"...the force from somewhere which commands you to write in the first place gives you no other choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded. There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you."
Zora Neale Hurston

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Coon-federate Kanye?

Not only does the internet lack chill, it also has no concept of history. Whatever is posted today, will be screen shot and trotted out at some relevant future moment to your demise. Ask Hillary about her 2000 stance on same-sexmarriage. Ask Kanye about when he unsuccessfully attempted to co-opt the Confederate flag and market it in a fashion line. The internet stores the images while Black Twitter constructs them into memes hoarded in a warehouse deeper that Prince’s dad’s vault of unproduced music in Purple Rain. There it sits, waiting with the well-delivered timing of a professional comic. Still, as much of a contentious view that I have about Kanye (dude don’t read books), his failed foray into the confederacy is not the same as those coontastic negroes draping themselves in the ejaculate of slavery.

The Coon-federacy believes that the flag does not represent slavery, rather it is a reflection of southern pride and heritage. You can see that here, here, and here. They give no credence to the words of the flag’s creator William Thompson, “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.” This wasn’t just his separate viewpoint. This was the rationale for the design of the flag. Thompson wrote that “the new flag would be hailed by the civilized world as the white man’s flag.” It is disconcerting to see skin folk proudly waving the signage of skinheads. It makes me wonder if we’re not experiencing a Fringe-like interaction of parallel universes: black confederate supporters opening the cosmic gates to white women wanting to live as black women… Oh, damn.
Kanye West may have delusions of grandeur, but he is clear on what the Confederate flag means. He states, “everyone knows the flag represents slavery…”
But what do we know of West? He considers himself somewhat of a contemporary hip hop messiah, even taking on the moniker Yeezus. After being snubbed by the VP of Louis Vuitton, Ye ordered his fan base to boycott the brand, exclaiming “They think that I don’t realize my power.” Just as he demanded a wheelchair bound fan to stand at his concert. Kanye West wants to lead. He wants the differently-abled to rise. He wants a movement. Unfortunately, the Yeezus movement isn’t about liberation; it’s solely about Kanye. Kanye West isn’t a coon-federate. He’s plain and simply a narcissist.
Kanye is Narcissus, falling in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. All he sees and admires is himself. The battles he chooses are not about uplifting the socio-political status of his largely racially marginalized fans. He fights only against his personal slights and they are many. Kanye West is also Merrill, Joaquin Pheonix’s character in the movie Signs. If you recall, Merrill was a failed baseball player. He had a powerful swing that could knock the ball out of the park. Unfortunately, he swung at everything. The swings outnumbered the hits. Kanye doesn’t know when to not swing.
“You know the Confederate flag represented slavery…So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now!” West stated in an AMP radio interview. This is what it is about for Kanye, trying to be bigger than the things that are greater than himself. The history and legacy of slavery is bigger than Kanye. So when he slaps the Confederate flag on a sleeve or wraps himself in its rebel madness, it isn’t an act of reclamation. It’s just one more black person’s naiveté being immortalized for internet fodder.  
If Kanye read a book…several books, he’d learn that is not the way to overcome/power. He must be part of the dismantling of the system. And no matter who he is, he is not enough as an individual to do so. MLK wasn’t. X wasn’t. Garvey wasn’t. And I list black men, cause that’s all Kanye would even see.

Still, one black woman (Bree Newsome) did with the confederate flag in one act, what Kanye couldn’t achieve with professional marketing and money.  She took it and sparked a movement. And now it is hers in a way that Kanye can only imagine but never achieve.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I Agree (to my slain giants and amazons)

I Agree

(dedicated to the memories of all of the slain boys and girls who may really have been giants and amazons)

I want to agree
With that fear of Black skin / as weapon
Such that unarmed teens are slaughtered
In American streets for centuries /
For today
When a murdering officer claims that
His Unarmed target was superhuman/
And that his bullets just bounced right off that Boy/
I want to think that maybe he was right to be afraid of that Boy
That Superhuman black boy
That Iron Man of a black boy
That titanium-skinned black boy
I want to agree.

I want to agree

With that sentiment that Black-women/
Need to be more careful with all their
When Black-girls are grabbed / raped
Because assailants just couldn’t control themselves/
It might just be our own fault
We got that Sookie Stackhouse fairy blood/
Them Jezebel hips / that Isis fire
We are the origins of the Medusa
Raped by the gods (the small ‘g’ gods that are men)
Yes, even by our OWN men
From Cosby to Kelly, Cee-Lo to the fake Rick Ross
Because they cannot control themselves
They call us Monster
Claim our gaze turns men to stone /
How else can they purport to not feel anything
As they violate us / subdue us with drugs
They cannot control themselves because
We are so fucking desirable
I want to agree

I want to tell our children that
They are hunted down and murdered

For being X-Men
Everyone wants to be one of the X-Men
But no one wants to be ex’d /
Marked / Targeted
No professor X / just Malcolm’s
By Any Means Necessary
Like the X-Files/
I Want to Believe
That we are the chosen people
We are the sleeping giant
And we should be feared
They should be afraid.
I’m inclined to agree.

M. Shelly Conner


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All You Can Eat: AHS's Coven and Fat Shame

Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe)

The third installation of American Horror Story: Coven presents itself as a treat of all things allegedly pro-woman. The Coven is a matriarchal space that presupposes that women would wield power in the same ways as men. The witches in the coven ogle men. There are man servants that are seen and not heard. Two teenage witches literally piece together disparate body parts to Frankenstein themselves the perfect man. Everything gets spun on its head. Slave owner becomes slave. The character (played by an actress with Down's Syndrome) is more attractive than the blond bombshell movie star. There is even a female pedophile in episode three. That isn't to say that they don't exist in our world, just that things that we associate with the status quo (most pedophiles are men), get the old switcheroo. Except...
Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) is fat, black, and still lonely. Nothing is spun differently for a characterization that Hollywood in all of its imaginings still casts in the same mold as it has done since the days that Hattie McDaniel played Mammy in Gone With the Wind. While Jamie Brewer's Down's Syndrome doesn't appear to be written into the script as we typically have seen in the few examples of actresses with Down's Syndrome cast in roles (Life Goes On, Glee) Sidibe's race and girth burdens her every line and scene. It isn't enough that we see that she is a black woman of size, but attention is constantly directed to it through her actions and speech. Because her lines are limited to being a reiteration of what we can already see, she is written to be no more than her physicality – the sassy, token (she is the only black in the coven) black woman who overindulges in food because she is so undesirable. Because she is so big. Because she eats all the time. And Coven makes sure to hammer in this particular correlation: she is big because she eats. Nearly every scene involves Queenie eating or talking about food or in close proximity to food. Heaven forbid she have a thyroid problem, or a slow metabolism, or any of the other myriad of reasons for weight retention.
Personally, I think the smart writing would be (if one MUST write her stature into it all, again it wasn't necessary to write in Brewer's disability), to make it a symptom of her witchcraft: Queenie is, after all, a human voodoo doll. As a writer, I could work with that but why do their job for them here? That is out of my scope. To understand why they haven't or won't is to think in this way: as a human voodoo doll who can inflict damage to her body and it result in pain for another would mean that the opposite could be true. Could Queenie not pleasure herself and choose to pleasure others? But this would make her an agent of desire and Coven (at least as far as episode three) cannot conceive of it.
In episode three, Queenie is so lonely that she decides to give her virginity to a man-beast that had been made into a minotaur 200 years prior. That's right, he has the head of a beast (and that is not a euphemism). Dude has hooves. I won't boggle with explanation. It's WITCHCRAFT. But yes, Queenie resorts to begging a being with the head of a wilder-beast (actually a bull, but is that really better?) and the body of (ok, the body of an African deity or at least a well toned pre-emancipated slave) for sex because she is just that undesirable.
Sidibe's career is a perfect example of Hollywood's myopic perception of big, black women not being beautiful and desirable. Sidibe's breakout role was as Precious, the title character in the film adaptation of Sapphire's novel Push. I won't say too much about that here since it was an adaptation, but Sidibe's roles didn't stray far from that with regard to focusing on her size and race as undesirable.
We next see her in the movie Tower Heist. The trailer shows her in a maid's uniform, knocking someone unconscious by pushing a service cart into them and then shoving an ENTIRE cupcake into her mouth (because those two actions beg to go together). She is a master safecracker who has been recruited by Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller's characters to assist in their heist. Yet the majority of her dialogue is aimed at seducing Murphy'scharacter.
Next we move to a starring role in Showtime's The Big C. Sidibe plays a high school senior who's teacher (Laura Linney) takes an interest in helping losing weight, even though Linney's own character has been diagnosed with stage four melanoma and is dying. Even though Linney's Cathy is willing to pay a hefty $100 per pound that Sidibe's Andrea loses, weight isn't really dropping as we witness Andrea walking (as promised) but also slurping down a Big Gulp slushy while doing so. It is presented as as a comedic moment. More thorough analysis here.
Later, when Andrea befriends Cathy's son Adam (also in high school), at some awkward inexplicable moment she claims that he is looking at her breasts and wants to touch them. She then grabs his hands and places them on her breasts. Eventually, because Andrea's parents move to Africa to do missionary work and it's her last year of high school and she wants to stay and graduate, of course Cathy and her family allow her to whatchootalkinboutWillis and move in Different Strokes style. During this time, Andrea is courted by some young European dude who claims to find her and especially her size as desirable. And I bought it, hook line and sinker (will tell you why shortly). Even though Cathy advises Andrea to wait or at least plan some romance before giving up her virginity, Andrea is so thrilled to finally have someone willingly sniffing around that she gets her cherry popped in an uneventful bout of vehicular sex. As written, it was anti-climatic for the viewer and I still believe it to be unintentionally so. Although the narrative falls back on the guy being no good and just trying to get a Visa, it was presented still in the courtship phase where he was doing everything so perfectly. I felt that the writers denied Andrea a romantic first time sexual experience, even if it was under false pretense. It was almost like they were commenting, “Just how romantic does it need to be for a fat black girl? She got flowers and dates. We got a budget.”
I fell for the romance just like Andrea. But that is because I am well accustomed to seeing big beautiful black women as desirable. Growing up steeped in the diverse aspects of African American culture, having extra curves and weight was extremely desirable. I had neither. My adolescence was filled with examples of being passed over for curvier, shapelier, heavier women. Overweight was more desirable than underweight. I think of Gimme A Break with Nell Carter and how many seasons it took for Hollywood to show her as more than a caretaker for a white family, but we had always known. We knew her in 1978's Ain't Misbehavin' on Broadway and Nell was sexy as hell. It took Gimme a Break a while to pair her with Ray Parker, Jr. in New Orleans but it was well worth it as she sings T'Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do.”
I find that beauty comes in different shapes. Hollywood is slow to catch on, but I hope that Gabourey Sidibe's next role allows her to explore being desirable. As for Coven, she offers herself to the minotaur but it's possible he may even refuse her. Sad. I hope at least he takes her to his mistress (Angela <gasp> Bassett as MarieLaveau) in the 'hood (where else?) and she hooks Queenie up with some serious knowledge. It would also be the first time that Queenie has been off the “plantation” alone. [UPDATE: Not only did he refuse her, he gorged her.]
I'm not advocating that weight be ignored on screen. Like race, we understand it to be essential to a character's experiences and identity. But Hollywood seems to think that a black character's race and or size are the only mediums of experience available to them. In Coven, we know that Queenie says that people consider her to be a beast like the minotaur because of her size. We know that she doesn't have a food problem, rather her problem is love...because of her size. She eats to fill a void that is created because of her size. Her every experience, thought, and deed are packaged to us through her weight. We are left to wonder if Queenie can be something...heavier.

*Will update post as I watch. American Horror Story: Coven airs on FX network, Wednesdays.

After note: Sidibe also starred in 2012's Seven Psychopaths which I was not interested in seeing, but by all means share your thoughts if she isn't shoving food in her mouth in a way no one eats or talking about kissing her black ass.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tiger Blood: Soul's Inheritance, Ego's Curse

“I’m different. I have a different constitution, I have a different brain, I have a different heart. I got tiger blood, man.”
-Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen, actor and self-proclaimed descendant of gods, has been the source of recent media obsession.  His behavior and proclamations, much like those of Republican sweetheart Sara Palin, need no exaggeration in order to become fodder for punchlines.  They spit gold when it comes to satire.  All that's required is to sit back and watch them do what they do.  I didn't want to join the throngs of commentators writing about Sheen in a point and laugh sort of fashion, nor the hoards of spectators integrating Sheenisms into my daily vocabulary.  But like most everyone, I too have been pulled into the mind of Sheen with his ridiculous, metaphorical (we hope) proclamations like claiming to be a "bitchin rockstar from Mars" and to have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.  But just how ridiculous are such claims?
Perhaps Sheen has the right vision.  Spiritually, blood has been considered to represent life force energy, "living energy that sustains life of organs, cells, tissue, and blood. As a spiritual entity the life force is considered our connective flow to the creator" (healing.about.com).  This energy is known as chi or qi by the Chinese and prana by Hindus.  Diet, exercise and meditation are regularly employed in spiritual disciplines to nurture and replenish this energy source and connect with all levels of creation from the quantum aspects to the cosmic.  Not everyone follows this spiritual philosophy but most have been exposed to some degree of this spiritual thought in its increasingly accepted East meets West form of Metaphysics or the misnomer of "New Age" Thought, such that spiritual practices are trascending religious affiliations.  Meditation, fasting, and prayer are disciplines that are uniting the beliefs of all denominations. 
Symbols of strength, energy and connectedness to a universal source of all are represented in many faiths.  They may be shapes (cross, pentagram, Om); animals (i.e. tiger, cow, dove); or people who are believed to have successfully traversed the spiritual path on which we all travel (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad).  Many faiths believe that we have inherited a "sonship," in that we are children of our creator.  We are the Son of God.  In light of the above spiritual ideals and terms, to claim that one inhibits the blood of a tiger and the DNA of the gods is actually in accordance with many spiritual priniciples.  For example, Christians practice a ritual where they consume the body and blood of Christ, metaphorically of course.
 Even those who distance themselves from religious organizations but strive for individual growth believe in the power of asserting their I AM, the divinity within.  A Facebook buddy writes,
              "I AM STRIVING EVOLVING PERFECTION, there is no one, in any place, at any time, in     
               any form that is more perfect than I am. I AM the distance, the competition, the fan, the finish line,
              and the trophy. The day I die I will lift myself up on my shoulders and do a victory lap."
Any self-help, "new age," metaphysics, or even AA book text promotes such proclamations for centering the Self as an evolutionary process towards perfection (connection to the Source of Universal Energy).  This is the purpose for life individualized within each of us.  Perhaps the problem then, isn't what is being said, rather it's that Charlie Sheen is the one saying it.  Admittedly, he's no spiritual guru.  Yet, his words could lend to spiritually interpretation.  Sheen has the right vision but is on the wrong path.  But it's not entirely his fault.  Here's why:
What do you think happens to person who's society, culture, and country assert that they are worth millions of dollars per week for being who they are?  If you recall, Sheen's character on the sitcom Two and a Half Men is largely based on his real-life bad boy persona.  So we claim that Sheen is worth all of this money; we prove its value by paying him more money than we pay people who save lives.  I can see how this would lead to an exaggerated sense of importance and become, as in the case of Sheen, a misuse of the ego.  The ego, that part of us that is best illustrated in the above quote from my Facebook buddy.  Its purpose is to motivate and remind us that we are great and we can do it (whatever it may be).  It whispers to us in the gym, as we pore over an exam, and as we strive to be more than we are.  For over 20 years, Sheen's ego has gorged on his million dollar price tag.  How else does the unchecked ego respond to going from being worth millions to not being worthy enough to be saved?  It reminds us and itself of its I Am, ad nauseum in Sheen's case.  "I am special.  I am a bitchin' rockstar from Mars. I am..."
When the fractures in this once highly valued persona become too visible, we make a spectacle of it.  Commodify it.  Point and laugh.  We are country that makes our resources disposable.  If it no longer serves us, we no longer invest in it.  We don't nurture.  We throw it away and find another. Isn't there another Estevez boy?
This is our American cultural legacy.  We claim that something is valuable but send conflicting messages.  We claim that our children are valuable to us.  We call them our future.  We place them in competition with one another and those from other countries asserting their greatness, their I Am.  Yet we don't invest in education or programs that service them.  Detroit prepares to close HALF of its schools.  The American compulsory school system that has limped on for decades is slowly but surely being laid to rest.  This is where budget deficits first appeared and continued to be ignored as monies earmarked for schools often made their way to plug other governmental gaps.  We cut funds to community based organizations that promote moral growth and development so that our children are disproportionately influenced by entities with bad boy monikers.
We claim that teachers are valuable.  But we don't pay them.  We increase their duties and decrease their resources.  Behind their backs, we deride, "If you can, do.  If you can't, teach."
We don't truly value anything.  We use things and people.  We use them up and throw them away.  When the children fail to magically become more useful to us, its ok.  We can throw them away in menial labor or prison.  When the teachers fail to magically educate in a system that is counterproductive to anything educational, its ok...we can fire them and hire more inexperienced teachers for less. 
America used to produce goods and services. But in asserting itself as a superpower and grossly misusing its own collective ego, it only produces the American image -- predicated on how much it can delegate to others.  Like Sheen, we refuse to take responsibility for the damages that our misuse of ego has caused.  When the shit hits the fan, we absolve ourselves of any responsibility by claiming that it's the wrath of God.  Get your spiritual house in order...tsunamis, earthquakes, floods are all signs of the wrath of God.  But we don't need God's wrath.  With our contributions to global warming, eradication of the middle class, and human rights violations; we're doing a fine job of making sure that the end is nigh.Charlie Sheen is more of an American icon now that he has ever been.  He has lived high off the hog and we have promoted it.  Now, painfully aware of his dispensibility, he invokes his I Am: I am special.  I am Charlie Sheen.  You said so.  You made it so.  And he is right.  We watched him.  We paid him more than teachers, more than we invest in education, more than we should have. Thus, Charlie Sheen is not the problem.  The problem is the culture that creates Charlie Sheen.  This throw-away culture.  Get another.  Exhaust one location...just drill, baby, drill in another.  No regard for the overworked, misused, dying land/people/spirits in our wake.  We can do this because of who we are.  We are the greatest.  We are the superpower.  We've got tiger blood.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is this 2011 or 1911?

Woman sentenced for sending kids to better school

As a former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher, I can personally attest to our nation's crisis in education.  Debates in political arenas, community organizations, and education systems have named the various perpetrators of this decline as adminstrators, funding, teachers, children, and parents.  I certainly can produce support and examples for each argument, however, here is a case that has all of these elements working together to produce education and yet it is rooted out, stamped out, and completely destroyed by a judge.

This caring mother, dissatisfied with the school district of her neighborhood, placed her children in a better district.  Absent the legal ramifications, it sounds quite logical.  Unfortunately, because she was not a resident of that school's district, she has been found guilty of fraud and sentenced to jail.  To add insult to injury, as she completes her training to become a teacher, the judge informs her that she will be unable to work in the Ohio school system.  In fact, her newly imposed felony will prevent her from working in most schools.
In a time where most of our nation's institutions are experiencing great losses, many of our citizens find themselves seeking ways to at least survive; and at most, improve their stations in life.  For racial minorities in this country, this has been the reality for a long time.  It reeks of "Separate But Equal" claims. 

The punishment exceeds the crime.  The judge is effectively condemning this woman to poverty.  Even when she receives her teaching certification, she cannot use it.  In order to obtain training, degree, certification in another area, she will have to start over... time, money, etc. and still hope that she can find employment with a felony on her record.

Say what you will about No Child Left Behind, but I could have sworn that it allows parents to move their children from poor performing schools.  It's well-intentioned mess of legislation created by politicians who haven't got a clue about what schooling really looks like in America.  It hangs teachers and school districts out to dry, placing all accoutability with them; while failing to provide the necessary funds, training (to parents, communities, districts) essential for reformation.  Still, its currently on the books (not for long) and somewhere there is a case for this woman where NCLB can actually do some good.

Sometimes (more often now with what is increasingly seeming to be the fall of our nation) we hear someone's story and all feel the collective gunshot to the skull.  Hell yes, this could be anyone of us.  Any one of us 20-30 somethings who are working to reach our potential...at university or wherever, living within our means but below our expectations in neighborhoods that might be just OK but without any of the magnet schools where we know we'll send our kids.  I know there are great teachers at not so great schools.  I've been one (note: that was after I was a not so great teacher at a not so great school).  But that doesn't mean I intend to send my kid to one.  My kid deserves better than that.  My kid deserves a chance...even if its just the chance to fail on his/her own without having a school to aid in the failure.  We all feel this way, but racial minorities in this country feel it even more.  We've already endured so many disadvantages in this institution, hell, in ALL of this nation's institutions. 

Free this lady.  Free us all.

Monday, January 03, 2011

New Dawn, New Day, New Life

As is customary in a new year, I have promised the Universe a "new" me. New is the abridged description for the self-directed evolutionary process of maturing that I embrace annually to distinguish my past fuck-ups and their repercussions from present decisions and hopefully positive outcomes. It seems its always easier to claim the proverbial "do-over" when there is a time landmark from which we can launch into the new by jettisoning away from the unsucessful/painful/tiring old.
Yet I don't wish to distance myself from the past. I embrace it and the lessons that it has taught me. I aim to build on it, not erase it (after of course deleting the previous postings from this blog that I started back in 2005).
I make no grand proclamations here. I simply will write daily as a writer must...as I have previously neglected. Change stems from within and sprouts outward.