Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An Open Letter

This letter is addressed to the person(s) currently on my $hit list:

Dear Annoying Person,

I wish I could tell you how I really feel but by doing so, I would only reveal myself to be petty. And I am not petty; I am just annoyed by your existence right now.

But, I have prayed and asked the Lord to change my heart towards you because that is the only request I can make that will count. I could have asked for him to make a bus fall out of the sky onto your head, but that is selfish. I could have asked the Lord to open your eyes to see why you are wrong, but that suggests that my position is correct and that my judgment is even I know better. In truth, I don't know whether I am right or wrong in this situation.

So I asked the Lord to change the way that I am approaching this situation. That way, if there is an angle I am not fully appreciating, he can open my eyes to see more clearly. In case I am seeing everything, then asking for a full view means I can then see things from your skewed perspective, and then the Lord can give me compassion.

I am asking for the change to occur within me because my actions are the only ones that I control. My advice to you is that you pray for the same insight. That your eyes might be opened to see everything from all perspectives--not so that you can see your error in judgment, but more so that you can see this issue from my point of view.

If by chance you don't pray for the Lord's guidance to see more clearly, that is fine. Pray for whatever you need to make it through the day. If you need to pray for my downfall, go right ahead. I know that my prayers won't be impacted by yours. If it is meant for your prayer to be answered, then I am okay with that too because I also am praying for strength so that I can withstand whatever comes my way.

In other words, I am not worried about you anymore. And I am not worried about this situation anymore.

Sincerely, absolutely, and positively,
The Management

Monday, August 30, 2010

Weekends are for Wimps

I have had a weekend. It was great and terrible all at the same time. I rallied, I cried, I raged, I chanted, I marched, I rested, I ate, I drank, I strolled, I shopped, I listened, I watched, I heard, I read, I waited, I moved, and I slept.

I do more in one weekend than most people get done in a week.

I am not patting myself on the back, because this is actually a vent about how I took on too much this weekend. In all of that stuff I did, there is still a lot more that I need to get done. I am tired.

Mondays are rough, but the worse day of the week for me tends to be Saturday. So if I were to look at my week from that angle, Friday is truly my day of rest since that is the day when I generally relax and spend the evening gearing up for Saturday morning. Mondays are hump days...

My other vent is about my dogwood tree that appears to have given up the ghost. I am pissed because I paid more attention to this stupid tree by watering and caring for it and it still shriveled up and practically died on me for no good reason. I am most upset because this appears to be a sign--sometimes you give all you can and things still fall apart. Maybe this metaphor isn't about me (a few selected people I know need to get this), but if things don't work out, that is just life. I will simply call the landscaper and have him give me another damn tree.

Alright Tuesday, tell me what YOU got...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why I Went to an HBCU

My alma mater was named the #1 HBCU by U.S. News and World Reports, and of course, I am beaming from ear to ear. My brother's alma mater was named #1 by Washington Monthly, and while I don't know much about that magazine, I will allow them this one opportunity to bask in the glory of beating us on someone's list.

Since I graduated from college back in the 1990s, I have been made proud each time my school or any other HBCU lands at the top of some list of best buys, best liberal arts, best in the South, or best overall. I am proud because it reaffirms why I stand by my choice some 20-odd years ago.

Back then, college admissions had begun to open up for African American students and many of us had the opportunity to attend many more schools than our parents had. During my junior year when I was finally focused on life beyond the hell of high school, I visited my future alma mater and fell in LOVE with the campus, the students, and the city I would later call home. Some of my classmates challenged my decision by suggesting that life at an HBCU was not the real world.

I need to back up a little more to provide some context to my decision and the debates themselves...in the late 1980s, two big cultural phenomenons led to a resurgence of interest in HBCUs. On the one hand there was "A Different World", the spin-off to the "Cosby Show" which depicted life at the fictional Hillman College. Although that show began on somewhat shaky ground, the second big push came from Spike Lee's "School Daze", a film about Homecoming weekend at the fictional Mission College. That show and that movie are responsible for the bumper crop of HBCU graduates among the children of baby boomers and ignited the debate about those institutions that, to this day, still inflames passions on both sides of the issue.

This is not a debate about affirmative action and its role in creating opportunity for black students. This is a far more nuanced and internal debate about the future of institutions whose existence is in question because of affirmative action.

So back in my junior year, conversations about college among black students went a little like this:

Pro HBCU: It gives me a chance to attend an institution that was created for me.
Con HBCU: It is not the real world. How are you going to get along with people from different backgrounds once you graduate.
Pro HBCU: Just fine because I will probably attend a racially integrated grad or professional school.
Con HBCU: By then it might be too late. You won't be as prepared to attend those types of schools.
Pro HBCU: Not so. Many HBCU graduates have gone on to become successful at other institutions.
Con HBCU: But that was the past, what about the future?

And this went on and on...both sides had valid points and in the end, I went to my school and others made different choices.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and the factors that inform this debate now. Affirmative action has been under constant attack, but black students still attend majority institutions at greater rates than they attend HBCUs. Several HBCUs have closed or are on the brink of closure for any number of reasons. Students have even more choices with the rise of community and for-profit colleges that offer more choice and flexibility. A bachelor's degree is what a high school diploma was a generation ago.

Would I still make the same choice? Absolutely! For the same reasons? Another resounding YES.

But to be clear, this is not as much about my institution as it is about every HBCU that still stands as a legacy to how important education still is with respect to social and economic progress. I can look back at yearbooks that attest to what my school has produced, just like everyone else I know, but I have the additional blessing of seeing a lot of faces that look like mine--even in the worst of times. Looking ahead, I see an institution that produces women who want to take over the world...and one day, one of us will.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This Land Was Made for You and Me

This morning I was listening to debate about the proposed plans for expanding an already existing mosque in Lower Manhattan that happens to be located two blocks from where the World Trade Towers stood. Because I have not done enough independent research on the imam who wants to develop the site, I cannot say whether his motivation is to heal or to hurt those who lost loved ones when the towers fell. Because I do not live in New York, I cannot imagine how such a project would make me feel if I had to pass it every day on my way to work. Because I am not a Muslim, I cannot say whether this project is wise or folly.

But because I am an American, I believe in the freedom of belief.

I remember September 11, 2001 vividly...I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched the first tower fall. I remember the aftermath of frayed emotions and cultural misunderstandings aimed at other fellow Americans whose only crime was their foreign-looking appearance. I remember the day I went to the Home Depot to buy plastic sheeting and duct tape.

But then I remembered that if I called myself a person of faith, then I needed to act like it.

And here we are, in the ultimate gray area between belief and action. For the past nine years, we have debated what it means to be an American and how the values we espouse as Americans should serve as a beacon to the rest of the world. We declared then that the terrorists could hijack planes but not our beliefs; so now it appears God is calling our bluff...

Build the mosque in Lower Manhattan because our ideals are more than just empty rhetoric. If we succumb to the temptation to make exceptions based on our momentary fears, can we still call America the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Own Worst Enemy

I'd like to think that I am poised for greatness--that one day people will hear my name and offer a standing ovation simply because. I have dreams of myself shooting the breeze with Oprah, having tea with Maya Angelou, strategizing with Donna Brazille. Just generally being fabulous.

Is it just a dream?

My problem is that I want to be the person I see in my visions, but I possess none of the self-confidence that it takes to be that person. I want to be a writer, but I hide in the anomynity of the internet. I want to be a dancer, but I play it safe by staying in the background. I want to be a great lawyer, but I take small cases. I want to be an educator, but I quit just when I was starting to make a difference. I want to be a philanthropist, but I have no money.

I had a conversation with a friend today who knows about this blog, but hasn't read it because I won't share the link. Why am I so afraid of being discovered?

I know why...and it is tied to what I think is the mess my life really is. For a while I have felt that I live a lie--I am not what I appear to be and this is agonizing. I am not the perfect person I strive to be in public. In truth, I am a bit of a slob, am disorganized and I still have issues about my height and my outward appearance. I am socially awkward. I don't make friends easily and I don't do a very good job of keeping up with the ones I have. A few months ago, a friend was talking about how it feels to be the tallest person in the room and how the tendency is to slouch both figuratively and literally, and I could totally relate. I guess even as an adult, I am still slouching.

But as of today, I am going to stand tall. I am going to share the link to this blog so that my friends can tell me whether I have any talent. I will open myself to criticism. I am going to be my own boss and command every room I enter. I am going to make people listen/read/hear what I have to say just because. I will be enriched even if I don't have a lot of money. And I am going to dance like it does not matter that my arms are too long or that I am awkward like an ostrich or a dodo bird.

I want to fly...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hollywood Fading

I saw this blog posting about the career of Chiwetel Ejiofor based on this article in the Guardian and after reading it, I have a broader question about the state of Hollywood in general with respect to actors of color. Why the fade out?

The Guardian author suggests that race is not a factor and cites the stuck-in-neutral careers of Naomi Watts and Eric Bana as evidence that the real culprit might be the American film audience (read: we aren't that sophisticated to know and appreciate talent when we see it). OK, that could be true, but Naomi Watts has been off having babies for the last couple of years and that is certain to slow down a film career. And Eric Bana regrettably starred in the first Hulk movie and I am sure that did him no favors. As for Ejiofor, who has consistently been great in every film I've seen with him in it, there are no alternative explanations why he has not become a star except that he is not: (a) under 25; (b) starring in vampire/werewolf teen flicks; or (c) white and waif-like.

(OK, Naomi nor Eric fit any of these either. But read on.)

Ejiofor just might not be star material at this point in his career. Some of the best actors are character actors who enjoyed long careers, so I am not knocking the fact that he might be attempting to build a solid Don Cheadle/DelRoy Lindo supporting "black guy" actor resume. Let's be honest--that is exactly how Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson got to be A-listers. When the casting calls went out for "a black guy" they always fit the bill. No, Cheadle, Lindo, and most of the others have not made it to Morgan Freeman status yet, but Freeman didn't actually get there until he was almost 70, so there is still time...

Not that the path for other actors of color is any easier. Among Latino actors, Jimmy Smits is probably the biggest TV star and Martin Sheen is definitely the biggest movie star--which would be great if Sheen didn't pass for white in most of his roles. But then again, the other supporting "Latino guy" actors, Edward James Olmos and Hector Elizondo, have had to pass now and then too in order to get regular work, so that might just be part of the deal. As for Asian actors, the best I can think of are John Cho and Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar).

Let's not even go there when it comes to actresses of color because it is even more obvious that there is not much for them. Women generally fare poorly in Hollywood regardless of ethnicity. And no, Madea does not count!

So now that the issue has identified and endlessly debated, what are the solutions? The biggest non-white star in Hollywood is Denzel Washington (who is still fine at 55), but dang someone needs to give that brother a break. Will Smith might be in contention, but let's be honest, Will chooses lousy projects and is more likely to have a career in the mold of Bruce Willis. (Not that there is anything wrong with being an action movie star, but Willis' last movie found him playing straight man to Tracy Morgan...Brian Fellow for goodness sakes!)

Perhaps the problem is that we keep looking for the next black/Latino/Asian superstar when we really just need more opportunity all around for leading and supporting actors (and writers, producers, directors, casting agents, etc.) of color period. Ejiofor gets solid suporting roles because in the mind of the casting directors, he is good enough for them to overlook his race, so he gets that next part--the anti-hero, the sidekick, the "also starring" credit. He is tall, charismatic, British (!) and that gets him work on both sides of the pond, which is miles ahead of just about every other up and coming Morgan Freeman in the business.

The thing about Hollywood is that certain actors have seasons and as such, actors of color are simply not in season at this point. Who ever thought that Mickey Rourke would ever be a star again, so it is possible that actors like Ejiofor, Idris Elba, Jeffrey Wright, Benico de Torro, and Russell Wong will get their chance. (And I'm sorry that I cannot even identify any other male actors of color who aren't black...kind of proves my point in a way).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"N-word" Politics

I was asked by a former teacher to weigh in on the Dr. Laura controversy from last week when she used the "n-word" during the course of a call with a black listener. I offered a quick opinion on the matter and then moved on since my thoughts were that (a) she hadn't done her job in offering the caller any tangible advice about her dilemma; (b) use of this word is always offensive; and (c) black folks who complain about the use of this word by whites are not crying foul only when the offender is white.

Since then, Dr. Laura has decided to end her talk show and has cited the abridgment of her First Amendment rights as her reason. Whatever. Don't let the door hit you on the way out lady!

So here are my fully thought out reasons for taking offense to Dr. Laura and her attempt at educating black folks about our special brand of 'reverse' racism under the guise of offering advice:

a. You are a radio commentator. I don't know or care how many people listen to your show, but your show is on a public frequency supported by my tax dollars. Therefore, when you use language that I find offensive, you better believe I am going to exercise my right to complain. Sure, I can choose not to listen also, and given that I had never cared about your show before and don't give a crap now, you can assume that I am not and never will be a fan.

b. The caller asked for your help, not for "Dr. Laura's opinion on race relations in America."

c. Why she called is beyond me, but I am going to assume that she was a fan of your show. On your show, your job is to offer advice. And this is where you failed since you did not help her, but ended up attacking her for being too sensitive when YOU changed the subject to Barack Obama and HBO comedians.

d. I am still unclear why legitimate questions about inter-personal relationships must become "teachable moments". But then again, I have no idea why people turn to media personalities to get answers to their real-life problems.

e. OK, my befuddlement about advice columns/call-in shows/TV talk shows aside, why do non-black people feel disenfranchised by not getting to say the n-word in public? Is it really that important to you?

f. To reiterate a point that I have lived by for some time now--just because someone else says it (does it, smokes it, drinks it, etc.), that doesn't mean you should too. I think that is one of those things we all learned in kindergarten.

g. If the caller suggested that she was uncomfortable about the use of that word in her presence, then why repeat it? Did you think that she needed to just hear you say it so that it might lose its sting?

h. And what does Barack Obama being the president have to do with why this woman was uncomfortable around her husband's friends?

i. Did I miss the memo, but when did the election of a black president mean that racism ended? Oh yeah, I forgot about that post-racial narrative some folks have been trying to sell...well, nope, not buying it.

j. I don't have HBO so I have no idea if what you said is true about black comedians and their gratuitous use of the n-word in recent years. I seem to recall that the last time this word was an issue, it was because Michael Richards, a white comedian, was caught on tape shouting it at some black patrons who had heckled him at a comedy club...

k. Yes, there have been black comedians who have used the word since Michael Richards. The most prominent would be Dave Chappelle. But he was on Comedy Central (which bleeped the word whenever he used it in its primetime airings).

l. No, that doesn't excuse Dave Chappelle. When he quit HIS show and walked away from millions of dollars, he later told Oprah that he felt his brand of comedy was socially irresponsible. At least he became aware of its destructive power.

m. Most of the other black folks on TV do not use the word. And there certainly are not a lot of black folks on talk radio that use that word either. The Don Imus excuse is lame.

n. Oh snap, Dr. Laura is a fan of rap music. Who knew?

o. OK, but I don't really listen to rap anymore, so whenever I happen upon a video on MTV or a song on the radio, I hear more bleeps than beats. How could I possibly know what they are saying?

p. And just so that you know, most mature folks don't listen to rap music anymore either. So I am guessing that a married woman who listens to talk radio probably isn't much of a fan.

q. When the caller expressed her shock at your use of language, notice that she invoked the euphemism, which suggests that she probably does not use that word herself and unlike you, understood that she was speaking over the public airways AND had the foresight to see that its use would be problematic.

r. The caller was not looking to have a race discussion; YOU wanted to have a race discussion.

s. Well, now that you started it, why are you backing down? If you really want to educate the rest of us on how to be less hypersensitive, why not stay on the radio? As far as I know, no one is picketing your syndicate or burning you in effigy. Who is forcing you off the air? Name names!

t. I want to address the "don't NAACP me" aspect of your tirade. I would like to think that the nation's oldest civil rights organization has better things to do than to worry about what you have to say.

u. When did the NAACP become a verb?

v. When you finally offered some advice, the caller was off the air. And your advice sucked.

w. In your statement to Larry King about quitting your show, you suggested that you want the freedom to say what you want without having to hold your tongue. So should I assume that you want to go on saying the n-word with impunity?

x. If so, then you really did not mean what you said when you apologized for having "done the wrong thing"?

y. Well, that is actually kind of ironic since the reason why I knew anything about this incident was your apology. So the truth is, you are sorry that you had to apologize but not so much that you said anything offensive. Wow.

z. Then I guess I am back to my original point...good riddance and don't let the door hit you on the way out lady!

Who Owns What in American History?

So Glenn Beck and Company want to march on DC on the 28th. So does the Rev. Al Sharpton and Company. And so do a few other folks. Traffic is going to be hell that day...

A lot of the controversy surrounding Beck's march is the date itself, which happens to mark the 47th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (Please note that I did not refer to it as the 47th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream Speech"...read on and I'll explain). Naturally, some civil rights folks are upset that Beck would choose that day to protest, and in front of the Lincoln Memorial to boot.

Frankly, I don't care about Beck and his motivation for doing much of anything anymore. He claims this date choice was merely happenstance, and I am actually willing to take him at his word since I know he probably had no idea why that date would be significant to a bunch of folks he could care less about (you know, those of us who believe in social and economic justice). And why not let him take advantage of his good fortune in securing a permit at the Lincoln Memorial for it might serve to educate a few of the unenlightened in his crowd about the purpose of the date when it became noteworthy 47 years ago.

OK, so here is where I give a history lesson--originally, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (MoWJF for short) was planned by labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph. It was envisioned as a mass civil rights protest in the Nation's Capitol, a reincarnation of an earlier protest Randolph had proposed in 1941. The earlier March on Washington Movement (MoWM) was about protesting segregation in the military and defense industry during World War II. Randolph threatened to bring 10,000, then 50,000, and then 100,000 black people to DC to protest but President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 which desegregated the defense industry and opened up job opportunities to all Americans without regard to race, color or national origin. Fast forward to 1963 when blacks were still protesting for civil rights related to public accomodations and job opportunities. Randolph brought together a coalition of groups that would ultimately bring 250,000+ to Washington on August 28, 1963. It was at this rally (read here about how it evolved from a protest to a peaceful rally) that Martin Luther King gave his "Dream" speech.

Because I know and understand the back story, I am unfazed by the thought of Beck and his minions coming to DC. August 28th is not that sacred a day, and this is the 47th commemoration of an important rally that happened to offer us a great historical moment in the form of King's inspirational speech. But we must be cautious not to overstate its overall significance for in drawing too much attention to Beck's vanity stunt we commit the cardinal sin of historical marginalization. The civil rights movement did not begin and end on August 28, 1963.

Yes, I will probably attend Sharpton's counter-march, but not because I feel the need to send any messages to the Tea Party crowd. Nor am I motivated by the desire to remember any historic moments. I am going because the focus of the upcoming march is to address issues that affect us now--immigration, education, and criminal justice. While Beck's "Restoring Honor" march is about lamenting the past, I see Sharpton's march as a call for action to improve the future. Ultimately, I believe that the notable civil rights icons involved in the MoWJF 47 years ago such as A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, and Dorothy I. Height would prefer a mobilization for action over yet another commemoration anyway.

Monday, August 16, 2010

More Self-Pity

And another thing...if you are listening God, please try to understand that I need a little more joy and a lot less pain.

I don't ask for much. Except I need a little peace. I am full. I have been this way for so long that I have gotten used to it, but now it is starting to wear on me. I cannot carry all of this on my shoulders. I know why I am feeling this way at this precise moment, and it is silly and petty and not anything worth being upset over, but it still hurts. Why me? I have already answered the why not me alternative question...so why not give me a break? I am not President Obama so why do I feel like the most under-appreciated person in the world at times?

But, if this is who I am, then I accept it. I could be useless, worthless, and a whole lot worse, so if it has to be me, then so be it...BRING IT ON!

Tired of Being MIA

This is not aimed at anyone in particular, but I really am tired of not being invited out to things other than conference calls on Sunday nights, planning meetings, trips out of town for family events, or other work-related activities. I want a life too.

This self-piteous lament is simply my way of saying that I want to have fun, but I rarely do. I have obligations that make it ever so easy to overlook me when it comes to issuing social invitations. I am married with no children and no job to speak of, so I should be free as a bird, right? NOT!

I hate seeing photos and status updates on FB that just reaffirm that I am still as socially awkward and alientated as ever. I know this is whiny and silly, but sometimes I want to see my smiling face in a photo where I was invited to participate...sometimes I want to be able to say yes to a social invitation without feeling guilty about leaving the husband-brother-parent-family member-organization-client in a rut.

What about me?