Monday, December 31, 2007

Wondrous and Fantastical Lives, known as burdens to some

Junot Díaz, thank you for giving voice to your life and to your project. A project I think we all are engaged with in many ways at TNS.

Luís directed me to this amazing interview with Díaz conducted by a Cornell professor. Visiting his Alma Mater in February 2007, Díaz had been receiving consistent acclaim for his book of short stories, Drown, and anticipation for his now released work, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

I was wary of the interviewer from the beginning after hearing his tone and initial questions.
Díaz had so much to tell that the questions were diverted and spun into a larger story.
Then, the interviewer presented the box.

Asking about his politics (of being different) and wondering aloud if he carries a burden (of a non-white story), the interviewer falls into every trap of how one treats a "race" author. Instead of growing frustrated, Díaz responds beautifully about the true burden of the "willfully unseeing." It'd be a mistake to summarize what you need to hear for yourself. If I have time after the Holidays, I will try and transcribe the interview. For me, it's exactly what I needed to energize and jettison my creative dreaming into the new year. Off to the bookstore I go. Have a safe and fun New Year's, everyone.

An Interview You Won't Soon Forget

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Update on NOLA housing demolition

You know what they say, direct action gets the goods. Let's make sure it pulls through in New Orleans. Ongoing protests against HUD's planned demolition of public housing escalated today to a lock-down on the buildings set to be demolished. From this morning's press release:

NEW ORLEANS – A small group of local housing activists chained themselves to bulldozers early this morning that were slated to resume demolition of the B.W. Cooper housing complex. The Cooper houses are one of four public housing complexes that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to raze, eliminating more than 4,500 apartment units in a hurricane-damaged city desperately short of housing.

The community activists chained themselves to the bulldozers on the morning of a day when the New Orleans City Council is scheduled to make a final vote on whether to approve the demolitions. “We are refusing to leave unless the City Council stops this illegal, unjust, and immoral plan to destroy vital housing,” said Jamie "Bork" Laughner of MayDay NOLA, an advocate for the human right to housing. Along with MayDay NOLA, C3 Hands Off Iberville and Friends and Residents of B.W. Cooper make up a coalition calling for civil resistance to HUD's plans.

“People here are prepared to resist what amounts to an assault on their communities,” said Laughner.

The planned destruction of New Orleans public housing, part of a wider plan to dissolve poorer communities and gentrify the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has sparked unprecedented resistance in New Orleans as well as protests across the country. In today's New York Times, architecture critics Nicolas Ouroussoff calls the demolitions “one of the greatest crimes in American urban planning.”

The lock-down stopped demolition work for today at least. More updates as they come are at NOLA Indymedia.

EDIT: Please take a minute to write to New Orleans' City Council here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Public housing demolition in New Orleans has JUST STARTED

As if enough wasn't destroyed in New Orleans during the hurricane, and enough people didn't lose the little bits they had, HUD is right now starting demolition on up to 4,000 units of public housing. I can't give a better account of what's happening since I'm not there, so I want to pass you along to someone who can.
Via The Redstar Perspective, chock full of links and very important information:

We’re in our final days of trying to keep public housing standing in New Orleans, and it’s fairly self-indulgent of me to use such a pronoun, given my marginal ties to New Orleans these days (not to mention my general exam blogging of the last 2 weeks). Nonetheless, if we don’t have some perception of solidarity in the midst of this tragedy, then blogging about public housing for the last 18 months, among other more important activities, has scarcely done its job. Consider this post an aggregate of information and resources for those who aren’t sure where to look.

Let’s begin with this video of activist and civil rights lawyer Bill Quigley’s arrest at a City Council meeting for protesting the demolition of public housing. In the last month, my feminist and progressive blogosphere has been spreading the word about the impending demolition of approx. 4,000 units of public housing in New Orleans, scheduled for this Saturday, and the resistance of tireless residents and activists in the face of a corrupt, ideological, myopic and ruthless HUD. I have little to add at this late juncture, except to add to the collective grief, anger and, for myself anyway, sense of despair that this is really happening.

The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund,, Louisiana Weekly, and even the NY Daily News have more depressing and outrageous detail than you could ever hope to read (check out for updates, info and resources). National Journal has a series on HUD corruption under Bush and Sec. Alfonso Jackson. Several weeks ago Congressional Quarterly ran a great article on the role of LA Sen. Vitter (R) in blocking affordable housing development in the city and region.

Please please, continue reading.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Race is a crazy thing and sometimes you just need to stop and say, "Wait...what?"

1) At Wednesday's YouTube debate, Mitt Romney suddenly employed a (fake) race consciousness by asking Rudy Guiliani if he approaches anyone with a "funny accent" and asks them if they're "illegal." This was in response to Guliani's comment that Romney lorded over a sanctuary mansion, his own house, since he apparently hired undocumented immigrants. When Guiliani did not answer, Romney barked out his question again. Still, no reply. A Republican trying to out a racist Republican?


2) While that tune by the Quad City DJs is still stuck in my head, my other non-soundtrack memories of Space Jam had floated away. That is, until, I read Paul Gilroy's fantastic book Against Race (a forced title by US publishers; Between Camps is the preferred UK title). At the end, he reminds us that Michael Jordan is enslaved in this movie to play basketball for the Monstarz. Enslaved. He argues that this process of slavery and physical shrinking of Jordan is to make his larger than life persona mesh with Bugs and the gang as well as to make Jordan's black male body mesh with us as consumers when we make the jump to buy a 12" Jordan. Gilroy is fierce. Corporation and empire hittin' us high again. Wait...what?

3) Brown Babies Unite! You'd think these babes of color were joining these organizations straight out the womb the way some people are talking. On November 26th, Pat Buchanan told Sean Hannity of Fox News that American abortions have led to "Asian, African, and Latin American children [coming] to inherit the estate the lost generation of American children never got to see." And, of course, he raged about the Southwest border: "You've got a wholesale invasion, the greatest invasion in human history, coming across your southern border, changing the composition and character of your country. You've got the melting pot that once welded us all together, which has broken down."

One of the most frustrating things about this immigration shouting match is that we continuously gloss over African-Americans and Native Americans and quietly sneak them in to the America that was always working until brown bodies rushed the border. FALSE! Since when did the melting pot burn our, unfortunately, very American experiences away? Our stories do not melt because their flames still run this nation. We have been and are the means of production, the first would be victims. And not in a Tancredo/Keyes way.

As silly as it may seem, every time we let this debate become a nation of immigrants vs. the illegals from the South, we are complicit in the erasure of our history and the creation of a new supposedly unified hyper-American narrative that perpetuates the same racialized dialogue of us vs. them that always leaves on the outskirts. Given this sort of dialogue turns neighbors against neighbors (legal or illegal), I believe we have the responsibility to elevate this discourse. Not only would that help dismantle the inaccurate portrayal of illegal immigrants as always Latino, it would force the telling of a different narrative. One where America has made mistakes through inaction and one where laws have been broken for the social good as a form of redress and an appeal for better laws. An America that I know as true.

Source: Media Matters know the drill.

4) Nooses are everywhere. Sometimes, students complain that there is no language to discuss race and other aspects of diversity. Unfortunately, I think some bigots think similarly about how to express their hatred. Well, nooses as throwback racist symbols caught the mainstream through Jena and those bigots never looked back. Looks like we have a not so new fight on our hands. Check out this graphic:

Source: Great NYT article

You said it, so I don't have to.

I'll try to leave on a good note with these so here you go...


Stay with it and then...WAIT WHAT?!

Have a good weekend all,

Thanks to Crystal, Naima, and Andom for 3,4,and 5, respectively.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

this speech will never set me free

a man calls for martial law...
a man calls black students responding to blackface "irrational" and "pathologizers" of white racists...

The YDN responds to "naysayers" of racist publications/acts by offering to be a place for the "debate" of free speech to begin.

what is it exactly about this speech that we may call free?

Making U.S. a police state will lower cost of health care, prevent national disaster

Anti-blackface columnists lacked rational argument

Towards solving the speech crisis at Yale

Graffiti, hate speech elicit Univ. response

(information about the spray painting of "N-Word School" on an exterior wall of a residential college at Yale).

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Quick link: Chicago cops taser black grandma

One of the first lessons I learned as a little kid in Chicago was to watch out for the cops: at best, you can expect total incompetence, and at worst, government-aided racist hate & violence.

So, I'm never surprised by how low cops, and specifically the CPD, can stoop.

Unless an 82-year-old grandmother is holding a loaded gun, there's no excuse for police officers to use a Taser.


Police allegedly used a Taser on 82-year-old Lillian Fletcher when performing a well-bring check at her home.

But that's what happened Oct. 29 when Chicago Police officers went to a West Side home to make a "well-being" check. The officers were responding to a request from the city's Department of Aging.

Continue reading Mary Mitchell's column on this...

Environmental Racism + Denial of History

I don't often read much on Alternet beyond the headlines, because such high concentrations of privilege-blind white liberals usually make me nauseous. But every now and then they print a good article--and then the usual White Liberal Guilt pours out in the comments section.

Last week they ran an excerpt of the book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots, in which the authors interviewed Van Jones, a black environmental justice activist. It's a great interview and a very quick read, so I encourage all of you to take a second to read it. Jones talks about sprawl and its ties to racism, through fear-mongering, media distortion, and classism, and what this means environmentally for people left behind in the city.

He then brings together (in my opinion, at least) two of the scariest things facing black people right now: environmental racism and the prison industry. The amount of money spent on sending disproportionately huge numbers of people of color to prison on trumped up charges could easily be spent thwarting off the environmental throwdown--or at least make cities decent places to live. He uses California as an example--there's a lot of talk in California about energy efficiency, but there's also things like Proposition 184, the Three Strikes Law [the link is a pdf].

If you don't read the interview, please at least read this gem, because it's a situation we all know too, too well:
Those folks [environmentalists] often speak about working together through "outreach" -- outreach in the sense of "outreaching to" these people or those people. Outreaching to the black community: "Well, we outreached to them so 'they' could hear our agenda and get onboard with what we are saying." This, as opposed to saying "let's go make some friends," building relationships, creating relationships. Figuring things out from a place where everyone's views are included. Relationships are give and take, mutual aid and help. Outreaching is the white thing, it's about bringing folks into what you are doing, and does not necessarily convey understanding. [emphasis mine]

My only beef is with what Jones says at the very end, about pushing the federal government into action--two things which I find absolutely antithetical. But, I suppose the anarchist people of color post is one for another day.

The comments, however, are disheartening. According to some, suburbs were not built on racism, and white flight is a thing of the past. Classism is the running theme. None of them are worth quoting here, but if you want to see how much history one can plainly deny while trumpeting their Liberal badge, take a look and keep a barf bag handy.

Monday, November 5, 2007

three ways to stand and move (in solidarity)


I am writing to invite you to participate in New Haven Solidarity Week. Over 25 student groups have been working in conjunction with City Hall and community organizations to mobilize Yale (students, faculty, workers) to support the Elm City Resident Card initiative.

This initiative is a way for members of the Yale community to identify as members of New Haven. Moreover, signing up for the Elm City Resident Card is a way of supporting the rights of undocumented immigrants in New Haven. This summer, New Haven became the first municipality in the nation to offer identification to all residents regardless of age or immigration status. The municipal ID allows cardholders to open bank accounts, have access to the New Haven Public Library, to have identification to show when contacting or confronted by police. This card has been important in the immigrant community because it enables undocumented people to open bank accounts so that they do not walk around with large amounts of cash and become the targets of violent crime. The card also enables undocumented immigrants to have a form of identification to show when contacting or confronted by the police.

The Elm City Resident Card also serves as a debit card for parking meters and about fifty New Haven businesses, including Atticus, Koffee?, and Viva's.

The card is useful in daily life for all of us who move around the streets of New Haven. Signing up for a card is an important way of showing your solidarity with the city of New Haven and moving towards supporting each and every member of our community, regardless of immigrant status....

And so, friends, here are three (of many) ways to get involved.

Bring your Yale ID, another form of identification (a driver's license, a passport, etc.) and $10 to Dwight Hall on:
Tuesday, 10 am - 4 pm
Wednesday, 6 pm - 9 pm
Thursday, 10 am - 2 pm
Friday, 10 am - 4 pm
If you do nothing else for New Haven Solidarity Week, stop into Dwight Hall for a few minutes and get this card! The card is only available on Yale's campus during the times listed above!

Tonight, Monday November 5th
from 7 pm - 9 pm in Dwight Hall Chapel, there will be live music, food from New Haven restaurant and speeches from Mayor John Destefano, Chaplain Sharon Kugler, Dean Jon Butler, and other stakeholders in the Yale and New Haven community.

This event starts after 7 pm in the Dwight Hall Chapel on Thursday, November 8th. There will be musical and poetic performances, communal singing in three languages, immigration stories, and interfaith community prayer. We will also be having desserts from different parts of the world. The event is completely free and will be a time to reflect upon and celebrate the ways that different faiths and cultural traditions value community and immigrant rights. Please come after you've signed up for your ID or before you do on Friday morning! This event is coordinated by the nascent Interfaith Alliance for Justice.

I hope to see you at New Haven Solidarity Week!

For a full list of ways to get involved, visit:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

trick or treat

this flier was created by members of the student activist group, Coalition for Campus Unity. CCU works to combat bigotry and promote diversity and justice at Yale by organizing to effect institutional change.

we found the message of this flier relevant to our campus given the popularity of this fall's ethnically themed parties, such as "Mustachio Bashio"(featuring caricatures of Latino men), "Cowboys and Indians" (featuring men dressed up as cowboys and women as 'indians') and "the ghetto party." and of course, the campus spotting of a young white man out and about in blackface.

stop, think, respect.

happy halloween.

Voices that Choose, Memories that Live

I don’t leave people.

But as I listened to a post-show discussion of the play, Trouble in Mind, I could not help but tap into my visions of that talk. The talk where I leave. The conversation where I declare the fullness of myself and offer a choice: respect my identity or receive a wave, hello, and how are you. That’s it. See, the star of the show, E. Faye Butler, had some advice about how to deal with that frustrated friend who just does not get it. Her advice? Leave.

Banish yourself from the lives of the seemingly static ignorant and move on. Unfortunately, the actress did not problematize this action. As people of color, our actions do not have the privilege of being read with nuance. Our slow walks offstage are not always read as poignant resistances to racism. Usually, they are (mis)interpreted as either nothing or a “colored problem.” The ghost of ourselves becomes their one “friend” of color to pull them through 21st century interviews and “I’m not racist” defenses. Our shadowed selves are also the reason they don’t believe in serious dialogues on race. To them, these hazy and soft voices beyond the veil are mostly a legitimization of our silence. They did not want to speak. They did not speak. They do not speak.

Silence. I did not voice this concern at the event. I remained silent, but I am speaking now and I trust it counts. I hope the longing I feel when I dream of these “would be” experiences empowers me to have the courage to finally communicate my frustrations in a full and strong voice.

If we choose to leave, we must leave with force—with honesty. You could have known me. We could have developed kinship—a trust enriched by moments and, hopefully, memories of accepting and actualizing love. However, you allowed the constructions of society to frame, bind, and paralyze our friendship. I have tried to build a bridge, to meet you where you are, to see where you could be someday. I hoped that we could meet in the middle as I am not a complete project either. Yet, you resisted while I opened myself wider than ever before, a process that hurt me—that continues to hurt me.

And I am here to say goodbye. I am here to leave, not empty handed; instead, I leave you with a choice, a promise, a challenge. Choose a privilege that grants you ignorance or choose to reckon with these topics and to reconcile with people like me. I promise you that I will still be here when you want to meet on that bridge. And, lastly, I challenge you to let me live within your memory. Do not tokenize me, compartmentalize my experience, or forget me. Let me live as you rub against these topics, as you see someone who looks like me, as you stumble across me in your “universal,” that world that erases my color.

And I will live with a memory of you. Someone who saw me even if it was with an ignorant lens. Someone who began to engage parts of myself. Someone I had to believe and hope in simply for respect. As I continue to move and act, I will use a broad vision to see how you could be affected. You will join others and I will try to keep you distinct. I know the change will come from your person, rather than your skin.

I pray for you all; I do not leave.

We should not leave silently. We must leave with a trail. And only they know if we truly leave at all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Race in America: Irrelevant & Incredibly Consequential

Clinton. Kennedy.

And yes, Bush.

We all know that a few families wield immense political power in this country. In fact, if a certain democratic candidate gets elected in November of 2008, the same two families will have been in the White House for at least 32 consecutive years. If this scenario holds true, however, we still could have a major first in American politics: our first female President, or our first President of color.

No, that is not a typo.

Lynne Cheyney, the wife of Dick Cheyney, recently discovered that she and her husband are related to Barack Obama as both descend from 17th century French immigrants. Obama is also distantly related to Bush through 17th century residents of Massachusetts. Although these relations have had absolutely no impact on the lives of any of these people, it does shed light on the concept of race in America.

Race is a social construction. Many historians will argue that before Bacon's rebellion in 1676, the concept of race was far from what it subsequently became. Prior to the rebellion, black slaves worked plantations along with black and white indentured servants. It was only after this event took place that the plantation working force became composed almost entirely of African slaves. Only then did the concept of race develop, and that was primarily a tool by which the new poor white farming class could ascend socially.It follows that race is not biological at all, but simply a holdover from another American institution - slavery.

Furthermore, if race is not biological, then it is irrelevant to the psychological development of a human being - independent of a society which conditions otherwise. For example, examine the case of Wayne Joseph, a Chino, Calif., high school principal. Joseph has lived his more than 50 years self-identifying as African-American who, "a few years ago, took an ethnic DNA test out of curiosity about his genetic history. To his surprise, the test found Indo-European, East Asian and Native American DNA, but none from Africa!" (Chicago Tribune). There is nothing that ties Joseph to the continent of Africa, but his self-identification has inextricably bound him with a group of people who are tied to the continent. As the article continues to say, "His chromosomes might not show African roots, but his identity was produced by the African-American experience" (CT). In short, this man was conditioned to be black. Thus, the concept of race without a society is irrelevant.

Race can be constructed or deconstructed as people desire. Until a society desires that deconstruction however, race is incredibly consequential.

As race is a social construct, it spurs the construction of other social institutions like racism, prejudice and bigotry. Those concepts have the power to stop individuals from reaching their dreams and to bind a people in the shackles of indignation. For that reason, America must continue on its road to racial equality - a journey that will require the efforts of all involved - especially people of color.

As Obama is the first realistic opportunity for a person of color to become President of the United States, his candidacy alone is cause for celebration. As much as we would all like to bury the racial history of our nation, none of us should fail to recognize that Obama will be campaigning for President in 2008 - just 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Just 40 years after blacks were being imprisoned for marching for freedom, a black man will be a serious candidate for President.

Maybe his candidacy can expedite the journey.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

race and violence: freshmen of color at yale

i have someone here at yale this year who i love very much. we have known each other a long time and he is a brilliant, forward thinking, conscious young black man. he is a freshman from brooklyn, new york with sensibilities he has gained from navigating all sorts of worlds - prestigious boys' school for the New York City elite, elementary school in clinton hill in the nineties, all sorts of neighborhoods in brooklyn and queens and the bronx, now yale's campus and new haven.

in the two months he has been at yale he has had white men threaten him multiple times with violence, with power, with their own acute and oppressive sense of entitlement. during his first days here he went to a party at one of the greek houses on campus with a large group of other freshmen. he alone was singled out of the line for entrance. he was not simply asked to show ID before being allowed in, which is standard procedure for racists about town who are scared of mixing company with the black and latino new haven residents who have been here long before they were accepted to yale. this young man was instead frisked by another student - a young white man who had the audacity to put his hands on another human being, without any authority vested in him by law, institution, or consent. he acted only with the authority he perceived bestowed upon him somehow by his whiteness.

the humiliation of being frisked in front of the other freshmen, othered in his construction as black, as latino, as a danger. of course, this white student who did the frisking would not have known what to do should he have even found a weapon. he did not really expect my friend to have a weapon. the frisk was merely an exercise of control: a performance of power. "This is my space, I can put my hands on you because I am white, because you are black, and because I decide whether or not you can stay here --- for now and of course, on my terms."

weeks later, when my friend - this young brilliant, good natured, resilient, black man - attempted to attend an "integrated" social event at yale with his dignity in tact, he was lifted up by the shirt by yet another tall, big white man and shoved out of the way. this man was drunk too. my friend responded. he let this other man know that he was never to touch him again, to use violence with him again, to move him out of the way as if he had ownership of the room, the whole planet, my friend's body. he was also never to assume he could do that unchallenged, without resistance.

three weeks ago, my friend's experiences came to a climax (for thus far, that is). he was sitting on a bench on high street across from a drunk white man. this man was with another male friend and his girlfriend. he called this young man that i know jermaine and then jerome, which my friend ignored. he asked my friend why he was here to which my friend replied, "i am waiting for my sister and her friends." the drunk white man then went on to say, "ooh - your sister is she hot?"

my friend went on to tell this kid to leave him alone, to stop asking him inappropriate questions about his sister, that he didn't know him. apparently, the kid's girlfriend shushed him. but he went on. "are her friends hot?" when my young friend told him again to be quiet, to stop harassing him, and to stop asking questions about women (of color) and their respective hotnesses, the kid announced: "whatever, he probably doesn't even go to yale anyway."

beyond failing to address my friend (probably lacking the courage to look him in the eye and say "you probably don't even go to yale anyway"), this drunk white man assumed that because of the color of my friend's skin and the manner of his dress he could not possibly be a yale student. and of course, to this man to be a yale student is tantamount to being his equal. what he was really saying was: "you are probably not even my equal." moreover, this other student's words reveal that other people, particularly people of color, are not worthy of his respect, time, or recognition, if they do not attend yale.

an argument ensued, during which the drunk white man issued threats such as "i'm twice your size." this man and his two companions made my friend acutely aware that he was outnumbered and smaller. being from brooklyn, the young man i know did not flinch.

my friend communicated - with no ambiguity at all - that this drunk white man did not know him, ought not underestimate him, and would not be able to harm him.

when three of the women of color my brother was waiting for arrived, they noticed the anger and tension in the scene. they told the drunk man's girlfriend and friend to take him home. "what kind of friends are you? leaving your drunk, belligerent, racist friend out on the street to harass people?" when tensions reached a climax, one of the young black women announced, "fine! i know you're not 21. let's call the police then!" they arrived in bold defense and solidarity, supporting my friend who was already handling himself well - unwilling to be diminished, to be harmed - with words or blows. the situation resolved and the three senior women walked with the young freshman man, welcomed yet again to this new academic community with accusations of non-belonging and with the desire of others to assert their own eminence through assaults on his mind, his soul, his self.

i am most moved by two things. first, the incredible pride of these men who continue to assault my friend. they all appear to have what some might call a God complex - they believe in their own eminence and invincibility; they believe that they have the power and authority to manipulate the life and rights of others. i am moved by friend's steadfastness and conviction in his own humanity and his own rights. that he would assert his self in the face of such danger, unafraid of defending himself, but unwilling to enter the sort of fray that might jeopardize an educational opportunity that he, his family, and his community have worked very hard to obtain.

my heart aches for this young man. he is a man of great promise, who has transcended all sorts of life circumstance, to arrive at a place of light and truth that included no pictures of such threats of violence in the glossy pages of a brochure.

earlier this year, Dr. Beverly Tatum came to speak to yale freshmen about her book Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and Other Conversations about Race. Dr. Tatum's presence was part of an innovative and important initiative coordinated by the yale administration and student leaders to pro-actively address issues of diversity and community. some freshmen (of many colors) objected to being assigned readings from Dr. Tatum's book and the "forced" dialogue about race and segregation and justice. to some, the talk felt like part of a propagandistic liberal agenda or a reinforcement of racial lines by talking about the existence and division of race in college.

in general, the response from freshmen was overwhelmingly positive; many felt the difficult conversations expanded their minds to new ways of thinking and opened their hearts to new ways of loving. only time will tell whether the program will foster unity and conscience. however, a few students deemed the events irrelevant or oppressive.

such students are the sort of folk that ralph ellison might call "sleepwalkers."

Open Your Eyes.

freshman year is not all dances and kegs and problem set parties for all freshmen at yale.

thinking of these experiences my friend has recounted to me, i wonder:

is there is an infrastructure to report such acts of violence, such grievances, such threats? is there a body at yale that students of color, that muslim students, that women, can report such acts to so that they might feel safe on the street and in their dorm rooms? so that such pride, irresponsibility, and hatred may not go unchecked, may not ever culminate in the violence that destroys fleshes and futures? something to think of blactivists and friends...

the story of this young man is not uncommon. i know black men who have had gate doors slammed in their faces, who have had the police called on them while they are doing their laundry in dorm basements, who have been told by campus police they do not look like yale students. i know black women who have been accused of stealing, who have had their bodies regarded as sites for conquest and control, who are punished for their spirit and their voice.

this is of course not typical of yale's campus alone. this is the treatment we experience as black students within the yale bubble, carrying IDs that prove to policemen and frat boys, however unbelieving, that we have a right to walk the streets of new haven. this is a right consistently denied to the citizens of new haven - who without the plastic white proof of belonging - are invisible and dangerous.

when i spoke to the aforementioned young man on the phone, he told me he was not scared. he's been attacked by drunk white men muttering the n-word on late trains coursing through brooklyn, where he lives. where i am from as well. this event was not upsetting for my friend because it had never happened to him before - it had. he was most upset because these sorts of encounters he is having on high street in new haven, connecticut are precisely the reason he did not apply to schools in the South.

welcome to New England.

since this young man has been at yale he has experienced all manner of racism. beyond this sort of incident involving a threat of violence, he has, of course, seen and circumnavigated and resisted many racisms that others might deem less "severe." These "subtler" forms of racism ---- underestimation by professors, objectification by peers, tokenization, dismissal, denial of history, social exclusion, sexual harassment, economic oppression --- injustices that are no less violent, less injurious, less unjust than white hands roaming, shoving, pounding.

while i believe very much in non-violence and the importance of peacemaking, i also currently believe very much that self defense is a human right. i worry to think of what would have happened should that kid have begun to swung at my young friend. i worry to think of who would have left yale, and who would have remained. i worry to think of how that story might have been re-spun and history revised.

all i can promise is that there would have been a rally, a protest, a movement: vigilant and committed organizing on the part of black yale and our allies. it is a wonder we are not doing all of this already.

perhaps it is the sense of complete involvement we have in our schoolwork. and surely, our educations are important. unlike many white activists at Yale who rhetorically and effectively dismiss school work as somehow irrelevant in comparison to the immediacy of "The Struggle," as students of color at yale we know that our presence here is political, that we inhabit yale in preparation for our return to the communities from whence we came to work collectively for real good; we know that the histories we are studying are our heritage and may be our deliverance. we know that these histories are ours to recreate.

however, although we regard our experiences in yale and in new haven as preparation, we cannot be still. our time in this city is time in "the real world," irrespective of what others might insinuate about what college is or should be. complacency will never be a part of a true education and our immersion in action, in reflection, in good work, and in each other will be what ensures that we learn.

press on, young one. the drunk white kids on high street can't take your education away. and in the words of e st v, remind those who would assault us, night and day, ceaselessly, with hateful egocentrism and cruelty:

See you in class.

Biden's "American Pragmatism" = Racism

Thanks, Biden.

You have continued to run your mouth and reveal your ignorance and deep seated prejudice that you most likely see as a true "American pragmatic" spirit. You take statistics, ignore the roots and systemic causes, and essentialize numbers and stereotypes onto brown and black bodies. Trying to identify the reasons Iowa schools are outperforming Washington D.C. schools, Biden's jumped to racial demograpics. According to the Delaware Senator and Presidential candidate, Iowa stained only with a 1% African-American population must be a "cleaner" situation than DC. Biden continued, "There is probably less than four of five percent that are minorities. What is in Washington? So look, it goes back to what you start off with, what you're dealing with."

What I'm dealing with? Assumptions, Supremacy, Racism, Bigotry? Check, check, check, and check.

Biden, of course, has a bigger mouth than that. "When you have children coming from dysfunctional homes, when you have children coming from homes where there's no books, where the mother from the time they're born doesn't talk to them — as opposed to the mother in Iowa who's sitting out there and talks to them, the kid starts out with a 300 word larger vocabulary at age three. Half this education gap exists before the kid steps foot in the classroom."

Again, inscribe the dysfunction on our bodies.
Again, make the black mother the source of all social wrongs.
Again, sidestep a teaching moment on the increased need for personal responsibility in light of a government that cuts education funding to start wars without borders or causes. I-r-a-? Forger the next letter. Bomb it, anyways.

Biden, you bought into popular American racial constructions hook, line, and sinker. If you cannot discern that societal framework or, at least, be smart enough to "Clinton" your situtation out and only racialize foreign bodies (next post is for you, Hillary), you have no place in this race. Step down and move on. Wait, out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What do neocons have to do with blackface and green card parties?

"Hey Ted, you goin' to the green card party tonight? Remember to bring your wife beater. Best look like a real chullo. You know, f'in crips and bloods! West Side!"
"Yo Dan, I want at least two cases of 40s at the party tonight. Remember McClellan, A 43.
"Hey Erin, don't you want to look a little skankier? I mean, it's the ghetto party after all. I like your outfit and all, but what if you showed a little more skin? And I mean, gold plastic jewelry's a plus."
"Hey José, did you get the facebook invite to the green card par..oh, sorry. It's just a joke, you know? We didn't mean it like that. I...we love your culture. The guy who looks after the frat is a Latino. I went to public school. I'm part Irish, you know.. eh.. immigrants, unite! Eh.. I guess you're not coming, huh?"

Last semester, I remember going with Camille back to her room to hang out, and on our way upstairs, running into white college kids in oversized jerseys, baggy jeans, tipped-off baseball caps, you know the deal. There may or may not have been plastic gold jewelry. The source was none other than Camille's own suite, where every time the door screeched open, another action figure from the Appropriated Ghetto Playset walked in...rolling deep...with his thug crew and a girl who looked liked she missed the memo on How to Dress Ghetto and made up for it by just wearing fewer clothes.

So here Camille and I are, only folks of color in the suite at the time, standing as these characters file in and out. We opt to...bounce...instead of seeing the party through to its disastrous end (ya know, before they whip out the Kanye). But what does anyone do when not just your college, but the very place you live is host to a modern-day minstrel show? Point being, you can't even run back to your room to get away from it.

What happened last semester's probably not the first time it's happened at Yale or at colleges around the country (just google 'ghetto party' for starters) and probably not the last. After reading about how Arab American is the new cool, I'm waiting for the night when I walk through Timothy Dwight and get accosted by a band of scruffy, toy gun totin' mujahidin wannabees (Afghan, Arab, what's the difference; it's not like you're responsible for anyone else's history, right?). Six months later, it's time to complicate my criticism of McClellan's Jammin' Hip-hop hoedown.

Two professors, C. Richard King and David Leonard, are looking at ghetto parties through a new lens that goes beyond making connections to black face and minstrel shows. King and Leonard see this unfortunate trend as a nervous swat back by conservative college kids at what they see as a changing academic environment where daddy's old-school bigotry is passé and classes like ethnic studies are holding people accountable for history's injustices.

The article takes an interesting look at the corporatization of colleges and universities, beyond corporate branding and ownership of campus food services, that reaches into classes like cultural sensitivity for future I-Bankers of America (which bumps the seminar on Race, Hip Hop, and the NBA off the course list). The article then goes through the rise of big money neoconservative campus activism, wherein some organizations pump millions into getting their message across (one of which, namely, is 'white students are the victims now, haven't we already done enough for minorities?'). And how that translates into it seeming like a valid political position to stand behind a white-only bake sale or to do mock ICE-terror raids.

The article's not going to point you to why or how these campus minstrel shows started (or for a visual-historical breakdown, as I was hoping) but it gives a good background for understanding how this mockery (or, let's go far as to say hate crime) goes unnoticed or viciously defended on American campuses.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Questions and Conversation about Jena 6 Activism

1. What did you do on September 20th, the national day of protest for the Jena 6? How were your actions received?

2. In a campus setting, how do we educate others around the issue? Films, distributing flyers, tabling? What is our ask for interested newcomers? What can they do to feel invested in this case?

3. What is our ask besides justice? This sounds simple but even the NYT didn't report this clearly until yesterday's. I think there are at least three clear things: 1) throw out the charges, lower bail, or release him from his bail 2) federal legal protection and supervision 3) Remove J.P. Mauffray Jr, the judge who set Bell's bail ridiculously high. These three things are necessary in providing justice and healing for Bell's family and they also reveal deeper judicial injustices.

4. How useful are petitions at this point? Early on, the petitions were important for awareness raising and demonstrating the fullness of our protest. Frankly, they introduced a lot of people to the issue. What is their place now? Is there a critical number we are aiming for nationally and should we create one locally to carve a goal into this movement?

5. How does a campaign like this become multifaceted? This case is obviously is about the failures of the judicial court system, racial equality in schools, and the lack of representative coverage in the media. How can we work these larger issues into the narrative about Jena? And what is the first way we want these three issues to change?

6. Since the Megan Williams case is suffering from a lack of coverage and justice, is it relevant and/or appropriate to tie her into this ongoing "new" Civil Rights Movement rhetoric?

7. How do we add nuance and a truthful complexity to the claims of the "new" Civil Rights movement?

8. What should our role be in pressuring others to speak out about this issue? Is that a useful strategy. Jesse Jackson tried it on Obama with mixed results. Who has not spoken and how can get them to use their voice?

9. Are we able to self critique at this time? How do we improve and sustain energy while still fighting on the ground?

10. How can TNS and our campus organizations collaborate with your campus or organization to create a more unified voice? Any ideas?

These are some of the questions. Please start the conversation.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Jena is the Past, Present, and Future

I don’t know about the Jena 6.
Well, I know about it. I know it’s another stain of injustice on our nation and world.
But what does it all mean?

As I glanced at The New York Times on the college dining table, I saw this picture.

‘It’s like the Civil Rights Movement,’ I thought. The excitement filled me. Is that a problem though? Am I and are we rejoicing because we are looking for our romanticized version of the Civil Rights Movement? And is part of this joy and relief derived from a straightforward issue with direct offenses committed by whites?

I can’t help but be a little frustrated when Don Imus and a small 85% white town produce the largest social change we’ve had around racial issues since OJ and Rodney. Did we do anything after the horrendous education Supreme Court ruling? Can we at least bring Megan Williams into the fold and address coverage bias in the mainstream media since they finally turned their eye to Louisiana…after a year? America did not suddenly get worse. What is it about a noose, a fight, and an unjust charge that grabs our attention in a way that housing segregation, unjust prisons, voting disenfranchisement, anti-affirmative action initiatives, and even genocide in Darfur has not? Don’t get me wrong. I am excited and energized about the organizing and action around The Jena 6, but we need to see it through a larger lens. In fact, we need to see this as part of the narrative of American injustice and social movement strategy.

Some might say I’m being picky or asking for too much. However, I have realized recently that we might be the only ones asking for something beyond a cliché about justice. Our progressive voices matter and they have to speak into spaces that do not want us there. I do not care if CNN only wants me to march or if Damon Winter and the NYT only want my upraised fist in a sea of blackness. I will march for local change in Louisiana and organize the dismantling of the media’s unjust structures because they are part of the problem. Our collective action is the only real solution.

Yes, Jena got me riled up.
Yes, I am glad President Bush is sad because of it.
Yes, I am hopeful that more people will finally recognize that racism DOES exist in the 21st century.

Yet, I was upset the day before I heard about Jena because of racism.
Yet, Bush has only advanced “reverse racism” cases in the Civil Right department during his tenure and the situation in Jena has not changed that.
Yet, I am still disturbed by the people who think we can avoid talking about race in favor of a colorblind society aka silencing people of color from testifying their lived experiences, many of which include racism.

“This is the first time something like this has happened for our generation. You always heard about it from history books and relatives. This is a chance to experience it for ourselves.” - Eric Depradine, a 24 year old senior at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (NYT)

This is not the first time nor will it be the last. We’ve had our chances before, but it is encouraging that we are choosing to act now. That does not mean, however, we can buy into the claim that there has been nothing “Civil Rights worthy” in the last three decades. We need to ask ourselves why we haven’t been marching. This is not an effort to cast blame or slow down the movement. Instead, we can use this question to improve our future actions and to decide how we sustain and expand upon this momentum.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Yale : New Haven :: ? : ?

As I walked by myself down Elm Street last night I looked up and saw three large men in caps and baggy clothing turn the corner and head in my direction. I was neither fearful nor anxious as I kept walking towards them, yet as I came close enough to tell that the men were white—and thus probably students or football players—I guiltily perceived a hazy feeling of relief float through the back of my mind. The relief came from the understanding that white students generally do not bother other Yalies at night, and I was likely in no danger. Yet it was tinged with guilt because I like to think of myself as a racially conscious black man but a simple encounter on the streets of my home awakened stereotypes I’ve long tried to suppress.

Over the summer, however, I generally experienced the opposite phenomenon: when I walked alone at night, rather than feel even the vaguest feeling of relief when I saw a white person, I instead became acutely fearful. The difference between last night and the summer was contextual. Over the summer I led a bike trip across the country as part of a fundraiser for the Habitat for Humanity Chapter of Greater New Haven. I was the lone black person in a group of 27 riders, and most of the nine-week journey struck through the heart of Middle America: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. We spent nights in churches like the First United Methodist Church of Douglas, Wyoming, and celebrated the Fourth of July in Oshkosh, Nebraska, a town of 700 people with almost no blacks. Some people in many of the towns we biked through likely never saw a black person before we came through—much less one in bright yellow spandex.

I had never spent much time in the rural Midwest or Great Plains, and my initial prejudices of gun-toting, bible-reading, pickup-truck driving Red Staters made me apprehensive. Crossing the Mississippi from Illinois to Iowa brought to my mind scenes from Deliverance; and, like Jon Voight, the last thing I wanted was to be held at gunpoint by a local farmer for his own bemusement. I felt the urge to cringe when I saw people drive by with gun racks on their back windows, and crossed the street when I saw a group of rowdy teenagers on the sidewalks of the small towns we stayed in. In the rare instance where I would see another black person on the street or in a supermarket, nodding or saying hello carried an extra significance for me than it did at home. The greeting contained a tacit acknowledgment that we both understood: if one of these white folks around us goes crazy, I’ve got your back.

I was forced to engage my fear of the Middle American for the first time in Western Illinois by the Iowa border. As one of the trip’s leaders, I was in charge of driving our 15-passenger support van and trailer occasionally, and on this rainy day as I was turning the van around, the gravel and mud on the side of the road gave way under the van’s weight and I wound up stuck in a six-foot deep ditch. I climbed out of the van and paced up the road, expecting to have to call AAA or a towing agency, when minutes later a man in a red pickup truck drove up and slowed down as he approached. The man was probably in his forties, dressed head-to-foot in army fatigues with long hair and an unkempt beard. I was by myself, in a yellow jacket and cargo shorts, holding my Treo cautiously as I prepared to run. The ominous banjo track from Deliverance played through my mind.

Rather than reach for his gun rack, however, the man rolled down his window and with a country drawl kindly asked if I needed a hand. He lived by the water tower a mile away, and he offered to get his larger pick-up truck from home that he could probably use to tow me out of the ditch. Soon after he left, several more cars stopped and asked to help, with many of the drivers pulling over and getting out of their cars. The scene looked like an impromptu roadside farmer’s market, with a dozen or so men and women huddled around my van and trailer in the Illinois cornfields. The rain turned to drizzle, and soon enough the man in the army fatigues came back and quickly towed the van out of its grave.

The point of this story is not to suggest that over the summer I discovered that racism was dead in Middle America. On the contrary, Iowa, for example, has one of the most disproportionate incarceration rates of blacks in the country, with one in thirteen black Iowans in prison—a rate 11 times higher than Iowa’s much larger white population. Nevertheless, if I hadn’t been forced to reassess my stereotypes towards Middle Americans through personal contact by meeting and talking to wonderfully generous and friendly people, I likely would continue to maintain an unnecessarily disrespectful attitude towards all of them. The same is true, albeit in reverse, at Yale: just as Deliverance gave me an unreasonable fear of white people in rural Illinois, the innumerable stories told to incoming freshman about how dangerous New Haven is only confirms unreasonable fears of all black people walking down Elm Street. Even Cultural Connections, which does a great job of facilitating discussions about race and ethnicity at Yale, had as its first meeting a Yale-sponsored lecture on campus security--a lecture which, when given to the entire freshman class two years ago, featured a man in a gorilla costume.

Yes, like many cities, New Haven has crime and other problems, just as racism continues to exist among whites in Middle America. But to do a better job of introducing freshmen to New Haven, Yale must change the metaphor it uses to describe Yale’s relationship with city into something that promotes establishing individual relationships between students and New Haveners. It is dangerous to think of Yale as a safe bubble floating in the middle of a violent ghetto because it allows students to disengage from the city and retain a negatively disrespectful attitude towards all of its residents. Yale is an intrinsic part of New Haven just as New Haven residents compose an essential part of Yale. And as an institution, Yale should try encouraging students to engage their city and its residents through advocacy, service, and personal contact among Yale students and staff as much as they warn them to secure their own belongings.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Back in the day my pops said, "Right on."

In response to Naima's critique of the Rock the Bells festival, my own plea for new hip hop heroes, and our on-going discussions of the many problems with the hip hop we love so dearly, I want to take a second to think about some of the hip hop music that falls under the mainstream radar.

I came of hip hop age in high school within a diverse group of politically active kids in Chicago. The city's problems with racism, segregation, and corruption were our backdrop. We went to communist meetings, African American Culture Club, and open mics at a folk music school. We recorded CDs which we sold for $5 between classes, and did each other's cover art. Some of the graffiti writers went on to art school. Some of the emcee's built their own musical instruments when they couldn't find the sound they wanted otherwise. We read Bomb the Suburbs by hometown hero Upski and watched some of the better things about Chicago die around us. For a while I studied Ali Shaheed Muhammed's beats closer than anything in school, and pulled samples from dumpstered records and CDs from the library. And I took it really hard when I realized Rawkus Records was falling apart.

There's more to this than just waxing nostalgic. I've spent the past week revisiting old hip hop albums and thinking about music as a vehicle for social change. The hip hop I grew up on was pushed aside as "alternative" hip hop--hip hop at the time ordered you to back that azz up, and any other message was deemed alternative. Graf and breakdancing make only cameos in mainstream hip hop videos; instead, silent women in bikinis (apparently black women's year-round leisure wear) narrate thug story after thug story penned by rappers living in mansions. Remember how excited people got when Kanye West yelled, "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on national TV? Rappers should have been saying that all along, worrying about something a little bigger than how many pairs of Air Force Ones they have.

Political rap shouldn't be an obscure sub-genre. Black men: the stakes are high! You are many times more likely to go to jail than to go to college. You are constantly underestimated and racially profiled. But you know this already. So quit talking about grillz and tip drills, and speak out against the power structures in this country that try to put you down.

And all the rest of us who don't always find our spaces within hip hop: we've gotta keep pushing our way in. We're not "alternative."

I think this is the first BJB post to come with a soundtrack. Here are a few songs that push the boundaries of what hip hop is or what hip hop says:

Atmosphere, from Minnesota, writes songs about stealing food and suicide in grain silos. A few albums back they started emo-rap, for better or worse. Scapegoat, from Overcast!

J-Live is a former English teacher from Brooklyn. Them That's Not, from The Best Part is a rags to riches to rags story about rappers being arrogant and phony.

Hand Me Downs by Soul Position (Blueprint + RJD2) says what I wanted this post to say but far better (from Things Go Better with RJ and AL).

Kid Koala plays the turntables, bending notes to build jazz/funk songs. His first album came with a comic book he'd drawn on brown paper. Fender Bender, from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The Cold Vein by Cannibal Ox builds and builds until its ending, the hidden track Scream Phoenix, a song about rebirth.

If you listen to nothing else here, please check out Patriotism by Company Flow, from the compilation Soundbombing 2. Company Flow's earlier songs alternated between dystopic political sci-fi and early 90s b-boy anthems. Listening to them before bed once gave me nightmares of state violence.

And I know what the first critique of this is, so I'll beat you to it: there are no women listed here. I'll be honest, beyond my childhood crush on MC Lyte, I've only listened to a handful of female rappers in my life. I don't know that I've ever seen one live. Even in underground hip hop women are very marginalized, and if you don't seek them out you don't encounter them; I've had to admit recently that I didn't seek them out hard enough. So please, dear readers, if you've got a great female rapper in mind, please introduce us in the comments section.

Place the bill in the middle of the table and your tip will be niiiice

When you are out with a boyfriend, husband, friend…whatever it may be…where is the bill usually placed? From my experience it is usually in front of the male whether the server be male or female. Keep this assumption that you are engaged in a patriarchal relationship from being true and cover your own part of the bill. Open the door for this male. Demand the same amount of respect as he. Put an end to this chivalry which to me is just inequality. What reason does a male have to treat a female one way and not expect the same treatment back? Do we as women intend to receive but not to give? These little steps, rebellion some may even see it as, reject small signs of dominance exerted by males on the day to day basis. What makes you believe that you shouldn’t be responsible for paying for your own expenses? And if you’re going to allow him to pay for you, when will you offer to pay for his? Right now are you saying you shouldn’t have to because he is the man? Well does being the male entail financial superiority? If not, why are financial responsibilities on the list of manly duties? These practices are rooted in a misogynistic culture. Will you continue to follow these guidelines?
You think a real man pays the bill all the time? No. A real man is so wrapped up in “being a man” that he is intimidated by a woman who can cover her part.

Stop making that move from a patriarchal household to a patriarchal relationship. Remember, cash rules everything around me. CREAM get the money. Dolla dolla bill y’all.

In order to respectably demand equality on a greater scale you must first demonstrate your ability to embrace it on a smaller one.

Excuse me Oprah honey...

I'm sorry really I promise, but niggas, bitches, and hoes do exist. I'm just being honest." -T.I.

I know I may upset people (Not that I care. You all should have learned that from BM-WF.) but I'm going to have to agree with T.I. on this point. My discrepancy with hip hop is the way in which the terms referring to females are used. Not that they do not exist.

woman, female, or girl = bitch, slut, or hoe

In hip hop music, no matter the situation. No matter how glorified the woman in the song is. She will be referred to as the same thing as the woman that same rapper allegedly despises.
Also, bitch and hoe, words often meant to describe women in general, are used to describe men of unsatisfactory qualities. Punks if you will. Pussy is also used in this way. Obviously referring to a part of a female's anatomy. Suggesting that because it is of a woman it is of lesser value than that of a man's body and that by being called that you are less than a man. I'm ok with bitch used to address no one in particular but rather to emphasize the previous statement.

Examples (all Busta Rhymes songs):
I Love My Bitch - "I love my bitch" is said dozens of times throughout the song. His bitch apparently will never let him down. He also loves his bitch.
Pass the Courvoisier - "Best dressed bitches actin' all cute to my shit." - Nothing wrong with these women. They're just women. And therefore, are bitches.
Touch It - "Flipmode, bitch!" Acceptable.
Hail Mary 2003 - " That bitch shot himself in front of Def Jam." - A guy whom he does not like (and is less than crafty with a weapon) is called a bitch.
I unfortunately could not think of a line in which he uses bitch in an unsavory, but nonetheless, acceptable way. If it sticks to the accepted definition of bitch then I let it ride.

Busta Rhymes is nowhere near the main offender or top threat when it comes to using the b-word inappropriately. He popped into my mind because of the song I Love My Bitch which seemed to get the point across just fine in the radio edited version I Love My Chick. I’m confused as to why he didn’t stick with chick.

I think since I’m deeming certain uses of the term ok there should be a male equivalent. I want to be able to insult a male in a different way than just calling him some derivative of a word for female (Anyone with suggestions for this new term let me know and let’s spread that shit son!). What fun is that? Female hip hoppers (all 3 of them) fall victim to the same thing. Referring to themselves as the top bitch yet calling their enemies bitches. Some may argue that females could take the term bitch and empower it (kind of like nigga) as some have attempted to do (Trina and Lil’ Kim). But there is not a strong enough female force in the industry to pull this off. Also, it does not help that a strong argument could be made for one or both holding true to the actual urban definitions of hoe and bitch.

And with that I will leave you with some Lupe in which we see bitch become prevalent in his eyes. Not just saying that the girl he once dated was a bitch but to say that this bitch opened his eyes to the meaning of the term. It awoke an awareness of the reality of it all. That bitches do exist and that hip hop artists misuse the term. It’s not that all rappers hate women. They just don’t respect them.

Now I ain’t tryin to be the greatest/ I used to hate hip hop/ Yup/ Because the women degraded/ But Too Short made me laugh/ Like a hypocrite I played it/ A hypocrite, I stayed it/ Though I only recited half/ Omitting the word 'bitch'/ Cursing, I wouldn’t say it/ Me and dog couldn’t relate/ ‘til a bitch I dated
-Hurt Me Soul

I Know What Jesus Looked Like

A line of Bible toys is going on sale at Wal-Mart.
Just as I expected Jesus looks like a white hippie from the 70s minus the colorful schemes.
Pharaoh had a unibrow and cartoonish features.
Esther looked like Demi Moore.
I'm glad that the geniuses of One2believe were able to produce these figures so close to their actual likeness. They didn't have much to go on. Areas and regions described in the Bible? Historical data? None of this was at their disposal. So give credit where credit is due. The people who reside in areas mentioned in the Bible do not resemble those who dwelled and traveled through these areas in Biblical times. Somehow Africa evaded this phenomenon because Africans still look the same. If I showed you an African now and an African from 500 years ago, could you tell the difference? Of course not.
Everybody knows that Moses and Noah and all them looked like normal white people. For all you know, your next door neighbor is a descendant of Moses himself. The more I look at Goliath the more he resembles my 7th grade Language Arts teacher.
Buy these toys for your children, your brothers, and your sisters. With no information to go on, one has to assume that Biblical figures looked like white Americans. I mean...haven't they always ruled the world? Isn't every continent's (except Africa) indigenous people brunette and brown-eyed? People (except the Africans) have changed drastically in appearance over the years.
These figurines are made to counter the violent ways of Spiderman and other white action heroes. The only time it is acceptable to depict violence is when it is in the name of the Lord. And I command you to spank any child who dares to think that it's okay to allow his mighty Samson figurine to succumb to the wrath of Goliath on the kitchen floor.
I'm working on a line myself. It's called One2deceive. There is only one figurine. A black Judas. But until the day that black Judas reigns supreme, I will wage Holy War on my bedroom floor. I'll trade you the Batmobile for Moses' stone tablet.

Monday, July 30, 2007


this past saturday and sunday, new york city's dusty randall's island hosted hordes of hip hop fans at the ROCK THE BELLS North American music festival, sponsored by Guerilla Union.

ROCK THE BELLS has called itself a "world-class hip hop plaftorm" and features over twenty politically conscious and activist hip hop acts, including big names such as rage against the machine, wu-tang clan, cypress hill, mos def, talib kweli, nas, EPMD, the roots, and rakim.

amazingly, of the fourteen performances scheduled this weekend for the main stage, only one featured a woman performer - erykah badu played one set on early sunday evening, as the sole woman included amongst the festival's main attractions.

apparently, a fifty minute set is all the representation women of color get at this festival and by extension, hip hop and the revolution ROCK THE BELLS is intended to be a platform for.

gender diversity on the only other stage at the festival, the "paid dues" stage, was no better without fair and equal representation of women amongst the eight acts that played over the weekend. to boot, badu's name appears misspelled on the ROCK THE BELLS randall's island lineup.

"represent + respect + recognize".... black manhood?

for a political, musical event that claims to "capture and define a movement," the nearly exclusively male ROCK THE BELLS lineup denies both the existence of women and our centrality to hip hop. are there no women voices that shape urban culture and should therefore direct the discourse of the tour? is this our answer to backwards, misogyistic hip hop - more men holding mics and the erasure of women?

and for a tour that claims to be revolutionary in ideology and focus, the absence of women performers and a focus on issues of gender equality and women's rights, fits into the larger question raised by the pecularities of the festival: which revolution exactly is ROCK THE BELLS calling for?

i have no doubt that zack de la rocha kept it real and fresh and incendiary with all he communicated while on stage and that anyone who had not yet heard any tracks off of fear of a black planet was changed for the better after seeing public enemy. the new york city, los angeles, and san francisco dates on the tour also featured an Axis of Justice tent dedicated to local activism. the presence of groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Safe Space NYC, Immigrant Communities in Action, La Otra, and JUST US, is evidence of a commitment to immigrant rights, labor rights, economic justice, youth development, and anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-war, anti-homophobic activity.

hoowever, while the content of the art of the tour itself is bold and necessary, the marketing and audience of ROCK THE BELLS remain far less than revolutionary. ROCK THE BELLS is compromised by the corporate sponsorship that seems to be used across the board to finance and support other tours of this size and scope. the frontpage of the website encourages fledgling revolutionaries (i.e. fans) to "join the mobile hip-hop revolution" which entails having news sent to your phone about "music, lifestyle, fashion, and more" but nothing more discernibly substantive. in general, the ROCK THE BELLS website, unlike the Axis of Justice site and tent, is astonishingly apolitical and commercial - as SanDisk, Rockstar Energy Drink, and Heineken are sponsors.

the terrible irony of corporate backing for a hip-hop tour with mostly performers of color is intensified by the fact that the festival is orchestrated by an organization called Guerilla Union that sports a star logo that strongly echoes the flag of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional.

many of us here at the north star were excited at the prospect of being able to catch rare performances by rage, public enemy, and of course mighty mos, but were unable to afford the concert tickets. elizabeth, camille, and i were near the east 125th street train station on saturday morning and saw more white people than there ever are in harlem on line for buses to randall’s island. surely many other hip hop fans were unable to attend the show for financial reasons – particularly working class and poor kids and kids of color. the fact that most of the people on line for the festival were white men is a testament to the adverse effects of the cost and marketing of the festival and the fact that the buying and selling of the counterculture is still as profitable as ever.

my friend and soul-brother stanley attended ROCK THE BELLS and recounted to me his experience at the festival in the midst of a nearly all white crowd. he observed that when rage declared fox news was a fascist news station and that george w. bush should be tried as a war criminal, much of the crowd seemed to tune out.

brother stan remembers looking around in frustration at the other concertgoers, drunk and apparently oblivious to the immensity of what was unfolding on stage. he remembers wondering at the people surrounding him, “how are you going to wear a wu-tang shirt and not know the first four bars of ‘triumph?’”

for those uninterested/opposed to rage’s “political talk” or who do not know more than the chorus of “shimmy shimmy ya,” the allure of ROCK THE BELLS must be something other than the quality of the political discourse, the rhymes, the music. much of the allure surely resides in a covetous obsession with blackness as a commodity and hip hop as a fad.

the performers at ROCK THE BELLS were acutely aware of exactly who had come to see them and what the limitations and hypocrisies of the crowd were and their commentaries throughout the set were reflective of that, according to brother stan. the GZA knows white frat boys in the front row will not be at the forefront of a hip-hop revolution.

for artists as innovative and forward thinking as the roots to be included on a tour that includes more corporations than women constitutes an inconsistency of art, politics, and ethics. are we to join the men who will apparently be leading us to the future, toward change, toward... consumerism? looks like the hip hop revolution is committing the sins of white patriarchy.

these shortcomings of the festival are lost opportunities to further politicize the tour, to educate and organize with hip hop narratives. ROCK THE BELLS is an exciting congregation of some of the best talents and intellects in hip hop and music in general. the festival has the great potential to be a radicalizing experience for any true member of the hip hop generation who can afford to attend. the tour would broadcast a clearer political message with lineups, audiences, and sponsors that are more radically inclusive and representative.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

it ain't privilege, it's injustice

to pick up where the north star left off with what some have called our "scathing critique of white Leftist culture"...

a particular phenomenon in the immensely white Leftist circles at yale is a rhetorical and ideological obssession with the notion of White Privilege.

it is not uncommon to hear a white liberal campus organizer at yale say something along the lines of, "we white students at yale walk around enjoying a great deal of privilege because of the color of our skin - it is because of this privilege that we must work to uplift the citizens of new haven."

within the veins of the activist community at yale that even venture to contemplate issues of race, the ability to acknowledge and discuss White Privilege is considered a great testament to one's radicalism.

however, the fact that most white students at yale (or in this nation) do not think critically about the relationship between their whiteness and social power does not mean that those white, self-professed progressives who recognize their social and economic privilege have accomplished anything more than a certain degree of honesty about history.

news to the aforementioned self-congratulatory white Leftists:

the much-beloved term "White Privilege" fails to capture the reality of racial injustice in this nation. moreover, unquestioning and incessant talk about the special position that white people inhabit in society reproduces racial divisions in progressive movements and upholds the logic of White Supremacy.

not exactly revolutionary...

“White Privilege” is a misnomer for it suggests that white people enjoy socioeconomic advantages and benefits beyond a standard level of rights and opportunity (which presumably non-white people are afforded). however, the term does not account for the exploitation and disfranchisement of people of color that is a consequence of “White Privilege.” people of color do not possess the freedoms and protections of full and actualized citizenship. the legal and social structures of this nation do not merely demonstrate partiality towards white people but also simultaneously deny people of color the most basic of human rights, such as housing, health, education, justice, peace. the corollary to what some would term “White Privilege” is “colored degradation.”

for example, if the world were organized by “White Privilege” rather than “Racism,” a police officer might be especially kind to white people while nonetheless providing people of color with legal protection, aid, fairness under the law.

and so the white Leftists who think they are down because they have got the courage to lamentably declare, “We’ve got White Privilege,” it would be more accurate and truthful to say instead, "We are beneficiaries of racism," or "We participate in a racialized system of oppression."

how much more reluctant is the race conscious white activist to admit that his “privilege” has a consequence, that his whiteness is more than merely a personal reality about his own social power but is also an agent of violence.

as a blactivist at yale, i have found it rare to emerge from an organizing conversation or meeting with a white peer without a guilt-stricken or self-righteous allusion to “White Privilege.”

the insistence of many white campus activists upon talking about their White Privilege ad nauseam re-inscribes racial stratification and therefore begs the question:

“do you articulate the reality of your whiteness in a spirit of honesty and repentance or as a means of clinging to the privilege and social order you claim to seek to destroy?”

part of the project for white activists in recognizing their “privilege” should be the rejection of it – one must repent from, rather than embody an identity that represents oppression in its representation of privilege. “White Privilege” ought not be considered permanent or inherent, as if it inescapably resides in a white activist’s skin.

there is great violence enacted on the strategy and, more importantly, the soul of a community when the reality of "White Privilege" is used as a reminder of the agency and power white activists hold and that peers of color allegedly do not and may never possess. “White Privilege” is a construction that can be drained of its power if it is rejected - rhetorically and by individual and organized collective action.

the ceaseless, widespread rhetoric of White Privilege is also often used to describe the special commission or power that white Leftists feel they have in political efforts to make change. manifest destiny has well taught us to be wary of the salvific missions of white folk. the assertion that whiteness qualifies one as best suited to make change not only disempowers and excludes people of color from the struggle to reshape their own lives but is paternalistic and supremacist in logic.

it is undoubtedly necessary that the white activist recognizes that there are social responsibilities that accompany each social position and that there are moral imperatives associated with each identity, but to believe that it is “White Privilege” which enables change corroborates rather than disrupts the notion of white power. and for all who believe that change comes from the bottom up, for all who believe in the power that resides in the folk and in the collective, and for all who believe in the grassroots, the notion of a white folks’ coalition for justice is heresy.

it is a great contradiction and injury that so much of white Leftist culture hinges upon the use of “White Privilege” as a badge, shield, or excuse. such toxic rhetoric and action naturalize and uphold the racial injustice that undermines the integration, equality, and solidarity we profess to seek.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ghetto Bus?

‘Ghetto Bus Tour’ glorifies Chicago’s projects
Monday Jul 23, 2007 — By Clutch
The yellow school bus rumbles through vacant lots and past demolished buildings, full of people who have paid $20 for a tour of what was once among the most dangerous areas of this or any other city in the United States.

But for the woman with the microphone, this “Ghetto Bus Tour” isn’t just another way to make a buck from tourists. It’s the last gasp in her crusade to tell a different story about Chicago’s notorious housing projects, something other than well-known tales about gang violence so fierce that residents slept in their bathtubs to avoid bullets.

“I want you to see what I see,” says Beauty Turner, after leading the group off the bus to a weedy lot where the Robert Taylor Homes once stood. “To hear the voices of the voiceless.” Turner, a former Robert Taylor Homes resident, has been one of the most vocal critics of the Chicago Housing Authority’s $1.6 billion “Plan for Transformation,” which since the late 1990s has demolished 50 of the 53 public housing high-rises and replaced them with mixed-income housing.

Officials paint a different picture
City officials have heralded the plan. But Turner believes the city that once left residents to be victimized by violent drug-dealing gangs is now pushing those same people from their homes without giving them all a place to go.

“I have people becoming homeless behind this plan, people that’s living on top of each other with relatives,” said Turner, who has given informal tours for years before the community newspaper she works for began renting the bus in January. “For some it has improved their conditions, but for the multitude of many it has not.”

Chicago Housing Authority officials say Turner glosses over the failures of public housing. They say the 25,000 units being built or rehabbed are enough for the number of people whose buildings were demolished. “She is running out of bad things to show people,” housing authority spokesman Bryan Zises said. “She is taking a circuitous route so she doesn’t have to drive by the new stuff,” including, he adds, Turner’s own home in one of the new mixed-income communities. On the tours, Turner highlights strong, black women like herself who raised their children in the projects.

Distrust runs deep
Turner takes the group by the home of one such woman, 63-year-old Carol Wallace. When the group makes its way into the dreary looking low-slung building that has not been rehabbed, Wallace tells of her suspicions that she and a lot of people like her are going to be left out of the “Plan for Transformation.”

“Overall, I think it’s just a way of getting us out of here,” said Wallace, standing in front of the door and iron security door she lives behind. “Because they’re not letting everyone back in.” allace’s home stands in stark contrast with the nostalgic picture Turner paints of the old projects. She recalls when parents like her kept an eye on the neighbor’s kids, a time when the projects shined every bit as much as the buildings now going up in their place and lawns were kept as neat as putting greens.

Glossing over the violence?
She downplays the years of violence, saying that all those news reports distorted what day-to-day life was like. All the horror stories that you heard about in the newspapers, it was not like that at all,” she said.

But the stories loom over the tour. They are impossible to forget. By the time the city started pulling down or rehabilitating the projects in the late 1990s, each one had its own headlines that spoke to the failure of public housing in Chicago.

At Cabrini-Green a boy was struck by a bullet and killed as he walked hand-in-hand with his mother. At the Ida B. Wells project, a 5-year-old boy was dangled and then deliberately dropped to his death from a 14-story window by two other children.

And at Robert Taylor, where the illegal drug trade thrived, a rookie police officer was shot to death on a stakeout outside a gang drug base. Turner could even add her own story. She saw a teenage boy shot on the very day she arrived at the Robert Taylor Homes in 1986.

Message confounds many
Her approach had some on the tour shaking their heads. Are they romanticizing these communities?” asked Mark Weinberg, a 44-year-old Chicago lawyer. “These were drug-ridden, violent neighborhoods where people wanted to live a good life but couldn’t.”

D. Bradford Hunt, a Roosevelt University professor writing a book about Chicago’s public housing, said he appreciated that Turner told the story from the perspective of tenants but wasn’t quite sure what to make of the commentary. People got killed,” he said. “You don’t make that story up.”

Still, Turner says the city has a duty to keep the community that law-abiding citizens of public housing built up over the decades, despite their challenges. That is what she fears is being lost, and why she’ll keep giving the bus tour.

“People that come in don’t want to look across the street and see seven little black churches in a three-block radius,” she said. “What they want to see is a Dominick’s and sushi joints and a Starbucks.”

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Neither tanning nor a mud bath will make a kid black.

This one is almost funny. UNICEF has a campaign in Germany urging people to donate to "Africa"--you know, that continent/country where all the people look the same, speak the same black language, and are equally in desperate need of our white money. Accepting the white man’s burden is so much easier, though, when you’re being pleaded with by an adorable, mud-covered blonde munchkin.

Imagine a grinning Shirley Temple in self-applied blackface telling you how much it “sucks” that none of the kids in Africa have schools, then asking you to donate money so African lives don’t “suck” so much. That’s right, according to this campaign Africa, as a cohesive whole, has neither functional schools nor its own ability to speak up about its problems. Luckily, rather than consulting real Africans, UNICEF can just speak through these smiling white kids, whose blonde pigtails and pouting faces tug at your heartstrings way stronger than any African could.


I won't say any more on this; just look at the pictures. Oh wait, UNICEF took them down in embarrassment. Such is the magic of caching: see them all here.


Translations via Black Women in Europe:
The first kid says:

"I'm waiting for my last day in school, the children in africa still for their first one."

second kid:

"in africa, many kids would be glad to worry about school"

third kid:

"in africa, kids don't come to school late, but not at all" (!)

fourth kid:

"some teachers suck. no teachers sucks even more."

And the latest in Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't logic is this response to a criticism of the campaign on the Women of Color blog.

Finally, a little history to put it in context.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Plight of Afro-Latinos

A great 5-part series by the Miami Herald on the struggles of Afro-Latinos.

Here's a dope article by the well-known Puerto Rapper Tego Calderon: BLACK PRIDE - Latin America Needs Its Own Civil Right Movement Says The World-Famous Rapper.
*Note the subject headings of the NYP article at the top of the window... "Spanish Culture | Hispanic Culture | Latino Culture." Way to help the man out with his movement, New York Post. Can we get an African-diasporic culture? Maybe Afro-Latino Culture? What do we have to do to get some black up in there? And also, Spanish refers to either the language or the people of Spain. Since Tego Calderon is not discussing the culture of either of these, you must be using it as an ignorant term for Latino. Please refrain from this in the future, while also recognizing the global dimensions of the African diaspora. Thank You