Monday, January 28, 2008

Ms. Ferrell

The weather in Los Angeles the past few days or a bit longer has been amazing. Rainy, gray, overcast. Interrupted by annoying stretches of sunshine. Even before the weather started hitting blue notes, I'd pulled down and been immersing myself in the music of Rachelle Ferrell. Specifically First Instrument and Live in Montrux 91-97. But one of my favorite things she has ever done is the song "Nothing in the Middle," which can be found on the CD, Soul Satisfaction: A Collection of Nu Soul Gems. "Nothing in the Middle" is amazing. According to the CD liner notes, the song was recorded live for inclusion on a forthcoming live CD by Rachelle but I've heard nothing more about said CD since. This Youtube item below is really just the audio track, but check it out if you're not familiar with it.

SHE Has Spoken

Dear Senator Obama,

This letter represents a first for me--a public endorsement of a Presidential candidate. I feel driven to let you know why I am writing it. One reason is it may help gather other supporters; another is that this is one of those singular moments that nations ignore at their peril. I will not rehearse the multiple crises facing us, but of one thing I am certain: this opportunity for a national evolution (even revolution) will not come again soon, and I am convinced you are the person to capture it.

May I describe to you my thoughts?

I have admired Senator Clinton for years. Her knowledge always seemed to me exhaustive; her negotiation of politics expert. However I am more compelled by the quality of mind (as far as I can measure it) of a candidate. I cared little for her gender as a source of my admiration, and the little I did care was based on the fact that no liberal woman has ever ruled in America. Only conservative or "new-centrist" ones are allowed into that realm. Nor do I care very much for your race. I would not support you if that was all you had to offer or because it might make me "proud."

In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it. Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace--that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom.

When, I wondered, was the last time this country was guided by such a leader? Someone whose moral center was un-embargoed? Someone with courage instead of mere ambition? Someone who truly thinks of his country's citizens as "we," not "they"? Someone who understands what it will take to help America realize the virtues it fancies about itself, what it desperately needs to become in the world?

Our future is ripe, outrageously rich in its possibilities. Yet unleashing the glory of that future will require a difficult labor, and some may be so frightened of its birth they will refuse to abandon their nostalgia for the womb.

There have been a few prescient leaders in our past, but you are the man for this time.

Good luck to you and to us.

Toni Morrison

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Darnell Martin: Welcome Back

I love Darnell Martin's 1994 film, I Like It Like That. It tells the simple but engrossing, slice-of-life story of Lisette (Lauren Velez, now best known for her role on Oz), a young, black Puerto Rican woman struggling to make a go of marriage with her husband Chino (Jon Seda at his sexiest) and their three young kids in early '90s New York. A host of "issues" are woven through the tale -- the color caste among Latinos; the tensions that arise when a family member is unabashedly, flamingly gay; the drama when the neighborhood 'ho sets her eyes on Chino and he ain't got the sense to keep his pants zipped. Battles with the studio over everything -- the film's title, its final edit, the marketing -- pushed Martin to the edge and she reportedly bailed for Europe for a minute, then came back and directed a lot of episodic television before making a big splash when she directed Oprah's TV version of "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Now, word is that the "first African American woman to direct a film with major studio backing" (she hates that tag) is set to direct a new film on the history of Chess Records. And I'm so happy to have her directing another feature film that I'm not even sweating the fact that the non-acting Beyonce has been cast as Etta James. (Yeah...) Here's a video for "Come Baby Come," which was prominently featured in the film.

New Erykah (CD drops February 26)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sister Speaks

As I have written many times before, Barack Obama isn't really my favorite Dem candidate. I actually like his wife more. And as this swiped NY Times interview with his sister Maya Soetero-Ng makes clear, he has lived a life surrounded by women (including Maya) who range from cool to amazing. I expect pure dopeness from his two daughters.


Interview by Deborah Solomon
Published: January 20, 2008

Q: Let’s talk about the Democratic presidential caucuses taking place on Feb. 19, in Hawaii , where Barack Obama was born. Will you be campaigning for your brother?

Yes, of course. I have taken time off from my various teaching jobs in Honolulu and just got back from two months of campaigning. I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “1-20-09. End of an Error.”

What kind of bumper sticker is that? It doesn’t even mention a candidate by name.

That’s just one bumper sticker. I have three others on my car, including one that says, “Women for Obama.”

What is the age difference between you and Barack?

I’m nine years younger. Our mother, after divorcing Barack’s father, met my father at the same place, the East-West Center on the University of Hawaii campus.

Barack’s father was Kenyan, and yours was Indonesian. Your mom was what used to be called a freethinker, a white anthropologist from Wichita, Kan., who moved to Jakarta after her second marriage.

My mother was a courageous woman. And she had such tremendous love for life. She loved the natural world. She would wake us up in the middle of the night to go look at the moon. When I was a teenager, this was a source of great frustration because I wanted to sleep.

She died at only 52, from ovarian cancer?

Today, more than anything, I wish all the women in Barack’s life — our mother, his wife and daughters, my daughter, our grandmother, his Kenyan half-sister — I wish we could all sit together and gaze at the moon.

Your mom has been described as an atheist.

I wouldn’t have called her an atheist. She was an agnostic. She basically gave us all the good books — the Bible, the Hindu Upanishads and the Buddhist scripture, the Tao Te Ching — and wanted us to recognize that everyone has something beautiful to contribute.

You didn’t mention the Koran in that list, although Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world.

I should have mentioned the Koran. Mom didn’t really emphasize the Koran, but we read little parts of it. We did listen to morning prayers in Indonesia.

Are you worried about mentioning Islam because it has already been evoked by negative campaigners trying to tarnish your brother?

I’m not worried. I don’t want to deny Islam. I think it’s obviously very important that we have an understanding of Islam, a better understanding. At the same time, it has been erroneously attached to my brother. The man has been a Christian for 20 years.

What religion are you?

Philosophically, I would say that I am Buddhist.

What effect do you think your mother’s wanderlust had on Barack?

Maybe part of the reason he was so attracted to Chicago and his wife, Michelle, was that sense of rootedness. He elected to make a choice, whereas Mom sort of wandered through the world collecting treasures.

Do you think of your brother as black?

Yes, because that is how he has named himself. Each of us has a right to name ourselves as we will.

Do you think of yourself as white?

No. I’m half white, half Asian. I think of myself as hybrid. People usually think I’m Latina when they meet me. That’s what made me learn Spanish.

That sort of culturally mixed identity was seen as an anomaly when you were growing up.

Of course, there was a time when that felt like unsteady terrain, and it made me feel vulnerable.

You were ahead of the multicultural curve.

That’s one of the things our mother taught us. It can all belong to you. If you have sufficient love and respect for a part of the world, it can be a meaningful part of who you are, even if it wasn’t delivered at birth.

Too Through...

Yo soy Dominican o Boricua ahora (tengo pelo bueno, no?) porque los Negroes... ay yi yi.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Today (January 16th) is the natal day of Herself

I hear from a reliable source that Sade is currently in the studio recording new material. Have no idea what that means for a new CD release date...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

You know she actually owns you, right?

From a news report:
      The Queen of Daytime and Discovery Communications announced a deal Tuesday under which the Discovery Health network will be handed over to Winfrey next year and renamed OWN—the Oprah Winfrey Network.

      Winfrey, who will serve as chairman of the venture, called the deal "the fulfillment of yet another dream for me."


Pop some corn, pull up a chair

      Last week, I wrote a brief take on Gloria Steinem's now infamous New York Times op-ed in which she set up gender against race (while pretending not to do so) in order to make the case for folks voting for Hillary Clinton. Like many white liberals / progressives, her use of both racial metaphors and race realities was inexcusably stupid, rooted in the transparent impulse to hold on to skin hue privilege while pretending to be radicals swinging at the status quo. Yesterday, Ishamel Reed posted a rebuttal on the site Counterpunch and took no prisoners -- Steinem, both Clintons, as well as the New York Times and its transparently backward and oblivious perspectives on race were all thoroughly eviscerated. It's a very long but hugely entertaining and illuminating read, and you can get it here if you haven't peeped it already.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bob Johnson: Don'tchoo Be Talkin' Bout My Massa!

      Back in November, when I attended the symposium on James Brown that was hosted by Princeton, the event's closing remarks were delivered by Cornel West and he was predictably amazing. I'd watched a whole day of panelists – some were Baptist-preacher-style spellbinding, others were far, far more academic in approach – and the thing that tied them / us all together was the reliance on note cards or written papers. Cornel West took the podium sans those written crutches. As with every time I have seen him speak, he blew me away with the extraordinary leaps he makes from one subject to another, drawing a thread amongst subjects the entire time and pulling a cohesive narrative together. The audience was mesmerized. But he drew two big collective gasps when he mentioned that he'd missed the previous night's opening presentation because he'd been in Harlem at the Apollo introducing Barack Obama. The first gasp came when Mr. West took great pains to amend that statement and make it clear that he hadn't been there to introduce Obama, but to introduce Chris Rock... who had introduced Obama. The biggest gasp came a short while later when West went on to seemingly get in a dig by talking about the word "hope," and stating that Obama had colonized the word. Heads snapped to attention; sideways/sidelong glances were exchanged and a comic-strip style balloon went up over the audience's head: Whatchoo talkin' bout Cornel? Mr. West's speech raced forward from that point (it was actually about James Brown as soul man and soulful metaphor) and he earned a justified standing ovation, but the big buzz as folks left the assembly was around the question of whether that had indeed been a shot fired at Obama.
      The intra-racial divisions among black folk in the current presidential election aren't all bad. It's refreshing to see that a lot of African derived folks have considered and persuasive reasons for why they support Obama, Clinton, Edwards or Kucinich, and that the myth of the monolithic Negro community is being shattered one mo 'gain. Yeah, it will rise again but for now I'm enjoying the shards. (I'm admittedly biased and have to state up front that while I don't want black folk to continue to simply be the Democrats' sideline ho, I just can't wrap my head around anyone, Negro or otherwise, supporting any of the Republican favorites.) The manifestation of support for the various candidates (and what it says about black folk, black folk and/in power, and the volatile generation and class gaps that are at play in illustrating what candidate gets whose support) is fascinating if sometimes kinda predictable. Lines are being drawn, poison-tipped barbs are being tossed and racial solidarity / authenticity / awareness are all being challenged. The oldest drama's being sold as new.
      I love that because of Obama’s candidacy, a lot of black folk, especially black youth, are actually hopeful and motivated to participate in the election process, especially after the two recent (s)elections pointedly proved how flimsily protected our right to vote is, and how easily and cynically black votes and voters can be dismissed without there being any substantial or sustained outcry by media or truly powerful politicians, including our alleged allies. Even though I feel that the empire is on its last legs and there’s not much of anything that can be done to truly salvage it short of ripping this shit to its foundation and making those hallowed constitutional rights and assorted amendments actually apply to poor folk, people of color, and gays and lesbians, all while seriously addressing the health-care crisis, rotting economy and class gaps that have rendered us a third world police state… But I digress 'cause nunnadat shit is really on the table in any meaningful or convincing way from the big dawgs, so bring on the hope and optimism, whoever sparks it. If there is to be any serious change, those will be the elements needed to spark it, and it will necessarily transcend any one candidate or election cycle. It might even spark the desire for truly progressive change, beyond the race and gender identity boxes being hawked as radicalism when the politics in those boxes ain't really on that Tracy Chapman Sings Noam Chomsky. It sounds corny but I believe it’s true: The root of change is hope. And there's precious little of it in the overall black community right now.
      What I don’t love is the cynicism and Driving Miss Daisy mentality of so many (not all) black folk who support Hillary Clinton. I don’t put Dr. West in that camp because I don't think he belongs there (and I think he can eloquently break down his support of his favored candidate) and I most certainly don't think that every black person who supports Clinton is chug-a-lugging that Missy Ann elixir. BET’s Bob Johnson, on the other hand… I mean, what was the point of his intentionally transparent coded raising of some vague, dark activity in Obama's youth [see below] and then just leaving it hanging so suggestively? (That's a rhetorical question.)
      Here’s the New York Times report on Johnson’s throwing barbs at Obama while fanning Hillary Clinton. And peep the update in which he unconvincingly back-pedals:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, who is campaigning today in South Carolina with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, just made a suggestion that raised the specter of Barack Obama’s past drug use. He also compared Mr. Obama to Sidney Poitier, the black actor, in "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner."

      At a rally here for Mrs. Clinton at Columbia College, Mr. Johnson was defending recent comments that Mrs. Clinton made regarding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She did not mean to take any credit away from him, Mr. Johnson said, when she said that it took President Johnson to sign the civil rights legislation he fought for.

      Dr. King had led a “moral crusade,” Mr. Johnson said, but such crusades have to be “written into law.”

      “That is the way the legislative process works in this nation and that takes political leadership,” he said. “That’s all Hillary was saying.”

      He then added: “And to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood –­ and I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in the book –­ when they have been involved.”

      Moments later, he added: “That kind of campaign behavior does not resonate with me, for a guy who says, ‘I want to be a reasonable, likable, Sidney Poitier ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ And I’m thinking, I’m thinking to myself, this ain’t a movie, Sidney. This is real life.”

      A former Clinton campaign official in New Hampshire had to resign last month after he publicly suggested that Republicans would probably use Mr. Obama’s drug use in his youth, which he first wrote about in his memoirs, against him.

Update | 5 p.m. Mr. Johnson just released this statement, through the Clinton campaign:

      My comments today were referring to Barack Obama’s time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect.

      “When Hillary Clinton was in her twenties she worked to provide protections for abused and battered children and helped ensure that children with disabilities could attend public school.

      That results oriented leadership — even as a young person — is the reason I am supporting Hillary Clinton.”

Update | 6:30 p.m. Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman said: “His tortured explanation doesn’t hold up against his original statement. And it’s troubling that neither the campaign nor Senator Clinton — who was there as the remark was made – is willing to condemn it as they did when another prominent supporter recently said a similar thing.”

You know Hillary got in that ass, right? Johnson's back-pedaling doesn't even track with the shade he threw.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gloria, Gloria, Gloria

       I can’t lie. In my heart of contrarian hearts, Dennis Kucinich is my favorite Dem candidate. But I know his run is more about him being the gadfly, injecting and trying to keep certain issues and perspectives on the table rather than actually hoping to capture the White House. I’d be fine with either Barack Obama or John Edwards as the Dem candidate. (To be honest, my current politico crush is on Michelle Obama.) Hillary has always been my hold-my-nose-and-vote choice, the one I’ll go with if that’s who the party chooses. (To be really honest, I wish there were a way to vote a Repub in the White House just to have the political blowback that the next several years are going to bring fall squarely at a Republican’s feet, but that deserved comeuppance would come at too high a price for this country.) Still, my disdain for Hillary peaked two days ago not because of anything she actually said or did (which I admit isn't fair), but because of Gloria Steinem’s eye-poppingly idiotic New York Times Op-Ed piece in which she claimed to not do the very thing she did, which was pit race against gender in the Oppression Olympics and handicap the race in such a way that voting for a Black man becomes a reflexive vote for the status quo, while voting for a white woman who is part and parcel of this country’s political apparatus becomes a radical gesture.
      While Steinem actually does make salient points about the barriers and obstacles that still face white women in the world at large and in the world of politics (and make no mistake, when old-school myopic feminist Glo speaks of “women” she only sees white women and their issues… too bad for you if you’re a femme who inhabits multiple identity slots), her take on race and politics is gallingly and tellingly swiss-cheesed: full of holes. She notes that, “Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot black men were given the vote…” but quite crucially doesn’t go any further to note that, for the most part, that “gift” was kinda meaningless until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (And the last two presidential election cycles proved how flimsy that gift was for countless black folks, men and women. But why would Glo trouble herself with those messy details?)
      Steinem lays out her thesis pretty plainly, “Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life,” which holds up great if you ignore the shoddy imbalance of funding in the American educational system, the brutal racism that still girds law making and enforcement in this country, the gross inequities in healthcare afforded folks of color versus their white counterparts (not that poor and middle class white folk aren’t doing their part for equality in that arena by graciously getting royally shafted too), the pressing and little reported crisis of affordable housing that is driving black folk out of what were once black enclaves in major urban centers of this country… Not to mention that women of color (and I do mean Latinas, Asian women and the myriad hybrid racial identities that exist, as well as women of African descent) might take issue with such simplistic reducing of their realities.
      Here are two wonderful rebuttals to Steinem’s piece. The first is from the reliably on-point Jeff Chang and the other is from Jennifer Fang. Definitely check them out.