Thursday, February 11, 2010

The People Speak

Watch Amy Goodman's Farewell to Howard Zinn.

Who will speak up now?

A friend asked me to begin posting again, especially my recent sing-song scribblings, but I feel that the hastening of globally-interconnected suffering belies (my sense of) rhythm.

Surely, the everyday concerns of the People everywhere speak louder than I can.

The People on the reservations in South Dakota have been iced in and without power and water for weeks, and The People in Haiti are bracing themselves for a torrential rainy season with only leaky tents and tarps overhead. Many more, perhaps 1 million People, have merely the open sky.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Haiti's debt history includes paying reparations to slave owners. Soon after Frederick Douglass had served as U.S. minister and consul general to Haiti (from 1889-1891), he spoke at the World’s Fair:
“We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy today is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons of Haiti ninety years ago … striking for their freedom, they struck for the freedom of every black man in the world.”
Here in California, where our so-called leaders employ the 15 billion dollar budget shortfall to legitimate the sacrifice of our most vulnerable residents without so much as a genteel, phlegmatic cough, who remembers, has been taught, and can speak enough of the People's History to see where California is headed?

As climate change heightens our responsibility to pursue social, political and economic change, who can learn the People's Present quickly enough to write?

But here's yesterday's crack at a poem.
How does a people become Indigenous?
When do they know it is time
to sink right down
and just let your roots grow?

When will all of the rest of us
Slow down and consider the
precisely Here?

Those who have been running
Around for centuries
Making civilizational Progress
and metaphysical pilgrimages
and calculating the consequences
from the Moon–

I mean, if I were made
Of mud and water!
Of fire and ice!
Of the wind spoken softly under the black sky
Punctuated by night stars!

I would feel like I belonged Somewhere.
I would feel like Somewhere belonged to me.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Field Report from San Diego

I woke up on the hard edge
of contemplation this morning with a thought.
I want to be a poet. . .
not a great one
like June Jordan or Alice Walker. . .
just an honest-to-goodness, California-born oracle,
scribbling the obvious and chronicling
this long, dark moment, which is like
driving through a tunnel
from the city, past the suburbs,
and emerging onto an old time road
where miles of sad, brown swirls of dusty
commercial farmland are stabbed in the middle
by aging, “For Lease” signs.
And the occasional, green swatch
sticking out
like a watermelon patch
with five thousand, striped green bellies
lying sunny-side up
makes me wonder whether midwifery is on the rise,
now that most hardworking people are hard pressed.

The People of California are broke.

Perhaps we should round up all the single mothers, disabled veterans,
street-people, and recently released inmates
and give them a 95,291 dollar salary
for pursuing the unsatisfying and clearly unsavory job
of telling the oil companies that

"There ain’t no free lunch."

Nor food stamps, nor children’s healthcare, nor homeless shelters.
No mental health services, no public assistance
for survivors of domestic violence, inequality, or predatory mortgage lending,
No Black Infant Mortality Program, and no, absolutely no, poetry for the people.

It’s like a goddamned, post-apocalyptic, third world country out here.

What’s it like where you are?

Posted with Stanchich, Zinn, and the State of the State/Union/World in mind.

Friday, August 01, 2008

At the Root: Get Real about Race & Gender

[Torchy Brown was a comic strip heroine in the 1930s. Read on for more details about her inspiring author/illustrator.]

Today I'll commence by sharing someone else's pithy blog entry, sent to me by my east coast buddy, who like me, regretfully (yet happily), lacks cable access and therefore didn't get to see "Black in America" the CNN series that many folks were awaiting with curiosity and tempered optimism.

It doesn't seem as if the series was that great.

But I encourage you to check in at "the Root," where you'll find Walker's article and some related strong, critical thinking by authors who write about mixed race kids and their identity questions, taser-killings, why some Black people are getting sick of the onus of constantly "defending" Obama against the right. And a lot of commentary from people who are working stuff out.

Regarding the (somewhat hastily written but powerful) blog entry, "Black in America: Ain't I [a] Woman?" I agree with its writer that race conversations need to include "women who have a critique of corporate media. Or women who might bring up the issue of light-skin privilege. Or women who view economic disparities between black men and women as something more than a reason black women should consider marrying white men."

Below her photo are some excerpts from her comments at the Root:

"It's not pretty, but I'm going to tell you what I think.

A lot of black women are pissed that the first segment of CNN's Black in America was even less complex than the second.

Not able get a man? Unprotected sex? 40 minutes to get a tomato?

Get real."

...(she says more)

"Instead of a woman who can get a gun easier than a vegetable, what about the black women who are using vegetables as guns in their commitment to change the way people of color eat? What about the ones who bring ideas about natural foods, homeopathy, and spiritual balance to their families and communities.

The ones who design innovative strategies for addressing mental illness, encourage healthy same-sex eroticism and partnership, and emphasize the need to define ourselves as global citizens. What about the ones fighting environmental racism?

What about the black women who have such a deep concern about the fallacy of racial constructs, they don't even identify as black." (Read the rest.)

True, and there's more than a mere lack of understanding about race, class and gender, of course, at the busy intersection of blackness and femaleness. Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich wrote a piece, entitled "Black Women Are Touching the Sky," which does a great job of pointing out the real damage done by these kinds of stories. That is, they render invisible the Black women who are there and HAVE BEEN THERE ALL ALONG; she raises the following example:
"I have observed, for example, that every photo of the historic civil rights marches, demonstrations and rallies of the 1960s shows clear images of Dr. Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women; Dr. C. Delores Tucker, president of the National Political Caucus of Black Women; Mrs. Coretta Scott King, president-emerita of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and several other unnamed women.

They were photographed marching and standing right beside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Urban League's Whitney Young, the NAACP's Roy Wilkins and the Congress on Racial Equality's James Farmer. But national media did then, and still do, refer to the 'Big Four' of the civil rights movement, ignoring the ubiquitous Black women leaders."

What can we do? Sometimes we need to change things immediately. As Rebecca Walker said, perhaps CNN should just have a do-over. I think that's a great idea. I think a little instant gratification would help us to rewrite our cognitive narratives suggesting, reinforcing, and incessantly proving that inequality is so deeply inscribed that there is no quick fix, only historical long-suffering.

The work of two inspiring Black women might freshen up that drear perspective--oppression is so tiresome, really.

First, check out the NPR story about Jackie Ormes, a smart and incredibly sassy Black woman who was also a comic strip producer (illustrator and writer) for the Courier in the 1930s to 1950s, and then follow the links to sample some of her comic strips!

AND we should READ Louise Bernikow's books and articles, and seek out her current traveling lecture and slide show about activism called "The Shoulders We Stand On: Women as Agents of Change."

She can be reached at

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is Tolerance a Sophisticated Substitute for Mutual Respect?

Everybody's talking about it.

If this use of satire is meant to draw our attention to the ridiculous nature of recent misrepresentations of the Obamas, is this cover going to provoke discourse that changes people's misconceptions or is it likely to reinforce them? Does calling it satire make it okay?

The person who sent a related article to my inbox asked, "uh-oh are we in for another teachable moment?" Yes, if we are to advance the struggle toward social equality, I think we should consider pedagogy--I mean how we teach and learn about difference. I think lots of people suspect that this cover is communicating something sinister, but they don't really know what. Is Michele meant to be depicted as a terrorist or a Black radical activist? Do most people understand the distinction?

Humor that pretends to be sophisticated such as this is a bit like telling a student struggling in calculus class to look up the answers in the back of the book. If you don't get it, when and how are you gonna learn?

Meanwhile, media folks (e.g., Racewire bloggers) have started the conversation, inquiring what's behind this sarcastic wit and how people feel about it. In my view, in the following quotation from an article in the Washington Post, editorialist Philip Kennicott nails the big, righteous point about humor that we hope this controversy will finally raise:
"Successful" satire -- mildly funny, generally anodyne and broadly therapeutic -- needs an "April Fool's" moment, when the joke is revealed and everyone is at least invited to have a laugh. No, Bob, it's not Friday, it's still Thursday; that report isn't due for another 24 hours and you can climb off the ledge now. Like a practical joke, satire can be hysterically funny without a shared catharsis, but that's often a cruel form of humor. To be effective -- if by effective one means a teachable moment, a transformative bump forward in self-awareness -- the humor must be widely appreciated.
Race humor told from a distance is so rarely funny. What we hope is that ironists and other putative humorists are learning something that they will in turn teach us, since that's the job they've chosen. Calling this cover image "satire" implies that the New Yorker has the intention of challenging certain widely held misconstruals regarding Muslims, African-Americans, Black women, Black activism, etc.

I wonder, though, if once the controversy achieves selling a requisite number of magazines, any of the editors and readership of the New Yorker (self-styled liberals with advanced education) will modify their views or think particularly deeply about these issues of representation?

What would a more sophisticated view look like, and is this magazine genuinely prepared to re-tell a history of political change that acknowledges the grievances of such groups as Black Panthers and flag-burners?

I seriously doubt it, but I'll let you know if I see any positive signs.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Presidential Gender Race

Susan Faludi's op-ed piece, Think the Gender War Is Over? Think Again, in the NYT poses and elucidates answers to the key question: Isn't political power (specifically the current presidential race) always already about race, class and gender, regardless of who's on the ticket?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Unique Time-Space Gender/Race Juxtaposure

Another lens on how interpersonal relationships drive the deepest kind of social change emerged in my readings of media on race this week. Perhaps you heard the NPR story regarding the first interracial prom in Mississippi that just occurred this year and were surprised or reminded of the Lovings, whose relationship inspired change of significant magnitude. In this vein, K.L. Folan of the Post writes a healthy rumination from the perspective of a Black woman married to a white man, entitled What Mildred Loving Knew, and raises several points of statistical and anecdotal evidence showing that very few groups openly support this particular configuration of relations. Who has the courage to change racism/social inequality from within one's own psyche, and one's own relationships? And when and where does that courage originate?

Also: Check out this U-tube media reporting synthesis of clips about the Clinton endorsement of Obama.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What Marriage Equality Meant in Virgina until 1967

Today's NYT reports that Mildred Loving died at the age of 68 on May 2, 2008. In 1958, she and her husband, Richard, married each other and disobeyed the Racial Integrity Act that had been on the books and enforced actively since 1662.

Of their decision to fight for this change in society, Mr. Loving said in an interview in 1966 “we have thought about other people, but we are not doing it just because somebody had to do it and we wanted to be the ones. We are doing it for us.”

I hope you'll read this amazing story to its finish, but in case you don't here's the end spoiler. According to Douglas Martin who wrote today's article, "Mrs. Loving stopped giving interviews, but last year issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of the announcement of the Supreme Court ruling, urging that gay men and lesbians be allowed to marry."

Did you know ??? that 38 states had miscegenation laws until 1948 when the California Supreme Court overturned California’s law? And did you know that Alabama only changed its constitution to exclude miscegenation laws as recently as the year 2000?