Tuesday, January 30, 2007

billy jack bitch (or, blinded by the white...guilt)

although what i've got to say isn't directly concerned with rape and its relatives, let me begin by stating something obviously personal: i've never been sexually assaulted. and even if i had, i'm not sure i could write about the following with enough sensitivity. i don't think i('d) have the words.

also, i don't know anything about the law.

what if i told u that u're worth only half of what u be?

i imagine when the rape allegations of the duke lacrosse case became public, many women who were victims of sexual assualt--both reported and not--hoped that the accuser wasn't lying, or, if/when the case came to trial, her story didn't crumble under the burden of proof. as i previously mentioned, i've no direct experience with sexual assault, but as an observer, it seems to me that rape is an especially tender and complicated case to try; one that further exacerbates an already quite traumatic experience. having viewed media coverage of a few high-profile rape cases, i understand why someone wouldn't say anything, or perhaps later change her story.

i remember the evening i first noticed the media coverage of the duke case. (i can be kind of late when it comes to current events.) almost a year ago, i was on the phone when i saw an animated mike nifong on my television. as i listened to his fervent speech, i played out the whole race/class/gender/south/collegetown v. locals/etc. lines of argument and discussion through my head. and although i very quickly glanced at a few entries by some fellow bloggers, i kept mum. i've never been too great with immediate responses--especially with complicated situations. i knew i needed to be silent for a moment, and sort things out before saying or writing anything. and now that nifong has removed himself from the case, i think my thoughts have settled enough to take up some aspect of this topic.

admittedly, i haven't followed the case or the fall out too closely. over the last ten months, i've caught an update or two; i'm aware of how messily things have unraveled. however, i am also a graduate student, and if graduate school teaches you anything, it's that not paying close attention to something doesn't eliminate you from the conversaton; rather, it often places you (or should i say you position yourself) in the center of it...or so we think. that said, there are a variety of apetures in which to enter the conversation if one chooses. i'm sure many who have decided to engage in the conversation have very smartly said a variety of things that don't need to be echoed here. in fact, i'm guessing someone has already written something similar to what i'm going to write. forgive me if i very rudementarily repeat ideas here. i offer the fact that i've no real argument to offer as my excuse for writing so sloppily, loosely. so, please consider this a mere exploratory piece. i've no thesis i want to concretely place in the midst of the discourse. i just want to ruminate a bit.

how much of this can we attribute to white guilt, and the white privilege that inpires it?

would u come forth and tell no lies? would u come forth and talk 2 me?

though i've admitted to not really tracking this case, i did happen to see the 60 minutes episode where the parents of the lacrosse players were interviewed. as i listened and watched, i couldn't help but recall to kill a mockingbird, and the advice atticus gives scout relatively early in the novel, "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around it." i could not, on this particular occasion, put atticus' theory into practice. i felt not one drop of sympathy for the parents, or their sons.

in fact, i was occasionally perturbed by some of the things i heard. i recall, for example, one of the mothers stating that any mother with a son should be alarmed that a woman could claim she was raped, and a man could be arrested on her word alone. she offered the fact that the accuser has apparently changed her story several times as something to buffer her assertion. of this claim and its "supporting evidence," i offer this retort: really? why, i believe the contrary. any woman period should be alarmed if we live in a world where her allegation(s) of rape--true or otherwise-- is not taken seriously enough for the man in question to be arrested, or at least interviewed by police. further, for all we know there may have been a variety of reasons this woman chose to change her story. it is dangerous to assume that one later "admits" to lying because one had, in fact, initially told a lie.

there was another moment in the interview that i found mildly appalling. one of the fathers--all of whom were relatively quiet in comparison to their wives--asserted that even if they are acquitted, none of their sons would be able to distance themselves from this event; that in the internet age everything is "googleable," and thus anyone--a future employer, for example--can easily do a basic search, and reassociate these men with this situation.

after listening to the entire interview, i internally translated all of what these parents said to essentially mean: what do you mean my white privilege card has been declined?

i'd like to think that i'm not so cloaked in my various identites that i cannot empathize with someone when a wrong has occured. nor do i rank my identities; i am all that i am simultaneously. yet, i couldn't help but think, "welcome to my/our world," when i heard these parents speak. it seems to me that the outcry we heard from these parents echoed that which has been ignored--if ever heard-- from disenfranchised people. yet, i mark the difference between "us" and "them" by the fact that these parents have the resources to vehemently defend and protect their sons. i'm no miss cleo, but i'd prognosticate that when the dust settles, if these young men are found innocent, they will all be just fine. if the white privilege card didn't work the first time, one can always swipe again.

what distortion could u let your pen forget 2day?

let me also state: i'm not interested in evening the score, if you will. i'm smart enough to know that if these young men were wrongfully accused, and subsequently went to jail that we could not chalk that up on the scoreboard as one for "our" team. i say all of this not only to admit, but to also provide clarity on my position as a viewer in all of this. for, if i'm not going to get into someone else's skin and walk around, i might as well divulge that there might be a leaf, a branch, a tree, slightly obscuring my view.

that caveat aside, let me return to white privilege. i comprehend the backlash that has resulted from the mishandling of the case. yet, let me offer a couple of suggestions: 1) white guilt played a part in the way this thing was handled; 2) we live in an environment that necessarily requires such a response.

at this juncture, it's no secret that the white and black populations in durham, north carolina are relatively equal; much of the latter group is poor. duke university is not an anomaly in this sense. despite recent gentrification efforts, places like columbia u., the university of chicago, usc, and yale are other examples of esteemed institutions of higher education located amongst or near poor (and often black) neighborhoods. descriptions of the relationship between the university and these communities often hint at the underlying racial and economic tensions between the campus and the "locals." these circumstances contributed to the setting in which we view this case. the black experience in this country as it pertains to this matter is rather obvious; i will not waste time with that here.

so, when this case was placed before mike nifong just before his reelection, i imagine he thought he needed to act quickly and assertively. as a result, perhaps he went before the media and acted irresponsibly by making claims that had yet to be corroborated, by being vehement in his speech about the guilt of these young men before he had the time to build a substantial case against them. and, in a way, perhaps he had to. the climate seemed to demand it.

what if i say u lie?

what might have happened if allegations of rape had been found to be quite obviously true, and nifong had paid little attention? what if he had treated it like any other case? i'd venture to guess that we would have had an even bigger problem on our hands. i am not suggesting that we start at 0-0, and move from there. perhaps when considering the other options, it was better--albeit unethical-- to make such public assertions, and then end up being very wrong. then again, i do not advocate moving from a (subconsious) place of guilt. that is just as disturbing as someone standing in utter disbelief because of an inability to insulate a loved one from the possibility of actually having to prove their case.

i do not end this exploration by saying we forget about history. however, i think this may serve as an instance where attempting to overcompensate for past wrongs distracted one from being (socially) responsible, and that does a disservice to everyone. now, maybe that many more women will choose not to come forward with rape charges, and media programs will continue to suggest that we tacitly support a reinstatement of white privilege. so then, i'm suggesting that with history in mind, we act more prudently. my point, if i have one, is that in this instance, the politically correct white guilt is not the antidote for white privilege. we have, in fact, created an environment that demands radical behavior on both sides in order to awaken us from our numb state. and, because these things must happen quickly, it is not until much later that we realize that perhaps we've rallied around a cause that has many more problems than we initially conceived. as a result we become even more weakened and numb.

perhaps we should listen to mrs. dubose, and proceed from there.

please access another experience.


language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison

Saturday, January 20, 2007


"omnipotent administrators...are generally considered... weak, delicate, and effeminate, with the affectations of demonstrative homosexuals. the serfs and peasants are...physically strong, sturdy, hearty, fecund--'supermasculine.'" --e. cleaver, soul on ice

*note: omnipotent administrators-- white men

(take a hint from your own picture, ike.)

i just can't believe all the things people say...

(don't know who to begin your essay? try an anecdote.)

the first time anyone ever called me a nigger, i was eight years old. though they had married in january, my mother and stepfather took their honeymoon in the summer of 1988, and my grandmother was put in charge of my sister and me. one day, we headed to the big lots at southgate plaza, a shopping center on the south side of fort wayne, indiana near many black--and white--neighborhoods. as we walked towards the store, i noticed a young white boy sitting on the hood of what was presumably his parents' car; i could see who i assumed to be his father through the dirty windshield, sitting in the driver's seat. the boy, undoubtedly younger than i, lay on the hood, in black sneakers and shorts, and shouted towards us, "hey, you niggers!" my grandmother instructed my sister and me to ignore him, and ushered us into the store.

my second brush with racist banter was a few years later at camp potawatomi. this time it was a bit more insidious, subtle. my parents had sent my stepsister and me there for a week during the summer between my fifth and sixth grade year. one day, the camp counselors instructed us to return to our cabins and clean up a little, as we would be having guests at the campsite. as my white friend and i trudged back to our cabin from the dining hall (funny. i guess i've always had a one white girl quota.), we complained about having to get cleaned up (as well as two young campers could) for a group of potential strangers. after i said something to the effect of, "we don't even know who these people are," she replied, "yeah, i mean, they could be black or something." realizing, albeit too late, that her eleven year old compatriot was black, my friend immediately apologized for her remark. outside of mumbling, "it's ok," i didn't say much after that.

i was twenty-three the first time anyone ever called me a dyke.

an ex-girlfriend and i were in my car, heading back to hyde park after having a sunday night dinner on the north side of chicago. it was a relatively pleasant summer evening, and as we drove south on lake shore drive, my then-girlfriend leaned over from the passenger's side, and kissed me. just as she did this, i noticed the headlights of the car behind me moving out of my rearview, and into my driver's side mirror. the driver sped up, and as they passed us, the black woman in the passenger's side of the car leaned her head and chest out of the car window, and yelled "dykes!" i went cold. my girlfriend, having neither seen nor heard the utterance, questioned my sudden change in mood. i didn't tell her. i couldn't.

what i remember most about that summer evening four years ago was my response. i was as silent, as shocked, as nervous, as confused, and as numb as i had been when i was eight and eleven. i often suggest that sometimes someone can say something to you so insensitive, so racially charged that you are shocked into silence. i think about the time a fellow student in an english class sought me out to talk about how she had the greatest fried chicken and collard greens during her trip to the southside of chicago as an example of this; weeks later she would take it upon herself to add her version of "negro dialect" to a story i'd written about an obviously middle class black family. yet i was just as upset when a black woman--who had gazed into the privacy of my car-- screamed a homophobic epithet at me. and it is with this that i think of isaiah washington.

am i black or white? am i straight or gay?

during a post golden globe awards interview last monday night, isaiah washington re-opened a wound which had barely formed a scab by opening his mouth--again. if goading grey's anatomy co-star, t.r. knight into coming out wasn't enough, washington reaggravated an already tender situation by taking media bait. last october, when he and patrick dempsey got into a scuffle on the set of t.v.'s most watched show, an angry washington called knight a faggot; soon after, knight confirmed his homosexuality. during the backstage interview, however, washington grabbed the microphone and said to reporters, "no, i did not call t.r. a faggot. never happened, never happened." maybe he should've taken my grandmother's advice.

what appalls me more than washington's ignorant comment(s), or his hubristic demeanor while saying it, isn't the apparently insincere apology/ies that have followed, but the lack of an uproarious response. you know, those ones we see when someone has been done a supreme injustice. we haven't had one of those since, well, michael richards.

life is just a game. we're all just the same...

it should be noted here that i do not entirely agree that the fight for gay equality can be nicely mapped onto blacks' fight for civil rights in this country. i also don't necessarily believe that michael richards' outburst, and washington's homophobic remarks are unproblematically analogous--richards seemed out of control, while washington remained coolly arrogant; richards adamently denied being a racist, while both of washington's "my bads" never disaffirmed him being a homophobe (has anyone called him a homophobe?); to my knowledge washington has yet to go on a repentent award tour to beg forgiveness. these differences aside, the most obvious similarity is that both men employed terms, epithets in a way that meant to demean and disrespect a person or a group of persons who have historically been denied equal rights. for the most part, however, the commonality stops there. and this is what bothers me most.

when michael richards appeared on the jesse jackson radio show after his meltdown, he again profusely apologized for his behavior, and claimed not to be a racist. jackson took this moment as an opportunity to advocate for the retirement of the word nigger. i vehemently disagree with jackson and others who believe this word should be outlawed, and it's not because i use the word (you know, "nigga") at least twice a day. i've argued before that there is a paucity of language when it comes to race, especially when discussing the topic in our politically correct obsessed culture. part of my problem with the film crash was the seeming eloquence of the characters. there is no surplus of words when it comes to discussing race in america--it's either racist, or it's not. and for jackson and others to propose "outlawing" the term is, to me, the support of removing a word from an already anemic lexicon, thereby further inhibiting our ability to speak frankly, honestly, and constructively about the issue of race. and that's really irresponsible.

it seems to me, however, that i find no such problems when it comes to talking about (homo)sexuality. i could run through a litany of terms when speaking about homosexuality, whether i intend to constructively discuss, or invectively demean. (glaad has several glossaries of words and phrases to use and/or avoid when talking about sexuality.) let's see: dagger, faggot, dyke, fudgepacker, fruity, tuna face (a new one i heard), liquor license; or: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transexual, queer, same gender loving, questioning. etc. etc. though i am glad--and often perplexed--by the compendium of terms one has access to in order to define or describe one's sexuality--if one chooses to define it, that is--i suggest that the surplus of language available to us is also the result of an intolerant, homophobic culture. the more racially accepting we appear to be, the more certain words--i'm thinking particularly of the not so nice ones, here--have fallen away. yet, because we by and large implicitly support a homophobic society, we have the words to articulate both sides of the issue. thus, washington remains--as of now--a cast member of t.v.'s highest rated show.

people call me rude. i wish we were all nude. i wish there was no black and white. i wish there were no rules.

as i've said above, one cannot always insert "gay" where one might place "african american." as a general rule, one does not have to "come out" as black; no one asks you to fill in your sexual orientation on a scantron sheet. however, i think it no stretch to suggest that if t.r. knight had been black, and washington white, there would not have been another opportunity for washington to display his arrogance, because he would have been written off of the show. (not that i'm suggesting that as a viable solution to this problem.) and this troubles me.

what's more troubling, however, is that washington is part of the most diverse television series airing right now. in this post-"i have a dream" united states, grey's anatomy boasts three african americans, a korean canadien (is that "right"?), a mexican american, and at least one gay person, despite the fact that the drama is set in, ironically, seattle, washington, the second whitest major city in america. the show was created by shonda rhimes, someone--an anomaly, perhaps-- who has shown that in order to succeed in hollywood, one need not have to create something, well, black.

what's more ironic, is that washington's remarks were said with the backdrop of the martin luther king jr. holiday. it's well noted that during the latter part of her life, coretta scott king and her son, martin III extended "king's dream" to glbt(xyz)'s. further, the golden globes were, well, more diverse than most awards shows (with the exception of sports and music) have ever been. along with grey's and rhimes, winners included america ferrera, forest whitaker, eddie murphy, jennifer hudson, and dreamgirls, which was arguably a "black"(and "gay") movie. all that said, it was after this awards show, as t.v.'s most diverse cast stood together in the press room that isaiah washington helped represent how far we've come while simultaneously showing just how far we have to go.

and we have, it seems, given him a pass. after the "kramer incident," i couldn't keep up with the number of myspace bulletins either providing links to youtube so that one could see that ugly breakdown, or urls to commentary about the situation. yet, the tuesday after the golden globes, i saw not one bulletin on my homepage; most of my myspace "friends" are black, and a lot are gay. granted, i do not rely on myspace for cogent social commentary, but the silence on myspace, and the lack of uproar overall leaves me as speechless as i was when i was 8, 11, and 23.

perhaps the lack of response is the result of folk not watching post-show interviews. well, i have never set foot in the laugh factory, but via a shaky hand on a cell phone, i was able to witness michael richards repeat the word nigger on stage. there were hundreds of media in the press room that night, so access is not the reason for the silence surrounding isaiah washington and his glib use of the word faggot. perhaps it's simply not a battle most of us choose to fight. but injustice is injustice. i saw and talked to white people who were struck by richards' remarks, who took the opportunity to articulate that they were aghast at his behavior. if you want someone to stand for you when you're wronged, you have to stand up for others when they are. right now, we should all be gay. and we should still be muslims.

so, i say, if we are to be appalled and outraged at michael richards, then we should be even more outraged and appalled at isaiah washington. he did it twice. shame on us.

some people wanna die, so they can be free.

language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison

Sunday, January 14, 2007

thieves in the temple (or, i can do for you what martin did for the people**)

"no you won't be naming no buildings after me, to go down dilapidated." e. badu

love come quick.

maybe it's because i remember the way the cake tasted back when my school, martin luther king montessori, celebrated his birthday. or, perhaps it's because i won the martin luther king school essay contest--twice. (only to get beat out for the city title by this biracial kid--and yes, i contend that it was because he was biracial that his symptomatic ass won.) whatever the reason, other than jesus, martin luther king is probably my most favorite figure to write about. it's quite easy, you see, to be blasphemus about things sacred. people want to keep things sacred...maybe because preserving items, figures, etc. in such consecrated capsules doesn't compel one to think about them critically. i find that folks want to hear about mlk's philandering, and other domestic issues about as much as they want to know that part of alex haley's roots was plagiarized. thus, some of my blog's content has shocked a few. yet, i never did any of that stuff just to shock (ok, maybe i did.), but perhaps to goad a few into thinking-- would jesus really do that?

but this isn't about jesus, or my sacriligious tendencies. i'd rather talk about the king holiday.

love come in a hurry.

the question: at what point is an historical figure unequivocally recognized, and implicitly revered by the american people?

i did a little quick math in my head, and i just summed up that jesus is the pretty much the only guy who will get you a guaranteed day off of work. of the 10 or so federal holidays, only three recognize individuals--lincoln and washington et. al. have to share presidents' day. as far as i can remember, i had to go to school on both presidents' and columbus days. therefore, i suggest that when it comes to holiday importance, mlk ranks second only to jesus.

now, i'm too young to remember, but apparently there was a bit of controversy concerning making mlk's birthday a federal holiday. though rep. john conyers advocated the celebration of king's birthday as early as 1968, and jimmy carter supported a king day bill, it wasn't until the mid-1980s that the third monday in january was recognized in honor of king. though he later signed the bill, ronald reagan initially did not support the idea, and jesse helms did his best to oppose the decree by questioning whether or not king was important enough to have a holiday, and alleging that mlk was a communist. it wasn't until 2000 that all 50 states recognized the holiday; and last year, the final hold out--greenville county, south carolina-- finally relented and made it a paid holiday.

there are thieves in the temple tonight.

that said, i always had the feeling that mlk day was a sort of red-headed stepchild of federal holidays. initially, i thought that maybe it was out of obligation (white guilt, perhaps?), that we even celebrated. that if one had to choose between pressing snooze, or working that monday, one would still rather clock in at nine than honor the freedom ringer. but it was more than that; that explanation wasn't sufficient for me. my simple math shows that mlk is only second to jesus in the honoring category, so why did i feel that mlk day was being shortchanged? was it the lack of a televised parade? no. one could argue that a drive-by on an urban mlk blvd. was its own form of a parade. besides, minus the floats and high school bands, the third monday in january surely has all of the makings of a holiday: no mail, banks are closed, its own commercial--you know, that mcdonald's one with josephine baker's kids lighting all the candles.

we've already got the no work/no school thing ingrained in our system. and with a three day holiday, sunday night parties in honor of are definitely in order. they're catching on. just the other week, i picked up a couple of fliers for some parties. a dj i really like is spinning not too far from where i live, so i may check it out. lord knows those gospel celebrations and candlelight vigils are a bore, and thus necessitate a little late night boogie--how can i possibly let my shoulder lean to "we shall overcome"? (want to party with a conscience? just give it a title like, "our eyes are on the prize"--in this case the prize is a pair of go go dancers on either flank of the dj booth-- and donate a dollar per head to the united negro college fund or some other poor black kids, and make sure the dj plays stevie wonder's "happy birthday".) yet, we need something else to help the mlk holiday seep more deeply into the abyss of meaninglessness.

what's missing? why, a sale.

a holiday isn't a holiday until you can save 30% on linens. though i've seen one company have a sale, apparently my suggestion in a past blog hasn't caught on. nothing makes a holiday more fully integrated (pun intended) into the american fabric than something that makes people think they're saving money on housewares. and until this happens, until hallmark makes a line of cards, until payless airs b.o.g.o. commercials, until the local pub runs a drink special on alabama slammers, mlk day will just be something the government gave blacks to chew on to distract them from reparations.

previously, i suggested the "i have a dream mattress sale". here's another freebie: la-z-boy and the like should have a sit-in recliner sale. or, burger king could have a breakfast with the king special: free hasbrowns with a coffee purchase, and they'll add the cream for you. get it?

we already know this day no longer means anything to/for us, it's about time we start acting more like it. i saved big on towels, and plan to "walk it out" with some homies tonight. i'm doing my part, what about you?

blame my mother.

**lyrics from my favorite beyonce song, "upgrade u."

language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison