Tuesday, July 24, 2007

graffiti bridge

In her 1928 essay, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Zora Neale Hurston described the moment when she realized she was colored. At thirteen, when she was sent to Jacksonville, FL for school, she became, was "now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown--warranted not to rub nor run." This sort of rite of passage that Hurston described is juxtaposed to her previous, individual, southern self she had delineated earlier. Before the move to Jacksonville, Hurston described herself as someone moving through the world unconcerned with race. Part of this, I imagine, is dramatic hyperbole to prove a point; the other part, I'm sure, stems from the fact that Hurston grew up in Eatonville, an all-black Florida town. What struck me as I read this essay, however, is the way that Hurston assigns difference. She's unlike other black Southern writers, like her one-time nemesis Richard Wright (see: "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow"), in that she is not insistent upon racial difference--recall: she's not tragically colored-- but rather geographical difference. Therefore, a young Hurston pays no mind to white Southerners from other towns, nor they to her. Rather, the Northerners--apparently tourists-- who came through town in cars and were intrigued by the young girls gregariousness, are the outsiders of note. Hurston recalled that she would "go a piece of the way" with them, using the colloquialism to further emphasize linguistic difference based on geography to highlight her point. Hurston concludes that she only feels colored among whites; more importantly, she "feel[s]" her race while at Barnard "beside the waters of the Hudson." Again, Hurston marks geography to emphasize her ruminations on regional difference--Jacksonville is north of Eatonville. Almost thirty years later, Hurston wrote a letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel ("Court Order Can't Make Races Mix") expressing her disapproval of the Brown decision. She was more interested, it seemed, with the Supreme Court upholding the equal aspect of separate but equal. She had no desire for "forcible association."

I was reminded of Hurston and her positions on race and region last night when I finally buckled down and watched the CNN/YouTube Democratic Presidential Candidate debate. There was a very brief moment just after the two gentlemen from Tennessee asked their question about Al Gore's popularity that I found particularly telling. After Anderson Cooper asked if any of the candidates' feelings were hurt, Joe Biden replied, "I think the people of Tennessee just had their feelings hurt." Now, it is unlikely that anyone will mention that moment in their analysis of the debate; besides, Joe Biden has said stupid(er) things in the past. However, I think Biden's comment symbolizes what Democrats seemingly fail to recognize or remember: You can't be talking shit about the South if you're trying to win a Presidential election.

Legend has it that when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he told an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation." Now, I don't know if that's true or not, but if it is, LBJ was a soothsayer, because a northern Democrat ain't seen no parts of the Oval Office as President since. A generation spans, roughly, thirty or so years; 2007-1964 = 43. Of the three Democrats elected President, all were from the South (Jimmy Carter (GA); Bill Clinton (AR); Al Gore (TN)). Jimmy Carter's loss notwithstanding (but remember, he beat Ford, and Clinton beat Bush), every other Democratic candidate was from above the Mason-Dixon--Humphrey, Dukakis, Kerry. Maybe we need another generation.

I'm no political expert; I'm only mildly amused by the political actions of Washington. But as a voter who is just not fucking with the Republicans, I'm concerned with the possibility that my various theories on geographical tension, and chit chats with my homegirl, Rachel (a native ATLien) about similar subjects may actually play out come November 2008 if the Democrats don't get their act together. I began with the Hurston discussion not simply to again highlight region as an increasingly important marker of difference, but also to point out two things. First, we often use racial difference when it might better serve us to say regional difference (or South). (Admittedly, sometimes I just think of Negroes as displaced southerners.) Second, maybe the (white) South is not only still upset but perhaps still believes, if I may crudely paraphrase Gavin Stevens**, that they were always fighting to free Sambo themselves; acts like Brown and the CRA of 1964--although signed by a Southerner, he was a Texan-- were other manifestations of "northern aggression." In other words, (discourse on) race has continually been the way in which we've (de)valued the intellectual prowess and opinions of other Americans, and that value judgement not only reinscribes the symbolic resonance of the Mason-Dixon, but perpetually characterizes the Southerner as obtuse and uncultured. Unfortunately for the Biden-like Democrats, there are more of "them" than there are of "us." And they vote.

I'm not suggesting that every time a Southerner goes to vote she remembers LBJ, and casts a ballot for the elephants on some subconscious race shit. What I am suggesting, however, is that these Northern politicians really need to let up on the whole ignorant, backwards Southerner comments if they plan to get anywhere, because the only southern Democrat running for President right now is Johnny Reid Edwards, and it seems like the only thing he's gonna win is a beauty contest. Biden's comments prove that the idea of the South(erner) as provincial and agrestic, as a the geographical location of America's id, as a region that needs fixin' by the ostensibly cosmopolitan, urbane, more forward-thinking neighbors to the North (meaning: above, like better than) is one that continues to figure prominently 40 years later. If LBJ's words continue to prove true and recent history of presidential elections has established a trend, it's lights out for Biden, Obama, and Clinton (though her connection to Bill and Arkansas may help)--no matter what the numbers say. Unless, of course, they're strategic in addressing this rather subtle issue.

I hope, however, that we are so fed up with the antics of the current administration that whoever we elect brings about profound, positive change. Go slow, now.**

**Despite the break-up, Faulkner still haunts me.


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

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

we march

A smidge over two years ago, I wrote an open letter to the NAACP. With the recent NAACP-sponsored funeral of the word nigga/nigger (I fucking hate the term n-word), I decided to repost the entry. Though the post was inspired by the 2005 NAACP annual convention, I think some of the stuff I wrote then works even now.

Put another way, I ain't have shit else to write about, so I'm putting this up.

Note: I, too, am appalled by my writing. In other words, I hope I've evolved.

niagara movement reconsidered: open letter #2

dear julian bond, bruce s. gordon, and (esteemed) leaders of the naacp:

let me begin by saying that i am not a member of your organization. never have been, probably never will be. now a generation ago, this might have been a mark of shame. but currently, i sort of wear this truth as a badge of honor--sort of like the literature i've never read though i claim to be a ph.d. student in english, but that's another story.

perhaps you are alarmed by such news. i mean, on one hand, i am your ideal member: i'm black, i have a couple post-secondary degrees under my belt, i'm in a ph.d. program. hell, one slip up and i am on my way to the black middle class. it's a slippery slope i tell you. yet despite my credentials, i have yet to fork over a dime to join your organization. granted, i abhor (the idea of) organizations, and i am also a young person, a member of the hip hop generation if you will. so on one hand, this isn't surprising. yet on the other, i'm a shit-talking marginalized subject getting screwed by da man each and every day. so it would make some sort of sense that i'd be attracted to an organization with your legendary track record.

but as i recalled that your annual convention was being held this week not too far from me, i started thinking to me my hot self (myself be so hot), "remind me, summer m,"--that's what i call myself when i'm thinking to myself, summer m.-- "why do you loathe this group again?" granted, i could have told myself that i am not a member because you say the same shit every year. (how many times can you rip dubya a new one with the same speech, mr. bond? he still ain't coming to speak to you. and neither is vicente fox for that matter. shit, i'm not coming to speak to you and i love to procrastinate.) but i didn't. i problematized myself right there in my car, and i came to the realization: the reason why folks like dubya, fox, me, etc. no longer give the naacp the time of day is because you've lost a bit of your pull, your clout so to speak.

consequently, i decided not to simply point out the problem, but to offer you all some really concrete and tangible suggestions. you all--the naacp, that is-- have an image problem. everyone has to switch up their image every now and then to stay (so) fresh (and so clean, clean!). (remember when aunt jemima got a perm?) you haven't evolved with the times. and so i, summer m., self-appointed (un)official voice of 'the race,' have compiled some suggestions to help you mount a comeback bigger than the tragic moolatte of the moment, mariah carey.

might i suggest:

1. switching up your letters: let's be real, here. naacp is sooooo 1909. there are, like 22 other letters in the alphabet you've yet to use. besides, if you're going to have an acronym of that length, one should really be able to pronounce it like a legitimate word. i think these letters are totally expendable. i mean, if you asked a person what naacp stood for, would they know? exactly. just off the cuff, n.i.g.g.a., j.i.g.a.b.o.o., or c.o.t.t.o.n are some acronyms you might try on for size.

2. getting a motto: what's an organization without a motto? exactly. a wack one. i think a brainstorming session with some of your young, creative minds might be just the trick to come up with a new slogan. you all really need to be edgier. get raw. come up with a tagline that shows you're not the middle class bitches (maybe our friend 50 cent would call you wankstas...so seductive!) everyone says you are. here's a few to get you all started (i'll use your current acronym until you come up with another one):

--naacp: strictly for my niggas
--naacp: too sexy to be lynched
--naacp: yo' mama!
--naacp: step 'n' fetch this!
--naacp: big black africa coming back for that white ass!
--naacp: se habla espanol
--naacp: slavery chains were the first bling

3. getting a new theme song: let's be honest here, nobody knows all three verses to the black national anthem, 'lift every voice and sing' (there are three, right?). in fact, how many people know there's a black national anthem? i say you get all the hot black stars out now, and get the neptunes and kanye west to produce the track. sure, some rappers might end up shooting each other, but i guarantee bongos, a sped up sample, and the nigga pharrell on falsetto (see these ice creams?).

4. going the television route: what gives you more exposure than a television show? that's right. nothing. since you all are busy in milwaukee, wi with the convention and all, i've come up with a few suggestions you might pitch to television execs when things slow down. you kill two birds with one stone with this one. 1) you get more black people on tv. 2) your organization gets more exposure. what about:

--extreme makeover: voter registration booth
--fabulous life of: black democrats
--name that racist! (a game show, of course)
--pimp my freedom ride
--black america's next top leader (reality tv, fa'sho; i'm positive barack obama, russell simmons, jesse jackson, the rev. al, and jay-z are great candidates)

5. other suggestions: here are some other things that have been successful for people as of late:

--an energy drink. nelly has pimp juice, lil jon has crunk, why can't kool-aid become the official drink of the naacp?
--a new mascot. a slave rocking a bullet proof vest and some iced out chains, perhaps?
--get sexy in crisis magazine. from the jet beauty of the week to xxl's eye candy, everybody has a scantily clad black female centerfold nowadays. you can even make sure they're actual members, too. the act-so awards might be a great place to start looking for possible 'models.'
--sell to viacom.
--date katie holmes.

anyway, i hope this helps. if you use any of these ideas and credit me, i'll become a lifetime member. promise.

summer m., self-appointed (un)official voice of 'the race'

that other time i talked about nigga: call my name

open letter#1


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

Monday, July 09, 2007

nothing compares 2 u

Despite my television addiction, I don't regularly watch BET. Call it a socially conscious activist gesture on my part, but I essentially prefer gayer channels--like Bravo. I do tune in every now and again, however, just to make sure that the folks at black entertainment are still producing coonery that continues to be both humorless and unentertaining even for lovers of Jim Crow-esque diversions like myself. They never disappoint; the BET Awards were no anomaly. Though Beyonce provided even more evidence that she will probably be known as the greatest performer of this era--she got bodied, and sang live--as expected, everything else was rather mediocre. 50 Cent, who is slowly turning himself into the next lip-licking LL Cool J with each wifebeater he dons, couldn't possibly grab his dick and rap a verse simultaneously; Chaka Khan decided to scream rather than actually learn the words to a Diana Ross song; and Mo'Nique was, well, Mo'Nique. And, please don't get me started on the way black awards shows expose the low level of literacy of many of these stars. Let's just say that some of these niggas need the Fantasia Barrino correspondence course.

Though I often just had to turn away to avoid jumping in the bathtub and attempting to scrub away my blackness a la a random biracial character in some filmic or literary narrative, I did happen to see commercials promoting BET's "July Jump-off," which highlights some of the new and upcoming original programming. One of these programs is Baldwin Hills, which follows affluent black teenagers living in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. Baldwin Hills (also known as "Pill Hill"--because many doctors lived in the area-- the Golden Ghetto, and the Black Beverly Hills) is one of the wealthiest black neighborhoods in the country. Despite that, you can still just drive over the hill and hit Crenshaw--or, the 'hood. You got it: it's a black market version of Laguna Beach.

I will suspend pursuing a conversation that considers why Baldwin Hills was chosen, and not, perhaps, some affluent all-black suburb in, maybe, the Atlanta-area. Rather, I simply want to mention that I think that choice may point to a broader, maybe more deliberate reminder that BET's "original programming" will continue to reflect its position as Viacom's black sheep. But just to note: (implicitly) as the teenagers of Laguna Beach are sequestered from all forms of poverty and violence, the nigs of Baldwin Hills are a short walk from a drive-by. You do the math.

The BET Awards, College Hill, and segments of Baldwin Hills all look like low-budget, knock-off versions of their MTV counterparts. If MTV is Jurassic Park, BET is Land of the Lost (the 1974 version). Not that I really care--like I said, I don't really watch BET. However, I just want to highlight what I think is a more important point: that the "black versions" of things implicitly mean lesser than, and that fact is continually reified in our popular culture. And so, even as Reginald Hudlin graces the pages of The New York Times, certain aspects of product he represents continue to look like a bootleg. Why, then, must the complexity of black life this original programming seems to yearn to show be a rather mediocre copy of something else? Further, at what point did black entertainment, and "artistic" output (necessarily) become a simulacrum of a simulacrum (or something like that)? Has our cultural capital gone from being worth a dime to the dollar to simply bankrupt?

That said, I suppose if you want your Viacom-sponsored coonery in Hi-Def, you gotta watch Vh1. Right, Flav?

That is all.


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

Friday, July 06, 2007

sum n saf -- divinely inspired

Our arms might be short, but Sum-n-Saf will talk about God--or, God's creations. After satisfying Sum's negroid desire for yardbird, and Tummy's (Saf's unborn "seed") yearning for waffle fries at the Beachwood Mall Chick-Fil-A, the illest dynamic duo since Amos and Andy (fuck what ya heard, Rob and Big) came up with this divinely inspired list. Maegs might not be Catholic anymore, but we're pretty sure witnessing us comprise this sent her straight to confession. Rumor has it she's still saying Hail Mary. (Come with me!!!!)

Sum-n-Saf Present:

God’s Biggest Hits

Chicken – for its versatility

Pussy – for its reliability

Satan – 'cause MFs fuck with him hard

Oprah – 'cause when an ugly black girl from Mississippi
born in abject poverty comes out like her, God is Good
(all the time)

White women – unless you’re OJ

Marijuana – perhaps the biggest hit (haha)

Miscegenation (at least I’m glad my Africa got diluted
out this bitch)

The Bible (bigger than “Thriller”)

Cockroaches (engineered to last)

(That's 9 hits. What a divine number, nigga.)

God’s Biggest Flops

Dinosaurs – 'cause where are those niggas?

The o-zone layer – 'cause if anything needed to be
tamper-free …

Menopause, vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, and
premature ejaculation – none of that shit is raw. Well, I guess some of it is. (Hint: vaginal dryness)

The Ten Commandments – Name 7 out of 10, and we'll give you a dollar.

Native Americans and their comrades, the buffalo – need we explain this?

Africa – ibid.

The ability (of most people) to procreate – 'cause some niggas just shouldn't be allowed to reproduce.

(That's 7 flops, 'cause that's how many "days" it took the big G to make this world we're destroying. And we're doing a big bang up job of it, too.)

Until next time, this has been the Sum-n-Saf Half.


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

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Generally, I'm mildly suspicious and dismissive of hip hop cover songs. And by hip hop cover songs, I mean to include hip hop remakes of hip hop songs (e.g. Snoop Dogg's cover of Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick's, "La Di Da Di"), hip hop covers of songs from other genres (such as The Fugees', "Killing Me Softly"), and musicians of other genres reworking rap songs (Tori Amos' version of Eminem's "Bonnie and Clyde '97," for example). I've only appreciated less than a handful of these covers. Only one, for instance, immediately comes to mind: Tricky's cover of Public Enemy's, "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," which is kind of dope. Then again, I lightweight fuck with Tricky. I should briefly shout out that I have a rather mercurial and tepid love for the above mentioned Fugees joint. Despite my unending appreciation for Lauryn Hill, Wyclef's "One time!" irks me only slightly less than that "911" duet with MJB. (Feel my body gettin' colllld!!). Besides, the original track is haunting, and more appropriate to the lyrical content; Roberta Flack's voice is like warm milk. (At least, I'm assuming it's like warm milk. I've never had warm milk, but it seems hella soothing...) My dismissive shoulder shrug towards such music aside, I succombed to a paroxysm of musical delight when I heard Marco Polo's, "Relax" featuring J*Davey. It's sex on vinyl (or cd, or mp3). A cover of A Tribe Called Quest's, "Electric Relaxation," the track appears as bonus material on Marco Polo's 2007 debut, Port Authority (Rawkus), and I wanted to smoke a cigarette after hearing a 30 second sample.

I should note here that I find "ER" to be a near-perfect hip hop song. Part of my argument for its flawlessness is based on the incredible sampling of Ronnie Foster's, "Mystic Brew." It compelled me to seek out the original tracks groups like Tribe were using in their songs. As a result, I discovered and fell in love with artists such as Bill Withers, Roy Ayers, and Steely Dan. I suppose at one time hip hop could inspire a genuine appreciation for music, but I digress.

Anyway, after the Tribe sampled Foster, several other artists used it, including Freeway and Allen Anthony ("Alright"), Madlib ("Mystic Bounce"), and Rell and Kanye West ("Real Love"). But outside of West's "Electric Relaxation '03"--whose wackness I refuse to discuss here--most of my re-encounters with the Foster have been copies of the Tribe track under a different set of lyrics. Except, of course, until a few days ago when Ms. Rhodes referred me to the Marco Polo. She'd heard it previously, and was trying to track it down to play on her show, Playground. (Really, folks, if you're not fucking with KCRW on a regular basis you have way less cool points than you think you do.) She forwarded me a preview of the track, and a coital-like bliss commenced as soon as I heard Miss Jack Davey's voice.

A word about J*Davey. They will not be following "Get Me Bodied" in the set of any radio show--not even my imaginary one. (Don't get it twisted. I pat my weave and Naomi Campbell walk with the best of 'em.) I have only heard them, again, on KCRW. Aptly self-described as the black Eurythmics, their sound is so ill, not only because that's exactly what it is--ill--but, more broadly, because they show that black music (if we want to call it that), is so much more than what Viacom, Clear Channel, the BET Awards, or rent-a-car commercials imply it is. That said, if it wasn't for J*Davey, I would have probably ignored this joint. It's MJD's voice that gets your knickers moist. It's sexy. And I don't mean sexy in the Frito Lay Barry White (RIP) backed by the Love Unlimited Orchestra way, or even in the let me talk to you while I stroke my bass 'cause all daggers love me Meshell Ndegeocello manner. MJD's voice isn't even raspy, smoky, sultry, or deep. But there's sex in it. And because of that, "ER" evolves from some Queens young men grabbin' crotch and hollerin' via shit talkin' (in a really incredible way), to a grown ass woman coming for what she wants. Essentially, she got the goods--like Madeline Woods.

Admittedly, I may just be caught the fuck up on J*Davey, and hearing them over one of my favorite tracks might have simply made me temporarily lose what's left of my fragile mind. In fact, I'm still contemplating making copies of a mixtape I made, and passing it out to people because I think they should have it. It features the Foster, ATCQ, Marco Polo f/ J*Davey, the above-mentioned Madlib, and a "Mystic Brew" interlude I found. Excuse me while I go put that playlist on repeat.

Get some cool points:
Playgound (disguised as Pangea)

PS: If you dig any of this shit, let the powers that be know you do.


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