I remember sitting next to my father's hospital bed. It was November 4, 2008. The television was showing election results. At this point, my father could no longer speak but he watched as Barack Obama was declared the winner. Two nurses – one Black and one white – stood in the doorway of my father's room and clapped. I leaned in and said to my father, "We did it." He nodded. I felt a swell of pride. My father, born in 1928, had cast an absentee ballot for the first Black President of the United States. I felt like it closed a chapter for him. My father passed away four days later.
My father didn't live to see today. He didn't live to see Barack Obama pen an open letter to police officers. In this letter, in the midst of violence at the hands of police that continues to ravage communities of color, he stood in solidarity with police officers in their "tumultuous hour." The letter contains a phrase that speaks volumes; it is a phrase that he has never explicitly uttered to the Black Americans who hoisted him on their shoulders. Instead, he directed these words to officers, to an institution which continually abuses and snatches lives away from his Black constituents. Read More
It was 1995. My sister put up streamers and red, white, and blue balloons. Holidays were her thing. She’s festive in that way. I remember that feeling I got when I stepped outside...stunting...’cause everybody knew you got a new outfit for the 4th. Blackfolks strutting around, embodying cool, donning emblems of our freedom in a place that never imagined freedom for us. Because, even in the midst of feeling less than free, you can't outdo Black people.
My dad would take all the boys in his big white boat of a Fleetwood Cadillac to the fireworks tent across state lines in Mississippi. (The sale of fireworks was illegal in Tennessee) We grabbed our baskets and filled them with the perfect mixture of shit that glows, pops, and explodes: sparklers, colorful smoke bombs, firecrackers, and that little tank that only moves an inch before bursting into flames. Read More
The Wiz Live burst onto our television screens last night, leaving traces of shea butter, black excellence, and the joy of one thousand Baptist fits. The cast - which included big names such as Stephanie Mills, Queen Latifah, and Mary J. Blige as well as newcomer Shanice Williams - paraded blackness dipped in gold and jade across our living rooms. It was pure unbridled joy drenched in molasses and browned butter.
It was a moment for black folks. A moment of unity and powerful representation during which black folks of all shapes, sizes, and colors showed off their acting and singing chops in a celebration of artistry the color of smooth onyx.
Somewhere, someone is writing a think piece about The Wiz Live…
About how it’s representative of the way black joy and self-actualization overcome adversity and how the revolution was led by a young brown girl who persevered even when the men in the movement started to turn their backs on her. ‘Cause black girls are magic. They’ll rave about her womynism ‘cause “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with being a woman.” Read More
We watched as Paris was under siege of an outbreak of violence. The hearts of Parisians are aflame. The dregs of humanity reached into the bosom of a city and clenched its heart in acts of terror.
I try to have faith in humanity and its ability to prevail in dark times like these, when people are terrorized and taking cover. It's heartbreaking to read updates of death tolls and feel the panic in the air. People like the ones responsible for the heinous attack chip away at my hope.
However, the aftermath of these situations – the fearmongering, the Islamophobia, the xenophobia – also reveal the lack of humanity in the world. When we hear of these tragedies, we quickly look for the target of blame. Without questioning, without confirmation, we blamed Muslims for the attack. And now that those fears have been confirmed, we lash out with our bigotry. People of Christian Faith are rushing to condemn and antagonize innocent people who had nothing to do with the attacks, as if Christianity has not often been the sword that has left rivers of blood in the street. We call for vengeance masquerading as justice, usurping the power of the God we claim to honor. Read More
When I see black folks talking about how much that girl deserved to be assaulted and slammed to the ground because "these kids have no respect," all I can think of is an aging field woman nursing the wounds of her young daughter. She's applying various remedies and dressings to her daughter's bloodied open back after the young girl was tied to a tree and publicly flogged by her white master. And, as the woman whispers the name of Jesus and doctors on the body of her frail child, she offers no words of comfort other than one thought which absolves the white man of guilt and lays it all at the feet of the broken girl - "See there...I done told you 'bout sassin' him."
That's what y'all sound like. Read More
Seeing yourself for who you are and not for what you've been told about yourself.
Because visibility matters.
It doesn't have to mean visibility as in "coming out," for some of us were never living behind a closet door. Some of us sat in the room with you, in a corner, crouched and afraid. Shrinking. Shielding ourselves.
Some of us blazed into the world, somehow bold by birthright. Assured at a young age and seeing the beauty of ourselves incrementally rather than through a spark or explosion of self-actualization.
But we were there. In the room with you. You refused to see. And if we were holed up in a closet – for protection, for solitude, or to allow for gestation and blossoming – we do not always feel the need to come out. Our world is enough. It's not always important for us to come into yours. Read More
Unbreakable, Janet Jackson’s first studio album in seven years, has been released to a flurry of awaiting fans. Janet is noticeably covered during this era. Her bare skin and bodysuits are absent. The music is more reflective, and decidedly less overtly sexual. This renewed modesty is reminiscent of 1980s Janet. It feels deliberate. Her beauty has not faded. Her sex appeal and presence have not waned. She is fully capable of being the sexually provocative woman she has always been. She chooses not to be that. She doesn’t have to be. If anything, in an industry that is replete with hyper-sexuality, Janet's restraint feels provocative. For a woman of color in an industry which rarely allows women of color to have agency over their bodies and call their own shots, Janet is being a woman on her own terms.
Like Cher and Madonna, Janet exists as a single name. She doesn’t need a surname. She is a force. However, in the same sense as Whitney and Aretha – two women who are also recognizable by only their first names – Janet’s presence and legacy demands that we refer to her as Janet Jackson. Miss Jackson. She commands this respect. Janet is a brand. Janet Jackson is a woman; a woman who is to be respected, revered, and lauded. Janet shows us the full extent of her womanhood. She remains notoriously tight-lipped and private without feeling robotic. We know Janet Jackson. She is her art. Her music is her life. Read More
Ode to Black Joy: Coping in the Midst of F-ckboys
Folks. Black folks. Brown folks. Feeling on the ground folks. Hug each other. Spread some love. Somebody needs it today. Even if you don't feel it, watching terrorism unfold and seeing black bodies lying in the street on a daily basis is taking its toll. It's meant to take its toll. Yell. Scream. Cry. Punch the wall (but be careful if you're uninsured).
Engage in some healing. Do something black. Something unapologetically black. Read some Baldwin. Listen to some Nina Simone. Make some drapes out of that leftover mud cloth. Plan a fish fry (but don't let Sister Odell cook because she put too much sage in the dressing last time). Find the raunchiest 2 Live Crew song you can find and twerk until you can't sweat anymore. Call your great aunt and ask her to tell you that story about that 1956 camp meeting in Como, Mississippi. Go to the creek and wade in the damn water for old times sake. Read More
May 19 marks the birthday of Malcolm X and Lorraine Hansberry, two of our most resonant voices of blackness and the fight for human rights. Both Malcolm and Lorraine departed from this world too soon; Malcolm was assassinated in Harlem at the age of 39 and Lorraine succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 34. Though their lives were short, their words illuminated the world and provided the groundwork for revolution.
Lorraine and Malcolm are inconvenient heroes. Both the mainstream media’s portrayal of X’s character and the lack of visibility of Hansberry’s voice are the product of people’s need to pick apart the legacies of icons to fit their own narratives. Their work did not allow much room for them to be co-opted. They were complicated and multifaceted figures whose commitment to upholding the boldness of blackness has pushed them to the margins of a narrative seeking to depict the movements associated with black arts and civil rights as docile, respectable, quietly resilient, and toothless. Read More
In a string of extrajudicial killings and injustices in America, Baltimore is the latest city to gain widespread media attention for uprisings surrounding police brutality, racial discrimination, and systemic oppression. The world watched as the portions of the city burned after a period of peaceful protesting erupted into calamity. The media presence, which had been notably absent during the peaceful protests and the years of struggle experienced by Baltimore’s poor and marginalized residents, has documented the upheaval and characterized the uprising as savage riots and labeled the rebels as miscreants and thugs.
Once again, public debates flared and people weighed in. Chastisements disguised as suggestions have urged the people of Baltimore to remain civil and not resort to violence. People have spoken up to condemn or condone the violence when it's not our place to do either. It's our place to acknowledge the pain of these people. More importantly, we must acknowledge the roots and causes of the pain, and do whatever we can to heal these communities and eradicate the prevailing injustices. Cities like Baltimore, Chicago, and Ferguson do not exist in a vacuum. They are only a symptom of an ongoing issue of abandoned communities in dire need of attention. Cities around the nation, poor and neglected, parallel the conditions of Baltimore which brewed for generations before these explosive results. Read More
Recently, I had an epiphany. A woman had a small child in her arms and was attempting to unfold an umbrella stroller. I walked over to help her. She held her hand up, smiled, and said, "No, I'm fine. Don't worry about." The way my Tennessee Mr. Polite Mind/Body/Heart is set up, I was a bit taken aback. I started to insist that I help her, it being the right thing to do, and she said to me again, "I'm really ok. Don't worry about." She smiled. I stood there with my chivalry deflated at my feet.
I then realized that her desire for help is not what motivated me. It was my feeling that she needed or deserved my help because she's a woman. I know, I know. That makes me a nice guy right? Here I am, half her weight, and because I'm a man, I felt the need to save her from the tyranny of a squirming tot and a stroller that didn't seem to be cooperating. Enter the paradox of chivalry. We often think that chivalry is rooted in all good things, but as I looked at the woman today, I was convicted by the idea that she needed my help or protection from her womanly weakness. That is rooted in the notion that women are inherently less strong than me. Read More
“I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.” – Maya Angelou
That was the manner in which Maya Angelou lived. Her life was a testament to possibility. Love was her purpose. I can recall the very moment I heard about the passing of Maya Angelou. I was at work. I excused myself, holed myself up in the restroom, and proceeded to release a stream of tears. It felt odd for me, a man who never met this woman, to be crying for her. I didn’t understand the way emotion began to overtake me. But I wasn’t alone. We all mourned Dr. Angelou. She was a woman who defied her definition as an icon, for in all of our canonization of her, she intentionally projected humanity. She remained accessible and met us where we were. Maya Angelou’s words were void of any pretense – simply, yet deeply profound – and, though she possessed a keen intellect, she spoke solely from her heart. In all of our efforts to project sainthood onto her, she remained beautifully human. She invoked a sense of familiarity in the way of a kind teacher, a doting mother, or a stern but tender grandmother. We did not personally know Maya Angelou, but she knew us. Read More
Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke received a heavy blow to the tune of $7.4m. The hefty sum will be awarded to the estate of Marvin Gaye. The Gaye family claims that Thicke's song Blurred Lines copies Gaye's music and is a direct ripoff. It's been a tough couple of years from Thicke. He lost his wife in a messy divorce, his career is in shambles, and his dignity is lying at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with the original hairline of LeBron James and Mariah Carey's 1990s singing voice. Robin Thicke set himself up for this predicament. He notoriously said in an awkward GQ magazine interview that he and Williams set out to record a song which had the feel of a Marvin Gaye hit.
Many applaud the legal decision, citing copyright laws and accusing Thicke of appropriation, especially due to the controversial rape culture themes of the song. However, many point out that it could set a dangerous precedent for the music industry because the song does not actually contain samples or music from a Gaye hit. It simply creates a feeling, a practice which is prevalent in the music of many artists who have been influenced by someone before them. Read More
Shonda Rhimes snatched every wig, sew-in, French braid, and bantu knot in the world with last night’s episode of Scandal. It was uncomfortable. Someone clued me in that it would be an episode that I would not want to miss, but I wasn't quite prepared. At the close of the episode, I sat in solemn silence… All of my suppressed feelings – my Malcolm X diatribes, James Baldwin analyses, and Angela Davis fired-upness – had experienced a reawakening and were laid out on the front lawn to air dry... The episode, titled The Lawn Chair, was somber. There wasn't much humor to be drawn from the show, aside from Olivia pulling out her Beyoncé privileged black girl Precious Lord shaking hand. That’s when I knew it was serious.
The shows lead, Olivia Pope, was dispatched to do damage control and diffuse the situation after an unarmed black teen is gunned down by a white police officer. However, becoming wedged between a sketchy police department and Marcus Walker, a passionate and quick tongued communist activist, Olivia crosses the police tape, going from an advocate of the system to a voice in a crowd calling for justice. Read More