Monday, April 28, 2008

Prince at Coachella

You know he has his lawyers regularly sweep through Youtube to clear all his shit off the site, so I have no idea how long these will be up...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sight + Sound of the Day: Miss Piggy F*cks the Pain Away

This is better than the new Madonna, Mariah and Janet combined.

Friday, April 18, 2008

New Project press release...

Call for Submissions: APLA Writing Project 2009 / Co-editors: Tisa Bryant and Ernest Hardy

      Our world is at a crossroads. We daily witness economic meltdowns and uncertain job markets, boiling religious fundamentalism, issues of immigration as borders melt or collapse, age-old and brand new manifestations of racism, and the exploding spread of AIDS in communities of color. But we’re also at a crossroads of enormous possibility, resistance and revolution. It’s an opportunity to create new definitions and terms of success, of blackness and gayness / queerness / same gender lovingness. It’s a crucial moment for reexamining our visions and expectations of self and community.
      At this crossroads, we are collaborating with AIDS Project Los Angeles to publish the fourth in their series of book-length collections of writing and images that grapple with the questions of what it means to be, know and love gay men of African descent in the 21st century. Where have we been? Where are we going? What’s on the horizon?

      We want to share your responses to these questions with the world. We seek poetry, short stories, essays, articles, excerpts from novels / plays / screenplays, dreams, journal entries, photo essays, blog posts, collages, manifestoes, or email exchanges that imaginatively contextualize black gay men’s lives in connection with your own. Give us some sharp focus portraits, lingering close ups, long-range views, backwards glances of who you’re looking at, where you’re coming, and what matters most in the worlds you make and imagine.
      We especially seek works that explode conventions around racial, sexual, religious or regional identities, that challenge, provoke, are brave and unexpected. All submissions will be seriously considered, from straightforward and linear stories of lived experiences, political activism, and cultural criticism, to experimental pieces that toy with language and cross boundaries of genre and form. What we want, what we need, and what we believe in is your unfiltered but masterfully rendered truth.

Text entries: 1,200 words maximum. Poems must be two (2) pages or less.

Graphic art: B&W, hi-res 300 DPI, TIFF file format. Color art that can be published in B&W will also be considered.

Deadline for submissions – July 30, 2008

Text must be emailed as a very clean (proofread) attachment from a word-processing application, formatted as intended for publication, and must include, your name, title of work, type of work (essay, article, poem, visual art, etc.), length (word count), email address; and a 50-word bio.

The subject line should read, Book Submission (genre), e.g., “Book Submission (Fiction)”

PAYMENT: $100 for your submission and 10 copies of the book.

Address all correspondence, including queries to:

We look forward to your words!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sight + Sound of the Day: It Wasn't Easy... No 1, 2, 3...

Junot Diaz Wins Pulitzer

I remember attending a writer's retreat just days after Junot Diaz' book "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" was released, and hearing both Dr. Jafari Sinclaire Allen and the poet Reggie Harris channel Miss Cleo to proclaim with absolute certainty that Diaz was going to win the Pulitzer. He just did, and is only the second U.S. Latino writer to ever do so.

Partial list of winners:

# Fiction: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
# History: What Hath God Wrought, by Daniel Walker Howe
# Biography: Eden's Outcasts, by John Matteson
# Poetry: Time and Materials, by Robert Hass and Failure, by Philip Schultz
# General Non-fiction: The Years of Extermination, by Saul Friedlander
# Drama: August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts

Pop Life

Yesterday, Tracee LaShonda Josefina Ross (in-joke) sent me an email dropping words of support for a creative undertaking that was undertooken by me and another friend a while ago. That endeavor ran its course quickly and is best left in the past... but I kinda miss it. Anyway, click the link below and hear my set-list from my brief days as the deejay Evil Juan. This particular show was my tribute to all things Prince. I'mma dig up some more Evil Juan shows and post 'em REAL soon.


Quote of the Day

"It's best to pick one's sacrifices carefully. Because sacrifices have a way of determining the shape of one's life, don't they?"

-- from L. Timmel Duchamp's short story, "Explanations Are Clear"

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sight + Sound of the Day

Sight + Sound of the Day: Flashback

Miss Thing, there is no guest list tonight... Oh... oh... oh....

Blood Beats Vol. 2 excerpt: Sarah Schulman

This excerpted interview with Sarah Schulman was done on June 4, 2003. She was in Los Angeles to promote a play she'd written and I interviewed her for the LA Weekly. The interview was several hours long and far too much for the Weekly to run. Much fell on the cutting room floor. I picked up those discarded segments and put them in my new book, in the piece titled "Sarah Schulman: Acting Up and Defending Names."


      Three years ago, as novelist, playwright and social critic, Sarah Schulman – deep in thought – strolled the sprawling grounds of the Sundance Institute’s Utah mountaintop compound, a young Jewish professor watched her intently then whispered with reverence, “She’s the big Jew.” And then some. A sturdy hyphenate – old-fashioned New York-Jewish-artist-intellectual-lesbian-social activist with unwaveringly progressive politics – Schulman has built a career on works that tackle issues of class, homophobia, racism and misogyny as they play out in the lives of urban dwellers, against large-scale political and cultural canvases. An associate professor of English at Staten Island’s City University in New York, her novels include Rat Bohemia, After Delores, Shimmer and People in Trouble. That last title is, in some ways, her most important work to date.
      People in Trouble was inspired by the writer’s days as an activist with ACT-UP; she was a member almost from the start of the protest collective. Set in New York’s East Village and peopled with fags, dykes and artists of every hue and inclination, the book was one of the first American works of fiction to tell of the queer community’s activist reaction to the health crisis. To her surprise, in her capacity as a theater critic for New York Press, she was sent to review Rent and saw a work that bore more than a passing resemblance to her novel. But where multi-dimensional queerness and people of color were the locus of the world Schulman had created, Larson had tweaked the center, making the heroes straight white boys (for whom HIV is delivered via the needle, natch) – the Puerto Rican queen dies, the lesbian lovers show everything but love, and the status quo song remains the same.
      Schulman recovered from her shock and wrote the book, Stage Struck: Theater, AIDS and the Marketing of Gay America, in which she thoroughly and convincingly documents not only her claims that Larson used her work as the backbone for his own, but the ways in which a deep-pocketed corporate machine – having backed Larson’s play and now fiercely protective of their investment – made the prospect of her receiving compensation or acknowledgment a pipe dream. But the book uses that experience as a jumping off point to discuss everything from the commodification of queerness, to racism and carefully doled out homophobia in the big leagues of American theater. Smart, blunt and filled with surprising humor, it’s that rare tome of modern criticism that is actually relevant and illuminating.
      Now in Los Angeles to fine tune and showcase her play, the Burning Deck (the title is taken from the line of an Elizabeth Bishop poem), Schulman recently sat down in a Silverlake diner to discuss the play and upcoming projects: stage adaptations of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Enemies, a Love Story and Carole Anshaw's Aquamarine; a collaboration with actress, Jessica Hecht, on the play, Mercy; collaborations with director, Marion McClinton, and actress, Michi Barall, on Made in Korea, a play about international adoption, and with Amy Resnick in San Francisco on Conjugation, which she dubs “an unromantic comedy.” She’s also working on film adaptations of her novels, After Delores and Shimmer. Closest to her heart, though, is the ACT-UP Oral History Project, an ambitious online documentary that, when completed, will include interviews with almost two hundred people who were part of the first ACT UP group in New York. She says it will, “completely transform the way that AIDS is understood in this country.”

Ernest: What was the inspiration for doing the AIDS Memorial Project at this time?

Sarah: Well, I was in LA a couple of years ago having a play done, driving around in my little white rental car and it turns out that that day was the 20th anniversary of AIDS, which I discovered by listening to NPR in the car. So, I was listening and at one point the announcer said, “At first America had trouble with people with AIDS, but then they came around.” And I thought, that’s not what happened! You know, it’s so interesting because whenever oppressed people achieve a social transformation, it always gets historicized as though it was the good will of the dominant group, when it’s always the subordinate group who forces them, kicking and screaming, into a new era. And yet it’s never articulated that way... I was just so angry that the dominant culture – who despised and abandoned people with AIDS – was going to take credit for the work that we did.


When I asked you about comparing the climate that gave birth to ACT UP to the current social and political climate, you said your answer would have been different before than it is after having interviewed all these people – different in what way?

Well, you know, I am 44 and I’m not of the Internet generation. I don’t understand the new technologies. I don’t have an intimate relationship with them, and ultimately it’s the people who are in the moment of the culture who are most able to make the transformative leaps. So, it’s going to be people who are much younger than me who are going to create the new social movements that will change this country. And they’ll do it. I believe that. Because, don’t forget that every historical moment passes – the Holocaust passed, slavery ended, McCarthyism passed. The trick is to try to outlive it. But this moment that we’re in which is so terrible, it will pass. And people will come with new ideas.


Speaking of the dominant culture and those who are not part of it, what do you think when you hear about the controversies surrounding affirmative action or diversity programs? I mean, do you really think there’s any real interest in a diversity of voices, bodies or realities in the worlds of business or media – theater in particular?

Do you? Based on your own experiences?

No, not at all. My own experiences have shown me quite the opposite. Even when tokens of color are used, it’s actually to reaffirm someone else’s perspective or primacy. That central narrative cannot be fucked with or you’re out of work.

Right. There’s absolutely no interest in diversity at all in the theater world. Theater is far behind every other art form. You know, Audre Lorde was my teacher in college, and one day she had us take out our notebooks and she said, ‘Class, write this down: That you can’t fight city hall is a rumor being spread by City Hall.’ Since she pointed that out to me, I have noticed that people who the system works for will always tell you that change is impossible. And they’ll always tell you that you’re wrong and bad because you want change.
      But change occurs because you don’t listen to them.

Buy Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sight(s) + Sound(s) of the Day

The young Michael Evans. One minute spouting Black nationalist rhetoric, the next giving in to his show tune calling. They are not mutually exclusive.

Haven't I been goooood to you?

Press clippings

I'm really bad about this sort of thing. I should re-design the blog and have a "press" section... Anyway, here are a few links to write-ups and mentions of me that are currently on the net:






Thursday, April 03, 2008

40 Years Ago Today

      Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy in his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It's always good to have your closest friend and associate say something good about you. And Ralph is the best friend that I have in the world.

      I'm delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow. Something is happening in Memphis, something is happening in our world.

      As you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" — I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.

      But I wouldn't stop there. I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I'm named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.

      But I wouldn't stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

      But I wouldn't stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — "We want to be free."

      And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

      That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that He's allowed me to be in Memphis.

      I can remember, I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn't itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God's world.

      And that's all this whole thing is about. We aren't engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God's children. And that we don't have to live like we are forced to live.

      Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we've got to stay together. We've got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the salves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.

      Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we've got to keep attention on that. That's always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers were on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn't get around to that.

      Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be. And force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That's the issue. And we've got to say to the nation: we know it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.

      We aren't going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don't know what to do, I've seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me round." Bull Connor next would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water.

      That couldn't stop us. And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we'd go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we'd just go on singing "Over my head I see freedom in the air." And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, "Take them off," and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, "We Shall Overcome." And every now and then we'd get in the jail, and we'd see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn't adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.

      Now we've got to go on to Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us Monday. Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we're going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, "Be true to what you said on paper." If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren't going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.

      We need all of you. And you know what's beautiful tome, is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It's a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor."

      And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he's been to jail for struggling; but he's still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Rev. Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank them all. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren't concerned about anything but themselves. And I'm always happy to see a relevant ministry.

      It's all right to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

      Now the other thing we'll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people, individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively, that means all of us together, collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That's power right there, if we know how to pool it.

      We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don't need any bricks and bottles, we don't need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, "God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God's children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you."

      And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy—what is the other bread?—Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart's bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven't been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying, they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.

      But not only that, we've got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank—we want a "bank-in" movement in Memphis. So go by the savings and loan association. I'm not asking you something we don't do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We're just telling you to follow what we're doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies in Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an "insurance-in."

      Now these are some practical things we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.

      Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We've got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.

      Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus; and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters in life. At points, he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew, and through this, throw him off base. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But with him, administering first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother. Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to church meetings—an ecclesiastical gathering—and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that "One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effort.

      But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that these men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

      That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

      Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.

      You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, "Are you Martin Luther King?"

      And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that's punctured, you drown in your own blood—that's the end of you.

      It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states, and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I've forgotten what those telegrams said. I'd received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I've forgotten what the letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I'll never forget it. It said simply, "Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School." She said, "While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I'm simply writing you to say that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze."

      And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I didn't sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream. And taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been down in Selma, Alabama, been in Memphis to see the community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I'm so happy that I didn't sneeze.

      And they were telling me, now it doesn't matter now. It really doesn't matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, "We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we've had the plane protected and guarded all night."

      And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

      Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Sight + Sound of the Day

Blood Beats Vol. 2 excerpt: PSTOLA

Here's an excerpt from my interview with the Inglewood-based Negro film collective Pstola, conducted in February of 2004. The complete interview is in my book Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints.

Excerpt 1:

“What kinda jobs are two niggas wit art degrees gonna get in these economic times?”
– From PSTOLAS’s Guerilla Tactics, Pt. 3

      Sitting in the bedroom-cum-workspace of Van Veen’s Inglewood home, where he’s lived since 1976, is to glean both the inner-workings of PSTOLA and the collective’s slew of influences. Countless CDs, books and videos crowd the room. African art and a huge Bob Marley poster flank a computer desk that is cluttered with papers and magazines. Weights rest on the floor, and a skateboard and snow skies are propped against the closet door. An old but working turntable sits beneath a Jamaican flag. While Van Veen (who has a degree in Communications Studies from Cal State Dominguez) lounges on the floor, his hands clasped beneath his head, Dre (Howard University, finance major) perches on the edge of the bed, and Deon (Art Institute of Santa Monica, animation) sits quietly in a corner chair. Based on received popular wisdom that Negroes of a feather flock together, these three shouldn’t even be on the same block, let alone in the same room.
      “We’re really trying to take audiences on a ride through black culture,” says Dre. “Because they – black people, white people and everybody else – never really get to see us as the complex people that we are. We know cats that, if you saw them on the street, you’d think they were just die-hard thugs.”
      “But in reality,” chimes in Jason, “they’ll be some of the most intelligent cats you’ll ever meet. They’ll be almost geeky with some of the shit that they’re into, studying insects and shit like that.”
      “Black people, especially,” continues Dre, “get into this monolithic thing. We’re either this person or that person. We don’t see – especially in entertainment – much diversity. We see set images that are kinda etched in stone.”
      “Use rap, for example,” says Jason. “Everybody’s trying to do what’s already out there, afraid to step outside the box. Most people are followers. For you to deviate and march to your own beat takes a lot of courage. Most people just want to be part of the status quo. So, whatever is hot now, that’s what all the rappers are gonna conform to. They’re not gonna show any other dimensions for fear of being called out: You ain’t hard. What you doing ain’t no real rap. That ain’t no real street shit. I think there are a lot of people hiding, not showing who they really are. They’re walking the streets in uniform, following codes. Pull them same cats off to the side and they might admit to liking the Bee Gees and Barbra Streisand – music their friends would laugh at.”
      That would be one of the most radical images committed to modern film – Negro thugs, lumps in their throats, blasting Barbra Streisand: Papa, can you feel me?
      Dre, who is an executive recruiter of finance and accounting professionals for Ryan Miller & Associates, is clean-shaven and close-cut, rocking expensive corporate drag: tailored suit, blue shirt and tie, and very nice shoes. While the roles and responsibilities within the group blur (all share writing and acting chores), Dre is more or less the producer. Deon, lightskind’d with good hair pulled into a braid that falls down his back, sports a white tee shirt and baggy blue jeans. The Silent Bob of the trio, he handles graphic design, designed their website and is co-cameraman. Jason, who works for the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) Center as a videographer and editor, is the most talkative of the trio. PSTOLA’s primary screenwriter and editor, and the director of all their shorts, he flosses a hybridity that encapsulates the group’s aesthetic and agenda: His thin but muscular forearms are heavily inked; his long hair is parted down the middle and braided for an effect that could either be Piru banger or Leimert Park boho, depending on what clothes he’s wearing – which today include an oversized brown tee-shirt and baggy, below-the-knee jean shorts. The sum effect of the various sartorial and hairstyle choices isn’t one of conflict, however, but a crackling wholeness. For all their differences, it’s the substantive points of connection – and reflection – that make the trio and their films work.

Excerpt 2:

      As the interview winds down, there’s a knock on Jason’s front door. It’s his neighbor and childhood chum, Nikki, armed with a pitcher of margaritas, a bong and some weed. Kisses all around because it’s her birfday, and they give a fuck ‘cause it really is her birfday. “Ya’ll just go on with your interview,” smiles Nikki, sitting on a corner of the bed and proceeding to pack the bong. Her arrival, and the goodies she’s brought, set the mood and stage for an impromptu example of a PSTOLA creative session at work.
      After he takes a hit from the bong, Dre wheezes and hands it back to Nikki, gasping, “Yo, you need some more water in this shit!” Everybody laughs.
      Relaxed by the party favors, Jason begins to reminisce about the days when there were real-life white people in the neighborhood, when kids could safely gather in the park a few blocks away from his home and it was a breeze to walk from his house to the local convenience market. “But I woke up one morning and there were so many muthafuckas dressed in red, it looked like the cover of the first Ice Cube album.”
      He and Nikki chuckle and shake their heads incredulously over a childhood friend who turned to gangbanging with the claim that he had no choice. “Nigga, get a job!” yells Jason, who then goes on to detail the browning of the “black” neighborhood. “Man, I was at the basketball court one day and these Training Day eses roll up, pushing one homeboy in a wheelchair – and his ass was clutching a prison basketball – and I’m standing there like, ‘Okay, how long can I stand here shooting hoops before I break, without my ass looking like a punk?’”
      “See,” interjects Dre, “that’s why I live in Culver City.”
      The room cracks up.
      “The thing that I love about Dre,” laughs Jason, “is that he’s a snob.”
      “Hella snob,” interjects Deon.
      “Yes,” concedes Dre, “I’m a hella snob. Once the rappers discover something and start rapping about it, I move on. No more Grey Goose for me ‘cause I’ve heard too many references to it in rhymes.”
      “And he ain’t one of these defeated niggas,” brags Jason. “He doesn’t use his color as an excuse for shit. In his mind, he ain’t only as good as any white boy, he runs circles around them. He definitely feels like he belongs anywhere he sets his mind on being, and that’s powerful.”
      A distant “Pop-pop-pop” sends Jason riffing on Halloween and New Year’s Eve celebrations in his once quiet neighborhood. “Man, niggas be firing off M-80s and shit, and no I am not exaggerating for effect. Real M-80s. And that shit starts, like in June – Happy 4th of July! That shit would not pop in a white neighborhood. Cops go on vacation and shit around here. Just straight pull out and don’t look back.”
      “Culver Ciiiiiity,” sings Dre, invoking laughter.
      “Yeah,” nods Deon sagely, “but is [living in Culver City] worth getting your ass pulled over by the cops every five minutes?”
      “Why, yes, son,” replies Dre in a nasal, over-enunciated delivery, “I think it is.” Dropping the Oreo inflections and sliding into educated Negro modulations, he adds, “The trick is to not be angry when you’re pulled over, but to be deeply hurt. Like white people.” The room roars in laughter, and he continues. “You gotta act like you’re just disappointed that they would even think to pull you over. But never angry, never belligerent.”
      “You gotta act like you Tom Bradley’s nephew,” pipes in Nikki, “like you might have read a book in your life and might actually know something about your rights.” Deon slaps his hands together and folds over in laughter.

Buy Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints

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