Diamonds are A Girl’s Best Friend: Naomi Campbell’s Blissful, Beautiful Ignorance

Naomi Campbell is a world-famous supermodel with money, power, access, and influence.¬† Over the span of her career she has clearly¬†lived¬†a life of privilege based¬†on the commodification of her physical beauty and her ability to market that as an asset.¬†¬† Ms. Campbell has garnered and actually leveraged a reputation as a world-class diva or bitch, depending on your point of view‚ÄĒlargely steeming from¬†her tendency to lose her cool and¬†launch objects at “the help”.¬†¬† The most recent spate of¬†¬†controversy to hit the glamazon involves her alleged receipt of blood diamonds from ex-Liberian leader Charles Taylor, who is charged¬†with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in Sierra Leone’s civil war.¬† Campbell was summoned by the¬† war crimes tribunal to give evidence on the alleged exchange.¬†¬† Despite her initial¬†refusal to attend, Campbell was subsequently subpoenaed and gave 90 minutes of testimony that bordered between reluctant and blithely stupid.

As a Campbell fan‚ÄĒalbeit now wavering one‚ÄĒI was very troubled by the portions of her testimony I saw online and read in the press.¬† Her appearance at the trial of¬† the alleged war lord¬†was certainly an odd pairing in the world of pop-culture and international politics.¬† Yet, to come to such an event on the world stage with such a¬† callous¬† and indifferent demeanor was simply irresponsible.¬†¬† After arriving at the proceeds fashionably late but fashionable in a cr√®me brulee¬†ensemble and perfectly coiffed main, Ms. Campbell stated “I didn‚Äôt really want to be¬†here.¬† I was made¬†to be¬†here. Obviously I just want to get this over with and get on with my life. This is a major inconvenience for me.”

Some are reporting¬† that there were obvious gasps from the public gallery in response to this statement, no doubt a reflection of her seeming lack of concern for the larger context of¬†the day’s events.¬† If you watch the video, she generally seemed annoyed and put off by the entire proceedings, and spoke in a tone that suggested¬†that given her beauty, fame, fortune, and status she was really “above” the entire situation.¬† I suppose strolling down catwalks¬†and jet setting at white parties with Diddy¬†is more appealing that testifying before the Hague, but Campbell should¬†have shown some more dignity and class, as a citizen of the world but also as a person of African decent.¬† Suffice it to say,¬† I am quite sure the victims and surviving families of the bloodshed and other indignities of war¬†were at times inconvenienced, as well.

Campbell was born in the UK and had a rather posh upbringing.¬† Discovered at 15, her quick rise and phenomenal success in the fashion world put her in a social strata that perhaps shielded her from the realities of those struggling with war, famine,¬†and poverty‚ÄĒthough she has done work with Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund and other charities.

Throughout¬†her career she has been known to behave like a petulant child, but Ms. Campbell showed a real lack of respect for the people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and those concerned¬†with their plight, with this most recent episode.¬†¬† Whereas I once regarded her as an icon of Black beauty in an industry¬†that has historically rewarded¬†the more¬†western beauty¬†aesthetic, I now wonder if Ms. Campbell is simply all style and no substance.¬†¬† During¬†one baffling exchange in her ¬†testimony she stated that she had never heard of Charles Taylor before, never heard of the Country Liberia before, and had never heard the term ‘blood diamonds’.¬† I mean even Kanye West had a song about Blood Diamond, perhaps he might fill her in on what she has clearly missed; I mean they do move in the same circles.

Now granted my knowledge of world events¬†is¬†grounded¬†in what I can learn reading the Washington Post, listening to PRIs¬†The World, and the second hour of Diane Rehm Friday newsround¬†up, but honestly¬†I pray Campbell is feigning ignorance on these series of¬† general world news factoids.¬† While Campbell may have very well not known what the “dirty little stones” being offered to her were, I truly doubt this is the case. I think Ms. Campbell was fully aware of what she was receiving, despite¬†the best impression of an empty-headed ignoramus she gave during her testimony.¬† I argue pleading ignorance perhaps allows her to keep the attention on her physical person, her bread and butter and keep it off those contents of character, like intelligence, morality, courage in the face of your greatest fears, honesty, and personal accountability.¬†¬† Ironically¬†these traits so readily describe¬†Nelson Mandela, Campbell’s¬†adopted grandfather and mentor in her philanthropic¬†activities.¬† So accordingly,¬†I¬†accept that¬†Campbell is not a Rhodes Scholar, and her role in society is not to make insightful world political commentary, but as¬†the fashionista¬†jet sets around the world, she could really benefit by learning more about it.

Now Run Tell Dat ‚Ķ.Home Boy: Antoine Dodson and the Ghettoization of Black Online Identity

Antoine Dodson is a digital Ghetto Superstar. For those living under a rock, video of a news broadcast featuring an interview with the Alabama native went viral over the last week and is now the most downloaded video on YouTube.  In the instantly infamous footage, Dodson gives a rather colorful interview on the attempted assault of his sister.  In recounting the confrontation with the intruder, he does not emote an ounce of fear or intimidation standard for such evening broadcast news fare.  In contrast, Dodson is confrontational.

Donning a red bandanna, he threatens to go after his¬†sister’s¬†attacker and subsequently¬†dares¬†the intruder to ” now run and tell dat… homeboy”, in the video’s most quotable line.¬† The video and that particular¬†gem of black vernacular¬†has been remixed, mashed-up, auto-tuned, chopped and screwed and composed into song.¬†¬† However, as a cultural phenomenon, there is something much¬†more signficant about this video than its platform for comedic improvisation.¬† It reveals some particular conflicts about how Black people negotiate identity in the broadcast media, online, and within¬†larger society.

The Dodson video is culturally relevant because it adds to a larger narrative about Black identity that is being negotiated right now, particularly in the digital sphere.  Just the previous week, we saw former Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod being taken to tasks for being a racist, after doctored video of a speech she gave to the NAACP was posted to the Internet.  The power of this story was the speed in which it took hold in the public consciousness and the equal speed in which the story shifted course.  Similar to the Sherrod video, the Dodson video has taken on a life of its own, but to what consequence?

I could not help but find the video comedic but at the same time I wondered, who in the news room edited this segment and was there at least one Black person involved in its production?¬† Many¬†Black people will argue that the portrayals of Dodson’s¬†family and there¬† living conditions was unflattering and not reflective of¬†¬†¬†the overall¬†experience of¬†the Black family¬†in¬†America.¬† The accuracy or honesty of the narrative that this video puts forth is arguable because it is a mediated¬†cultural artifact.¬† Moreover, your sphere of experience in the world is going influence how you view and understand this video. So for instance, while I can see the humor in this video, I can also understand the real frustration Dodson and his sister have with their living conditions and really the overall social stratification in American society.¬† ¬† Denoting the suspect as “some idiot from out here in the projects”, Dodson’s sister¬†hints at¬†the liabilities that come with inner city living, public housing, and general¬†urban blight.

The problems extend beyond simply lacking that invaluable feeling of being safe in one’s own home, though the importance of this cannot be underestimated.¬† The¬† problems run the gambit and¬†extend to any number of¬†socio-economic limitations: from¬†access to healthy foods, good education, safe housing, medical resources,¬†and employment to access to high-speed digital Internet.¬† The irony of the digital divide is particularly felt when viewed in the context of the Dodson story. While he is an internet superstar,¬†I cannot¬†help but wonder if him and his neighbors have access to the¬†Web.¬† While fiber may be¬† laid in¬†many urban areas, unlike many rural environments, inner city Blacks still lack¬†access to¬†high-speed web connectivity, outside of their mobile devices, due to cost and other¬†barriers to entry.

And yet we are still left with Antoine Dodson and what has become a national lampoon of a certain representation of Black identity.¬† His construction of the English language, his use of Black vernacular, body language, and cultural references are something that a Black person is going to view differently than an outsider.¬† To be the number one downloaded video on YouTube, it is clear that this video is being viewed, interpreted, and reinterpreted now by persons outside of the Black experience.¬† This can be¬†dangerous ground because while many of us may be¬†able to laugh at this video, we can still commiserate with Dodson and his sister’s experience.¬† Because race remains such shaky ground in this nation, it often feels that in these kinds of situation the outsider is not laughing with us but as us.¬†Leading me to wonder to what extent a video like this confirms widely held stereotypes about the entirety of Black identity, and furthermore affirms the exceptionalism that many outside our race assign to President Obama and other articulate, intelligent, and successful Black people.¬† We cannot simply reduce¬†Black identity to the haves and have nots among us, and we should not let this happen in the larger culture. Moreover, the¬†importance of¬†the attempted¬†rape of a Black woman is seemingly marginalized in this narrative.¬† It’s almost as if we forgot that a crime against a woman happened.¬† Where are the feminist on this one or are they laughing, as well?

The Dodson narrative is still unfolding.¬† Apparently, a T-shirt line and any number of other commercial opportunities are emerging from this cultural moment, leaving me to wonder how Dodson may capitalize on his instant fame.¬† It would be a shame for his likeness and¬†what amounts to his intellectual capital be appropriated and him not benefit.¬†¬† This moment remains complex and difficult to negotiate in my mind.¬† What about you? Is Dodson’s interview simply a humorous cultural moment or does it say something larger about Black identity in the United States?¬† If so, does what it say reflect¬†positively or negatively on the wider Black community?¬†In an online¬†sphere that has largely been the bastion of the elite¬†and intellectual among Black thought leaders is there any benefit to the ghettoization of Black online identity?

Media Culpa: Shirley Sherrod and the Politics of the Public Apology

It seems everyone and their momma is serving up a healthy slice of humble pie to Ms. Shirley Sherrod.¬† The apologies are coming¬†¬†fast, frequently, and¬†from on high‚ÄĒas even The POTUS expressed regret for what had to be¬†a demoralizing experience for Ms. Sherrod.¬†In the wake of the initial¬†firestorm and then¬†subsequent reframing, Sherrod has gone from private citizen, to public figure, to vilified public figure, finally arriving at redeemed public servant‚ÄĒall in less than 48 hours.

What is remarkable about this story‚ÄĒoutside of the real questions it raises about the progress of race relations in our country‚ÄĒis the speed in which it took hold in the common conscience, garnered largely¬†uniform opinion in the press and then in a matter of media moments was¬†squarely redefined.¬†It is also reframed the notion of the public apology, something we certainly associate with political and public officials‚ÄĒbut is so often tied to expressions of regret about personal transgressions, such as infidelity or misuse of campaign funds.

I had not even understood the original narrative in its entirety, before its authenticity was largely being refuted. A conservative activist posts a  video to YouTube of an official with the Department of Agriculture seemingly suggesting blatant racial bias against whites in her handling of farm aid cases.  Within a day the public and the media got a chance to see the speech in context and the narrative is reframed.

We learn the remarks were taken¬†from a speech in which¬†Sherrod¬†shows how she battled feelings of intolerance to arrive at a social justice oriented understanding of how poverty adversely¬†effects¬†quality of life and productivity¬†of all persons, regardless of race. She took this believe to form the guiding mission of her life: helping those regardless of race survive.¬† Accordingly. the once thought bigot becomes an exemplar¬†of racial transcendence for the nation‚ÄĒall within a matter of a few days.

When The President apologizes to a more or less private citizen for the rush to judgment of an entire nation; one cannot deny that these are new and different times.  Viral videos, social networking, the blogosphere, and really the entire world of new media has changed the game for the conventions of traditional journalism to be practiced.  The trust then verify journalistic model has been replaced by the the trust, publish react, and perhaps verify model.

It is important we try to negotiate the wild, wild west of web journalism in ways that incentivize fact checking, verification, and neutrality. It is equally important that we do not hide the motivations of those forming public opinion, but encourage transparency among thought leaders and political taste makers.

So what do we think? Does Ms. Sherrod deserve the full-court press and  public apology tour that the administration is encouraging or should she should simply retire from public life, after this insane incident and in the interim allow her evolved feelings about intolerance and injustice to become a teachable moment for the entire nation?

The Happily Ever After Myth ‚Äď Comparative Analysis of the Speidi and Gore Marital Separations

Last week, the nation was collectively stunned when news broke that the Al and Tipper Gore were separating after 40 years of marriage.¬† Media commentary and the response on the blogosphere largely focused on the changing nature of marriage in society, and especially within the baby boomer set.¬† Apparently, till death do us part takes on a whole different connotation when Americans are living longer more complex lives.¬† Accordingly, pundits are interrogating the institution of marriage with renewed vigor.¬† When the culture is dominated by messages of personal fulfillment and happiness as an end game, can traditional conventions of marriage still work and what does “work” really mean?

While¬†news of the Gore’s break-up dominated headlines, they were not the only famous couple announcing a marital separation last week.¬†¬†Perhaps more infamous than famous, Heidi Montag¬†and Spencer Pratt collectively and nauseatingly known as Speidi announced their separation, after only one year of marriage.¬† Unlike the news of the Gore break-up, the imminent¬†demise of the reality couple was first¬†met with delight and then immediate¬†skepticism.¬† With the¬†fame hungry couples’ reality show‚ÄĒThe¬†Hills‚ÄĒ slated¬†to end, ¬†much of the entertainment¬†media is reporting the separation¬†as a hoax.¬† While it may very well be a publicity stunt for Montag’s¬†upcoming ¬†reality show, the Gore and the Speidi¬†separations represent why this is a unique cultural moment for the institution of marriage.

The Gores¬†lived as man and wife¬†for forty years.¬†¬†While the public face suggested they were the quintessential happy couple, there is no way for us to know the extent of the joys and pains,¬†¬†dreams¬†fulfilled and promises broken that this couple would have¬†no doubt experienced.¬† Unlike Speidi, the Gores ¬†private lives were not being documented for a reality TV show.¬† Accordingly, we can only conjecture¬†that after raising children and pursing individual ambitions,¬†they simply grew apart.¬†¬† I believe that there is authenticity and dignity in the way they handled this very ¬†private matter and¬†I’m sure they are shocked that their personal choice has resulted in a public outcry on the state of baby boomer marriage.

In contrast, Heidi and Spencer, who bear¬†a striking resemblance to¬†The¬†Flowers in the Attic, have after one year¬† separated in a calculated move to remain¬†relevant¬†in this cultural moment.¬† Blogs are calling the split as fake as Heidi’s surgically enhanced mammaries.¬† Yet, I would argue the couple is doing “marriage as spectacle”.¬† It is a uniquely American proposition that marriage and love go hand and hand.¬†¬† Marriage is an economic contract, as much as it is a partnership based on myths of often fleeting emotions.¬† Therefore, what Heidi and Spencer are doing, as they play with the conception of marriage, may be more representative of marriage throughout most of history: an economic partnership about survival, more than any kind of romantic notion.¬† As they seek to enrich themselves by being obnoxious, blithely stupid, and most importantly ubiquitously present, their marriage simply becomes another means of production.¬† We can only¬†hope these two don’t decide to procreate, in an effort to¬†commodify¬†parenthood ala the Octomom¬†and the Gosselins.

I was only married for a little less than five years, before I cried uncle‚ÄĒbut I can tell you unequivocally¬†that it is probably the most challenging and selfless endeavors one can make next to parenthood and¬†say monasticism.¬† And despite the brevity of my first¬†marriage, I still believe in the convention and I consider my¬†“failed”¬†marriage successful because it taught me the beauty of¬†resilience.

Marriage is a religious, civil, and yes economic arrangement between a couple that will become characteristics of which will evolve¬† in our increasingly¬†complex world.¬† How we “do marriage” is representative of our time in history and the larger culture?¬†So what represents a successful marriage to you? Is longevity the only metric?¬† It is a civil or¬†religious arrangement, or could it be both?


Hair Today Gone Tommorow…The Boldness of Baldness

Chrisette Michelle '"For Freedom, Not Beauty"

I did not exactly shave all my hair off ¬†last year, but I came really close.¬† I was going through a period of transition and I hastily¬†decided everything needed to be simplified.¬†¬† So I rushed to the barbershop and asked the wonderful barber, who remains my guy¬†’till this very day, to just shave it all off.¬†¬† He is so cute; I think I keep it low just to see him sometimes, but I digress.¬†¬† Cutting my hair¬† was a harrowing experience, but very freeing.¬† I looked at my little boy bald head and thought wow,¬† no hair.¬† Sitting in the barber chair, staring at my now huge eyes and prominent nose, I began to¬†questioned myself:¬† is this the same me?¬†¬† Can I be¬†pretty without hair?¬† Will men find me attractive?¬† The latter¬†concern was of course reinforced after¬† my dad protested my decision, saying¬†” Why would you do that?…Men don’t like¬†¬†women without hair”.

I’ll have him know that much to the contrary, I’ve found¬†many do.

When I shaved my hair, I was not making a political statement or seeking to adopt any trend; it was more about a personal journey.¬† Taking off your hair, as a woman is like removing a security blanket.¬† Society is so hair obsessed that opting out can be viewed as revolutionary, even if one’s motivations are purely economical.

While I was not out to subscribe to a particular counterculture beauty aesthetic, I got to tell you not having hair is truly liberating.  There is real freedom in not having to go the hair salon and sit under the dryer  for hours, or fuel the cream crack economy.   Yet, I am now facing a real conundrum: to grow back or not to grow back that is the question.   My confidence journey is well-played out now having been hairless for close to a year and I want options, but at the same time options can be costly in time and treasure.  Plus I love the way a new shave feels on my scalp. However, I tired of men rubbing my head at public events.  I am short and I think they feel warranted to do so.  Yet I am stating unequivocally that it is not endearing, but instead, very jarring; so please stop it!

Chrisette Michelle,¬†who recently decided to go low, has a wonderful poem¬†entitled¬†“For Freedom Not Beauty”¬†on her website .¬† The poem is about her choice to shorn her locks.¬†¬†In the poem, she asked the question, “Since when is creativity subject to criticism?”¬† In response to Michelle, I¬†would argue since the invention of “the critic”.¬†However, I too¬† was floored¬†when Solange Knowles was berated in the¬†and blogosphere last year¬†for her choice to shave off ¬†all her hair.

I found it odd folks were not happy with her “personal” choice.¬† Magazines accused her of doing a “Britney” and blogs were even more cruel.¬† Perhaps the criticism was because the original cut was such a hack job,or because she was¬†seen¬†in a wig at a public shortly after the bold move was made, or simply¬†because there is just a¬†lot of Solange resistance out there¬†(methinks misdirected anti-beyonce sentiment?)¬†.¬† In response Knowles stated:

“I guess you just go through different phases in your life. I was pretty much at the point where I needed the change and I needed to focus my energy on more productive arenas. I was putting too much into my appearance and I needed to make this about growth and going to the next stage of my life. I felt like I was being distracted by something as simple as hair.”

Here, here Solange.¬† Ironically, Solange’s sister, Beyonce¬†is responsible for a lot of what is going on with hair culture now in my opinion.¬† As pop-stars and celebutantes¬†like the Kardashians, Ciara, and Ms. B get these larger than life weaves, it sets unrealistic beauty standards in the real-world.¬† Women are getting all kinds of lace fronts, wigs, weaves, extensions to replicate¬†this idealized hair aesthetic and even it isn’t real.¬† It is certainly not a realistic beauty standard for a lot of Black women, who are so often told to embrace and emulate¬†western standards of attractiveness, if they want to be accepted.

Last year, I saw Chris Rock’s “Good Hair”¬†shortly after getting my haircut off and it made me feel even more empowered.¬† Watching the film, I learned hair is a big business and it is a business whose revenues are seen largely outside of the Black community. I try to support “Carol’s Daughter” and other black vendors with that thought in mind.¬† However, I need hair to buy black hair products — it is a predicament indeed.¬† So what should I do?¬† While I make my decision, its comforting knowing I have at least one fan.¬†¬† On the blog Beautiful Black Woman – Thoughts of a White B’woy, a site dedicated to uplifting and honoring the beauty of Black women around the world,¬†blogger Andreas post:

Fact: The only women that looks good in shaved/bald hair/head are the black women. This fact is strictly subjective and reflect¬†only my view. But hey, black bald women can be really fine! ūüôā

Hair today or gone tomorrow? I need your help.


M.I.A.’s Born Free: Violence, Media, and Artistic Representation

Another week…another controversial music video…

This time up to bat is avant-garde hip-hopper M.I.A., with the short film for her single Born Free.¬† M.I.A., born Mathangi¬†“Maya” Arulpragasa, brings politics front and center with¬†a violent albeit cinematic critique of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The shocking video was banned from YouTube just yesterday.

The daughter of a Tamil revolutionary father, M.I.A. is no stranger to the violent political discord, the likes of which her video dramatizes.   She was born in London but was raised in Sri Lanka during the decades long Sri Lankan Civil War that pitted the ethnic Tamil minority in rebellion against the Sri Lankan government.  The conflict was characterized by forced evacuations, raids, and many argue genocide.

French director, Romaine Gavras sets the video in a generic-gray cityscape, complete with the high-rise tenement housing that serves as a backdrop for the docudrama styled film.¬† Born Free’s sonic rock, drum laden beats and distorted vocals open the video with a police raid on one such tenement that finds a terrorized couple, nude in their bed and under attack.

Next, the video narrows in on its disjointed narrative, which finds the police squadron singling out, kidnapping, beating, and eventually executing red heads.   The most jarring scene features a redhead boy being shot in the head at point-blank range.   Other violent scenes include cringe inducing police beatings and a graphic landmine explosions, one in which a man is blown up and torn apart limb by limb.

The selection of¬†red heads as the terrorized minority seeks to satirize and critique the absurdity of ethnic and religious divisions that characterize such genocides in the real world.¬† The video could have easily extrapolated its narrative trajectory from the recent Nigerian massacres; in which Christian villagers were trapped¬†and killed by Muslim herdsman‚ÄĒbetween 200 to 500 were killed.¬† Similarly, it could be connoting the Armenian genocide, during which 1.2 million Armenians were killed under Ottoman-ruled Turkey.¬† As an aside,¬†Armenians around the world gathered to commemorate the mass killings just this past Saturday.

The Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the war in Darfur, or the Bosnian Genocide are all variations on the same tragic narrative that has plagued too much of our collective human history: arbitrary violent division justified by differences that when compared to our common humanness are as negligible, as the between red or blonde hair.

Lady Gaga‚Äôs Telephone video filled with bondage, sex, and Quentin Tarantino references felt risky and subversive less than two months ago‚ÄĒnow with Badu and M.I.A. making strong and radical political statements in their videos and songwriting, Telephone‚Äôs celluloid sexuality and materialism feels like light fare.¬† [See M.I.A.s humorous take on Gaga here].¬†

M.I.A.’s¬†social justice critique¬†does not single out one group, conflict, hero, or villain in the video; instead she takes wide lens in her radical approach to confronting injustice of persecuted minorities.¬† Like Erykah¬†Badu’s Window Seat, Born Free seeks to make a bold political statement about injustice‚ÄĒthrough asexualized nudity and graphic violence.¬†¬† Badu’s¬†assassination and M.I.A.’s executions are both uniquely striking visual representations, during this cultural moment.¬† M.I.A. inserts an international voice to the domestic conversation Badu started with Window Seat.¬†¬† The systematic persecution of people of color, undesired minorities, poor people, and immigrants is a shameful and all too common reality in this country and around the globe.

How timely that this video would come out at the same time that Arizona enacts a law ” that requires local police to question the legal status of anyone they “reasonably suspect” of being in this country illegally”.¬† The law‚ÄĒnoted by our immigrant son President as being “misguided”‚ÄĒwill no doubt lead to increased racial profiling and harassment of ethnic Native, ¬†Mexican, Hispanic, and Latino peoples, regardless of legal¬† their status.

The law appears unconstitutional and against the very precepts and values of a Nation supposedly founded on the equality of all men; a nation alo built by immigrants and “displaced” people, whose checkered history on human rights rightfully deserves interrogation. From the historic treatment of Native peoples, the tragic past of African enslavement and Japanese internment to the systematic plague of urban warfare that plagues are large cities today, America should pay close attention to Born Free, before life imitates art.

Militia groups, Tea Partiers, Birthers, and any number of groups are rallying in the name of freedom, with cries of “we want our country back“.¬† However, what does “our country” really mean?¬† The radical fringe elements of these and other groups are advocating secession, civil war, armed rebellion, and even the¬†assassination of dissonant voices.¬† This is scary stuff.¬†¬† With Palin’s firearm rhetoric and talking heads spewing hateful and malicious ¬†vitriol 24/7, I wonder where our¬†great country is headed.¬† Is polarization and¬†divisiveness really our¬†only future?

While cable news can be¬†scary, it is not nearly as frightening as the government mandated discrimination that provides the framework to the Arizona law. For those concerned about civil liberties, regardless of political affiliation, this law should be of concern.¬† It brings us as a country‚ÄĒdeveloped nation and all‚ÄĒ one step closer to the police state depicted to in the M.I.A. video.

So what do we think? Does M.I.A.’s use of graphic violence to critique the injustice of genocide provide the cultural stimulus required to start a national or even international conversation on human rights?  Or are her unapologetic politics to radical much for the entertainment sphere?  Is political music and art vital and/or commercially viable in this cultural moment?


VA Governor Declares April Confederate History Month: Brief Thoughts

I can remember it like it was yesterday.¬† My 4th grade class was celebrating Black History Month in the usual fashion of the day.¬† Our classroom was papered¬†with posters of historical¬†figures and civil rights leaders like Carter G. Woodson, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth.¬† It was a Montessori school, so we also had Black Leaders of the Past Flash Cards‚ÄĒfor the tactile¬†African-American¬†learning experience.¬†¬† I don’t recall any direct classroom instruction about the tragic, storied, revolutionary, or resilient past of my people.¬† However, I do recall a Caucasian classmate requesting that we celebrate “white history month”¬†in March.¬†¬†Hmm.

A classroom full of prepubescent militant midgets, between the ages of 9 and 11, protested this request in visceral anger and disbelief far beyond our years.¬† I can recall an especially passionate classmate responding, ‚ÄúWhy would we do that?¬† Every month is¬†White history month“.¬†¬†¬†Despite our protest, I remember the¬†teacher acquiescing¬†to the request in some strange rationalizing mind-fog he considered fairness, and March was ¬†officially declared¬†White history month in my class.¬†

At the time it felt ridiculous, confusing, and even painful.  I knew even then that Black History month was a way of celebrating the accomplishments of a marginalized community and acknowledging the dignity of a people subjugated since the country’s infancy. 

Some twenty years later, I am left similarly confused and¬†at the news that Virginia’s Governor declared April Confederate History month in Virginia.¬† The whole Dixie pride thing is removed from my experience and it creates in me a¬†real cognitive dissonance.¬† Perhaps it’s because I love me some Scarlet O‚ÄôHara and Blanche Devereaux, both entertaining caricatures of or evoking a far-gone¬†era.¬†¬†¬†

 You see I did not grow up in the South, but my Grandmother did.  I remember for years, she boycotted the entire state of South Carolina, after they refused to remove the confederate flag from the State House.  At 94-years-old, she carries the racial burden of living through the pre-civil and civil rights era and was no stranger to segregation and racial injustice.  Nevertheless, she raised me with a sense of history and racial pride and more importantly taught me to  love  all humanity regardless of race.  We are all children of God.

Yet, the controversy surrounding Confederate History month must be viewed in the context of the day.  Just last year, the country elected the first African-American President, a source of pride for millions of Americans of all races.  Strangely, at the same time, we have racial epithets and spit being hurled at members of the Congressional Black Congress during the recent healthcare rallies.  We also see the rise of militia and anti-government groups, who use blatantly racist propaganda in their messaging.  Furthermore, many states are becoming increasingly divided on issues of state and federal rights.  For example, Texas Governor Rick Perrythreatened to secede from the Union, after the Tea Party protest last spring.  Thus, we must be mindful; history as a way of repeating itself.

My critique of Governor’s McDonnell’s move is one of style, as much as it is substance.¬† The timing of this proclamations is poor considering the racial tensions in the country are already¬†at a slow boil.¬† The symbolic move is not unlike¬†waving the Confederate flag on the state house.¬† Perhaps it will instill pride in some, but to others it represents hate, fear, and intolerance.

 The original  proclamation language did not include language on slavery, which is much of the reason it garnered so much controversy.  McDonnell has since attempted to reconcile this issue by apologizing for leaving the language out and adding the following revised text:

“(I)t is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this (Civil) war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders.”

I understand confederate History Month will appeal¬† and even fill with pride those who trace their history, family members, and roots to Confederate Virginia.¬† Moroever, I am sure the history is rich and worth remembering.¬† Nevertheless, not unlike the original proclamation, the ‚Äúgood ole days‚ÄĚ nostalgia and myths associated with Dixie, often fail to acknowledge the peculiar institution of slavery in any real way.¬† At worst this nostalgia¬†is due to fragmented¬†narratives¬† and at worst it is racist and ugly.¬† If you have read any message boards on matters of race,¬†you will see plenty of comments by folks who have this warped world view.¬† I read a comment on the post today that suggested because the blacks kill each other in their cities, they would be better off on plantation today.¬† Ignorance prevails.

The Civil War was as much a war about economics, as it was abolition. Many argue that by holding on to slavery for as long as it¬† did, the South was working against its own economic best interest‚ÄĒespecially poor plantations owners.¬† Similarly, today we see the Tea Party movement populated by mostly middle-income average Americans, rallying against a President and his liberal policies¬†that are at least economically in their best interest to support.¬†¬†Accordingly, this proclamation feels like calculated pandering to me.¬† It¬†was a vapid empty-headed¬†move that was completed¬†just to appeal to McDonnell’s base.¬† Despite what the “mavericky ” governor will tell you, it was not about tourism.¬†

In close, I will acknowledge that Virginia’s history is closely tied to its Confederate past.¬† Richmond was the Confederate capital and sadly¬†many confederate¬†¬†soldiers–black and white–were lost on battlefields within the state.¬† To this end, perhaps April should become a month in which Virginia acknowledge the Confederate narrative in its entirety and within the context of present day.¬† Perhaps, it should become a teachable moment¬†about what happens when fear, prejudice, greed, and the passions of men become wrapped in intolerance and incivility.¬† In short, people die.¬†¬†¬†

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

 George Santayana

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