Friday, July 30, 2010

Just Thinking

At a crime scene the other day, the head of a young black man lay cheek down on step, while the coroner's office prepared to take him away.

Another young man watched the grisly scene and couldn't stop shaking his head. He'd come to the scene to see if the body belonged to someone he knew, and left with thanks on his lips because it didn't. The young man turned to me and said simply "Something needs to be done."

We both knew what he meant. Death visits black men in my city far too frequently and far too soon. People don't ignore the violence, but they've come to accept it as part of the landscape. As the young man said "Nobody seems to think it's important."

Some things have become accepted facts of life in America: Black men will be gunned down on a nightly basis, and the police will use that violence to abuse and denigrate mostly innocent black men. It's the cycle of life. Our violence provides a ready made excuse for the violence of those charged with protecting and serving.

And people will continue to shake their heads and assume that's the way things have to be.

But, they really don't. Young black men do not have to live fast and die young, and a police horror story is not a prerequisite for manhood. Those things are not immutable laws of life no matter what we have internalized and been taught to believe. Things can change if enough of us demand a change.

But how?

First, black people have to demand that ALL of us be treated as American citizens, with the full rights of citizens. We can no longer afford to classify ourselves as "good niggers" and "bad niggers" when it comes to the rights and privileges afforded us by the police. We can no longer accept that the police will have to break a few eggs to make their safety omelet. That sort of reactionary and unimaginative thinking is what led us to the inane crack cocaine/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and the rapidly growing prison underclass of black men.

We have to have the courage and fortitude to stop expecting other folks to solve our problems. In turn we have to stop being willing to sacrifice our freedoms to get those problems solved. Crime is a terrible blight, but that doesn't mean we have to accept harsh and illegal police tactics to feel safer.

We don't have to eliminate people's rights to make the world a better place. That's fool's gold. We can demand equal treatment from the police, and, if necessary, we can police our own communities to reduce our dependence on outside forces. We have that power.

As for the problem of young men dying, we need to join with the thousands of people across this country who are working to the slow kill of our families and communities. We need to first change mindsets, then change environments and ultimately we will change lives. So many of the young cats I meet can't seem to find the middle ground that allows most of us to be productive and fairly happy individuals. They either dream massive dreams, or they don't seem to dream at all.

We need jobs, we need education, we need God. But, most importantly, we need each other to care. Yes, the lifestyle some people lead is one that will have few positive outcomes. Yes, some of these young men who are killed are hardcore, terrible criminals who would kill anyone just as fast as they would say "What's up?"

But, not only are those folks the minority, even they are not irredeemable. We have to stop sacrificing so many of our folks at the altar of "respectability." Standards are important, but too often many of us permanently attach our hands to our backs and a stick to our anuses. We're so caught up in congratulating ourselves on how we "made it" that we forget that "making it" shouldn't have been the only goal.

We have to start caring again.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Train is Coming

Sometimes I read my little boys the story of the "Little Engine that Could."

The book was one of my favorites as a child, and I enjoy passing it along to them. I try to impress on them the importance of "I think I can, I think I can" as we read about the little engine doing its job.

But, there is another aspect of the book that I'm thinking about today. Before the positive thinking engine saves the day, there are several other engines who refuse to the do the job of carrying the dolls, toys and food across the mountain to the waiting boys and girls. Two, of those engines decline out of self-importance. But, the other declines simply because he's tired.

"I'm so tired. I'm so tired. I need to rest my weary wheels, exclaims the old ragged engine before he puffs off exclaiming I can not. I can not.

Now, this engine is held up as the antithesis of the little blue engine. His negative attitude is supposed to be his biggest problem, while the little blue engine succeeds because he's positive. It's easy to see the message being promoted by the book's author.

Only, it's not that simple to me. Right now, I feel like that old, ragged engine. As I gaze at the swirling issues of race that are dominating our news cycle despite the best efforts of the country's first black president to downplay them, I just feel tired. Lies, misdirections and vitriol are everywhere, and while I understand it in no way compares to what my ancestors once faced in this country, I still feel tired. I'm tired of listening, I'm tired of discussing, I'm tired of being bothered.

I can not.

This has been building for a while. It's why I've posted somewhat less frequently, why I completely avoid most television news, and why I generally do not feel like talking to people about what's going on in the world. My focus is turning inward. I'm looking at my life, my behavior and my actions and thinking about what I can do to correct them. It's not that I've given up on people changing, it's just that I've decided they first have to show some desire and commitment to change before I get emotionally involved.

I'm not convinced that the majority of people this country, or in this world are truly interested in equality or justice, or challenging themselves to, honestly, be better human beings. Hell, often I'm not interested in those things. Like most people, I'm interested in being comfortable, in having enough, in not doing too much and in being "happy." Like most folks, I see happiness as an emotion dependent on my external circumstances, instead of a state of being dependent on my internal fortitude. I want the world to make me happy, when only I have that power.

So, like that old train, I've decided that right now is not the best time for me to be climbing certain mountains, even if it means some jobs won't get done. I haven't quit, I haven't lost hope, I've just lost a little vigor. I'm trying determine a new path that allows me to reduce frustration and stress, while at the same time feeling like I'm still getting things done. I still want to confront and discuss issues involving race, but I'm trying to discover a way to approach these issues that's satisfying instead of frustrating. The blog will continue, I'm just trying to figure what to say that I haven't said already, and how to present the same topics in real life.

In the mean time, all the Little Engines that can will have to do the heavy lifting.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Spreading It Around

I have a lot of sympathy for Muslims in Western nations these days.

From the French telling Muslim women they can't wear their traditional religious dress in public, to Facebook telling some Muslim groups "Thanks, but no thanks," being Muslim in majority white-spaces isn't easy these days. As a black man, I can relate.

It's strange how ideas, particularly those founded on distrust and outright hatred can gain traction so quickly. So many people seem to think that a belief in Islam is definite proof of a bent towards terrorism. Trust me, I'm not blind to the fact that there are many Muslim terrorists, but I'm also not blind to the fact that "terrorism" is a loaded and misused word. One man's tea is another man's poison, and one man's terrorism is another man's War On Terror.

Think about it.

Sadly, most people don't think about it. Instead they make convoluted arguments that seek to justify religious profiling, all while denying that it's a problem. They seek to impose restrictions on others that they would chafe under themselves. And they excuse their own bad behavior, or the bad behavior of those that look like them, all while blaming other groups for the bad behavior of a small minority within that group.

All of it sounds mighty familiar to a black man in America, and I'm sure it sounds familiar to many of you. It seems that just like the Indians, Chinese and Jews all had their turn to join black folks as America's bogeyman du jour, Muslims are now treading the same path. One consistent thing about America is that if you're a minority, particularly a non-white minority, there will come a time when you are viewed with widespread suspicion, and you will have your rights challenged or removed. It's as certain as corruption on Capitol Hill.

The sad thing is that most of the minority groups who have faced marginalization and abuse will be at the front of the line when it's time to denigrate a different group. We are all like dogs fighting for scraps at the big table; howling and biting while we desperately attempt to avoid a swift kick to the ribs and eat our fill. Even though we all know that it will be our turn soon enough, we still rush to condemn and punish others.

We all should be troubled by the way Muslims have been treated around the globe since September 11. I don't condone, or excuse the actions of extremists or those who shelter them, but I do understand that things are rarely black and white, or simple, when humans are involved. I understand that many of the folks who turn to "terrorism" feel like they have serious grievances that are not being addressed. And while I disagree completely with their methods, I sympathize with their pain and frustration. Thus, it saddens me to see so many other folks fail to acknowledge those concerns, and instead blindly accept the latest manure being shoveled out by the powers that be.

Just spreading it around.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

What If It Were You?

Last week, the Internet was buzzing about the capture of infamous Barefoot Bandit.

Y'all may remember the young man from this post I wrote back in March. This kid became a bit of a celebrity in some circles from stealing cars, boats and planes, among other things, from the wealthy and jet-setting around the world. His arrest has broken some people's hearts because they feel like "The Man" has finally captured their hero.

Um, that is a lot of crap.

America loves its bad boys, particularly the white ones. I'm not saying that black ones don't get love, hell the entire rap industry is built on the premise that white kids want to live the black thug life without actually having to worry about getting shot, but white bad boys are really king. Nothing gets white folks talking about freedom and the American way like a white bad boy giving "The Man" the business. They eat that stuff up.

The arrest of the Barefoot Bandit has been lamented by certain folks because they believe he lived life the way it should be lived. He wasn't tied down by mortgages, or jobs, or morals. He took from those who had excess, and dared to make his own rules. At least I'm sure that's how the book deal and movie deal about his life will be sold.

The reality is a little different.

Yeah, this cat stole from rich folks who probably amassed their wealth through nefarious means. It almost sounds like a modern tale of Robin Hood, or successful socialism.  But, in actuality, he was just stealing. He wasn't doing it for justice or to right a wrong, he was doing it for the thrill and to sate his desires. There was nothing noble about it.

See, when you steal from rich folks, it doesn't just affect rich folks. Investment banks and Wall Street should have taught all of us that lesson. There is a ripple effect when rich folks suffer, and unlike in nature, the effects of the ripple are actually much worse the further you get away from Ground Zero. Angry rich folks are vindictive. Angry rich folks fire their workers and abuse their staffs. They cause problems.

But, more than that, stealing from people who have more than you only sounds cool when you feel like one of the have nots. It looks much different when you're a have. And what most Americans celebrating the Barefoot Bandit don't realize is that there are many folks in the world who see them as a "have."

You think the folks who commit petty burglaries or thefts do it just for kicks? Nah, theys see things they want, that they can't afford and they decide that the rules about ownership shouldn't apply to them. They decide that they don't care about the ripple effect of their actions, they just care about living the life they want to live. And that's how your nice new car disappears from your driveway overnight, or how that shiny Ipod gets snatched from your gym locker. Somebody decided they wanted to be a "have" at your expense.

It doesn't sound so cool when that's the scenario. I would bet that most of the folks cheering the Barefoot Bandit wouldn't like for the regular, fully-clothed bandits in their neighborhoods to start living the "free life." They probably get insulted when somebody steals from them because they work for their nice things, or they really don't have that much.

Well the rich folks vicitimized by the Barefoot Bandit to satisfy his lusts felt the same way about their things. They didn't think that just because they have a lot, it's ok for others to take it from them. After all, if you're an American, there is ALWAYS somebody who has less than you do, it's just about whether you encounter them today or not.

See, people don't like to see the obvious because it ruins their little fantasies. In real life, stealing just for the sake of stealing is a problem, but in the myth of the Barefoot Bandit it's striking a blow for the little guy.

But what happens when you're not the little guy?


Monday, July 19, 2010

WWJD? Really.

Church people are prone to believing in conspiracies.

Maybe it's because we've already been primed to take things on "faith" through our teachings and the Bible, or maybe it's because there is an inverse relationship between religious fervor and education. Whatever the case, I've seen way too many church folks accept the most outrageous tales on very little evidence.

Just recently, folks at my church stated it as fact that Jay-Z and countless other pop stars worship Satan. These folks aren't just sinners, which everybody with eyes knows, but that they actually pray to Lucifer and revere his teachings. I've been told they are all members of the Illuminati and pepper their videos and songs with references to the group and Satan to indoctrinate children.

It wasn't the first time. Over the years, I've learned about secret government plots at church, I've learned about can't miss money deals and I've learned about obscure diseases. Church folks forward me the wildest emails about corporations who give a portion of their profits to eliminate black babies or advance the church of Satan. I guess that's a fielder's choice or something.

Every time I turn around, it seems that church folks have some dire news about some grand scheme that's going to end the world as we know it. And it's not just black church folks, the white ones are just as likely to fall victim to the same stories. Do you see what white folks believe about Obama?

Now, some folks are reading this and thinking "Well Big Man, what do you expect from church folks? Christians actually believe that a man died, got up from the dead three days later, and is coming back to Earth to save them before the world is destroyed by fire and brimstone. They believe in angels and demons, and all other kinds of ridiculousness. Seriously, some of them even believe that a talking snake convinced the world's first woman to sin and that screwed it up for everybody!"

For many folks just being a Christian requires you to believe in a massive, idiotic and far-fetched conspiracy. Just look at the success of 'The Da Vinci Code." I understand that sentiment, even if I don't agree with it.

But, I've been around Christians my entire life, and I've found that contrary to what atheists and agnostics believe, Christians come in a lot of different varieties. Sure, you've got your knuckle-draggers, but you've also got a lot of smart, hard-working and caring people as well. So, for me it's troubling how easily some of these folks accept certain ideas.

After all, if you sit in church long enough you'll find that church folks have no problem employing critical thinking skills when the preacher's topic is tithing or loving your enemies. They can debate that stuff like fourth-year law students.

What I've decided is that church folks are willing to accept certain myths so easily because the myths are about "them." You know "them" right? Those are the folks who aren't like good church folks. Those folks can be either on the outside of the church, or the ones on the inside who ain't living right.

In fact, I think that because Christianity is big on the concept of the secular sinful "world," it's easier to accept certain conspiracies.

Believing the worst about folks makes sense when you don't identify with them.

That said, the whole practice irks me. I don't have to say "Jay-Z worships the devil" to understand that Jigga's message is detrimental to young Christians. The fact is Jay-Z celebrates money, fame, and himself all the damn time. He has a blatant dislike of religion in all forms, and those things are enough for me to steer my kids and other kids away from him. I don't need the lagniappe of a pact with Satan to make my decision.

Christians are trying so hard to convince folks to separate themselves from the world, that they are embellishing just how screwed up the world real is. All this talk of conspiracies and plots seems pointless. What purpose does it serve? For example, let's agree that the Illuminati is real, and trying to rule the world and control people.

What then?

Is there a plan after you accept this new reality? Better yet, who cares if somebody is trying to rule this world? If you're a Christian don't you already except the fleeting nature of this life anyway?

Ok, so you say Jay-Z worships Satan. And? Is worshipping the Satan the straw that broke the camel's back? Were most Christians willing to accept the talk of fornicating and murder, but they feel like Mr. Carter crossed a line when he started cavorting with demons?

That's just stupid.

What would Jesus do? I doubt he would be too concerned. If you look at the record of his life contained in the Bible, he rarely spent much time worrying political plots or Israel's latest pop star. He knew that humans are humans, and we typically we mess up the same way over and over again. Besides, Jesus had some other work he was concentrating on, and he remained confident that if he stayed on that path, the rest of it would be worked out.

Seems like some folks have forgotten that message.

Maybe that's the real conspiracy.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bite My Tongue 'Til It Bleeds

It's been a while since I posted something new, but honestly, real life has been taking up a lot of my time.

Anyway, something has been on my mind recently.  I've come to realize that I have a fairly hefty ego, and taming that massive beast is not going to be as simple as I once believed.

This announcement may shock some of you who only know me through the digital realm. Online, I take pains to dampen my arrogance and try to practice humility. I tend to ignore certain slights, and strive to respond as amicably as possible. I guess I see the Internet as the perfect arena to practice becoming the man I'd like to be one day. And honestly, it's not that hard to be humble and calm online. The fact that you have to type out most of your responses seems to give me the ability to distance myself from my initial reactions.

Unfortunately, in real life, things are a little more complicated.

See, I have this issue with people thinking they are getting over on me. It doesn't satisfy me to just peep people's game, and avoid their nefarious plots. I'm not happy with only seeing through their ridiculous spin and understanding the heart of the matter. Although I am able at times to keep my mouth shut and not rub people's noses in their weak mind games, it doesn't sit well with me. And when people get smug, well then proverbial feces hits the rapidly spinning fan.

I just have to pull their cards.

It's like I get this itch in my mind. I know I should just let things slide because it really doesn't affect me, but there is a little voice telling me to get things popping. That voice sounds kind of like Chris Rock as "Lil Penny".

On issues at work:

"Oh hell no. Does he really think that lame response answered your question? Does he think you can't add and subtract or think logically? Does he think you just fell off the cabbage truck, or is this his default position with all darkies."

On issues at home:

"Come on now woman. Look, if she wanted you to do that, why didn't she just ask? Why she gotta try to be slick, like you don't have eyes. This woman must think your name is Willie, not Big Man. Willie Foo Foo that is. Maybe she got you pegged as Cpt. Sausagehead."

On every issue that I ever face:

"Don't they know who you are? Don't they know how smart you are and that you could cut them down like overripe wheat? That you could slice apart their pitifully crafted arguments like a sickle? Don't they understand the awesomeness of Big Man? They better recognize before they get their feelings hurt!

I wish I could say the previous remarks are hyperbole, but sadly they aren't. That's exactly how the voice in my head sounds, and that's exactly what it says, more or less. I always think that if people could actually hear what I think, even more people would hate my guts. Thank the Lord for the privacy of my brain.

But,  what I'm slowly starting to realize is that all these internal conversations are the result of fairly useless pride. Who cares if people think I'm dumb? Hell, unless they are denying me an opportunity, why would I worry myself if they decide to greatly underestimate my capabilities to their own detriment. Yeah, it's insulting, but what's really bruised besides my expansive ego?

I can't really see it.

So, I've decided to not only bite my tongue more often, but like it. I've decided not to let folks raise my blood pressure by acting like I can't think properly. I know what I'm capable of, and all I have to worry about is showing and proving.

The rest of it is just a lot of  tongue wagging.


Monday, July 12, 2010

A Pack of What?

Man, I didn't even hear about this Mel Gibson thing until Monday.

I avoid the TV news like the plague when I get home, and I ususally avoid the internet as well. So I was quite surprised to hear that Gibson revealed another "ism" in a very public manner. Now, I agree with some folks who have questioned how this information was gathered and what it says about our lack of privacy in this world, but still, Gibson's words were shocking.

Did he really berate his woman for dressing in a manner that was going to get her "raped by a pack of niggers"?

I mean, who says "pack of niggers" in general conversation? What actually qualifies as a "pack of niggers"? Is that just a large group of black males, or is it co-ed? Do the black males have to be engaged in a particular behavior, or is the simple reality of their massing enough to get them labeled a "pack"?

Are NBA games played by a "pack of niggers"?

These are types of things I pondered when I heard about Mel's comments. Sure, what he said was despicable, as were his comments about Latinos and his older comments about Jews. But really, Mel Gibson never struck me as the kind of guy who would shy away from a slur, so I can't say his comments were that shocking.

But, "pack of niggers" is still a curious and powerful phrase. I doubt Mel Gibson lives in an area with a lot of gang activity, and outside of his last Lethal Weapon movies I'm curious about when he last hung out with some black people. So, where does Gibson's fear of a maurading, raping "pack of niggers" come from? Of all the things he could be concerned about with his woman dressing provocatively, why did a "pack of niggers" jump to the forefront? (Oh yeah, am I the only one who finds it wild that Gibson is affiliated with some crazy rigourous Catholic sect, but has a jump-off he impregnated who dresses and acts in this manner? Yeah, that just gives me the giggles.)

And why did Gibson think a "pack of niggers" would be such an effective fear tactic?

Did Gibson imagine his woman running for her bathrobe and sweatsuit at the mere mention of a "pack of niggers"? Is that how they scare each other at night?  Is a "pack of niggers" their bogeyman? Has she expressed a fear of groups of black men? Does she point them out on the street and give a little shiver when her driver cruises past them?

Or, did Gibson just randomly blurt out "pack of niggers" when he was searching for a general way to express danger? Pack of nigger = dangerous, right?

Sadly, cynicism leads me to that choice. Black men are the default signal of danger and the only thing more dangerous than a black man is a group of horny black men. Near a white woman, of course.

Yep, Gibson's comments will be shrugged off as the ravings of a boorish racist, but in my mind they are just the blunt observations of your average American. Gibson just spoke what a lot of people think when they are scrambling to their cars, or showing off a little too much cleavage. Hell, sometimes I'm guilty of it.

A "pack of niggers" scares everybody, right?

Damn "pack of niggers."


Friday, July 9, 2010


One the most consistent arguments my wife and I have is about validation.

I readily admit that I'm a fairly self-absorbed and confident man. I'm not oblivious to other people, nor am I always sure of myself, but for the most part, those traits are a big part of my personality. I've been called arrogant and obnoxious on occasion, and honestly, those comments have been accurate.

My wife is not like that.

Most folks see my wife as the quiet, sensitive one in our relationship, and to a degree, they are right. More importantly, while my wife has confidence in some areas, she still often seeks my validation for her decision making and choices, something I rarely do. Sure, I discuss big issues with my wife before I make decisions, but I don't constantly seek her thoughts or feelings on how I'm living my life. For my wife, consensus is important, to me, not so much.

I was reminded of our different thoughts on consensus when I read this article on the NY Times website. The article speaks about fashion websites where folks can go for a real-time critique of their outfits before they cross their doorstep, but it also speaks to something else in my opinion. It points to some human beings overwhelming need for validation.

Look, no one is immune to peer pressure. We all succumb on a regular basis to behaving in a particular manner to maintain our status in certain communities. Anybody who says anything different is a freaking liar. But, some of us go further than others, and some of us crave validation like its emotional crack.

We need people to tell us we're doing well, looking well and living well. We don't trust our own impulses and instincts, even as we all pretend to be "experts" on everything. If you listen closely you can hear a loud bleating from all across the world and it sounds like "What do you think about this?"

Who cares what everybody else thinks? Who cares if people think your dress is fly, your Facebook fresh or your tweets awesome? Why do you need "followers" and "friends" validating your very existence? Trust me, I'm guilty of this too, but it's only lately that I've realized how much it has crept into everybody's lives and it's starting to worry me. This desperate search for validation cannot end well.

Not at all.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Resolution, Finally

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the curious case of Caster Semenya.

For those of you who have understandably forgotten, Semenya is a South African sprinter who has had to deal with questions about whether she is truly a woman.
I wrote about the controversy here and here and we had a fairly lively discussion in the two comment sections. As you can see from those two posts, I mainly concentrated on the pain and embarrassment a teenage girl must feel to have the entire world debating whether she truly qualifies as a female.

I'm sure somewhere Sojourner Truth nodded her head in understanding.

Now, news has broken that Semenya is  cleared to compete as a woman, and she may begin running competitively in the near future. It turns out the speculation, and the original anonymous reports about the results of the investigation, were incorrect. After testing and consultation the international athletic federation decided that Semenya met all of the governing board's requirements for womanhood.

Well isn't that nice.

I've already expressed my outrage and suspicions about the original questions. I've expressed anger at the way the initial incorrect news was leaked. Now, I find myself struggling to determine how I feel. Sadly, and I mean this for myself not for Semenya, I think my main emotion is ambivalence. I don't feel vindication, nor can I profess to feel relief. Instead, given the time that has passed, and the information leaked about her physique, I don't really know if her reinstatement is a good thing or bad thing. For me, not for her, that is.

The questions about the runner's gender are like steroid allegations, or homosexuality rumors. No matter who says they aren't true, no matter how vehemently they are denied, the stain is just in the accusation. If Semenya had continued her dominance without these public allegations, there would have always been quiet grumbling and rumors. However, they would have remained in the background, something to be kicked around in secret but never broached in polite company.

With the allegations, despite them being refuted, Semenya is perpetually branded. The rumors aren't just reserved for the shadows, they can be broached in the open by those wanting to score points or appear intelligent. People can blithely discuss the limits of gender using Semenya as an example and nobody will find it strange. It will be accepted and acceptable.

That's the resolution that's been reached, and honestly, it seems like a bad deal for a young South African woman.


My Bad

Sorry about how quiet things have been. I took a short break for the holiday, but I will have something up soon.


Raving Black Lunatic