Sunday, May 1, 2016

Goodnight Sweet Prince

I share an office with a few people, so a co-worker quietly came in and whispered in my ear that she had heard some terrible news and wanted to tell me before I saw it on the computer that Prince was dead. "That's not true," is what I said. And I thought, what a ridiculous hoax! please let it be a hoax. Then Questlove couldn't breathe. I felt so ridiculous because I was about to full-on cry at work. Because Price died. Am I crazy? Turns out I am. So, "Let's Go Crazy" one more time.

I have loved this dude, in earnest, since hearing Private Joy thumping from the speakers in dance class in like, 1981, and finally making the connection that it was the beautiful boy in those pictures on my cousin's bedroom walls!  Mind you, I had the Soft & Wet 45 and the I Wanna Be Your Lover 45 already.

He helped me understand my first full blown crush, saw me thru broken hearted middle school years with Lonely, Still Waiting & How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore always in heavy rotation all thanks to the Electrifying Mojo on WGPR. (We really had something special going on in Detroit.)

And anyone that really knows me, knows I'm a cornball. I was such a nerd when I was a kid. But Prince (& The Time) made me cool. In 1984, Lady Cab Driver was the number one song of the top 98 Songs of the year on WJLB.  So I was number One.  And I was cool. Because I liked Prince.  
I didn't just like any old pop music, I liked Prince.  I liked Good Music.  And he helped me realize that I was musical.  That I loved to Sing.  And write. 
For me, music amplifies the beauty of this world.  It Expresses the euphoria of living.  It's my Happy place.  No musician occupied as much of that Happy space as Prince has for me. 

Yeah, he was racy. He sang about sex, lots of sex.  And we couldn't wait 'til we were old enough to really get in the game, but he was ultimately all about love. I Wanna Be Your Lover, International Lover, AnotherLoverHoleInYoHead, Live 4 Love, Love 4 One Another, Another Love, Love.

"From the Abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.  Love is whatever, whatever you want it to be." --Prince, Love

For me he was Love and Happiness.  And I'm so grateful for the memories. I did get to go to the Purple Rain Concert.  I missed the Birthday concerts in 86 and the LoveSexy Tour in 88, but then I made a promise to myself that if Prince was in town and I was in town, that I was going to the show.  So thankfully, I remember may three hour concerts with 3 & 4 encores, many after parties and a wonderful week at Paisley Park for the 2000 Celebration.
I'm really gong to miss him.  He put it best in this beautiful short, but sweet bootleg that I got years ago at Flip Side Records or Repeat the Beat.

I miss the blue sky.
I miss the pouring rain too
Most of all baby, I miss you.
I miss you, oh I miss you, oh I miss you.
Goodnight Sweet Prince.
Leslie Blue

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Disturbing Low

I was sitting on the couch reading Under The Dome (an excellent read by the way) this afternoon with the TV chattering in the background when the sound caught my ear. The TV was resting on the E! Entertainment Channel. The program was the top million Hollywood confessions, yada, yada, yada. What caught my ear was Jose Canseco's ex-wife giggling like a 12-year-old child while she told the camera, and thus "America," about what consequences Canseco suffered because of his steroid use. Use your imagination. The point is, it was really low. The enjoyment on her face, the giggle, the personal nature of what she was saying. It was just really bad to me all of a sudden.

Earlier today, I was surfing the net and came across a story about a 40-something Somalian Muslim Man who was stoned to death for adultery with a young woman. The tease was accompanied by a photo of the man still alive, but buried up to his chest in the ground with a few other men in the frame next to him. I clicked on the story because my thought was 'If they stoned the man, what did they possibly do to the woman?' For the record, she suffered 100 lashes, escaping death because she was not married at the time of the affair. But the "full story," was accompanied by photos of the stoning.

There was a bold warning to scroll down at your own risk but my heart fell into my stomach when I read that. Yes adultery is horrendous, and sure, it's in the Koran and even in the Bible, I'm sure, where stoning had been the punishment for such indiscretions, but it's wrong. I don't care, it's wrong. I'll bet some of the stone throwers have committed the identical crime that man had committed. At least one of them. And then to invade the incredibly personal (and very public in this case) moment that his spirit left his body with photographs for the world to consume, was just inhuman. I didn't scroll down. And I will not return to the website.

Of course, the question is how do these two very different instances relate to each other? Death and ridicule are two very different consequences, anyone can rebound from ridicule. They are actually incomparable events. The connection is in the consumption. Both of these pieces being in the media for our entertainment consumption marked disturbing lows for me. I turned away from both. My heart hurting tremendously for the Muslim man. I praying for the strength of his children and family. I was simply disgusted by Canseco's ex-wife. I don't know what his motivation's were for confessing to steroid use, but the result was being called a snitch, gay, and being laughed at for the side effects. Even though his confession caused the sport of baseball to confront wider drug use among its players.

I guess I'm just disappointed in society as a whole. These things would not be popular entertainment if we didn't call for it. If we stopped feeding the machine. This whole Tiger Woods debacle is a perfect example. These are real people with real lives and children and real problems and we just can't get enough. Well for me, I've had enough. It's not entertaining and it's certainly not funny.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A National Aha! Moment

So the current President of the United States won the Nobel Peace Prize. That's something that should bring the nation together in celebration, right? Just as loosing the bid for the summer Olympics should bring us together for a short but collective moment of defeat. But things have changed drastically in the United States. We are now a place where many citizens find the awarding of our very own President a sure sign that the Nobel Peace Prize is now definitively worthless and count our loss of the Olympics a chance to ridicule the President and a literal chance to laugh in our countrymen's faces.

From the time I started school (actually even before that when you consider Independence Day & Columbus Day celebrations) I've been taught to take pride in being an American. Even as an African American I didn't realize that my "freedom and justice for all," was maybe still a little compromised. Not until I started attending a school that many white children also attended and watched Roots as part of my sister's school project did that fact hit me. I was in the second grade and was of course already aware of America's history of slavery, but Roots made my ancestor's pain real. And some of my fellow students made prejudice real for me too. I assure you that I had heard references about "the man," in my neighborhood and in popular culture, but that was abstract as young child. When my classmates or teachers treated me differently, it was tangible. It was real.

Fast forward 30 years. The majority of US citizens, I can safely guess, believe that slavery, government sanctioned racism, and any problems resulting from that institution are part of America's past. Look, the majority of US citizens voted for a black* president. Therefore, racism: dead and gone just like slavery. So, in conclusion, move on, get over it. As a matter of fact, no need to insist on separating your self as African American. Just stand as a proud American.

At the beginning of our President's term, I was ready to move on. I did have a humongous paradigm shift where prejudice and racism in America were concerned. I accept that his win is undisputed proof now that the only thing that can hold you back is you. People may try to label you and hold you down, but they can only do so if you let them, basically defeating yourself by accepting the limitations.

But now, after witnessing the surprising reactions to President Obama campaigning for the Olympics (and our loss of the bid), and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in concert with a representative yelling out during his speech to Congress and the constant attacks from Fox News, I'm starting to wonder about the level of progress we have made in this country. I don't believe the resounding discontent is coming from the people that voted for him. I think they are actually standing strong and proud. However I do believe these over blown reactions should make those that believe the effects of slavery and racism are nil, think again.

I wonder if Americans realize that the intensity of the hatred for the President, the constant wishes to see him fail, and the disrespect are rooted in America's deep history of prejudice. So many Americans can't quite put their finger on why they don't trust him, or why they violently dislike him. They can't even honestly articulate what they disagree with in his policies so they have to make up death panels and socialists agendas to feel like they have a reason, when the real reason at the root of it all is his blackness. It is rooted there so strongly that these folks no longer feel proud of the USA and it's progress if that also equals President Obama's progress.

I think this is a perfect time for the citizens of the USA to have a National Aha! moment. To recognize these feelings for what they truly are and try to grow and learn from them. If people would really step back and look at their anger and fear (people are really scared for our country now. Bush didn't scare them, but Obama does?) and see it for the prejudice and ignorance that it is, we would be able to have a more honest dialogue about universal health care, taxes, gun control & the many other issue that dog our country.

Our President is dealing with the basic political issues that our past Presidents have all dealt with. There is nothing shockingly and radically new here. What a wonderful moment it will be when we look back on this and realize that it is all just par for the course of the USA standing and growing as a great nation of great people. The world recognizes it. The Nobel Peace Prize committee recognizes it. I wonder how long it will take us to do so?

*I understand that his mother was white. I also understand that historically the US counts that as a black person. But most importantly, he refers to himself as a black man and was, I'm sure, treated as such whenever his mother was not standing next to him to say hey, wait, he's half white.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Anyway, you kids aren't black. You're white."

I came across this quote while reading an excerpt from Bliss Broyard’s memoir, “One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life – A Story of Race and Family Secrets.” Her father was Anatole Broyard, a well known book critic for the New York Times. The excerpt that I read was about Mr. Broyard trying to tell his children before he passed away of Cancer that he was actually a black man, not a white man as they had believed all their lives. He was unable to share the secret with them before he slipped into his last coma, so their Mother actually delivered the news. Well, partly anyway. She told them that Mr. Broyard was part black, the conversation ended with, “Anyway, you kids aren’t black. You’re white.”

Now, I read this excerpt many months ago, and expected it to go the way of many things that I read. A sort of in one ear - for consideration and to learn from- then out the other scenario. But it stuck with me. And I couldn’t really put my finger on why this man’s struggle struck such a chord with me. Like many Black folks in America, I grew up knowing about people’s ability to pass. So the concept of his struggle wasn’t new, even the fact that it stretched into the new millennium wasn’t so shocking. I finally realized that it was his wife’s summation to their children that didn’t sit well with me.

It was as though after all those years of being married to a man she knew was a black man, after all those years of loving him unconditionally and sticking by his side, seeing him prosper and excel financially and academically it was still important to assure her kids that they had somehow escaped the thing that was wrong with their father from the beginning. “Anyway, you kids aren’t black. You’re white.” Let me be clear in saying that I am not definitively attributing this motivation to Mrs. Broyard. I do not mean to say that she actually felt this way. I actually do not even presume to understand her family’s specific struggle. I’m only saying that I finally figured out what my subconscious took in after reading her statement. And the feeling that reading her statement left with me is what I really want to talk about.

I am deliberately avoiding using African American to describe American Black folks right now because for the point I’m going to make, the term is misleading. Especially today in America. Today, there are many African’s that voluntarily immigrated here and earned citizenship and are African Americans. But right now, I am specifically speaking of black folks that have been in America since the country was just forming. Not because there is any special virtue to it, just because that is the group I’m talking about. Those of us that have found ourselves in the US this way come from a diverse background of folks. Clearly at some point, there were Africans in our past that could have come from a number of countries and backgrounds on the continent, more often than not there were people of European ancestry in our past (the Italians, and English early settlers of America down to the Irish, Spaniards, French and others that make up the history of American white folks), additionally, there are Native American ancestors and even Asian ancestors that make up the past of American Blacks.

Sometimes this diversity of nationality was given a name: Creole, Mulatto, Quadroon, Octoroon. The reasons for the names depended sometimes on the freshness of the mix, sometimes on the region that you were born in or the region that the individuals in your mix came from. The ray of skin colors that exist within the Black American community, in fact, within some black families, speaks volumes about this diverse history. But the common denominator for Black folks in America is that at some point in that history, one of those ancestors was African, and based on that ancestor, we were and in many instances, still are treated a certain way in the USA. That is what being black in the USA is. A social construct. The government decided to treat us a certain way based on the common denominator. The decision was so random that it was even difficult for the government to discern how the treatment would be doled out.

Were we enslaved, were we to be free? Were you still enslaved if you were your master’s child? Were you still enslaved if you were the child of your master’s wife? Were you enslaved if you looked like a white person? What if you looked like a white person, but still lived on the plantation or near the plantation where people knew your mother was black? Then could you be white? All ridiculous, all random, but all issues of black folks with lasting consequences that we see today. And consequently, all questions that today are moot. Because today, these distinctions are supposed to be irrelevant. Clearly there was nothing wrong with having that African Ancestor in the first place. But today, there are no lawful consequences to having the African Ancestor. We are not enslaved any longer because of it. We are not prohibited from getting an education because of it. We are not prohibited from prosperous employment because of it. We are not prohibited from getting married because of it.

Mr. Broyard was part of the Louisiana Creole community. The Black Creole community. (I make this distinction because there is a White Creole community in New Orleans also that traces their ancestors back to the French/Spanish settlers that lived there and they do not consider themselves part of the same community as the Black Creoles.) This means his mixture of Black American included African, French/Spanish and Native American and his family was from Louisiana. In fact, the term was once used to distinguish enslaved blacks that were born in Louisiana from those that were born in West Africa and transported there. But he was definitely a black man. He was part African, which made him a black man. Therefore, his children were black. They apparently could pass, but they were black. Just as his daughter from his first marriage was black. Again, the common denominator for Black Americans has always been the African Ancestor, not how much white or other. Hence, the name of Broyard’s memoir. Again, that is basically what being black in America is. Being a mixture of African with White, Native American or many other unknown factors to varying degrees.

So why did her mother feel the need to assure her that they were white? Why did she feel the need to basically assuring them that their father being black or “part African,” had nothing to do with who they were. I’m sure I’ll never really know Mrs. Broyard’s reasoning behind saying that to her children. In fact, I hope that what she was trying to say is that it was okay because even though they now knew that their father was black, they were still exactly the same individuals that they were before they knew. I hope she was trying to say that it didn’t matter. To find out for yourself, you can go to the African American literature section at your local Borders to find Broyard’s Memoir “One Drop.” I myself will be waiting, no hoping, for the day when passing is a non-issue and the comments to children with Africans in their past are “Anyway, you kids are black too, and that is just fine.”