Saturday, February 06, 2010

Show Chris Matthews The Way...Seriously.

It is very easy to listen to what Chris Matthews said about President Barack Obama and cry racist or racial insensitivity. To those people who did so you're being a bit trigger-happy with your racial accusations. Clearly Matthews attempted to give praise to the president, and in the process used some unfortunate words in an uncomfortable fashion (he's on MSNBC for goodness sakes; they do nothing but praise Democrats).

I do not wish to diminish the relative power of the words Matthews spoke. The national conversation regarding race simply has not reached a point where a white person can say "I forgot he (Obama) was black" and expect to get away with it unscathed, no matter the useful purpose of those words. Too many times the media runs with stories concerning the worse stereotypes in people (a white person says a black man is articulate? Racist. A black person is wading through chest-high water with goods tucked under arm? Thief.). Matthews knows this. And if he doesn't know it, he should know it; either way I do not pity him specifically.

But isn't it also true that we black folks have created such a convoluted and meandering maze of what can and cannot be said about us that no one outside of our community can reasonably know what to say? We want outsiders to understand that racism has placed burdens and struggles upon us (which is true), yet we only allow a narrow path toward an acceptable method of praising a black person for overcoming those struggles. Furthermore, we don't let anyone else know how to navigate that narrow path, often times claiming that common sense should ultimately lead one to the promised land of congratulations-sans-offense. But the term "common sense" used in the context of race relations is as oxymoronic (is that a word?) as "compassionate conservative." Common sense doesn't exist in an intellectual space where most folks are not privy to the necessary information.

Jay Smooth once made perfect sense out of the "You Sound Like A Racist/You Are A Racist" conversation.
That applies here. Yes, I cringed when Matthews said "I forgot he was black" because he sounded in condescending racism. But maybe black folks ought to open up and begin a dialogue with well-intentioned white folks, one that allows them an opportunity to specifically understand how to praise a black person for overcoming obstacles. This may sound silly (no, it definitely sounds silly), but I do think a simple whisper saying something like "pssst...just say he's the first politician -- black or white -- to transcend race" would suffice in situations like the one Matthews found himself in. Even if that statement isn't true, the sentiment is expressed without fear of pissing anyone off.

Something should be done in this regard if we want to even approach a day when race is both respected and transcended by the general population. It's simply not productive to cry racism (or, as it has been stated to me, "racist tendencies") every time a white person attempts to praise a black person and stumbles over the language.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Still Dreaming?

The fact that I'm posting MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech on MLK Day is expected (and not very clever). However, this is the first MLK Day with a black President overseeing the nation (still milking Obama firsts. Like I said: I'm not very clever). Whether that fact is in and of itself inspirational is neither here nor there; I am far more interested in how we collectively view this speech in light of our current President.

Has the lens through which we collectively remember/view this MLK speech changed now that our President is black?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Maybe I Shouldn't Be Angry, But I am

I’m going to get right to the point here; I’m not in a very reflective mood.

When I think of Haiti, what first comes to mind is that it was home to the first black slaves to successfully take a stand against the institution of slavery. We often times laud the likes of Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner, and for good reason – they are among the very few courageous individuals whose actions led to blacks being free and possessing sovereignty over self. But until they recouped their freedom, no one on Earth could remember a time when blacks were free (that is, outside of Sub-Saharan Africa).

Being the first counts for something more in my book. There was no rulebook or other examples available to show how to successfully gain freedom. Given the societal beliefs and norms (of both slaves and slave owners) of that time, the mere idea of slaves being free was the opposite of logical. Because of these reasons, among others, the combination of desperation and determination within those slaves necessary to take such a stand for their freedom was nothing short of amazing.

So for someone to even suggest that Haitians received their freedom through a deal made with the devil (as Pat Robertson has done) is pure and simple a racist attempt to belittle a group of people. Tossing aside the struggles of the Haitian people like last week’s garbage, and replacing them with such a ridiculous dogmatic notion of a deal with the devil incites a level of legitimate anger in me that I rarely reach. A deal with the devil? Really?? THE HAITIANS PAID REPARATIONS FOR THEIR FREEDOM UNTIL 1947! Now what’s the likelihood that Robertson was referring to the French government when he made his “devil” comment? Is there a percentage less than zero??

Furthermore, to belittle these people during their nation’s most tragic moment (an extraordinary truth, given Haiti’s history) takes ole’ Patty Boy’s “devil” comment to an extreme level of hate-filled opportunism. How can a man who claims to be of God use this tragedy to promote a political end AND GET AWAY WITH IT? Yes, Pat Robertson uses his brand of Christian beliefs as a political weapon on a daily basis; the fact that he’s using the deaths of an entire nation of people as his platform is par for his course. My level of disgust is heightened only because he’s using this tragedy as his platform AS THE DEAD BODIES ARE BEING PULLED FROM THE RUBBLE. The mean-spirited nature of such an action makes Don Imus’ “nappy-headed hoes” comment look like a compliment.

As I write this, I get word that Teddy Pendergrass has passed away. Maybe this song applies to everything going on. I don’t know anymore; like I said: I’m angry and stuff like this usually doesn’t get me angry. My Chi is all effed up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Tiger Post

• Tiger Woods. What can I say about you that hasn’t already been said? You cheated on your wife with a porn star. Or maybe you didn’t. And your wife beat you upside your head with one of your golf clubs. Or maybe she used said club to save your life (we KNOW next to nothing!). What we do know is that you were asleep on your lawn. Barefoot. I think it’s important to recognize that there are only a few individuals who know something in the ballpark of the truth, even fewer who know the actual truth, and none of the individuals reading this know anything. Except that Tiger was asleep and snoring on his lawn. Barefoot.

• The shock of Tiger’s dalliances have in fact created a maelstrom of dialog regarding male/female relationships; some quality, some not so much. But I’m still not sure why Tiger has inspired these conversations. He never held himself out as a moral crusader, at least not in the marital sense. Not that he showed himself to be immoral, but it seems clear that morals never figured into his carefully crafted public image. In fact, he never provided the public with any real ideas concerning his personality or urges. Yet folks seem to have understood his stoicism to be a sign that he would never cheat on his wife. But folks ignored the fact that he’s a highly-successful, highly paid athlete just like any other (giving true meaning to the notion that golf is a “gentleman’s sport”). It is quite possible that the only difference between Tiger and Shaun Kemp is that Kemp never had enough sense to wrap it up (I guess I’m assuming that there isn’t a paternity suit against Tiger in the works. I wonder if he assumes the same…).

• I am now thoroughly convinced that what makes an athlete truly great (in that MJ, Tiger, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown form of greatness) also makes him the opposite of what one should aspire to personally be. None of the “All-Timers” were genuinely good people, and that most definitely includes the individual I hold up as the closest to being a hero: Muhammad Ali.

• One of the few conversations I’m interested in regarding Tiger is why he cheated. Did he cheat because he couldn’t control his sexual urges (I truly do sympathize with that, but shame on him, as he broke a promise. Not a promise to God, but one to another person)? Did he cheat because his specific marriage wasn’t happy (don’t know what to say about that…)? Or (and here’s my fear), is the entire institution of marriage one of misery for those living within it? But as I write this it is becoming clear to me that there’s no way to know what marriage entails until you’re in it, so there’s no real way to know whether marriage is “for you” before you're in one.

• As I read the stories about Tiger, one excuse for him continues to be used: the media scrutiny is greater now than it ever has been, and if Tiger had been the institution that he is back in 1960, the public never even hears about this. I firmly agree with this one. So what? He got caught doing something (again, we don’t know what, other than that he cheated), and the fact that everyone else is doing it does not justify his actions. And please believe: I am not holier than thou in discussing this. I am not sure how I would respond to the amount of… (ahem…action) Tiger received. It was a difficult situation (has a larger understatement ever been written? Women were throwing it at Tiger like he alone possessed the cure to breast cancer, and we all expected him to turn it down? Really? The only mystery here concerns why Tiger chose some of the least attractive women known in the groupie world. As an aside, golf groupies must rank somewhere between professional fishing and bull riding on the groupie scale. You know, if he actually slept with those women who we’ve seen pictures of. Now my head hurts. Let’s just move on). However, to me, “everyone else was doing it” simply doesn’t justify Tiger here, just like that line of argument did not justify Barry Bonds in his performance enhancing drug use.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Black Middle Class-ism; An Ongoing Conversation, Continued...

I find that the best way to observe a particular social class’s honest view of itself is through the paintings, poetry, and music of its members (“art,” for those of you who get annoyed when people write more than necessary). It’s not always a perfect view, and it’s also true that the view almost always becomes corrupted through notions of profit. However, there are moments when an artist – through a stroke of a paintbrush, or a perfect lyric, or an unforgettable prose – faultlessly captures the very essence of the class with which that artist belongs to.

As black folks, we have expressed our views of self in this manner since we arrived on this land, and our art has followed a general theme of struggle. I cannot quibble with this theme, because our history has generally been one of struggle. However, as the black middle class grows, it is becoming obvious to me that the black middle class is not struggling, at least not to the same extents that our ancestors did, nor to the extent that our economically-challenged brethren currently do. However, the art that currently describes black folks continues to describe us through the lens of a struggle (you know, all of that art that is truly inspired by life, and isn’t solely designed to turn a profit …). So, the art that currently describes us (black folks) doesn’t actually describe us (middle class black folks).

So, as a wise friend of mine succinctly put it, during a discussion regarding middle class black folks: “Your (black middle class folks) life doesn’t inspire art.” And it’s true: I’ve seen nothing artful regarding black people being successful as a matter of right (if you have, please direct me to it). The closest I’ve seen in this regard are images of black success as an oddity, or success despite a struggle based on race.

I’m not sure what this says about the black middle class, but it is clear that we haven’t quite figured out ourselves in this already uncomfortable class conversation. Maybe art will never be a plausible portal through which we express ourselves. Maybe continued success will shine a light on a better way. Maybe…