Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blackness Defined

Recently Governor Rod Blagojevich ruffled some feathers and basically proved he’s an ass by claiming he should be considered “blacker" than President Obama because he grew up poor and once shined shoes to make money. Since Obama’s election there have been a number of similarly foolish and controversial remarks, such as Harry Reid’s “negro dialect” commentary when noting that the absence of one (except when convenient to turn it on) plus having light rather than dark brown skin made Obama more electable. Reid’s statement was poorly phrased but I wouldn’t argue its accuracy. After the President’s state of the union address Chris Matthews proceeded to state on air that while listening to it he forgot for an hour that Barack Obama is black. Although he may have wanted to phrase that a bit more eloquently, I’m not especially bothered by Matthews' temporary amnesia. Forgetting someone’s race for an hour is certainly no sin. In fact it’s something most people probably need to do more often, and not just where the President is concerned. Each of these statements and others, while insulting to varying degrees, have been illuminating. They demonstrate that preconceived notions of what it means to be an African American stubbornly persist, that this nation is anything but post racial yet. We’ve come a long way, especially of late, and we’ll go further still in the years to come. I echo what the President said in his latest speech. I too have never been more hopeful about this country, even while frequently shaking my head as prominent individuals continue to express absurd, antiquated notions about their fellow man. Following is a stream of tweets inspired by the absurdity.

Lets face it, both white AND black people need to come up with a better definition of "black person" if insistence on defining continues.

Is someone black because of refusal to adhere to rules of standard grammar? Darkness of skin? Darkness of mate's skin? Size of bank account?

Is black defined by taste in music (hip hop hell yes, classical or country heck no)? Taste in literature (why the hell should I read, I'm keeping it real)?

Is black defined by handling skills of a basketball? Number of children by women you didn't marry? Wardrobe? Zip code? Dietary preferances?

I had intended to leave phallic dimensions out of this, but no definition of blackness would be complete without it I suppose.

Somebody please tell me if I'm black? If so, why? If not, why not? Otherwise I have no idea whether to get grilled or fried chicken for lunch.

And no, I will not be providing penis photo (Greg Oden may be accomodating though) or my SAT score to help you answer. You'll need to guesstimate.

I must say though that I have a hard time staying mad at white people (or those of other races) for holding stereotypical views of me if black people do so as well.

Upon further reflection, I'm more annoyed to be judged in a monolithic manner based on ridiculous criteria by someone of my same race who should know better.

If someone from Tibet judges me unfairly I can rationalize they probably don't encounter many brothas over there. Ignorant by lack of exposure.

But when judgment comes from random black guy/gal who lives two towns over from me - WTF, expand your horizons just a tad why don't you?

Now that we have a black man in the oval office, many African Americans hold race based expectations of him. I don't expect Obama to "fix" all so called black issues any more than I expected every prior POTUS to focus on fixing all things white.

Obama has an ambitious agenda but like any POTUS will only accomplish so much. Economic slowdown, healthcare reform & ending war are his main priorities. Between those three issues he might have little opportunity to deal with much else.

If he does pull off his 3 most pressing agendas, Obama's presidency will be a major success no matter how much else people hoped he might have done. Previous black firsts (Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Charles Drew, Madame C.J. Walker, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sidney Poitier, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, etc.) all excelled so I expect Obama, within the confines of realistic expectations, to do just fine. If he goes beyond those 3 and pulls off the neat trick of reforming education and expanding who in this country can afford to obtain it beyond high school, he'll become the stuff of legend, worthy to have his mug on a coin or dollar bill.

And regardless of how some people may choose to see him, he surely sees himself as President of USA, not just Prez of Black America. Giant job.

Last guy in office provided Obama with a perfect template for what NOT to do. This plus several other factors makes me quite optimistic.
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p.s. - Although it has absolutely nothing to do with blackness (because remarkably not everything does), RIP J.D. Salinger

Friday, January 15, 2010

Nous sommes tous les Haïtiens aujourd'hui

I don't have much to say about the horrific crisis in Haiti, the natural made one rather than the state of poverty too many Haitians have been mired in seemingly forever, because what needs to be done is so blatantly obvious. Ignore Rush Limbaugh, same as usual. Ignore Pat Robertson, same as usual. Ignore anyone who attempts to politicize tragedy. Send money. Send water, beans, rice, ready to eat canned goods, spaghetti, macaroni, baby formula, juice, pampers, toilet tissue, paper towels, baby wipes, coloring books, crayons, flip flops, underwear, deodorant, soap, hairbrushes, combs, t-shirts and shorts. Send prayers and hope for the best. Heroes have been deployed to make sense of the chaos and wreckage, to save as many lives as they can. Their job is not an easy one, but for those of us with the luxury to play armchair philanthropist with ground beneath our feet that does not quake, our task is very simple. All we must do is that which should come most naturally to human beings - show compassion.

Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross or text Yele to 501501 to donate $5 to help with relief efforts in Haiti. Or donate online to an organization such as Unicef.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Yet Another Magazine Cover Controversy

Another day, another magazine cover controversy (See here for example of one I've discussed previously. It also features a prominent black athlete and pretty white girl. Coincidence?). This time the perpetrator is Essence and the offensive (to a number of black women) image is of Saints running back Reggie Bush with his shirt open. The fact that he’s showing off his abs isn’t at the root of the bruhaha, but rather, the fact that he’s there at all. Those unfamiliar with all things celebrity related might be wondering why a picture of a black man on the cover of a magazine with a black female audience is problematic. It’s not as if the cover boy is Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. It isn’t even Michael Steele who technically has the melanin count if not the street cred to qualify, being an obnoxious conservative republican and all. So far as I’ve been able to tell, the thing bothering Essence subscribers/readers is that the focus of the issue is “black love” and Reggie is famously not romantically involved with a fellow African American at the moment. His girlfriend is Kim Kardashian who happens to be rather bootylicious, but she’s Armenian, not black. There is some logic to the irritation since one might reasonably if not always correctly conclude that a cover story called “black love” would be accompanied by a photograph of two black people in love. Technically the cover says "Black Men, Love and Relationships Issue" and obviously not every black man is in love or in a relationship with a black woman. So the reasoning for the annoyance is iffy at best. And if one's contention is that Reggie doesn't belong in Essence under any set of circumstances pertaining to his love life or desirability due to his being in an interracial relationship, I'd strenuously object to that theory. The editorial board of Essence (presumably black women dominate it, though not necessarily, I'm too lazy to check) made their decision to feature him for whatever reason, perhaps to stir up this very controversy and generate a few more news stand sales. Times are tough for magazines nowadays and controversy sells. As cover boys go there are certainly more objectionable black men to feature than Reggie Bush, regardless of who they happen to be dating or married to. R. Kelly and Chris Brown jump to mind as particularly bad choices. So far as I know Reggie is a decent enough guy even if he doesn't require that his mate be a rocket scientist. He’s famous, he’s black, he’s good looking and in great shape so therefore popular with the ladies, and he hasn’t been convicted or even accused of any heinous crimes or acts of depravity. If that doesn’t qualify you to be in Essence I have no idea what does. The fact that Reggie’s girlfriend is considered to be a celebrity in her own right may be ridiculous (go here to see what I mean), however that's neither the fault of her, Reggie or Essence, but the taste in entertainment of the American public. One need not look very far to find social issues to be concerned about or troubled by. As I see it, Reggie and Kim shouldn't rate very high in this category.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Aspirations for 2010 and beyond

The following list was originally stated on my beloved Twitter one tweet at a time. I'd love to receive plenty of responses to this posting providing hopes of your own. Farewell 2009. Onward and upward.

* Technology is great & all, but in 2010 I'd rather get verified news half an hour later than bogus stories courtesy of hackers and PR people ASAP.

* I'm hoping that 2010 marks a return to the integrity of information. What good is living in the Information Age if the info we receive is often faulty?

* Instead of another Harry Potter or Twilight pop lit phenom, how about another To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye for 2010?

* May 2010 mark the return of television programs with scripts & acting. Yeah, I know reality TV has both of those but you know what I mean.

* Instead of an athlete or singer or actor, how bout we herald the actions of a great doctor, inventor, scientist, teacher, or activist in 2010.

* In 2010 instead of focusing on what divides us, how about a little more attention to what unites us?

* In 2010 instead of focusing on what will be the hot new electronic reading device, how bout vanquishing illiteracy in US and beyond?

* In 2010 if there must be 3000 award shows can we at least arrange for Kanye to interrupt somebody at each one for entertainment value?

* In 2010 I hope a pill is invented that causes you to lose those 10 extra pounds if you read at least 5 adult books. #MightBeOnToSomething

* I don't know how many people really NEED a Kindle, but every young kid in our ghettoes does NEED a computer to help climb out of the mire.

* In 2010 don't pretend racism against Blacks has ceased to exist. But when aimed in the reverse direction it's still racism. Needs to end in every direction.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review of THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova

Happy New Year! Looking forward to great things in 2010. I finally finished reading The Historian on the first day of the new year. Below is my review of this captivating book which is a fine hybrid of the horror genre (it's about that ever popular vampire, Count Dracula) and literary novel. To my blog readers current and future, I wish you plenty of great literary discoveries in 2010, perhaps including my very own Patches of Grey. I plan to take a hiatus from book reading and reviewing (other than the children's books I'll continue to obtain for my daughter's reading pleasure) during the early portion of this year in order to focus on the completion of my second novel - Matters of Convenience.

The HistorianThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An engaging though somewhat overlong entry into the Dracula sweepstakes. Crammed full of historical data and anecdotes, it felt to me that a substantial portion of the backdrop could have been omitted without significantly subtracting from the overall plot. This book is largely told in letters, though the type of detail crammed letters only to be found within a novel, because not even writers correspond so thoroughly in real life unless what they're writing is a novel. The point of view shifts throughout the narrative, although instead of switching from one person's perspective to another it usually switches from one person's set of letters to those of another. But the reader (those of us outside the book) presses on because we're chasing after the second most charismatic villian of all time, trailing behind only Satan himself. I must say that I enjoyed Anne Rice's books more, not that it's a competition. Rice had the distinct advantage of making her vampires the main characters whereas Kostova chronicles the overlapping adventures of a group of vampire hunting historians. Dracula (spoiler alert) makes no more than a cameo appearance towards the end of The Historian, because this novel is not so much about the catch as it is about the pursuit. Ironically, even though much of the book felt stretched out longer than I felt was necessary to keep readers hooked, the end seemed a bit rushed and anticlimactic. I was reminded of my experience reading The Stand in that there was so much build up over such a long period of time (I'm not the world's fastest reader, so when I invest in a book with a page count in the 1000 neighborhood it takes me a while to get through it) that I would have only been fully satisfied if the book literally combusted as I read its final thrilling pages. Those who consider Twilight to be top shelf literature probably won't make it past page 100 of The Historian, but readers who enjoy meticulously researched historical/literary fiction that transports them through many countries over many centuries will find this book a worthy treat to sink their sharpened teeth into.

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