Friday, February 7, 2014

I re-posted this to my facebook with the caption: When I see this picture I see the depth of the color in the neon sign. This to me is significant. It shows the attention to detail and depth of discrimination Americans went through less than a lifetime ago. 

This photo was taken in 1956 and posted to facebook by It's original caption said:

This photo of a finely dressed black mother and daughter -- standing below a “Colored Entrance” sign at a bus station in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1956 -- was taken by Gordon Parks, one of the seminal figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, Parks left behind a body of work that documents race relations, poverty, civil rights and urban life.

I find myself torn by this picture, mostly because I think it's beautiful. The contrast of colors, the old vehicle in the modest class and beauty of the mother and daughter. It's a beautiful picture. I guess the picture is a true representation of the photographers eye. The photo is the best representation of American irony, because as ornate as the colors are and as timely as the photo is, the two ladies in the photo will always know what it's like to have being colored hanging over their heads.

America, the beautiful, has low self esteem. This picture captures this perfectly. While Americans of color have long been contributors to society. We have been continually branded and segregated by no fault of our own. I have to wonder the social conditioning of these two. What were they taught/told about themselves?

This train of thought brings me to think about my grandparents and Trayvon Martin.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Album That Brought My Blog Out of Retirement: RealliCool - Hunger Pains

A few weeks ago I came across this album cover from one of the random pages I follow on facebook. That page led me to the Reall!Deaux? & Cool Green facebook page. From there, I found a song off the mixtape called 'Til the Day. Now this is the first song I heard but I noticed how dope it was. It's well produced, verses are nice and they put it down. Then I saw the album cover, it's a piece of art in itself! This statement also proved to be true about the album (I've listened to it at least 20 times all the way through).

Reall!Deaux & Cool Green AKA RealliCool AKA Baltimore's Dynamic Duo have put together a project like none I've ever heard before. Typical rap albums take the angle of gangsta, braggadocio, or just all around materialistic. What struck me about the album was that, although it occasionally touches on the typical topics, is that it has substance and depth and is dope at the same time.

Hunger Pains is an album that subtly describes life for lots of young black men in America. Starting with a prayer, the album journey though good times (Cheers) and bad (Riches) while illustrating what it's like to have convictions on your record while trying to find employment ( "Can't get a job 'cause what's said about me on a fuckin' piece of paper...") to the feel good moments you have with your girl like you have on "Can You Feel What I'm Saying?" The album has ambition but it sobering in it's reality.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Wire: 10 Years Later

It's rare in America that a television show touches the pulse and soul of a culture while piecing together a narrative that parrallels life. This is what The Wire did from 2003-2008. I'll admit, I didnt become a Wire head until sometime in 2009 after my daughter was born. I remember being in college and someone from my dorm telling me they had it on bootleg and that it was "this real ass drug show" and I didnt want to watch it. I couldnt fathom wanting to see a show about drug dealers when at the time I had 2 cousins and an uncle in jail for drug offenses. However, fast forward to 2009, I'm a new dad in a bad economy. My home had been broken into and my recently purchased HDTV had been stolen. I was starting a new business (in a bad economy) and the country had a new POTUS that was Black named Barack Obama. With the stresses of life and all the change going on in the world, I needed an outlet BAD.

So one Sunday night, I'm folding laundry and I see that DirecTV will be showing episodes of The Wire on the Audience Channel (then The 101). It's late so I begin to watch it and get completely sucked in by the depth and power of its characters. The storyline is almost too much to process so I try to tell my wife about it and it comes out something like:

"Babe! I've been watching this show called The Wire and its amazing."
"What's it about?"
"Well, it's about these cops trying to catch these dope dealers in Baltimore and they use wire taps!"
"Um, ok...What's so good about it?"
"Well, the cops. They try to catch the dope dealers, but they can't really ever get them on anything."

If I had to do it over, I'd probably say something that included the first few sentences and this:

The Wire is a show that intricately understood the complexities of being Black in America. As a Black man, there are people we know who go on and do great things with their lives. We also (for the most part) know people who became the De'Angelo Barksdales, The Wallaces, and the Stringer Bells. We know Cops, people who work regular day jobs (similar to season 2) waiting for their turn to lead against what they could liken to the genuine well-intentioned corruptness of a character like Frank Sobotka. I'd also say that even though The Wire was set in Baltimore (a place I'd never been until 2011), it tells the stories of every day people on both sides of the law and those reporting it. It gives brevity to the futility of continually spending tax payer dollars fighting the War on Drugs while constantly shorting the education system that, through lackluster programs, creates a feeder system into the lawless side of that war. Historically, Season 3 takes the Bush agenda to task without ever explicitly mentioning the former President.  Without ever going Hollywood, The Wire managed to get the best out of it's cast and crew by telling the stories of real people.

There were too many parallels to name. One of my favorites though is the evolution of the relationship between Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell. Initially they were inseparable business partners in the game trying to take over a city by any means necessary. As they progressed through the first three seasons they spoke less and started to see each other more for who they were becoming as men. Avon -- the consummate gangster  didnt want to leave the streets he'd commanded for a better part of his life. He had the challenge of a new threat he wanted to see killed in Marlo Stanfield. Stringer was ready to get out, he'd taken college courses on economics and started a business to make himself more legit.

Their relationship likens it to a song recorded in 1996 by Jay-Z called D'Evils. While the song is dark and gritty, the first bars of the second verse nearly document the relationship between Bell and Barksdale.

"We used to fight for building blocks
Now we fight for blocks with buildings that make a killing
The closest of friends when we first started
But grew apart as the money grew, and soon grew black-hearted"

I suppose this is the reason you're told not to go into business with friends. The prospect of making money with your pat'na, your boy, boy ace boon coon sounds great until the money starts flowing and you've got different perspectives on how to manage and grow it. The normal separation of duties and rolls are blurred by the fact that you've known this guy for years. Now, after a heated business meeting you attempt to act like everythings good. Maybe you go eat, maybe you play Madden, Call of Duty, Gears of War or something along those lines. But what you don't do is talk about the problems the two of you are facing. You don't come up with an exit strategy that gives all parties involved close to what they came in with and a way out if its not what it seems. What was so prolific about The Wire  is that the relationship between these two even paralleled the lives of men on the straight and narrow trying to make it. The show quietly illustrated the climactic point in which they both knew it was over - where they ended up setting one another up.

Then in a turn, the following season (season 4) shows the aforementioned feeder system for the corner boys.

This show was a cinematic masterpiece that ran for 5 years on the small screen.The impact of the show is still great, it's been off the air for 4 years and we're still talking about it. Hopefully there's at least one more season or movie somewhere that hasnt been aired yet. The Wire is one of those shows that cemented and documented a moment in time. There may never be another like it.

Who's your favorite Wire character?

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Show Your Papers"

In a time during and before the Civil War, there existed freed men and women of color. There were Black people who existed in American life free of the bondage and vestiges of slavery. When walking out in society, they would often be harassed and told to "Show Your Papers." Showing their papers was showing evidence of their freedom as decreed in writing by a White slave owner. This showing of papers was done to make sure that no slaves were walking amongst the free all willy-nilly.

Since then, various degrees of harassment has spawned from this act; mostly by law enforcement. Though here it's spoken of candidly, Black men have been stopped, harassed, and questioned about who they are, where they're going, and what business they have in a particular neighborhood since this time. It seems that no Black man is immune to this unwritten rule of forced identification. From 2007-2011, President Barack Obama was literally forced by Tea Party Conservatives (Donald Trump and a host of other majority White Americans) to prove he was born in the United States; a demand not made against any American president ever. President Obama's religion is still in question by many.

The aforementioned history brings me to the root of my issue with the Trayvon Martin case. It has been said that Trayvon's hoodie played as much of a role in his death as George Zimmerman did. It has also been said that Trayvon's death could have been avoided if he'd simply told Zimmerman why he was in the neighborhood (or shown his papers). While on twitter, something was retweeted into my timeline that got to the crux of the matter for me.
@BasseyWorldLive tweeted: Why is the onus on the minor child who was scared? And all the benefit of the doubt given the armed adult who was the pursuer?
Zimmerman was not an authority figure in this case. He was a self appointed neighborhood watch with a gun. Why should Trayvon answer to him? It was noted that in the altercation, Zimmerman sustained a broken nose and gashes to his head, I understand why he did.

All of our lives we were told as children, and have told our children, the dangers of strangers. Stranger Danger it's called. As children we are told to stay away from strangers, that if a stranger is approaching you to tell an adult, call 911, or run like hell. Trayvon Martin was followed and then approached by a stranger asking him what business he had in the neighborhood. It would seem that a natural reaction would be for him to fight for his life to get away from this stranger. In a video filmed by the Tallahassee, FL Police Department an officer send a message to children saying that if you're by yourself and a stranger grabs you, you should fight, kick, bite, punch, grab, and do whatever it takes to get away.

See for yourself (skip to the 1:49 mark):

Why would Trayvon do anything else but fight for his life? Why isn't George Zimmerman being arrested for stalking, attempted kidnapping, and murder. This was premeditated murder, period. By definition, premeditated murder is the wrongfully causing the death of another human being (also known as murder) after rationally considering the timing or method of doing so, in order to either increase the likelihood of success, or to evade detection or apprehension. When he decided to follow this young boy and get out of the car with his gun and confront him, that was premeditation. Getting out of the car with a gun for a confrontation increases the success of the confrontation going his way.

I hope Trayvon Martin gets justice, and George Zimmerman get's this guy:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Being (a) Black (man) In America - RIP Trayvon Martin

After the 2008 Election of President Barack Obama, there was this euphoria amongst many Americans. The euphoria led some to believe, if for a short while, we live in a post-racial America or a post-racial society. Of course, soon after ignorance reared its ugly head and we realized nothing had changed at all.

In 2012, as we head toward another election we are yet confronted with the idiocy of racism. I wish in this case I was talking about not reneging in 2012. This time we're confronted with the unjust murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. At this point, you should know the story. If you haven't then shame on you for not being connected.

The story of Trayvon's murder is one that strikes a chord with me. I'll admit, at first, I tried to ignore it. Subconsciously I think I knew the level of rage I would feel towards it. I told my self, I've got bigger things to focus on, I'm desensitized to nonsense in the news, this must be another #KONY2012, etc. But after I finally let myself digest and dissect the news it had me livid. Part of the problem I have with it is that the behavior for some White (and seemingly White in Zimmerman's case) authority figures is normal. Another part of it is that it's almost normal for Black boys and men to be harrassed by the police or those who feel they have power over you, whether you grant it to them or not.

The core of my angst toward this issue goes back to my childhood. One incident when I was 14, the other when I was 18 (on my 18th birthday). When I was 14 years old, I took the city bus home from basketball practice. I lived with my grandmother, but went to see how my mom was doing. I forgot my key so I knocked on the door, no answer. Then I knocked on the window thinking maybe she was asleep before work, still no answer. I turned around to walk around the corner to my grandmothers house and I was greeted by police officers. They didnt introduce themselves. At gunpoint, they demanded that I get down on my knees in very wet grass and proceeded to handcuff me. When I asked why I was being arrested, they told me that a person who fit my description was damaging property and disturbing the peace in the area. I informed them that I was on the local freshman high school basketball team and that it wasnt me. "We'll settle this downtown," they said. As they proceeded to take me in, an announcement from dispatch came across their walkie talkies "...the suspect was White." I was let go without apology.

On a mild night in October, I was celebrating two things: I had just gotten my cast of my leg that I broke in August and I had just turned 18. I was on the football team and it was a Thursday night (the day before a game) so in team tradition I was wearing my football jersey. In commemoration of that, I went to work on the car I had bought a few months before because now that the cast was off, my grandmother was going to FINALLY let me drive (the cast was on my left leg so I don't know why she was concerned). I get the car fixed and its running. So I decide to take it for a spin around the block to make sure it runs ok. I circled an area less than 2 mi from my home when I notice I'm being tailed by police officers. I park the car and get out. Then they jump out, flash their lights, and point their guns at me demanding I get back in the car. I do as I'm told. Then they demand I drop my keys out the driver side window, I comply. I'm told to stick my hands out the driver side window, I do that also. After that, I'm told to get out of my car (that I paid for with my own money mind you) with my hands behind my head and get down on my knees.

This presents a problem.

I'm recovering from a broken leg so I can't get on my knees without severe pain. I take a knee. They come over with guns to my head and tell me that my car fits the description of one that was "stolen in the area." Keep in mind my tags were registered to me at the house I parked in front of. So, as they proceed to interrogate me and call in back up I tell them to look in my back left pocket (I'm left handed, thats where my wallet was) for my ID. My grandmother came out to see what the issue was and explained that I hadn't stolen the car, I purchased it with my own money. My next door neighbor came out and explained that I hadn't stolen the car.

The police officer then looked at me puzzled, then asked in a tone like he knew me "Why do you have a Clarksville High School jersey on?" I looked him in the eye and replied angrily "...because I'm on the fuckin team!" I grabbed my ID off the trunk of my car and walked across the street in my grandmothers house. Had they ran my license plate, they would have seen that I was the rightful owner of that car. I was profiled because I was in an older car with dark tint and a nice paint job.

While these are just the two most blatant, there are several other instances where I and my friends have been profiled, harrassed, or needlessly questioned for being young and Black. Trayvon Martin was killed for being young and Black. He wasnt a menacing or threatening character. He was a teenager who went to the store to get skittles and iced tea. Because his family couldn't possibly have lived in that neighborhood according to Zimmerman's train of thought. He was questioned, harrassed, and subsequently killed for looking like an "outsider."

This is not OK.

Black men are arrested at alarming rates, profiled, and often hunted and killed with no recourse. Looking at the cases of Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo prove this point. When will we decide as a country that enough is enough? People of all races were outraged at what Joseph Kony was allegedly doing to Ugandan children, but it seems that the racially motivated death of one of America's own gets no press or reaction. This shit makes me sick.

The plight of Black Americans is America's plight. Until it is addressed as a people we will never move forward in this country.

Friday, July 9, 2010

I am Oscar Grant...

Today it seems like I'm the only one on this side of the United States affected by the verdict in the Oscar Grant murder trial. The officer shown in the video above, Johannes Mesherle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after what seems like an obvious shooting of Oscar Grant in the back. Days after this happened there was a firestorm of video and eyewitness testimony about the shooting. There was a lot of outrage in the public, including my rant from January 9, 2009. After the several cases of police brutality against Blacks here in America with little to no conviction I came to a shocking revelation: I am Oscar Grant.

I say I am Oscar Grant because as a young black male I could easily be the target of some "misunderstanding" with police and my murder, the mourning of my passing, and trial of the officers who will have gotten off scott free will have been in vain. What will it take for justice to be served in these cases? Incidents like this further extend the gap of trust that exist between African American men and law enforcement. Incidents like this are why Oscar Grant may have resisted initially. And incidents like this are why Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, and others will end up as the faces of police injustice in the United States.

I am Oscar Grant, Trevor Casey, Sean Bell, Johnny Gammage, Ousmane Zongo, Nathaniel Sanders II, Amadou Diallo and even Mike Brennan; an African-American teacher beaten by two off duty officers in Austria as he exited a train. I am a nameless faceless individual who, sadly stands a chance at being beaten, hospitalized, or killed because of the color of my skin.

Unfortunately this is nothing new. Incidents like this are the fodder for movie plots old and new. In Set it Off, Stony (played by Jada Pinkett-Smith) lost her brother to a barrage of police bullets after being stopped, told to lie on the ground and attempting to remove a celebratory bottle of wine from his jacket before doing so. Training Day shows the side of abuse from the perspectives of the officer who commits the abuse and the partner who is internally charged with stopping him. Ironically, Denzel Washington won an Oscar for this role. Finally deceased rapper and son of former Black Panther, Tupac Shakur who had his own issues with the law wrote"...cops give a damn about a negro, pull a trigger kill a nigger he's a hero." A sobering truth was said by Jay-Z on The Black Album in that, "this ain't a movie, dog!"

So where does this leave us? Whether it's one shot by one officer or fifty shots by four officers, the highly recognized and referenced cases above say one thing: the unlawful assault and murder of African American men by law enforcement carries little to no sentence. With all of the names listed above only one survived. Police brutality against Blacks has been prevalent since the Jim Crow era and it seems that although laws have been changed to recognize Blacks as humans, Black men are still hunted by men with guns who won't serve any time for their murder.

When caught in the flashing lights of a police cruiser, we might as well be deer as we are stunned as to what will happen next. With each confrontation with an officer of those charged with protecting and serving Black men are in some cases sitting ducks.

Like Oscar Grant, I am a man with a daughter. Being in that position I have to wonder what my daughter would be told if it were me who lie on the floor of a San Francisco subway station being arrested for God knows what, and then being shot in the back. The court of public record, youtube, and other sites would allow her to research my case and even witness my murder. But the court of law would have let her fathers murderer off with what equates to a slap on the wrist. That's why I am Oscar Grant. Like a math equation, my name, yours, or the names of millions of other Black men could be plugged in as the variable and the outcome would equate the same.

No justice no peace; Know justice know peace.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Modern Day Classics: John Legend's Get Lifted and Lyfe Jennings 268-192

Today I had the pleasure of taking some time to listen to two CDs I hadn't heard in some time: John Legend's Get Lifted and Lyfe Jennings 268-192. These two albums are classic but for two totally different reasons. One is modern day Motown, it's the stereotypical story of relationship redemption but with a different twist to it. It's fresh, even today, and he and the lady they sing to live happily ever after. The other is raw, gritty and a poorly produced classic. Don't get me wrong, I'm not downing the album. Going back and listening to it made me appreciate it that much more. Lyfe also has a story of redemption. On the album, he starts envious of the posessions of others, falls in and out of love, goes back and forth to prison, and at the end the listener can envision him walking out and shouting out to his boys still on the inside.

My personal experience with both of these albums and artists goes back to 2005 at Nashville's Dancin' in the District. It was a series of concerts, mostly country music, that people could pay $5 and hear some of their favorite stars. Due to the popularity of him being around Kanye West, I already knew who John Legend was as it was his turn to close out the show. But what was surprising to me was my introduction to Lyfe Jennings. At the time, Lyfe had a van with his picture on it, some background singers, a band, and his boys. Though his album had been out for a while, he thanked Nashville for helping it almost go gold. I sat down with my wife and we listened and were amazed by what we heard. We bought the CD the next day.

Lyfe's first album was modern day blues. It was a brown liquor album that you could sit back, sip, and grit your face to because the stories and examples were so true, vivid, and relevant to the story he was telling. After first hearing "Hypothetically" I remember damn near swerving my car when the female singer said "...and I just can't say for sure if the baby's yours." It was twists like that that made the album like a good book. It set it apart from everything else up until that point because, if you've ever seen life perform, you can just picture him and his guitar. He talked about dating women with kids and the war within himself on how it seemed "wrong to him, exposing them to a man who may one day decide he's tired of the family life." The album was good and introspective. He dealt with a lot and made it a complete package.

John Legend had your typical album release. 'Used to love U' came out and it did well. So did 'Ordinary People.' After listening to the entire CD. He also deals with alot. He goes from being tired of his girl because he's broke and she's apparently a gold digger to being drunk talkin to another man's girl to cheating to making up to struggling to making it. During the album Legend embodies the story of lots of men. On one hand, we don't mind taking you from your man. Sometimes we mess up and mess around. But when we realize you're the one, you've got us for life and we'll do anything to make you happy.

That night after being in the presence of both entertainers and getting my money's worth I can honestly say that's one of the best concerts I've ever attended. Both entertainers gave a full albums worth of performances and rocked it. I'm sure, simultaneously, they created life long fans.

I think the reason why I appreciate both of the albums so much is because they represent me at two different times in my life. On one hand, Lyfe's album is kind of the struggle of a guy trapped in his city and inner circle yet trying to do something positive. Legend's album is a guy who's been through a little somethin' and is now viewing the world from a man's perspective and experiencing life and relationships from that vantage point. I think that's why they are my two favorite albums. If I blogged back when they came out, I woulda reviewed them then, but better late than never right?