This Blog is Mixxie

In the age of the internet, some things are so much easier to do.  Writers can put together a novel and put it out there in order to try and find an audience.  Musicians can not only put together tracks and make videos available.  But just because something is easy to do doesn’t mean that you should do it.  (Ain’t none of what’s going to follow safe for work.  So only click if you’re ready to hear some profanity laced, banal idiocy.)

I know I shouldn’t waste my time on this, but sometimes I can’t help myself.  (And some of my “so called” friends keep putting this stuff on my radar when I’m trying to keep a low, unopinionated profile in 2011).  Picking on indie artists at all seems like clubbing anorexic baby seals which have washed up on shore.  There is an automatic, sympathetic sentiment which wants to respond with “they’re trying.  They’re putting themselves out there.  We should be supporting them. “

No we shouldn’t.

In the marketplace of ideas, I’m not going to support an artist just because they mean well and their heart’s in it.  That’s the usual starting place.  It’s what makes a writer pick up a pen, an artist their paint brush, or a musician their mic.  Pouring yourself into your craft and then putting yourself “out there” is part of the process.  Then I see some of this mess and I now realize why folks begin their commentary with “bless their hearts” … especially if the next thing they want to say is along the lines of “that $#!+ was whack.”

(And now our video break down of the week…)

I can almost picture the video planning meeting.  How excited they were, talking about the women and money sure to follow once they blow up.  I know they’re just teens, but part of being an artist means that your art is subject to criticism.  And as a professional writer, I kinda believe that words mean things.  So when your dream of the high life consists of smoking, drinking, having sex and “hitting people with your stick like Gretzky”, your song should be titled “This Ish is Empty.”

And when I think about it, my mom would still be kicking my behind for pouring stuff on her carpets, cause you know they were filming this in their bedroom.  And Lord help me if she actually ran across me spouting this nonsense as my “values”, revealing after her hard work of raising me, this is what I’m about.  All I’d hear is “This is what you’re doing in your room when you lock the door?  Why couldn’t you be masturbating like every other boy your age?!?”

Hey, you know some things that are mixxie?

-going to school

-not pouring $#!+ on your mom’s carpets

-not living in your mom’s basement after you graduate

-getting a job

-pulling your damn pants up and walking around like you got some pride and a lick of sense

-NOT POURING $#!+ ON YOUR MOM’S CARPETS!

I know I sound like a cranky old man whose being too hard on today’s youth.  Truth be told, they are the product of our design having dined on what our culture has fed them. The advertising, which is what videos are, fuels our consumeristic mentalities, generating or nurturing a pursuit of designer labels. We want the cars, the house, the clothes, the jewels, the gear, not realizing that we chase an illusion. This driving materialism perpetuates a sense of the need for immediate gratification, perhaps even a sense of entitlement, as far too many of us are duped into pursuing these things. As if this meaninglessness is what life is about.

But like I said, I have friends which put this stuff on my radar.  I write, so that’s how I respond.  These same friends (I’m looking at you AlluringShrew and Thesselonious) pick up the mic to offer their own commentary (though she freely cops to having no vocal skills … and that in this day and age, that’s not much of a requirement anyway).  They, too, pick up on the nexus of ghetto crackery which sees folks caught up in an aversion to work, proclivity for violence, contentment with little to no education, sexual promiscuity, short-term thinking, drunkenness, an anti-entrepreneurial spirit, reckless pursuit of meaningless things.  Plus, their video made me laugh …

Their ending coda sums it all up:  “Stereotypes are ugly … why try so hard to be one”.  QFT.

O Lawdy: You can take the N***** out of the book, but you … wait, what?

In college, a buddy and I took a history of film class.  One week, the movie we watched was Birth of a Nation.  It’s a classic movie by D.W. Griffith, known for basically creating a lot of the “language” of film craft.  The plot, however, involved how the Klan rose up to save the South.*  What ensued after the movie was an extremely spirited discussion about why the movie was a classic, the historical context, and its oh so many moments of racefail.  Which brings us to the latest fail moment as …

…for decades, [Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn] has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.”  … Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”

At first blush, I’m reminded of when New York City decided to symbolically ban the n-word. That was in 2007, so I assume no one in New York City has used the word since.  And I imagine this deniggerized version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will meet with similar success.

We are caught in the entanglement of good intentions.  The desire to get this classic in the hands of children seems laudable.  As writers, we want to be widely read, ideally read for the ages, and finding new generations of readers to appreciate our work is always the dream.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a satire, that’s often misunderstood.  (The work also has many thematic, problematic issues that go beyond simple use of the N-word, but one issue at a time.)

So one may simply have to wrestle with the idea of whether or not Twain’s classic is meant for kids in the first place.  The teaching moment this book represents is ideal for what schools are about.  Actually, the moment is required as the book requires context as a historical record of how black people were seen, talked about, and treated.  Likewise, discussion of the book and the usage of the n-word requires maturity and context and if a teacher and their students aren’t ready to do that work, perhaps they aren’t ready for the book.  But the thing is that we ought to be discussing the complicated issue of this country’s legacy of racism a lot earlier than college.

I’m a big believer in history and historical records. sanitizing records isn’t the same as dealing with an issue.  Historical artifacts can be painful to read, hear, and see,*** but it’s just as important that they be preserved intact.  We can’t start sanitizing history then act surprised when Jim Crow moments rear their ugly heads in these “post-racial” times.  Swapping out the n-word doesn’t undo the legacy of slavery and hatred.  All is does is gloss over an uncomfortable moment rather then enter into it and deal with it, which only feeds into our cultural immaturity.

Plus, even as a kid, there was nothing worse than watching a sanitized version of the Blue Brothers when it came on TBS.  For better or worse, the language was part of the joy of the experience.

*There came a point where white actors in blackface, portraying newly elected black congressmen, put their feet up on their desks as they ate fried chicken and watermelon between bouts of chasing white women.  While the class held their breath waiting for me to start a riot, when I burst out laughing because it reminded me of the In Living Color skit which aired earlier that week, depicting Clarence Thomas doing the exact same thing.  The movie was so patently ridiculous, it was hard for me to take it seriously enough to be offended.

**Sure, there’s the notion of artistic intent also, but then again, public domain means we’re also stuck with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies et al.

***While I know full well the argument about the pain of reading the n-word, it would probably hold more weight if hip hop tracks weren’t filled with the word.   In fact, I’d love it if hip hop artists were required to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to better understand the historical impact of the word they so casually toss about.

Why Do You People Still Need All that Black Stuff?

I don’t know why I let Chesya Burke direct me to RaceFail on teh Interwebz.  There’s plenty enough out there without me having to seek it out.  Yet, when she calls in that “I ain’t playing.  I’m about to choke somebody” voice, I have to check it out.  Let this be a lesson to you:  quit winding her up, cause she winds me up, and I got deadlines.

The cause of the umbrage is the fact that this month’s BET Awards will be a royal affair: Prince is getting a lifetime achievement honor.  The 51-year-old joins the likes of James Brown, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross and Al Green in being honored by the BET Awards, which will celebrate its 10th year in Los Angeles on June 27.

The thread in question involved this old chestnut:  “One would think that since we’ve come so far as to have a black president we wouldn’t need award programs where the winners have to be of a particular ethnicity. Imagine the hate and protest that would come if there was a White Entertainment Television channel and awards ceremony, or a White Miss America Pageant. Are these ethnic-centered events still needed? Are they racist? What are your thoughts?”

My first thoughts:  this will mark the first time I’ve wanted to tune into BET since A.J. and Free were the hosts of 106th and Park.

Now to parse the fail.  I’m not going to cast this person as racist.  It’s a question that on the surface is a gut reaction to what one might see as unfair.  I’ll accept that premise at its word.  However, as I’ve said before, just because folks are your friends doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of saying and doing ignorant things.

Fail #1:  I was right there in the elation of electing President Obama, believing that I’d never see that day in my lifetime.  Of course, the fact that so many still had that sentiment ought to put this whole conversation in check, but I’ll continue anyway.  I know the temptation is to believe that now that we have a black president, the sins of racism have now been erased and we can move forward.  I guess this ignores the entirety of history as I double check to see where someone breaks the color barrier, say Jackie Robinson, all of the racism just goes away.  Just like with Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching in the Super Bowl, the first black head coaches to do so. It doesn’t, and the backwash of latent racism his election has churned up should be evidence that we haven’t come as far and aren’t as sophisticated as we’d like to believe ourselves to be.  Plus, I don’t look to politics and politicians to cure what is a heart issue.

Fail #2:  The old “White Entertainment Television”, “White Miss America Pageant”, and because I’m in a generous mood, I’ll toss in one for free, “White Expo” argument.  Now, I’ll spare you my standard quips (“WET?  Yeah, we’ve always just called it ABC, CBS, or NBC.” “White Miss America Pageant?  It was only recently the pageant even realized there were beautiful women of color in this country to begin with.”  “White Expo?  Really, cause we let you have NASCAR.”).  Just like you can spare me conveniently overlooking the fact that BET, Black Miss America Pageants, and Black Expos (and I’ll throw in Historically Black Colleges since it won’t be but 30 seconds before someone throws in their tale of woe about not getting a scholarship because they aren’t black) wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place if black people hadn’t been shut out of institutions.

Now, horror has had its own legacy of RaceFail, so I turn to it to answer the question “What would the protest look like?”  It would look something like when Brandon Massey was doing the anthology series, Dark Dreams.  All of a sudden, many white “recognized racism when they saw it.”  They thumped their chests loudly at this “brand of segregation” and “affirmative action writing” … when we’re not even a year out of yet another “best of” anthology series having a table of contents featuring only white men.  So again, it’d be nice to declare us in a post-racial era, but let’s actually live like we’re in one first before we declare us there.
Fail #3:  Privilege and the “need for such things”.  Being a majority in a society, holding the bulk of the power, with the weight of history and social institution behind you, it’s easy to see any inroad/erosion of that as unfair.  In your quest for colorblindness, you don’t realize how much that negates people of color.  As I said at the conclusion of my blog on white privilege (and, yeah, for the sake of continued conversation, I no longer refer to “white privilege” as “crackernomics”):  I know, I know, you gentle white souls, this means you rage against the gods of political correctness as your slice of the American Dream pie continues to get cut into. The conversations are tough, exposing your possible denial, defensiveness, guilt, and shame of benefiting from systemic injustice. Be strong white people.

As for the need for such things, I look to institutions such as the “black church”.   It was a miracle that it came about in the first place and it still serves a vital function in the black community.  Would I like to see a post-racial church?  Absolutely.  Just as I recognize that it will take continued serious work and conversations to make it happen.  Until then, you can’t keep complaining that all the black kids sit with each other in the cafeteria.  Sometimes, we just need to.

Asking those questions isn’t racist.  It’s ignorance and there’s nothing wrong with ignorance as long as we’re willing to listen and learn.  I want to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” as much as the next person, but we aren’t there yet.  Hopefully we can keep having conversations until we get to this post-racial Nirvana we all are so ready to skip ahead to.

The Seduction and Toxicity of Victimhood

“I wonder if there are too many things more seductive and poisonous than grasping at victim status.”

This comment was made “off the record” (read: this person knew this was a volatile conversation and wanted to tread lightly, but still wanted to have the conversation with me) as a part of my post-racial church discussion. The word victim come directly from the Latin victima, meaning “person” or “animal killed as a sacrifice”, or “any sacrifice”. There’s a difference between being the victim of abuse and having a victim mentality, a balance of what is true victimization and what is excuse making for poor choices and poor behavior. Choices and actions are somehow absolved because they aren’t actually your fault, but the fault of some outside … other. As if you had nothing to do with your situation, but rather you were the victim of (insert boogeyman of choice).

I also understand that it’s a dangerous road when a person or a minority group starts buying into certain beliefs about themselves. Yes, it is hard to blame the victim, but it’s just as unempowering to BE (and more importantly, remain) the victim. Your life becomes about finding new abusers, as if it’s some club to be a part of. When people so believe they are a victim that they then use that status to avoid confrontation or dealing with their own problems and mistakes. So we must leverage excuse making versus personal responsibility. But I didn’t want to go off half-cocked on the subject, so I turned to one of the voices of wisdom in my life, Carole McDonnell, to get her take:

There can be a need for certain victims to seem guiltless. To be guiltless absolves us of taking responsibility for our own actions. There’s pity for victims and many victims rise above the pity and learn to take charge of their lives again, but some are so wounded they A) can’t deal with their own imperfection B) can’t deal with being seen as imperfect C) confuse the pity and acceptance they receive as love, D) make the pity status permanent.

The victim status is seductive because while we’re in the painful situation we fall into self-pity. We use it to hammer or silence other folks who have not experienced the pain we’ve had. Why rid one’s self of an illness if one becomes utterly identified with it? What is one without the illness? “It’s not my fault; it’s my genes, etc.” And why fight fair when one can say to someone, “I’ve got depression, why are you talking to me like this?”

On the other hand, we live in a very individualistic society and people often tell the victim to “get over it.” That’s because we’re tired of hearing of their pain and our inability to change their situation. Or because we can’t sympathize anymore. Or because we’re cold. Or we fall into comparison mode and say, “If I were in your position, I wouldn’t be behaving like such a victim as you are.” Or we have weird ideas about how a noble victim should behave. So I don’t believe we should tell folks to “get over it.”

As a Christian we’re supposed to bear each other’s burdens and to take care of folks who are victimized. We aren’t supposed to be weary with their pain. Yet at the same time, we are to cover their heads with the helmet of the hope of salvation. The devil works through despair, bad memories, etc. We’re supposed to think of whatever things are just (not what is unjust) and we are to live in hope and the belief that Christ working in us will enable us to overcome the world as He did. I guess there are good ways of reacting to being victimized but I suspect God wants us to see ourselves as victors. We have triumphed or we will triumph. The meditations of our hearts and the words of our mouths cannot and should not be of moments when God seemed to fail us, or when injustice seemed to have triumph. We can say, “Such and such happened to me, but it will not happen again. I have become stronger because of it. I am becoming stronger because of it. If I look to God He is able to make me triumph over this through being able to comfort those who have been wounded as I have been.

Co-signed.

O Harry: Because Sometimes Your Friends are Ignorant

It’s always a tricky bit of navigation when your friends say or do something ignorant. I remember a couple of occasions in church, I was attending a mostly white church at the time, and one of the members patted me on head. On another occasion, the pastor compared me to “a faithful dog” from the pulpit. For better or worse, I chalked those things up to well-meaning, but ignorant gestures. Perhaps she didn’t get the memo that the whole rub the head of a black guy has some pretty racist origins or maybe he didn’t get that comparing black folks to animals might not play well considering a history or dehumanization. I often got the “you’re the whitest black guy I know” (which I often heard as “you’re the only black guy I know and I only associate with you because you sound and seem to act a lot like me so you don’t scare me”) because I don’t “sound” black.

Which is why it didn’t exactly shock me that Senator Harry Reid had described Obama—as reported in the new political gossip book, “Game Change” by John Heileman and Mark Halperin—as a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” There was a steady chorus of people who bought into the idea that “the first black president” is actually not black.* The comments were being made on both sides of the political aisle and from across the spectrum of race. The “am I black enough for you” debate even raged in the black community (Reverend Jesse Jackson says what?).**

Race is the third rail in politics, in the church, and, well, most of our lives. If there is to be any hope of reconciliation, there has to be a sharing and hearing of stories and some of the conversations are going to be tough (and, as a friend of mine points out, you can’t have a conversation about anything by starting it with “Your voice doesn’t count.”) Now, I know some Republicans want to make hay of this incident, calling folks on the seeming-hypocrisy of Senator Trent Lott having to step down over his comments versus the gymnastics folks do to defend someone they like. And they’d have a point, except that conversations about race shouldn’t happen in a vacuum, but rather have a context. (Though, seriously, Senator Lott, how do you think trying to spin someone’s segregationist past is a good idea or that it wouldn’t get you into trouble? But again, if you have built up a lot of good will, you can step into such firestorms to make the point you thought you were making because friends can have those kind of tough conversations. If you don’t have that kind of good will built up…]

Every few years we have these sort of dust ups, so we were about due. Not too long ago we had Don Imus referring to the women of the Rutgers basketball team as “some nappy-headed hos.” After so many offenses, he rather struck me as an equal opportunity offender, but it led to the conversation about how there are some words and phrases “off limits” to certain folks in certain contexts and the situation resolved by the offended parties speaking up and reprimands given.

We also had Kelly Tilghman, play-by-play announcer for The Golf Channel’s PGA Tour broadcasts, while bantering with Nick Faldo about young players who might challenge Woods suggesting that they “lynch him in a back alley.” In short, it’s stupid and you can’t say it. However, I don’t think she should have been suspended. I think her apology should have stood on its own, she should have been simply reprimanded, and the conversations had about why what she said was a poor choice of words. We can’t police every bad sentence, because that would stifle conversations that still need to be had.

“I’ve apologized to the president, I’ve apologized to everyone that within the sound of my voice that I could have used a better choice of words,” Reid has said. Apologies happen for a reason. Sometimes folks simply don’t get that what they did was hurtful or demeaning and their apologies should stand and be accepted on their face value (even if the incidents themselves aren’t forgotten because we know that forgiveness takes time). Just like folks ought to be judged by their deeds and track record.

Just because folks are your friends doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of saying and doing ignorant things. Just like I’m sure there will be another RaceFail conversation in the genre fiction world as we muddle through what it means to live with one another, deal with the history of hurts with of one another, be different from one another, and respect one another.

*Now, I can’t wait to see the gymnastics folks do if President Bill Clinton’s alleged comment about President Obama—“ a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.”—prove to be accurate. After all, President Clinton was widely held as our “first black president.”

** Better to discuss this than the reality of what it means to be black in America, dealing with what W.E.B. DuBois called the “double consciousness” of black folks. How many of us may “act” or “speak” one way when we are in professional settings and then another when we’re at home or in a “safe” place.

[That and sometimes our “friends” are just too ignorant for words: “I’m blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived,” ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said to Esquire Magazine. “I saw it all growing up.”] With a h/t to the blackfolks LJ:

Post-Racial Church: The Myth and the Hope Part II: So what can we do?

[click here for Part I]

David Mills directs us to Larry Auster’s comments regarding “The only hope for the betterment of the black race (and the white race)”:

“The solution cannot be in the ‘horizontal’ dimension, that is, in the relationship between blacks and non-blacks, because blacks will always be behind on the level of earthly functioning, leading to unjust racial resentment on the part of blacks and undeserved racial guilt on the part of whites.

“The solution can only be found in the ‘vertical’ dimension,” he continues, “… in the relationship between each black person and God through Jesus Christ, who will put each person’s self in true order and true freedom and remove the focus on the ‘horizontal’ differences and inequalities.

“Each black person will then live and perform and fulfill himself as a human being according to his own aspirations and abilities, without comparing himself to whites.”

Um, yeah, so the solution is for us to pray for us to forgive white folks and leave our resentment behind. I do believe we need to keep having conversations across the racial divide, and I’m as “We Are the World” as the next brother, but this would be considered a conversation fail. Note, while there is some truth in the statement, the onus was in what black people need to do. We can get sidetracked and bogged down by so many conversations that dance around the true issues at hand, and still manage to enflame all the old passions and lingering resentments. Conversation does not mean confess your guilt to a Negro. Don’t confuse institutions of black survival (the black family, black church, and black schools) with institutional or reverse racism.

Sociologically speaking, I’ve learned that we can have the language of sorry, but we don’t have the practice of sorry. My two boys, Reese and Malcolm, have been known to on occasion fight. We, the parental figures and ruling authority in their lives, have been known to make them apologize to one another. Without fail, the initial apology is done through gritted teeth and is essentially worthless. But it is a start. If I’ve learned nothing over the last few months, I’ve at least learned that “sorry”, or rather, repentance, needs to be lived out. And racism needs to be repented of.

Institutionally speaking, the church doesn’t need to program diversity, it needs to be diverse. One of the myths about the Great Commission is that Crossing cultures is a step beyond the general mandate. This myth is that only select missionaries are called to cross cultures in order to make disciples. The rest of us should only focus on people like us, in our culture. The problem with this myth is that the actual Great Commission commands otherwise. Incredibly, Jesus gave a commandment to his mostly Jewish audience to go to a mostly Gentile people and make disciples! Jesus commanded his Jewish followers to go to all people groups (all ethnos, the Greek word for “nations”). In other words, the Great Commission itself is a mandate to cross cultures!

So we start with the individuals. Church folks concerned about multi-cultural church or the state of race relations, looking at your FaceBook friends list is a natural moment to examine the demographics of your life. If the diversity is my sister and I, you may need to color up your lives. I’m not saying take out ads looking for black friends, I’m saying take some steps to break out of the comfortable routine of your life.

At the same time, diversity isn’t the goal. Diversity isn’t the mission. We’re to be missional, advance God’s kingdom here on earth. Strive to carve out a foretaste of what heaven’s supposed to be. In my experience, most times conversations about race in the context of church devolve into spiritual circle jerk. Churches may talk about wanting diversity, even making token statements about wanting to see it reflected from the top down, yet their leadership remains a white, sausage fest. We hear plenty of talk and have attended many conventions, now we need more.

Too many people’s idea of being post-black (post-racial group of choice) means leaving their heritage behind. As we move forward, no one should have to leave their culture for the the sake of coming together. I mentioned in my previous post about how my formative years were spent in another (the dominant) culture. It is part of a journey I’ve spoken about before. As a result, I was a perpetual other: never a part of the dominant culture and often looked at askance by my own. In order to navigate my circumstance, and keep some measure of cultural sanity, I developed a third culture mentality.

Church should be a third culture experience. Countercultural. Church needs to serve everyone: hungry is hungry, widowed is widowed, orphaned is orphaned, the least of these are the least of these. Pain knows no color. Diversity can be a measurement of how well we’re doing our job. Not something expressly sought after, but a by-product of how well you are serving your community. Your whole community.

Are we really living out our core values, the things we say we’re about or do we once again have to learn to be patient and give the church another chance to get things right (and forgive it its slowness)?

Church is a bigger place than one building or one community. I’ve come to realize that one particular body might not meet all of our needs and may fail us on occasion. And we’re quick to measure our experience with the church by a particular body. But it is all of the Christians who make up the church. Our mission is to be about loving, learning, worshiping, and serving together and one another. But we can’t be that until we’re willing to enter the discomfort. In any culture, despite pain and discomfort that may come. We have to risk our safety and taking on pain. We need truth tellers, bridge builders, and risk takers. We need to be the church.

Post-Racial Church: The Myth and the Hope Part I: Coming to You

It would be cool for someone to do a documentary called “Being Black In Evangelicalism” the sub-title would be “The Only Black Person In The Room” (or vice-versa). Evangelicals, as members of the dominant culture, have no idea what it’s like for a black person (esp. a black female) to be the only black dude in a room full of whites. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been in that position but it’s always a bit uncomfortable no matter how nice and welcoming people are. I’ve been at evangelical stuff where the room had a few hundred whites and I’m the only black guy. And no one ever really seems to notice.

In light of the Jim Crow still being alive poolside incident, I’ve been thinking about race and wondering if things are any better in the church. With some of the talk about the new post-racial era that we’re entering, the question has come up about whether the church can become post-racial. That’s the hope, but I’ve been coming to terms with church being as fallen as the people who make it up.

Too many about race inside and outside of the church begin (and end) with “I don’t see race” as if that’s a triumph of societal acceptance. While I understand what the sentiment attempts to get at, what my ears often hear and how my heart reacts is “No, you see people (culturally) like you.” The bulk of our interchange of life, most of our interactions, is largely within the same race of people. So of course there’s no need to talk about race. You don’t see race if you’re fully emerged in one story. And we’ve lived with our comfortable situations for so long we’ve become inured to it and don’t want to change things. We’re content with life as it is and don’t want to do or say anything which may make waves in our lives.

Color blindness is not a virtue, it’s a disservice. Color effects how I experience the world. Color effects how I’m perceived by the world. So your “color blindness” negates my identity. I look back on my history whenever I have attended a majority white church. Most times, me and my family were the entire black experience for a lot of folks. And we made it easy for “them” to get to know us because we go to “them”. Here’s what I mean: we grew up in mostly the white/dominant culture. It’s where we went to school, it’s where we went to church, it’s where we go to work. Minorities in the dominant culture have swum in those waters all of our lives, so it’s easy for us to be “safe” because we’re used to adapting to that culture.

I can always tell when friendships with me reach a new level of depth. Those friends come to me. They go where we go, do what we do, be it Black Expo, step shows, or Kwanzaa festivals. They take an interest in us and our culture, wanting to get to know us and understand us better. Without wanting to co-opt it. Without condescension of “wanting to relate” or “have a black experience.” Without the denigration of calling it “weird”. (I’m reminded of when a group of “friends” asked me to take them to a rough area of the city. They were thrill seeking and wanted a ghetto tour guide. I took them to Carmel, a suburb north of me. I told them that me driving through there at night was all the thrill I needed.)

So no, white church, you don’t know me. You haven’t taken the time to get to know me. You’ve invited me in with your “Negroes Wanted” signs and hoped that I wasn’t too different from you so that I wouldn’t make you uncomfortable. So that you wouldn’t have to come face-to-face with the everyday consequences of a history of humiliation suffered by a black male, the powerlessness–without even the power to keep our own names, being exploited, the dreams shattered, the justice denied, and of being dehumanized.

So the anger builds. I’ve absorbed the humiliations as part of the cost of the “privilege” of being with whites. And the hatred builds. The hatred of myself. The hate I’ve been taught, the hate I’ve learned, the hate I’ve internalized. We all have walls and race and culture is simply another wall we have to navigate. So I guess we’re wondering what can we do?

[continued tomorrow …]

Jim Crow Days

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason … The explanation they got was either dishearteningly honest or poorly worded. “There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club,” John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

The other day, my boys were asked if they were part Mexican. So I reviewed the mathematics of our family for them again: “Black (dad) + White (mom) = you Ritz crackers”. Trying to explain the idiocy of race, much less the sheer madness of race relations is exhausting. It was pure joy trying to explain segregation to my boys at last year’s themed Christmas party:

Me: Yes, we used to make black people do things in one place and white people do the same things somewhere else. This is what happens when grown ups rule the world.

Reese: But we’re mixed. What about us?


Me: Well, because of how you look, you would have had to make a choice. You guys could pass for white and that’s what some people chose to do rather than admit they were half black.


Malcolm: Daddy, I’d have chosen to be white. It sounds easier.

Today we went to the pool. The boys love to frolic in the water while I read slush stories for my anthology poolside. I can’t help but wonder what if we were stopped at the gate. They were allowed in but I had to watch from the outside the gate. How do I explain that to them? How do I live with the shame (even knowing that it wasn’t my fault and I certainly didn’t do anything wrong)? What lessons does it pass on to them about me, them, or society? And what do we all do with that pain, that injustice, that rage?

It’s 2010. We have a black president. Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. Our capacity to divide. Our capacity to hate. We still so capable of fearing and hating all but our own kind; we’re still so capable of internalizing all manner of hate and scorn; and we haven’t quite gotten past passing down lessons of ignorance to our children. We split along a tribal mentality … forgetting that we’re one tribe. The more things change, the more things stay the same …

Yet…

I look into the face of my boys. I still see me in them, despite our color difference. I know that we have as a family. I see the hope represented by me and my wife. I look at the beautiful diversity of my friends and family and I know that things have changed. The battles may change, and the war isn’t over, but the cause is just. We continue to have these cross cultural conversations. We continue to build bridges between and toward one another. We continue to decry injustice when we see it. And continue to change things.

RaceFail ’09 – Feedback II

I’ve received a couple of really interesting responses to my RaceFail ’09 – Why Horror Ignores the Elephant blog. I thought I’d share a couple. Today is from a comment left on my blog a while back which I wanted to give further exposure to. As always, I look forward to your comments:

Hello, Mr. Broaddus,

I have been keeping a somewhat distant eye on Racefail ’09 and found your blog and the relevant bingo cards via a simple google search. I am not a writer of any professional leaning, nor am I immediately aiming to be.

What I am is a woman of the Indian/Caribbean diaspora who spent some time teaching in Japan. While I was there I was immediately adopted into a tea ceremony club when the teacher decided I was just the right size for her to practice tying kimono with. She gave me lessons and my first yukata and I gave her saris in return. I wear my yukata on occasion and my teacher wept tears of joy when I gave her the first sari, so there’s no doubt about appreciation on her part. I can eat with chopsticks, knife and fork or just my fingers and view the respective table manners as useful skills under my belt.

There are things on that Bingo card that I might say myself and racefail has raised uncomfortable issues for me. Is it only cultural appropriation if it involves caucasians? If there’s a history of exploitation between groups? How much effort must go into understanding another group before people can agree it is actual cultural exchange and understanding rather than appropriation? Where is the line drawn, who draws it and why? Should I have said something to that African American girl I saw on the bus during college, wearing a bindi upside down?

My own heritage is a mishmash and a jumble, thrown together on an island and forced through a sieve of colonialism. For better or worse, borrowing and lending, adopting and sharing, adapting and evolving has been my cultural experience. Everything I am says there must be some avenue to explore this varied earth, that an upside-down bindi is a chance to educate rather than rail, but the sentiments arising from Racefail seem to acknowledge no possibility at all. Along with that is the sneaking suspicion that my post-colonial education brainwashed me better than I thought.

I hardly expect that you’d have all the answers but I am interested in any thoughts you might have on the matter. Thank you for your time.

RaceFail ’09 – Feedback I

I’ve received a couple of really interesting responses to my RaceFail ’09 – Why Horror Ignores the Elephant blog. I thought I’d share a couple. Today is from the mailbag. As always, I look forward to your comments:

My name’s Hunter Eden, and I’m a young writer just new at this whole “forging the English language into something meaningful” thing. You and I corresponded very briefly a year or two ago on this same issue of race and horror, but I think I dropped the ball in responding to you, for which I humbly apologize. Point is, I had no idea that there was some kind of speculative fiction-based dust-up over race (or perhaps lack thereof).

Facts up front: I’m a white male of mixed Jewish/German-Norwegian (Hebrew Viking) descent. I don’t actually write about that many white characters, though. I finished a novel (currently with an agent but no publisher) describing the war between two ancient Mexican gods in a world where Europe didn’t conquer the Americas and Aztec gangsters smuggle contraband alcohol into Incan Cuzco. The only white character is the reanimated corpse of Charles Darwin, who probably isn’t (within the context of the story) actually human. My first story appeared in City Slab and was written from the perspective of a Mexican cabbie in a very Cancun-like city. I’ve got a story due out in Weird Tales about samurai fighting dinosaurs.

I’m not trying to brag or show off when I say all this, just that I wrote these characters because I wanted to. I hate when writers pull the Last Samurai card and go to the trouble of researching a whole different culture, but then don’t have the courage to actually go ahead and write someone from that culture as the main character (The Last Samurai particularly pissed me off in this regard because Tom Cruise becomes a better samurai than the Japanese characters).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m conscious of race (who in today’s world isn’t?), but I think the key (and I’m really not trying to land on any bingo squares here) is to remember that in the end we’re all human. That’s not to whitewash, but just to say that whether I’m writing a character who’s Mexican or American or even a Jewish Aztec mob boss, we’re all motivated by the same needs. I think a lot of speculative fiction pussyfoots around race. I especially hate the way that fantasy, even fantasy written by American authors, always seems to go back to the same Anglo/Norse/Celtic pseudo-culture. Reading Imaro by Charles Saunders was great not because it made me feel like a Racially-Enlightened Young American but because it was something new. I loved the fact that somebody had taken a part of the world as vibrant and culturally complex as Africa and given it a fantasy treatment. (The fact that Imaro is a hardcore Maasai bad-ass who fights demons and necromancers was just icing on the cake).

I think a lot of speculative fiction’s difficulty with confronting race is based on two factors in writers and readers very much contrary to the spirit of the genres–cowardice and laziness. I guess these points have been made before, but they bear repeating. I think a lot of white authors and readers are scared to step out and confront the Elephant because they don’t want to be labeled as racist themselves. But then, there’s also the tendency to fall back on the same garbage we’ve grown used to. If there’s a fantasy culture, it’ll be based off somewhere in northern Europe because Tolkien did that. If there’s a non-white culture, it’ll probably be based off Japan or China or some fusion of the two. Maybe, if we’re really working, we’ll get some kind of distillation of the Arab world filtered through a heavily fantasized verneer with genies and carpets and sultans with veiled concubines. But Zanzibaris or Aztecs or Australian Aborigines? Not a chance. If Aztecs appear, they exist to either be heinous blood-sacrificers or a conquered and oppressed people (don’t get me started on Apocalypto). It angers me profoundly as a writer, and I’m not in the least bit Hispanic in my descent. It’s an affront to the imagination, and frankly, an extreme marginalization of a powerful and advanced culture.

Extreme words, I realize (and don’t get me started on Ancient Astronauts, either). I guess the reason I feel strongly about this is because it’s just more evidence of total lack of imagination in what is supposed to be the most imaginative set of genres we have. I guess my thoughts on writing the Other is that this doesn’t need to be some sort of birdwatching exercise. I’ve got friends from a wide spectrum of religious and racial backgrounds and I don’t stay friends with any of them so I can write minority X better.

Sorry to carpet-bomb you with this, but I’m glad somebody is confronting the whole issue and doing it without kidgloves. Personally, I’d love to see more speculative fiction written by people who aren’t white and JewCatholiProtestant. Thanks for confronting the elephant (or shoggoth?) in the room.

Sincerely,
Hunter C. Eden