Somebody Has To Say It…

October 8, 2008

I Hate You So Much Right Now

Let me begin by thanking Kelis for that rather catchy anthem. You didn’t have to whoop bro’ like that in the video, but I ain’t made atcha.

Last night, somewhere between “That one” and the handshake that wasn’t, I realized that John McCain is one hostile dude. Actually, I already knew it, but he had done a fair to middlin’ job of hiding it, so when that hate percolated its way to the top, it was actually a bit of a surprise.

But the Junior Senator from Illinois didn’t even let a frown touch his face. I mean, the Old Guy just demeaned you on national television, and you just sit there looking content. Shaft was not even that cool.

I’ve been talked about a few times in my life, sometimes even to my face. There is no overstating the impulse to slap the taste out of somebody’s mouth, and in general, the only thing that held me back was the fact that my employment would probably end shortly after the backhand. So after months of some of the most demeaning and vitriolic comments ever directed at a human being, especially one who’s running for President of these supposedly United States of America, how can The Black Man Who Would Be President stand there, poised beyond measure, and listen to something so blatantly condescending?

It’s because he knows. He knows what Muhammed Ali knew in the seventh round against George Foremen. He knows what Michael Jordan knew when he stole the ball from Karl Malone. He knows what Tiger Woods knows when he sees his name at the top of a Major’s leaderboard at the end of the third round. And he knows what Usain Bolt knew as soon as the starter pulled the trigger.

“I got you.”

 I like the way Big Man  puts it:

Slowly, but surely he is cutting off John McCain’s wind. He doesn’t rush, he doesn’t falter. No matter which way McCain ducks and dodges, Obama pursues him, his mouth filled with a confident smirk. It’s similar to the hungry grin wolves give their prey before they go down the gullet.

You see, Ali already knew Foreman wouldn’t make it to the next bell; Jordan’s game-winning jumper was just an afterthought– all you had to do was look at Malone’s face when that ball got swiped; Tiger knows that no other golfer is capable of withstanding the relentless pressure that comes with having to tee off next to him; and Usain has no opponents, period.

But just winning is not enough. In Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” our protagonist makes it clear that true revenge requires that the victim not only knows exactly who is getting revenge, but neither the victim nor anyone else can do anything about it. Let’s face it– most Black men just don’t get to visit that place. And for John McCain (and Hillary Clinton before him), that reality has sucked out his very soul.

McCain can’t even look at him, but Obama can stare him down all across the stage. McCain won’t even shake his hand, but that’s okay, because by the time Brokaw told him to move out of his camera shot, it was all over but the cryin’. 

Unfortunately for McCain, I doubt Kelis’s little ditty is available on 8-track, so he may not be able to hear it for himself. But oh, how appropriate it would be as he sits on one of his porches with his space cadet of a wife, stuck in “I could have been,” to have that little ode to acrimony blasting incessantly in his good ear.

August 24, 2008

Reality Check

I had never seen that look before, at least not from an adult. It was a combination of bewilderment, astonishment, instability, and fear, and as she spoke to me I could tell that the confluence of emotions she was experiencing was not only unfamiliar, but totally unexpected. It was the morning of October 3, 1995, a few minutes after 10:00am. Like an estimated 150 million other people, our lives had just paused momentarily as the verdict of the century was announced. Now, in the aftermath, we could hear the unabashed jubilation just down the hall, where probably every Black employee except me was high-fiving and dapping and generally exalting in the euphoria of O.J. being found not guilty. Now don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t displeased with the verdict, but even at that moment I was wondering what would happen next. After watching the news break with everyone else, I had simply walked away back towards my office, which by and large was the same thing most White employees had done.

She was the Executive Officer (XO) of the command (this was during my Navy career)– the second in command– and from what I’d heard and seen of her, had most likely lived a life devoid of any significant difficulty. In fact, I really didn’t care for her (and as it turned out later, neither she for me) because her comments and decisions consistently showed little understanding of the real world. One of our more heated discussions had centered around granting a waiver for a young Black man who was trying to enlist. He was married with three children, and this XO was refusing to sign off on the waiver because “I don’t think it will be fair to his family, because junior enlisted just don’t make enough money.” Amazingly, at least to me, she couldn’t understand that the young man was currently unemployed and living in the projects of Los Angeles. He was desperately trying to take advantage of the best opportunity in his life, and she was denying it because, quite frankly, she was measuring his immediate future against her own standard of living.

Anyway, as I walked by her office, she glanced up. She’d had her head in her hands, face down. She looked at me and said, slowly, “How could they find him not guilty?” I’m not sure if the question was rhetorical, or whether she really wanted me to help her understand, but I merely shrugged and walked away. I realized that her world, her comfort zone, her understanding of how things have to be– all of this had been shattered when the unimaginable happened. I would have to imagine that she was not alone; all over these supposedly United States, White people were grappling with the unthinkable. Famous Black man, two dead White people, and the courts– the one institution that White society had counted on for decades– had just failed them, undermining the most fundamental of societal rules: White lives must always be protected and avenged.

As I listen and read the astounding rhetoric flowing in this year’s presidential campaign, and often stand flabbergasted at the venom cast towards Barack Obama, I wonder what the morning of November 5, 2008 will reveal. Over and over again I’ve heard White people say “I’ve been a Democrat all my life, but there’s no way I’m voting for him.” Then, realizing what such talk could potentially reveal, they hastily add “He just doesn’t have enough experience,” or “I just can’t buy into his economic plans,” or something equally camouflaging. But if, and that’s an “if” of historic proportions, Obama wins, will we see that look again, now on the faces of millions of Americans who cannot imagine a White House that isn’t, well, White? Nearly 13 years later, the O.J. verdict is enough to send many White people into horrific tirades, railing against the courts, the media, and even the late Johnny Cochrane. Some pundits tried to spin it as though much of America’s racial polarization was being exposed, and the resulting dialogue must be beneficial. The realization, though, has been just as much, if not more, animosity and public rushes to judgment. Michael Vick, though hardly a saint, deserved prison no more than someone ticketed for traveling five miles over the speed limit, but the comparisons to O.J. flew quickly. “We can’t let another one get away” was the not so subtle message, and his sentencing, for some, was a signal that order had not been completely usurped.

For the next couple of weeks we will enjoy the conventions, be inspired or incensed (depending on your political leanings) by the speeches, and might even be entertained, in a deviant sort of way, if Hillary Clinton tries to pull some “No she didn’t” shenanigans in Denver. Then, for a few short weeks, the real mudslinging will begin, with actual issues being tossed on the back burner. Accusations will fly, counteraccusations will immediately follow. For millions of us, Black, White, and otherwise, our personal boogeymanometers will be in overload, as either Obama or McCain will be portrayed as, in short, our worst possible nightmare.

But, the day will come. Many of us will go to the polls for the first time, believing for a change that our votes do matter, that we are a viable part of the political process, and that we are becoming a part of history. And then, when the counting is done, and the 21st century’s first really compelling question has finally been answered, how will America respond?

I pray that it won’t simply be with that look.

August 8, 2008

Change We’d Better Believe In

Mayor Corey Booker (Newark), Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (Detroit), Senator Barack Obama (The Man Who Would Be POTUS)

From top left (clockwise): Mayor Corey Booker (Newark), Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (Detroit), Senator Barack Obama (The Man Who Would Be POTUS)

 

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others,
By the time I finish my song?

Ah, the sweet, innocent days of childhood, when we would run and play and not be concerned with grown folks’ problems. Every now and then – and I know I’m not the only one– I long to return to the time when my mistakes resulted in a loving butt whoopin’, and not the lead story on CNN. Of course, I know I can’t go back to those days, and even though I’m not really, really high profile, like, say, mayor of the 11th largest city in the United States of America, I realized long ago that to whom much is given, much is required. Wait– let’s put that a different way: “If you don’t want me to go there, don’t take me there.”

Kwame, Kwame, Kwame…what in the deepest corner of Hades is wrong with you? Eight  Nine Jeez, 10 felony counts! Your Wiki entry reads like something from a Death Row Records wannabe, but then, maybe that’s part of the problem. You come from distinguished political genes, and from all I’ve seen and read, have had the potential for an extraordinary career in public service. Given your pedigree and parents’ connections, “Senator Kwame Kilpatrick (D-MI)” was well within the realm of possibility. But, and maybe I’m being superficial here, when I look at your pictures, something is amiss. I know, clothes don’t make the man, but let’s deal with reality here– in this American game, especially the variation they call politics, image is everything. If you want to be the next CEO of DefJam, then slap on the cream-colored double-breasted zoot suit with the white Fedora and have at it. But if you want to be the next force within American politics, you should look like you’re about business, and not like a four letter word that rhymes with limp. 

When you know better, you do better, and I refuse to believe that you don’t know better. Now at least one person is going to say “Why should he have to change his ways just to play their game?” Well, there’s your answer– it’s not our game, and if we want to have any chance at winning, we’d better learn how to play it better than them, but with a whole lot less margin for error.  Your substance may be there, but perspective is at least 110% of reality– You may love your twists, you may not want to cut your twists, but trust me on this– when you don’t get that job you know you’re qualified for, bro’, it’s because of the twists. I wrote a line in a song a couple of weeks ago that said “I know you think this life ain’t fair, but cryin’ never made nobody care.” Catch my drift? Good…Now go cut your hair and start acting like a grown man.

Kwame, when all is said and done, I sincerely hope you can prove your innocence. But no matter what, it would behoove the rest of us to pay close attention to this lesson, and remember: The most powerful revolutions happen from inside the organization.

August 1, 2008

Much Sillier Than You Imagined, Senator Obama

A couple of months ago, when it became apparent that in spite of Hillary Clinton’s extraordinary denial of reality, Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee for POTUS, I predicted that around the end of September we might very well see some of the ugliest behavior in this country since the height of Jim Crow.

I was wrong…we didn’t make it that long. Having been mystified by whatever message John McCain was trying to send with the Obama-Hilton-Spears joke of an ad, I don’t really believe my fragile psyche was ready for this.

The fear-mongering right has long been spewing the “Obama is your messiah” nonsense, but, and maybe I’m more naive than I thought, I didn’t believe McCain and his minions would resort to such tomfoolery. But there’s the proof, and as someone once said “He’s reached rock bottom and started to dig.”

Desperation is pretty much universally an ugly thing, but when it is emanating from someone who aspires to be leader of the free world, well, it’s downright abhorrent. At this point, McCain is not only engaging in the lowest form of campaigning, but he appears to be quite happy about it– kind of the “pig in slop” syndrome. Of course, as I’ve said before, Senator Obama is nobody’s fool– especially not McCain’s– so in his usually dapper and unruffled manner he is showing that he knows better than to wrestle with a pig (or argue with an idiot). He continues to take the high road (although the face on money quip was definitely a good one), continues to talk about real issues and what he plans on doing about them, and continues to carry himself like “The Man Who Would Be President” ought to carry himself. In contrast, Senator McCain apparently knows even less about dignity than he does about Middle East geography– and that’s saying something.

I would love to say that this is as bad as it gets, but let’s be honest– by November I wouldn’t be surprised if McCain is telling “Yo Mama” jokes and passing out Oreos, all the time claiming he’s just pointing out the “differences between myself and Barack.”

A couple of days ago, Obama made a profound and insightful statement: “It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”

In November, we have a chance to show the world, and ourselves, that we can rise above the mistruths, gimmicks, and mudslinging that is steadily characterizing this presidential campaign, and indeed return to our best traditions while restoring the world’s faith in America.

But until then…stand by.

 
 

 

July 13, 2008

I may as well comment on Jesse Jackson, too.

I saw a funny thing on the net today. There was a picture of the good Rev. Jesse, in front of a microphone as usual, with a caption saying “Rev. Jackson– Sen. Obama hasn’t spoken with civil rights leader about his comments.” A little further over was a picture of Senator Obama, looking suave and relaxed as usual, with a caption that read “On Recession– Sen. Barack Obama is pushing for another economic stimulus package.”

I could stop right there, and I think most of us would recognize the difference and the symbolism of it all, but I’ll keep going for posterity’s sake. Okay, are you ready? Here’s the bombshell–

Jesse Jackson doesn’t matter.

    

 

 Of course, most Black people, especially those with any semblance of socio/politico/cultural understanding (and here’s a surprise mainstream media– many, many, many of us do) already are well aware of that, and get peculiar amusement from watching the various clueless talking heads running to get the good Rev. Jesse’s opinion. But this past week brought us into not a new arena, but certainly one we thought would be publicly avoided. You see, several months ago, when Barack Obama’s campaign was just a trivial tremor on the political map, and not the full-scale earthquake it’s grown into, I wrote (on another forum) that the “Old Black Guard” (or OBG) would, sooner or later, start actin’ ugly. We’ve already seen Blackellectuals like Tavis Smiley doing the “he ain’t the right one” song and dance. And of course there’s old Bootyshakin’ Bob Johnson, who probably doesn’t have a bone of cultural conscientiousness in his body, but who acts like money makes him a spokesman for Black America. Those two were fairly predictable– in Tavis’s case, I suspect he had begun believing that he was going to be the “Next One,” and is a bit miffed that Obama beat him to it. And Bob is stupid rich. You know how that is.

It’s the OBG, though, that I felt posed the biggest threat to undermine what should be (and really already is) the most historic event of our generation. Let me explain where the OBG comes from. Since the death of Dr. King, the dogfight to be “Leader of Black America” has required at least one of three things:

1) the term “Reverend” in front of your name,

2) well-known affiliation with the NAACP, SCLC, or Urban League, and/or

3) born and raised in the south, specifically Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, or Louisiana.

Senator Barack Obama fits none of that criteria, and the OBG who “marched right beside Dr. King and been on the battlefield of civil rights all my life” are not just resentful, but downright hateful. Now, prudence maintains that no matter how acrimoniously they view Obama, that rancor had better remain private. For some of them, like John Lewis, sooner or later there’s going to be an election with their names on it, and the people who vote (and pay attention to backstabbing) are going to make them pay. For young OBG’s like Tavis (in the club because he survived growing up in Mississippi), it means black listeners calling Tom Joyner and telling Tavis to shut the hell up. But what about the good Reverends, especially when there is no actual church to lose? Jeremiah Wright? Retired, and then proceeded to try and throw Obama as far under the bus as he could get him. Al Sharpton? Since the beginning there have been rumblings out of New York about Rev. Al’s jealousy. At least one source says he told Obama to “Stop grandstanding in front of White people” when Obama called for non-violence after the Sean Bell verdict. But to his credit, even Rev. Al crawled out to criticize Rev. Jesse after the latter’s deer-in-the-headlights moment on Fox News. You mean you didn’t think the microphone was on? And a camera too?! What do you mean you heard me whispering that ghettofied foolishness and then making a motion like I was cutting hair under the table?

Yes, Rev. Jesse, today you look like a complete fool– but that’s to the mainstream media. To Black people, you look just like you did the day before – an egotistical, arrogant, underhanded hypocrite willing to do and say anything for fifteen more minutes, historical opportunity be damned. Fortunately, most of the OBG has the common sense to avoid such a scenario, but you– well you just don’t know when to say when.

June 23, 2008

Waiting for…?

Milwaukee

I’m sure there are hundreds of images of the flooding in the Midwest, and in those hundreds there are many faces representing the utter devastation these people have faced and continue to endure. Yet, this is the first one I’ve seen that featured Black people, and frankly, it is beyond discouraging.

A couple of weeks ago, a poster on a forum that I visit quite regularly (okay, twenty times a day) opened a thread with the title “Am I a Racist?”  I’m going to print verbatim what he said:

This morning, when I was watching the news, I first saw a news flash about the floods in Iowa, I was completely floored. I prayed for the people who were evacuated, and whose homes were destroyed. I then made the comment that “the level of water was comparable, if not worse, than that in New Orleans after Katrina. However, Iowa is full of white midwesterners, so I doubt there will be any looting. Furthermore, these people will more than likely be quick to rebuild instead of waiting on Fema to show up and fix it. While New Orleans still looks like a war zone, I am willing to Bet that Grand Rapids looks the same it did last week, if not better, inside of 8 months.”
After saying this, and realizing that I believed it, I asked the question, does this assumption make me a racist?

After a bit of back and forth, the subject moved to affirmative action, and its impact on Black society. I then posted the following:

The problem is that in spite of its stated original purpose (a temporary forced righting of the ship), it has become institutionalized, with only a small percentage of people each year/generation managing to leap out of its quagmirish cycle. Many of us know that it needs to go, but without some support system in its place, it will result in immediate levels of economic destitution for millions of Americans who, having never had a reason to become self-sufficient, will have no idea where to begin. This is not what Dr. King wanted. Never once did he campaign for affirmative action or handouts– just for a level playing field. What we got has done immeasurable harm to black society, which for 500 years survived because of its ability to adapt and overcome.

In fairness, the picture above, and the apparently bizarre circumstances that surround it (http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=764962) are from Milwaukee, not Des Moines nor anywhere else in Iowa. Approximately twenty percent of Milwaukee’s one and half million residents are Black, yet the pictures of this morning’s debacle show no other apparent ethnicities waiting in line for a handout. Further into the article, it states that 92 counties in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Indiana have been declared eligible for the Disaster Food Stamp Program. I wonder if the scene in Milwaukee played out anywhere else. Are non-Black flood victims in other counties standing in line all day because they “heard vouchers were being given out?” Maybe, maybe not. I have no way of knowing, and to be honest, I would not trust the mainstream media to publicize such events if they did occur.

However, I’m concerned about us– Black Americans. As a people, have we been conditioned to wait for help? Do we lack the resourcefulness, knowledge, and/or desire to overcome adversity on our own? For hundreds of years, we could have given up, but we didn’t. Now, with opportunities standing before us that even Dr. King couldn’t have dreamed, are we resolved to stand with hands outstretched and palms upward, dependent on “somebody” to fix things for us? Yes, I understand economic disparity. Yes, I understand substandard schools. Yes, I certainly understand abject poverty. But I also understand perseverance and self-determination, and I’m wondering where it has gone.

The flooding in the Midwest has wreaked complete havoc on lives. That is beyond debate. For many people, Black, White, and everything in between, there was no time to prepare or plan. Such is the nature of natural disasters. I know that if such a disaster were to strike my town, I, too, would be struggling to protect and provide for my family.  Maybe the people in Milwaukee were facing a level of desperation with which I simply cannot identify, and maybe that desperation is what caused them to begin pushing and shoving, injuring some people as they fought for a handout that wasn’t even there. Again, I don’t know, and really, much of what I’m writing is just conjecture because I’m not there to see it for myself.

But something about this picture bothers me, deeply.  For now, I’m just going to read more and think more. Maybe tomorrow no one will be waiting.

 

 

 

June 20, 2008

Barack Obama is Not Angry…

Senator Barack Obama is many things. He is a skilled orator, a visionary with star power, and a brilliant politician and skillful strategist. However, he is not angry, and that is what scares you.

The Angry Black Man is America’s unnamed, generically black-faced boogeyman. We see him on the evening news– that menacing dark face that seems devoid of care or concern. We see him on athletic fields, ferocious and violent in his quest for physical superiority. And we see him on the streets, the weight of years of malevolent thoughts crushing his dreams and aspirations until, predictably, he explodes in mindless rage, giving you the license you crave to lock him up, discard him, and remove him from your civilized society. As fearful as you may be of the Angry Black Man, you are most comfortable with him, because society nods its collective head in agreement as you put him safely away from your wives and children. Yes, the Angry Black Man is the perpetual threat to your way of life, and for five-hundred years you have continued to justify your disdain for him.

Barack Obama is not an Angry Black Man, and you have become desperate in your attempts to drive him there. America knows that Minister Farakkhan is the angriest Angry Black Man of all, but try as you might, you could not link Barack Obama to him in any sensible way. Then you found what appeared to be your trump card, Jeremiah Wright. Oh, in a YouTube world, he personified anger as no other could. So you trotted him out on your stage, inviting him to speak for no compelling reason, at least to the layman. But you knew that if you gave him a chance, he would show that anger one more time. We can ignore the fact that many Black men of his generation are disappointed in this land of milk and honey, and that Black ministers near and far explode in similar fashion each Sunday morning. Jeremiah Wright was your connection, and you threw him in Barack Obama’s face with a vengeance.

But Barack Obama is not an Angry Black Man, so his reaction was not what you expected. Why, you challenged his church! He had to lose his cool, didn’t he? No, he didn’t, and when he reacted with calm, with reason, and with eloquence, you became unnerved. You attempted to link him with the supposed religion of a father he barely knew. You posted photos with vague and misleading (often fictional) anecdotes. Even now you are circulating the most ludicrous story of all, alleging that the Senator has been planted by your other convenient boogeymen– Al Queda. We know that there is no low that you will not dig under, but this seems absurd even for politics. Sadly, however, it doesn’t end, because when you realized nothing else was working, you attacked the one thing that surely would anger even the most stoic of Black men. You attacked his wife.

But Barack Obama is not an Angry Black Man, and he is also not an ignorant Black Man. He saw your intent long before you fully realized it, and steeled himself against your nonsense. He warned you, simply and without vitriol, to leave his wife alone. And that was that. Barack Obama knows that an Angry Black Man not only cannot stand in front of America, but he cannot even stand with America. You would cast him aside in abject horror, your women and children cowering in make-believe fear as you, the Hero, leap grandly forward to protect them from the boogeyman you’ve warned them about for so long. That is what you are so desperately waiting for, praying for, begging for before November. So you cast mindless dispersions, initiate unsubstantiated rumors, and rekindle decades of illogical racial fears. Each claim is more outlandish, more outrageous, more ridiculous than the previous, but that doesn’t matter, because contrary to what many people think, you are not employing Hillary Clinton’s Kitchen Sink theory. You know that your claims lack substance, and that you and others are simply playing a game of political fish stories, where decorum, morality, and basic decency are, at best, subject to interpretation. You are not really concerned that the unlearned and easily misled among you will be swayed by these tall tales. No, your objective, pure and simple, is to make him mad. You need him snarling and agitated, eyes bloodshot and bulging– the very essence of your boogeyman.

But Barack Obama is not an Angry Black Man, and that is what really scares you.

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