Stating the Union

From the mouths of comics…

It’s February 2, 2011.

For those of you who either don’t know, or don’t want to acknowledge this, it is the second day of Black History Month.

This is the month that is singled out to look at the historical accomplishments of African Americans in this country. This is when teachers talk to students about the achievements of such folks as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B DuBois, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If we’re lucky, these teachers also talk to students about Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells Barnett and others.

I know that this year the subject of President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama will come up. It has for the last two years. Can’t talk about Black History Month without talking about the one piece of history no one saw coming….

But if you’re black in America, and a native of this country, chances are that at some time during this month, you’re going to have a white person ask you the following question: “Why is there a Black History Month?” followed closely by “Is it still necessary?”

Sometimes, there are people who pose this question looking for a fight. When I lived in Klan Kountry, a lot of white guys asked me that question in hopes of getting me to tell them where to go and how to get there, thus confirming my lack of humanity in their eyes. But after awhile, I found that ignoring them was the better course of action, especially since if you’re supposed to be superior to me, why is it that I’ve discovered soap and water and you haven’t?

But most white folks who are asking that question are doing so from a position of innocence. They really want to know why we need a particular month to recognize what people of color have brought to this country.

They especially want to know this if they’re not originally from these parts. And it helps if the person asking is a really, really funny comedian.

Last night, Craig Ferguson, devoted the entire hour of his Late, Late Show to this question. As a new citizen of this country and someone who hadn’t grown up surrounded by the unique brand of racism that was practiced during the time that Black History Month was created, he innocently wanted to know why the observance existed.

Dr. Cornel West was who Ferguson went to for answers, and what resulted was a pretty good show that talked about everything from the origins of Black History Month, why taking the N-Word out of “Huckleberry Finn” cleans the text….and the history surrounding it …far too much, and whether or not you can find an orgasm machine.

(I did mention that it was a comic having this discussion, right?)

I didn’t get a chance to see it live because I was trying to write a paper at the time. But I made a point to check it out today. I thought that it was good because you could tell that Ferguson had done some homework. He was also able to connect it to the history of his native country, which was also nice. And West, as he often does, made the discussion as much about humanity as it was Africanity. I am going to find a way to use his phrase “former Negroes” in my writing somehow. I don’t know how yet, but I’ll find a place for it!….

I was glad to see his questions answered.

But to be honest, I look forward to a day where separate months to celebrate the achievements of everyone who makes up the salad that is America is no longer necessary. Not because I don’t like having my own month despite it being the shortest on the calendar, but because I thought that by now we’d have our act together as a people.

You see, in 2012 I celebrate my 30th anniversary of being out of high school. When I left Pemberton Township High School, which is located just outside of what used to be called Fort Dix in New Jersey, I left a much different person than the person I am now.

That’s because Pemberton Township High School was a very different place. We were what in Yiddish is called a mishegas (thank you Jeff Winbush!), or a collection. Pemberton was truly multicultural not because of busing or anything like that, but because of the United States Military. Any race, creed, color, national origin or religion that you could think of here in the salad that is America was represented in the hallways of PTHS. Uncle Sam doesn’t play favorites….and dares you to!

And it was amazing.

But it was also a bit sheltering. So much so that when I got hit with the reality that where I came from wasn’t necessarily the norm, it kinda hurt.

I went to The Ohio State University for college. Columbus, Ohio isn’t much of a city when the university isn’t in session, but when it is, it is the center of the universe. I went to college with future NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter and saw first hand what women are willing to go through to get themselves a man with deep pockets, or potentially deep ones, which is a subject I’ll tackle in another post.

Anyway, I had the most popular yearbook in Lincoln Tower, the dormitory in which I spent my freshman year. Not because it was such a good yearbook (although I was on Yearbook committee and was kinda proud of it), or because the wrestling team was kinda cute (which it was…).

My yearbook was the talk of the town because it was the only yearbook that featured a diverse student body. I can’t tell you how many times I got asked “Were the cops there a lot?” because no one could believe that a student body that diverse could exist without there being a lot of tension.

Now I’m not going to say that everyone at Pemberton got along because that doesn’t happen anywhere. We had our knuckleheads. Every place does.

But for the most part, the students at PTHS not only got along, but genuinely liked each other. That it wasn’t the same everywhere kinda bothered me. In fact, it bothered me so much one time that I ended up in the Dean of Students Office.

(Anyone who knows me well is probably not at all surprised by that fact.)

However, the “you’re not in Kansas anymore” lesson was brought home. It was innocence lost. And I am still sometimes annoyed by that.

But all that I can do is my own personal part to bring forth the change that I’d like to see. That’s all any of us can do.

I have the first part of Ferguson’s interview with Cornel West at the top of this post. Here are the last three, one of which also includes a musical performance by George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars of the classic “One Nation Under a Groove”. I apologize in advance….


Keepin’ it real…real dumb

While it won a lot of Oscars and got a lot of notice, I was never a really big fan of the movie “Forrest Gump.”

Sure, Tom Hanks did a good job in portraying Gump, a character who managed to do a whole lot with his life despite being more than a little slow on the draw. But sappy movies tend to wreck my nerves and let’s be honest; “Forrest Gump” was as sappy as they come. I sat through it at the movies because I went to see it with friends, but the rest of the times I’ve ever seen it, i’ve seen it for free and because nothing else was available to watch.

But while watching “Forrest Gump” sends me into insulin shock every time I do it, it did provide me with a line that I’ve found very useful. That line: Stupid is as stupid does.

That’s exactly what Forrest would have said had he been at Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial. The rally, one of two dueling gatherings held on Saturday to coincide with the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, was designed to, and I’m not kidding, “take back the Civil Rights Movement”.

What made the premise of “Restoring Honor” so side-splittingly hilarious was that it was put on by a combination of Tea Party Folks, flat earthers, and these two dumb asses:

Glenn Beck
Sarah Palin

In terms of a justification for having “Fool-A-Palooza” on the same Lincoln Memorial steps where King gave his ground-breaking speech, Beck said, and again I’m quoting here so you don’t think I’m making this shit up, that “Black People don’t own Martin Luther King.” The cherry and whipped cream of that argument being the appearance of King’s niece, Alveda, as part of his program. To see a really good take on her, I invite you to visit The Domino Theory, my friend Jeff Winbush’s blog, which you can access by clicking on to my blog roll on the right.

Now combining Beck, who got stuck in the character of Howard Beale from “Network” without having any of the late Peter Finch’s talent Ms. King, who my friend Jeff describes as that crazy cousin that you can’t get away from at the family reunion, and Palin, whose most recent claim to dumb assery was saying that Dr. Laura Schlessinger should “Reload” and fire off all of the “niggers” she didn’t say in the advice call that made her sponsors decide that they no longer wanted to pay for her fruit stand in the Marketplace of Ideas gets you an event complete with some Class A stupid, complete with folks who wear T-shirts like this in public.

Now I admit that I’m more than a little annoyed that Beck held Fool-A-Palooza on ground that is sacred to me as an African American because of what happened there, especially in light of the fact that a group of Muslims are being told that they shouldn’t be allowed to put a community center two blocks away from Ground Zero because of what happened there.

But what annoys me even more about this particular hoedown is that it’s yet another example of the fact that America has chosen to follow its fools, not marginalize them.

I was reading the August 25 entry in the New York Times’ “Opinionator” blog from contributor Timothy Egan entitled “Building a Nation of Know-Nothings”. In his post, Egan talks about how folks are believing some pretty stupid hype in the form of “Obama’s not an American Citizen; he was born in Kenya”, “Obama’s a secret Muslim” “Michelle Obama took her kids and her friends to Spain on the people’s dime” and my personal favorite, “Obama bailed out the banks.”

As Egan points out, all of the above can be very easily proven as false. President Barack Obama’s birth certificate from Hawaii, which is still a state unless something’s changed in the last hour, has been requested so much that the Hawaiian government now refuses to show it to people. But if you really want to see it, it’s on the Internet. The Prez has proclaimed his Christianity on anything that is not a neon sign. Before she became First Lady, Michelle Obama was a vice president for the University of Chicago Hospital system. She’s got more than enough money to take folks to Spain.

As for the bank bailouts, that happened a full year before Sen. Obama became President Obama, so nice try there.

According to a study done by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, the fact that these falsehoods continue to be the coin of the realm stems from a willingness on the part of 46 percent of all Republicans (those who believe the “Obama is a Secret Muslim” lie) and 27 percent of all Republicans (those who believe the “Obama was born in Kenya” lie) to believe what they hear in the right-wing press.

Actually, I can’t blame the entire right-wing press. While news organizations like the Washington Times annoy me, they by and large report the facts.

I can, however, blame what I call the Asshat Media. That’s the Rush Limbaughs, Glenn Becks, and others of that ilk who know that there are folks out there who want to believe the worst about this President so that they can justify wanting to harm him, harm his family, or otherwise do something so stupid that it’ll cause a riot that will make South Central LA look like a clambake. These clowns give their followers just enough misinformation to make them dangerous, then they turn them loose.

But while the anti-Obama insanity is one branch of stupid, there are others. The folks who don’t believe that climate change is real despite the fact that Philadelphia has temperatures in the high 90s this week while Los Angeles is in the 70s. The poor and middle class people who think that it should be okay to continue tax cuts for the top 2 percent of incomes despite all of the evidence that “Trickle Down Economics” has never worked because the wealth, despite the tax cuts, never trickles down in any way that helps them.

And don’t get me started on the folks who made such folks as Kim Kardashian, Jon and Kate (and their brood of eight), and the entire cast of “Dancing With the Stars” household names. Actually that’s not stupid. That’s a willingness to view a train wreck trackside instead of at a safe distance, which I guess is its own brand of insane.

The truth is, we’ve been on an anti-intellectual downslide for a long time now. During the Bush Administration, the smart were dismissed in favor of the ideologically pure. No Child Left Behind is a law that encourages stupid because it locks teachers into a test instead of letting them teach. Look at how smart folks are portrayed on television. When’s the last time that you saw someone on a TV show that was not only smart, but also good looking?

(And no, Blair Underwood doesn’t count. His new show doesn’t start until later this month.)

What kills me is that the same people who want to cut teacher salaries, cut school budgets, and decrease the number of college openings to save money are also the same people who piss and moan about our inability to compete with the rest of the world when it comes to academics.

Wanna know the difference between us and them folks? They spend money on education. Lots and lots of money. We’d rather pay a guy $30 million to miss free throws than pay a teacher a living wage.

But don’t blame us. We’re just keepin’ it real….real dumb.

Doing one of the many routines that Dr. Laura used as justification for her recent “Nigga-fest”, here’s Chris Rock.

I ain’t scared of you…..

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You couldn’t blame President Barack Obama if he would have rather had been just about any place that wasn’t Washington last night.

Because this particular Presidential Model reads the newsapers, watches the news, and probably has found all of the NPR stations in the DC market, he walked into his historic first State of the Union address Wednesday night knowing that the political chattering class has been measuring him for his coffin since Scott Brown became the senator from Massachusetts last week.

President Obama also had the displeasure of watching as Democrats on the hill proceeded to do the best Henny Penny imitation I’ve ever seen the day after the Brown victory. Despite continuing to have the largest majority in Congressional history, these fools were running around like the GOP had once again regained the majority instead of just increasing their minority by one.

Even the President’s supporters were writing him off. Heck, I had a bet with one of my friends on Facebook that some Republican was going to yell something at the Prez tonight. I lost $5. Damn Republicans let me down again!

Now don’t get me wrong. The occupant of the nation’s highest office is supposed to be cool under pressure. But I wanted to see President Obama put the Republicans, the Democrats, and the political chattering classes in check.

(For those of you not familiar with that term, to put someone “in check” is to tell them that their nonsense will no longer be tolerated.)

On Wednesday night, he finally decided to.

President Obama walked into the House Chambers and proceeded to call for more funding for education and a forgiveness program that would encourage kids to go into public service in exchange for loan forgiveness, a bill that would help create jobs, a health care bill that would actually reform the system, and banking reform that would stop the folks at Citibank from buying private planes with taxpayer dollars. He even called for an end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that’s made it hard for gays and lesbians who want to serve their country to do so.

He then proceeded to issue a bipartisan smackdown to some folks who needed it.

First, he smacked up the Supreme Court of voting 5-4 to give corporations the right to adversely influence the political process by throwing as much money as possible at it.

He then told the Democrats to grow a set and stop acting like they no longer had the largest majority in history.

Next, he let the Republicans have it for the grief they’ve been giving him as he tries to clean up the mess their guy, President George W. Bush, left for him last January. He also took ’em to the woodshed for their policy of obstruction for obstruction’s sake. If you want to do that, he said, prepare to show some leadership. He also told them that if they had any better ideas regarding health care reform, bring ’em.

In fact, at one point during the speech I started to wonder when President Obama began channeling the spirit of the late comedian (and Chicago native) Bernie Mac. All that he needed to say was “I ain’t scared of you motherfuckers”, and it would have been official.

But while I’m glad that didn’t happen I was happy to see President Obama stop letting things slide. He needed to let folks have it. Not doing so would have just let the status remain quo. Now the ball’s in the courts of all concerned.

It was the only State of the Union speech I’ve ever sat through that didn’t feel like it took forever. While I’m sure he didn’t mean to, it caused some of the folks that I was watching with on Facebook to laugh occasionally.

That’s because President Obama did something that all of us could relate to.

He cussed out a whole lot of people…and they didn’t even realize it.

If you missed the speech, I have a clip of it at the top of this post.

If you don’t know who Bernie Mac was, here’s a clip of him right here.