Wednesday, April 22, 2009

State of Emergency--As Usual

The State of the Black Union concluded in Los Angeles after the input of various scholars, activists, political leaders and pundits, mixed with the fear of the recession (or depression if you're just talking about black people--economically things have been nightmarish for African Americans for some time) with the optimism of President Barack Obama's election.

Founded by author/journalist Tavis Smiley, this was the 10th year for the event where 6,000 people attended panels, networked and discussed the state of the race.

The funny thing about the state of the race: it's bad.

Which brings us back to Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Union event ... sponsored by ExxonMobile (The revolution must be financed!)

This event where esteemed people of intellect and great thought and caring and insight sat around and talked for hours upon hours is one that Smiley has made his pièce de résistance. The mantle upon which the ego is at rest.

Talk is good. We need to talk. I write. That's how I deal with my angst. That's great. Cathartic. But now what? As a non-activist, semi-satirical, novice blogger my goal is to look at something and try to find a different interpretation.

(It's what I do as an "artist.")

But I got nothing.

I got nothing but the same old same old. We sat and talked and Smiley has a book to sell about holding the president and the government accountable to the black community and it's great that we sat and talked, but now what? The NAACP is pushing to boycott the New York Post over Chimpgate. Glorious. Now what?

More and more I feel like people are fighting ghosts.

It's not that racism isn't real. It is real. It's a problem. But we often act like it's the only problem we know how to wrangle. Someone yells "nigger" in a crowded (or not so crowded) room and we have Al Sharpton on speed dial.

Case in point: the repeated sentiment I noticed from those who attended the event or watched the proceedings on C-SPAN:

"I would have gotten more out of a bit less discussion of historical context and more time spent presenting specific strategies and tactics that each and every motivated person watching the symposium could consider while working to make our country better. What should an 'Accountable' campaign look like? Technology was barely mentioned. Why not a dedicated 'SOBU Accountable' website with step-by-step, or should I say, click-by-click instructions about how to contact your congressman with a standard letter covering what needs to be said? Or a dedicated SOBU 2009 social networking site where members could share ideas about moving forward with 'Accountable' and share their personal experiences of what's working and what's not." AOL--Black Voices

Perhaps Tavis isn't the best messenger, but his question needed to be asked, if not only directed at Obama's Administration but to all Americans as well. Nobody on the national level is really talking directly about poverty - Edwards tried in the primaries but he couldn't deliver the message. Instead we're to assume that when elected officials talk about saving the working/middle class that poor folk are a part of that conversation.

Not exactly.

Academic conversations, Ivy League and otherwise, are one thing (albeit important), but direct action/advocacy work and enacting legislation with the devastatingly poor in mind is a whole other thing...

That said, I think that Obama inviting Ty'Sheoma Bethea to his SOTU speech was effective. Keep the conversation going though - let's not be afraid to use words like "poverty" and "working poor" in the mainstream.

Everyone is frustrated and tired and angry, but everyone is always frustrated, tired and angry. That's been the general consensus since we got off the boat.

Some people are waiting for a hero to come and lead us to the next phase, to the "promise land."

News flash: They ain't coming.

The problems have evolved. Sadly, the people doing the most talking have not. It's going to take a little more fortitude and a lot more self-determination to break through this present corporately-sponsored malaise. Brought to you by a pack of Kools, BET and "apathy," I present to you the Post-Civil Rights Era, full of opportunities knocking, but no one going in. Books are great if the people you're trying to reach actually read. But the work of a Paperback Prophet is never done, so Smiley leaves his conference prepared to go on the road to sell his book "Accountable" across the nation.

You don't have to be Martin Luther King, Jr. You don't have to be Jesus laid up on a cross to die to save black people. Even during the Civil Rights Movement not everyone was cut out to march.

That's why the Obamas easily captured so many blacks' imaginations. Suddenly black people with degrees and jobs who marry and are successful and have children aren't myths, they aren't unicorns. They're real. And suddenly, they were everywhere. Wow. Little faces everywhere of successful black people. Where had these people been, one wondered? Had they been hidden in plain sight all along?

Yes! Yes, they were! They were always there. But how could you notice them when you're too busy ignoring that alarm blaring in the background? STATE OF EMERGENCY! It screams with nothing but bad, bad news. When all your energy is spent on looking down, because ... STATE OF EMERGENCY! You're too afraid to look up and see the problems, the big, scary, impossible looking problems.

Of course, you find yourself collecting pictures of Michelle Obama and looking up adoringly at the president. Someone, and I don't know who (maybe a parent, teacher or society), told you that this wasn't for you and now you're just learning that it is and it is wonderful. So, pardon you, if your mind was blown and the opportunities that were there, yet not there because you didn't know, are now real to you. That you now, in the most wonderful and Disney and clichéd way, finally "believe."

But now that you have gotten a good look at the potential. Now that you can hear the knocking over the blaring. Now that you've gotten a good earful of the speech. Now that you've gotten your latest inoculation of scholars and politicians and activists and paperback prophets talking about your present state of emergency LOOK UP!

For God's sake, look up.

The world is bigger than you. It's time to start acting that way.

Brother to Brother

Brother to Brother is a film written and directed by Rodney Evans and released in 2004. The film debuted at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival before playing the gay and lesbian film festival circuit, with a limited theatrical release in late 2004. Art student Perry (Anthony Mackie) befriends an elderly homeless man named Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), who turns out to have been an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Through recalling his friendships with other important Harlem Renaissance figures Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata), Aaron Douglas, Wallace Thurman and Zora Neale Hurston, Bruce chronicles some of the challenges he faced as a young, black, gay writer in the 1920s. Perry discovers that the challenges of homophobia and racism he faces in the early 21st century closely parallel Bruce's.

Smoke, Lilies & Jade
Bruce Nugent

it was almost as though it had journeyed to meet him...think...the dulcet clear tone of a blue like night...if colors could be heard he could paint most wondrous tunes...symphonious...but soon the moon would rise and then he would clothe the silver moon in blue smoke garments...truly smoke was like imagination........

For Colored Girls and The Colored Museum

The strongest link that I see between Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf and August Wilson's The Colored Museum is that both of these plays challenge the idea of a formulaic black/African American play. Their dramatic forms stray so far from convention in language and structure that theyexpand the realm of possible expression for other black playwrights. Both of these plays also suceed in addressing social issues through their work so that their experiementation with theatre conventions is not so much for the sake of being avant-garde, but instead, an attempt to question archaic stereotypes, myths, and behvaviors in black communities by avoiding the use of traditional theatrical elements that may have locked these same ideas into black dramatic forms.
For Colored Girls abandons all rules of standard English grammar, punctuation, and spelling. In this refusal to abide by the rules, Shange gains the authority to empower women through their own language of sisterhood, pain and love. With so much power placed onto the page by Shange, the performances, I imagine, are like stepping into the emperor's clothes. Even when pieces deal with such painful subjects as abortion or reclusiveness or infanticide, the capacity to speak the pain, to purge and share with other women, takes away the power that silence gives to their oppressors. The voices of women that are heard in Shange's choreopoem are unlike many of the voices we have heard thus far in women's theatre, in that these women speak outside of existing only in support of men, whether they be mammies holding the black family together or the black woman concerned with her texture or skin tone in front of the male gaze. Shange says that all "colored" women shared a bond of sisterhood and those ties bind us and help heal us from the wounds of the world.
Wolfe does something very similar in The Colored Museum in that he deliberately satirizes tropes of black theater and history by creating "exhibits" that chronicle the shifting identities of black in the United States. Whereas Shange used her non-traditional form to empower women, Wolfe uses his to dramatize the importance of self-identification in black communities. Many of the exhibits are centered on African Americans who are denying, questioning, proclaiming, or unaware of their identity. What Wolfe also does is call attention to the formulaic nature of those "black gems" of American theatre such as Raisin in the Sun. Something else I find very interesting about The Colored Museum is how he uses the social codes of language within black communities to make it relevant to black audiences. He touches on very serious subjects but uses humor and wit to make it more comfortably acessible in performance. Ultimately, both of these works are great examples of the limits that can be pushed within black theatre.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bashing Bashir

One cannot go a day without hearing news of some type of international crisis, in fact, it has been a rather saddening signifier of our times but when did it become the International Criminal Court's responsibility to scapegoat the African continent as the only place their jurisdiction seems to find a function. Serving as the permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression, it has only officially opened investigations against Northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Darfur. Hmm? Any person who keeps up with the Jones' of international affairs could easily name several other places where their arms of justice could extend but as of July 1 2002, the date it's treaty the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court came into being, only African states have been addressed.
Now, I am not saying that a court with this type of power should not go after dictators who abuse their power and resources to perputrate crimes against humanity, but I am saying that this type of scapegoating and fear-mongering, and, dare I say, 20th century colonialism, simply sets the stage for bringing more chaos into the already unstable Darfur region. Isn't it supposed to be about bringing justice in the name of peace/humanity/civility, not justice in the name of creating an international laughing stock of unstable African and Arab countries as a polical ploys.
So far, it has issued 13 warrants of arrest but has only four suspects in its cells while seven remain free. All the suspects in ICC cells are from Africa. They are Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, Jean Pierre Bemba and ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is being tried under the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
As I mentioned earlier, my beef with this whole situation is not that he's being served with the warrant, it's the timing of the warrant given the Sudan's precarious state and the history of the ICC investigations. This same sentiment can be heard from the many African and Arab states and ministries that have spoken out against the warrant, that have invited the President to their countries (Egpyt, Eritrea, Libya, Saudi Arabia, the Arab League meeting in Qatar), and have also refused to acknowledge the authority of the ICC. Four major global organisations: the Arab League, the African Union, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and the Non-Aligned Movement are all against the Bashir warrant. In diplomatic terms, the UN Security Council cannot ignore even one of these organisations.
Bashir has been very adamant in not letting the warrant affect him but I think it's a serious matter when an international court issues the arrest warrant of the 1st sitting head of state. And I wonder--if they were to prosecute, strip Bashir of his position, jail him, would their be as much effort to reform from the same international communities that called for his dismissal. Bashir feared that certain foreign aid groups in Sudan were spying and collecting information for the warrant so he removed them--this neither helped him, the country or the people. This is the type of chain reaction that has to be prevented.
It's common knowledge that African states are continously going through evolution seeing as how the whole continent has faced the wrath of European and Arab imperialism and colonialism. This evolution has to be taken into account with situations such as what do with heads of state of war torn countries. I don't believe, given their histories, that it will ever been taken likely when a European based organization tries to exert authoritative force on African countries so maybe serving warrants should be left up to a humanitarian court serving the African and Arab countries of the continent. Just a thought.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Ebony Experiment: A Family's Year of Buying Black

What would happen if Black families across America made real commitments to support Black businesses and professionals? How many jobs would be created? How many homes would be saved from foreclosure? How many new role models would our children have? How much would we improve the quality of life of the average American Black family? How much can we do on our own, together, united … without a government program? What if we could prove – again – that this community can defy history and improve the future by just believing we can and believing in one another? And what if the world was watching us do it?

The Ebony Experiment Foundation's focus is research and education concerning economic empowerment in underserved communities. The Foundation's research is based on the Andersons' pledge and experiences finding and supporting Black businesses, professionals and products created by Black manufacturers, as the Black community is a historically underserved community. The Foundation will also study the impacts of a year-long national economic development campaign aimed at promoting and stimulating enhanced entrepreneurship and self-help economics in the underserved Black community. The Foundation will collect data from this campaign to create a new body of knowledge about the power of self-help economics for revitalizing underserved communities. The purpose of the research, the national campaign, and the resultant study is to measure the economic impact of self-help economics and increased entrepreneurship in economically deprived communities.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Following Bashir and the ICC Warrant

March 4, 4007: Warrant sparks anger in Khartoum

March 4, 2007: Arrest Warrant for Omar al-Bashir: "Just talk and talk"

March 5, 2007: ICC warrant raises questions on leaders targeted

March 5, 2007: Don't Bother Brother Bashir

March 5, 2007: African states face warrant dilemma

March 5, 5007: Think Twice on Bashir

March 5, 2007: Bashir slams ICC's ignorance of Iraq, Gaza at a rally in Khartoum:

March 5, 2007: ICC judges were divided over genocide charges against Sudan president

March 5, 2007: Court issues Bashir arrest warrant:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

hesi 1.0

its 1 and 2 past 3.
the children and One plus three
reap, when parted sea
promises of Creation's Tree

but if walk with guided light
watch plight through guilded night
through circles of Humanity's strife
these children of faraway sight

and then it comes
and then it comes
we told you so
and then it comes

--Scottie Saturn