Saturday, February 27, 2010

Remembering Fanon

Frantz Fanon was a psychiatrist, a philosopher, writer, and a revolutionary because of his influence in the field of post-colonial studies, psychology, and Algeria. He was the guru of French decolonization and practically created the psychology of the oppressed. Or what we tagged Black Psychology back in the days.

Fanon gave us mad lit to stand on, but the two books he's known for the most are The Wretched of the Earth (Les Damnés de La Terre), published right before his death in '61--same year I came through--where he put the word out on the effects on tortured Algerians by French forces. At the time, the book was considered controversial so it got censored by France. The other is Black Skin, White Mask, originally his doctoral thesis submitted at Lyon and was rejected. So he did what any revolutionary does-- Took matters into his own hands and had the book published!

France was trying to make Algeria their other Haiti but Islam proved to be a stronger foothold than Vodun.

It's important to know this, if you're taking PSY100. Because the syllabus often times doesn't include your genius or mine. Just an assumption that our issues are too complex to address, unless the one who's setting the tone is open to telling the full story. In The Seat of the Soul Spiritualist, Gary Zukav writes, "Because psychology is based upon the perceptions of the five-sensory personality, it is not able to recognize the soul..." And that's what seperated Fanon from other psychology gurus. He wasn't simply taking samples and studying stats. He put faces on these stats; told their stories in order for us to gain an undestanding of the oppressed. Before Fanon, Euro-American philosophy was used to define the Black experience, whether the subject was from North Africa, Martinique or Alabama. Assumptions made about us by so-called experts were translated into Hollywood movies that portayed us as an unruly, troubled race without taking into account who was troubling us, in the first place. If you're a psych major, you need to know this, so you don't apply convenient lies onto those who can't fend for themselves, particularly those who place more value on the unseen. It might be a conflict of sorts learning how to be a scientist while remembering matters of the spirit. As a matter of fact, it's a contradiction. It'll be up to you to find your own delicate dance between playing the researcher and simply being; reporting your findings and actually doing something about the issue at hand. Otherwise, what's the point? What's your intention? To help your people advance or to be called Doctor?

Fanon was also stationed in Algeria during the French-Algerian war as a psychiatrist. It was there that he radicalized methods of treatment, like socio-therapy where you connect the psychosis with the cultural background.* (The American version is
Dr. Joy Leary's theory of post-slavery symdrome).

He also trained nurses and interns. And following the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution in '54 Fanon joined the FLN Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale). This is what Zukav calls spiritual psychology. This is what I call pyschology applied and not just theorized.

Remembering Fanon also means remembering my doctoral studies. Or more acurately, the year I got seduced into thinking I could help my community by getting a PhD. It was naive of me to think that letters define the man, but my more conservative friends had already considered the sound of Doctor next to my surname. Even with their good intentions, however, they never actually offered me suggestions as to how I'd put the hard work into good use. They seem more preoccupied with the red carpet aspect of it, while my students just wanted the K. I should've known there'd be a kind of identity transformation when one of the brain surgeons announced to the small handpicked group I was in that we were about to change who we were as individuals. It didn't occur to me 'til later that they meant we were each going to be transformed into a scientist and that emotionality would soon be replaced by cold facts, and spirituality into evidence unseen. I was a fish out of water and didn't know it!

And you wouldn't know it, what with the A's I was pulling in and my quick rise as a rock star for my tell-it-like-it-is vibe and a way of expressing myself on paper that got me mad respect from the guru of Black male identity himself, Dr. William Cross, along with a couple of research mates who I quickly developed close friendships with. But here's where opportunity turns into more miseducation-- The readings presented to us didn't match our realities, competition took precedence over cooperative learning, guest lecturers lacked hood credibility. The side effects were even more disappointing. Like the handful of brothas in the Program never acknowledging one another, White entitlement against Latino ignorance. I mean, here's a Puertoriquena straight fom the Bronx trying her best to impress and tells a room full of scholars that Black boys and girls aren't aware of racism until they reach high school. I had to remind her that not everyone waits to be fed; that some people actually pick their own food! So I brought up Kunjufu's work and all the little Black and Brown kids in da hood who experience marginalization as early as Kindergarten. It's not scientific. More spiritual. Just in the manner in which the teacher treats one over the other, how much they expect, the limited resources and outdated books, and whether the lesson plans teach leadership skills or servitude. Our kids don't come home and say, The public educational system is basically about warehousing; and in worse cases, just centers for prison preparedness. They don't talk like that. It's more like, "Mommy, I don't want a Black doll. I want a pretty doll." Or "Daddy, the teacher said I'd be happier in a special class for hyper kids."

One professor who was writing a book on West Indian immigation wanted to test some chapters on us. She got everyone's input but forgot to ask mine (and I'm being nice). When I pointed out the obvious she told the group--all the while, avoiding eye contact with me--that we had run out of time. Now, here's an anglo-saxon female writing a book about us, but is unwilling to get feedback from the only Carib in the room! The others knew the deal, but you can't show your ass to the very people who'll decide on your dissertation!

God bless the ones who decided to stick it out. Because each man, each woman has the right to choose their purpose. But my purpose chose me, and so I got no choice but to follow my intuition. Not the letters. Not a title. Not the monies they dangle at you while they're making their incisions, but the voice inside that guides and keeps me on my divine path. Six-months after I quit the doctoral my first book got published! Turns out I didn't need a PhD to reach the youth and their parents. All I needed to do is show some soul in my psychology and the accolades would follow. Just the kind of lesson plan that makes a kid reflect on his life and purpose, while pulling his pants back up because now he gives a fuck!

*Film scene from Isaac Julien's adaptation of Black Skin, White Mask


A Vancouver newspaper reporter recently said this about the no nonsense, Chicago-born gold and silver medalist, Shani Davis-— "Davis has been portrayed as a complicated athlete, misunderstood by a media he refuses to court, at odds with a national governing body he distrusts, and caught up in controversies created by his own uncompromising honesty and candor..."

Ever read something that described you to the Truth? It's more than astrology; deeper than pointing the finger, but one of those cosmic events that fly right passed you but your quick hand manages to catch it, hold it and allow it in. You gotta be more than just asleep to not get what I'm saying. And you'll have to do your homework to find out what the reporter meant by a media he refuses to court. But since it's Black History Month and all, lemme bring up Tommie Smith and John Carlos who got their Olympic medals revoked for displaying the Black fist and Muhammad Ali losing his fighter license after refusing to go to Vietnam to, as he put it, "kill folks who didn't do anything to me". When you make the connection between these brave men of honor and the notion of a socially-conscious athlete, you can then understand why the fuss over Shani Davis choosing to define his star power on his terms. He didn't necessarily need to show the fist as well. Both his speed and gold medal would've done that for him. But it was the point of it-- I'm representing! My rep as an athlete might be one who won't let the media tag me as a Black skater, but a skater. But I'm Black when I win!

So besides sending the message that he wasn't doing the dance for the usual suspects, Shani Davis was demonstrating what an informed sports fan can look like. A more evolved spectator who ackowledges the Black rage and White guilt, as opposed to avoiding it. But the corporate heads don't see it that way, especially since they make money off skin color politics. They can't sell an African American speed skater without highlighting his skin color and downplaying who he is as a person. That's how they keep things neat and categorized. That's how they keep one sport White and another Black. That's how they control the images. And that's why Shani Davis said, no.

But even a progressive like Davis has to show some tolerance by agreeing to allow a rival White skater hold up the American flag with him to call an end to a public feud. (Think of how Sports Illustrated needed to put a blond next to Tyra to make the very first Black cover issue not be so threatening to insecure Whites. Consider how Tyra must've hid her black fist behind that bikini!) Davis' rival teammate, and the brand names who backed him, wanted him to fall back some but Shani wasn't willing to play the supporting role (now you know). So after he beat the odds, most likely pissing off his haters, he made a Marvin Gaye move after Motown's first daughter put on the pressure-- a gesture, a symbol for all to see that ultimately meant nothing. And affectionately, with bright smiles, he said to America-- Here, my dear.

We love bullsht!

Still, Davis is the kind of Black athlete our young males need to see. The same types of sport figures who understand their unique role in our collective struggle, whether it's showing the black fist or refusing to go to war. Both actions leading to the stripping of titles, yet with a satisfaction of having left a legacy of unapologetic sense of Black maleness. Not ballers who brag about how many females and cars they got or the sellouts who help push $200 sneakers that an impressionable inner-city kid and his single mom can't afford.

Our latest hero is virtually absent on TV and in the mags. You gotta get a German or French paper, or turn to The Stephen Colbert Show, to get to know Chicago. The price you pay for not going along with the Program. The price you pay to keep your dignity.

Ever read something that described you to the Truth? Do you stand for something? Could you handle standing alone? Could you handle the isolation from both sides? Whites labelling you arrogant, Blacks calling you troublesome just cos you want more?

Friday, February 12, 2010

J Journal

When the haters are on the attack, it's always best to remember who you are and the ones who matter...

Me and CUNY's John Jay College President, Jeremy Travis who not only had enough vision to push J Journal, but even turned his office corridor into a faculty art gallery! I always say, supervising and directing has less to do with delegation and more to do with inspiration, motivation and support.

J Journal editors, Jeffrey Heiman (far left) and Adam Berlin (right).

Two very excited readers and one thankful writer!

Group pic-- The attending writers of the very fist issue of J Journal, with editors and College Prez (For complete story and photos, see older posts)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Who' You Callin' a Negro?

So you already know about Senator Reid calling his friend a negro. A safe negro. As in "Obama won the election because he doesn't have a Black dialect" negro. And at this point we've moved on to the State of the Union Address, and whether or not conservatives will allow our brightest leader yet to bring the country out of complacency. Even while we're still talking about Haiti and not about how Haiti became poor, in the first place, the negro thing keeps coming back and coming back.

If you're up on your pre-colonial history, you're hip to the fact that the term negro was initially necro. Old Greek for dead, corpse, nothing. Hannibal, who gave Italians their darker hue, and the Moors in Spain with their already iconic rep as legendary Black men of culture and combat were obviously something until they got driven back south. After that, all people of African descent were necros. The thanks we got for teaching Europeans how to be civilized (checkout Stolen Legacy by George James). But the Spanish way of saying it took precedent. And then the French put their twist on it with negre which was ideal for French litterateurs because you could romanticize it with negritude. Or make it pop by just saying neg. The Romans preferred the Latin version, niger though all chariots reached the same destination. Different stop signs, perhaps. Still, same destination. Some say the Portuguese were the first ones to say negro. Others say the Greeks. But when you're the brunt of the joke, you don't bother with those minor details.

Nonetheless, here in America it was always nigger; and the only romance we saw was either the demonizing or the demasculinization of the Black man. Calling him a negro was already part of the game plan. Calling himself and his own a negro was mission accomplished! Colored had gone hybrid by the time Gandhi arrived. As in East Indians getting preferential treatment in Uganda, South Africa and the Guyanas, while the color code in the Deep South told you where to eat and where to piss. Then the 60s dropped, and the Black youth wasn't havin' it! They said if White people get to call themselves White then Black folks should be able to call themselves Black. They thought this would make racism go away, but it only got worse. By the time Malcolm was done with us, most of us considered Black as forward and negro as backward. So even if racist Whites saw all Black men as negroes, we tagged a brotha negro if he came off like step n fetch. Safe negro was always around but it earned its name after some kats chose the corporate route over revolution. And just like liteskin was generally easier to look at and handle, the safe negro, or the good little negro in some circles, became the preffered Black in practically all aspects of American society. Because while being or acting like a negro was considered very un-cool in da hood, having that stand up for self vibe didn't get you a job.

Some Blacks don't mind being called negro. Depends who's saying it. Like when a sista rolls her eyes at you, already on to her next thought or next room, and says, Negro, please! Even if you played hookie that day when your high school social studies teacher quickly went over Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement, something in your historical dna tells you what she means by negro. As in Who'you tryina' fool? Because you can never fool your own sister. Just like she can never fool you. Same train. Same psychosis. The other way of saying it-- Nigga, please! is merely an updated version. Like Bitch, you crazy! But the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't have a category called bitch, you crazy! or Bad ass bitch!, and niggga or dog, for that matter, which is too bad for a lot of bruhs because this means they'll be left out of the stats; and the stats come down to funding. The higher the number, the more funding that group and its geography gets. But they do have a box for those who consider themselves negro. Now, you're probably asking yourself, Who the hell calls himself negro, especially in this age? I don't know. I heard that some old timers Down South still call themselves that and actually don't care for Black. I'm not gonna disrespect my elders, so if that's their stand then I gotta fall back. But it does say something about the socialization of Black people. How you can call someone brilliant or plain stupid enough times that they eventually start believing it.

I have my nigga moments, though I strive to always be the proud, centered Black man. I'm never a negro--Well, I can tell you I know how it feels to be a field negro--But I never play the good little negro for anyone, though it would certainly make things easier on me if I tried just a little. But I don't like the sound it makes when nobody's around but the mirror!

I asked my 21yrld if the whole fuss over the President being called negro and excusing it was an issue for her and she said it didn't phase her at all, that her generation is beyond that. I also asked her if she ever experiences racism and she said no. Not to her face, at least. It got me thinking about Obama's estranged family minister and whether or not it's a generational thing to be or to not be so hypersensitive. Or maybe Black females--young and older--just dont feel the sting of the isms the way brothas be feeling them every day. And maybe for a person of African ancestry not mind checking off negro to describe him or herself is not necessarily a sign of post-slavery syndrome but freedom of choice. Like the housewife who still considers herself a feminist, but showing woman power in her own way.

But just so we don't get too caught up with the remakes of We are the world and Can't we all get along?, let's keep in mind that racially charged words are meant to disempower and control. As in image contol. Somewhere in that murky water, Reid really thinks the President is his good little negro! And had our elected-prez during his campaigning had unapologetically announced his plans for reparations for Blacks in the form of free financial aid for college, a fair and honest public school curriculum from K thru 12, free psychological therapy sessions for post-traumatic disorder as a result of slavery and Jim Crow laws, free African ancestry search, and better job opportunities for urban young Black males, we surely wouldn't be singing Yes, we can! but When hell freezes over! Obama may have very well shrugged off the slur to keep us focused on health care reform. That's just the type of brotha he is. Cool, calm, collected. Focused on the prize, and very careful. As in a proud Black man who figured a way how to balance corporate and revolution mindsets, which is a whole other art form. Not everyone got them skillz. I don't. My father tried, but moving to socialist Canada was far more appealing to him than learning how to play the game of making White Americans feel secure. But even a non-threatenng Black man can't stop the name-calling from getting in the way of progress.

Here's a list of labels and their targets that little children hear over the dinner table every day--

bule (boo-lay) Indonesian for White people

yam White American for Amish country

hymie, kyke American slang for Jewish people

tibla White American term for Russians

wog White American term for Turks

gubba Aboriginals' word for White people

bay frog English Canadian word for French Canadians

cankee French Canadian word for English Canadians

red monkey White American term for communist China

crouton White American word for the French

kraut White American word for Germans

guppie White American word for Greeks

buppie Black American for yuppie

bindi White American for East Indian

mucker White American for Irish

Brit nigger Black American for Irish

pale face Native American for White people

chug White American for Native American, as in they drink a whole lot!

ann Black American for a White woman or a Black woman who acts White

uncle tom Black American for a Black man who avoids any connection to his ethnicity or with those who look like him

jank White American for a Japanese person

yobo White American for a Korean

kafir White South African for nigger

beaner White American for Mexicans, as in beans eater

platano Puerto Rican term for Dominicans, as in they eat green bananas for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

spic refers to Latinos, especially Puerto Ricans

bee-keeper refers to Arab women clothed from head to toe

sandnigga White American for Arab men

gringo Hispanic lingo for White people

dago, goobah, greaseball, ginzo, wop American terms to describe Italians

eggplant Italian-American slang for Blacks

charlie, cracker, honky, ofay, peckerwood Black American slang to describe White men

gook American for Vietnamese people

limey White American for Brits, as in they had to eat limes to get over the scurvey disease

coolie Carib term for East Indians and South Asians

white trash White American for poor, uncouth White people

oreo American for a Black person who acts and dresses White

wigger American for a White person who acts and dresses Black

house negro Black American for a Black who's docile enough to be in massa's house

field negro Black American for a Black who's too unruly to be in massa's house, and therefore best for tending to the fields

Besides the latter two, none of the above racial slurs are included in the U.S. census and most likely never will. Because Whites as a whole just don't play that! Tell me if I'm wrong, but Blacks are the only group in the human experience that calls itself the very names given to them by their oppressor. To my niggaz, it's an art form to take a slur and make it your own. The rest of us don't get it. Just like we don't get the showing of the draws'. Not a judgment call. Just agreeing to disagee. As in Black people vs. niggaz.

But here's something that both Black folks and niggaz may not be hip to-- Haitians don't have a derogatory word for White people. We might say, That's a funny-looking White man but he's still a man. And we may not get the same ill-treatment as our Black American brothas get, but perpetuating a slum landlord/helpless tenant relationship is still calling me a nigger. Ask any Haitian to think of one offensive word to describe Whites. He or she will have to get back to you days, maybe weeks after being asked. It's not our fault. We got so stuck on rice having to be served and eaten seperately from the meat--if we have meat to eat--that we never made time for playing the dozens. You gotta be earthquake angry to come up with a downright hurtful yet effective slur. We even call liteskin kats blanc. Most of them resent it, but we're just giving them props for carrying good credit!

Sammy Sosa bleached his skin, so he too could carry his good credit. But it backfired. Look more like they skingrafted his ass cheeks! We can't even tell whether he's brilliant or plain stupid. Now, that's negro!!!

Note: Ever since the new hit tv show, Jersey Shore we're seeing more and more young Italian-Americans calling one another guido and guidette. Their version of nigga. As in That's my main guido or We guidettes and representin'! On the one hand, you can say name-calling is fair game, especially when it's your own you're tagging. On the other hand, it's a sign of the times. The dumbing down of one's sense of self while hyping up the bling. It's not even a Black thing anymore but a generational thing. Young people taking matters of race and cultural pride to a whole other level, as we educators and conscientious parents try to make sense of it.

Stay tuned as we figure it all out together, and apart...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

25 Things Blacks Still Don't Wanna Hear

I was trying to figure out what to say for Black History Month when I realized that Black History is made every single day, whether it's a Haitian woman being pulled out of a rubble yet coming out singing, acknowledging the tenth-year anniversary of one of the last surviving Black-owned bookstores in Harlem, reminding one another of the plight of albinos in Tanzania, or the 25 things Blacks still don't want to hear!

1. We think street culture is Black culture;

2. There's a war going on between Blacks and niggaz;

3. We got mad skillz with gadgets but can't relate with one another in a manner that's intimate and real;

4. We still prefer light-skinned sistas over dark-skinned ones, especially in our music videos;

5. We can call each other nigga or dog, but not 'brother';

6. We need to walk with a pit bull in order to feel important;

7. We stand on street corners because we have nothing productive to offer our neighbors and selves;

8. We don't attend parent/teacher conferences;

9. We're afraid of telling our young boys (and a few grown ass men) that wearing your pants low enough to show your behind is not only tired but sad;

10. We don't hold our local leaders accountable, and they only come around during re-election time;

11. We forget that Obama is still a politician, and therefore can't and won't address our issues as directly and immediately as we'd like him to;

12. We'd rather look good than feel good;

13. We don't see hyper-masculinity as a cry for help;

14. We think the empowerment of sistas means disempowering brothas;

15. We don't support our own artists, but get upset when they get love from outsiders;

16. We don't question the contradictions of the Church;

17. We make fun of africentric Blacks to avoid PSP (post-slavery psychosis);

18. We think Reggae and Dancehall music are one in the same;

19. We suffer from internalized racism, religious indoctrination, depression, and denial;

20. We think critical thinking is reading ghetto drama books;

21. We think ethnic and fly is a contradiction;

22. We celebrate the myth of Langston Hughes, but not the man himself;

23. We'll buy an $80,000 truck rather than spend $10 on a self-help book;

24. We'll support a singer who likes urinating on girls to the point where we'll even buy the video, but we think same sex marriage is disgusting;

25. We can't handle the truth.

African Albinos and the Bliss of Ignorance

As if skin politics between pan-americans weren't enough of a challenge to both those who struggle with the burden of having to cope and those who still deal with the guilt, we now have to witness yet another type of ism where skin pigmentation, or the lack of it, is the latest battle of the shades pitting African albinos against Africans who may lack compassion but still have their melanin. This actually started a few years back when parents were abandoning their albino babies, caught up in the hype that lack of pigmentation is a curse. But it quickly got even more twisted when witch doctors wanted the children's legs, arms, noses and ears, believing that albinos have mystical powers. And then it gets stupid, with the wealthy buying these body parts as charms. As a result of this bliss of ignorance, thousands of albinos are still in hiding today, including a few hundreds protected by Red Cross. According to Tanzanian stats, albino limbs are being sold by witch docs for $200 and a corpse could go as far as $75,000. It isn't so much the cadaverous vibe of it, but suddenly Tanzania is facing one of its worse periods in history. A slow-stewing genocide that hardly gets reported. Culprits are being arrested and jailed, however; some of them hung. And most likely from pressure from the international community, if not the Internet. But the individuals who are providing the dollars for more albino parts and bodies; the industry that's pushing the bliss still needs to be halted or Red Cross will have to shelter even more innocent children.

We have albinos in Harlem and Bed-Stuy, but we don't call them albinos. We call them Mark, Joanne, Dwayne, and Samantha. That's the difference I see between here and over there. We follow a code of ethics which dictates that though oceans divide us, struggle reminds us to act like kinfolk.

I don't know if African songster, Salif Keita ever comes to these parents' and hatchet-carrying minds. Or if tourists understand the importance of researching where such charms come from. I'm almost certain--hopeful, at least--that they wouldn't want to bring back a pair of tiny hands that were still learning how to handle a soccer ball. And what is the singer saying about all this? Has anyone even asked him for his thoughts on it? Maybe his voice is what got him over 12? Is he staying silent so as not to cause uninvited attention to himself? And just like here at home where if you wear the wrong color in the wrong hood, you can either get jumped or killed, is it that same unwritten law over in Tanzania or Burundi where the bliss has spread to? Does he avoid giving concerts in those countries because it's the magic of his voice he wants to share and not his body parts? Or do these witch docs find it more valuable to target only child albinos?...Now, there goes some homework for you!

I dig Salif's magic. His duet with Cesaria Evora (Yamora/I love you) is still my favorite. When I listen to Salif I don't see albino or missing elephant tusks. I don't see the contradictions of Black pride. Just beautiful African music the way a blessed sleeper dreams in colors.