Friday, December 30, 2011

Cultural Pride, Equality, And The Need For Voices

Context is an amazing thing. The most amazing thing about context is how few people actually understand it. This hit me as I watched Elon James White get assaulted on Twitter for his comment that black GOPers who say things like “liberal plantation” or “Democrat Masters” have already lost their argument. I chuckled when I saw it, and then went about my day. Hours later, Elon was STILL debating people in his mentions. For those who don’t know, Elon James White is a comedian and political commentator. He has a podcast called Blacking It Up and does a YouTube show called This Week in Blackness. At some point, someone called Elon racist. Their argument? They felt that Elon would say it was racist to have a show called This Week in Whiteness, so by association, This Week in Blackness must be racist.

When I saw that, I had to take a second, because I have some very militant thoughts from time to time. No scratch that, I have some very Afrocentric thoughts from time to time, to be more precise. You see, my entire life, I’ve been struggling to accept who I am. I’ve always felt as if I didn’t truly fit in. Some of that comes from being bullied, and some of that comes from the way I was raised, as well as having some body image issues, etc. But some of that can be attributed to being black. I was told growing up that being black meant that I would be harassed, that police, authority figures, and society in general would look at me differently. My first reaction was to deny that. Why would they? Why would anyone be derisive of me because of my skin color? I’m a good-looking, well-spoken and respectful young man. Surely, here in America, I would be judged not by my appearance but by the content of my character, right? Time has proven me wrong in that regard, very wrong. As a young black man growing up in the South, I have learned that no matter what I say, what I accomplish, I will forever be “the black guy” to some people.

But that doesn’t mean I should reject who I am. I AM a black man. I can’t nor do I want to ever change that. Being black has given me a perspective of this nation that few of us truly get the chance to have. Standpoint theory argues that those who are in the minority from a power standpoint have a better understanding of the world of minorities than those who are of the majority. In other words, as a black man, I understand being black more than someone who isn’t. Even if someone were to pull a Jane Goodall and live among the black people as they did, adopt their mannerisms and way of life for years, at the end of the day, their knowledge, nay their perception, would still be lacking compared to a standard black person. I personally agree with this, since I have seen what oppression looks like. I know what it feels like to have someone look at me with eyes full of hatred. Not only do I know that feeling, I embrace that as part of being Black. Do I hope the world changes one day? Of course I do. I want peace and harmony as much as the next man. But at the same time, those experiences have helped shape my perception, and have helped form the lenses at which I look at the world. I am black. And I’m okay with that.

Part of being black entails understanding that as a minority, your personal culture and history isn’t protected by the majority. They say that the victors write the history books, and they (who I imagine must have been victors, since we still know this quote) were definitely correct. I’m not accusing the majority of trying to erase the minority’s history, but as I stated, their perception of reality differs greatly from that of someone who is a minority. So the complete history of what shaped and continues to shape blackness in America may be cleaned up. Take Martin Luther King, Jr. versus Malcolm X for instance. Both men were great leaders and visionaries, who gave their lives willingly for what they believed in. One has his own day and recently had a statue erected to him. The other? Where is his statue? Where is his day? Malcolm X played a great role in influencing what shaped black culture, as did the Nation of Islam. But that role has been minimized and swept into the back page in history. Were it not for black people trying to keep that history alive, (Spike Lee, Chuck D, etc) where would it be? There needs to be a voice for the minorities, otherwise their history would be erased. Who better to provide that voice than the minorities themselves? As I’ve mentioned, minorities understand their plot far better than a majority looking in, no matter how great.

Does this “voice” mean that black people who are proud of themselves and their heritage hate everything non-black? No, of course not, no more than Scottish or Irish-Americans wearing kilts does, or Italian Americans or German Americans or Chinese=Americans embracing their culture does. In short, my being proud of who I am doesn’t make me less of an American, nor does it make me hate you for not being me. That’s ridiculous. However, as a Black American, when I see something that I can clearly tell is racism, (and remember standpoint theory? I have a clearer perception of that particular reality) yes, I WILL point it out as such. Now, I’m willing to admit that a lot of things are decried as racist that shouldn’t be, but by the same token, racism still exists. And until we as a society no longer tolerate discrimination of any sort, racism is going to be around. Racism doesn’t stand apart from the spectrum of discriminatory hate, on the contrary, its part of it.
Having said that, White America, if you want to start a show called “This Week In Whiteness” go right ahead. I should warn you, though, that it might not do very well. You see, the market for news and history shows about White America is flooded. For instance, we all know how white men rushed overseas in World War II to stave off evil. The “greatest generation” they’ve been called. However, this is the same generation that casually forgets to mention the black soldiers and what they had to endure. Soldiers like the Tuskegee Airmen, who had to be exceptional just to get a chance to fight. Soldiers like my grandfather, who was injured in World War II but never received a commendation for it because his commanding officer was white. Soldiers who could risk their lives for their country, but couldn’t get food from the front of a restaurant when they got back. History somehow forgets to mention these soldiers. And while we’re at it, what about the first and second generation Asian Americans who were rounded up and put into American concentration camps after Pearl Harbor? How many of these stories were in the news in the 1940’s? My point? White America gets enough press. It doesn’t NEED more voices, though if you wish to join the chorus, please feel free. However, minorities in America? We need all the voices we can get. The alternative is to forever be forgotten. I owe more than that to my future children.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Launch Me Bro!"

Every rock concert I've been to, inevitably, a small white girl, or a small white guy, will ask me to "launch" them. For those who are unaware what "launching" is, it's how one begins to crowd surf. You find a strapping young man, and you ask him to physically throw you above his head onto the surging crowd. Now as a person who has a bit of a sadistic streak, I will not refuse a small white guy's request to be "launched". Four hundred years of oppression and racism demands that I throw him. I generally pick a spot that has one or two people in it, and then after yelling "fore", I launch the hapless fool straight at that spot. There've been times when I have actually felt/heard the sound that the "launchee" made as they came in contact with the ground, and I have to say, it is a brand of satisfying that can only be experienced, not told. In the case of the small white girl, I don't do this. Because I'm pretty sure throwing small white girls into the air is what got Rodney King beaten up the second time.

I say all of this to make a specific point: every so often, you meet someone who has that look in their eyes. You can tell that they are about to ask you to launch them. For years (and in some cases, all of their lives) they have dreamed about this moment, and they are so close they can taste the glory and splendor that is their goal. They WANT it, and dare I say, they even CRAVE it. That hunger can be seen in their eyes. And all you can do, really, is, well, launch them. Throw them out into that void and wait and see what happens. Sometimes, the crowd rushes underneath them, and then holds them up to the sky, and for that brief two or three minutes before security pulls them down and then throws them out of the concert, they get to live like rockstars. Of course, other times, they plummet to the earth in a painful and ironic commentary on what it really means to be alive.

I used to think that it was just a lot of crazy white kids looking for thrills because their own lives weren't exciting enough, but after some real thought, I've realized that all of us want to be "launched". We want to have the courage to "throw" ourselves after our dreams. We may fail, and even if we attain our goals, they may be short-lived moments of glory. But don't you want to be able to say that you leaped? That you boldly went forth where few others have gone? Really isn't having the courage to leap a success in itself? I think so. So...launch me bro!

Monday, December 19, 2011

How Herman Cain Almost Became President

Herman Cain is no longer a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. I have mixed feelings about this personally. First, as a normal, rational human being and a man of my word, I’m relatively thankful. I pledged some time ago that if Herman Cain got into office, I was going to immediately emigrate to some other nation. I even went so far as to say that being jobless and homeless in some other first world country would be equal to or greater than living here with a job under Herman Cain’s steady guidance. Yes, I realize how ridiculous that statement is. Let’s not dwell on that, or on how myopic that really makes me look. Instead, let’s attempt to answer a question that no doubt many of us have asked ourselves over and over again: how did Herman Cain get so popular?
First and foremost, let’s address the fact that Herman Cain is indeed a black man. His conservative stances don’t negate that, despite what some commenters on various blogs would have you believe. I’m pretty sure when “they” are out lynching black people, “they” don’t stop to ask the lynchee’s opinion on the government’s fiscal responsibility, or whether or not a woman has the right to an abortion. (For the record “they” is the unnamed force which apparently still exists and lynches people. Ask Clarence Thomas for more details. I think I’m being sarcastic with that, it’s getting hard to tell) At any rate, the main demographic that Herman Cain had to cater to might have seen their parents or uncles or even older siblings spit on or speak derisively of Herman Cain and “his” kind (again to clarify, I’m talking about black people) at some point in time. So how did he suddenly manage to get them all to rally their support around him, even after the first and second allegations of sexual harassment emerged?

I have a theory, and of course, I’ll be sharing it here.
What’s the best part of waking up? Most of you can finish that sentence by saying it’s “Folgers in your cup”. What spells relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S. Tyson’s feeding you, like family, especially if you feel like Chicken tonight. Otherwise, you may find yourself eating a bowl of Nut-N-Honey. These are all slogans that stick with us, even years after the products themselves disappear. You can’t even buy a bowl of Nut-N-Honey, I looked. All I got were really strange looks and one weird offer from a guy in van behind the supermarket. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the generation that Herman Cain targeted grew up even more inundated with slogans than my generation. Our mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts all grew up with slogans. Slogans that may not have really told you anything about the product (what exactly are Folger’s flavor crystals) but either because of saturation or just sheer catchiness, kept those products in the front of your mind when it came time to make a purchasing decision.

Fast forward to Herman Cain and his 9-9-9 plan. How many of us really understood what that was about at first? Did he even bother to explain it in detail? Only after I sat down and did a thorough internet search did I find a legitimate analysis of the dangers of the 9-9-9 plan and what it would do to the poor and middle class in our country. Even then, there were people speaking up about the plan, but the general attack on Herman Cain was never his financial plan to save America from its debt crisis, or his COMPLETE lack of inexperience. Why? Because no one ever looked into his plan. It was a slogan. A jingle. Is the best part of waking up really Folger’s in your cup? Does Tyson really feed you like family? Do you feel like Chicken Tonight? No. In each of the slogan’s cases, we never really question the assertions made by ads, simply because they’re ads. Herman Cain was almost magically able to hide his ineptitude behind an ad, behind his slogan that was simple and easy for everyone to remember. The other plans were complicated and involved taxing this percentile this percentage unless they were this and that and the other. Herman Cain’s simple and easily remembered plan rang true with a lot of the core demographic of the GOP, and so they hopped on board. And for several glorious months, Herm could do no wrong. It was amazing. One of the most ill-conceived campaign advertisements I have ever seen was released (one that I personally think Herman Cain released to derail his own campaign) and people loved it. He and his advisors chose one of the cheapest Casio produced songs I have ever seen as his campaign music, full of synths and slow patriotic style singing and still the older constituency of the GOP rolled with it. And why? I theorize it was because he had a slogan, and his slogan was catchy and it was simple.

As we move deeper in the 21st century the role that adverts and jingles played has greatly diminished thanks to DVR, TiVo and streaming digital media. Now we watch our television largely commercial free, and we enjoy our music in much the same way. The generation growing up now will never know the magic that is a good jingle. Which may actually be a good thing.

And for those who think the 9-9-9 plan wasn’t all bad, I would like to point out this one fact. Herman Cain thought that to best way to shield the impoverished from his plan was to create “zones” where impoverished people who lived there would exempt from the income tax. Essentially, he wanted to group all the poor people together in an area, and then make it financially impossible for them to leave that zone or area unless they substantially increased their income. Thanks, Herm.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Communication Really Is An Art

I thought I'd take a few seconds to give a little friendly advice to all the guys out there. First I should point out, that I am by no means a relationship expert. In fact, I am far from that. I have NEVER had a successful relationship. I wish I could say that every failure wasn't my fault, but I'm contractually obligated not to cast blame on any of my ex-girlfriends. However, I do consider myself a pretty reasonable man, who has an amazing success rates at first and second dates. First impressions? I got that. First date? I can succeed at what should be a first date killer (the movies). I'm not saying that I'm a master by any means, I'm just proficient. Here's an interesting link. In it a man sends a 1600+ word letter to a woman who doesn't respond to his voicemails and texts after their first date. My personal favorite part of this entire letter is the request for an apology for because she sent him "mixed signals". His definition of mixed signals? She said yes to a date with him, during which she "played with her hair".

I can't sit idly by while this happens. I can't. I now understand how Batman feels when he witnesses a crime. Because a crime has definitely been committed. Where should I start? Let's start with what I'll call the Hitch paradox. In the movie Hitch, Will Smith states that once a girl accepts a date, it's the guy's responsibility to not mess that up. This is somewhat of a fallacy. A first date is a lot like a job interview. We've all heard that, right? Well, there's some truth to this statement. We all go on job interviews. How many of us have gone on job interviews even though we didn't want the job? I think most of us have our hands raised right? "Oh wait...I get what he's saying." Exactly. So maybe she's on the date because she's actually into charity. Maybe she's trying to prove to herself she's not as shallow as she thinks she is. Who really knows? Well, other than her. And we can't figure out what she thinks for sure. Even if you ask her, there's a good chance that you're not going to make it. I say all of this to make this point: with communication, nothing is universal. Maybe she accepted the date because you looked really good, or you were funny, or you intrigued her. Who knows? But she did accept the date, and didn't tell you no, which coincidentally, was the entire point that was being made on Hitch. I think the fact that so many men missed that point serves to further illustrate my point.

As far as mixed signals go, I think it's safe to say that I've made my point, but let me continue to beat a dead horse. What does it mean when a girl "plays with her hair"? Well, what does it mean when a girl plays with her hair in the mirror? Should we assume she's flirting with her reflection? Of course not. See how that works? Depending on what's going on, the meaning behind her actions changes. I know what you're thinking, "but this was on a date". And I agree with you on that. It was on a date. But the context and the action together are not an equation to a specific meaning. Which brings me to the overarching point of this entire blog piece/article/what-have-you. Communication is NOT a science. It's an art. And like an art, it is open to interpretation. More importantly, no matter how WE individually interpret it, there's no way we can be 100% sure that the meaning we interpreted was the correct one.

Finally, to this guy, who apparently is frustrated with the way his date went, I say this: everyone isn't going to like you. It's just the way of the world. Babe Ruth struck out. Michael Jordan lost games. Even the most philandering of men probably got rejected. And you know what? It's okay. I know it seems like NO woman wants you (especially after this letter went viral) but no worries. Eventually, there'll be a woman out there who'll twirl her hair on a date with you and actually be flirting with him. Until that happens, chin up.

Oh and side note: I'm not for "changing" for someone. Trying to figure out what you "did wrong" isn't a good idea. Just be yourself. Someone is bound to like you for you. And isn't that what you want?