Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wine Cooler Blues

How much time do you get for “finding” something?

A judge sentenced three people who were convicted of stealing wine and beer after Katrina struck to fifteen years in prison today. I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions about that. I only have two questions. One, is what’s the punishment for criminal negligence? The other is what race do you think the defendants were?

Incidentally, if you want to see something interesting, Google Image, “White Looters” and scroll down to the fourth row. I submit that the disturbing “humor” that you find there is no more racist than today’s sentencing.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Cristal Redux

“Money, Power and Respect! Well, one out of three ain’t bad.”

My best friend, John, and I have been having an argument about the meaning and impact of Jay-Z’s protest of Louis Roederer, in general, and the Cristal brand in particular. John supports Jay-Z’s efforts. I think it’s the most insignificant protest I’ve ever heard of. I decided to make a post of excerpts from our exchange because our debate has brought up a few more points that I want to make.

John: "The bottom line is that you are reading too much into it [my view of Jay-Z’s hypocrisy]."

ACT: See, I think the bottom line is that you AREN'T reading enough into it. The fact that Jay-Z actively supported and marketed for a company about which he knew nothing - for FREE – is bad enough. The fact that he was doing it to celebrate his status is even worse. The fact that he does this with (despite hip hop being consumed, in large part, by whites) urban black youth is inexcusable. Frankly, I think it's cause for celebration when something like this comes back to bite him, and others, in the ass.

John: "..saying that the average black man can't afford the stuff is pointless."

ACT: The point, my friend, is that this tacky, gluttonous, hyperconsumerized culture that Jay-Z revels in doesn't consider the wants and needs of those of us who live paycheck to paycheck. Therefore, why should we give a damn about him or his absurd "protest?"

John: "He [Jay-Z] took a stand purely based on the racist comments from the company's president."

ACT: We may just have to agree to disagree here. What you see as a stance I see merely as reactionary. If someone decides to boycott Walmart because they underpay their workers or force small area business to close, that's a stance. If someone boycotts Walmart because the Walton children say they don't want their business, that's just, as I've said before, plain common sense.

John: "Hip Hop is a MULTI-BILLION dollar industry and that economic power should be wielded."

ACT: I agree with you here. In this case, though, I don't really think it's being wielded at all. Wielding power means making impactful changes to a community, industry, group of people, system, etc. If this boycott leads to Louis Roederer establishing some sort of scholarship for urban youth or developing a diversity sensitivity program within the company I'll be the first one to applaud Jay-Z's efforts. As of yet, it hasn't even led to an apology.

John: "Just because you or I can't afford a bottle of Cristal doesn't me we shouldn't support him."

ACT: Aaaaah. See, this is, fundamentally, where you and I differ. This is how I see it. Jay-Z wanted people to think he's important and was desirous of flaunting his wealth so he bragged incessantly about what he could afford - implying, btw, that others could NOT afford it. He bragged about diamonds despite the fact that the diamond industry is a corrupt, murderous monopoly. He bragged about expensive cars and clothes despite the fact that much of his black listening audience can barely afford to eek out a living. He boasted, on every single record, of his history in the drug trade despite the fact that drug use has crippled the "black community" for decades ("Hov did that so hopefully you don't have to go through that" was just a stupid attempt to sound conscious). He continued the unfortunate trend of objectifying women, most of whom are black. Then, one of the companies that he's been celebrating - an alcohol manufacturer! - rejected people of his ilk and suddenly he's Jesse Jackson. I have a major problem with someone actively participating in their own exploitation, as well as that of others, and then turning around and looking for support when they realize they've been played for a fool.

John: "What are you talking about!? You are out of your mind if you don't think what black folks mean to Cristal isn't significant. Do you KNOW HOW MUCH money the Hip Hop industry and movement behind it brings to Cristal annually?!?"

ACT: Maybe I'm deluded. But I DO know that Louis Roederer hasn't been in business for 230 years on the strength of the black dollar. They'll be just fine without the hip hop crowd. Plus, I think one of the things that we have to consider is that Cristal had panache among its clientele long before rappers started buying it. It was considered the choice of the ELITE. That's why these rappers started drinking it. They didn't make the brand hot. They just jumped on the bandwagon. A bandwagon that whites own.

John: "Seriously. It is what it is. A very powerful black man using his influence to attack a company that doesn't support where he came from and his people. Period."

ACT: Money doesn't necessarily equal power. Purchasing power perhaps. But you can be rich and own clubs and market sneakers with your name on them and not be powerful. Power is the ability to get your way in society despite the objections of others. In that regard, the Bush/Cheney crew is powerful. The military is powerful. Microsoft is powerful. The tobacco companies are powerful. The NRA is powerful. Jay-Z is just a rich retired rapper whom those with real power don't even have to acknowledge.

ACT: One final thing: Have we considered that perhaps Frederic Rouzaud just might know what the hell he's doing? Maybe he realized that he might well have to choose between maintaining the loyalty of his wealthy white patronage and establishing the brand among the hip hop Nouveau Riche. Maybe whites who have enjoyed the brand amongst themselves for the last 230 years don't want to drink the same champagne as tasteless Negroes. Maybe Rouzaud was reacting to that when he was interviewed.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Cristal Bites The Hand That Foolishly Feeds It

Remember when we used to have meaningful protests?

Apparently, the makers of Cristal champagne don’t necessarily appreciate all that the hip hop community has done for the brand.

In the latest slap to the face of those who seek to exalt the consumption of expensive products over common sense and good taste, Frederic Rouzaud, managing director of Louis Roederer (the producers of Cristal champagne) has implied that he doesn’t court the patronage of the hip hop community. In an interview with The Economist magazine, he responds to a question about his products popularity with rappers by stating, "That's a good question but what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business." I'm wagering that my man Lou thought he was pretty safe making these comments considering that they would appear in The Economist. I mean, The Economist ain't The Source.

Now, Jay-Z himself has descended from on high to launch a personal and professional protest against the brand. "It has come to my attention that the managing director of Cristal, Frederic Rouzaud views the 'hip-hop' culture as 'unwelcome attention,"' Jay-Z said in a statement released Wednesday. "I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products through any of my various brands including The 40/40 Club nor in my personal life."

Really? Word? Is this the same Jay-Z who wrote such classics as “Ain’t No Nigga,” “Rap Game/Crack Game,” “Nigga What, Nigga Who,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Is That Yo Bitch?” “2 Many Hoes,” and, along with R Kelly, that lovely ode to female sexual anatomy, “Pussy”? Perhaps he should ask himself who he thinks has done more harm to black folks, Frederic Rouzard or he. After all, a whole hell of a lot more black people listen to Jay-Z than have ever consumed a bottle of Cristal.

Or maybe what Jay-Z and other rappers should be asking themselves is why they feel compelled to promote alcohol, overpriced vehicles, gunplay, black on black murder, violence against women, the selling of drugs, blood diamonds and a whole litany of silly, destructive shit in the first place. As much as we love Biggie, Jay-Z, Tupac, Nas, or the legion of up and coming Dirty South MCs, we have to admit that they’ve poisoned countless young, black minds with their gleeful endorsement of death, violence, sex and excess. How many videos do we have to endure that feature black women shaking their asses, cats throwing yellow diamonds and jewelry (by Jacob!) at the camera and dudes spilling Cristal on women’s chests as they speed down the rode in Lamborghinis?

As I’ve written before, I LOVE it when these conservatives and corporations let folks know how they feel about them. In this case, the worst possible scenario I can imagine is that these primitive capitalists, who are well compensated for embarrassing and exploiting our people, but generally not compensated at ALL for name-dropping Mercedes Benz, get their feelings hurt.

My guess is that Rouzard’s comments and Jay-Z’s little protest won’t have much of an impact on rappers who seem to need to rub their supposed status in our faces. I just can’t see flipping on the increasingly shitty BET and watching hip hop videos in which dudes throw their “Father of the Year” trophies or college degrees at the screen.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

In Memory of James Cameron (1914 - 2006)

2 of 4,700

James Cameron, civil rights activist and founder of the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin died Sunday after a long battle with lymphoma.

Many of you have already seen the bone chilling picture above. It was taken in Marion, Indiana in 1930. What you might not know is that James Cameron was seconds away from hanging directly beside the lifeless bodies of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. All three men had been accused of robbing and murdering a white man on the previous day. During that era, it was not unusual for black men who had been accused of a crime against a white person to be removed from their holding cells and murdered by a bloodthirsty mob. Such was the case in Marion. One by one the prisoners were taken from the jail in which they were being held and mercilessly strung up. When it was Cameron’s turn, he recalls seeing a woman jumping up and down on a car in a frenzy, repeatedly screaming, “Kill all the niggers!” Cameron vainly pleaded with those people whom he recognized in the throng to spare his life. The lynching rope was literally around his neck when there was a call from the crowd to release him. The voice contended that Cameron, unlike the two men whose still-warm bodies hung above him, was innocent.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cameron while visiting his museum in 1997. I lived in Milwaukee for a few years and the wonderful discussion that I had with Mr. Cameron stands out as one of my only memorable experiences. I remember being amazed by the fact that the abominable incident in Marion, and indeed, his experiences with the racism he would encounter for many years afterwards, didn’t embitter him. On the contrary, he was able to use the horror of that night as a tool with which to confront racial hatred. James Cameron and people like him give hope to those of us who wish to challenge racism and its institutions. He will be sorely missed.

Thank you to Hysterical Blackness, who has dedicated ample space on her blog to share the story of James Cameron and the lynching in Marion and from whom I learned about the tragic passing of Mr. Cameron. Let’s never forget what those who have come before us have had to endure.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Coal Black and the Seven Lil' Dudes ©

Do you really want Disney to include you?

You know things are bad when you have to petition the folks at Walt Disney to create representations of your people.

You already know how I feel about asinine emails but I had to comment on this one. I had an email forwarded to me that was, apparently, written by an African-American mother who, during a trip to Disney World, had to explain to her daughter why there weren’t any princesses who looked like her. She responded by saying, “Unfortunately, Disney has not created fairytales for children like you. In other words, there are no Princesses' of African-American descent." Imagine that. Anyway, this conclusion led Mom to contact Disney to find out why there aren’t any black princesses. According to the email, she managed to get a Disney representative on the phone who, if I can paraphrase, explained to her that the Chinese got Mulan, Native Americans got Pocahontas, folks from the Middle East got Jasmine from Aladdin, and Negroes got the Lion King. Frankly, that response should have told her all she needed to know. But Mom pressed on. She decided to start a petition to encourage Disney to create an “African-American fairytale.” In her words, “Disney, you hold the power to make life experiences become a reality to a melting pot world, which includes African Americans. Disney's motto is "We Make All Dreams Come True". Well Disney, my child and other children like her have a dream and through their Disney experience, they are depending on you to make it come true.”

Initially, I hoped that this was one of those routinely circulated fictitious emails meant to jolt the “black community” out of our perceived state of apathy. Not that I’m a fan of those, but I imagine that they’re created and disseminated based on some misguided attempt to create black solidarity. If this email is authentic, it begs the question: Have we failed our children so miserably that we need to ask Disney to help build their self-esteem by inventing black versions of their soulless, racist, and sexist cartoon characters? Do we really want our daughters to grow up emulating Princess Jasmine, whose only concern in Aladdin was choosing her own husband? Do we want to encourage our daughters to accept the insulting, whitewashed history of Disney’s Pocahontas? Do we want our daughters to reject their own culture and exalt another, like the Little Mermaid? Do we want our daughters to be empowered only to the degree that they can disobey their fathers and pursue unsanctioned romances like (take your pick)?

More to the point, it’s pretty goddamned sad that, after all we’ve done and been put through in this country we have to beg any corporation to create an African-American anything. At this late date, if I’m not already at the party, I don’t want an invitation.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Heathen Manifesto

“So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell..?” – Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here)

The following is a true story.

My wife had a conversation with a former coworker during which she revealed that we don’t attend church. When she was asked why, she simply stated that she and I have problems with organized religion and don’t really accept the bible as unimpeachable fact. The man with whom she was speaking sadly shook his head and replied, “I really feel sorry for you both.” “Why’s that?” my wife asked. “Because you guys are going to hell,” was his response.

Thing is, this knee-jerk judgment-disguised-as-concern was coming, at the time, from a man who had TWO families, one of which was completely unaware of the other. I’m talking two “wives,” two separate homes, two sets of children. Yet, here he was, perched condescendingly in self-righteousness, pitying my wife and me for daring to question the unassailability of the Good Book.

This incident was not, in fact, the last of its kind. On several occasions either my wife or I have been proselytized to by someone who’s more concerned about my lack of “faith” than their own moral shortcomings. Without exaggeration I’ve had thieves, drug abusers, fall down drunks, adulterers, fornicators, liars, gossips, men who beat their wives, dudes who solicit prostitutes, women who neglect their children, and folks who generally feed their egos by treating other people like shit tell me that I need to get right with God. Apart from being insulting and not just a little hypocritical, it intimates that the Lord above cares more about whether or not, and in what way, I worship Him than He does about the actual behavior of His devotees. I don’t know about you but I find that troubling.

Make no mistake about it, I’m no saint and I certainly don’t expect everyone who preaches the Word to be completely above reproach. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what crime against humanity you have to commit to not be in the position to condemn me because I don’t spend a couple of hours a week sitting worshipfully on pews. Every time I see the buffoonish Bishop Don Magic Juan, the former pimp turned preacher and Snoop Dogg companion, I have to conclude that he is an extreme example of the shameless, repentant sinner who uses his professed relationship with God as a buffer as he sins again with impunity. After all, he is beyond man’s petty attempts to evaluate him. Who but the Almighty can judge him? I’m sure if I were ever unfortunate enough to have a conversation with the Bishop it would vacillate between concern for my soul and “hos” on the stroll.

I’d like to end this with one final revelation (for lack of a better word) that I’ve had recently. I don’t think most of these Christian backsliders really believe that they will one day have to answer to a higher power. They might have, long ago, convinced their unquestioning selves of this idea. But in their heart of hearts, I think this is a part of the dogma that they reject. Otherwise, they simply wouldn’t do half of the shit that they do. And they wouldn’t have the temerity to evangelize while they do it.

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