Tuesday, April 29, 2008

John A. Williams and Chester Himes

Another cold and rainy morning. I'm sick of it. I thought I was living near the District of Columbia, Washington DC, and not Seattle, Washington. Ugh.

Spent the morning reading a collection of letters between writers John A. Williams and Chester Himes. I recall as a child being introduced to both these writers by my mother. One summer we were taking a road trip to New York. My father was driving while my mother sat in the front seat of the car laughing her head off while reading a Himes' novel. Undoubtedly, I picked up the novel behind her, which I was inclined and allowed to do. As a child, I was permitted to read anything that I wanted to, provided I consented to discussing the book with my mother after I read it. So you can imagine the type of trouble I got into with my English teachers for reading literature that was not age appropriate. But that is another story for another blog.

Years later, while on the faculty of the University of Rochester, I arranged a colloquia and invited John A. Williams to speak. Williams' papers are housed at the university. They seemed of little or no importance to the faculty until I brought to their attention the value of having Williams' papers there, or so it seemed. An hour before I was to meet Williams and his wife Lori for dinner, my computer ate, devoured, extinguished, did something to my introduction of Williams. I was so crushed because I finally in my own way wanted to give Williams his due. Williams, like Baldwin, held a prominent place in my mother's mind as one of the most formidable Black writers of his generation. So I was not only letting down Williams, but in some way my mother too. Luckily, at the time I had committed most of Williams' biography and works to heart, having re-read all of his work in print in preparation for my introduction, and had spent hours in his papers at the University of Rochester skimming through boxes and boxes of personal correspondences, letters to the utility companies, post cards, etc. While I did not necessarily give Williams his due, I am certain that he was not terribly disappointed. We had a good evening, the reading was excellent, and almost everything came off without a hitch; except the university had neglected to cut a check for Williams' honorarium. Having read more than enough about Black writers not getting paid, I was very uncomfortable telling Williams that I did not have a check for him at the end of the reading. But I promised my first born to him if I did not get the check. (Williams was kind enough to correspond with my child months before the reading). I got Williams' honorarium mailed off to him and did not have to give up my first born (not that Williams and Lori even wanted another child to raise).

In reading the correspondences between these two men, I am intrigued by their mobility throughout Europe, Africa, and the United States. Men, who it seems, moved every few months trying to find ideal conditions under which to live and write, and how difficult it was for them to find a place where they could settle down. The challenges with agents and editors appear to be so daunting it's sheer wonder that either Williams or Himes was able to get any writing done.

But both writers have given us bodies of work that are incredible and attest to their commitment to the craft despite the obstacles. If you haven't picked up any works by Williams or Himes in a while, please do.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rainy Day, End of the Semester

Nothing happening today except rain and an uncontrollable desire to sleep. If I were a child again, I would have willingly taken my afternoon nap today. No coaxing from mother, just a cup of hot tea and a nappy. This is how I felt all day today, and when I arrived home at 3:00 p.m., I promptly warmed up some leftover lasagna that I prepared yesterday, ate, climbed into the bed after eating, and unabashedly napped.

I can't wait until the semester is over so that I can return to napping every afternoon after lunch.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Check Out My Nephew Marco Hansell

Hey, for all of the people reading this blog other than family, check out an interview of my nephew. He has a viral marketing company, and if I'm lucky he'll take out time to help his ol' aunt one day market her writing. He shares an uncanny resemblance to my father, in looks and tone.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Halie Gerima, Sankofa, and Poetry Slam

Sorry for not posting but once this week. I had a deadline for one of my faithful readers of this blog. Faithful reader, your essay is in the mail.

My poetry students at Howard University had the option of doing a final project or writing a final essay. Of course, they did the project. So just imagine how surprised I was when one of the students secured a space at Sankofa on Georgia Avenue to perform poetry and hold an open mike. And since we were in the space of a filmmaker, the performance was also filmed.

I had been meaning to get over to Sankofa since I met Halie Gerima at an NEH summer seminar in Black film at Central Florida University in 2000. Not only do I like Gerima's films, but he was the only filmmaker and film scholar at the NEH seminar who spent time with scholars from outside of film studies. Despite my limited knowledge in black independent films at the time, Gerima was approachable, accessible and engaging, and responded to my questions without the least bit of arrogance or condescension. Other scholars and I sat in a Caribbean restaurant somewhere in Orlando and ate and talked for a few hours with Gerima.

I am pleased that I finally made it over to Gerima's space. Sankofa is the type of space that I imagine myself having one day: a room full of books, films, good food, and excellent smoothies. The food is fresh and unprocessed. I heard that the coffee is wonderful too. So when I am on campus this Wednesday, I'll drop in for an afternoon coffee.

When you are in DC, drop by Sankofa at 2714 Georgia Avenue. Also, if you are unfamiliar with Gerima's films, see below and please check them out. If you can't find copies of the films, or other African American and African films, contact Sankofa at (202) 234-4755 or (800) 524-3895.


1. Adwa (1999)
... aka Adua (Italy)
2. Sankofa (1993)

3. After Winter: Sterling Brown (1985)
4. Ashes and Embers (1982)

5. Bush Mama (1979)
6. Wilmington 10 -- U.S.A. 10,000 (1979)
7. Mirt Sost Shi Amit (1975)
... aka Harvest: 3,000 Years
8. Child of Resistance (1972)
9. Hour Glass (1971)


1. The Cutting Horse (2002) (executive producer)

2. Through the Door of No Return (1997) (producer)
3. Sankofa (1993) (producer)

4. Ashes and Embers (1982) (producer)

5. Bush Mama (1979) (producer)


1. Sankofa (1993) (writer)

2. Ashes and Embers (1982) (writer)

3. Bush Mama (1979) (writer)
4. Mirt Sost Shi Amit (1975) (writer)
... aka Harvest: 3,000 Years


1. Through the Door of No Return (1997)
2. Sankofa (1993)

3. Bush Mama (1979)


1. 500 Years Later (2005) (special thanks)


1. The Healing Passage: Voices from the Water (2005) .... Himself
2. Casting for Glinda (2001) (V) .... Himself

3. Ouaga (1989) (TV)
... aka Ouaga: African Cinema Now! (UK)

Monday, April 21, 2008

"The N Word" by Jabari Asim

On Saturday I attended a "meet the author" program at the Sherwood Regional Library, organized by my good friend, Pier Penic. This month's author was Jabari Asim: noted writer of children's books, former editor of the Washington Post Book World, and current editor-in-chief of "The Crisis" magazine.

Asim's book, "The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why," engages an in-depth analysis of not only the use of the N word during colonial and post-colonial America, but he also provides ample evidence for the ongoing denigration and subjugation of U.S. Blacks by the dominant culture. Asim's position is that when U.S. blacks contextualize the word within an continuous campaign of racism, then this should be evidence enough to eliminate the word from our vocabulary. Although Asim does not endorse censorship, the historical research and his analysis of literature, 18th and 19th popular culture, and jurispudence provide ample evidence to reassess the use of the N word.

One very positive aspect of Asim's book is its accessiblity. Having read the primary texts to which Asim refers, I can assure you that he has done an excellent job of researching and analyzing those texts. For those of you who do not have time to read Blight, Frederickson, Foner, Carretta and Berlin, to name a few scholars, please read Asim. Then if you want to delve more deeply into the insidious use of the N word and treatment of persons of African descent in this country, go to Asim's "Selected Bibliography" and start reading.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ralph Ellison, Black Panther Party, and Oscar Micheaux

Please note below that C-Span2's Book TV will highlight books about or discussions on Ralph Ellison, the Black Panther Party, and early black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux.

Book TV Alert
C-SPAN2's Book TV: April 19-21

Insightful author interviews
Saturday 10 PM, Sunday 6 PM and 9 PM,
Monday 12 AM ET

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll is the author of Ghost Wars which looks at Osama bin Laden's time in Afghanistan since the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in the early 1980s. His latest book, The Bin Ladens, is a history of the bin Laden family and its rise to prominence in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Coll discusses his new book with Michael Scheuer, former head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA.

Weekend Highlights
Adam Bradley, 2008 Virginia Festival of the Book - Discussion of Ralph Ellison's Manuscripts for his Second Novel
From the 2008 Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia, a discussion by Adam Bradley on the unpublished second novel by Ralph Ellison. This event took place at the Central Jefferson-Madison Library.
(Saturday 9:30 AM, Sunday 12:30 AM ET)

Paul Alkebulan, Wesley Hogan, Patrick McGilligan, 2008 Virginia Festival of the Book - African American Revolutionaries Panel
From the 2008 Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia, a panel discussion on African American revolutionaries. This event features Paul Alkebulan, Survival Pending Revolution: The History of the Black Panther Party; Wesley Hogan, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America; and Patrick McGilligan, The Great and Only Oscar Micheaux: The Life of America's First Black Filmmaker. This event took place at the Central Jefferson-Madison Regional Library.
(Saturday 2:30 PM, Sunday 4:30 AM ET)

Jeremy Bailey, Alan Pell Crawford, Jon Kukla, 2008 Virginia Festival of the Book - Thomas Jefferson Panel
From the 2008 Virginia Festival of the Book, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a panel discussion on Thomas Jefferson featuring Jon Kukla, Mr. Jefferson's Women; Jeremy Bailey, Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power; and Alan Pell Crawford, Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson. This event took place at the University of Virginia bookstore.
(Saturday 11 AM, Sunday 6 AM ET)

Quick Links
Click here for this weekend's complete Book TV schedule Book TV Website Book TV Bus on MySpace

Questions? Comments?
Email: booktvalert@c-span.org

What to Do: Black Intellectuals and the Current Crisis

This morning at the local Starbucks, I settled in with my mocha to finish reading Houston Baker's "Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era." I mentioned this book in my posting of April 15, 2008. I must say that my own perception of Baker's elitism has been radically altered by his interrogation and critique of Black neoconverservatives and centrists Shelby Steele, Stephen Carter, John McWhorter, Henry Louis Gates, Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson, all of whom have always left a nasty film in my mouth when I read their works. And in the case of Gates--who has always been complimentary, kind, and gentle towards me--whose memoir, "Colored People," I distinctly recall putting down in sheer disgust for his glorification of a black segregated, racial past that was devoid of analysis. And I must admit, I have a huge problem with Black men marrying white women. Yes, I have unabashedly put it out there. I figure that if my highly successful father (and light-skinned to boot) could find a soul sister to marry, then so can every other doggone Black man in America. We are constructed by our family mileux, sorry.

But in no way does my own limiting personal narrative serve as a barometer for the mores of the race. However, I cannot discount what Baker also alludes to, and what my mother emphasized my entire life: no matter how you may benefit from the capitalist economy, no matter what price you set for your soul, you will never be an insider, do not elude yourself. My mother often referenced the plight of Jewish intellectuals and middle-class during the holocaust as a case in point of how I can never be more American than black, and my blackness and concerns about the black majority should always be central to my existence in this country.

As my father negotiated the complex and racist terrains of the Department of the Army, retiring at a very high rank befitting his energy and sacrifices, and as I was sometimes privy to his stories about the injustices of the bigotry and racism that he experienced, despite his success and the economic stability of my childhood, we were never permitted to forget our allegiances to and alliances with the black majority.

Hence my life has always been replete with relations with blacks from across the social and economic strata. Although I was quite privileged in my upbringing, I have always been disheartened, amazed, and taken aback by friends and in-laws who pejoratively talk about "those blacks who make us look bad," and how I need to "give that black stuff up." These are the same people that if my parents had embraced their neoconservative ideology, would not have been allowed to grace my mother's front steps let alone form an alliance with me.

I wonder how any black person in the U.S. can disavow himself of the plight of the black majority. I wonder how some of my former working class friends, whose introduction to the black professional class was through their association with my family, could ever utter that I need "to get over that black stuff," when in fact, their very success in Fortune 500 corporations, particularly the boys that I brought home, has much to do with my father's influences on their lives (one friend recently thanked my father for the impact that my father had on his success). And let us not talk about the papers I wrote, notes I took, textbooks that I read into tape recorders, to help these working-class boys(who are now corporate executives) pass their damn classes in high school and college. But now I'm being told by them to "give up on the black stuff." In essence, to disassociate myself with the plight of the black masses. However, if I had embraced these men's current ideology, perhaps they would have never passed those classes that I helped them pass under my own allegiance to blackness and believing that we must lift as we climb and give back to the race, for clearly these successful corporate executives rose from the ranks of the black majority.

I wonder now how these men function in their corporate lives. I ponder on thoughts of how many blacks these men have axed, canned, destroyed, and denied access under the guise of their neoconservative politics and disassociation with the black majority. I wonder how many of them reflect on the fact that the only reason why they can grace the halls of corporate America is because men like my father fought tooth and nail not only for affirmative action, but also for the right to access, upward mobility, and retention. I wonder how many of them embrace the fact while my father piled up rejection letters from the Fortune 500 and then, Big Eight accounting firms, that it was his resiliency, and the resiliency of other race men like him, who never turned away from America living up to her myth and creed of equality. The black corporate men of my generation are the direct beneficiaries of the work of men like my father. But these same men want me to give up on the black majority as they have undoubtedly given up on them.

So I am happy that Baker is calling some of us out. Thank God, I'm not one of the ones being called out. His argument is so persuasive that the black intellectual centrists and neoconservatives should pause and take note. But perhaps they won't, only time will tell as they capitulate to the U.S. capitalist demi-God that precipitates their wholesale betrayal of not only the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also the plight of the black majority. Read and reflect.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Houston A. Baker, Jr., "Betrayal..."

Attended Houston A. Baker Jr.'s lecture and book signing at Howard University yesterday. Ethelbert Miller and Dr. Lila Ammons, interim chair of Afro American Studies, gave wonderful introductions of Baker. Ethelbert's introductions are like prose poems; when I asked him about how he constructs his introductions of writers, he started explaining to me that he models the Michael Jackson video. I take this to mean that the way that Michael Jackson restructured the music video is the same method that Ethelbert uses in introducing writers. That is, he doesn't deliver the stereotypical biographical sketch that lists accomplishment after accomplishment. I hope one day to have Ethelbert introduce me for as a speaker. I wonder what he will do with my bio.

Baker's lecture was provocative. And I came home and immediately started reading his book, "Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era." The black intellectuals whom Baker takes to task in his book are: Stephen Carter; Cornel West; Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; Michael Eric Dyson; and Shelby Steele. I'm 35 pages in and I am riveted. Baker's lecture reinforced in my mind the need to continue to produce good scholarship and not to capitulate and start writing pamphlets. Well, not that anyone has approached me with a six figure contract to write pamphlets. But, if in the event they do, I'll have to consider Baker's warning.

Speaking of scholarly books, my manuscript that I worked so hard to get to the editor is being sent our for "re-review." It was reviewed by my peers once, this is how I secured the publishing contract. Now it's being sent to the same reviewers (ideally, that is if they can be tracked down) to be reviewed again. See this is why folks resort to writing pamphlets. You just get tired of all the craziness of the academic presses.

Besides, who is even going to take the time to read a book that has a slew of endnotes, bibliography, and inter-textual references. Alright, I'm sleep deprived and pissed that my book is going out for re-review. But I know that Baker is right. Ultimately, a society is measure by its art, music, and intellectuals. Now I'm sounding elitist. I'll stop writing this blog here and get some rest. No, do my taxes.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cherry Blossom Festival, Rain, and Lazy Saturday

Nothing is going on today. Intended to catch Ethelbert Miller at the Library of Congress, then conduct some research, and later on swing by the Tidal Basin to attend the Cherry Blossom Festival. But the best laid plans go awry. I walked to and from Starbucks today, and upon arriving home intended to shower and take a short nap. When I awakened again, it was 12:45 p.m. and raining hard.

I rose and warmed up some lunch, grabbed some butter cookies, and climbed back in bed with my laptop and a copy of Quincy Troupe's collection of poems, "The Architecture of Language." It was a long week: interviewing with Internal Affairs at the Fairfax County Sheriff Department, giving a presentation on "Richard Wright's 'The Long Dream': Desire and the Protocols of Race," and editing an essay "Writing Nation: Giovanni, Sanchez, and Lorde and the Black Arts Movement" that I will send out before April 30, 2008.

So I guess that I'm tired. I'm trying not to feel guilty for sitting around today when my lawn needs cutting and the hedges need trimming. Nonetheless, I think I will stay in and do nothing.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Generations X and Y, Late Baby Boomers, and the World is Going to Hell in a Hand Basket

I didn't blog yesterday because the day was too pretty. The sun came out for the first time in five days in metro DC, so I went for a long walk in Huntley Meadows, which are preserved wetlands about two miles from my home.

But before walking, I was in the neighborhood Starbucks when two of my neighbors dropped in. One is retired military, special forces, and now owns a consulting firm, and the other neighbor is an executive with a hotel chain. We bemoaned the lack of competence in the younger generation: I voiced the lack of competence in the educational environment, and both of my neighbors articulated incompetence in the work environment.

It was during my walk when I realized that every generation berates the aptitude, commitment, and performance of the younger generations. How do we stop this pattern, and if the generations after us are getting "dumber," how do we enlighten them?

As I reflected on this conversation, I began looking beyond my daily environment to examine the competence of the younger generations. I know that two of my nieces are far savvier than I. In fact, I have on occasion not only called on one of my younger nieces for advice, but also have allowed her to take the lead in certain situations. I also recognize that my students are also more knowledgeable in particular areas than I am, and many of them have flourished amidst obstacles that are unimaginable to me. While I may have had to negotiate a more contentious racial landscape in the U.S., they have been the unwilling recipients of the drug and free sex culture that my generation precipitated. While I had to contend with STDs, they have had to worry about and witness the ravaging effects of AIDS. In my generation, smoking marijuana was considered hip and cool, the younger generations know that not only is marijuana a gateway drug, but often marijuana is immediately rejected for crack cocaine. They are even now witnessing their friends getting addicted to heroin, a drug that was not widely used in my generation.

I write all this to incite those of us who are late baby boomers and older to pause and recognize that our children and younger generations are the direct recipients of the world that we created for them. If they are lazier, dumber, and less committed, we have to ask ourselves not only what actions did we engage in to help foster the behavior of the younger generations, but how can we help to change the culture in which the younger generations are subsumed.

So today, I make a commitment to stop berating the generations that will soon be taking care of me, and to help these younger people reach their full potential by addressing the ills in this society that have fostered their lack of or underachievement. The world is not going to hell in a hand basket; it is in fact ripe with opportunities, and we just cannot turn our backs and decide that the ills of the younger generations are not our problem.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Holler Out to Friends and Family, But Especially Friends

You know, I spoke with two very close friends of mine last night; I have been friends with both of these individuals since I was 13 and 14 years old. One friend has a particularly demanding career, and I am always cognizant of the time he sets aside to provide me guidance and emotional sustenance. And the other friend, my best girlfriend, is always available to help me negotiate those minefields that only women negotiate. Also, it seems that no matter how much time has lapsed since our last conversations, we resume our interactions as if time has stood still.

I marvel at the tenacity of our friendships, at its openness and level of commitment. I know that friendships are sometimes more difficult to maintain than relations with family. No matter what, your family is your family, but you get to choose your friends. For a lot of you reading this blog, we have been friends for years. So this morning, I just want to thank you for decades and years of friendship, for your unwaivering support, and the tenacity of your spirit and commitment. And for my new friends reading the blog, I look forward to the blossoming of our relations. Thank you.

If you haven't read Tyehimba Jess's "Leadbelly," please check it out. And if you do not normally read poetry, Jess's "Leadbelly" is an excellent way to get into some poetry. Yes, it is about the blues man Leadbelly. And for you Detroiters reading this blog, Jess grew up on Appoline and Cambridge and attended U of D high school. He's from my hood. Check him out.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tyehimba Jess, Quincy Troupe and E. Ethelbert Miller

Oh, what a treat last night at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. hearing Tyehimba Jess and Quincy Troupe read their poetry, accompanied by a harmonica player and bassist, respectively, and also E. Ethelbert Miller's superb introduction. This was just what the doctor ordered for an unusually gloomy Washington spring.

Tyehimba Jess is a home boy, that is not only did he grow up in Detroit, but we discovered that we grew up around the corner from each other. So it was really nice to connect with Jess and talk about Detroit, the poetry scene, and how the demographics in our neighborhood have shifted.

Quincy Troupe was Quincy: he gave "a concert," not a reading. But, at one point during his concert he actually transported me back to Spain, causing me to rethink my plans for my trip to Europe this summer. I really love Spain, although my son hated it. My introduction to Spain is quite different than my son's. I studied the language from elementary school through graduate school, and actually was fluent in Spanish upon graduating high school. As I memorized in middle school Spanish class, "La universidad de Salamanca es la mas antiqua de Espana," I could only dream of seeing the university one day. Or when I read Cervantes in Spanish in high school and finally went to Spain and saw the monument to Cervantes, I almost collapsed in tears. In graduate school, I fell in love with reading Octavia Paz in Spanish, something was getting lost in translation, and I am happy that I read Paz in his mother tongue.

However, my son's Spanish classes have always been overcrowded and not taught my teachers who were terribly enthusiastic about either the language or teaching. So my hat's off to Dr. Damien (foreign language teacher at Cass Tech) and Ms. Fernandez (Spanish teacher at Bow and Coffey elementary schools) for creating my love for not only the Spanish language but all languages.

But back to Quincy Troupe, he took me to Spain, and after the reading he introduced me to his friend whose home in Spain facilitated Troupe's beautiful poem. And, of course, Troupe couldn't help but give tribute to Miles Davis's "Sketches of Spain," which is one of my favorite Miles's CDs.

Ethelbert, Ethelbert. Mr. Miller is one of my colleagues, and I'm always popping in on him and occupying his time. Hours before he introduced Jess and Troupe, I had popped in to his office, sat down, bantered back and forth with him, and occupied his time, oblivious to the fact that somehow and at sometime he had composed an introduction for both poets that was a poem in its own right. Touchee to you Ethelbert. Next time I'll be a little more respectful of your time.

If you are in Washington DC on April 14, 2008, please stop by the Founder's Library, Browsing Room, at Howard University, at 4:00 p.m. to hear Houston Baker speak about his newest book, "Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era." And I promise not to bother Ethelbert on Monday so that he can prepare, what I know will be, an extraordinary introduction for Baker.

Monday, April 7, 2008

"A Dream in Doubt"

Yesterday, on a rainy afternoon, I went to the Busboys and Poets in Shirlington to screen the documentary, "A Dream in Doubt," directed and co-produced by Tami Yeager and co-produced by Preetmohan Singh. The film chronicles the murder of an Indian Sikh, Balbir Sodhi, after the tragic events of 9/11. Mr. Sodhi's death is recorded as the first hate-crime in direct connection to 9/11 since the convicted-murder, Frank Roque, was overheard by co-workers and friends stating that he wanted to shoot some "towel heads," that is, kill people who wore turbans. In addition to murdering Mr. Sodhi, Roque also shot up the homes of Lebanese American and Afghani American families. Although Mr. Roque was sentenced to death for his murder of Mr. Sodhi, the state of Arizona rescinded the death sentence citing Mr. Roque's mental illness as a mitigating circumstance. Mr. Roque was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In addition to the death of Mr. Sodhi, the family suffered another tragic loss when another brother was killed in San Francisco, a few months later, while driving his taxi. The San Francisco police department and district attorney did not rule this crime as a hate crime, rather they concluded that the other brother, Sukhpal, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is a powerful documentary that chronicles only one family's tragedy with post 9/11 hate crimes. The post-film conversation revealed that many Muslims, in particular, are afraid to bring attention to their victimization, report hate crimes, or even galvanize forces to address hate crimes because they feel that they and their mosques are being watched by the federal government. They prefer to remain as far below the "raider" as possible.

The film will broadcast on local PBS stations on May 20, 2008. Please check your local listings for the times in your areas. Peace.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Racial Profiling and Fairfax County

I am always very cautious about my son's mobility around metro DC, and particularly in Fairfax County. He's Black, the county is majority white and affluent, the schools are good, and the courthouse and jails are filled with Black and Latino men. So when my son is out late at night and wants to walk home, I almost always go and pick him up unless he reminds me that I'm being over-protective.

Tonight he called from the metro station and let me know that he would catch the bus home. I offered him a ride if the bus took too long to arrive. And sure enough, a few minutes later he took me up on the ride.

We were cruising down Franconia Road, I'm telling him about my mother and the first time she picked me up from the Huntington metro in 1985, and how proud she would be to see my son negotiating public transportation alone. I was being a little nostalgic.

When we pulled up at the light at Franconia and S. Van Dorn to make a left turn into my subdivision, I saw one Fairfax County police officer parallel to my car in the lane beside me and another stopped at the light to my right about to make a right turn and travel west on Franconia. I took note of both police officers. I'm Black in America, I have to take notice.

I made my left turn and the officer that was parallel to me cut across the lane and made the left behind me. My son noted that the officer was no longer traveling down Franconia Road but had dropped behind us. I told my son, "well if he turns at Castlewellian, then he's following us." Sure enough when I turned left onto Castewellian, he turned left too. And in less than 100 feet, the lights on his squad car began flashing.

We went through the routine: license and registration. I reached in my purse and handed the officer my license, but let him know that I needed to reach in the glove box to get my registration. He decided that he didn't need the registration after all. He told me that when he ran my tags, the computer listed that the registered owner didn't have a license. He took my license and ran it. The officer came back and told me that the description on my license fits the description on the vehicle's registration. Hum. I have the registration, title, and County of Fairfax, 2008 Personal Property Verification right in front of me now; none of these items has a description of the owner on them, unless by description he meant my name.

I was particularly perturbed but maintained my composure. The officer could not see me, the driver, from his vantage point before he pulled over my car; rather he had a full view of my 6' 1 1/2" son in the passenger seat. I am certain that my son incited the officer to run my plates. For it was only after the officer looked at the age on my driver's license that he realized he didn't have two teenagers joy riding in a stolen Honda. Yes, I still look young, and especially at night in workout clothes. The officer even thanked me for pulling over. What else was I supposed to do? Maybe floor my car, speed down Castlewellian to my home, and jump out the car in front of my house, running with my child behind me, while the officer calls for back up, draws his service revolver, maybe take a few shots at us.

The irony of the entire situation was that the officer was Latino, and Latino young men in the county are known for really liking Honda Accords. They may or may not come by them legally; I just know that the Honda Accord is still the most stolen vehicle in our county.

Needless to say, I don't get mad; I get even. Within 20 minutes after the incident I had filed an online complaint with Fairfax County Internal Affairs. I am certain that the officer stopped us because we were Black while driving. I am also certain that it was my son that the officer was after, not me. Tough luck for him that my son was with his 50 year old mother. But fear is in the back of my mouth because my son could have been in my car driving and alone, and perhaps I would be posting a completely different blog tonight.

Alice Walker's Open Letter Regarding the Presidential Election

Read and contemplate. Have a wonderful weekend.

Lest We Forget: An Open Letter to My Sisters Who Are Brave
By Alice Walker
The Root
Thursday 27 March 2008

The author argues that we must build alliances not on ethnicity or gender, but on truth.

I have come home from a long stay in Mexico to find - because of the presidential campaign, and especially because of the Obama/Clinton race for the Democratic nomination - a new country existing alongside the old. On any given day we, collectively, become the Goddess of the Three Directions and can look back into the past, look at ourselves just where we are, and take a glance, as well, into the future. It is a space with which I am familiar.
When I was born in 1944 my parents lived on a middle Georgia plantation that was owned by a white distant relative, Miss May Montgomery. (During my childhood it was necessary to address all white girls as "Miss" when they reached the age of twelve.) She would never admit to this relationship, of course, except to mock it. Told by my parents that several of their children would not eat chicken skin she responded that of course they would not. No Montgomerys would.
My parents and older siblings did everything imaginable for Miss May. They planted and raised her cotton and corn, fed and killed and processed her cattle and hogs, painted her house, patched her roof, ran her dairy, and, among countless other duties and responsibilities my father was her chauffeur, taking her anywhere she wanted to go at any hour of the day or night. She lived in a large white house with green shutters and a green, luxuriant lawn: not quite as large as Tara of Gone With the Wind fame, but in the same style.
We lived in a shack without electricity or running water, under a rusty tin roof that let in wind and rain. Miss May went to school as a girl. The school my parents and their neighbors built for us was burned to the ground by local racists who wanted to keep ignorant their competitors in tenant farming. During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from ten dollars a month to twelve. Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man and she certainly wouldn't pay it to a nigger. That before she'd pay a nigger that much money she'd milk the dairy cows herself.
When I look back, this is part of what I see. I see the school bus carrying white children, boys and girls, right past me, and my brothers, as we trudge on foot five miles to school. Later, I see my parents struggling to build a school out of discarded army barracks while white students, girls and boys, enjoy a building made of brick. We had no books; we inherited the cast off books that "Jane" and "Dick" had previously used in the all-white school that we were not, as black children, permitted to enter.
The year I turned fifty, one of my relatives told me she had started reading my books for children in the library in my home town. I had had no idea - so kept from black people it had been - that such a place existed. To this day knowing my presence was not wanted in the public library when I was a child I am highly uncomfortable in libraries and will rarely, unless I am there to help build, repair, refurbish or raise money to keep them open, enter their doors.
When I joined the freedom movement in Mississippi in my early twenties it was to come to the aid of sharecroppers, like my parents, who had been thrown off the land they'd always known, the plantations, because they attempted to exercise their "democratic" right to vote. I wish I could say white women treated me and other black people a lot better than the men did, but I cannot. It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that white women have copied, all too often, the behavior of their fathers and their brothers, and in the South, especially in Mississippi, and before that, when I worked to register voters in Georgia, the broken bottles thrown at my head were gender free.
I made my first white women friends in college; they were women who loved me and were loyal to our friendship, but I understood, as they did, that they were white women and that whiteness mattered. That, for instance, at Sarah Lawrence, where I was speedily inducted into the Board of Trustees practically as soon as I graduated, I made my way to the campus for meetings by train, subway and foot, while the other trustees, women and men, all white, made their way by limo. Because, in our country, with its painful history of unspeakable inequality, this is part of what whiteness means. I loved my school for trying to make me feel I mattered to it, but because of my relative poverty I knew I could not.
I am a supporter of Obama because I believe he is the right person to lead the country at this time. He offers a rare opportunity for the country and the world to start over, and to do better. It is a deep sadness to me that many of my feminist white women friends cannot see him. Cannot see what he carries in his being. Cannot hear the fresh choices toward Movement he offers. That they can believe that millions of Americans - black, white, yellow, red and brown - choose Obama over Clinton only because he is a man, and black, feels tragic to me.
When I have supported white people, men and women, it was because I thought them the best possible people to do whatever the job required. Nothing else would have occurred to me. If Obama were in any sense mediocre, he would be forgotten by now. He is, in fact, a remarkable human being, not perfect but humanly stunning, like King was and like Mandela is. We look at him, as we looked at them, and are glad to be of our species. He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves.
True to my inner Goddess of the Three Directions however, this does not mean I agree with everything Obama stands for. We differ on important points probably because I am older than he is, I am a woman and person of three colors, (African, Native American, European), I was born and raised in the American South, and when I look at the earth's people, after sixty-four years of life, there is not one person I wish to see suffer, no matter what they have done to me or to anyone else; though I understand quite well the place of suffering, often, in human growth.
I want a grown-up attitude toward Cuba, for instance, a country and a people I love; I want an end to the embargo that has harmed my friends and their children, children who, when I visit Cuba, trustingly turn their faces up for me to kiss. I agree with a teacher of mine, Howard Zinn, that war is as objectionable as cannibalism and slavery; it is beyond obsolete as a means of improving life. I want an end to the on-going war immediately and I want the soldiers to be encouraged to destroy their weapons and to drive themselves out of Iraq.
I want the Israeli government to be made accountable for its behavior towards the Palestinians, and I want the people of the United States to cease acting like they don't understand what is going on. All colonization, all occupation, all repression basically looks the same, whoever is doing it. Here our heads cannot remain stuck in the sand; our future depends of our ability to study, to learn, to understand what is in the records and what is before our eyes. But most of all I want someone with the self-confidence to talk to anyone, "enemy" or "friend," and this Obama has shown he can do. It is difficult to understand how one could vote for a person who is afraid to sit and talk to another human being. When you vote you are making someone a proxy for yourself; they are to speak when, and in places, you cannot. But if they find talking to someone else, who looks just like them, human, impossible, then what good is your vote?
It is hard to relate what it feels like to see Mrs. Clinton (I wish she felt self-assured enough to use her own name) referred to as "a woman" while Barack Obama is always referred to as "a black man." One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not. She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact. How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance.
I can easily imagine Obama sitting down and talking, person to person, with any leader, woman, man, child or common person, in the world, with no baggage of past servitude or race supremacy to mar their talks. I cannot see the same scenario with Mrs. Clinton who would drag into Twenty-First Century American leadership the same image of white privilege and distance from the reality of others' lives that has so marred our country's contacts with the rest of the world.
And yes, I would adore having a woman president of the United States. My choice would be Representative Barbara Lee, who alone voted in Congress five years ago not to make war on Iraq. That to me is leadership, morality, and courage; if she had been white I would have cheered just as hard. But she is not running for the highest office in the land, Mrs. Clinton is. And because Mrs. Clinton is a woman and because she may be very good at what she does, many people, including some younger women in my own family, originally favored her over Obama. I understand this, almost. It is because, in my own nieces' case, there is little memory, apparently, of the foundational inequities that still plague people of color and poor whites in this country. Why, even though our family has been here longer than most North American families - and only partly due to the fact that we have Native American genes - we very recently, in my lifetime, secured the right to vote, and only after numbers of people suffered and died for it.
When I offered the word "Womanism" many years ago, it was to give us a tool to use, as feminist women of color, in times like these. These are the moments we can see clearly, and must honor devotedly, our singular path as women of color in the United States. We are not white women and this truth has been ground into us for centuries, often in brutal ways. But neither are we inclined to follow a black person, man or woman, unless they demonstrate considerable courage, intelligence, compassion and substance. I am delighted that so many women of color support Barack Obama -and genuinely proud of the many young and old white women and men who do.
Imagine, if he wins the presidency we will have not one but three black women in the White House; one tall, two somewhat shorter; none of them carrying the washing in and out of the back door. The bottom line for most of us is: With whom do we have a better chance of surviving the madness and fear we are presently enduring, and with whom do we wish to set off on a journey of new possibility? In other words, as the Hopi elders would say: Who do we want in the boat with us as we head for the rapids? Who is likely to know how best to share the meager garden produce and water? We are advised by the Hopi elders to celebrate this time, whatever its adversities.
We have come a long way, Sisters, and we are up to the challenges of our time. One of which is to build alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth. Celebrate our journey. Enjoy the miracle we are witnessing. Do not stress over its outcome. Even if Obama becomes president, our country is in such ruin it may well be beyond his power to lead us toward rehabilitation. If he is elected however, we must, individually and collectively, as citizens of the planet, insist on helping him do the best job that can be done; more, we must insist that he demand this of us. It is a blessing that our mothers taught us not to fear hard work. Know, as the Hopi elders declare: The river has its destination. And remember, as poet June Jordan and Sweet Honey in the Rock never tired of telling us: We are the ones we have been waiting for.
And with all my love,
Alice Walker
Northern California
First Day of Spring

Friday, April 4, 2008

All's Quiet on the Eastern Front

Besides April showers in metro DC, all is quiet and uneventful. My son pulled his first all nighter; he was working on a project for English. Of course, he didn't ask for my help. What can I say? I'm very proud that he is independent. But I also know that sometimes he needs to ask for help; this is a character trait that he shares with me. However, when he came in from school yesterday, he didn't bother to grab a snack or even take off his clothes, he simply fell across the bed and promptly slept for four hours.

I recall my senior year. I had a project for economics. It had been assigned at the beginning of the school semester, and I blew it off thinking, "really how difficult can this project be." My economics instructor polite told the entire class that none of the seniors would graduate if the project was not complete. "Holy cow," I said to myself, "she's talking about me." I went home, started my project, and it was 7:00 a.m. the next day before I finished typing the last entry for the project. I had pulled my first all nighter. Well, I continued to pull all nighters straight through undergraduate, my professional career, and graduate school. But when I finished my dissertation, I promised never to be awake when the birds started singing unless I was rising from a restful night of sleep. Thus far, I have kept my promise (unless I am on a transatlantic flight). I pulled all nighters in graduate school because I had a toddler, and I could never start my work until after he went to bed, which usually wasn't until 11:00 p.m. But now, you won't catch me up all night, not for any reason in the world.

However, I am happy that my son is disciplined and diligent. I just wish that he would allow me to help him in his senior English class so that he could slam dunk and earn that A. Oh, well, I suppose it is what it is, and I'll just leave him alone.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Harold Cruse and The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual

Between editing my book manuscript and redrafting an essay for a colleague, I have spent my downtime re-reading Harold Cruse's 1967 manifesto, "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual." Cruse's book was one of many that sat on my mother's bookshelf when I was a child and that I perused, and eventually read as as an adult, along with Fanon's "Wretched of the Earth" and "Black Skin, White Masks." Because my old edition of Cruse's work is falling apart, I treated myself to the 2005 edition with an introduction by Stanley Crouch.

Now, I don't particularly like Stanley Crouch, but I will read his writings; it's not just that we occupy two very different political spheres and possess divergent world views, it is just that I don't think that he's very intelligent. For me, the introduction that he has written for Cruse's work seals the nail in the coffin of Crouch's intellectual banality. But what is even more disturbing is the fact that the publisher of the 2005 edition of Cruse's work did not seek out or secure a scholar to write the introduction.

Crouch makes such erroneous claims as the following: "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual seemed to assume that there was a substantial intellectual tradition among American Negroes. That was neither true forty years ago nor is it true now." This statement alone evidences why I do not consider Stanley Crouch to be anymore than a conservative, political pundit in the same vein as someone like J.C. Watts. Crouch is dismissing Du Bois's early sociological studies, particularly The Philadelphia Negro, wherein Du Bois went door-to-door to collect the data, or the current work of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., especially Gate's attempts at creating a database of the records from the ships involved in the transatlantic slave trade in order to ascertain, among other elements, an accurate enumeration of the number of slaves that were actually involved in the slave trade.

These are just two examples that immediately come to mind. Crouch further writes: "There has never been a substantial body of thought on any Afro-American subject that was formed of deep studies, original theories, probing cultural examination, complex religious assessment, and schools of philosophical concern that raised questions about essences as opposed to superstitions, hearsay, and propaganda." I suggest strongly that Cruse read Cornel West's works from the 1980s, particularly, "Prophesy Deliverance!: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity," and "Prophetic Fragments." Better still, he needs to go back and read Fanon for starters.

Crouch's introduction to Cruse's seminal work reminds me of how little regard publishers (and even Crouch himself) have for Black intellectual thought. Crouch is the last person who should have written the introduction to Cruse's work. His introduction seems more like he is settling scores with the Black intellectual community rather than providing an introduction that will both contextualize and analyze Cruse's work and its contributions to Black intellectual thought of the twentieth century. But of course if Crouch doesn't believe such a tradition exists, then of course he could not have risen to the occasion and written a substantive introduction.

It is a shame that in 2005 Cruse was so intellectually and physically debilitated (Cruse died in March 2005) that he could not have stopped the publisher from appending his work with Crouch's bad introduction.