Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Monday, June 30, 2008

Poetry: Dropping Knowledge, SingingTruth--Part I

"Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action."

-- Audre Lorde, poet

"But there are certain very practical things American Negro writers can do. And must do. There's a song that says, "the time ain't long." That song is right. Something has got to change in America—and change soon. We must help that change to come.”
--Langston Hughes, writer

Listen up. The daddy wants to ask you something: What type of writing do you trust the most?

The daddy wants to say straight-up that the writing he trusts most is poetry. Why? Because, above all else, the poet seeks to write honestly, to discover truths from self, from others, from community, from the world. But a funny thing about truth—a lot of people don’t want to hear it. “There are things more painful than truth,” a wise man once said. “But I can’t think of any.” So writing truth can be a harrowing affair.

Nonetheless, the poet, like a hungry, ragged child rummaging through piles of garbage for food on the outskirts of town, the poet digs through mountains of words and concepts for a morsel of truth. The ultimate miner, a John Henry with pen, the poet plunges the depth of his or her soul to bring up rough-edged, valuable but often bitter-sweet rocks of truth, that essence of reality. Then the poet follows the find, wherever it leads, whomever it hurts.

When do people hate the truth the most? When it’s communicated simply; when it comes to them raw and unvarnished. When the great poet Langston Hughes’ published “Fine Clothes of the Jew,” it received rave reviews from white critics but was immediately attacked by the black press. The Pittsburgh Courier’s headline said, “LANGSTON HUGHES’ BOOK OF TRASH.” The Amsterdam News said that, with this book, Hughes had become a “SEWER DWELLER.” But, undeterred, Hughes continued to write honestly; and, where he felt appropriate, in black vernacular. And his writing in black vernacular gave an even greater authenticity and ring of truth to his poetry.

One painful truth that Hughes told was that black Americas were fed up with the way they were treated in this country. In “Dream Deferred,“ he cut to the quick and laid it down when he asked:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Not only did Hughes write honestly and in black vernacular, he made it clear to the black press and the world that he would continue to do so. In "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," which appeared in The Nation magazine in 1926, Hughes proclaimed his independence from the black press and stated his determination to speak the truth no matter what others thought:

The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad, If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too. The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves.”

Take that, Pittsburgh Courier.

NEXT POST: The Black Poet and Black History

Friday, June 27, 2008

That Shirley Horn-"She's a Goodun'"

"I've never known anyone that could do a ballad that slowly and keep it musical, keep it happening."
--Mary McPhartland

Question: Has this ever happened to you? You know, you get cocky, thinking you know a lot about something or someone, and someone comes along and drops some knowledge that floors you, that reminds you of that old adage: “the more you know, the less you know?"

This happened to the daddy recently when he was schooled big time about singer/pianist Shirley Horn, considered the greatest singer/pianist since Nat King Cole. A friend had him listen to one of her songs (“Here’s to Life”) and the daddy instantly knew two things: that this is the singer that singer Diana Krall got her singing style from, and that this Shirley Horn could sing her ass off. As my ebonics-talking Aunt Bess would say, “She’s a goodun'.”

For those who don’t know or who may need to be reminded, here are some facts about Shirley Horn. She was a child prodigy, one of those children that catch on to something at a very early age and become great at it. The daddy’s nephew is like this with chess. When he’s not prowling the streets with his “crew,” training to become a straight-up thug, he’s sitting on park benches, outwitting old men three times his age. And, because you have to move within a few seconds, he dispenses with them quickly, further depressing them and perhaps causing them to pray more forcefully for the lawd to call them home. Like my nephew with chess, Shirley was hooked on the piano—so much so that her momma had to bribe her to get away from the ivories and to play with neighborhood children.

At age 12, Shirley studied musical composition. At 18, she received a scholarship to study at Juliard but chose to study music at Howard University.

Though her first album, “Embers and Ashes,“ went nowhere (It was a small label with little distribution), it helped to get the word out that there was a new musician in town. In fact, after Miles heard her album, he invited her to New York to open for him. This exposure helped her get the break she needed. Soon, she was playing in the top jazz clubs all over the country and recording with none other than the great Quincy Jones at the Mercury label. She even did the singing on several movie soundtracks.

But two things kept her from gaining greater fame. First, she wanted to be with her family, especially her daughter Rainy. Second, she had irreparable differences with Mercury about her music. So, she left New York, became resigned to her role as wife and mother and played primarily in clubs close to her home in Washington D.C.

In 1981, with her daughter out of the house and married, Horn formed a trio and began traveling again. In 1986, she began recording for Verve; and she was also becoming popular too, performing with top jazz musicians like Davis and Wynton Marsalis. And her strong-selling records in the 1980’s earned her 9 grammy nominations.

In 1991, she won a Grammy for best jazz vocal performance. In 2004, Horn was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts as a jazz master. After a long illness, Horn died on October 20th, 2005, in her beloved Washington D.C. She was 71.

Staff writer Adam Bernstein of the Washington Post characterized her performances as "mesmerizing."

"An uncompromising perfectionist, she worked hard to develop a personal, pensive sound. Her artistry had long depended on the interaction between voice and piano, but in 2001, Horn's right foot was amputated because of her diabetes. As a result, it was difficult for her to use the elegant pedal work that marked her piano style."

Horn said of her music: "I don't much hurry, because I do believe in time and space. I think I can paint that picture for you slowly, so you can see."

Pick up a Shirley Horn CD. Let her paint a picture for you. See if you agree with my Aunt Bess and say, "She's a goodun'."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Crazy Black Woman--Part II

"I think black women have learned, more successfully than black men, to absorb the pain of their predicament and to keep on stepping."

--Michael Eric Dyson, scholar and writer

"...I am a black woman
tall as a cypress
beyond all definition still
defying place
and time
and circumstance
on me and be
--Mari Evans, poet

In the hospital

In late November of 2004, the daddy fell gravely ill, went to emergency, where he was told he had an intestinal blockage and needed to be operated on immediately. The operation was successful, but recovery took a while. He was in the hospital for two weeks.

While in recovery, lots of people came to see him. Now, because he’s worked at a number of black non-profit agencies in the city, many of the visiting well-wishers were black; And, to speed his recovery, they brought him all kinds of comfort food: Red beans and rice, gumbo (spicy version), pound cake, chocolate cake, peach cobbler.

The mother of a former co-worker presented him with a “mess” of chitlins and shook her finger in front of his eyes, saying, "Don't eat it all at once. It's a delicacy!" Uh huh. And when she took the top off the container, let's just say the "delicacy" gave the entire room a "distinctive" aroma.

Another co-worker’s mother brought him pickled pig feet and sat it on the window ledge. It was in a Mason jar, and the daddy could look out the window and, at the same time, see a pig’s foot swimming in liquid. When a nurse reminded them that it was just his second day of recovery from a major operation, that he was on a liquid diet and that, in any case, the food was inappropriate, they insisted that the food was better for him than hospital food and that the daddy would eat it when he was ready.

"kind of different"

Besides the visitors with all the “goodies,” a black woman nurse told him that he had also received another visitor later that night. “You probably don’t remember, but your friends who brought all that food tired you out, and we had to get them to leave. Plus, you were in pain. So we gave you some pain pills and something to make you sleep.”

“No, I don't remember. But you said I had a visitor.”

“You sure did. She showed up and showed out. She came three hours after visiting hours were over and demanded to see you. She even wanted to see your medical chart. Your nurse-- he's the black male nurse-- told her that you were sleeping and on medication, but she started talking loud. Because she had a nursing uniform on, he thought she would understand, but she got louder and louder." She sighed.

"She got her way…She’s kind of different.” Kind of different…Where have I heard that before, I asked myself. Tameka?

“Yes, that was her name. Your nurse said she sat on your bed, eating your food and watching tv. And she left you a note. But he put it in the drawer. He thought it was too… a little too personal to leave out...”

As the nurse smiled broadly, his fingers raced to the top drawer by his bed, retrieved the note quickly but began reading slowly to himself, all the time hoping it wouldn't blow up in his face:


He stared at the note and slowly began to smile. He smiled at the nurse (obviously, the night nurse had told her about the note), and she smiled back at him; and for a few seconds, there was a shared moment of cultural understanding between black man and a black woman, between patient and nurse.

Moving to the door, still smiling but reclaiming her role as professional nurse, said, "Mr. Walton, you sure have some funny friends."

Okay, she was still crazy, but it wasn't the first time she made him smile. He smiled when she phoned periodically to update him on her life: when she was readmitted into a nursing program; when she did well on a school exam; when—and this was more often-- she vented about a particular instructor (“I told that old bitch, ‘I don’t believe you!”); when she graduated from nursing school and got a job at a local hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. But here’s what really made the daddy smile.

Before graduating from the drug program, the one where she consistently gave him a hard time, Tameka wrote a letter to the agency, thanking them for hiring him, saying he was a counselor who wasn’t afraid of them, who knew how to work with people from the streets, who made them think. This letter, and subsequent conversations about how he was able to reach Tameka when no one else could, gave him, for the first time, ultimate legitimacy as a drug counselor. You see, the daddy had taken courses in drug counseling but had no drug counseling degree; and the truth is that he was hired for his knowledge of violence and his work with gangs and violent men. Tameka, more than anyone, made him a good drug counselor in their eyes.

Still crazy but…

She made the daddy smile and laugh out loud too. At one visit evening hospital visit, she advised him that he should be careful about that liquid diet the hospital was giving him. Why? Because the hospital might put some kind of “serum” in it to keep him from having children. “You know some of these white folks in Minnesota think there’s too many blacks and Latinos here already.”

On another visit, she told him that, if she were his nurse and he wasn’t “behaving,” she would give him an overdose. “Honey, I would have you drugged up and on the floor like them prisoners at Abu Ghraib. One minute, you’d be walking through the woods singing tip toe through the tulips; and the next, you’d playing air guitar to purple haze.”

Yeah, she’s crazy alright, but she’s made great strides, all while maintaining a level of self-respect that kept her from going completely insane. By keeping her self-respect, she was able to garner the energy and wherewithal to demand—and get—respect in turn. Yes, she’s crazy, but she made him laugh out loud, smile knowingly, and be a better counselor too.

It was all good while it lasted, but Tameka moved back to Jackson, Mississippi to be with her mother, whose house was flooded by Katrina. She works at one of the hospitals there.

Dear Tameka:

You say that you and your sister are going to visit me in Minnesota this summer, that we’re going to spend the entire afternoon together, eating, talking, laughing, and joking about old times. I don’t believe you! I don’t miss you that much. In fact (smiling), I don’t care if I ever see you again!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

That Crazy Black Woman-Part I

"Let not the shining thread of hope become so enmeshed in the web of circumstances that we lose sight of it."
--Charles W. Chesnutt, novelist
"Deal with yourself as an individual worthy of respect and make everyone else deal with you the same way."
--Nikki Giovanni, poet

Okay, I hate Tyler Perry-type movies, Flip Wilson-like comedy skits, and media in general that stereotype black women as domineering, loud and a few potato chips from going totally crazy. This is a post about Tameka, a strong, loud and crazy black woman…the daddy misses her very much. Are you ready?

A few years ago, the daddy worked as a drug counselor at a chemical dependency agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The daddy worked with a group of men in the agency’s residential program and gave presentations to both men and women on violence and addictions. Now, it was at one of the presentations that women counselors warned the daddy about Tameka, always saying the same thing: “Watch out for her. She’s kind of different.” What the hell does that mean, he thought.

So, after hearing this for the third time, the daddy cornered a woman counselor who knew this Tameka before she came to the drug program. She said Tameka is different because she has anger and trust issues, especially with men. "Try to help her, and she’ll curse you out. That’s why everybody is warning you,” she said.

She said Tameka was doing fine until she got “man trouble.” She was smart in high school. Boys, even male teachers, hit on her, but she stuck to the books. She wanted to be a nurse. After graduating, she started nursing school and was doing well. But she got a boyfriend who got her hooked on crack. "She gave him her heart, he gave her a venereal disease and a coke habit; and she ended up prostituting for almost a year to support her habit."

But she caught a break. When she was arrested for drug possession and prostitution, the judge could have sent her to prison but placed her into a residential drug program. “Tameka is alright,” she said. “She just uses her foul mouth to keep people away, to protect herself—you know, to hide the fact that, really, she is an attractive, petite young lady that doesn’t want to get hurt again…Sometimes, they’re the hardest to help.”

The daddy got a hint of how hard that would be after his first presentation with her in the audience. After his talk on meditation and how it can help restore a feeling of balance and calm the raging urgencies in the body, Tameka, who had been shaking her head and rolling her eyes during the entire presentation, bounced out of her chair, came up to him and (in front of several people) shouted, “All this talk about meditation. You talk like a hippie!” And after subsequent presentations, she would phone him at his office, ask very good questions but end the call by saying, “I don’t believe you” and hang up.

Then there was her graduation (Yes, she did graduate). It was a very touching affair. About a dozen or so were graduating. It was held in a big dining area that was decorated with bright-colored signs and appropriate messages on the walls, nice lighting and balloons. The food was great.

You see, many of these brothers and sisters never graduated from anything, including high school. Suddenly, they were getting props for finishing something from family and staff, for doing the right thing. Plus, they were told that, through its aftercare program, the agency would help them to get an apartment, a job or go to school and gain the skills to get a living-wage job. It meant a lot to them and to their family members too.

But can you guess who was skeptical of this entire affair?

Can you guess who was not only skeptical of this graduation but the graduates as well, who stood in the center of a circle of women doing a presentation of her own, and who told them, "If y'all don't cut loose them sorry ass men, you gon be back on the streets in a New York minute?"

And after he congratulated her, can you guess who turned, walked away and, still smiling, said, “I don’t care if I ever see you again!”

Is Tameka crazy?

Are elephants heavy? Do leopards have spots? Was James Brown? But wait til you hear what she did for the daddy and why he still misses her.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Guest Blogger: George Carlin

Edgy comedian George Carlin, known for his biting, anti-establishment humor, died Monday of a heart attack at the Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday, at 6:00 p.m. He was 71. He may be best remembered for his famous routing called "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," which became part of a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court. But he left this sound advice that we all would do well to remember.
How to Stay Young
by George Carlin

1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctor worry about them. That is why you pay him.

2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.

3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle. “An idle mind is the devil's workshop."
And the devil's name is Alzheimer's.

4. Enjoy the simple things.

5. Laugh often, long and loud.
Laugh until you gasp for breath.

6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person who is with us our entire life is ourselves. Be ALIVE while you are alive.

7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it's family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.

8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.

9. Don't take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, to the next county, to a foreign country, but NOT to where the guilt is.

10. Tell the people you love that you love them
at every opportunity.

And always remember:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments
that take our breath away.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Do You Know Helen?

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Protest is always at the crux of my work. I try to capture the images of dignity, elegance and suffering of a people who are trying to survive on nothing…Poverty is visible for all to see, but what seems to be invisible is seeing poor people as individuals--the dignity, beauty, and hope that continue to live despite the desperate battle for survival."
--Helen M. Stummer

Do you know Helen?

In No Easy Walk, and other works, she took the daddy by the hand and quietly led him down a long ghetto street in Newark. The cold, hard sidewalk was lined with McDonald hamburger wrappers, empty potato chip bags and an assortment of trash.

They stopped at an apartment building and she introduced him to Carol. Carol was a woman of low income and, seemingly not much else. But if you thought that, you would be wrong. You see, Carol had a brain, dogged, tough-as-nails determination to survive and a natural born ability to form social networks of people in her apartment building and in her neighborhood to utilize what meager resources they had to live. And hat’s why Helen M. Stummer is so important: she took pictures but, through Carol, documented something more, something in poor women, in poor people, in all of us, our struggles, our hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow.

They walked a bit farther and she stopped to take pictures again. It was a makeshift street memorial. There, a series of bottles were lined up near the sidewalk with the labels of certain brands lined neatly in rows, respectively. A middle-aged, very dark-skinned black lady was sitting close to the bottles, just to the right of them. Helen took her picture but showed something more: the unmistakable sadness and overwhelming frustration with the relentless violence in her community, violence with seemingly no end; And, by extension, she documented that, with the drug dealing, the stench of urine in dark hallways and stairwells, absentee landlords, welfare restrictions, police harassment, poor school systems combined with the construction of shopping malls and middle class homes nearby, few people would disagree that most folks don’t care about poor people in the central ward of Newark, or poor folks in central wards of this nation.

Then they walked back toward this apartment building, at 322 Irving Turner Boulevard. People knew her there because she had been documenting the lives of people there for years.

They weren’t there long before hordes of children burst out of their apartments to greet Helen's cheery “Hello!” with overwhelming excitement, jumping up and down, screaming “Take my picture! Take my picture!” And there, amid dirty walls spray-painted with grafitti, a cold sidewalk and trash, she took their pictures but but showed something more: the broad smiles, the youthful exuberance, and the sweet innocence that no amount of poverty, desolation or shopping malls nearby could take away.

Robert Snyder, editor of the Newark Metro, wrote:

Photographer Helen M. Stummer takes pictures of good people living in bad conditions. Like Lewis Hine, who photographed workers in the early twentieth century, her work appreciates the dignity of individuals while exposing their unhealthy surroundings.”

Do you know Helen? She takes images but shows something more…Have you ever looked through the dark clouds of poverty and saw in a child's eyes a heavenly sun?
Note: Helen M. Stummer can be reached at:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Guest Blogger: Tami

One of my favorite bloggers is Tami. Check out her analysis of the movie "Sexism in the City" and the issues surrounding it.
Serenity now! Entitlement, Sexism, Racism... and Carrie

(Warning: "Sex and the City" spoiler included)

Yesterday I finally got around to reading the latest issue of Newsweek and Ramin Setoodeh's article "Sexism in the City," which suggests that criticism of the blockbuster movie is largely sexist. As evidence, Setoodeh ( a male) points to the movie's lackluster reviews that seem in disproportion to its box office haul and to what appears to be a rogue effort by male reviewers on IMDB to give "Sex" an artificially low rating. The writer wraps the article up with the media narrative du jour: "See, this is the sexism that Hillary Clinton was talking about!"

Speaking of which, it's tempting to draw the parallel between the "Sex" haters and the Hillary haters. Ms. Clinton argued that sexism took down her campaign. No way, taunt the Obamaniacs. Fine. But we can all imagine a lunch between Hillary and Carrie, perhaps at a diner somewhere on Manhattan's Upper West Side. What would they talk about? Were the guys who held up the "Iron My Shirt!" signs for Hillary the same ones who voted Sarah Jessica Parker the unsexiest woman alive? And were they the ones who refused to vote for Hillary at all? Carrie once said, "Man may have discovered fire, but women discovered how to play with it." And long ago Hillary said, "I'm not some little woman standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette." She was more like Carrie: too big for that.

I was a huge fan of "Sex and the City," the HBO series, but the big screen flick? Meh! Good, not great. It was nice to see the gang again, but the movie illustrated why you can't go backwards in life. When "Sex" debuted in 1998, I was single and 20-something in a big city and it was fun to watch single, carefree women, who lived in a bigger city with bigger apartments, cooler jobs, more money, better shoes and more sex with hotter guys. It was fun fantasy. By contrast, the 2008 big screen version was a little too much "Marital problems in the city" for me--not so fun, frivolous or carefree. It was an hour too long. The broad humor (including diarrhea and bikini waxing jokes) seemed out of place. And it reminded me of why the "Sex" series finale so pissed me off: No smart woman wants to marry the commitment-phobe who strung her along for a decade, cheating, marrying and divorcing someone else, and ultimately when he finally gets back around to said "smart" woman--leaving her at the altar. And no best girlfriend worth her salt would ever support such madness.

But my thoughts on "Sex and the City," the big screen version, are not the point. Newsweek's article using the film's reviews as evidence of the direness of sexism today made my bullshit meter clang like firehouse alarm, and this isn't the first time since January that I have found myself scratching my head at gender violations the media and mainstream feminists tell me I am to be outraged about. Once again, I am left wondering why there is such a disconnect between the equality I want and the equality some of my sisters want, such a gap between their outrage and my outrage.

I've been toying with the idea in my head that part of the schism relates to entitlement and differing expectations. As a black woman in America, facing race as a primary barrier to navigate, I am used to being "other," used to being underestimated, used to being ignored and dismissed, used to people saying ridiculously biased things, used to my culture not being understood, used to not being validated, used to being thought of as "less than." I have no expectation that any of these fruits of race bias will go away soon. I'll just succeed in spite of them.

This is a white supremacist culture. Race bias is pervasive, if not always overt or even intentional. We simply all learn (every American) that white = normal = good. It will take a long time before Americans as individuals are purged of this bias. In the meantime, those of us committed to anti-racism must work to take away the institutional and legal barriers that block people of color from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yes, we need to work on hearts and minds, too, but even as we stand poised to elect the first black President of the United States, experience tells me that:
...Most white movie reviewers are not going to "get" the popularity and big box office returns of Tyler Perry's Madea movies (not sure I get it either)

...Some white people that I encounter are going to instinctively reach to touch my natural hair without my permission

...If I ever return to the corporate realm, some white person will no doubt mistake me for an administrative assistant rather than an executive

...White people will continue to praise me for being "so articulate" and not "even sounding black."

...There will always be white people that feel the need to bring up civil rights issues, hip hop or "black things" whenever they talk to me

...The behaviors of black people, like...oh...say...the giving of "dap," will be exoticized and scrutinized and dissected into the ground

These things are annoyances--the dull aches of modern racism. I'm not saying they don't matter--they do--but the major aches matter more. I'm more concerned with making sure that my stepson's former classmates back on the majority black Southside of Chicago get the same high-quality education he is now getting in a majority white suburb in Central Indiana; or that young black women like Mildred Beaubrun don't have to die because men feel entitled to their bodies; or that black women get the health care they need to lower our higher-than-average mortality and disease rates; or that my brothers and sisters in places like Haiti are provided the same chances for immigration as people in other parts of the Western world. These things are important; that a white acquaintance of mine occasionally uses "nappy" as synonym for "unkempt" is low on the list of priorities. (Yes, I do check it when I hear it.)
I think being black in America has given me a certain level of serenity. You know the Serenity Prayer?

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

A warrior has to pick her battles and when you turn every annoyance into a grave injustice--you use up power that should be devoted to the war. If I, as a black woman, raged at every instance of race bias, I would be a very angry woman, indeed.

In this country and every other one, people cling to their groups. They favor what they know. Prejudice exists. It will always exist in some form or another. It is part of the human condition. If not race or gender, the prejudice will be about something else. I know that I will encounter it. I navigate around it the best I know how.

But many recent articles about the 2008 Democratic primary, even those written by feminists, express SHOCK that sexism is pervasive in America and outrage at even the most tenuous example of gender bias. There is an entitlement I find in the writing of second wave feminists like Gloria Steinem and Erica Jong and Linda Hirshman. They are entitled to what they want, when they want it.They are entitled to always have their efforts and needs exalted. They are entitled to always be validated. They are entitled to never encounter bias--minor or major.

The sexism revealed by Hillary Clinton's run for the White House did not shock me. As a woman, I expect to encounter sexism. I understand this is a male supremacist culture. Gender bias is pervasive, if not always overt or even intentional. We simply all learn (every American) that male = smart, powerful, competent leader. It will take a long time before Americans as individuals are purged of this bias. In the meantime, those of us committed to women's equality must work to take away the institutional and legal barriers that block women from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In my mind, that means ensuring that women have control over their right to (and right not to) reproduce; that the wage gap is closed between genders (and races); that good childcare becomes available to all women; that women are safe from rape and violence; that good black men don't become so extinct that heterosexual black women can't find husbands; that girls--no matter where they live--have access to good educations and are accepted in any field they choose to pursue.

There will always be some jackass who thinks it is cute to yell, "Iron my shirt." Most men are never going to "get" a movie centered on female friendships and expensive shoes. The "shrill, nagging wife" meme will be around probably as long as men have wives. Some guys will continue to smarmily call women "sweetie" on the job. And the division of labor in your average American household will likely continue to be less than a desirable 50/50. These are the dull aches of being a woman. And they aren't going away soon.

Perhaps the schism between American mainstream feminists and feminists of color comes down to the different ways we move in the world and the different burdens we carry. Maybe the Steinems and Ferraros and Clintons, used to a certain amount of privilege, feel entitled to a life free of dull aches, while the hooks and the Walkers and the Braziles know such a life doesn't exist.

Should feminists of color lend our mainstream sisters some serenity? Or has pervasive racism lowered our expectations so that we fail to fight for what we deserve?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Mad Dog Black Lady Gives the Daddy Fever

“Desiring to “rehumanize the dehumanized,” Coleman focuses upon the lives of the “down and out”; thus she populates her texts with working-class individuals struggling against daily indignities and social outcasts struggling simply to survive. The primary voice represented in her poems is that of the African American woman whose head is bloodied but unbowed, who is just as tough as the harsh city in which she lives.”


He wants it hot, rough and funky
He wants it deep, dark, and dirty
He’s got the hots for the tough-talking diva, got the
Little Willie John for the crazed truthseeker.
The daddy's burning for some Mad Dog Black Lady like

Talking bout Wanda Coleman, the poet out L. A. way, the Sistah whose
books you generally don’t find at a Barnes & Nobles because her books, like her
life, ain't so metered, ain't so refined, ain't so academically wordsmithed to the point where real life, real truth, real soul, is sucked out of it like marrow out of a bone.

Talking about the Wanda Coleman whose more than 2,000 poems, 100 short stories, and books spit fire and cut deep like an AK 47 on a dark night on Martin Luther King Drive on south side Chicago.

And she gives the daddy fever when she talks about the position of poor black women in patriarchal, white America, when she compares black women's lives to prostitutes peddling their wares on mean city streets, forever treated like dirt, forever demeaned, forever put down, forever going down, wondering if they’ll ever see the sun.

She gives him fever when she talks about the way some police officers in inner-cities treat brothas and Sistahs like animals: acting as gatekeepers for U.S. corporate world runners who live on water on big boats and yachts or homes near rivers and lakes as black folks brave the streets, the cold concrete, struggling to keep a crib in projects or apartment complexes with bad plumbing and without air conditioning--the way they lurk like wolves near their door, poised to take down black prey.

She give the daddy fever when she talks about the state of much of black male/ black female relations, about the heartache and loneliness of black women sitting alone behind closed doors long after midnight, about Lady Days singing the blues yesterday and today.

Lady knew about the jive-asses brothers together
with their “philosophy” the big-mouthed the big word
the big-wow talking the cause sweet-tongued, zip-witted
zipzag b-brothers all play all theater all curtain call & no cast party

Lady knew about the hours between gigs
when hunger is blues, the hours between lovings
when hunger is blues, the hours between laughs
trying to kick the ain’t shit blues,
going home to greet the dust and the echo of a life

i’m on my knees rocking
on the floor on my knees groaning on the floor
into the scratchy hi-fidelity
on my knees as i sing along
twenty-three years forever bluesing out my brown eyes

and i wonder as i romance the night
will i be unlucky and live tomorrow?

And the daddy's still craving the tough-talking diva, still
shaking with the lil' Willie John, still digging the crazy truth seeker; and
wants him some Mad Dog Black Lady like yesterday.

Sistah, where you at?

Note: Wanda Coleman, a native of Los Angeles, won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1999. She has authored the following books: Mercurochrome (2001); Love-ins with Nietzsche: A Memoir; Mambo Hips & Make Believe: A Novel (1999); Bathwater Wine (1998); African Sleeping Sickness (1990); A War of Eyes and Other Stories (1988); Heavy Daughter Blues (Poems and Stories 1966-1986); Imagoes (1983), and Mad Dog Black Lady (1979).

Monday, June 16, 2008

How Do You Say Thanks to a Lady That Ain't Your Lady?

"Shiatsu is a Japanese word that means “finger pressure.” The goal of Shiatsu is to restore the balance of energy in the body. Proponents of Shiatsu and acupuncture believe that disease and physical infirmities are caused by imbalances or blockages in the flow of energy through the body. This energy is called “ki” which flows through the body along meridians or energy channels. Practitioners strive for a balance between Yin (negative energy) and Yang (positive energy) and attempt to determine where there may be a build up of energy or an energy deficiency. Either will cause problems."
--The Massage Schools Guide

She squeezes gently then moves both hands up and down in long, slow strokes. She pushes and pulls on his muscles. Afterwards, he didn’t want to take a confident smoke. He wanted to find a better way to say thank you.

Her name is Leslie. She’s a certified OBT (Oriental Bodywork Therapist). She specializes in Shiatsu but knows so much more. She’s put in a lot of hours, taking a lot of classes and working in the field to bring thousands of years of medicine and wisdom from the East to the West. And the daddy is only one of many beneficiaries of her practice and most noble profession.

But he wasn’t always so appreciative. Why? First, he’s sexist. Oh, he feigns progressivism. He talks about appreciating people from all cultures, all genders, all sexual preferences. Oh, he talks about equality between the sexes. Now, he hasn’t gone as far as to say that, when he sees a woman, he doesn’t see gender, but he’s come close.

But suddenly, a woman is towering over him; a woman is dropping knowledge about subjects of which he hasn’t a clue; a woman is in charge, in control. And the daddy, former Black Muslim, former big athlete, former tough counselor of violent gangbangers, violent male perpetrators (abusers of women), and hardcore drug addicts, doesn’t know how to handle it.

Second, having been raised in violent inner-city projects, the daddy knows about violent cultures but not about peaceful ones. So, during the first treatment, he is not thinking, “Shut it down, bro, and relax” but “I’m starting to feel weak…some thug might break into the room, pistol-whip me against this massage table, take my money, and rape this kind woman who knows nothing about thugs and… and, speaking of pistols, where the fuck is my piece?”

After the treatment, Leslie told him to lie down and rest a while, but he dressed quickly and left. He didn’t like feeling weak, feeling—dare we say it? – vulnerable, feeling too weak to protect himself. So he went home. And guess what happened? He slept like a baby for 10 hours. And when he awoke? Let's just say that he didn’t feel like you do after a night of drinking 40 ounce beers-- sluggish, tired and forgetful. No, the daddy felt refreshed, clear-headed and energized.

Now, after many treatments, he must concede that he kind of likes this Shiatsu treatment and this relaxation thing. Plus, a friend of Leslie assured him that he can take Shiatsu and still be quite the “man.”

Now, the daddy tries to thank Leslie, this wise woman who drops knowledge from the East. He’s brought her apricots, her favorite fruit, and weird food from food co-ops like mushroom soup. He’s asked the brothas at the coffee shop what he should do to thank her, but that was a failure. Being from inner-city projects like him, they weren’t very helpful. One said buy her some weed. Another said she is too trusting. Therefore, buy her a gun so she can protect herself. Like the daddy, some of these guys have yet to completely leave the projects.

That's why the daddy wants to ask you: how do you say thanks to a lady who ain’t your lady, who ain’t your fam, who eats mushroom soup?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

"The guy who takes a chance, the guy who walks between the line between the known and unknown, who is unafraid, will succeed."
-- Gordon Parks, photographer

"If you have achieved any level of success, then pour it into someone. Success is not success without a successor."
-- T. D. Jakes, evangelist

Hey, Tiger: The daddy is proud of you. You hung in there yesterday. Despite your bum knee, despite missing the fairways early on, despite the bogeys, you kept plugging. Toward the end of the day, you were making great shots, getting dap from everybody (even from fellow players) and heading toward a minus one with one more day to go in the PGA tournament.

So happy Father's Day. Now go out there and kick some ass today!

Update: Gimpy knee and all, Tiger sank a dramatic, 12 foot shot on the 18th hole to force a playoff on Monday.
Today, Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate will compete in an 18-hole playoff for the U.S. Open championship.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Sweetest Song I've Ever Heard

Last time, the daddy wrote about the weirdest song he ever heard. But the story begs the counter question: what’s the loveliest, sweetest song you ever heard? The daddy’s got two nominees for you.

In a CD called “Aretha Franklin’s Gospel Greats,” recorded in a black church in Cleveland, with the famous Rev. James Cleveland and the Southern Community Choir, Aretha sang “Amazing Grace” with such passion and with such power that she left no doubt who the greatest soul singer is ever, man or woman. The sister moaned to the floor, preached to the congregation, and, with head up and hands outstretched, testified to the lawd above, saying, "Yes, I once/ was lost. But now/ now I'm found/ My savior/I know he leads/ leads me on."

On the CD "Pain in my heart,", the late Otis Redding sang “You send me,” a Sam Cooke hit. And, yes, Cooke had the smoother voice, but Otis had a more powerful, more soulful voice. And Otis had something else: a tighter band of southern studio musicians who played with such soul that it made you feel guilty for not attending church as much as you should. Duck Dunn on bass, Booker T from Booker T and the MGS, Steve Cropper on guitar, and the Memphis Horns, the baadest group of horn players around at the time. With this tight group, Otis gospel voice, and the song's sweet, honest lyrics, “You send me” couldn’t miss. Though overlooked by critics, it is one of the sweetest ballads ever recorded.

But the daddy heard his sweetest song ever at a house party. You know this type of party: The party where a couple of your male friends invite you because they want you to get married, have children and live in the suburbs like they do;where one of your male friend's girlfriend wants you to date her sister or cousin so you'll settle down and stop taking her boyfriend around clubs where single, attractive, and available sisters are in abundance; the kind of party where you walk in the door with very dim lights and five or so couples dancing so close you’re sure that at least one of the women is going to get pregnant right on that dance floor (if she isn’t already); the kind of party where singer Marvin Gay welcomes you by saying “Let’s Get it on” makes it plain as a country black preacher that he wants him some "Sexual healing."

This is the kind of party where Junior Walker of Junior Walker and the All Stars raps hard and long and, a little frustrated, asks:

“What does it take/
to win your love for me/
How can I, baby/
make this dream come true for me/
You know I just got to know/
Ooh, baby/cause I love you so/
I’m gonna blow for you/"

It's the kind of party where the Isley Brothers ask, “Who’s that lady” and, after a sips of wine, whisper into ear, confessing, “I want to groove with you... between the sheets."

It's the kind of party where two females show up unaccompanied, where even Ray Charles on heroin could see that they are there with an agenda of their own. No, no one's eyes are closed at this kind of party; and every thing comes at a price.


This is why the daddy never stays at these parties longer than to say hello, have a drink, and eat up the appetizers (Note: the daddy has been known to stuff cheese and grapes in his pockets on the way out); and this is why the daddy was heading toward the door when he heard this one song that made him stop in his tracks, the one song that wasn't about making out so much as making time; that wasn't about artfully manipulating a woman into bed but consciously hearing her gentle plea to be rescued from an abusive relationship.

The daddy knew this voice. It was Nina: The Nina who played piano as a child to support her family, the Nina ,who, after finishing Juliard, was denied entrance into another music school solely because she was black, the Nina who got so fed with American racism that she left the country and moved to France; the Nina who told us we were "young, gifted and black;" the Nina who, from distant shores, decried American racism, shouting "Mississippi Goddamn;" the Nina who, through concerts in America and around the world, supported Dr. King so his organization, the Southern Christian Conference (SCLC), would have the funds to get peaceful protesters out of jail, pay staff and travel; the Nina who--wherever she went-- never left us. That’s why, even at a make out house party, everyone stopped to hear her melancholy plea to Porgy:

I loves you, Porgy,
Don' let him take me,
Don' let him handle me an' drive me mad.
If you kin keep me,
I wants to stay here wid you forever,
An' I'd be glad.

I loves you, Porgy,
Don' let him take me
Don' let him handle me
With his hot han'
If you kin keep me
I wants to stay here wid you forever.
I got my man.

That's why you could hear a pin drop when she soloed on the piano, her long, dark fingers gently sliding across white ivories, transferring voice to fingers and moving us in a way no vodka or "available" companion ever could.

That's why the daddy whispered to put that son on repeat and promptly grabbed a woman's hand and began dancing.

Shortly afterwards, the daddy left the party. But he wasn’t alone. Nina was still with him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Weirdest Song I Ever Heard

Question. What’s the craziest, wildest, strangest, or weirdest song you’ve ever heard?

The daddy has a couple of nominees. In “Nobody loves me but my mother," the great blues guitarist B. B. King sang a tune that would be a great subject for a psychology student's dissertation:

“Nobody loves me but my mother/
And she could be jiving too/
No. Nobody loves me but my mother/
And she could be jiving too/
Now you see why I act so funny, baby/
When you do the things you do/"

Then there was this weird guy with the weird name “Screaming Jay Hawkins” who did a bizarre show-stopper called “I put a spell on you.” Dressed like a magician from the far East, complete with turban and gown, he would wiggle his fingers, gaze into the frightened eyes of an attractive, petite young woman in the audience and shout: “I put a spell on you/because/ you’re mine!”

But the weirdest song the daddy ever heard was “Pledging my love" By Johnny Ace. On the surface, it was just another love song, another juvenile ballad written to help boy-crazy/girl-crazy, cell-raging teenagers dance and make out in cars on dark hills on the outskirts of town after a milkshake, burger and fries.

“Pledging my love” is yet another teeny bopper tune bespeaking the need for closeness during a period of constant physical change and emotional uncertainty, during a time when kids year for something real, for something true, something for them and them alone. But two things make this song different and stranger than fiction ever could be.

First, “Pledging my love” is not just a ballad. It’s a very slow ballad—so slow that the musicians playing behind Ace sound tired and detached. Ace sounds tired too…and disturbingly sad. The music seems to transcend puppy love and descend into time-stopping, unearthly despair, the depth of which no parent would want their teenage son or daughter to reach. It’s bad enough that they’re sneaking out of the house to go to dark parts of the city to do who-knows-what. But to think of them listening to a haunting song about undying love by a singer and a back-up group that sounds almost dead is eerie and scary as hell. But there’s more.

“Pledging my love” was released about two weeks before Johnny Ace died. How did he die? Playing Russian roulette between sets in the back room of an auditorium in Houston, Texas. Why such a successful R&B singer was playing this deadly games is not clear. What is clear is that his death sent a shock wave through teenage America; and they rushed to record shops to buy the recording, a song whose words, coupled with its sad tone, took on an even sadder, more unearthly, and more prophetic meaning after his death. The say kids played his record and hung even closer to each other and made out even more. Maybe it was make out or

It’s as if Ace was interrupting teenage make out sessions in shadowy places all over the country to say, “Listen: I know you’re kind of busy right now. But I’m going to kill myself and I just thought I'd come and say goodbye. But remember:

I’ll always love you/
For the rest of my days/
I’ll never part from you/
And your loving ways/"

Johnny Ace died on December 25, 1954. He was 25 years old. He had recorded only 21 songs. The daddy read somewhere that "Pledging my love" was the first so-called "rock & roll" song. Why? Because it was the first crossover hit, that is, where a song by a black person was purchased by whites all across the country. Before "Pledging my love," black music was confined to black audiences in bars, theaters and auditoriums. It was called "the chitlin circuit." But the purchase of this record opened the door for a broader acceptance of black music-- regardless of who was singing or playing it. America was finally ready for an Elvis Presley, a Chuck Berry or black "girl groups" like The Supremes.

Listen to “Pledging my love.” Then go upstairs, hug your children tightly goodnight. If they've moved away, phone them again and say, “I love you.”

What's the weirdest song you ever heard?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Senator Jim Webb, the Smutty Novelist-Really?

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb is being highly recommended for Sen. Barack Obama's VP. When the daddy mentioned this to two of his women friends (one from Virginia), they told him that they like the fact that he was against the war, but that he has been accused of "putting down" women and writing very graphic sex scenes in his novels. In the interest of servicing his readers, the daddy phoned the sistah from Virginia and did a two-way to cop the 411:

Okay, daddy, Jim Webb, this weird looking but intelligent white guy with all this military experience was running for the senate against this racist white Republican incumbent named George Allen. You know: the one who got caught calling some Indian reporter Macaca, that's the one.

"Right. But what about the sex stuff?"

Just a minute, daddy. See, the race was close, too close. Yeah, this Webb guy is smart, has a great resume and all that. But a lot of white people, especially white men down South, love all that military stuff. Seeing another white dude in a uniform with medals hanging all over him, makes them want to go to Uncle Sam and sign up, even if the white dude just got them medals at the pawn shop. But I digress.

You sure do. what about them scenes? Are they real nasty?

daddy, should we have this conversation at another time, when your mind is out of the gutter?

No, I'm on it. I mean...proceed.

So being scared of this smart white boy in the fancy white navy uniform, Allen did what all sorry Republicans do when their message of cutting spending to help regular folks and increasing tax cuts for the rich go nowhere-- smear their opponent.
So, in October of 2006, a couple of weeks before the election, white racist Allen got his staff to excerpt passages of sex scenes from Webb's books and send them to all the big newspapers and to that Drudge internet, which is nothing but a National Enquirer online.

Okay. Now we're getting into it. What did they say?"

You are so bad. But, daddy, you won't believe what that racist white boy said about them sex scenes and poor Jim Webb. Honey, he called a press conference and accused Jim Webb of using-- get this-- "inappropriate sex scenes" in his novels, sex scenes that "demeaned" women... Are you getting this, daddy? Faced with losing an election, this racist white boy suddenly becomes a defender of all womanhood. As they say when you doing the limbo, 'How low can you go?'

So what did Webb do?

So your mind's out of the gutter now, huh?

(The daddy mumbles to self, "Not really").

Uh huh. Well, I'll tell you what he didn't do; he didn't sit on it like your boy John Kerry; he hit it hard, he rocked it the very next day, calling Allen just another smear merchant and Republican right winger who has nothing to offer Virginians but swiftboating trash; and said he and the rest of Virginians are sick of it. No, he didn't go ghetto, but, honey, he called that sorry ass Republican white boy everything but macaca.

Right. Right..ah...You have the name of any of those books with the sex scenes.

Bye, daddy.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Thank You, Lawd, for Gwendolyn Brooks

"That other poets have championed good writing and literature, have exposed evil in the world, have contributed mightily of personal revenues to the young, to the would-be-writers, to students and to the institutions of common good is without a doubt. However, the only poet who has made it her mission to incorporate all of this and more into a wonderful and dedicated lifestyle is Gwendolyn Brooks."
--poet Haki Madhubuti
"I who have gone the gamut from an almost angry rejection of my dark skin by some of my brainwashed brothers and sisters to a surprised queenhood in the new Black sun am qualified to enter at least the kindergarten of new consciousness now... I have hopes for myself."
--Gwendolyn Brooks
--June 7, 1917-December 4, 2000

Know what the daddy is going to do today? Read him some poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks. Tonight, he’s going to raise a glass of wine to the sky and thank God for giving him the gift of her presence.

Listen, Sistah. The daddy knows that you’re a transplant from Topeka, Kansas, that you graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936, that you moved to Chicago and made the windy city your home ever since.

He knows that your first book, “A Street in Bronzeville,” a small set of poems about folks in your neighborhood, got a lot of dap; and he knows that your second book, “Annie Allen,” got more props still. In fact, you won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1950. But that’s not why he wants to thank you.

Yes, he knows that, since getting that Pulitzer, you’ve written books for people of all ages: Maude Martha (1953), The Bean Eaters (1960), In the Mecca (1968), Riot (1969) and Jump Bad (1971), that anthology. And for such quality writing, you became the poet laureate of Illinois in 1968, received the Society for Literature Award from the University of Thessalonica in Athens, Greece, the first American to achieve this distinction.

But the daddy wants to thank you for making a lasting contribution to the development of American literature. America was not just another England but a nation of many people, all coming here for different reasons and with their own experiences, their own stories. In fact, America was a new nation full of different people with new experiences. These new experiences and new stories demanded a new kind of literature to capture them.

Walt Whitman talked about this need for a distinctly new literature. In the preface to “Leaves of Grass,” he wrote: “The American poets are to enclose old and new for America is the race of races. Of them, a bard is to be commensurate with a people. To him other continents arrive as contributions. He gives them reception for their sake and for his own sake.”

Speaking of African Americans, the great poet William Carlos Williams wrote: “The one thing that never seems to occur to anybody is that the Negroes have a quality which they have brought to America…Poised against the Mayflower is the slave ship-manned by the Yankees and Englishmen-bringing another race to try upon the New World…There is a solidity, a racial irreducible minimum, which gives them poise in a world where they have no authority.”

You showed the daddy that poise, that discipline, in your writing. You used the craft of poetry to shine a light on a distinct people, a “nation within nations,” to get us to see ourselves more clearly. In “Children of the Poor,” you let us put a cup on the side of a wall and hear a mother ask:

What shall I give my children? who are poor,
Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,
Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand
No velvet and no Velvety velour;
But who have begged me for a brisk contour…
But I lack access to my proper stone
And plentitude or plan shall not suffice
And not grief nor love shall be enough alone
To ratify my little halves who bear
Across an autumn freezing every where.

In “The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel,” you welcomed the daddy into a neighborhood pool hall to peep the hand of hip black youth and to concisely divine their fate:

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

In “Malcolm X,” you showed us straight-up manhood and down-to-earth, mother-wit intelligence:

Hence ragged-round,
Hence rich-robust.

He had the hawk-man’s eye.
We gasped. We saw the maleness.
The maleness raking and making guttural the air
And pushing us to walls.

And in a soft and fundamental hour
A sorcery devout and vertical
Beguiled the world.

He opened us-
Who was a key.

Who was a man.

A thank-you prayer for Sistah Gwendolyn:

Thank you, Lawd, for bringing her into this world.
Thank you, Lawd, for placing her in our nation, our community, our
hearts--this gentle genius, this truthseeker who helped create, who
helped solidify a distinctly American literature, who
adapted traditional forms of poetry to a sun people in
a cold, distant land.
Thank you, Lawd, for Gwendolyn Brooks, a writer who
made causal rhymes sing like Aretha Franklin at
a black church in Detroit on Sunday, who
gives us a star each time we turn a page.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.