media

“Stakes Is High”

You ever get a song stuck in your head?

It’s usually because it’s something that you just heard. For example, I had Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” stuck in my head for a solid week. Because of this, I believe that Samsung is the Devil and I will never buy their products. That was torture.

But last Wednesday, “Fancy” was replaced by DeLa Soul’s “Stakes Is High”.

Now I love DeLa Soul and “Stakes Is High” is a ringtone on my phone. But, that’s not why it’s been on a continuous loop in my head since Wednesday.

It’s because I’ve seen pictures of a young, dead Black boy lying in the street after being shot by a cop.

It’s because he was unarmed.

It’s because he was the fourth unarmed Black person this month who came across an armed White person, in all four cases a police officer, and wound up with a tag on his toe at the morgue.

It’s because this incident has caused a suburb of a major American city to blow up and take the First Amendment of the Constitution with it, reminding a lot of people of what was going on the year I was born, 1964.

It’s because if we’ve learned nothing else from everything that’s happened since Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last Saturday, we should have learned that the stakes are indeed high.

Ferguson residents began mounting protests of Brown’s death on Sunday night. Because protests sometimes attract people who have the wrong idea of what protest is about, windows were broken, looting happened, and fires started, all stuff that can make the police kind of take a dim view of your chosen mode of expression.

But I didn’t know just how dim of a view the police were taking until I saw this on my Twitter feed on the way home from work on Wednesday:

American tank

No, you’re not imagining things. That’s two soldiers. On a tank. Brandishing semi-automatic weapons and combat gear. In a suburb in a major American city.

Not in Afghanistan. Not in Mozul. In a suburb of St. Louis. Home of the Cardinals. Not too far from where St. Louis Rams rookie Michael Sam hopes to make history as a pro football’s first openly gay player.

Kinda stops your gaze, doesn’t it?

When I came home and started seeing folks getting tear gassed, including an AlJazeera reporter doing a live shot, I kinda knew I wasn’t going to sleep. You don’t want to see peaceful protestors getting hit with tear gas, especially when they’re standing in their own front yards.

In fact, so much tear gas has been flying around Ferguson that residents have been getting advice from Palestinians on Twitter on how to handle being tear gassed.

(Use Coke or milk to clean your face. Water just makes it burn worse….)

But that this was happening is yet another example of just how badly the powers that be in Ferguson have handled this situation from the very beginning.

From not allowing medical professionals to tend to Brown quickly enough to save his life, to leaving his lifeless body to bake in the sun for four hours, to not releasing Wilson’s name or his incident report, to hiring the all-White public relations firm that just made matters worse, this has been the gang that can’t shoot straight.

And they really screwed up when they started arresting reporters. Between last Wednesday night and the time I’m writing this, 15 folks who do my job found themselves hearing the “clink-clink” sound from “Law and Order”…

(Not really…it was more like the “rippp” of a zip tie, but you know what I mean…)

Now I guess I should get to the reason why “Stakes Is High” has been stuck in my head. Why the stakes are high. Why attention must be paid and paid now.

As I mentioned earlier, Michael Brown was the third of four unarmed Black men who came upon an armed White man and ended up dead this month.

This month.

As in August.

And August isn’t over yet.

Last Monday night, Ezell Ford, 24, was shot in the back by the Los Angeles Police Department. Police say that he lunged for an officer’s gun, which kind of makes me scratch my head considering the whole “shot in the back” thing.

John Crawford, of Beavercreek Ohio, was looking at an unloaded BB gun at a WalMart in his town and got shot to death when he didn’t put it down quickly enough. Being shot while looking at a BB gun in a place that sells BB guns usually doesn’t happen, but it happened here.

And yes, I’m including Eric Garner’s death at the hands of a New York police officer in this. He may have died of a chokehold, but the cop was armed.

But when these things happen, another process inevitably starts, and we’ve seen it too this week:

A young, unarmed, Black man and White armed person get into confrontation.

Unarmed Black person dies.

Blacks get mad and take to the streets.

Authorities, aided by certain media outlets, take apart dead Black person’s life to find whatever can be found to try and paint this person, who is not there to defend his or herself, as a “thug”, and thus deserving of being shot to death.

(In Michael Brown’s case, it’s a combination of stolen cigars and pot in his system. And can someone tell me where folks are getting this weed that makes people violent? Most of the weed heads I know don’t want to attack anything but a cheesesteak when they get high…much less a cop…)

The trial of the person who did the shooting becomes a referendum on the “Innocence” of the person who’s been shot, and that’s only if charges are filed and the person goes to trial at all. Which leads to…

…the person who did the shooting getting off and Black parents left to give their Black male children a list of things they’re not allowed to wear or do in order to keep from being shot by people who are already so terrified by your very existence that you could be walking down the street in a suit carrying a briefcase and you still might catch a bullet.

This, of course, also leads into the whole “What about Black on Black Crime?” thing. You see, Black folks aren’t allowed to worry about the deaths of four unarmed Black men at the hands of the police and the deaths of young men in their neighborhoods at the same time. Oh, and White on White crime doesn’t exist. Or at least that’s what we get told in so many words.

Now if that’s not enough, here’s some statistics that we need to pay attention to: Ferguson is roughly 60 percent Black. Yet, the Mayor is White, the Police Department is predominately White, and so is City Council. How’s that happen in a place that’s 60 percent Black, you might ask?

Voter turnout in the last election was a lofty 12 percent.

Twelve percent.

Okay…

I wish that I could say that Ferguson’s the exception, but it’s the rule unfortunately. And because of this, Black folks, despite having one of us in the Nation’s Highest Office, are still catching Hell. We have to remember that politicians, like just about anyone else in  customer service, do their best work for the people who support them.

To make sure that you don’t have police departments that do this kind of thing and invent the kinds of cover ups that would make most novelists jealous, you have to make sure that people are accountable to you. The best way to do that is by voting.

That and following up with being a pain in the behind to the people who get elected, whether you vote for them or not.

When people believe that they can do anything they want to you, and that you’ll do nothing because you’re so distracted by reality television, or what’s going on in Jay Z and Beyonce’s marriage that you’re not paying attention, they’re going to take advantage.

And if you’re not careful, that advantage taking is going to occasionally come in the form of people getting hit with tear gas in their front yards in a suburb of a major American city.

The stakes is high folks.

It’s time we acted like we understand that.

I’ll leave you with the video for “Stakes Is High”. You might recognize some folks…

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“Lawd Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…

"Someone's showing some love to their Lord and Savior!"

“Someone’s showing some love to their Lord and Savior!”

On Thursday night, I made it a point to be at home and in front of my television set so that I could watch the newest contribution to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup, “Black Jesus”. In this show, Jesus has returned to Earth, is living in Compton, California, and is drinking 40s, smoking weed, and otherwise “keepin’ it real!”

Now because I was a big fan of “The Boondocks” and the humor of creator Aaron McGruder, I was interested in seeing how a show called “Black Jesus” would turn out under his watch. It had some funny moments, but it’s got a lot of room for improvement.

I’ll probably tune in to this week’s show because I usually give shows a three-episode tryout before I just write them off.

But what I’ve found even more interesting than the concept of “Black Jesus” is how people, particularly Black people, have reacted to the concept of “Black Jesus”.

As I sat in front of my computer and took notes on the show for this blog posting, my brother Dennis came into the room and saw what I was watching. His response to me was “Denise, turn that blasphemous mess off!”

Blasphemous.

He wasn’t the first person to say that to me, by the way. I had a lot of Christian friends who refused to even look at the trailer for “Black Jesus” because they felt that it defamed their Lord and Savior by its very existence.

Heck, One Million Moms even called for a boycott.

Now I understand that to a lot of people combining “Jesus” and “Irreverent humor” might be a bit much.

But experience has taught me that this isn’t about the humor as much as it is about something else.

What is that something else, you might ask?

The Blackness.

If you want to start a fight with Black folks, and you’ve grown tired of touching the Third Rail of Black Entertainment that is Beyonce’, inferring that Jesus may have been Black will do it. Guaranteed.

I know this from experience….

When I was a student at Temple University, I took a course in the African American Studies department called “The Black Church”. My professor, Dr. Daudi Azibo, taught us about the connection between Black folks and religion. It wasn’t a class for the faint of heart…especially since among the things he taught us was that Jesus was Black.

Since most of the pictures I had seen of Jesus before that class were pictures that showed him as not only White, but as a strawberry blond, I found it kind of interesting.

Especially since I still remembered the time that someone brought a painting of Jesus that had him looking less like Max Von Sydow and more like Marvin Gaye into the house.

My Dad was not amused. If I remember correctly, it spent maybe two weeks hanging on the living room wall before it was relegated to the basement. I believe the words “that mess” were used to describe it.

So when I came home talking about Jesus being Black, well, I got the usual reactions that people get when you put “Black” and “Jesus” together.

  • You’re relying too much on education and not enough on faith when you say stuff like that.
  • Jesus doesn’t have a color. He loves us all.

And my personal favorite…

  • It doesn’t matter…

Okay…

Now let’s be honest here. When you look at the part of the world that Jesus is said to have come from, there’s no way He could resemble Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”

Whether you like it or not, the Middle East is a part of the African Continent. And guess what the African continent is filled with…?

You guessed it! Africans!

So logic would tell you that Jesus was….Black…

(By the way Aaron McGruder, putting your Black Jesus in a straight, light brown wig is just one of the things that kinda made folks give your show the side-eye. Thought you might want to know that…)

So if we’re looking at this logically, or with any kind of knowledge of anthropology or geography, why is it that Black folks have an issue with Jesus being Black?

I kinda have an idea…

It’s a self-esteem issue.

Christianity may not be exactly the same everywhere in the world, but it has one very important thing in common: It was brought to people by the same people who write history books; the Victors. If you’ve been colonized, you don’t get to decide what your deities look like.

The deities are gonna look like the Victors.

And so is just about everything else.

That includes your political leaders, or has everyone forgotten how Political Blackworld looked at early supporters of President Barack Obama like they had two heads…and how it required the approval of Whites to get them on board?

If you don’t, I can remind you…I still have the stories…

Now if you’re a people that has been taught that everyone who has dominion over you, including your deities, looks a certain way, someone suggesting that this isn’t the case is going to lead to some cognitive dissonance…Your belief, and this new knowledge are going to fight.

Which is why I say that introducing the concept of a Black Jesus is a sure-fire argument starter. The cognitive dissonance it creates makes the whole “Black President’ concept look like a walk in the park.

Now I don’t know how this gets resolved. Or even if it can.

But if you want to call “Black Jesus” blasphemous, ask yourself this question: Is it the fact that Jesus is sitting around drinking 40s of Malt Liquor that’s making you feel that way or is it that Jesus is Black?

I’m hoping that McGruder addresses this question in a future episode…and that I remain interested enough to see how he does it…

Philadelphia Magazine Fight Club

The First Rule of Philadelphia Magazine Fight Club…

I’ve never actually seen the movie Fight Club.


All that I really know about the film is that it stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, features people fighting, and, as the picture above would indicate, somehow soap is involved.

But it’s the first movie that comes to mind when I think of the most inaccurately named publication I’ve ever come across, Philadelphia Magazine. 

You see, every year Philadelphia Magazine does something that the student newspaper from my alma mater Temple University, the Temple News, used to do every year like clockwork: piss off the Black community.

Based on this particular story, there’s an irony connected to Temple that I’ll get into a little later. 

But the Fight Club analogy is employed when it comes to Philly Mag’s relationship, or more accurately lack of relationship, with most of the people who live in the city for which it is named….you know, people of color.

The latest fissure in that relationship reared its ugly head on my Facebook feed last week and looked a little something like this…



This was the magazine’s cover story.

(Or actually, this was the cover story unless you were staying in a hotel. Tourists got a copy of Philly Mag with a picture of the lovely wife of local director M. Night Shyamalan on the cover.)

When “Being White in Philly“ hit the newsstands, it became the latest confirmation of Philadelphia Magazine own special thing it calls Let’s Piss off the Black Folks Fight Club.

Now the first rule of this fight club, like the first rule of Fight Club, is that you don’t talk about it…But where Philadelphia Magazine’s Let’s Piss Off All The Black Folks Fight Club is different is that it allows you to talk about it on a television show, radio program, or anywhere else you go to try and explain away some boneheaded thing you’ve done.

And make no mistake, this was a boneheaded article.

This saga of bonehead starts with author Robert Huber fearing for his son’s safety as he drops him off at his Diamond Street apartment near Temple University. Where all of his friends see new development (and where longtime residents seen creeping gentrification), he sees, well, this…

“Driving up Broad Street as I head home to Mount Airy, I stop at a light just north of Lycoming and look over at some rowhouses. One has a padlocked front door. A torn sheet covering the window in that door looks like it might be stained with sewage. I imagine not a crackhouse, but a child, maybe several children, living on the other side of that stained sheet. Plenty of children in Philadelphia live in places like that. Plenty live on Diamond, where my son rents, where there always seem to be a lot of men milling around doing absolutely nothing, where it’s clearly not a safe place to be.”

And the reason why he thinks that nothing’s been done about this is because white folks are afraid to tell black folks that they’re a mess and need to get their act together.

(Obviously, this guy has never had a chat with Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney…)

This lack of “honesty” with black folks on the part of whites is borne of the supposition that race as an issue is only looked at from a so-called “black paradigm” and that while it is also an issue for whites, whites are never asked for their feelings on it…something that Huber goes on to rectify by going to the city’s gentrifying Fairmount section and asking white folks there about their views on race.

From Anna, the law student from Russia who believes that all black men do is smoke pot, make babies and comment on her looks to John, who liked his neighborhood until the blacks moved in from the South with “chips on their shoulders”, to Jen, who’s trying to get her neighbors to try the local public school for their kids and Ben, who stood up to drug dealers to stay on his block, just about all of the possible stereotypes are covered.

And presented in a way that guarantees a donnybrook.

And let’s be honest here. Philadelphia Magazine may say it’s interested in a conversation about race, but what it really wants is a fight.

I say this because of this inaccurately named magazine’s track record. 

Every year, Philadelphia Magazine publishes at least one story that lands it on the Facebook pages of black folks all over the city.

People read the story and get mad.

They have meetings and hold events to try and calm everyone down. In this case, a group of activists from Rising Sons, the Knight Foundation’s Black Male Engagement project, and others  are holding an event in LOVE Park at 4 p.m. on March 20 to show that not all black folks are wantonly procreating while simultaneously smoking weed.

Organizations like the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, or in some cases even the National Association of Black Journalists, issue a statement decrying the article and the stereotypes it perpetrates. PABJ President Johann Calhoun called Huber’s article “a poor display of civic journalism on many fronts; and irresponsible in its action of race-baiting in creating tension and animosity between Blacks and Whites.”

Civil rights activists like Michael Coard, who writes for the magazine’s blog The Philly Post go H.A.M. (short for Hard As A, well, you know the rest…) on the magazine about the story.

And Philadelphia Magazine laughs all the way to the bank with the money it’s made from all those page views on its website.

Now a big part of the problem here is that the last staffer of color Philadelphia Magazine had was former University of Pennsylvania professor (and current MSNBC commentator) Michael Eric Dyson….a bit of stunt casting that went away as soon as Dyson went to Georgetown University.

Toward finding a way to change that and having a real dialogue instead of a monologue that masquerades as one, PABJ has invited Philadelphia Magazine editor Tom McGrath and Huber to a special meeting on March 19 to hear the group’s concerns on that score.

But I’m not optimistic. Do you know how many times Philadelphia Magazine has probably patted organizations representing journalists of color on the head over this issue? And let’s be totally honest here: both McGrath and Huber have already said that they stand behind this story and all of the stereotypes within it. 

What I would actually like to see people of color do when it comes to Philadelphia Magazine is start a serious “Ignoring Your Dumb Behinds” program. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that I pretend that your grotesquely misnamed publication doesn’t exist. Since I don’t read your magazine, boycotting you isn’t a solution…but boycotting your advertisers is. I’d send letters to your advertisers saying that if you want another dime of my money, you’ll stop putting ads in this bird cage liner with the glossy pages.

In other words, I’ll speak to Philadelphia Magazine in the only language it seems to understand: the language the WuTang Clan…most specifically “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”…

But let me get back to the Temple News aspect of this.

I found it kind of ironic that Huber is afraid of his white, middle-class son going to Temple because this is the kind of student that Temple has been trying to attract…almost to the point where students in the neighborhoods around the school need not apply.

Back when I worked for my alma mater’s Office of News Communications, I found myself saying more than once to my colleagues that if you don’t change the perception on the part of their white, suburban parents, it’s not going to matter. Temple is still going to be seen as this unsafe place surrounded by hostile blacks who want nothing more than to steal and beat up your kids.

Thank you, Mr. Huber, for making this argument better than I ever could.

Too bad it’ll lead to more kids missing out on a really quality education.

But then again, scaring white people back into the suburbs is what Philadelphia Magazine does best…

So in honor of that, I leave you with my favorite financial consultants, the WuTang Clan

Adult Education

                         

One of the things I’ve found myself saying to people of late is that while the First Amendment guarantees your freedom of speech, it doesn’t give you a license to say whatever wackadoodle thing that pops into your head.

It also doesn’t give you permission to talk as loudly as possible about things that are really no one’s business but yours for hours at a time despite the entreaties of others that you Shut. The. Hell. Up.

But while I’ve said that to people, I’ve never written about it until now. In fact, if it weren’t for something that happened to me yesterday, I probably never would have written about it.

However, I feel compelled to do it now and as this posting goes on, you’ll understand why a clip of a show from the man who is singlehandedly keeping the DNA testing industry in business, Maury Povich, is relevant.

When I’m not sharing my thoughts on all things political as Your Mad (political) Scientist, I find myself in a classroom in an alternative high school here in Philadelphia teaching Media Arts.

The kids I teach are kids aged 16-22 who have either dropped out or have been asked to leave most of the other schools they’ve tried to attend. For some, the impetus to leave came from the discovery that they were about to have a kid of their own. Others had to leave due to one of the hazards that come with a career in what I call Street Corner Pharmacy: a date with the Criminal Justice System.

Others just left because they felt that a regular school was too constricting because in order to do well you’re required to come in every day and it’s a population of kids that with very few exceptions is African American.

They’re a challenging group because they’re largely raising themselves. And when you’re raising yourself, you kind of feel like no one can tell you anything. Most of them have parents who weren’t too much older than they are now when they were born. Many of them are on their third or fourth foster home. Others have been on the streets since they were old enough to walk.

Because of that, the phrase I hear most commonly is “I’m grown! You can’t tell me nothing!” I also get a lot of lectures from them about how I have to be respectful to them despite the fact that they often come into my class and talk nonstop while I’m trying to present a lesson.

But despite their best efforts to run me out of the building, something that several of them have admitted to me since, they’ve found that the only person more stubborn than they are in some cases is, well, Ms. Clay. Occasionally, I’ll hear a student tell a classmate “Don’t mess with Ms. Clay! She’s not trying to hear it!”

(That makes me smile by the way…)

Anyway, among the things I try and get across to them is that you can tell what’s going on in a particular society by the looking at the art it produces. I also try to get across to them that how they’re perceived by the larger society is directly connected to the face they put forth to the world through the prism of media.

The Bad Girls Club: notice the paddle…

I often tell them that the reason why folks clutch their purses a little tighter when they get on the bus, or would rather not sit next to them when they get on the subway is because they present themselves in a light that is far less than complimentary.

So as a means of self-exploration, I gave my kids the choice of two assignments for their final project in my Media Arts class: they could either do a documentary on anything they were interested in taking a long-form look at or do a photo essay of 6 to 8 pictures that took a look at a day in their lives. I was hoping through this essay that they would take a look at their everyday lives and maybe see what was good, bad, or needed changing.

So, I figured that because it was a high school Media Arts assignment common sense would prevail.

That hope was smashed against the wall when one of my students wanted to include a picture of someone having sex “doggy style” as part of her final project. After I got a look at the picture, I said “NO! You cannot include this!”

Her response: “Don’t judge me Ms. Clay! This is what I like to do!”

I wasn’t judging. I just didn’t want to see it.

And I really didn’t want to hear the conversation that came next….a conversation that included such things as how much “dick” someone was going to get over the Thanksgiving holiday, a story from one of my kids about how her lesbian lover “sucked her ass” and made her reach orgasm, the various sex toys lesbians use, how a kid’s naked mother came busting into the room where she and her boyfriend were having sex and said that if things didn’t quiet down that she was going to join the party, and, and this is my personal favorite, how having braces can be an impediment to having good oral sex.

Don’t laugh…you see these in Philly all the time…

And this was just in the first three minutes of this conversation and despite my constant interruptions of  “Could you please stop this?!” followed closely by “Could y’all shut up and leave my room please?!”

After they left, I relished the quiet.

I also wanted to go home and take a shower because I felt so sexually violated.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude or anything. But I couldn’t help but think that these kids were having this conversation in front of a teacher.

A teacher.

Someone who is technically an adult.

Now I’ve had Klansmen say some pretty vile things to me, but this conversation yesterday just made me want to cover my ears like a little kid and go “lalalalala”.

And why in the world would you think that it’s proper to share the disadvantage posed by braces when performing fellatio in your high school Media Arts class?

I guess it’s because we have largely become a TMI society. Thanks to folks like Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, Dr. Phil, the Bad Girls Club, and Shaunie O’Neal’s “League of Extraordinary Jump-Offs”, otherwise known as the “Basketball Wives”, the perception is that we can and should share every aspect of our lives.

The League of Extraordinary Jump Offs…

I mean hey, that’s why the camera phone was invented, right? I know that my goal in life is to wind up on World Star Hip-Hop…

(Actually, it isn’t. But folks Sarcasm Meters are still a little off post-election…)

In any case, when I walked into class this morning, still reeling from getting taught some serious sex ed. from a bunch of kids yesterday, I said the following to my students:

“I’m letting you know right now, if anyone even mouths the word “pussy” and “cat” doesn’t immediately follow it, you’re getting suspended!”

Like I said earlier in this piece, one of the problems that these kids have is the fact that they’re largely raising themselves and when you’re raising yourself, you see yourself as the adult, something that can cause a problem or two.

It also means that the adults that are supposed to be your role models are more like the Bad Girls. Or the League of Extraordinary Jump-Offs. Or the Drug Man on the corner. Or that much older man (or in some cases woman) who has introduced you to a sexual world that there’s no way you can understand or successfully negotiate at your age…even if you think you’re grown.

But it’s not always as bleak as yesterday felt. I do have my victories.

For example, there’s one kid in my class that’s either walking into my class late and being really disruptive (meaning that he wasn’t able to connect with the weed man that morning) or is totally mellowed out (meaning that said weed has been acquired.) One day, an obvious Day Without Weed, he did the whole manic thing.

I told him, forcefully, to sit down. His response was “My Mom don’t talk to me like that!”

My response: “Well maybe if she did, you wouldn’t be doing this mess!”

I haven’t had much of a problem in this regard since. I guess it’s because every kid is looking for someone to set a boundary. My colleagues are much better than I at that, but I’m getting there.

However, I’m feeling really burned out.

So I’m going to make as much of a difference as I can until that happens because as I said, many of these kids have kids….
                                   ….and I’d like for them to have the chance their parents didn’t necessarily get.