlike the one Jay-Z described when he said "if I shot you I'm brainless/if you shot me you're famous." Limbaugh, who by the way is a radio jock, not a politician, lest anyone forget, stands to benefit every time he gets acknowledged by the President. Don't feed the animals. A preferred method of dealing with him would be to invoke the Tony Soprano "he's dead to me" mantra and let the idiot die a death of irrelevancy like that of the defeated political party that he stomps so hard for on the radio everyday.

As for Michael Steele, it appears that the Republicans have either a) suddenly discovered the word "diversity" in the dictionary or b) think that only another African American should run their party now that Obama is in office? What is this, tit for tat? Quid pro quo, Dr. Lecter? Can you say "tokenism"?

Michael Steele, I've got news for you Playboy, you are no Barack Obama. So all that talk about running over those who try to obstruct your party needs to be squashed. Win an election and then you can talk, otherwise just fall back. Maybe if the Republicans had gotten the diversity memo 2 years ago, it might have made a difference, but at this point Michael Steele is just a black face running a party reduced to watching the action from the sidelines. Too little, too late. Turn off the lights, the party's over; the Republican party, that is!

Jan 23, 2009

The Takeover and other Post-Inaugural Thoughts

Ok, now that a few days have passed since the inaugural, I'm on my stream of consciousness flow today as the rain drops fall in Southern Cali.

I just finished doing an interview with a journalist from the Chicago Tribune. The interview was about, for lack of a better description, the hip hop presence at the inauguration. This reporter seemed surprised by several things from Tuesday's inaugural festivities, including, for instance, Beyonce's singing, Obama gettin' his two-step on, and other visible examples of what she considered "hip hop." The reporter also commented on how others that she has talked to of a certain age felt equally surprised at what they saw. At one point she said something about a majority of the country not fully realizing what was going on. While I agree that a majority of this country doesn't know what's going on, I suspect that my reasons are quite different than those of the reporter.

First of all there was nothing necessarily "hip hop" about anything that happened on Tuesday. While it was cool to see mainstream acts like Beyonce and Kanye in the mix, hip hop itself has been at the center of American popular culture so long that this was far from being a surprise. It was to be expected. I'm not saying that hip hop is mainstream as much as I'm saying the mainstream is hip hop.

What I want to key in on here is the rise of a new generation coming to power though. Obama is 3 years older than me and for all the other reasons that I predicted his victory way back in 2006, I am perhaps happiest about my generation coming up in the game. I am also pleased to see the older WW II, Baby Boom, and Civil Rights generations recede into the ether of irrelevancy. For me the so-called "Greatest Generation" was never that great, the Baby Boomers were getting long in the tooth, and don't let me get started on the Civil Rights generation; I called them out in The New H.N.I.C. which dropped all the way back in 2002.

Yes, the dawn of the Obama age is a new day in more ways than one. It's actually more like a takeover. We won and with victory comes the right to talk shit, the way I see it.

And let me just add a few more thoughts about all things inaugural and post. I am happy to hear that the President managed to keep his Blackberry. While I rep the iPhone, Obama's beloved Blackberry demonstrates his need for connectivity which is something very much borne of this age. As for the inaugural itself, let me begin by saying that the very presence of Rick Warren was insulting. John Robert's flubbed his lines yet it seems that both he and Obama are being blamed for this. Joseph Lowery bought back some words that I hadn't heard since I was a little kid. The only part he left out was "if you're black get back!" And the yet the low point of it all was Elizabeth Alexander's overly enunciated poetry. Elizabeth is source of one of my most prized possessions, the vinyl of Iceberg Slim's album Reflections, but I gotta be real about it, she was wack! Sorry.

For me though, the most entertaining moment of it all was watching Jimmy Carter walk right pass Bill Clinton without even looking in his direction. The two former presidents, both southern Democrats, have been beefin' for a while now. It was most recently evident in the photo that all the living presidents took at the White House a few weeks back. Notice the distance between the two men. It's like Carter is taking his own picture. I think this is all quite funny, two former presidents beefin' as though they were rappers. What's the world coming to? "What's beef?/beef is when I see you/guaranteed to be in ICU."

And, of course, last but not least, my homie The Queen, Ms. Aretha Franklin, put on for our city, Detroit, as only she can do. This inauguration marks the departure of a real "chain of fools" from office, paving the way for Aretha to rock the house with her voice and with her hat game; both of which were equally off tha chain. You know how we do!

Jan 18, 2009

That's Ghetto

A few years ago a debate erupted in one of my classes. This debate began when a white male student described something in particular as "ghetto." An African American woman took offense and vocalized her displeasure with his use of this term; a term that she considered an inappropriate utterance. She stated that, to her, the use of the word was racist. In response, the male student said that because he lived in the area surrounding USC, an area appropriately described as a "ghetto," that he felt as though he was justified in using the term. Others jumped in and soon the sparks began to fly. Like the good provocateur that I am, I let them all argue it out for a few minutes before I jumped in to maximize this especially teachable moment.

I was reminded of this argument the other day when I read about Kathleen Leavey the top lawyer for my city, Detroit, who resigned when a controversy evolved after she described the city's 36th District Court as "ghetto." Leavey, a white attorney in the nation's blackest city, made a comment that many considered offensive. Interim Detroit mayor Ken Cockrel called the remark "unacceptable."

Is "ghetto" the new n-word? The term itself supposedly dates back to 14th century Venice, Italy and was used to describe the walled off and gated section of the city where Jews where forced to live. The evolution of this term in America, certainly in the last 40 years, often implies an area defined by black poverty.

For someone to assume that ghetto is a racist term is to assume that poverty is endemic to blackness. In spite of countless hip hop songs and videos that have turned the "ghetto" into something to be envied over the last 20 years, what this African American student unconsciously assumed in her statement was that blackness is synonymous with being poor. While I know what people mean when they call something "ghetto" the term is a class specific term more so than it is racial. Yet in a climate where some right wing idiots call minimal government incursion into the financial markets "socialism" it is obvious that we as a society don't even begin to know to how to discuss issues of class.

On the other hand, someone living in the "ghetto" that surrounds the university while they are a student is certainly not the same thing as having been born and raised in the ghetto because that's the best that your family could afford. This student lived in the ghetto by choice because it was convenient to the university, not because his parents were poor and confined to live in squalor due to their lack of funds.

Debates about the appropriate use of the n-word have abounded for a long time now. I recently turned down a very persistent producer from Dr. Phil who wanted me to be on an episode of their show to debate the word. Though I have weighed in on the topic several times over the years, I am tired of talking about it by now. Honestly, it's not a big deal to me. I try to stay M.O.B. as it were and being engaging in such a dated conversation has nothing to do with gettin' money, so I now avoid this conversation like the plague. I really could care less. Though I do recognize that this term is still a very sensitive subject for many, it is not for me. As I have said time and again, I love the word "nigga"! It is my favorite word in the English language because no other word conjures up so much confusion, animosity, hand wringing, weeping, or gnashing of teeth. It's not the word, it's what the word represents that's the issue, but people are fixated on symbols, often times at the expense of substance.

While "nigga" doesn't offend me in the abstract, I do understand why many remain offended by it's usage, in spite of my liberal views on the topic. "Ghetto" is a different story altogether though. To call someone or something ghetto is to say raggedy, trifling, or less than up to par. Anyone who assumes that only black people are "ghetto" is a damn fool. The word is about lower class sensibilities, be it black, white, Latino, etc. People tend to use the metaphor of the "trailer park" when referring to whiteness and poverty, but regardless of the term in question, it is the class component that drives these words and metaphors; though I am not naive enough to think that the word "ghetto" hasn't been racialized.

I am not a language cop and I have no need to tell people what to say. But I think we need to recognize that simply because something is not necessarily wrong, it doesn't mean that you need to say it. What often gets lost in conversations like these is the point that the usage of certain words in a particular context may indeed be insensitive. The lack of sensitivity to the particular concerns of the environment that you are speaking in is often where the offense begins. The 36th District Court in Detroit is "ghetto" as is Detroit itself. That's not a diss, that's being real. I can stay this because I put on for my city and can feel Detroit in every ounce of my being; good, bad, and ugly. But my point here is that someone like Kathleen Leavey should think twice before uttering such a word in a predominately black city where the racial tensions are always an integral part of the overall fabric. I don't think her comment was racist, but it was certainly not intelligent either.

When controversies like this over the appropriate use of certain words come up, people often turn it into a debate about free speech. To suggest that someone cannot use a particular word is to imply a certain censorship in this context. Such an argument denies the role that context plays in the words that are spoken. I mean, I believe in the right to free speech as much as the next person, but I'm not going to go into a redneck bar and start yelling "cracker" at the top of my lungs just because I am free to do so.

Perhaps we shouldn't look at this as a free speech issue, but instead we should think about it as an issue of civility and decorum. There is something to be said for being considerate, respectful, and appropriate. All things lawful are not always expedient. In other words, think before you speak or else risk putting your foot in your mouth and then having to pay the consequences.

All this talk about the ghetto made me think of the late great Donny Hathaway's ruminations on the topic. Dig it...

And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn't reach back for that Oaktown pimp Too Short's flip of Hathaway's original joint with his own version of The Ghetto from 1990.

Jan 13, 2009

Not Easily Watchable

I Feel Sanctified

Someone sent me a text the other day saying that they were just leaving "Bishop Jake's film." That phrase sounded weird to me. First of all, the reverence with which Jakes was accorded in title and secondly, the fact that his name and the word "film" would be used in the same sentence. The "Bishop Jakes" in question is none other than Bishop Thomas Dexter "TD" Jakes, to be precise. Jakes is the influential modern day preacher who presides over the Dallas mega church The Potter's House. His film is the recently released Not Easily Broken.

I am a big proponent of a) advocating that people stay in their lane and b) bashing organized religion in all its many guises. Preacher's shouldn't make movies and filmmakers shouldn't preach. It is a sad day in Hollywood when the few black films that get made are increasingly those made by chitlin' circuit entrepreneurs like Jakes and Tyler Perry. These two have become the modern day versions of people like Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams. Unlike those early black film pioneers whose cinematic shortcomings are a bit more understandable considering their times, Jakes and Perry have no excuse for the contemporary coonishness that their films perpetrate. Further, the overt religiousness of their films are but another demonstration of the way that the evangelical movement is seeping into places where it need not be. Just another lasting legacy of the soon-to-be-departed 43, I guess?

Spencer Williams

Now some will ask, have you seen Not Easily Broken? And my answer is, absolutely not! And I don't plan on it either. When you are The Notorious Ph.D. and you watch film and have been watching movies for a living for the last 20 years, you don't need to see something to know whether or not it's bull defecation; the smell alone is a dead giveaway.

Green for the Money and Gold for the Honey!

People complain about rappers becoming actors all the time. Well, what about preachers and charlatans becoming filmmakers? That is a much bigger issue of concern for me. TD Jakes needs to stick with his regular hustle and stay out of the theaters with that overly moralistic, retread, "All God's Chill'un Got Wings" sentiment. What we might laugh at now when seeing say Green Pastures from 1936 is no longer funny in 2009. Frankly, it's quite sad. Besides as far as "Bishops" go, I much prefer listening to Arch Bishop Don "Magic" Juan anyway. Better yet, if Nina Mae McKinney, I'm sorry, Taraji P. Henson, ain't singin' "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" then don't even call me.

Nina Mae McKinney

Tim Tebow's Ice is Colder

Some people tend to have very short memories. In reading and listening to all the recent talk about University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, one would come to assume that Tebow has actually done something that has never been done before. Tebow's skills as a runner and a passer are being lauded as though no college quarterback ever possessed such a combination. Is Tebow the first college quarterback who can hurt you with his arm as well as his feet? Hell no! You ever heard of Vince Young? Oh, I'm sorry, VY is yesterday's news. It was only 3 years ago that VY set the Rose Bowl field on fire with perhaps the greatest college bowl game performance ever. His 467 total yards, including the game winning touchdown with 19 seconds left, lead his Texas Longhorns to an upset of the USC Trojans, who themselves were closing in on a historic 3peat as college football's national champions. Tebow's 341 total yards, while admittedly an impressive performance, pale in comparison.

My point here is not to praise VY--trust me, it was my Trojans that VY ran over and around that January night back in 2006!--so much as it is to point out the blatant bias that has accompanied Tebow's success. VY is but one person to contrast Tebow against. VY's opponent that night Matt Leinart had won his own Heisman back in 2004 and was 19 seconds away from winning a third national title in a row. Leinart lost a whooping 2 games in his entire career as a starter, and one of those was the Texas Rose Bowl lose. Tebow has already lost 5 games since becoming the Gators starting QB.

Tebow, the son of evangelical missionaries, and a "jack leg" preacher himself, was home schooled, though allowed to participate in high school football due to a Florida law that allows this. I have never been a fan of home schooling. The racial and cultural undertones of such a practice is quite appalling, really. If you don't want to go to the public school, you shouldn't be allowed to participate in it's sports program. Participating in the sports program of a local school is a right and a privilege for those who attend the school, not those who choose to avoid attending it. Yet this conservative, evangelical, crew cut-wearing QB is now the toast of a university which represents the state that delivered GB 43 to the White House in that infamous "jacked" election back in 2000. Why I am I not surprised?!

At one point in the BCS game Tebow did that ridiculous Gator chomp, clearly taunting his opponent, and what did the sycophantic announcer say? Something like this might be the first mistake that he's ever made? Nothing about poor sportsmanship or thuggish behavior, no, other people's character flaws are treated as leadership strengths for Tebow.

There is nothing new about Tebow's ability to run and pass other than the fact that the people who did it before him, people like VY and Michael Vick, are black and Tebow is white. What did Mos Def say, "If white boys doin' it/well/it's success/When I start doin' it/well/it's suspect." Tebow's style, politics, and his race make him a hero for some people. Alas, enough with all this jock ridin', please! I'm not saying he isn't a good player, but his skills are nowhere near the hype that he has generated. I guess it stands to reason though in a sport where black head coaches are next to non-existent that the desire for another great white hope trumps the need for a more equitable and diverse workplace.

(By the way, can we please retire all further Superman references that have nothing to do with the fictional Superman character?!)

Jan 6, 2009

You Played Yourself

Uncle Roland Burris and Mr. R. Blag

What is up with Roland Burris? It's one thing for embattled Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to engage in this grand act of political theater by nominating Burris, but why would Burris go along with this stunt? In other words, getting played is bad, playin' yourself is worst. Burris is clearly a pawn in R. Blag's game, a cynical game of racial politics used to stir up confusion, while homie awaits his federal indictment. It seems that R. Blag's assumes that if he can stir up enough animus with this nomination that maybe he can detract attention away from what appears to be his own impending doom. But even if Burris is finally seated, as all indications suggest that his appointment is legal, he will have no credibility. He is destined to be a comic footnote.

I'm sorry--or maybe I'm not--but there seems to be something a bit coonish about Burris' eager participation in all of this. He appears quite "happy to be there," as it were. Burris is playing Rochester to R. Blag's Jack Benny.

Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Jack Benny

I had hoped that the shufflin', grinnin', compliant sycophant was now a thing of the past, but not so quick. Between Burris' old soft shoe routine and New York congressman Charlie Rangel's mounting troubles, it seems that not everyone has turned in their clown suits just yet. Stephin' Fetchit is still in the building. Roland Burris is nothing more than a political mascot right now. This would really be painful to watch if it wasn't so subversively funny. Roland Burris is a joke and I refuse to stop laughing until he puts his tap shoes away.