The System and the Nigger

Last night, I learned about the Theory of Incapability, shared by Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., who is a renowned diversity practitioner and founder of the White Privilege Conference. During his presentation, he described a friendship between a lion and a lamb. The two understandably have a difficult relationship because of their respective positions in nature’s system. The lion is the king of the jungle, whereas the lamb is a meek creature. One exemplifies dominance, while the other manifests inferiority…well not dominance. Additionally, in the system, the lion is supposed to eat and devour the lamb. Thus, according to the system, the lion is incapable of being friends with the lamb. Their friendship though is not impossible. For their friendship to flourish, the lion must work everyday, take action everyday, to fight against the system. The day that he stops working, he will undoubtedly succumb to the system and eat his friend, the lamb. Similarly, the lamb must work everyday, take action everyday, to fight against the inherit mistrust and fear of his friend, the lion. The day that he stops working, he will undoubtedly succumb to the system and avoid the lion at all cost.

I have a black male friend who is a young, talented educator. He has been promoted numerous times and now facilitates a program to help disadvantaged youth matriculate to college. Additionally, he was recently accepted into a prestigious and highly selective fellowship to further stimulate his professional development. On top of that, he is one of the most caring and trustworthy people I know. I am honored to call him my friend.

On these cold, dreary American streets, he is seen by many as a nigger. Nothing more.

I have a black female friend who is a doctor. She worked relentlessly in college, excelled on her entrance exams, and attended one of the best medical schools in the countries. Now she works at one of the best hospitals in the country. She is always willing to help, ready at anytime to assist a friend or patient in need.

Yet in those privileged hallways, she is seen by many as a nigger. Nothing more.

I can continue to share stories about my friends for hours, in part because I have amazing friends who are creating Black History with their presence and their added value in various companies and professions. However the unbending system of America, highlighted by various -isms, paints them only as niggers. Our country still, in 2012, has a difficult time looking at our young black boys and girls and seeing their enormous potential, their uncorrupted dreams, and their innocence. Sadly, many look at our children and expect them to grow up and become niggers. At the same time, there are many black men and women who are doing amazing things in different ways, and they too are simply recognized as niggers. Unfortunately, there are many in this country that think as if it is 1912, not 2012.

If we expand this system to include gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, ability, and others, we all experience some form of unearned privilege because of our birth. No reason to feel guilty about your privilege. Get over yourself and your privilege. The question becomes what are you going to do with that privilege? Will you be the lion, the dominant, privileged animal, that succumbs to the pervasive society? Or will you be the lion that works tirelessly to have a meaningful relationship with the lamb?

Your choice! And know that the work requires a daily commitment.

Happy Black History Month 2012!

 

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The Re-izing of Me

One of my favorite things about academia is its funnel cakes. Doesn’t academia sound like a highly intelligent theme park or something. A place where one can win overstuffed teddy bear prizes for correct grammar or for quick computation of random mathematical theorems. Words like academia are the reason I enjoy higher education. Truthfully, I enjoy the jargon, the language found in privileged academic settings. I love how professors would make any word of choice a verb by adding the the suffix, “-ize.” While in class, the newly constructed word clarified and illuminated whatever topic was discussed. My favorite example comes from an Africana Studies class in which the professor taught about the “niggerization” of the Negro. Wait, what? I only learned of the word’s secret when I tried to use said word in a paper and Microsoft Word’s vocabulary police, the squiggly red line patrol, appeared quickly.

“I’m not happy right now, though things are going well,” I hesitatingly whisper into the receiver, embarrassed at finding fault with a situation that overall is going well. “Something isn’t right though; I cannot place my hand on it, but I can feel it,” I continue. After listening to my friend empathize with me by sharing a similar feeling, I respond, “You’re right. I do need to reassess my goals.” A few minutes later, “I have to find a way to rekindle my desire.” Towards the end of the conversation, “I do have to recommit myself.”

When I hung up the phone, I noticed that many of my verbs used started with the prefix, “re.” I recognized that I needed to “re-ize” myself to get out of this current funk in which I am mired. Yes, I know “re-ize” is not a word (the squiggly red line is all under it), but like those Professor created words, it adds clarity to my situation.

 

Rihanna, Sex, and Chris Brown

 

Smash. Bang. Screw. Hit. Cut. Nail. Beat. Pipe.

The above slang words are all used to describe sex. Additionally, those words all have a violent undertone to them; they share a similar forcible imagery. Is sex a violent act of beating, smashing, and screwing? Either that or sex is like a handy job that requires verbs normally associated with tools and hard labor. One or the other. Notice the absence of love and care.

Enter Rihanna and Chris Brown.

A few years ago, prior to the 2009 Grammys, the country saw pictures of a battered Rihanna from the hands of her then-boyfriend, Chris Brown. I am a firm believer and proponent that one should not be punished repeatedly for the same thing. Thus, after he was sentenced, I personally moved on from the story and have paid absolutely no attention to the criticisms that were levied toward both Rihanna and Chris Brown.

Enter “Cake.”

One of the standout tracks (more like an interlude) from Rihanna’s most recent album. The track is a minute and twenty seconds of pure unadulterated desirable sexiness in audio form.

Enter “Cake Remix” featuring Chris Brown

When I initially heard that Rihanna and Chris Brown were going to do a song again, I thought that it would be a lesson in forgiveness, an opportunity for both of them to move beyond the unfortunate domestic abuse incident that will forever bind them together. I imagined a song that praised second chances. My high hopes were quickly dragged down to earth, and my expectations sunk even lower, toward the middle of the earth, when I learned they would remix, “Cake.”

Wait, what?

Why “Cake?” Last time I checked, Chris Brown and Rihanna are vocalists who have made millions of dollars from singing ballads, which seemed much more appropriate for their highly publicized and undoubtedly criticized reunion on wax. A song sung about forgiveness, or true love, or even Muppets would have sufficed. Anything other than “Cake.”

As a result, Chris Brown’s first words on the track are: “Girl, I wanna fck you right now (right now).”

Wait, what?

Chris, let me holler at you for one quick second. These are the first public words that you want to say to the woman whose face you assaulted with your hands. These are the first public words that you want to say to the woman whose battered picture covered every news website and blog for a couple days, resulting in embarrassment and humiliation for you both. These are the first public words that you want to say to the woman…to the woman that you claimed to love at one time.

Then again, one could easily remove the word, “fck” and replace it with any of the eight words at the top and the phrase will still make sense. Consequently, the violent undertone would remain in tact.

Notice the absence of love and care.

And it’s not even her birthday.

 

And Then There Was X

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An urban preacher, one whose life mirrors the lyrics of “Amazing Grace,” DMX ended the night, fittingly, with a prayer. More specifically, the packed crowd at SOBs was made privy to a conversation between Dark Man X and his God. Filled with passion, his voice highlighted by purpose and streaked with strong undertones of pain, X pleaded with his Lord for protection, discernment, and guidance. Instead of asking the crowd to hold hands and lift them, unified, to the sky, as most preachers end their service, DMX instructed his congregation to form an X with their forearms high over their heads. Same effect, unity. The service, The show had come to a conclusion.

I first remember hearing the DMX’s gruff sound, peppered by random vocal inflections, on LL Cool J’s 1997 single “4,3,2,1.” DMX was the least known rapper at the time, but his verse is the one that I can recite in its entirety. The lines,” Let me get what’s between your sock, cause it’s better to give/than receive,/Believe what I say when I tell ya/Don’t make me put ya somewhere where nobody’ll smell ya” are filled with horror and violence. In order to survive, DMX urges his soon-to-be-robbed victim to give him what he wants, the victim’s possessions. At the same time, he spits a religiously held truism, “It’s better to give than receive” masked within his lyrical wordplay robbery.

And from that moment, he gained a fan.

He continued to crush his appearances, claiming the clean up spot (traditionally, the hottest verse of a rap collaboration comes at the end) on Mase’s “24 Hours to Live” and The Lox’s “Money, Power, Respect.” With each successful track, he built his buzz and his fan base. Then in 1998, he released his first single, “Get At Me Dog.” It was the audio version of pure mayhem. It incited riot like behavior. Every time that song came on, my high school freshman version of me wanted needed to bump someone or something. The kinetic energy evoked had to be released and transferred or else in would result in instantaneous combustion.

Then he dropped his classic album, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot.” From the “Intro” to the end of the album, he mixes uber-violent stories with heart wrenching clarity while providing introspective rhymes of hope, love, and death. This album touched me. As a fourteen year old pubescent young man, feeling apathy, angst, desire, amongst other seemingly contradictory feelings, X spoke to me. He disclosed his tortured soul for millions to witness. In doing so, he connected meaningful with a fan base, who regardless of their position in life understood struggle and longed for good. He connected to me.

In 1998, DMX was a bigger, more influential rapper than Jay-Z. Don’t debate me on this one; it’s a fact. He had two four time platinum albums in the same year. And then his third album, released the following year, went six times platinum. Unreal.

He introspectively spiked his rhymes with moments of self-loathing and self-acceptance long before Joe Budden.
He exposed his emotionally honest caution of women and fame long before Drake.
He harmonized his rhymes with a melodic flow long before TI.
He reminded many of Tupac’s passion and relentless work ethic.
He told stories with a similar deftness and charm as Notorious BIG.
It will be a challenge to find a rapper after 1997 that X has not influenced.

More importantly, his influence during the developmental apex of my transition into adulthood is the reason I stayed in SOBs cramped and musty showroom, listening to awful opening acts. I needed to see the Dog perform live. Like the hundreds of rabid DMX fans in attendance, I wanted to give back the support and love that he unknowingly gave to me during my youth. Nostalgia on tilt.

When he hit the stage, the crowd erupted. We were all fans; no one played the cool industry type that is unimpressed with whoever is performing. Nope, not that night, and definitely not for him. He performed for an hour and a half, hit after hit, expect for his newest songs whose beats and delivery were trapped in the late 90s. Even at the lowest moments of the show, namely when he rapped his new material, the energy in the crowd was high. While I was not a huge fan of his later albums, the three produced after the calendar turned to 2000, I bounced off my friends in attendance. And they bounced off of me. We had to do so.

We, like DMX, all ended the night as a sweatier version of our neatly dressed “us” (sidenote: I wore a white tee, black hoodie, and timberlands) that entered those SOBs doors a few hours earlier. At the end of the performance, we all ended with our forearms, forming a X, over our heads.

Only Winter on the Weekends

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“She said, ‘Excuse me, lil homie, I know you don’t know me/But my name is Wendy and I like to blow trees.'” -Kanye West, Homecoming

This past Wednesday and Thursday, I wore a light spring jacket to work as the temperature tightrope walked around 60 degrees. It’s February though; the weather should not be this warm. No complaints from me during this warm weathered winter, although my heart aches for the potential disastrous effects when the snow caps begin to melt (if they haven’t already begun to do so). Last winter, which saw the New York City public school system close for a snow day for the first time in over a decade, made me contemplate leaving my beloved city that never sleeps. That winter made New York City feel like the city that always snowed with bone freezing temperatures a la Green Bay (Wisconsin) or Waterville (Maine). I was constantly shoveling out my car, complaining about the lack of heat in my apartment, and being cold all the time. This year’s warm weathered winter, on the other had, makes me contemplate never leaving my city because I can handle this kind of weather.

Until the weekend!

New York experienced a random early snow storm in October. When did it happen? On the weekend.

A couple of weeks, NYC experienced a heavy sleet storm. When did it happen? Yep, on the weekend.

What about this weekend, you ask?

On Friday, there was an annoyingly cold mix of rain and snow throughout the entire day. Currently, as I type this post (for the second time) my windows are being physically assaulted by the aforementioned invisible assailant. It sounds like my window must have stolen money from the wind.

The wind will not let anyone traversing these cold, only on the weekend, NYC streets be great. Nope, not at all. No country for outdoor weekend activities in New York City this winter, which is depressingly tough because New York is the city that always walks.

My Crush

I have a huge crush on Liz Lemon Tina Fey. She is the lead writer for NBC’s critically acclaimed show, “30 Rock.”Her character, Liz Lemon, is a socially awkward, talented writer who is described in the first episode as a “New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single-and-pretending-to-be-happy-about-it, over-scheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says ‘healthy body image’ on the cover and every two years you take up knitting for…a week.” And she makes me swoon with her stress eating, non-traditional feminine interests, and long list of phobias.

Since it’s Friday, I decided to share with you a few of my favorite Liz Lemon quotes.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t recognize my college futon, with its trademark absence of sex stains?”

“For instance, Jack taught me not to wear tan slacks with a tan turtleneck. I thought it looked nice, but he, rightly, pointed out that it made me look like a giant condom.”

“If I could push a button and five people in the world would die, but I’d get free cable for life, I’d do it.”

“I will not calm down! Women are allowed to get angrier than men about double standards”

“I’m going to tell Drew that I’m having a little welcome-to-the-building party for him, but there is no party and then when he shows up I’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh it’s the wrong night.’ And then he’ll laugh and say, ‘One glass couldn’t hurt,’ and then I will put my mouth on his mouth.”

“Tracy took advantage of my white guilt, which is supposed to be used only for good, like overtipping and supporting Barack Obama.”

[Regarding her religion] ” Hmm, I pretty much just do whatever Oprah tells me to.”

” Who hasn’t made mistakes? I once French kissed a dog at a party to try to impress what turned out to be a very tall 12-year-old.”

 

 

The Message

I love comedians! They are sociologists and psychologists who dispense comedic medicine for the soul. The only channel I watch consistently, other than ESPN, is Comedy Central, especially during the weekend when they have the stand up comedy marathons (sidenote: TNT is also up there because of basketball games, but more importantly Law and Order: Special Victims Unit; is it just me or does hour-long blocks of time disappear from the day when there is a SVU marathon on TNT?). The other night, in honor of Bernie Mac’s passing, Comedy Central presented stand up comedy routines from other black comedians, and I watch Eddie Griffin’s special.

In the above clip, Eddie Griffin observes that different religions argue about who is messenger? Jesus Christ? Allah? Buddha? The punchline of the joke is: did you get the message?

Did you get the message?

Much of our understanding of language results from our understanding of non-verbal communication, better known as body language. Some researchers have listed the percentage of communication understood through words at a paltry 7% (sidenote: maybe this explains why men, stereotypically, do not talk much in relationships). Our words account for less than 10% of what other understand when we speak. Less than 10%.

Did you get the message?

As we all sat around the large harkness table, a table designed to provoke conversation and encourage participation by enabling all participants to see each other, I listen. I listen to my colleague propose this pilot program that he would like to begin next fall. I raise my hand, and when called upon, I challenge his idea. I can see the benefits of the program, but think that we can adjust a current program we have to meet the proposed goals without the added cost. He retorts; though, we seated next to each other, he chooses not to make eye contact with him, but instead chooses to make eye contact with other members around the harkness table. He ends his defensive response, and I listen some more as other colleagues agree with him. Someone asks if I now understand the proposal. I respond, “I do, but…” I clearly lay out my opposition because neither his response nor their additional comments have satisfied my query. I can see my colleague’s frustration bubble to the top; he has this who-are-you-to-disagree-with-me, pretentious affect, which unfortunately is his day to day disposition. Someone to our left speaks, he turns to answer her. When he turns to face her, his back is now turned to me. After he addresses her question, he begins to speak to me. Addressing me with his back turned to me, I sit back bewildered at his rude and obnoxious body language.

Did you get the message?

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five had a classic song entitled, “The Message” and the chorus seemed apt at this moment:

Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under