Wednesday, April 30, 2008

THE LIES THAT BIND....

I am disappointed at Senator Barack Obama’s recent seeming repudiation of Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Based on his comments made (while seeming unduly despondent) it was summed up as Dr. Wright “not being the same man” Obama knew some 20 years ago. Who knows—as some folks on black-culture message boards have suggested, maybe the good Senator is just playing chess, making terse statements to appease skeptical ‘moderates’ while planning to still achieve the greater good. Still, I feel all the intensified questioning from mainstream press outlets is shameful commentary on today’s journalism. The subtext around the ‘controversy’ of Dr. Wright’s recent interview with the US press corp highlights this. Wow, it’s got even Dr. Phil McGraw and Jay Leno talking about it right now. You know, I happen to like Jay, and I’ll give Oprah Winfrey’s Texas-bred buddy some credit for not coming across as too sanctimonious half of the time. But here’s a news flash for both of them:

psst: certain white folks out there still don't get it-- even those who think they do.

Concerning prickly social topics like race relations, especially in relationship to the black experience in America, the paternalism of the dominant culture effectively hobbles any frank discussions on the matter. Many folks, especially self-described conservatives, claim to hate political correctness. Still, somehow it seems that when a person—in particular, a person of color—diverges from commonly acceptable statements concerning such a topic as race relations or American history, then status-quo types raise their hackles: “How dare they?”

As Dr. Wright pointed out in his keynote speech to the NAACP, “different does not mean deficient”. He used metaphors relating to the performance styles of college marching bands, but the issue goes much further. Blacks in this country—and largely, other ethnics of color as well—in general, learn a different cultural history than what most whites tend to learn. I’m not talking about books, here—though chances are, the average school book disbursed to students in any inner-city district is probably not going to be as up-to-date as those disbursed to their suburban contemporaries.

What Lies Beneath

In school, blacks have to learn American and ‘world’ history largely from the standpoint of European-Americans. They learn of the struggles of the Puritans who crossed the Atlantic to the New World. They learn of the colonists and the tension that rose from the increasing demands of King George III’s regime. They learn of the heroism of George Washington, John Adams, and all the other nice folks who are on our assorted dollar bills. That a great many of these men owned blacks as slaves is given minimal attention and import compared to chopping down cherry trees and discovering electricity with a kite & key.

Relatively speaking, blacks learn little about what people who look like them contributed to America and the world—except, well, that they were slaves, and the masses of kindly whites up North fought exclusively to free them (heh) and then, black people didn’t do much until, um, Martin Luther King came along and helped eventually introduce his people to the great coffee and ice cream served at Woolworth’s cafĂ©.

In short, the contributions of blacks to world culture is largely marginalized in America’s school systems, public or private. Blacks largely have to learn from outside of school that there is a reality “beneath” the reality that they are being formally taught. It’s taught to them by the words and experiences of their parents, grandparents and others. Taught to them in books that are not a part of their formal curriculum. Taught to them by their own experiences. Yet all of this is quite dismissible in the court of white public opinion.

I’m convinced that far too many people out there still tacitly hold on to history as learned through elementary-school eyes. From 1619 up until now, almost every American protagonist they read about had impeccable personable character, impeccable personal motives. The reasons behind any and every subsequent conflict which subsequently erupted—whether external (the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam) or internal (the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Mexican wars)—had clear cut beginnings, clear cut enemies, and clear-cut, pat endings. No matter what the shameful episode entails, American nobility remains intact. Dissenters—especially if you are black—need not be considered. This is what is so infuriating to much of black America—that hegemonic white value system that informs public discourse assumes to be the final arbiter on what is logical, what is moral, what is truthful—and what is not.

"History is a Lie, Agreed Upon"- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Ignorance is not unlike a virus. It can attack silently. As time marches on, it spreads. Whether it’s the human body or the body of the public at large, disease unchecked leads to ruin.

The mainstream, corporate-owned press has perniciously hounded Senator Obama on what is arguably a frivolous issue—his pastor said something that he disagreed with. It has turned into the linchpin issue of his candidacy. Will he disown this man? Will working-class whites turn on him and vote for Hillary—or McCain? Little focus is on the genuine issues of ending the wars overseas, addressing health care access, addressing youth education, addressing employment, addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic—So you don’t agree that AIDS was a government plot? Fine. Still, for all the money being spent in Iraq, no one can tell me that the U.S. government has genuinely made solving this crisis a top priority—carp at me all you want, but I can’t say that I expect U.S. pharmaceutical corporations to dive-in with everything they have, as long as a ‘cocktail’ is more profitable quarterly than a vaccine. The people who want to bash Rev. Wright for being a ‘conspiracy theorist’ are not remotely as willing to bash George Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and company for the lies that they have collectively told that have cost the country billions in money and multiple thousands in lives.

Discernment is a character trait that I would love to be able to condense into a serum and just give away (hopefully Bayer, Pfizer or Glaxo-Smith-Kline won’t come after me). I’m simply not buying the notion that the reporters needling Dr. Wright and Senator Obama are just doing their jobs: The job of truly bringing balanced coverage and sensible commentary about the real issues Americans face is not happening, and I wonder if it ever will.

Monday, April 28, 2008

WRIGHT ON TARGET—

The Detroit chapter of the NAACP held its annual Freedom Weekend Celebration on April 25, 26, and 27, 2008.

I attended a pair of panel discussions Saturday—the first concerned “Which Way, Young Black America: Democrat, Republican, or Independent?
There were eight panelists, and among issues discussed were of course the presidential candidates, and the most attention was given to the “Proposal 2”, the successful effort to ban Affirmative Action statutes from all educational institutions in the state (and IMO, unofficially, other institutions). Among panelists were Munson Steed of Rolling Out Magazine, and editor Bankole Thompson of the Michigan Chronicle, one of a few remaining historically black newspapers in the country. Local educator and Detroit resident Akindele Akinyemi (http://whoisakindele.info/), self-identified as a Republican, offered that he sees nothing wrong with black pride, and he’s no fan of G.W. Bush nor John McCain, but supports certain GOP platform items like school choice/vouchers and leans conservatively on the ‘morals’ issues (unspoken but presumably abortion, etc.); giving some information on his own background, he said that it wasn’t until after he graduated college that he found out that blacks had historically supported the GOP until the civil rights movement spurred the shift.

Steed offered his opinion that many large corporations—he pointed out Starbucks (Magic Johnson’s stakeholder position notwithstanding)—tend not to advertise in urban/black media publications and despite arguably having a black constituency for their product, really do little or nothing to have a genuine relationship with black communities (I would offer that Starbucks’ policy of mandatory tip-pooling and Chairman/Chief Executive Howard Schultz’ defiance at a lawsuit decision regarding this probably doesn’t help) . He also claimed that no black-owned corporation has gone public since Cathy Hughes’ Media One several years ago. Other issues that came up inevitably concerned hip-hop and the role that contemporary musicians are thought to have—or should have—concerning the voting process. Sean Combs’ 2004 “Vote or Die” campaign was mentioned—unmentioned was the fact that apparently he chose not to vote in the 2004 elections (I believe that rap musicians can certainly get people’s attention when it comes to voter registration—certainly when they speak, fans tend to pay attention. Still, it’s not terribly realistic to expect most of these folks to be any more informed than the average person when it comes to certain issues—though, as often as some of them get arrested, some could probably benefit as spokespersons for drug-law reform and prison-reform advocacy.) Most panelists reiterated the thought that voters should be encouraged to participate but to have some discernment on the issues that are important to them, and not to just assume allegiance uncritically.

The next workshop panel was the “Town Hall Meeting”. Here, panelists- two women, six men, some local, others from other cities—were all pastors of various churches. First though, there was 15 minutes of footage shown from the forthcoming CNN documentary—“Black in America”— a six-part series, narrated by Soledad O’Brien, concerning several topics concerning the modern state of black Americans. The first part will be “Black Men”; the second part “Black Women & the Black Family”; the third part will be a re-examination of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. The footage shown was of the King segment, and it showed O’Brien as she gets a tour of the hotel where Dr. King was killed; there are also interviews from people who were present that day, including ministers in Dr. King’s camp, as well as firefighters and police who were on the scene that day. Two producers who worked on the documentary were present to answer questions about the overall project. When asked of the veracity of a straight-up government plot to murder Dr. King, the producers acknowledged the COINTELPRO existence and the open hatred that the Hoover regime had for Dr. King and the civil rights leaders, but stopped short of saying that it was the FBI/CIA who murdered him. I asked the producers how much the overall documentary gets into the presence of blacks in the (journalist) media, i.e. newspapers, magazines, and TV—not just on-air folks and anchors but news directors/program directors and other decision-makers, to make for more diverse newsrooms—and, ideally, more diverse news. They answered that the overall documentary doesn’t really get into that, but during the forthcoming Essence Festival in New Orleans later this year there will likely be a panel that delves into this topic.

Roland Martin of CNN was a co-moderator (along with local Detroit radio personality Ms. Frankie Darcell), and as the panel conversation switched to what the black church’s role should be with respect to social justice: Is it important to continue the legacy of Dr. King, or is it paramount (as Christians) to continue the legacy of Christ?

It wasn’t hard to figure that the specter of the controversy about Dr. Jeremiah Wright was the recurring issue being addressed. All the attending pastors (including Rasul Muhammad of the Nation of Islam) spoke of their support for Dr. Wright and the mis-portrayal of his history and views. Martin offered a question to all panelists on how current their congregations were with respect to state-of-the-art technology—pointing out that it was roughly three weeks after the Wright controversy first hit before members of Dr. Wright's Trinity Church uploaded the entire sermon that was previously chopped up by various news outlets, and that “right wing evangelicals” have their tech-preparedness resources well in hand when it comes to circulating their points of view.

Panelists also offered that denominational divisions weaken blacks politically, and some added that pastors who “eat of the King’s meat”, i.e. allow themselves to be too close to the political establishment, are misleading their congregations; other questions challenged the black church to do further outreach and services to people in the community beyond the “converted”.

At the Sunday dinner, where Dr. Wright was to be the keynote speaker, awards were given to Eleanor Josaitis of local machinist-training program/non-profit center Focus: Hope and Soledad O’Brien, among others. Speakers who made brief remarks before Dr. Wright included Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm (D), Michigan senators Carl Levin (D) & Debbie Stabenow (D), Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP chapter. Dr. Wright’s keynote address directly answered the controversies about certain sermons, playing video clips and explaining what was not shown. He further pointed out the various differences in black church culture in comparison to white church culture, and how black mannerisms, cadence, humor, and certainly music, inform the experience in a way that is markedly different from how the aggregates of whites tend to experience church—a major component, from his point of view, in how he was portrayed as a ‘cultist’, among other things. He made no apologies for his sermons, pointing out that in their full context, they were not what certain people were making them out to be (giving a brief ‘shout-out’ to suburban politicos who expressed skepticism over his invitation to the event- "I'm sorry your local political analysts are saying I'm polarizing and my sermons are divisive. I'm not here to address an analyst's opinion. I stand here as one representative of the African-American church tradition, believing that a change is going to come.") Despite retiring from Trinity Church, Dr. Wright said that he will continue to speak on various matters of import, especially concerning the black community.

Addendum:
A leaflet was passed on to me by a lady while I was at one of the panels. I suspected who it was about when she gave it to me, but it was still amusing to read:

In 1961, a young African-American man, after hearing President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Gave up his student deferment, left college in Virginia (Virginia Union) and voluntarily joined the Marines.

In 1963 this man, having completed his two years of service in the Marines, volunteered again to become a Navy corpsman. The man did so well in corpsman school that he was chosen to be class valedictorian. In fact, he ultimately became a cardiopulmonary technician.

He was assigned to the Navy’s premier hospital, Bethesda Naval Hospital, as a member of the Commander in Chief’s Medical Team, and helped care for President Lyndon B. Johnson after Pres. Johnson’s 1966 surgery.

For his service on the team (which he left in 1967), the White House awarded him three letters of commendation. What is even more remarkable is that this man entered that Marines and Navy not many years after these two branches began to become integrated.

While this young man was serving six years on active duty, future Vice-President Dick Cheney, who was borne the same year as the Marine/sailor, received five deferments, four for being an undergraduate and graduate student, and one for being a prospective father. Future Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both five years younger than this African-American youth, used their student deferments to stay in college until 1968. Both avoided going on active overseas military duty.

Who is the real patriot? The young man who interrupted his studies to serve his country for six years, or our three political leaders who beat the system? Are the patriots the people who actually sacrifice something, or those who merely talk about their love of the country?

After leaving the service of his country, the young African-American finished his final year of college, entered the seminary, was ordained as a minister, and eventually became pastor of a large church in one of America’s biggest cities. Who is this devoted patriot?

…Kind readers, I suspect you know the answer, too.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

OH, I'M GONNA GET IT NOW...

(preliminary blessings go to YBullard, Cecile, Mark Essex, PettyofficerJ, Bookworm616 and others for their input on my latest Desperate Cry for Help ™) For all others (un-)concerned, feel free to heap your perfectly justified scorn my way..

Ah, some days.. Ran into a guy friend I haven't seen in some time. We get along just fine, but somewhat inevitably, a certain question was hurled in my direction, and I think I told them some perfunctory excuse that wasn't my response below, but I'm thinking it should have been.. forgive me..

Friend to Hypestyle:“So why don’t you want to meet a nice church girl?” Um, let me get back to you on that. Why? Just because the way my luck works! Some folks like to go darn near all day, and then expect to come back from 6 pm to 8 for a second dose, and maybe the third tithe offering ("I sense a $500 blessing, saints.. who's got it?").
Heck, come August, I’ve got football to watch! Even if it’s a BYE week! And naturally, because I’m a human magnet for everything that I don’t want, The universe never let’s me get what I want.. I love the Lord, and I dig women who do, too. Still, I can’t be bothered with any Aunt Esthers in training, I’d have to be ‘Woody’ and start drinking to deal with it (google or wiki Sanford & Son); to them, everything, this that & the other is secular, is worldly; she doesn’t want to eat at a Chinese restaurant, not that the food isn’t good (no MSG/cat jokes, please), but they have some kind of Buddha statue up in there, and that’s blatant paganism, and you know, since it’s Chinese, it might turn into a giant robot, so you might want to call homeland security while you’re at it— Really, a kid-free, riches-free guy like me justs wants a jump-off buddy, who herself is just looking for a jump-off buddy, that’s all! I don’t think it’s really that complicated? Other people get that when that’s what they want.. but no, because that desire, happens to be spoken or thought of by me, because that request happens to come out of my mouth, all of the sudden the universe is like “Is that Hypestyle bleating again? uh-uh, no can do, we’re fresh out, screw that, we gave it all away at the office!” The way my luck works, either I can expect to meet the woman who expects me to be the type of guy who doesn’t have King Magazine, and/or Halle Berry tribute magazines in his possession, or they expect me to be the guy who’s genuinely offended at comedy movies (like Wedding Crashers or The 40 Year Old Virgin)when women lose their tops for no good reason- and heck, I don't feel like having to lie about it.

OVERLY GENERALIZED FEAR #1
Let's see, who's out there? Single moms ain't what they used to be. Especially nowadays, you have the demographic of the single mother whose baby’s daddy—or maybe there’s even more than one—is some parolee type: either he's been to the pen, there right now, or getting ready to get on the bus. As the saying goes, I ain’t no punk, but I’m not looking forward to, I don't know, being confronted at random at a gas station or a movie theater: “Yo, whassup kid, yo, you been kickin’ it with Monique? You tappin’ that? You hit that? Yo who the f*** told you you could all up on my baby’s moms, son? Ni**a don’t you know I'll put some hot ones on you (etc., etc.)”; ..and even if he’s not the violent type, inevitably when I come to visit the gal then he starts banging at the door, finally wanting to visit the kids. "Yo where you at? I know you got a ni**a up in there! Stop frontin'!"

How many phone conversations can I expect to overhear where she all of a sudden starts cursing the other person out? “Mothafu*ka, that’s why I left your ass to begin with… Hell no, I’m not coming over your place to braid your hair; your triflin’ ass ain’t pay me for the last time I did that; no, a gallon of milk and a box of skittles don’t count, mothafu*ka… What? No, Ni**a, fu*k you! (click)… So the way I look at it—any single mother worth seeing is naturally going to have priorities to put her children first, which means whatever her job is—if she has a job—then she’s probably working some intense hours, and probably has to pay somebody to look after the kids, which means she’s probably more than a little financially tapped, and she probably wants to be able to spend more quality time with the kids, which dating more or less cuts into by default, unless every time you go out on a date somehow it ends up involving (shudder) kids' restaurants (ahem, Family Restaurants) like Jeepers or Chuck E. Cheese or adding (potentially several) kid’s admission and a popcorn combos (who's got some big pockets? here, put some Snickers in before we go) along with whatever money you’re having to shuck out for the movie tickets. So the way I see it, I’m doing single mothers a favor by not bothering them, I’m actually giving them the space they need to bond further with their child without the outside interference from a man who may not even be there in the long run. (See? I'm sensitive.. )

OVERLY GENERALIZED FEAR #2
Or, maybe, you know, there’s the woman where the only missionary position they’re interested in is one where they stay in Haiti or Israel or Nicaragua, where they’re teaching foreign kids English most of the day or some drudgery that I can't pretend to be courageous enough to be bothered with, and hoping that some rogue militiamen or a suicide bomber don’t stop by to visit, “say, we’re really sick of all that Michael Bolton & John Tesh music you keep playing over the loudspeakers; have a grenade!” Let’s see, who else would I probably end up meeting?

OVERLY GENERALIZED FEAR #3
Oh, lastly there’s the woman who willingly was a freak on wheels for at least a several year stretch, but then maybe they slipped in the bathtub, knocked their head and decided it was a religious experience and so now they’ve declared their “second virginity” (groan) and they intend to live a life of celibacy until that distant day when she marries the guy who looks forward to waiting as much as she does, and who will gladly save 4 months worth of salary for an engagement ring, and who knows how many month’s salary for a down-payment on a house; if the prospect of being expected to cover a house note, insurances and other utility bills doesn’t take your h*rd-on away, I don’t know what will..

HOPE SPRINGS INFERNAL (apologies to Alexander Pope)--
..a longtime female friend, "Lisa" (not her real name)who i used to have a crush on, recently got married.. through conversation, I guess I told her about some things.. so Lisa gets an idea..
I need a makeover! (sound the alarms!)

she (along with some of her female friends) wants to help me put together a new wardrobe, new haircut, etc. She wants me to write up some basic bio information about myself, and what i'm looking for in a date.. from there, i'd set up some kind of listing on one of the dating websites; she's willing to help me in 'screening' people for any possible responses, and then do some one-on-one interviewing herself.. Oh, this is just going to be wonderful, cats & kittens.. Where's my camcorder, I might as well make a short film out of the experience..

A Final Disclaimer
If it didn't come across with my frequent stabs at self-deprecation, I don't remotely see all religious women and/or single moms as, uh, "problem types", but for whatever reason the most gratingly eccentric ones seem to hover in my orbit... and kind of like Ray Romano's mom on Everybody Loves Raymond, they're kind of cheerfully oblivious to their own eccentricities.. while I tend to lay mine bare on Internet message boards.. :)

Blessings to all!