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unblissful ignorance

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In one of the most impressive manifestations of ignorance I have encountered in quite some time, Ron Artest explained that his charging into the stands was just him “representing his culture.” He then went on to say that Yao Ming has played with black players before, but has never played with “a black player who represents his culture as much as Artest does his.”

It is precisely this type of dumb shit that makes it harder and harder for black people to break free of the stereotypes that still plague us today. Not only do black people have to deal with stereotypes being imposed on us by those of other races, we also have to deal with ignorant blacks in positions of prominence perpetuating them. With these statements, Artest has essentially cast black culture in this county as one of perniciousness, lack of decorum, and emotional instability.

I guess I shouldn’t really be using the term “we” because those who know me, know that I am straight out of Cameroon, and am not African American. One of my African-American friends called me on this and said I was trying to distance myself from the African-American population; because when I told him about this, I said “Man, Artest just set African-Americans back quite a few decades.” I found this funny because it has typically been my experience that African-Americans only view us all as black people, when shit is hitting the fan or when something like this happens. I’m pretty sure I got made fun of (to my face) more by African-Americans than by any other group I could think of growing up. Made fun of mostly because I spoke differently, dressed differently, and thought differently. Let’s not even get into what happened once they found out I was African, then all the jokes about growing up with flies on my eyelids, running around naked, and throwing spears came out. I understand kids are mean, and frankly it didn’t really get to me, because I have a pretty strong apathetic sentiment when it comes to what others think of me; but all that time from my youth being reminded of how different I was, now I’m being accused of trying to distance myself.

I really do find it a bit risible. Ron Artest is ghetto, not only should I separate myself from him and his thoughts, EVERY black person in America should. This is a problem that is extremely pervasive in black America today; this idea that being “ghetto” or “hood” is a good thing. No it’s not, it’s in fact what keeps black people (I’m including the Africans that come over and adopt this ideology) from ever fully making the move out of second-class citizenry. Think about what being ghetto is; has anyone yet to find ONE positive or redeeming factor on society from people with a ghetto mentality? But yet we have guys like Artest (yes, I’ll say it, who young black kids look up to) purporting this idea of ghetto as if it’s something to be proud of.

As long as WE as a whole keep thinking that somehow being well educated, well adjusted and affable are just for white people, we as black people are going to be a long ways off from overcoming in this country. So yes, I’m not like Ron Artest, and I’m proud of that; but what must be noted is that I didn’t create the distance, it was created for me, and I can’t be more grateful.

Written by misteressama

August 6, 2008 at 1:11 am

Posted in Society, Sports

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salty nuts

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Maybe somebody can help me understand this. Snickers just recently pulled an ad because certain gay rights groups have come out and vocalized their displeasure with the advertisement. Watch it below, then continue reading.

Get Some Nuts! MMM!

Here is what I think is key to note; at no point are we ever explicitly told this guy is gay. What I think is interesting is that if you really think about it, gay rights groups are actually making all the assumptions, and invoking all the negative stereotypes of gay men, that they’ve been trying to dispel for all this time. Think about it, Mr. T is essentially calling the speed walker effeminate, right? Ok, but hasn’t part (a large part, I thought) of the gay rights movement been to dispel the stereotypes that gay men are characterized by effeminate behavior? I always believed that being gay was simply an issue of sexual orientation; it didn’t mean that you necessarily acted a certain way, dressed a certain way, or spoke a certain way. They simply prefer same sex partners, but for all other facets of life, they are just like you and me. So, it strikes me as a bit counterintuitive, when I see a man power walking down the street, and it is a gay rights group that assumes that he is gay.

I thought the idea was to move to an area where we were not making judgments of people’s sexual orientation simply because of stereotypes. Essentially this gay rights group is saying, “This guy must be gay, because he’s doing something that is traditionally viewed as effeminate.” Yet, were a straight man to say that, that would be pretty ignorant. My question is, what if the speed walker is straight? Then what? Actually, let’s take it one step further, since the politically correct stance to take is that gay men can be and often are just as masculine as straight men, what if Mr. T is gay? We have no way of knowing if it is never explicit. You can make all the arguments about the “suggestive-ness” of the ad, but when groups are out there to dispel stereotypes, they can ill-afford to make critical errors like this where they jump to the conclusion that one would only arrive at by employing those very same stereotypes.

I, for one, happen to believe that there are gay men out there who do not think speed walking is at all manly, and I also believe that there are straight men out there who enjoy speed walking. This is a keen example of how even those who think they’re doing a service, could actually be guilty of the very behavior they’re trying to quell. This is just like when the women’s student group at my law school wants to raise money (presumably to undertake further programming to help and support the idea of women in law school)…and then they have a bake sale.

I’m as progressive as they come, but I think people still get wound up about the wrong things sometimes. If you ask me, I really don’t think the theme of this commercial was all that bad, but then again, I’m not gay, and am not going to make it a habit of speaking for groups to which I do not belong. Truthfully, I thought what the real controversy would have been over was B.A. Barackus dropping a “cracker!” near the end, and/or the new slogan Snickers is unveiling, “Get some nuts!”

Written by misteressama

July 26, 2008 at 5:33 am

“a drop of coffee in a cup of cream”

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I had a pretty deep conversation with a friend of mine last night at the bar. I don’t remember the conversation word for word but I can convey the essence of it because it really struck me. Just to get some background out of the way; I am black (African, not African American), my friend is white (your standard Caucasian Anglo-Franco-Saxon mix), his great grandfather was a grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan (don’t hold it against my friend, he couldn’t do anything about it), he was born and raised in a small town in the Midwest, his best friend from undergrad is demographically similar to me (African nationality, raised in upper-upper middle class America).

The conversation started with my friend leaning over to me and wanting me to make sure I understood that he has no problem with people of color, despite his great grandfather’s “involvement” in the KKK. He felt the need to do this because after finding out about his great grandfather, I cracked a couple (OK, more than a couple) of jokes about it, and he was feeling as though I was looking at him differently (pretty much, he thought that I now thought him to be a bigot, once I found out about his g.grandfather). He went on to say that it wouldn’t be fair for me to judge him as such, because he had nothing to do with that, that was his g.grandfather’s choice, not his. I reassured my friend that I don’t make it a habit to judge the people around me, let alone on the actions of ancestors they’ve never met. If I did, let’s face it, I wouldn’t have any white friends; and I don’t mean that as a purposeful indictment of all white people past, present and future, I’m just saying, if I cut out all my white friends with racist relatives, my friend pool would probably shrink more than I’d like to imagine.

He later went on to tell me about his friend from undergrad (who also I know, but not as well) and how he felt for him because he was “not black enough for most black Americans, but also not a regular white kid.” I told him that is an experience I know too well and that there was no need to explain it to me. My friend said despite all the sympathy he felt for the social quandary people like myself and his friend from undergrad find ourselves in, he still wonders to himself sometimes whether we make too big a deal of it, or whether that really is a problem. I told him that I really could not explain that phenomenon to him, it’s one of those things you either experience in your life, or you don’t. How was I going to explain to a middle class, Christian, white male how it feels to not really have a group you identify with in this country? Are there any words I could have used to explain to him what it feels like when 99% percent of the people who look like you don’t see the world AT ALL like you, and essentially disavow you? And how 99% of the people around you, even though they may think like you, don’t look AT ALL like you, and for that reason think you’re too different, thus they keep you at a distance. Is there any way I can convey to him the sense of patronization you feel when you here a white female say “I date black guys,” as if it’s some feat of courage or something she should be commended for? There are really no words for that, and that’s what I told him. It’s an experience that some of us cannot escape, and the rest of you will never fully grasp.

I said to my friend “When you look at me, the way I dress (the Brooks Brothers and Thomas Pink meet cashmere sweaters, dark jeans and Steve Madden shoes), the way I speak (vast vocabulary, east coast prep school cadence [don’t worry, I’m public school educated], and just a hint of pedantism), you probably wouldn’t even really call me black would you?” Not sensing what he was being baited into, he answered “No, I wouldn’t.” That was the closest I could come to explaining it to him. I pointed out to him that perhaps the reason he has been able to get close to me is that he doesn’t really see as a black man anymore (aka, I no longer make him uncomfortable); an initial barrier that does not exist between himself and “regular white kids” to use his phraseology. What that translates to is a process where black people such as myself (ahem…Obama) have to demonstrate that they are “safe, clean, and on your side” to whites before they are “accepted.” However, as the difference we’re talking about is phenotypic, it is always at the forefront of how people view you. As if being black entails something other than the color of your skin.

Let’s be clear on one thing though; it’s not just white people who are guilty of this. African Americans are notorious for the same thing. That’s why you’ve got instances with exploitative opportunists like Jesse Jackson saying that Barack Obama is not black enough. This is the Jesse Jackson who “prays for” Michael Vick, who vehemently asserted that R. Kelly was being “persecuted” because he was black, and who will, a priori, defend a crackhead stripper claiming she was raped before he even knows what happens, all because to Jesse Jackson, that’s what it means to be black. This is the Jesse Jackson who calls for people to stop buying Seinfeld DVDs because Michael Richards called hecklers at one of his stand-up routines “niggers,” yet turns right around and uses the word in his diatribe against Barack Obama…but that’s neither here nor there, the point is, it’s not just sheltered Midwest whites like my friend who think that way.

My friend told me about how he also cannot get over the feelings of unfairness, at the opportunities for advancement that people like myself and his friend from school are given. He told me that to him, it just doesn’t seem right that kids like us who come from “affluent” backgrounds (by affluent he meant families with more money than his) are afforded greater opportunities (e.g. given bigger scholarships, get into better schools…yada, yada, yada). I see where my friend is coming from with that, because at the end of the day, it’s not his fault that people of color in this country are where they are (now his g.grandfather on the other hand…[chuckle] sorry I couldn’t resist). Just like it’s not his fault that many people of color are in the position they’re in, there are (have been and will continue to be) generations of whites benefiting from their ancestors’ exploitations of people of color; generations who have known nothing but privilege and luxury, who never had to work for it. What my friend doesn’t understand is, those of us he’s referring to, children of color who grew up with all the fiscal advantages of upper middle class or upper class America, are so little in number, that it is wholly negligible. It’s just that he sees it every day because he’s friends with two of us (which is almost all of us), so he thinks it’s rampant. One need look no further than the first image that will pop into your head in two seconds after you read the term “token.” That tells you everything you need to know.

People like myself, besides being one of my favorite Timbaland songs (p.s. what did ever happen to Magoo?), cause quite a stir considering that, numerically, we’re just a drop of coffee in a cup of cream [I hope that wasn’t lost on you]. It should not be overlooked why, being a black male in America has opened doors for me during my formative educational years, it is because so many others get chewed up and spit out by the iniquities of their circumstances, that when social policy sees an opportunity to help, appropriate programs are designed and implemented. The fact that I was raised in an affluent suburb (not because my family has money, but because my parents were willing to make the immense financial sacrifices) combined with the color of my skin means that I belong to the felicitous few who benefit from programming and policies aimed at reversing what has been an ugly, untidy history of racism, segregation, disenfranchisement and subjugation of people of color in this country. Though my educational advancement may seem unfair to many, consider what’s going to happen when I get out; I will go right back to being a black man in America, and the period of my life where that could have ever meant something advantageous will be over. Whereas for my friend, being a white man in America never gets tired; it means he’s got the biggest, baddest (I know that’s not really the superlative of ‘bad,’) interest group on the planet at his back, Congress.

This issue is just a part of the larger intricate entanglement that is “Race in America.” And I, for one, think that it’s never going to progress in this country unless we have what my friend and I were able to have last night, an open, honest, RESPECTFUL, non-confrontational dialogue about the concept of race and its impact on our society.

For your contemplation (If you have 9 minutes to kill, you should check this out, the production is a bit cheesy, but listen to the message…and really think about it)

Written by misteressama

July 20, 2008 at 11:37 pm

double entendre

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Is rap the problem? No, not per se. Rap music has been taking a lot of shots about its content and messages in recent years. The (commercial) rappers and rap labels say it’s only entertainment, while all the social activists say that it is singlehandedly responsible for the moral decay we are witnessing in this country. What we have here, is a failure to communicate…[sorry, I’ve always wanted to say that]. What we have here, is what is often the case when you have two [pretty ignorant/self-serving] factions so diametrically opposed to one another and so extreme in their views, they’re both wrong.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, let me say; modern commercial rap sucks. Let me also, in the interest of full disclosure say; it can [with less effort than I’d care to admit] be found on my iPod (or is it in my iPod?). Either way, point is often times the shit you hear on the radio is some of the worst drivel anyone could put together, but gyyoooddamn the beat is catchy. This fuels the self-ordained moral center’s unchecked criticism of rap as a genre and has also led to the coining of cute colloquialisms like “you can’t spell ‘crap’ without ‘rap’!” and “God, I hate black people!” But really, rap has no others to blame but itself. There’s really not a whole lot of rap you can be proud of on the radio. I’m sorry, I’m being presumptuous; if you are in fact proud of the lyrical and creative talents of “artists” such as Souljaboytell’em (understand that, his name is actually Souljaboytell’em…there might have even been a ‘.com’ at the end), Young Joc and Flo’Rida, then you are more than happy with the status quo. Other than Common, Nas, and occasionally The Roots and Talib, there really isn’t ever anything worth defending on the radio. But you know, I think I’m even conceding too much with The Roots and Talib, because you rarely hear them on the radio. I wrote this partially because, just today I found “Rising Down” [an album The Roots released earlier this year] and didn’t remember hearing a single from it on the radio. So what that means is the label probably didn’t push it and DJs probably didn’t see fit to play it on their own. Granted, this might be because I don’t listen to the radio, but then someone explain to me how I know that Souljaboy just got his report card, got all F’s, took it to the teacher’s desk, and asked her to throw some Ds on that bitch [all proverbial I hope].

Now most of these guys will say, they’re just expressing themselves and that it’s just entertainment. This is where I disagree with most of these commercial rappers. They are not representing themselves, they are representing what sells. Now I know it would not be a legitimate blog about the impact of rap music in America if I didn’t quote the hackneyed truism that “80% of rap albums are purchased by white people between the age of 18 and 34.” Most people, myself included, always just took it as true. However, the WSJ had a piece recently where they got information from MRI (the organization that collects these statistics) for 1995, 1999 and 2001. According to WSJ, those figures floated between 70 and 75 percent for all three of those years. So I guess that quote above did come from somewhere, (I thought someone just made it up, as is the case with most69% of phrases in which people quote statistics). More than any other industry, the record industry is all about how much you sell, and not the “quality” of what you sell. So when I hear these rappers say that they are just rapping about their experiences, I say “bullshit.” Most of these guys DON’T tote the assault weapons they claim to. Most of these guys are STILL ass broke, which is funny considering everyone is rapping about just how much precipitate they can conjure up with all their stacks of high society. Most of these guys DON’T have rap sheets anywhere near as long or diversified as they claim. Most of these guys LOVE the police who make up their security details. Most of these guys have NEVER sold (or even been in the same room as) the copious amounts of cocaine and marijuana that they claim to have moved, and most probably didn’t spend their days as youths coming up with stupid two step dances for no reasons. All the aforementioned occur because that’s where the money is. And if 70% percent of that money is coming from white people who are between 18 and 34, then it doesn’t really seem like self representation to me.

This brings me to, “it’s only entertainment.” Yes, to those white people between the ages of 18 and 34 it is, but to the black youth who grow up without [positive] role models in their own lives, they look at these “successful” young black celebrities as what it means to be black and successful. These rappers and entertainers become the super ego of black youth, and their words become mantras and words to live by. I saw a 60 Minutes a couple of years ago, where they spoke to some urban youths about how they’re affected by rap music, and it was honestly one of the saddest things I’ve witnessed in quite some time. One girl who was in junior high said “we do what they say, just because they say so, they put it out there and we just eat it up, even if it’s bad for us.” That’s where my stance of ‘it’s not just entertainment’ comes from. These rappers HAVE to know how many of the young misguided kids try to pattern their lifestyles after what they see and hear. I’m not here saying that they’re all going to hell for contributing to the further decadence of their own race, I’m just saying it’s gotta mean something, right? It is important to note that the messages being put out by these commercial rappers are not taken in the same way by all who hear them. To kids who grow up with their parents as positive templates of what to do, they know it’s a joke. And it’s not entirely a black and white thing, but it is a fact that most urban youth who grow up in poor, single parent households are black, and if these are the only successful black images they see, it only follows to reason they will identify with them.

I’m not even going to waste my time with those who blame rap for the moral decay of America. These are just misguided puritans who still think that they were the only great generation (they conveniently forget what they themselves were doing during the sixties). Or they are religious right fundamentalists who believe that only heathens could listen to/enjoy rap and use its vernacular and not feel deplorable about it. Both also don’t understand that there is more to rap than the shit they hear on the radio. As far as ALL of America is concerned, rap (and any other consumer media for that matter) is nothing more than a mirror of society. What sells is what the people want to buy—genius, right? So it is completely asinine to pin the decadence of an entire generation on one genre of music.

At the end of the day, the best way to fix the adverse affects that commercial rap has on a limited segment of society is to fix the circumstances. It’s like the old adage about guns; “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Rap music per se doesn’t corrode society, the circumstances are what matter”. People love to say that “good rap” and “bad rap” are the same animal; to that I say, so are filet mignon and tripes.

Written by misteressama

July 2, 2008 at 5:35 am

Posted in Society

Tagged with