Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Day of the Geechee

"You know the damage one ignorant Negro can do?" - Sgt. Vernon Waters (A Soldier's Story)

Every now and then it just can't be avoided.

It happened to me when I was in undergrad. One afternoon, a quartet of us made a donut run to a local Minneapolis pastry shop. Our little syndicate consisted of three black dudes and a cool ass white guy named Dave. While we were ordering, to the amusement of the white patrons, and to the mortification of Dave and me, my two black buddies started a heated argument about which of them had the biggest lips.

It happened to me shortly after I began working. One day, while I was on my lunch break, back when I was unfortunate enough to be living in Milwaukee, I was walking to a Chinese restaurant with a diverse group of coworkers. Along came Troy, a good brother who I knew from a previous job, who spotted me and shouted (at the TOP of his lungs) "MY NIGGA!!!"

It happened to me again this morning. I was getting suggestions from some of the women in my office about Christmas gifts to buy the spouse when a sister (a real country gal and the only other black person in the department) chimes in with, "Well, you might have to niggerate her a gift and make it yourself. You know what I mean? Niggerate?"

I'm sorry to put it this way but if you're black, you will occasionally have to endure another black person coming along and just flat out embarrassing the shit out of you. There's just no circumventing it. I'm not referring to the occasional mangled syntax or inappropriate application of slang either. I'm talking about the kind of migraine-inducing buffoonery that will make you question whether or not the Civil Rights era really occurred and for what, if anything, tens of thousands of freedom fighters gave their lives.

In my experience, these cringe-worthy guffaws are usually committed by those lost, unconscious souls who my wife simply refers to as "The Element." Yes, indeed. Each one of us knows who she means. Those brothers and sisters who talk and laugh the loudest, curse and fight the oftenest, and are the first to be interviewed by your local news station. We all recognize them when we see them. Those hairstyles. Those clothes. The names that they give their children.

The reaction of the black middle class to the actions of the Element is, perhaps, best summed up by the antagonist of one of my favorite movies, A Soldier's Story. Sergeant Vernon Waters who, for my money, is one of the most fascinating and conflicted characters in the history of American cinema, has decided to focus his efforts on culling from his ranks black officers that he finds intolerable. His venomous outlook is perhaps best summed up when he speaks to CJ, one of his victims. "See, the Black race can't afford you no more. There used to be a time, we'd see someone like you singin', clownin', yassuh-bossin'... and we wouldn't do anything. Folks liked that. You were good. Homey kind of nigger. When they needed somebody to mistreat, call a name or two, they paraded you. Reminded them of the good old days. Not no more. The day of the Geechee is gone, boy. And you're going with it."

Sergeant Waters, who represents the so-called New Negro - black folks who through sweat and effort negotiated their way into the middle class - is convinced that the Element must be wiped from the face of the Earth. He believes this because he views their existence as a discomfiture and a threat to his upwardly mobile ambitions. Moreover, he is fixated on the possibility that (God Forbid!) the white man for whom he works will lump him in with the Element. White folks often have difficulty distinguishing between hardworking black folks like himself and ne'er-do-wells like CJ. This won't do. So, instead of attacking the real enemy, the oppressive agent that has historically ground him and his people into dust, he attacks those who languish at the bottom of the pile.

Which brings me to my point. Like it or not, every time we bristle at the regrettable exploits of poorer and/or less educated blacks than ourselves, we side with the Sergeant. If we're embarrassed by the ill-considered actions and words of certain members of the black underclass then perhaps we're the ones with the problem. Perhaps the next time I find myself wincing when another black person opens his or her mouth, I'll step back and take a good hard look at myself.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

True Indeed


I came across this and thought it fitting for our national "holiday." Enjoy your tryptophan-induced comas.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On Vanity Deaths, Larry David and Jesus' Good Fortune..

On May 5, 2087, the moon's first colonists are paid a visit.

OK. So this week I was dead set on creating the best, most thought-provoking, stylishly written post in Blaxplanation's short history. Then I realized that I'm kind of lazy and that, like many Americans, I'd rather watch television than do any real thinking. So this freestyle is what those of you who choose to read this blog are left with. Enjoy it if you can.

As most already know, Kanye West's mother, Donda West, died a few days ago. It is suspected that Dr. West's death was caused by post-op complications after she endured a botched plastic surgery. The only photo that I've seen of Jan Adams, the doctor who performed the surgery, is a mugshot that was taken after he had been arrested for a DWI. At the time of this writing, the portrait that is being painted of Adams is that of a Beverly Hills Butcher who has a history of disfiguring his patients.
One of the most disheartening parts of this unfortunate incident is the criticism of Dr. West that I've been hearing for the past couple of days. Supposedly, Donda West was initially advised not to undergo surgery because of concerns for her health. She, apparently, balked at the idea that she would have to postpone her surgery and sought another opinion - that of Dr. Jan Adams. I've spoken with more than one person who feels that Donda West brought this on herself. They liken her demise to that of those who, emboldened by their own "celebrity," foolishly court death. Her's, according to this opinion, was little more than a vanity death. Also, she was an educated woman. Shouldn't she have known better?
Well, to me, even if the rumors of her being forewarned are true, this is a pretty rotten and judgmental rationale. Was the decision to ignore a doctor's advice and press on with elective surgery a good one? Obviously not. But most of us have acted irrationally at some point during our lives and are fortunate enough to not have died as a result. I don't doubt that one of the main reasons that some people feel this way has to do with the fact that Dr. West elected to have plastic surgery. Many people assume the moral high ground when it comes to this procedure. They claim to believe that one shouldn't alter one's appearance if one doesn't have to. This strikes me as oddly judgmental, considering the fact that the number of elective plastic surgeries climbs significantly every year. Also, many people in general, and women in particular, have a terrible self-image when it comes to their bodies. We're living in a world in which the quick fix has become the norm so it shouldn't surprise us that a wealthy woman, doctorate or no, would find a way to get a perfunctory tummy tuck. I guess I also shouldn't find it surprising that some folks would find a way to blame the victim.

According to a newly-released study from the Pew Charitable Trusts, if you're a young black person, you're broker than folks were at your age. The Washington Post reported that - while the black/white income disparity has decreased - black Americans are actually less prosperous now than their parents were. No wonder my mother is still mailing me birthday cards with money in them. So much for the growing black middle class I've been waiting so anxiously to join.

On Sunday night the last two minutes of the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm moved into that rare stratosphere of comedic genius.

A couple of representatives from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints paid me a visit a few days ago. I wasn't expecting them. However, after I found out who it was, I answered the door for two reasons. The first is because I'm a relatively hospitable dude. The second is because, like Inigo Montoya, I've been waiting years to say something to the next Mormon proselytizer that I came across. Here's exactly how it went down:
LDS: *Ding, dong*
ACT (answering door with the Book of Mormon in hand): Hello! Are you guys LDS?
LDS (looking genuinely surprised): Ha! Yes sir we are!
ACT (chomping at the bit): Great! Well I know why you're here and I just want to say that I've had many conversations with members of the LDS church. Now, before you begin, I think I should tell you that you might want to consider using your considerable powers of persuasion on someone else.
LDS (trudging right along): Well, we've come here to..
ACT (going in for the kill): Oh no. Believe me, I know why you've come - to spread the *tapping meaningfully on the Book of Mormon* Good Word. Well, like I said, I've already heard it and until one of you guys can explain why 2nd Nephi chapter 5 verse 21 - a clear cut celebration of white supremacy - is included in your book of worship then you should probably keep it moving. Take care.

Which brings me to my last thought. If you had to die in order to save the world would you do it? I was about to go to surveymonkey to establish a poll on this when I realized that I didn't need to. It's a no-brainer. Of course most of us would. Only a selfish, misanthropic bastard would choose himself over 6 and half billion people. Why then do the Jesus groupies with whom I occasionally come into contact act as if Jesus did something so noble? He was lucky. If I gave you a choice between a) dying an agonizing death to save the souls of every single person who will ever inhabit the known world, for which you will be eternally recognized and worshiped or b) working for 30 thankless years in a middle management position, which would you choose? That's not even taking into account the fact that millions of people have succumbed to deaths that were at least as tortuous as Jesus' for nothing at all. Am I the only one who feels this way?

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Friday, November 09, 2007

The Continuing Saga of a Sociopath

God help us all.

OJ is in court again. This time it's because he allegedly (read: probably) threatened some dude who stole *cough* set up *cough* some sports memorabilia from him in Vegas. Once more I can feel white America hanging its vengeful hopes on the conviction of OJ Simpleton...I mean Simpson. Once more I can feel the skepticism of black Americans who believe that white folks are simply "out to get" him. I honestly heard one brother say with a straight face, "Man, they just keep on trying to squeeze The Juice." Since I'm now taking my cues from the NAACP and Al Sharpton, and recognizing the official death of the "N-word," I just gave the brother a withering look and responded, "African-American, please."

Actually, I can't say that I didn't see another case coming. Sure, OJ began his post-acquittal life quietly enough - leisurely wiling away the borrowed hours of his miraculous second chance on America's golf courses. Then (cue the theme music to "Jaws") came news that he'd had an altercation or two with one of his white girlfriends. Then came the grotesque, semi-confessional, If I Did It, which, I have to say, was the defiant product of an absolute madman. All of which bring us to now - when I can't watch ESPN without being given up-to-the-minute information on OJ's legal condition.

Make no mistake about it: this will go to trial. I suspect that this time, no matter the verdict, both whites and blacks will be slightly more subdued in their reactions. I doubt I'll see black folks happily dancing around in the street if OJ dodges another bullet (no, really, I actually saw this.) Nor do I expect to see white folks crying while standing in line waiting to check out their groceries (ditto.) After all, this case is noticeably free of murdered white women. White corpses tend to get the populace ginned up. Brown corpses? Not so much. I think that, in part, this explains why African-Americans were so eager to see OJ moonwalk out of the courtroom a free man the first time. When OJ came out "clean" on the other side of that murder case, it was as if black folks were saying, "See, white people? Injustice doesn't feel too good. Does it?"

Blaxplanation Disclaimer: Just so you know, I'm not dismissing the almost certainly OJ-caused deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. I just happen to have noticed that black Americans care as much about them as white Americans do about the unsolved murders of thousands of young black men and women that occur in this country every year. I think that's reasonable. Don't you?

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Tools of Well-Roundedness

A generally absent but essential part of the conservative diet.

In keeping with the theme from my last post, I'd like to proffer one last confession.

Every now and again, due to an unfortunate combination of boredom and recurring non-sexual sadomasochistic tendencies, I find myself watching the Fox News channel. It's the strangest thing. I'll have just finished viewing another enjoyable rerun of Avatar: The Last Airbender - which, in case you're unaware, is one of the finest dramas on television - when, before I know it, I've flipped the channel to the Right Wing's most popular propaganda vehicle. I've realized that I can only subject myself to the Fox noise machine for ten or fifteen minutes at a time before I have an overwhelming urge to rinse my eyes out with bleach.

Having admitted that, not very long ago I happened to be watching The O'Reilly Factor when it suddenly dawned on me what Bill's biggest problem is. It's not that he's a combative, self-righteous hack with no integrity who's managed to strike gold by telling bigoted, unquestioning Americans exactly what they want to hear (though I do not fault you if you've incorrectly reached this conclusion.) Nor is it that he somewhat successfully cocoons himself by staging "debates" on his show during which he'll regularly tell his opponents to "shut up!"

No. Bill's biggest problem is that he, undoubtedly, has never had his ass thoroughly kicked. I can't tell you what a good, solid beatdown - or the threat of one - will do for your clarity. When one comes face-to-fist with one's own vulnerability, one is forced to re-evaluate things. This realization got me to thinking about other humbling experiences that one should pick up on the road to self-actualization. They are..

a) Heartbreak. I will put this a simply as I can. You are not a fully-formed adult if you haven't had to recover from heartbreak. I mean the kind of heartbreak that strips you of your appetite and your ability to trust, makes you hear songs you've listened to your entire life for the first time and forces you to take a vow of (temporary) celibacy. I'm talking about the kind of heartbreak that makes you question the universe. The kind of heartbreak that makes you regard the source of it with equal and unhealthy parts love and hate. Only after you emerge from this emotional malaise can you consider yourself whole.

b) Having Something of Moderate Value Stolen From You. When I was eight someone broke into our house and stole THE television. I was devastated. When I was ten, someone stole my brand new Schwinn. I was inconsolable. When I was seventeen, it was a very bad year because someone stole close to one hundred dollars from my room. By the time I was twenty-six, when someone broke into my car and relieved me of my stereo, instead of being disappointed I was just happy that they hadn't trashed my car in the process. Being ripped off allows one to put things in perspective.

c) Being the Subject of Ridicule. When I was sixteen, I was riding the bus to my job one day when a kid got on the bus with two very attractive female companions. Shortly thereafter, and for the remainder of my trip, they all took turns looking at me and laughing uncontrollably. There was NO mistake that I was the source of the laughter. When I finally reached my destination and walked past them to debus (I find it intolerably elitist that one can say "deplane" but not "debus") the laughter escalated into a full out howl. To this day I don't know why they were laughing at me. What I do know, is that it wasn't the first or last time and that I've managed to get on with my life, and form thicker skin, after each occurrence.

d) Being Fired or Laid Off. Last Friday, I was responsible for overseeing the removal of an incompetent employee from the building - a regrettable but necessary part of the HR process. She was canned for unfailingly screwing up the payroll. She was given six months and she never managed to flawlessly negotiate the numbers. As I helped her carry her things out to her car, it occurred to me that once the embarrassment and sting of rejection wore off, she would do well to learn from this and move on. Many of us have been fired for far less than screwing up folks' paychecks. I've been fired in the past for what I thought at the time was no good reason. Many of us have. It forces us to regroup. This isn't an altogether bad thing.

e) Being Temporarily Uninsured. It might do wonders for your outlook to temporarily experience the pain of roughly 16% of Americans. It might, for example, lead you to believe that a single-payer health care coverage system is at least worth discussing.

f) Going Without a Car. A good friend of mine leases his cars and trades them in for newer models every couple of years. I'm driving the same '99 Toyota Camry now that I'll be driving in 2010. I haven't yet reached the point at which I'm used to the idea that I actually own a car that can't be repossessed. I didn't get my license until I was twenty. I couldn't afford to buy my first car until I was twenty-four. My friend John and I walked home from my high school graduation and I came this close to walking to my senior prom. Going without a car all of those years made me thankful for what most people take for granted.

g) Having to Choose Between Two or More Equally Important Needs. I've had to go to the market and choose between produce and deodorant so often that I didn't even recognize it as a sign of deprivation until after I got married. Yet, in the midst of this want was forged an uncanny capacity for self-denial. One thing that being broke provides is a remarkable ability to prioritize.

h) Not Being Good Enough. A commonly accepted Americanism is that if a person practices and puts forth enough effort (and believes!) she will succeed in whatever it is she does. It makes us feel good about ourselves to accept this as the Gospel. Unfortunately, it is not always true. Sometimes folks simply aren't good enough. There's something to be said for giving it your all and coming up short. Look what it did for Jimmy Carter.

i) Having to Issue an Old-Fashioned "I Take All The Blame" Apology. Surely you've heard them. Those "apologies" that are invariably issued after someone says or does something repulsive that make it seem as if you're the one with the problem because of how you interpreted what he said or did. Or those culprits who issue non-committal apologies for "what happened" and not "for the shit that I actually did." What I'm referring to is when a person who has clearly fucked up says, clearly, that he fucked up. What happened to that kind of apology? We all make mistakes. I believe that being put in a situation in which we're forced to publicly recognize a blunder builds character.

I've built this list from my own experiences. There isn't anything I've included that I haven't had to endure at one time or another. My advice to those of you who haven't experienced some of these things is to leave your car unlocked in Gary, Indiana or go to NYC and talk shit to a random Jamaican. Some time after the inevitable repercussions, you may find that you see the world more clearly.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Confessions of a Pseudo e-Revolutionary

A few months ago, I was watching The Colbert Report when Stephen Colbert said something that struck a nerve. A couple of days after Andrew Meyer's imbecilic "Don't Tase Me, Bro" incident made headlines, Colbert brilliantly referred to the apathy of the students who bore witness to the spectacle as "solitarity" and skewered the current generation of conscientious objectors as slackers who equate blogging with authentic activism.

Try as I might, I still haven't managed to jettison Colbert's criticism from my thoughts. Frankly, I think this is because I mostly agree with him. These days, as I begin my gradual slide into Pater Familias complacency, I look back on the righteously angry youth that I was and ask myself, "What happened?"

There comes a time in a man's life when he must simply face the fact that, if he hasn't completely sold out, he has certainly bought in. For me that time is now. Sometime between Public Enemy's ascent and Soldier Boy's current domination of the airwaves, a defeated worker drone with a burgeoning pot belly replaced a molotov cocktail throwing Marxist. The 17-year-old version of myself wouldn't spit on the current me if I were on fire. So humor me if you will while I list a few of the reasons why I'm no longer eligible for membership in the Black Panther Party.

1) I like Elvis. I know, I know. He appropriated black musicality. He's alleged to have said, "The only thing black people can do for me is buy my music and shine my shoes." And while it is highly unlikely that he ever did utter that phrase, he is the predominant symbol of how black Rock and Roll was co-opted by greedy, soulless white record executives. Still, despite my best intentions, I like the dude's music. Always have. For sake of disclosure, I also like Elton John, Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Cash. Wait. It gets worse..

2) I don't like The Roots. This one stings because I often lament the dearth of unsampled music and genuinely talented mcs in current hip hop. And, while I recognize Black Thought as a gifted lyricist and the Roots as a legitimate band, their albums just leave me cold. I've tried (believe me) to like each of their releases beginning with the oft-lauded Things Fall Apart. It hasn't worked. It probably wouldn't work if I listened to Game Theory in North Philly with a cheesesteak in my hand wearing a backpack and an okayplayer t-shirt. By and large I find this regrettable.

3) I have several relatively close friends who are white Republicans. Why is this you ask? Because they're decent, respectful people. As I've admitted before, I tend to prefer them over their liberal counterparts. When we first started hanging out, they would diligently describe to me the wonders of the conservative universe and I would unfailingly describe to them how full of shit they were. Now we occasionally get together to discuss sports and resume building over black Russians. To my compromised mind, this is progress.

4) I'm infinitely more exhausted than I am angry these days. I, like many people, am besieged from every angle by so many obligations that I can't imagine fighting any form of power anywhere. Whenever unrefined bigotry issues forth from the mouth of some random dummy I just feel like taking a nice nap. I do not see this changing any time in the near future.

5) Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, I like shopping. I enjoy buying a nice pair of slacks and the joy that I receive from finding a good deal must be akin to what a ragged, desperate prospector felt when he washed mud away from his first gold nugget. But that's not all. I also tend to think of myself as an extremely fashionable guy. I own a great number of shoes, Project Runway is one of my favorite television programs and I anxiously look forward to season four. The seed for this disgusting tendency toward consumerism was planted long ago when a pretty girl told me she liked my outfit one day. "Nice clothes," I thought, "must make the girls like you." Over the years, the seed has sprouted into a Redwood.

To those legitimate rabblerousers among you who assumed you were in good company, I offer my humblest apologies. Although my inner black panther has not been fully usurped by a corporate fat cat I fear that it is only a matter of time. Do yourselves a favor and make a clean break from me now. I do not share Michael Vick's optimism. It is unlikely that I will redeem myself.

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