Friday, March 31, 2006

Fun with Numbers....

Aight there are a bunch of things that I wanted to get out there. So let's count along together.

1 - One is for the date on Saturday, which is April 1st. The 1st traditionally marks the coming of April Fool's Day. This year, I don't want you to be the fool... so go to this rally and find out the things you been too embarassed, nervous or lazy to ask.
Take Action! Rally for Affirmative Action
11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Congressman John Dingell, One United Michigan and the Washtenaw County Democratic Party Black Caucus would like you to join them. The "Don't Be Fooled" rally is to shed light on and kick off the campaign here in Washtenaw County against the so called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative which is neither civil nor right.

Brown Chapel
1043 W. Michigan Ave.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

2 - Two for the number of missing boys from Milwaukee. The media coverage, of course, has been pretty low. More info and discussion here.

3 - Three is for the number of times I wanted to throw up when I heard about the Duke Lacrosse and their "alleged" rape of two women. Rachel has provided a lot of links and information on her page.

4- Four is for the darn near 40 percent increase in the percentage of Black folks who use the internet! The digital divide is seeming to look different. Though we're certainly not where we need to be yet.

aight, I'm tired of counting for now.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The New Tangle of Negro Pathology?!?

So in the past week (well 10 days), the NYTimes has run two pieces that have gotten a considerable amount of attention. The first "Plight Deepens for Black Men Study Warns" reports findings and some theories by the researchers behind the new book Black Males Left Behind. First, like most of the people commenting on this story, I have not read the book. My pockets are thinner than Nicole Richie in a fun house mirror (I know, that's not right), so when I get a copy I can weigh in more soundly. The findings of the report did not shock me per se, but they did remind me that its clear Black men are becoming further marginalized from the center of American society*.

I however was intrigued by Orlando Patterson's Op/Ed that ran on Sunday entitled "A Poverty of the Mind". Patterson essentially argues that we have not been able to combat poverty and the condition of Black men in America because we have been afraid to tackle the issue of culture. Unfortunately he quickly creates a strawman of poverty research on black men. I could agree with him that researchers have been scared to tackle culture 10 years ago, but recently researchers have really grappled with the role of culture and behavior for Black and poor men (see Young, Lamont, there are more but I doubt you want a literature review). But for Orlando it is much more convient to say there is a fear of approaching the topic of culture and that until we take on culture, marginalization will remain.

While Patterson does prove, unlike many, that he has read up on the phenonmenon of "acting white". He does quickly find other cultural dimensions to stress. This time, the masked culprit is hip hop culture.
I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think.

A couple of years ago Ron Ferguson argued that a possible reason test score gaps had widened between Blacks and Whites from 1998 forward was rap music and hip hop culture. I remember when I first heard this theory, I scouffed and thought it would pass with the night, but it stayed around. In fact, many still support this theory, which I find much akin to theories of acting white (e.g. present in places but likely overstated), despite the fact that test score gaps have begun to close again between Blacks and Whites... and rap is still widely popular. In Patterson's view, Black men (not sure about women) lack the ability to code-switch, while Whites men are able to traverse dual realities. I must say that I do not entirely disagree with Patterson, but he misses how this occurs. Code-switching for Black folks has been a historical necessity. Even when our ancestors were enslaved, they had to act differently on the job or when under surveillence, than when not surveilled. So I would ask Patterson, which would be more likely to degrade a people's ability to switch, music or marginalization? My obvious answer is marginalization. His response is cool pose. I do believe structural constraints beget cultural variations, but simply concentrating on culture is as short-sighted as simply concentrating on the structure.

It appears that Patterson could make a great argument for both the roles of structure and culture, but instead he claims that culture has been absent from our discussions of poverty. For those who don't know, the title of this post is a throwback/homage to a highly influential chapter of the Moynihan Report. I find Patterson's piece to largely be an update to this view, instead of matriarchy as a cultural determinent, he inserts hip hop culture (his perception of it at least) as the mechanism that keeps Black men ensnared in our social position.

I would love to know what Patterson thinks needs to be done to correct these cultural malfunctions? I guess the welfare to work approach didn't work since he said Clinton's Administration failed. Cultural training? What does he want to see happen? To close, I rework Patterson's own words, what do you think?
Collecting transcripts of their views and rationalizations Leveeing critiques of research from an ivory tower towards the ivory tower is a useful first step, but won't help nearly as much as the recent rash of scholars with tape-recorders NY times editorialists and readers seem to think.

*Unlike Orlando Patterson, I don't think pursuing money and listening to music constitute incorporation into America's mainstream

Monday, March 27, 2006

The night Hip Hop died... and resurrected!

"It's spring again, and I'm feelin' fine. Pass me a nice cold glass of wine."

So on Saturday night at about 11:30 I texted my boy with the message, " U know hip hop has died when I'm at a party in ann arbor headlined by red alert and there are 30 people :( " At that moment I felt as if I was ready to finally attend the funeral of hip hop. Once as a child I felt this emotion. I grew up craving hearing hip hop on the radio. I remember when my favorite radio station, one of the only ones in New Haven that played hip hop, made the decision to stop playing rap. They started blasting an advertisement that said, WNHC with no rap. Each time I heard the advertisment it was like I felt a stab in my side. As a young child, I had no recourse, but later in my life I did find refugee in NY radio and Kool DJ Red Alert.

I spent the better part of my high school years positioning antennas perfectly to catch Red Alert work the tables and faithfully listening to his trademark high voice and flawless party mixes. So when I heard that the Fokus Cru was bringing him to A2 for a show, I nearly flipped. If you grew up with me in the tri-state, you probably had the dream that Red Alert would descend on your prom, dance, basement party (cause you weren't in the clubs were he was spinning)and spin the night away. Though I rarely make trips to bars and clubs anymore I felt like it was my responsibility as a head to attend.

I first arrived at the venue around 10:30 with my boy. We walked in and the venue was empty, okay, three patrons were there, but you know what I mean. I felt a small stab in my side, again. We turned around and left, to handle some business and decided to return a little later. When we made it back around 11 there were about 15 people in the venue but this time Popmaster Fable and Red Alert had arrived to the venue. Instead of a stab, this time I felt extreme embaressment. I thought, "Is Red Alert really standing here listening to some fool spin the same song over and over again with an empty venue that he's supposed to rock?" That's not Hip Hop!!! Admittedly, if I was the house DJ and Red Alert was in the room I'd be crapping my pants too. But soon the unthinkable happened... DEAD SILENCE. That's right, there was dead air, the man on the table(s) had let the track run out and there was silence. At that moment me and my boy were chatting with Red and he excused himself to run up to the sound booth. I watched a cardinal sin of Hip Hop be committed in front of a legend. All I could think was, what a way to show Red and Fable what A2 has to offer. Not long after the silence and Red's return they got the sound situation straight and Fable spun some songs, mainly breaks, that were well mixed and selected.

Unfortunately by this time I was pretty leary that this night would turn up well despite Buff1 and Invincible rocking. The crowd was so thin that they had to personally invite people by name to the dance floor so that they got a proper audience. By the time Red was set to come on, I would estimate the crowd was barely above 30 folks. I texted my boy, to announce the death of hip hop.

Now, don't get it twisted, I am sure that Hip Hop in some forms is alive and well, but darn it I was aware that MY Hip Hop had died. I made the decision as Red got on the wheels to give all I had to celebrate what Hip Hop meant and means to me. Yeah, I'm dramatic, but you may not understand how much I've loved Hip Hop in my life.

On that evening Red Alert grabbed the tables and played a classic set. A few heads laced the floor from the start as he opened the set with classics from the 1990s. It was sonic heaven.

There were three things that stood out in my mind about his set:
1) I don't recall him playing a single song recorded after 1998
2) He rocked radio edits for some of the songs
3) During the set he played break beats

Why I think number 1 is important. If you've been to a party in the last X years, you know that his playlist was rare. The playlist took us from the early days of art to the "golden era" and beyond, but didn't litter me with "I'm in love with a Stripper." It was a college crowd, so I estimate many of the songs predated the audience's Hip Hop catalog, with some notable exceptions. But he continued to play the tracks and let the music draw people out.

Why I think number 2 is important. I grew up listening to Red on the radio as most of us did, so if you ever made a pause mixtape or couldn't always sneak those "Parental Advisory" stickers past your parents Red was your gateway to raw/real hip hip without the cussing. Though I didn't hear many references to my sisters as body parts and animals or my brothers as bucks or brutes, I still liked the set, and so did everyone else who filled the dance floor.

Why I think number 3 is important. The break beat is a lost art in DJing. Now I'm not naive enough to think that many DJs are searching music for breaks any longer and testing them out at parties, but when there is a DJ who does throw on a break during a set, it often means - go refill your drink. Well for the first time in a long time, I saw people dancing hard to breaks as well as songs with lyrics... and that my friends is when I felt Hip Hop had resurrected.

The art of moving the crowd is something that few understand and even fewer master. I am grateful that I got to be in the presence of a master of this art on Saturday. Did the dance floor ever get so packed I couldn't move? No. Do I think most people know what kind of contribution Red made to Hip Hop and the radio? No. But that's the beauty of the music and the culture. I'm told before there were Sugarhill Gangs, Clear Channels, and Dreams, there were pure parties and pure Hip Hop. Thank you Red Alert for taking me to a place in the house of Hip Hop that I'd never seen before.

*photo shamelessly stolen from Sen Blake

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

They're coming for Affirmative Action...

Now if you read this blog, you know I seldom hesitate to mention my preference for Affirmative Action policies and the current struggles with them in US Higher Education. I often skip on posting about some of the things that happen with Aff Axn so that readers don't suffer from overkill. Well two news articles recently came across my desk that I thought were worthy of mention and/or discussion. The first is an AP story on polling data released on last Thursday about support for the MCRI. The big news is
Forty-seven percent of 600 likely voters surveyed Sunday through Wednesday opposed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which will be on the ballot in the November election. Forty-four percent favored it, while 9 percent were undecided.

The article goes on to acknowledge that essentially the measure is deadlock (never forget the margin of error on polls... especially phone polling). This may mean that MCRI is "losing" steam in Michigan, but the next coming months will be very interesting to see. One United Michigan has continued to step up their efforts on the campaign trail, so I'll be watchin with baited breath.

Ah and for a little artist contribution coming from the MSU's Q*News:

There once was a racist from Cali
Who thought equality should be decided by a tally
To Michigan he came
To spread hate and shame
And against him we surely must rally

The second item is one of NY Times most frequently emailed story entitled, "Colleges Open Minority Aid to All Comers." The article reveals what many of us know has been happening already.
Facing threats of litigation and pressure from Washington, colleges and universities nationwide are opening to white students hundreds of thousands of dollars in fellowships, scholarships and other programs previously created for minorities.

Since the Supreme Court victories of 2003 there has been consistent pressure from random employees of the Department of Justice as well as the actual Department of Justice to pressure schools and programs to desist from the use of race conscious funding. Southern Illinois University was one such case that was recently "resolved". As the public in Michigan becomes skeptical about supporting a false Civil Rights amendment, the nation's office of Justice toils to deconstruct some of the gains that emerged from the Civil Rights Act and Affirmative Action policies. I'm beginning to feel like we're in a game of three card monte.
***And I know the image is SUPERCHEESE but I had to put it up***

Monday, March 06, 2006

Black to the future?

"So much on my mind, I just can't recline..." -Mos Def

This post has been delayed for a minute, but here it is. Ever feel like we're going backwards and forwards at the same time?

So the other night I spent my time flipping between the Oscars and Flavor of Love, which to many would eliminate my right to comment on the coming apocalypse ushered in by Three 6 Mafia winning an Oscar. But I don't care, I gotta say it anyway. Three 6's victory is ridiculous, the song was even lame. Now when Eminem won for 'Lose Yourself' I conceded the song was good and it was an important moment for Hip Hop history. But 'Hard out here for a Pimp' is garbage. The song didn't even get real rotation in the Black community, the most I heard it was folks parodying it after the movie came out. It's a laughable song. So I had the sinking suspicion that they would win an Oscar for the song and it would be a vast part of "the Man's" plan to pedestalize our worst. My prediction for 2007, next year D4L wins for their rendition of "Flapjacks and Crack" from the soundtrack of "Doin' Dirt in the Dirty." My prediction for 2008, we'll be back to pickin' cotton.

Speaking of picking cotton, so I heard about George Clooney's acceptance speech so I went to check it out for myself. So Clooney is proud that academy has been out of touch with rest of the world because it talked about Aids and gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar? Are you serious? George, how out of touch where they when they made Hattie and her body guard sit in the back of the Ambassador Coconut theater? How out of touch were they when she had to deliver the speech in a separate room? If I had my copy of Toms, Coons,Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks I would really get into it, but I can't find it. You're lucky George and the Academy, very lucky. (Why does this moment remind me of when dude in Bamboozled said, "You're lucky I ain't read Wretched of the Earth yet!"?)

And since I last posted we lost one of the great Hip Hop producers, Jay Dee aka J Dilla. Check out his work here.

Last night we lost a Black Arts giant in Gordon Parks.

One of my favorite quotes from him is
My good friend, I'?ve got a 35-millimeter camera in my pocket. You'?ve got a 45.automatic in yours, but I feel my weapon is probably more powerful than yours.
Parks definitely shot with a camera (both still and video) the vast dimensions of Blackness, humaness, and life as a precious entity. He lived all the way to 93, which is certainly a full life RIP Mr. Parks.

And the third ancestor I want to recognize on this post is Fred Hampton Sr. of the Black Panter Party. I was recently put on to a story about the controversy that is happening in Chicago about naming a section W. Monroe Street (the very street on which he was killed) after him. Now of course, I don't expect the people who killed Fred Hampton to want to name a street after him... but I think it's amazing (at least in this story) how people's biases are laid right on the table. Even if Fred Hampton Sr doesn't get his street the struggle continues cause as Dead Prez said,
" Fred Hampton Jr. looks just like him, walks just like him, talks just like him. And it might be frighten' to the Feds and the snitches to see him organizing the gang brothas and sistas."

So now let me get to some more local issues. Today in the Daily I learned something that I have been avoiding for years. If you've been around Ann Arbor, you know the absolute cheapest place to buy Michigan gear is Steve and Barry's. For years now I've been suspect of their bargain basement prices. I figured the only way these prices could be so low were sweat shops... unfortunately today I got partial confirmation. This letter to the editor exposed my silent consent, but I think since they formed a labor union, I can keep buying from them right? ;)

A couple of days ago Mara Gay published a nice piece on the Daily and its issues. She does a really good job of making distinctions between the people who are working to change the campus climate and the complainers. All too often folks conflate the two groups. My favorite part of the editorial is
Sorry to disappoint, but the Daily features no smoke-filled rooms where The Man puffs a cigar behind ornate mahogany doors and plots to destroy the black community.

Duh, we all know that! Of course not the doors are made out of masonite, everyone knows that. But on the real, she does attempt to take a deeper cut at the issues of the Daily, though her reasoning for the issues is a rehashing of the contact hypothesis of prejudice and her solution appears to go back to the increase the minority representation at the Daily. Is that really the only solution? Are we running low on creativity?

Last but not least, the Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs office has been putting up some good virtual resources such as an events calendar and the Pan-African Network. Be on the look out for more good stuff.

Alright, it's about time I brought his post to a close. I would like to thank the contributions of Alma, Dance, Tone, y tu mama tambien. I wouldn't have made this post happen without all of you.... oh yeah and Jesus. :P

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

State of the Black Union '06

What does one do while spending the Spring Break of their Senior year of college back at home with the parents? Why, watch TV of course. While flicking channels at about two in the morning the other day I stumbled across a replay of C-Span's coverage of the State of the Black Union conference hosted by Tavis Smiley. I caught somewhere over 1/2 of the day's festivities and came away slightly intrigued. I saw portions of two panel discussions. One discussion featuring people who I'll call the 'new leaders' of the Black community, and another featuring the more recognizable leaders. There was way too much stuff to give a real summary of the events, so I'll just mention what struck me.

The 'new leaders' panel featured Walter Mosely (how he's a new leader is beyond me, he was there talking about his newest book), Dr. Ian Smith formerly of Celebrity Fit Club , and several people I've never heard of. The most impressive thing about the 'new leaders' panel was how San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris (who, I feel compelled to mention, is kinda great looking) briefly outlined how it could be more fiscally responsible to have certain inmates enter societal re-entry programs (for lack of a better expression on my part) that can reduce recidivism rates instead of just go right back into the prison system multiple times. Of course, the conspiracy theorist in me believes that her plan is little more than a pipe dream with publicly traded prison management companies like Corrections Corporation of America (New York Stock Exchange symbol: CXW ) floating around. I'll let you figure out how they might have a vested interest in people going to, and staying in jail.

The main event of the program was the panel that preceeded the new cats. There was an appearance by Al Sharpton who proved once again that, if nothing else, he is a fantastic rhetorician (in a good way, look up the definition ). There were a couple members of the Congressional Black Caucus, a preacher or two, and a bunch of comments about how the book that was the central element of the conference, The Covenant , was a good start towards creating functional public policy. Someone also said that if Black people don't vote they're essentially traitors to the race.

But the real juicy part of the discussion, the real reason for this post, has to do with how the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan stole the show. When called upon to comment Farrakhan proceeded to humbly talk about how much he loved Tavis Smiley and everyone else on the panel, emphatically ho the lives (which means harshly criticize for those unfamiliar with Ann Arbor area colloquial expressions) of everyone on the panel using a partial quote of a discussion between Martin Luther King Jr. and Harry Belafonte, venemously call most of Black America impotent, reconfirm his love for everyone on the panel, and quietly leave the stage to give a speech in Chicago. To use the words of Lloyd Carr, it was tremendous.

Farrakhan mentioned how Dr. King once told Belafonte something to the effect of America is a burning house. Farrakhan then quoted multiple scriptures from the Bible and the Qur'an, said The Covenant was misguided, and concluded us Black people should take care of ourselves and let America finish burning.

Farrakhan's comments were great except for the fact that Harry Belafonte was on the panel--which meant that Farrakhan's partial quote was exposed. After Farrakhan left the stage Belafonte informed the world that the conversation between himself and King concluded with King saying that Civil Rights leaders should try to act as firemen, not let America burn as the Honorable Minister wished. Cornel West then added that even if America is a burning house we must do what we can to make sure the children forced to grow up in inferno-America have the best shot they can to succeed. West also stated that even when Black people only had the power to sing songs in the face of oppression we were never impotent.

Belafonte's and West's responses to Farrakhan resonated with me. I'll be damned if I just sit around and watch America burn. Farrakhan was harping about how there needs to be something new to take the place of our current system of government, but he never uttered one suggestion of what that something new could be. Despite all of the flaws of our society I'm under the impression that we currently live under one of the more successful representative democracies in the history of civilization. I'm not going to give that up for just any new thing that comes along. There better damn well be an extremely well articulated alternative taking the place of our government, otherwise I'm not down for something new. I'd much rather be a fireman and try to put out the flames engulfing American society. Most of the panelists expressed how much they respect Farrakhan despite his criticisms of them. I share their sentiments. Farrakhan is pretty accurate in many of his assesments of how screwed up America is. However, I just disagree with him as to what to do about all the problems.

Someday I'll actually read The Covenant, probably this summer after I get this undergrad thing out of the way. Also I have to read up on Harry Belafonte, I never knew anything about him other than he was a singer. But his insight and intellect left me amazed so there has to be something more than just an entertainment career. Peace and God Bless.