You Wanna Know Why ACT UP! Has Been On My Mind Lately?

Many moons ago I took a marketing class for creatives where we were told to find our character in mythology. The key was to get to the core of who we were as individuals and find a way to reach a mass market that cut across nationality and various cultures. Every group has certain archetypes they can easily relate to. They may not share the specific character but they’re similar. This was an intense 6-week process where we set out in groups of five and we needed a large population to approach in person to get an assessment. The person being assessed couldn’t make direct contact. Long story short my character is the goddess that fights injustice. 

 Now I have to be honest I hesitantly agreed with the assessment because I wondered if this was part of the black woman as matriarch savior (to her detriment). I also wondered where the conditioning within the “black community” stood and if that in turn influenced me. At least I can articulate that now, but back then I wasn’t sure why I felt reluctant about adopting it. Since we had to get a sample pool of 20 people per person and complete a complicated process involving Jung and lots of mythology books I finally accepted this. Injustice does bother me as I’m sure it does many people. I wasn’t exactly gunning for Mother Theresa’s position though, but I always figured I’d do my part to try to give back to the world on some level.

 So I’ve volunteered for numerous causes. One of the first organizations I went to was ACT UP! I know living in NYC in the early 90’s had something to do with. Also some of my neighbors were very involved so it was easy. All I had to do was walk upstairs to their apartment, make some calls, go to marches and pass out flyers. It felt good to do something. 

Since reading the post Portraits in Activism: Larry Kramer at Muslim Bushido blog I’ve been thinking about those days again. Another blogger mentioned the group in the comment section yesterday. All which inspired my post from this morning. My friends were very radical. They got into police clashes and put themselves in some precarious situations at times. Of course they were mostly male and white. I was young and idealistic but I wasn’t getting arrested or beat on by cops voluntarily. So I decided flyer duty and speaking at neighborhood meetings was probably more conducive to my health and well-being. What I remember was the passion and the focus. 

 I wondered if this was what it had been like during Civil Rights. Of course I knew that was a LOT more dangerous and to compare the two would be inaccurate. I remember wondering what had happened to the passion from other people for things. I think complacency is too easy a fall-back for many. I think people like talking around issues instead of doing anything about them. I’ve been one of those people as well. We also get bogged down when we have to struggle to meet our needs. Especially if we don’t have help. This comes from doing too much alone. Which brings me back to the “black community” (as viable, reciprocal & supportive to black women and children) lie.

The 2008 election was important to many but where are a lot of them today? There should be just as many people pushing for health care and for a Main Street bailout. We have to be strategic, numerically formidable and persistent. We have to stop waiting for somebody else to step forward. If it is safe to do so we have to – of course using wisdom to assess the situation.

 As a non-white person living in a dominant white culture there is much I could find fault with. There are other abuses and misuses of power going on that have a big impact. I have to talk about all of them, not just the things that may immediately affect me. We have to try to right the cosmic imbalance and get it as balanced as possible. Of course I know things will never be equal, but many people seem stuck on railing against that. We have to move things in increments. So this is how I am doing my part. This may not be your “issue”. Find a cause and put out some effort towards the light. One pebble and one ripple becomes many and we can turn the tide.

The Fight For Justice Is An Inconvenient One At Best

But it’s a necessary one.
So I’m wondering what type of buffoonery awaits in the news today. Or what accident will claim the life of some unsuspecting person? Who’s child will go missing? What act of violence will occur? Who will feel so utterly hopeless that they wish they hadn’t been born.
There’s always something isn’t it?
I am so tired…of being angry or dismayed or outraged or thinking about what I have to do to speak out on something. There’s no Utopia out there waiting for us. See I feel compelled to do so. I can’t be silent, or bury my head in the sand or say “oh that’s somebody else’s problem”. We live in a world where we are interdependent on each other. Despite some thoughts to the contrary many of us do care but we may not even know where to begin to scratch the service.
Sometimes we just have to get through the day and we think we’ll be okay..and then we can do something. Funny, but that time won’t ever really come though. It’s what we do right now when it’s not convenient, when we’re tired, when we’d rather be sleeping, when we have our own struggles is exactly when we do need to step up. 
Now I’m not advocating martyrdom and Lord knows some of us have already taken on more burdens than one person should bear. I’m referring to people whose consciousness has been piqued a bit but who are hesitant to take action. Start somewhere, fumble a bit and learn. Your efforts are needed. Don’t expect an immediate reward or any type of kudos. Just do it. 
We have far too many who are only interested in their particular causes, issues, talking points or points of view and once they get their pat on the head they’ll be off to LaLa land. I’m not talking about Los Angeles but sticking ones fingers in ones ears and ignoring the suffering of others. There’s a difference between living a life of inconvenience and one of abject poverty. There’s a difference between not being able to be just as much of a jerk as your neighbor, dangling a carrot above another’s head and having to be abused verbally/physically in order to keep your low-wage job. 
We live in a country that tells us it’s our “right” to do whatever we like to get ahead. Acquire and consume. Trash and start again. Crash and burn. Blame somebody else for your problems. If only “those people” weren’t in the way you could “get yours”. It’s all a lie. There’s a ruling class that works in concert with each other to retain power. There’s a racial and gender (and orientation/identification) hierarchy. It takes focused and consistent efforts from a cross-section of dedicated people who will not be deterred to make any inroads in shifting that. For it’s never quite dismantled. If some of those people can be convinced to accept a cookie instead of holding out for the real reward any efforts will fail. A backlash will occur and a regression will in fact happen. 
Can’t you see it going on all around you right now? If you stand very still, cut through all the distractions and noise it will reveal itself to you. Sometimes it’s not about the outrage but about the hope. Sometimes it’s not about the fight but the surrender. Sometimes it’s better to stop talking about the wrongs and find the good to highlight. We have to find a way to move past points of disagreement and look for solutions.
We have to remember that we are seeing, speaking, breathing and living PEOPLE. We are not animals. It has to be about principles but even those must start from somewhere. It can’t be only about darkness and heat. We need light and air to breath. All we have is each other. 
Justice is just about us. It’s worth the effort it takes to achieve it.

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That Old Objectification Song

I was on Twitter last night minding my own business when one of the musicians I follow suggested another person to follow. I was curious who the person was so I checked his profile. I use TweetDeck which is a 3rd party application that separates messages and opens a larger window that the official Twitter webpage for your account. So the first thing I noticed was his profile picture that showed him wearing a t-shirt with a large rear end encased in a thong. Had the photo not been so large I probably wouldn’t have noticed from a quick glance. Then I looked at the last few messages he’d sent and they were peppered with “nigga” and “no homo”. To say I was offended would be an understatement. I sent the musician a reply saying I wouldn’t want to follow someone when I have to dig through all of that. I guess the guy is supposed to be a really good rapper. Yeah….whatever!
So this musician is in a famous hip-hop band and they don’t usually embrace any such foolishness in their music – but he is a man and I can see where another man would be dismissive of such things. Which is why the constant degradation that passes for music nowadays is especially troubling. He usually sends messages related to projects he’s working on or who he hangs out with and I consider it a fun distraction. He doesn’t often respond to non-celebs or people he doesn’t know so I was very surprised when I got this response – that he tried to get me to follow his friend but that I “didn’t like being objectified as a woman or black person.” 
I admit I felt a slight thrill that this famous musician replied to me directly but of course the larger issue was that he understood exactly where I was coming from. Then I started getting a flood of alerts that I had nearly two dozen new followers and Twitter went down for a few minutes. I got caught up in a flurry of messages and hadn’t seen the response from the guy I didn’t want to follow for at least an hour later.
“So you gon let a few niggas and a picture of some ass keep you from me, booboo? *le sigh*”
I was surprised he even cared quite frankly but thought this could be one of those teachable moments. Why is it that a Black man thinks it’s appropriate to speak to a Black woman this way? Here’s some excerpts from our conversation:
Me: You opened a good dialog. Why don’t u consider moving beyond those things instead of expecting others to tolerate them?

Him: Moving “beyond” what exactly? Using the word “nigga” and wearin a big ass on my t-shirt?

Me: YES & don’t forget using No Homo. LGBT advocates consider it offensive/homophobic. Is that all who u are cuz it’s what u show! 

Him: If u really think you can gather a man’s whole existence from a fuckin 140 character RSS feed, then thats a personal issue. 

Me: 1st impressions speak volumes! U chose to put that out there u can’t selectively say ignore 1 thing for the rest. As a female I can’t police u or any male. I stated what offended me, you talked to me and we’ll agree to disagree. 

Him: If that’s all YOU see from Black people, then maybe YOU need to look elsewhere. Hugh Madson? 

Me: Finally it’s not about “me” it’s about accepting mediocrity as a standard. I’m not emotionally invested, thought it was good to clear the air. Thanks. 

Him: If your first impression of me is that I’m a heterosexual nigga who loves big asses, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Peace.
Now somebody explain to me why I’d choose to engage this person at all! 
Why do (some) black people make excuses for degradation? Not that other groups don’t but these situations manifest themselves different by group/gender/class. You know, the usual. This almost wants to make me break out the “f” word –  feminist. I think Black womanhood and virtue are at stake here. It’s so much bigger than this one exchange. If I had to base my evaluation of all black men on this one guy I’d never want to have anything to do with ya’ll again, lol!! I can’t police people and I can’t hold a litmus test and collect the innermost thoughts of people either. We have to work with racist/sexist people who are ageist and appearance based or whatever but there’s a difference when people decide to not temper their behavior for a universal audience. Twitter is a public forum unless you use a protected account or send a direct message anyone can read your message stream. 
That may not be all there is to that person but it’s a strong enough indication to me that our standards don’t mesh. There’s a difference between the use of Negro, Nigga and Nigger. So this guy’s outside talents reveal a rather blatant lack of respect that is certainly not unique to him, but it’s the general acceptance of it by an ever-increasing majority that concerns me.  I can’t imagine wanting to have that type of influence that follows such train of thought in my life. There’s a missing spiritual component. I see the worldliness that drags down the souls of the other person (me) not elevating the later (him). There’s the patriarchal arrogance of assumption that I should lower my standards to meet him at his level. That’s when (and why) he began to get billigerant with me. 
So many of us are one step from the ledge and we don’t even see it. Now I’m no expert on race relations, gender issues or men. I loathe to try to introduce specific religious dogma into these conversations but I’m finding it difficult to see the existence of a set of values. Others are able to navigate their way through life much better than I. The Def Con Level One scenario are those people who wallow in their ignorance and those that seek to exploit others. In the year 2009 I can’t believe I have to explain to a grown man why seeing his profile photo of him wearing a t-shirt with a woman’s naked butt in a thong is offensive to me. People aren’t stupid, they’re willfully obstinate in objectification and lacking decorum. 
I also had a simultaneous exchange with one other man who’d said he’d never heard the term LGBT. He’s a minister living in a major city and looked to be under 50. How do I begin to process the ramifications of such isolation from news of a major social/political movement? Yet another male protectionist tried to school me on what the term “no homo” really means. If the use of a non-sequitur like that is meaningless then common sense should tell you there’s something wrong with saying emphatically that you aren’t something and why denying it so profusely indicates a break from the norm. 
These situations just reminds me how we must always be on the lookout and guarding our values and sensibilities lest they be chipped away to nothing by those who don’t have (m)any.

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The Real Black State of the Union Pt. 1

So I was reading this great post “Ours Is Not A Culture Of Failure” by Tami at What Tami Said which was in itself a critique of the article “Race Still Matters For Poor Blacks” by Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune and “Raising the Obama Generation” by Stephen Talty. There are some great points being made but there are some areas where we our opinions diverge. 

From Page’s article: The National Urban League released its annual “State of Black America” report. Predictably, as with previous reports that the 99-year-old league has conducted since the 1970s, the state of black America is pretty miserable.

Blacks were twice as likely to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be imprisoned compared with whites, the study said. Blacks also lost their homes due to foreclosure at a greater rate than other ethnic groups. This is partly because many blacks had been targeted for sub-prime loans during the economic boom, civil rights groups charge, even when their credit was good enough to get them into conventional loans. 

Mainstream black leaders tend to blame black poverty on external barriers like racism, discrimination and the disappearance of low-skill jobs. Conservative critics tend to blame black poverty on black behavior, attitudes and other “cultural” conditioning.

Blah, blah, blah! My response is: it sucks to be Black apparently. Do I really need a reminder of all the problems? These Civil Rights organizations are still not providing SOLUTIONS. Let’s talk about the various social classes that exist that they’d like to otherwise ignore. Having access to resources and being not only encouraged but expected to excel does impact your life. Let’s talk about white racism but we’re not in a position to ignore how our attitudes and choices compound it.

Tami writes:  Are low achievement, unemployment, substance abuse or criminality elements of black culture? Native culture? Italian or Irish culture? White culture?

No.

And they are not the culture of the poor either.
But these ills are often the result of living forgotten in poverty in a country that is all about symbols of wealth and “getting yours.” These ills are the result of no opportunity in the land of opportunity. These ills are the result of schools with old books or no books. These ills are the result of being warehoused in dangerous, rat-trap, public-housing high rises, and tenements, and reservations and isolated Appalachian villages and trailer parks. These ills are the result of inadequate healthcare and childcare.

I agree…but I don’t. Apathy, anger, depression, hostility, hopelessness, mediocrity and imbalance. I think about how all of these things color challenging situations for people of color. We can only change the things we can control. The first thing we have to control is ourselves. Then we can address the ills of society. If you’re running with a broken leg you won’t get very far. 
 
If the “culture” hasn’t failed it is severely damaged. Or perhaps the question that should be posed is: “What Is Black Culture?” There are differences amongst ethnic groups of Blacks as well as different behavior patterns amongst the social classes. Of course individuals make personal choices that may differ from the majority of their group of origin but certain generalities do prevail. We’re not all Middle Class and we don’t all possess Middle Class sensibilities. Whatever that’s supposed to mean today. 
I think we can safely establish a yard stick of a dominant generic “Black” by which non-Blacks may be attributing to us all because they don’t do shades of grey, er black. It’s like lumping all Asians together or not realizing that China for example has something like 50 diverse ethnic groups. I will continue this conversation in another post because despite my efforts at editing I have so much more to discuss. 
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