Tag Archives: culture

Charlie Hebdo – “We Have Champagne”

Translated … “They have the weapons. F$%k Them! We have the Champagne!”

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Posted by on November 17, 2015 in General, News


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Jay Leno Comments on Mizzou

The student protest at Mizzou has moved some folks, and changed some minds. Here, Jay Leno lays out the fact that the students indeed had cause for their actions…

Jay Leno tells Bill Maher: Mizzou protesters were right — school president was ‘clueless’

Real Time host Bill Maher battled panelists Jay Leno, Michael Steele and Dylan Ratigan on Friday when he complained about the recent anti-racism protests at Yale University and the University of Missouri.

Maher recounted the discussion at Yale that was touched off by a university email advising students not to use Halloween costumes based on cultural appropriation or stereotypes, which led to a faculty member, Erika Christakis, questioning whether the school was stifling students’ right to be “a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive.”

That, in turn, led to hundreds of students signing an open letter criticizing Christakis.

“Who raised these little monsters?” Maher said of the letter. Leno countered by saying that the pendulum in public discourse had swung in the other direction from the days when virtually any sort of slur would go unchecked.

“You could call a government operation ‘Wetback,’ and no one said anything about it,” the former Tonight Show host said. “Now the pendulum swung back, so now the other side gets a taste of what it’s like. Will it come back to the center? I believe it will.”

“That’s spreading — it’s not just Yale,” Maher insisted.

The host also expressed sympathy with protesters at Missouri, but questioned whether prompting the resignation of president Tim Wolfe was beneficial to their cause.

“Do we purge even clueless people from their job now?” he asked. “Is that where we are with the battle against racism?”

“I say yes,” Leno responded. “You know why? Because if you’re president of the university, you shouldn’t be clueless. When I saw the faces of those African-American young kids when they had won, they looked like Julian Bond in 1965. They looked like all the black students that protested when I was in college that did the sit-ins that didn’t think they would get whatever it was [that they wanted]. It’s just a different version of that. I applaud them. They looked like they won something. One of those people could be a senator.”

Ratigan concurred with Leno, saying that the protests were forcing conversations about racism “to permeate deeper into the system.”

“You have all this structural racism that we all know about and we talk about it, but it doesn’t get talked about as much as it should and it doesn’t get dealt with,” he said.

Maher then scoffed at the protesters’ efforts to set up a “media-free zone” at one point.

“They characterize themselves as the protesters in Tiananmen Square, but sometimes they look like the Chinese Army,” Maher protested. “Their right to never be offended does not supersede the First Amendment.”

“However irrational the response may be, the irrational response pales in comparison to the structural racism that still exists,” Ratigan shot back.

Steele also argued that the conditions that spurred the protests had not just developed over hours or days, but at least several months.

“This even goes back beyond a few months — it goes back over a period of time that these students have had to live in this environment where they’ve had to deal with this by themselves,” he said. “And after a while, enough’s enough. And cluelessness is no longer an excuse.”


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The Black Professional Minefield

If you are a black professional in America, the more than likely you work in an environment surrounded almost entirely by white people. I remember back in the 80’s, speaking before a group of 2,000 of my peers at a corporate conference and being the only black face in the room, along with a half dozen other minorities and women. An executive job in an American corporation is a Fly-Trap. You are there, but the chances of a lateral move to another company to move up, which is a common strategy available to white managers – is difficult, if not impossible. You probably can count on one hand the number of black CEOs, Presidents, or Sr VPs recruited by other companies for executive positions outside of the company in which they earned their position in the first place. An issue which makes the expansion of black CEOs in the Fortune 500 difficult.

It goes beyond just simple watercooler small talk in that black folks are more likely to be fans of Football and Basketball, while whites are fans of Hockey and Baseball. And you are never going to be able to explain the Black College Greek tradition of a Step Show. Being bi-lingual, speaking at least two English dialects…

And learning to love Broccoli and kale as a salad.

And yes, you have to put up with the occasional racial micro-aggression (typically born more of ignorance than anything else), as well as the full on racism. Nor are your white co-workers or peers going to get why BLM has resonance with you, who aren’t living in the poor part of town, aren’t covered in tats, or are speaking in the dialect of the lower class.

Being Black—but Not Too Black—in the Workplace

To be a black professional is often to be alone. Most black doctors, lawyers, journalists, and so on—those in white-collar positions that require specialized training and credentialing—work in environments where they are in the racial minority.

This comes with challenges. Beyond outright discrimination, which many still face, there are psychological costs to being one of just a few black faces in a predominantly white environment. In a study of black professional workers in a number of different occupations, I found that these employees worked to carefully manage their emotions in ways that reflected the racial landscapes they inhabited.

In particular, black professionals had to be very careful to show feelings of conviviality and pleasantness, even—especially—in response to racial issues. They felt that emotions of anger, frustration, and annoyance were discouraged, even when they worked in settings where these emotions were generally welcomed in certain contexts—think litigators interacting with opposing counsel, or financial analysts responding to a stressful day on Wall Street. Interestingly, this often played out at trainings meant to encourage racial sensitivity. Many of the black professionals I interviewed found that diversity trainings—intended to improve the work environment for minorities—actually became a source of emotional stress, as they perceived that their white colleagues could use these trainings to express negative emotions about people of color, but that they were expected not to disclose their own honest emotional reactions to such statements.

One of the most interesting recent contributions to this area of research comes from legal scholars Mitu Gulati and Devon Carbado. In their book Working Identity, they argue that while everyone needs to create and put forth an “appropriate” workplace identity, for members of minority groups—women of all races, racial-minority men, LGBTQ people—this becomes particularly taxing because their working identities must counter common cultural stereotypes. For example, black men may feel compelled to work longer hours as a way to repudiate stereotypes of a poor work ethic among blacks. To make matters more complicated, such strategies can backfire, reinforcing other stereotypes: Working those long hours may lead colleagues to assume that the workers lack the intellectual preparation needed for high-status professional jobs.

Carbado and Gulati also note that minority professionals tread cautiously to avoid upsetting the majority group’s sensibilities. Put simply, they can be visibly black, but don’t want to be perceived as stereotypically black. As Carbado and Gulati write, a black female candidate for a law firm who chemically straightens her hair, is in a nuclear family structure, and resides in a predominantly white neighborhood signals a fealty to (often unspoken) racial norms. She does so in a way that an equally qualified black woman candidate who wears dreadlocks, has a history of pushing for racial change in the legal field, is a single mother, and lives in the inner city does not.

The same is true for professional workers who are members of other racial minority groups. For instance, Latina attorneys may be able to advance further at work if they take pains not to speak with any trace of an accent. These are challenges in addition to the more well-known ones—the difficulties finding mentors of the same race, coping with racial stereotypes, being treated as a representative for one’s entire racial group.

So what does this mean for black workers in professional environments? First, it’s indicative of the degree to which race shapes occupational outcomes. In many circles, people feel more comfortable reducing racial issues to class-based ones, assuming that poverty explains much, if not all, of the differences between minorities and whites.

But for blacks in professional positions, issues of poverty are not the problem. Poverty does not explain biases in hiring, the need for particular types of emotional management, and the careful self-presentation that minority professionals engage in at work.

Second, all of this ought to encourage a rethinking of some of the existing efforts to create more diverse work environments. Do diversity and inclusion initiatives take into consideration how minorities placed in those environments feel? How can policies create not just more equitable hiring processes, but address the emotional toll of being a racial minority in a professional work setting?

In the current political climate, there is generally support for solving race-related employment challenges by focusing on job training and education—in other words, increasing human capital to improve access. Given the research, it’s also important to consider how to create better workplaces for the minority professionals who are already in these jobs.


Posted by on October 15, 2015 in The Post-Racial Life


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Archibald Motley – Painter of the Jazz Age

Born in 1891, Archibald Motley would document, through his art – the next 70 years of black experience in Chicago and France.

Portrait of a Sophisticated Lady

Octoroon, 1922

Self Portrait

Archibald Motley, The Painter Who Captured Black America in the Jazz Age and Beyond

The artist Archibald Motley captured both the high times and cultural vibrancy of the Jazz Age, as well as graver themes of racism and injustice.

The sexy sway of a 1920s Paris nightclub, filled with light and dark-skinned people pressed against each other.

The bustling streets of the almost exclusively black “Bronzeville” neighborhood Chicago in the 1930s under a nighttime glow.

A depressing surreal scene of horror following the death of Martin Luther KingJr.and the failings of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

These are just a handful of the diverse visual expressions of the African American experience that the artist Archibald Motley so adroitly and sumptuously captured throughout his career.

Bronzeville By Night

As versatile in his aesthetic style as he was committed to scrutinizing African American culture, Motley was a uniquely daring and sharp artist who stood out even among the Harlem Renaissance greats.

Yet, Motley’s name does not elicit the same nods of recognition and respect as his peers, like Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, and Zora Neale Hurston. That could–and certainly should–change after the retrospective Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist opens October 2 at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Traveling through different chapters of his career, though not boxed into a strict chronology, the exhibition showcases how Motley was a thorough and sensitive observer of the black community, documenting its diversity while bringing his own keen perspective to its traditions and subcultures.

Motley “set his work apart” because he “created a modern, vibrant world which, as seen through a pair of jaded, laserlike ‘Negro’ eyes, revealed the jazz-and-blues-accented absurdities that lay behind life’s facades and public face,” writes Richard J. Powell in “Becoming Motley, Becoming Modern” an essay in the book,Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist.

Mending Socks

Powell, who is an art historian and Dean of Humanities at Duke University, curated the Whitney exhibition.

In other words, Motley wasn’t afraid to capture the good and the bad of black life, as his peers made tremendous gains yet the community in general often struggled in poverty and disenfranchisement in a segregated, very racist America.

At least a significant part of Motley’s distinct perspective on African American life came from his unique upbringing for a black man of his era.

Born in New Orleans in 1891, Motley was raised in Chicago’s then largely white immigrant Engelwood neighborhood and married his white childhood friend, Edith Granzo, in 1924.

Trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Motley’s earliest critically-acclaimed paintings were portraits of different figures within the African American community.

His 1924 Mending Socks depicted his grandmother, Emily Motley, a former slave, sitting with a quiet pride and refinement.

Motley was not so forward-looking that he ignored the complicated, painful slaveholding past. Mending Socks features part of a portrait of his grandmother’s mistress in the upper left corner, hanging over her.

As important as it was for Motley to capture history, it was equally, if not more, significant to him depict the spectrum of skin tones considered black. A blend of ethnicities himself, he was dedicated to painting “the whole gamut,” as he said, of African American complexions.

1920’s Mulatress with Figuring and Dutch Seascape and 1925’s The Octoroon Girl speak to his commitment of not only visually presenting multi-racial figures, but doing so in a way that showed them as refined, strong figures.

As the Whitney exhibition notes of Motley’s artistic interest in these portraits: “On the one hand, he believed that seeing themselves in art would help African Americans feel pride in their own racial identities; on the other, he hoped that seeing beautiful contemporary black subjects would dispel stereotypes and undermine racism.”...More…

Street Scene

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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Black History, Giant Negros


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Fats Domino’s Piano, Like NOLA After Katrina -Still Has a Ways to Come Back

Worked on the post-Katrina recovery efforts in NOLA and Mississippi. The flooding not only killed the houses and infrastructure, but threatened to kill the spirit of a city whose residents were used to adversity.The story 10 years after is one of gradual rebuilding, but how do you knit the spirit of the town’s communities back together when so many are gone? The even bigger question though in my mind – is if we can’t even get it right in America, right in our own back yard…How exactly can we get it right anywhere else?

In terms of the Fat man’s pianos, one black, one white – one working fully, one not restore-able…Seems like a reflection of the whole city 10 years after.

The Piano That Can’t Play a Tune

If you could see Fats Domino’s piano today—white and gleaming on a pedestal at the Louisiana State Museum in the Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans’ French Quarter—you might think he had been kind enough to donate one of his signature grands to the museum for its music collection. That is, if you were unaware of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago, including Domino’s home on Caffin Street in the largely obliterated neighborhood known as the “Lower Nine,” where the white Steinway once held pride of place in Domino’s living room.

Submerged in nine feet of water from a massive breach in the nearby Industrial Canal, it sat for weeks in the fetid lake that covered 80 percent of New Orleans after Katrina. Curators from the Louisiana State Museum raised $35,000 to have it reassembled and restored, and it now sits beneath a spotlight in an exhibit room as if waiting for Domino himself to sit down and play it. At the dedication ceremony in 2013, Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardanne said, “His beautiful grand piano, fully restored, will serve as the perfect symbol for Louisiana’s resilient nature and ever-evolving musical heritage.”

Well, no and yes. Despite the painstaking restoration, the white grand piano is unplayable. It is this last fact that makes the story of this instrument such a powerful metaphor for New Orleans since Katrina. It is a tale about persistence in the face of government neglect, cataclysmic disaster, and the painful incompleteness of reconstruction. More particularly, it is a lesson about the importance of preserving the material remains of the city’s past even as it focuses on the future.

These objects—some partly restored, some not—are all the more important in light of the city’s record of demolition of many significant musical landmarks, despite the recent efforts of preservation groups to turn the tide. Louis Armstrong’s birthplace, for example, was torn down in the 1960s to build a city jail. Other jazz landmarks are in grave disrepair.

The history of New Orleans music had an additional vulnerability before Katrina: The homes of the city’s musicians and writers held much of the city’s musical heritage. Letters, handwritten scores, photographs, cocktail napkins, matchbooks, and musical instruments were under the beds and in the attics of working musicians and their descendants. Most of Michael White’s enormous collection of artifacts from early jazz musicians—some 50 clarinets, reams of sheet music, reeds and mouthpieces, and taped interviews with musicians—is gone. White’s house near the London Avenue Canal in Lakeview took in water up to the roof. The only things salvaged by volunteers were some of his clarinets. “They looked like bodies,” White told me. “And the ones that were in cases looked like bodies in coffins. They weren’t really about me, they symbolized New Orleans history and culture and the present state of the culture.”

Tending to the artifacts the storm left behind, as White did, can feel restorative. And it is not the same as choosing property over people, something that does not bode well in New Orleans. “The black working class in New Orleans,” the historian George Lipsitz wrote in Katrina’s aftermath, “has long refused to concede that white property is more important than black humanity.” After the storm, neighborhood traditions like the parading of Mardi Gras Indians persisted, despite and because of the challenges of rebuilding those communities. But the preservation of cultural artifacts after Katrina, such as Domino’s piano, was something of a different job.

As show-stopping as Domino’s white Steinway grand is, it is the opposite of the first piano he played, acquired by his family in the 1930s. That piano, Domino told his biographer, was “so beat up that you could see the rusted metal through the ivory, it had been played so hard.” According to the authors of Up From the Cradle of Jazz: “The Ninth Ward blues built off of pianos and horns.” There was an old upright in just about every small music club in the Lower Ninth Ward. The white piano, on the other hand, was not even Domino’s regular instrument. Instead, it was the one that greeted visitors to the house on Caffin Street and was a favored backdrop for family photographs. The glorious grand piano testified to his rise from a part-time musician and factory worker to one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll.

Domino’s upbringing in the Lower Ninth Ward, surrounded by his Creole relatives, inflected his music. His father was descended from French-speaking African Americans who lived as enslaved and then freedpeople in Louisiana’s sugar parishes. Like many Louisiana Creoles, black and white, they had roots in Haiti. When the Dominos arrived in the Lower Nine, the neighborhood was still mostly rural, with unpaved streets, farm animals, and scarce electricity and indoor plumbing. In a recent radio show devoted to Domino, writer Ben Sandmelobserved the artist’s “Caribbean vocal style” in songs like “My Blue Heaven.” “It’s almost like he’s an English as a second language speaker. It’s a very thick regional accent,” Sandmel said. “If you listen to oral histories of people [from the Lower Nine] who recorded around that time there are a lot of thick accents and a lot of French-isms in the speech.” …The rest here


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Trevor Noah – I Wanted to be Black

South African Comedian Trevor Noah, who is scheduled to take over for Jon Stewart on Comedy Central Sept 23rd…

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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in The Post-Racial Life


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Iceberg Slim – Pulp Fiction

Iceberg Slim was the nom-de-guerre of a Los Angeles Pimp, whose story became famous when he turned to writing. At least one movie, and countless bad-ass characters in the movies are based on his character and style.

Not sure why the renewed interest – but Slim is part of 40’s-60’s black history, and was a model for others (apparently still) – as well as a character from which numerous movie depictions were based. Before the Drug Dealer of the 70’s – the black pimp was more likely to be at the top of criminal enterprise in poor black communities. These guys would flash their money and “power” based on a “Players Ball” purportedly created in the 1974 Movie, “The Mack” – although such “annual conferences” existed long before that in Chicago. Apparently some of these guys are still around as you will see in the video at the bottom of this post.

I remember watching from the street one of these back in the late 1970’s, at a certain club located in downtown Washington DC. Lots of flash, jewelry, and outrageous outfits.


The Pulp Fiction Pimp Who Inspired Chris Rock, Jay Z, and Snoop Dogg

Robert Beck was the godfather of Blaxploitation, one of the most influential African-American voices of the 20th century—and also among its most violently misogynistic.

For many of his 73 years on the planet, Robert Beck—aka “Iceberg Slim,” the subject of a new biography, Street Poison, by African-American literature professor Justin Gifford—was a lousy human being.

Beck—who by his own account violently brutalized women during his quarter-century-long career as a pimp, and later mythologized his felonious lifestyle in a best-selling memoir and a series of popular pulp novels—raised misogyny to an art form.

The smooth-talking, cold-hearted Beck, whose nom de plume celebrated his detached and chilly streetwise demeanor, was the vain and selfish only son of an irresponsible mother; a careless father of three mixed-race daughters and the estranged stepfather of a Caucasian son; and a manipulative and philandering husband who only redeemed himself in a second marriage late in life as his years of prison, drugs, and hard living took their inevitable toll.

Albeit ghetto-famous, with countless fans, he died penniless in Los Angeles of diabetes and gangrene; his fancy above-ground berth at Forest Lawn was paid for by Mike Tyson, one of Beck’s many celebrity devotees, who also include Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Quincy Jones, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Ice Cube, and Ice-T (the last of whom co-produced a 2012 documentary tribute, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp).

And yet, by Gifford’s estimation and that of others, Beck—born Robert Lee Moppins Jr. (later Frenchified to Maupins) in the slums of 1918 white-racist Chicago—was also one of the more influential voices in 20th century black culture and literature, to be ranked alongside James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison.

Indeed, Iceberg Slim’s 1967 novelistic and poetic autobiography, Pimp: The Story of My Life, and his later works are widely credited with inspiring the Blaxploitation film genre and the beginnings of hip-hop and rap. His nine published books—translated into a dozen languages while one, Trick Baby, was adapted into a feature film—had sold an estimated 6 million copies by the time of his death, which might have made him the J.K. Rowling of black pulp fiction, if only his royalties were commensurate with his sales.

Beck’s pain and rage at having been callously exploited by his white-owned publisher, Holloway House—much as he had exploited and abused his revolving stable of prostitutes—is a recurring theme in Gifford’s meticulously-researched narrative.

The fact that Beck’s biographer is also white and middle-aged—an academic of somewhat younger vintage, Gifford teaches at the University of Nevada—is testament to the enduring crossover appeal of Iceberg Slim’s story.

It begins in Chicago’s Black Belt, during a period of lethal viciousness by white thugs against African Americans who dared venture out of the ghetto. Terrible race riots and mass murders comprised a history of violence that doubtless shaped Iceberg Slim’s adult identity as a revolutionary and Black Panther partisan.

Three incidents in his childhood seem to have left a searing imprint and shaped his future.

His biological father, a cook who’d grown up in “Nashville’s upwardly mobile and respectable black working-class society,” according to Gifford, had plunged headlong into the Black Belt demimonde of whoring and gambling, and saw his son as an inconvenience.

His mother, Mary, left her husband, taking her infant son with her, after refusing his demand that the baby be abandoned on a church doorstep—“so,” Iceberg Slim recounted, “he hurled me against the wall in disgust.”

The second formative experience—the memory of which forever haunted Beck and twisted his feelings about women—involved being 3 years old and sexually molested by a babysitter while his single mother toiled all day at a laundry. According to his autobiography, the babysitter forced him to perform oral sex.

“I remember more vividly the moist, odorous darkness and the bristle-like hairs tickling my face,” he wrote, “and most vividly I can remember my panic, when in the wild moment of her climax, she would savagely jerk my head tighter into the hairy maw.”

According to Gifford: “The event deeply scarred Beck—as his hateful language suggests—and he later attributed his anxious and violent relationships with the women he pimped to this incident.”

The third seminal episode—after his mother’s 1922 marriage to a devoutly churchgoing community leader and successful businessman, Henry Upshaw, whom Beck loved as his only real father—was her reckless decision to leave Upshaw after nine happy, stable years for a charming but violent street hustler.  Relocating from Chicago to Milwaukee with his mother and her boyfriend, Beck fell into bad company in the red-light district and became “street poisoned,” as he put it in his memoir. (Beck ultimately took the surname of his mother’s third husband, Ural Beck, a hardworking railroad employee in Milwaukee, whom she married in the early 1940s.)

“At the height of his career,” Gifford writes, “he would intentionally draw upon his traumatic memories—especially of the babysitter, as well as his mother’s betrayal during his teenage years—to fuel his cruel treatment of his prostitutes,” using a wire hanger as his preferred instrument of discipline….The rest here

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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in Black History


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