Thursday, September 30, 2010

Crazy Is as Crazy Does

White America Has Lost Its Mind - Village Voice

Man, I wish I had written this article, but I'm sure that because I am black, it never would have been published and would have been cited as evidence of my inate racism (angry black women are now even scarier than men these days).  And I would have been a lot more diplomatic because I don't think that "White America" is insane; I think the people who are invested in the idea that there still is a "White America" under attack are the insane folks. 

So here is my take...the people who are stirring up all of this anger have been using race as their spoon.  The stuff in the bowl might be based on legitimate gripes about the way the country is being run, but if you use race as an implement to incite people's fears, then it should not be surprising that the folks who are whining about wanting their country back all happen to look a certain way.  And as such, get painted with a broad crazy brush...

Yes, there are brown folks who are joining them at these Tea Party/Restore Honor Rallies and it all looks very Kumba Ya on Faux Noise.  And yes, 95% of black voters pulled the lever for the black guy in 2008...but none of this proves anything, does it?  If the real reason why people are upset is because they hate the President's policies, then fine.  Just say that and dispense with the white Joker-face posters, witch/voodoo doctors, Hitler references, requests for birth certificates, professions of Christian faith, monkey-watermelon-fried chicken jokes, and all other race-tainted stupidity that only seems to send the message that you are really mad that there is a black family in the White House.

See, I still want to believe that Americans, on the whole, are good people who occasionally disagree.  I can believe what I want and you can believe what you want and if they match up, fine.  If our opinions diverge, then that is cool too.  But I refuse to believe that all of our opinions are always informed by skin color.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Allegations, Accusations

I had written something totally different a few days ago when this Eddie Long thing was just an allegation...before he went before his congregation (ON TV) to defend himself.

I am not weighing in on whether Long is guilty because it really does not matter since his image is forever tarnished by the mere suggestion that he abused his position as pastor.  My take on his position as the self-appointed Bishop is actually where this piece is headed--how do-it-yourself theology is going to ruin more lives if it isn't exposed for what is really is.

A few years ago, I helped a very good friend of mine start his own church.  We had both left our home church where symptoms of malaise had begun to set in.  Our former pastor had some health issues that many in the congregation had noticed but few were willing to confront as problematic.  For me, it was an issue of future survival--institutions are supposed to be built to withstand almost anything, even the loss of a great leader.  Our pastor had been a great leader, but instead of recognizing his limitations, he was allowed to trudge on and in the process, we were bleeding members.  I left because going felt more like an obligation to him than it did to my own soul.

So when my friend asked me to assist him with the set up of his church, I was estatic.  And for a year, I was a faithful member...until he affiliated with a self-appointed Bishop whose views about the role of church leadership conflicted with mine.  Not that I needed to agree with the Bishop, but I felt that his influence meant that he would counsel my friend to pursue a path that would tie the rise and fall of our little church to him...and not to God.

Thus, as I watch the Bishop Long saga prepare to engulf his church, I cannot help but to think that this is exactly what happens when the men (or women) in the pulpit replace God as the center of our joys.  There is no immunity, even in the church, from the saying 'absolute power corrupts absolutely'.   Or from that other saying 'there is a sucker born every minute'.

The cult of personality is a real problem in the church.  If institutions are supposed to be built strong enough to outlast or to withstand anything, then churches should not be built as monuments to charismatic preachers.  Plenty of companies bear the names of long-dead founders; our country was built on principles that transcended the lives of the Founding Fathers; and clearly, Christianity was built to last far beyond the natural life of Jesus.

My hope is that no matter what happens to Eddie Long, New Birth survives.  Apparently, this is a church that has done a lot of good and even if its founder is a man beset by personal demons, and it ought to be strong enough to endure.  Should this scandal bring the Bishop back down to earth, it should not cause New Birth to implode as well.  Just like the Catholic Church had to make changes in the wake of the priest sex abuse cases, so will New Birth have to address some of its excesses.

So help them God.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lots of Random Stuff

I wanted to write about bliss, President Obama, and my birthmark.  I have a feeling it will all come together in some odd way, so bear with me please...

This weekend I spent time with the baby niece.  If it is even possible, I love this child in a way that scares me.  Yesterday I got to watch her for a couple of hours by myself, and I had a moment of what I determined was pure bliss.  She had been fussy which meant she was tired so I was trying to figure out how to get her to go to sleep.  In yoga the previous week, the teacher mentioned how the sound that comes from saying "Ommm" is very calming and relaxing to the body.  So as we made our way from one part of the house to another, I just hummed Ommm to her and she fell asleep in less than a minute.  I settled onto the sofa and continued to hum Ommm until I also nodded off.  It was probably less than a twenty minute nap, but I was startled by the air conditioner and woke up to discover that my little darling was just as content as she could be.  It was the best feeling in the world and I think that whenever I feel depressed or overwhelmed or anxious, I am going to remember that moment in time when I felt so at peace and grateful for the blessing that I was holding in my arms.

To President Obama, I have been worried about you.  I think you need to find that same place at some point very soon or else this job is going to kill you.  These people are hell-bent on destroying you and I am afraid that you are allowing them to get to you.  Since I kind of get you and understand why you are having issues right now, my advice is to dispatch the detached Mr. Spock demeanor for something far more effective...try Captain Jean Luc Picard instead.  As much as I like Spock, he was a terrible leader (remember the "Galileo Seven" episode when Spock served as the CO of the away team?), so you need a better role model.  I know Biden does a great Leonard McKoy impression, but no, Star Trek: TNG is much better.

But in all seriousness, Mr. President, please get to the point where your moves are not dictated by the need to appease Fox News and their audience.  These people did not and never will give you any credit, so can you give the country the Administration that they voted for?  Meaning, can you be the Obama that we believe you are?  I know that Democrats are never satisfied, but that should not deter you.  I am going to attempt a sports analogy here--the mid terms are in five weeks and we need a leader who can take the ball down the field.  Run, Mr. President, even if they sack you, take the hit and try again until there is no more time left on the clock. 

As for my birthmark, I saw this photo of a woman whose birthmark resembles mine in pretty startling ways:

She is beautiful.  Not because of her birthmark, but in spite of it.  That might seem like a horrible thing to say, but it is an acknowledgment of what I have come to embrace about my own birthmark.  A few weeks ago I called it freakish because I had a bad experience with a homeless man on the street whom I felt was picking on me (on the basis that the birthmark makes me an easy target for riducule).  I was upset and had a temporary relapse to the self-pity that once haunted me about my outward appearance.  Seeing this woman, I can only imagine that our stories are similar, that she also was taunted about her birthmark.  We are not freaks...we are chosen.

How all of this ties together...bliss can be found in a moment.  I need to find that moment more often.  I have been all worked up this entire month about my imperfections, but in that one moment with my niece, I found peace.  I then put my troubles in perspective and look on President Obama.  I have issues...he has problems.  I hope that he can find a moment of bliss that will center him so that he can resolve to face each subsequent day.  Oya, the woman whose face is like mine is considered a game-changer.  I don't know what other challenges she faced before this very moment, but I know what she had to endure with respect to that beautiful strange face.  She is a warrior.  President Obama, you are not what your critics say you are--you are what you say you are.  Back to my nerdy TNG references, Captain Picard faced annihilation by the Borg and was assimilated--yet he triumphed in the end.  President Obama, YES you can.

Ayanna, yes you can too.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Misunderestimate at Your Peril

There are people who get on TV and say stupid things, but these are not necessarily stupid people. Lately, there have been a lot of instances of acting stupid and I am beginning to realize that that is exactly what it act.

I could cite numerous examples, but I'll start with Sister Sarah. A lot of people dismiss her as an airhead, but we keep talking about her and her popularity continues to astound. Her name gets mentioned on the cable news daily and despite the obvious questions about her credibility as a leader, all of this negative attention has had just the opposite effect. In addition to her endorsements of candidates who really could go to Washington to screw stuff up, her daughter is now on Dancing with the Stars! Why would she want to be President when she can flit around the country like some derainged fairy godmother turning mice into credible candidates. Just wait until that Pumpkin carriage arrives in DC this November...

And earlier today I was watching Showbiz Tonight and the focus was all on Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and their apparent drug problems. Like rehab is a bad thing? For Lindsay, this is just the set up for her big comeback in a year or two (it worked for Britney Spears and Robert Downey, Jr...not so well for Corey Haim) and for Paris, well, I'm sure she'll get to host Saturday Night Live again or do another half-naked commercial for Carl Jr's.

Nadya Sulemon, the "Octomom" gets offered a deal to star in a porno and I swear the hosts of Showbiz Tonight seemed to be suggesting that her priorities were out of whack for not giving it serious consideration. Think about that for a second--she is a MOTHER to 14 children under the age of ten...does it matter that such an offer is totally inappropriate? Montana Fishbourne uses her real name in her porn film debut to piss off her father and he called her stupid for not combining the name of her first pet and street name like everybody else. But who is the dumb one, Big Daddy--you for not keeping her off the pole! The Housewives of Wherever manufacture drama but want us to believe that these shows are really about advertising their charity work (uh huh)...

And the King of Huxters was the guy in Florida who threatened to burn Qu'rans. He had everybody from Fox News to President Obama begging him not to light that bonfire two weeks ago--I must have been the only person who thought he should have gone ahead with it. Not because I don't care about the repercussions, but because I sensed that it was a hoax all along. Like, who burns books anymore? What he really wanted was attention for his little church and I'm afraid everyone fell for his wild-eyed zealot act.

Is stupid the new newsworthy? Who are the real fools--the folks who are parading around in meat dresses or those of us who watch and comment on their behavior?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Restoring Sanity

Just when I was asking for sanity, the good Lord told Jon Stewart to hold a rally.

Not that I want to take credit for this, but I feel that it is my duty to point out that I vented on this very topic three days before the big announcement. I know that Stewart had been hinting at something, but if I had the platform he does, I might have organized a march/rally/sit-in/festivus/whatever myself.

Anyway, the funny part about this is that I totally slept through the announcement! The Daily Show was on, but I had already sailed off to dreamland...found out about it the next day when a classmate sent me a link to the show on Facebook.

Now, since I attended the Reclaim the Dream rally and will probably have to get on board with the NAACP One Nation rally, I should be all rallied out. But if I am in town, I think I might have to attend this one if for no other reason than to see how short Jon Stewart is in real life. OK, the real reason would be to see if other people actually showed up. Of course this is a prank (Stephen Colbert's "Keep Fear Alive March" is planned for the same day), but it is deliciously clever to make fun of all the protesting that has been clogging up traffic in DC lately. What would happen if a few thousand people came to DC with a request that we collectively pipe down for a minute?

Whose City Is It Anyway?

Last week DC ousted its controversial young mayor for an older one. Pundits point to a racial divide, but in my humle opinion, race only offers a superficial explanation of what happened. What really happened was that people decided they wanted a mayor and not a temperamental CEO.

This is not to say that for some voters, this election was a reclamation of sorts. There are a lot of people who hate the changes this city has undergone over the past 12 years. They look at how the complexion of the residents have changed and as such, there has been a shift in policy priorities that benefit those newcomers. Ground Zero of those changes are on display on the "Historic" U Street corridor, in the heart of what was once known as Black Broadway. These days, U Street is easily the most integrated section of the city.

But this piece is not about the things that divide the city, but about how the hotshot young mayor lost to the older guy. Adrian Fenty rode into office on a wave of good press that touted a new era of black leadership that would transform the racial terrain of politics. Because of his interracial pedigree and landslide victory in every ward of the city, he became the poster child of post-racialism...his victory essentially foretold the coming of Barack Obama.

In his run for office, Fenty assembled a coalition that united the interests of residents from all quadrants of the city. He knocked on doors and spoke to people. His person to person style contrasted with that of the establishment candidate who came across as jaded and out of touch. And she lost big. However once in office, Fenty the uniter became Fenty the divider. He engaged in petty disputes with his former colleagues on the City Council. He hired outsiders to head city agencies to clean house and to shake things up. Not that people objected to change, but the mayor and his surrogates had a bad habit of trashing the folks that were fired in the press (yes, I'm talking about you Michelle Rhee). He was oblivious that his choice to skip certain ceremonial stuff that mayors are supposed to attend in favor of competing in triathalons or taking family vacations irked people.

In other words, Fenty was an insensitive jerk.

For a large number of the residents who bothered to vote, Fenty being a jerk was fine as long as the trash was collected and the wait time at the DMV had been minimized. For the other group that despised him, I'm sure Fenty took comfort in the old political adage that if a lot of the people hate you, then you are probably on the right track. Insensitivity is a forgivable character flaw, but when it is coupled with arrogance, it can be fatal.

For example, when the Metro train crash killed nine people a year ago, the Mayor was criticized for missing some of the memorial services. Instead of apologizing, the mayor tersely suggested that he could not be everywhere--and this is from the man who knocked on every door in the city asking for votes. For those voters who insist that empathy from elected officials is overrated, imagine how it would have felt had one of those victims been one of their loved ones.

Another issue that determined how I would vote was the trail of former Fenty supporters. I found it odd that a lot of people who once backed the mayor had nothing positive to say about him and ultimately switched sides. Some would argue that the price of success is the shedding of dead weight, but these were not typical disgruntled ex-associates. Councilmembers whose campaign literature just two years ago prominently featured community photos of them cutting ribbons with the smiling mayor were publicly sparring with him over his autocratic management style. Others stayed conspicuously silent...perhaps keeping to that other adage that if you don't have anything nice to say, then say nothing.

So when Fenty supporters want to blame racial politics as usual, they are simply adding icing to an old cake. Conspiratorial minded folks always see racial animous lurking in the shadows of change. But this is not about "The Plan" or other misperceptions. This was about the real concern that the mayor's preference for competing in triathalons over greeting voters at church was symbolic of which constituent concerns got priority.

The other interesting development in the aftermath of this contest is the petulance of Fenty backers, some of whom are vowing to move to other jurisdictions in a I'll-take-my-stuff-and-go-bak-to-the-suburbs manner. Strange. All this time we thought your decision to live in the city was motivated by altruism for a brighter future. If progress is best measured by how well things work for the haves, then maybe the discontent of the others was spot on--that all of these social improvements came at their expense.

Is that what 'change' really means?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Divided We Fail

This past weekend I attended part of a session that was planned to bring about healing in one of my organizations. In the past few years there has been a lot of strife that has prevented the organization from achieving many of its goals. So we decided to have a conversation about our feelings. At the end, I was not so convinced that the discussion had done any real good, but in retrospect, I believe that by just taking the time to have a conversation about the things that bother us, we have taken some important steps towards healing.

If I were to relate this experience to what I see happening in the country right now, it seems that we need a national time-out. We need a few days wherein we call a truce so that people can just calm down to see the damage that years of protracted bickering has wrought.

I worked on Capitol Hill in the aftermath of impeachment and it was frustrating to say the least. The Democrats were in the minority and the President was a lame duck. It was bad to be in both of these positions from a political standpoint, but it was much worse to be in this position because the level of residual anger that hung over the place was just so thick and impervious. There were attempts to bridge the chasm, but it was hard because there were a lot of bruised egos and hurt feelings. People wielded their individual grudges like machetes.

By the time George W. Bush was elected, things were not much better since he ascended to office under a cloud of suspicion. In hindsight, I still cannot say that his initial win was not the result of some dirty trickery, which sort of proves my point about how there has been no improvement in terms of the election of Barack Obama. We dogged Bush as illegitimate because of the voter purge shananigans so perhaps it is only fitting that Obama with his foreign-sounding name would be dogged by accusations of being everything from a terrorist sympathizer to a fascist dictator.

The opposition to President Obama has been stunning in its intensity. Folks who claim to be angry about his policies seem to also embrace the notion that his ideology comes from some unrecognizable, un-American place. Not that half of the folks who voted for him share this same perspective on the role of government (because they do and many are disappointed that he hasn't done much more), but there is something sinister about HIM that keeps them awake at night waiting for the end times.

I am baffled because I can't believe this is my country at times. Maybe that has a lot to do with the fact that I am not a Baby Boomer or part of the Greatest Generation. We never had to suffer indignities based on our skin color or gender. I thought I was a student of history and expected a certain amount of backlash, but I never expected this.

I am disillusioned. Can't we all just pretend to get along?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The First Amendment on Steroids

Build your mosque in Lower Manhattan. Burn some Qu'rans on Saturday because you want to make a point. March on Washington to Reclaim the Dream or to Restore Honor (whichever fits). Say the n-word eleven times on the public airways. Call the Tea Party out for its racism. Brandish signs with the image of the President as a witch doctor.

Do whatever you have to do in order to affirm that this is a free country.

Because this is a free country. You can build a mosque anywhere you want to as long as you have the appropriate permits. And if I don't like the fact that you are building such an edifice, I can picket outside of it during your prayer services. You can burn Muslim holy books (or Bibles, Torahs, Books of Mormon, etc) because it is your right and the fact that some soldiers might get killed in retaliation isn't your fault since you were just exercising your rights. At least YOU aren't killing American soldiers abroad. March whenever and wherever you want in Washington because this is the Nation's Capitol, and that is what it is here for--your voice is important and we want people to participate in the democratic process. Sure, say offensive things because you can and if it is in your heart to do so (and if you have heard others whose skin color allows their free and unfettered use of certain words and phrases), then by all means, please continue. When you encounter a group of citizens who are exercising their rights, you can get offended, but that is also your right. They have the right to offend you too so it is of mutual benefit.

In honor of our unencumbered right to piss each other off as necessary, here is what I have to say:

Forgive me.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Delayed Response to a Shocking Provocation

So the husband and I were in San Francisco for a few days and on our last night, we headed around the corner from our hotel to grab some dinner. To backtrack for just a bit, we were staying in Union Square where there are a lot of homeless people and high-end department stores (yes, strange juxtaposition of extremes, but I digress). On our daily walks to whatever destination was next on our vacation itinerary, it was depressing to pass by so many outstretched hands--not because they were annoying, but because it is sad to see so many people begging on the streets of what is probably the most affluent city in America.

So on our fateful last night in town, a man calls out to me and says, "You know what? You're with a white guy and that is what is killing us brothers!"

SCRATCH.......................................................Huh? You talking to me?

I continued across the street but was unnerved for the rest of the evening. I didn't address the issue at dinner and I didn't want to write about it at the time because I needed to process why what he said felt like a sucker punch.

So let's compare reactions. First, let's go back to the moment when this confrontation caused my blood to boil: I am on vacation in CALIFORNIA, which has to be the interracial couple capital of the freakin' USA! And on top of that, I am in San Freakin-cisco, of all places! And not that it matters, but my husband isn't white... And who the F&%$ are you anyway, random homeless guy?!?

And now, let's examine why this incident still makes me feel exposed and raw: Out of all the people you could have chosen to insult on crowded downtown street, you chose me. Me, the overly sympathetic sensitive gawky tall freak whose over-developed sense of Catholic guilt is probably what led to this encounter (because I turned around when you called out to does not easily forget years of Sunday school lessons and religion classes on how to treat the least among us). Thanks a$$hole!

Notice that the common thread in both reaction is 'why me'...

Not because I owe anyone an explanation about my life. I did not betray anyone by marrying the man who loves me just as I am --the overly sympathetic sensitive gawky tall freak with an over-developed sense of Catholic guilt. In the nine years that I have been married, it is possible that I have been walking around in blinders regarding my husband's ethnicity and how others react when they see us together. Or it is more likely that no one in either of our social or familial circles has the balls to say anything blatantly offensive. Even when we meet new people, those awkward moments of first contact can be diffused with humor; perhaps, the moments aren't all that awkward anymore. After all, this is the 21st Century and this ain't rural Mississippi.

So again, why me? Is it because I am not conspicuous enough as it is: being taller than the average woman; having a birthmark on my forehead that resembles a third eyebrow (or crap, as someone recently pointed out); or for having an eczema discoloration right under my nose that makes me look like Charlie Chaplin? And you call me out for walking down the street with my husband? Is that the best you can do?

The funny thing about writing this is that the stinger has now been pulled from my skin and whatever discomfort I felt a couple of days ago has subsided. I don't need to be self-conscious about my choices or about being me. People who have issues with me are just like that random racist homeless guy. Just sad.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Regina King Proves My Point

I didn't watch the Emmy's because I don't watch a lot of network TV anymore. But this year, everyone raved about Jimmy Fallon as the host and I did enjoy a few of the clips from the telecast. I even looked at one of those lists of best and worst dressed.

Celebritology means that these award shows and the shows that endlessly deconstruct the meaning of award shows have subject matter for at least three weeks. A week later, actress Regina King penned this open letter that I found on Huffington Post.

Now I've been harping on this very topic for years! Not that the people who commented on her thoughts even remotely get the point, but finally, someone had the balls to call out the industry for its non-existent diversity. And this criticism comes from an insider like Regina King who has been in the industry for a long time, no less.

Of course, no one will get it and very little will change because too many people believe diversity is a cry for lowering standards. Because the nation that just elected a black man as its president has no more problems on the racial front (right Dr.Laura?). And because race is a card game...

Let's get a few things clear so that there is no more confusion about why King's article is so timely. There are many actors of every stripe in Hollywood, and most will never achieve any significant name recognition. Which is fine because that is part of the territory--not everyone can be a star. But must every star be white? And the alternative award shows that folks are fond of citing as examples? These shows were created by blacks and Latinos to offer the recognition that typically does NOT come from Hollywood. If given the choice between receiving a BET Award and an Emmy, I'm sure the Emmy would be much better appreciated because the Emmy has career currency that a BET or ALMA award does not. Please point to the winner of an alternative award whose career prospects improved after its receipt.

So, all we are saying is that this current Hollywood white-out needs to be recognized for what it is. Several new shows in the pipeline will feature people of color more prominently, so that is a start, but there needs to be a lot more opportunity all around. Black folks need to escape the ghetto of CW and TBS, Latinos need a similar get out of jail free card from Univision and Telemundo, and Asians need to get on TV period! Guest roles and buddy parts are nice, but you can do better than token walk-ons. (Yes, it worked for Betty White this year, but so what!)

And maybe next year Regina King will get a nomination.