Thursday, November 29, 2007

Victims to victors (and back again?)

I was watching Oprah not too long ago (I know. I'm sorry...). On the show were Drs. Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint as they discussed their new book Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. This book is the latest in the long list of public appearances and open discourse they've had regarding the state of today's black community. Their forums -- controversial as they be -- are calling on the Black community to be more aggressive in their advocacy for change and community improvement. Not surprisingly, their commentary has been met with opposition; mostly from public intellectuals like Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, who insist that they place too much emphasis on personal responsibility and not enough on the systemic and structural racism that exists. Further, opponents contend that "airing dirty laundry" allows many in White America (especially conservatives) to justify their own bigotry by using observations from other blacks like Cosby and Poussaint as a support system.

Truthfully, I see both sides of the argument.

On the one hand, I completely understand how some of Cosby and Poussaint's biggest critics can get incensed by their observations. Looking at their commentary from a certain vantage point, I can see how it can be perceived as being generationally out of touch, classist, and unbalanced.

To address the first point regarding the generational breakdown; for some time now, Dr. Cosby has been waging war on young people; particularly as it relates to how they embrace a certain urban culture that often includes activities, images, and representation that have negative implications. But what Drs. Cosby and Poussaint fail to note is how complex many elements of urban culture truly are. Now I'm not exactly a hip-hop subscriber myself. But even I can tell that many circles of hip hop go beyond simply celebrating thuggery, drugs, misogyny, violence, and the vacuous pursuit of material. There are quite a few mechanisms in place through the urban community that speak directly to the importance of education, community awareness, the harsh conditions of the streets, and the presence of systemic racism in law enforcement, the courts, and society at large. But messages like these are often ignored simply because the entire platform of hip hop is disparaged by the likes of Cosby and Poussaint. Simply put, some of their messages about black folks living outside of our means, killing each other, and promoting ignorance can sometimes be found in the very rap lyrics that they are so vehemently against.

Moving on to the next point, many critics tend to view the antics and commentary of people like Drs. Cosby and Poussaint as being laced with a great deal of classism. Though I don't think that is at all their intention, one would be hard pressed to disagree. One of the problems with how they (and other "well off" black folks) delivery their message is that their commentary typically suggests a level of antipathy toward poor and lower class blacks. Oftentimes, that antipathy is unfairly assigned. For instance, I read an amazing book by Barbara Ehrenreich called Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America; where she experimented by taking on a series of unskilled jobs while trying to earn a living. Yet she was unable to make ends meet. Such is the case with many poor blacks. They have solid work ethic and an interest to take care of their families; but because of certain precipitating events (racism, the ills of job outsourcing, corporate greed, low wages), they are often left out of the "American Dream".

Speaking to the last point, I understand why Blacks are sensitive to criticism about their lifestyles; albeit constructive. When analyses and cultural criticisms appear to be unbalanced and conveniently discount social, economic, and political deficiencies that create the problem, the 'victim' tends to get more offended when you place the blame squarely on them. The unfortunate consequence of this type of critical analysis -- though somewhat on point -- is that it can get lost if it isn't balanced by an understanding and an appreciation of the systemic problems that contribute just as much to this plight.

Still, I think that critics of Drs. Cosby and Poussaint should stop and really listen to the message they are trying to convey; regardless to how poor and incomplete the delivery might be. They talk about how gangs, drug/alcohol addiction, violence, and ignorance should be viewed in the same light as the other nefarious forces that exist in this society. Jim Crowism no longer "keeps us down". Now it's B.E.T. The Klan no longer terrorizes our neighborhood (at least not to the same extent as it once did). Now it's young black teenagers who are committing the assaults. It's no longer the George Wallaces of the world who work assiduously to keep blacks out of college. We're the ones voluntarily dropping out of high school. Simply put, in many cases, we're the ones self-imposing things that threaten our advancement and indeed our very survival.

Rather than painting black folks as sad and pathetic victims of circumstance, people like Cosby and Poussaint seek to empower us to control our own lives. They challenge parents to play a more active role in determining what images their children are exposed to; particularly when that imagery is the product of what we throw out there ourselves. True, most of the enterprise out there has a great deal of corporate sponsorship/ownership; but we are the ones being portrayed. Cosby and Poussaint are trying to urge us to be more actively engaged in promoting education in the community. They are calling for us to manage our households. They are calling for us to be more fiscally responsible. Frankly, there is nothing classist about that. They're using their "bully pulpit" in a responsible and necessary manner.

Again, I don't deny that there are major social obstacles in place that can hinder progress. But now is the time for the black community to have a renewed mind when facing those challenges. Let's take Oprah for example. Sure, she can be pretty shallow; especially with some of her ridiculous talk-show and magazine coverage and how she flaunts her money. Sure, she panders to middle-aged white woman far more than a person ever should (interestingly, the same thing can be said of most rappers; who largest consumer markets are white teenagers). But she is also a black woman who, by her success, wealth accumulation, and philanthropy; is living the life. This coming about in spite of racism. Though she is a rare case of insane success, the possibility of emerging from dysfunctional and oppressive environments is not at all inconceivable. True, not everybody can earn the status as an uber-billionaire in the same fashion that Oprah did. Only so many black people can cater to the interests of White America before the novelty wears off (are you listening Wayne Brady?). Nevertheless, the possibilities for other forms of success are as attainable now as they have ever been. That being the case, I see nothing wrong with one of us who "made it" occasionally lighting a fire under everybody else's ass.

What's often deplorable is that any time a Black person makes even a slightly critical assessment of other blacks, they are labeled as an Uncle Tom, classists, or as being apologetic for/dismissive toward racism. But if you believe that, you must also believe that their attempts to improve the conditions of Black America are somehow wrong as well. That, to me, is a ridiculous claim. This country is full of great people who have emerged despite the mounting structural disorders they faced. So rather than solely channeling out frustrations at Cosby, why not use our resources to confront both the systemic problems AND the ones that we create?

Holla at me!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Blogger of the Month

Now that I've been able to finally get through midterms, get some sleep, recover from the debacle that is University of Michigan football and set two minutes aside to stop being mad at the world I can get back into the blogging scene. Somewhat. Indeed, there's plenty to talk about, but when I put myself in the frame of mind to post, I invariably find that I don't have the time. But I will at least take a moment to recognize this month's featured blogger: Sylvia; AKA "HeiressChild."

Like most of my other cyberfriends, I have no idea how I first came across Sylvia. I suppose if I traced back far enough to some previous posts, I'll find our first conversation. But in the interest of not doing any additional legwork, I'll just say that I met her at the post office.

Sylvia's screen name is derived from a Biblical passage that proclaims that she is a joint heir(ess) with Jesus. But truthfully, I didn't need a screen name to remind me that Sylvia's a woman of God. She ejects that kind of Spirit anyway. True, I've never met her in person. But if her real-life persona even remotely matches her on-screen identity, I have every confidence that she is indeed living a life that is pleasing to God.

What I particularly enjoy about Sylvia's site is that she provides a forum that I often use as a much needed assurance of God's goodness. I think we all know how good God is; but sometimes we need to be reminded. When I read about her daily struggles, how she fights to overcome them, and how she clings closer to God in the process, I get a sense of encouragment which I can then apply to my own life. Furthermore, I enjoy her positive insight on things (usually as a clear contrast to my negativity), her ability to open new networks (I've met quite a few interesting people through her site), and the fact that -- like me -- she loves Jeopardy. :)

If you haven't done so already, stop by her place. You'll be blessed for it.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Fail to the Victors

Ohio State - 14
Michigan - 3



Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jumping on a new ship?

Everybody knows that I'm officially done with Hillary. We can't seem to get an ounce of truth from her anymore. Yes, I've been on Team Obama for a while. But after he and a few other Dems decided to disenfranchise my vote as a Michigander, I'm not so sure I can get down with him either. Dennis Kucinich seems pretty cool; though he's a little too liberal for my liking (which makes me want to demand a recount on the Candidate Calculation I so kindly plugged on my blog. That program, of course, made me Kucinich supporter). And, of course, it's common knowledge that I can't stand the GOP. So we all know that none of those jokers could ever gain my support.

But in a strange and unexpected turn of events, I've been finding myself curiously interested in Ron Paul as a legitimate candidate for me to support. Of all the candidates on either side, he makes the most sense. For example, this clip highlights his positions on some of the more critical issues facing the country right now:

Now, it should be noted that I strongly disagree with his stance on social programs (where he wants to eliminate them altogether, while I believe they should still exist with rules and limitations attached) abortion (though not that big a deal to me since I'll never get pregnant :) ) and lower taxes (which, as far as I can tell, can't happen right now because of the mess the Bush Administration has put us is). But most of his policies -- though having traces of "traditional" conservatism -- aren't all that unreasonable to accept. His positions on smaller government, independent liberties, trade limitations, troop withdrawal, staying out of other nation's business for instance, all seem like good indicators of sound policy. Clearly, this dude is light years ahead of the other candidates; both Republican and Democrat.

This dude may very well have my vote come January; and possibly come next November.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Two bear arms

If only this was the 2nd Amendment "right" the NRA was making such a big deal over. But unfortunately it isn't.

And this is usually the result.


Monday, November 05, 2007

The Jena sux

I'd like to take a quick second to publicly apologize to my loyal readers for blindly jumping on the Jena 6 bandwagon. While I'm relieved that the initial charges of six black teens beating up a white teen were rightly reduced from attempted murder to assault; and while I'm fully aware of the ill state of race relations in this country, recent events involving these kids have turned me off to this Jena 6 nonsense for good.

First, two of the Jena 6 boys were seen chillin' and partying at the BET Awards. Then, there was so-called "comedian" Katt Williams sporting a noose on the red carpet. Then, as if I couldn't get any more annoyed, another one of other boys *allegedly* posted pictures of himself on his Myspace page, where he's flashing what some people suspect are donations from supporters. Though I can't speak directly to the veracity of that claim, I can at least comfortably say is that when it comes to painting themselves out to be the tragic victims of racism, the Jena six sux.

True, I'm upset at these kids for discrediting themselves (and, for that matter, their "cause") by engaging in this foolishness. But I won't dismiss forget the fact that they are teenagers; albeit stupid ass teenagers. So I won't go down too hard on them. Instead, I'm actually shifting more of the burden to the parents, lawyers, and activists who have made this case what it is. How effective have they been in teaching these kids the importance of low exposure during important trials? What have they done to teach these kids about the social responsibilities that come with being in the spotlight (whether they wanted to be thrusted in it or not)? What have these folks taught the Jena six boys about honoring and respecting the contributions/sacrifices others have made to support them?

At least I can say that -- outside of a post on my blog -- I haven't lost too much of an investment regarding the case. I'm glad that I followed my better judgment and restrained from sending donations and/or personally traveling to Jena. But if any of you actually did do any of the aforementioned things, I don't think you'd be too hard pressed in demanding a refund.

Holla at me!