Thursday, September 27, 2007

Some People Don't Deserve a Response

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks..There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.' You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all." - Bill O'Reilly

You know, I really did not want to have to write this piece, I really wanted just to ignore it. For starters, I absolutely despise reacting to simple ass media pundits whose sole purpose is to be divisive. Bill O’Reilly is just that: a simple, racist, divisive asshole who gets off on trying to get our blood boiling. When I first heard his asinine and acidic comments on dining at Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem, it didn’t surprise me, it didn’t “shock” me, and it didn’t move me. O’Reilly is an idiot who has always said intolerant and ignorant things to piss people like me and you off. He wants us to respond angrily because it gives him attention and feeds the distorted images he wants to shape for his viewers. He wants a five second sound byte of someone telling him to kiss their ass, because he knows he can manipulate it later in the editing room. And my feeling is just ignore him and he’ll go away.

O’Reilly and the other Fox “News” bigots are not that bright and tend to self-destruct anyway. Whether it be O’Reilly and his sexual harassment scandal, or Limbaugh and his prescription drug scandal; these impotent clowns are always one step away from burying themselves. They take after their leaders, you know the ones that try to fondle strange men in bathroom stalls, or preach hatred of homosexuals while screwing gay prostitutes in the dark. Think about it – the leader (Ted Haggert) of the far right crazy Evangelicals. the greatest voting bloc of the Republican party, gets caught scoring crystal meth from a gay prostitute.

Their presidential front-runner, Rudy Giuliani, was one of the most hard line, racist mayors in the history of New York City. Giuliani showed unwavering support for a corrupt police department that was responsible for some of the greatest atrocities in recent U.S. history. Under his reign, Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant on his way home from work was shot 19 times as he entered his apartment vestibule by four white police officers. Diallo’s crime? Turning around to show the plainclothes pigs that he had a wallet. The atmosphere was so out of control that white cops actually thought they could get away with the torture and rape (by plunger) of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant. According to a New York Times/CBS poll by April of 2000, Guiliani’s approval rating among Blacks was 7 percent.

But this is who they are: self-loathing, hateful hypocrites. The very same Guiliani who now takes a tough public stance against a woman’s right to choose and against gays and lesbians used to live with two gay men when he was mayor and was notably pro-choice. This strong “family values” guy dropped out of his Senate race against Hillary Clinton, when his out-of-marriage affair became public.

So no - I’m not surprised when Bill O’Reilly is shocked to find out that Black people eat with forks and knives at Sylvia’s in Harlem, or that racist DA Reed Walters says that it was Jesus, and not the Black demonstrators, that kept the demonstrations peaceful in Jena last week. And yes – I acknowledge and agree that it is sad and pathetic that so many mindless Americans think like this – but surprised? No, not really.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Keeping the Focus on Jena and Connecting the Dots

All of us who consider ourselves conscious, caring, progressive human beings have a responsibility to stay on top of the situation down in Jena. Since so many of us came together in unity on Thursday to protest the treatment of the Jena 6, things have only become more oppressive and dangerous for the Jena 6 and their families. Directly after the historic demonstration in Jena, two white males with admitted ties to the KKK, were arrested for menacing protesters leaving the march, as they drove a red pick-up truck around with a noose hanging out the back out of it.

The next day, not only did backwoods Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. refuse to remove himself from the case at the request of Mychal Bell’s attorneys, but he also refused to release Bell from prison, despite the fact that the appellate court had overturned his conviction. Bell’s mother left the courthouse in tears, as her son remained imprisoned, despite the appellate court’s finding that he should never have been tried as an adult. And anyone who saw LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters’ public performance (the 2007 version of civil rights villain Bull Connor) before the demonstration could see that he has absolutely no intention of behaving ethically, morally, or responsibly, as he vowed to press forward with the absurd charges that has already cost Mychal Bell nine months of his life.

As if things could not get worse, the FBI announced that a white supremacist website had essentially called for the lynching of the Jena 6 and their families. The website released five of the six families addresses and phone numbers. By the end of the weekend, the FBI confirmed that family members had been receiving death threats. And while the six Jena teens and their families have continued to suffer countless acts of racist injustice, a new face has emerged to tell us differently.

As soon as national media attention came to Jena, a fox in sheep’s clothing was sent by the Department of Justice (and possibly the White House) in a weak attempt to pacify and confuse the public. While the FBI had come to the logical conclusion (which anyone with ½ a brain, or even the slightest inkling of U.S. History already knew) that the nooses hung from the “white tree” in Jena was a hate crime, Donald Washington, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, decided not to bring charges. Instead, in a calm voice, Washington told every media outlet covering Jena that there was no connection between the nooses being hung and the fight that led to six Black youths being charged with 2nd degree attempted murder.

When I first heard Washington on CNN and NBC making the claim that he could not find a law that would give him the right as U.S. Attorney to press civil rights charges against the three white teens who hung the nooses, I was incredulous, but then thought – ummm – maybe I didn’t hear him right. But as I saw this Donald Washington pop up again and again on my screen, it was almost as if the media was saying, “see there’s really two sides to this story… look a reasonable black guy, a U.S. Attorney at that, says this has nothing to do with racism…so why is everyone so upset?” And as I looked at Donald Washington, a 50-something Black man who spent the majority of his life in the South continue to say that hanging nooses in a racially charged atmosphere had nothing to do with racism, I realized that it was time to do a little research on Mr. Washington.

And guess what I found out. Donald Washington, like Condi Rice before him, was a key player at Conoco Oil. In fact he served at Conoco (one of the largest multi-national oil conglomerates in the world) from 1982-1996, helping to protect Conoco (now Conoco-Phillips) as they polluted the environment, ripped off the American consumer, exploited third world labor, and funneled large amounts of money into Republican campaigns. Conoco-Phillips, a great friend of Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, not only has watched its profits more than double since the Iraq invasion began, but Dubya actually employed Conoco-Phllips’ former CEO to write a 323 page plan to privatize Iraq’s oil fields well before the administration began making its false case to go to war. How bad is Conoco-Phillips? So bad that in a recent study by UMASS they ranked as the third highest producer of air pollution, dumping more than eight million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air we breath. Interesting how things work out isn’t it?

Well before I go too far down this murky road, Bush appointed Washington to become US Attorney as one of many paybacks to Big Oil in 2001. And in return for that favor, Washington helped Bush and former Attorney General Albert Gonzales, create secret ways to torture human beings that “we” don’t like and find new ways to violate our constitutional rights. In fact, Washington served prominently on all of Gonzales’ “anti-terrorism” sub-committees.

And yes – this is the guy who is charged with protecting the civil rights of the folks of Jena and other small rural towns in Louisiana. And since Mr. Washington apparently is unfamiliar with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he is in fact charged with enforcing, let me help him out:
“Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241: Conspiracy Against Rights. This statute makes it unlawful for two or more persons to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person of any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the United States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same).”

In other words: three stupid ass rednecks got together in Jena, a predominantly white racist town, to tie nooses from a public school tree, with the sole purpose of attempting to threaten and intimidate Black students. Yet, somehow, someway – this does not constitute a violation of the civil rights act in Mr. Washington’s eyes.

That said it is incumbent on those of us who are good and decent to protect the young people of Jena. And if people really don’t think their vote makes a difference – just read and re-read this e-mail, because somehow this case, whether directly or indirectly touches on, or involves some of the most oppressive people and forces we have seen in some time. Think our racist criminal justice system has nothing to with who is in office? Think again. How about the U.S. Attorney firings scandal? Think again. How about illegal wire-tapping and DOJ-sponsored torture? Think again. Illegal toxic dumping and corporate irresponsibility? Think again. The Iraq war? Think again.

While he is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination - do you really think if we put Obama in office that we would be going through the same shit we're going through now? Honestly ask yourself that question. As a good friend recently told me, in our lifetime Obama is the closest we will ever come to electing someone who represents progressive folk - don't focus on what he has to do to get elected, focus on who he is and where he came from. Obama represents the possibility of never before seen access to the highest level of government - The White House itself. At this point in history, could we do any worse?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

History is Made in Jena: New Heroes and Methods Emerge

On Thursday, September 20, 2007, tens of thousands of people descended on Jena, LA to express outrage at the racist judicial system that criminalized six Black boys for a school fight that should have been handled in the context of the school. Across the nation, civil rights rallies were held first and foremost to show support for the Jena 6, but also to protest the racist climate in Jena that precipitated the fight, as well as our nation’s overwhelmingly prejudicial system of injustice. I am confident that most people reading this blog knew, or at least now know the well documented facts that make up the Jena situation, including but not limited to the ½ dozen or so acts of violence and intimidation perpetrated by white students and adults against Black students in Jena which created this powder keg to begin with.

While I have been critical of the Reverend Al Sharpton before, one must never forget that he has continuously been at the forefront of all significant protests against racial injustice over the past 20 years. And even though Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, and others became the prominent faces and voices on September 20th – the movement would have never gotten off the ground the way it did without young people, mostly from historically Black colleges and universities, leading the charge. In addition, much like the recent massive demonstrations of Latino immigrants that were in part organized by Hispanic radio stations across the nation, Black radio stations and personalities helped organize and spearhead the Jena 6 movement.

In many ways, the role that Black radio played in the grassroots organizing of Thursday’s event was one of the most promising things to occur in decades. Why do I say this? Without getting too far into it (or down that road so to speak) traditional leadership that used to come from Black Churches or Mosques has been virtually non-existant since the civil rights movement. Michael Baisden, usually known for heating up the airwaves with racy conversations about relationships, probably was more responsible than anyone for getting folks to come to Jena, and motivate others across the nation to wear black in solidarity with the Jena 6 on Thursday. While many of us had been writing, organizing, or donating for months in the shadows, Baisden used his platform to bring light to the plight of the Jena 6.

Throughout history, unlikely heroes have emerged, usually in response to oppressive conditions. Baisden’s credibility as a straight shooter without an agenda allowed him to get the attention of people who most likely would have never become involved without his day in, day out coverage of the Jena 6. My hope is that the momentum Baisden helped create turns into ongoing action, as Mychal Bell still sits in a jail cell. While we could spend all day pointing out those absent from Thursday's events (whites, Latinos, Asians, Obama, and rappers for starters) it is more important to recognize the collective power of those present in mind, body and spirit. For those of us who chose the conscience path of struggle and solidarity, there was a special connection and power mutually felt as we boarded subway trains in our black clothes and determined faces.

Tonight I am unusually optimistic, because this just might finally be the tipping point I have been waiting for my entire life. And if it takes new ways and dynamics of organizing and leadership than I'm all for it, because this other shit hasn't been working for a very, very long time. Big up to Michael Baisden and man let's keep it moving and FREE THE JENA 6!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Beyond Bush: Searching for Our Humanity

The American public’s outrage over Emperor Bush II’s unjust war on Iraq mostly stems from the number of American troops and government contractors that have died since the war began in March of 2003. Some four and a half years later, 3776 Americans have died ( Since Bush and his latest administration and military puppets have been on their new propaganda campaign, touting the success of the war, his approval has actually risen, despite the fact that more Americans have died in the past 6 months than in any other period in the war. That said, by comparison, the number of Iraqi lives lost since this shit-storm began is astronomical.

I often wonder how many Americans know or even care how many human beings from Iraq have been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion. Seriously, how many Americans are aware that in the most in-depth peer-reviewed study of Iraqi deaths caused by the war, researchers (from the United States!) from Johns Hopkins University estimated that from 2003-2006, 650,000 Iraqis had been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion. At that rate (and since so few studies have been done), the number of Iraqi deaths as of today is in the 800,000 – 900,000 range. To put it in terms that only Americans can relate to 99.6% of deaths that have occurred since the U.S. began blowing apart Iraq’s ancient civilization have been that of Iraqis. Or for every 1 U.S. life lost, 239 Iraqi lives have been lost.

Given American complacency during genocides in Rwanda and Darfur, one can’t help but draw the conclusion that the majority of Americans are not concerned about the lives of human beings from other countries. And why should that surprise anyone, given that Americans don’t seem to care about the lives of other Americans if they should happen to be Black, Latino, or poor. In the past week, how much genuine widespread outrage has been given since the American public learned of the kidnapping, rape, and torture of a Black woman in West Virginia at the hands of 6 inbred whites? Outside of Black America, how many white, Asian and Latino Americans have expressed outrage at the plight of the Jena 6? Besides a handful of college students, where has the outrage been as a noose was hung in front of a Black cultural center at the University of Maryland?
All that said we need to start talking in humanistic terms about what our nation has done to the people of Iraq. And since I could care less about being politically correct, I will put it bluntly: I do not want to hear about another dead U.S. soldier until the media, government, and American public begins to validate the lives of those Iraqi children, women and men killed by our hands.

Until we as human beings place equal value on all human lives, we only devalue our own lives. 900,000 lives lost - 900,000. Nearly 1/6 of the Holocaust. Where is the outrage? Where is the humanity? What have we become? Are we that nationalistic, or just individualistic? America was built on two ideals: white supremacy and manifest destiny. Surely we don't all buy into the same extreme xenophobic mentality that wiped the Native American off the map and committed the inhumane atrocity of slavery against the African. Surely we care more about human beings than we do about attaining shit like cars and clothes. Surely we care more about 900,000 dead human beings from Iraq than Michael Vick's 4-8 dead pitbulls. Surely we do - right?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reverend Al...You're Losing Us

Over 20 years ago there was a guy named Al Sharpton that virtually no one took seriously. I mean forget about mainstream New Yorkers, 99% of progressive and liberal white and Black folks alike dismissed Sharpton as a fat, cheap James Brown knockoff, that chased the media around town in a tight jogging suit with a bad perm. Yet he was impossible to ignore as he stood up for the families of slain Black youth in Howard Beach and Bensonhurst. When he made what the public considers his major blunder, falsely accusing a white District Attorney of the kidnapping and rape of a widely discredited, and quite disturbed young woman named Tawana Brawley, whatever support he had among the civil rights crowd faded completely.

In search of resurrection, Sharpton strategically began to rebuild a following among young people. And way before he became mainstream, appeared in movies, had his own talk-shows, ran for mayor of New York City, and president of the United States, Sharpton built a loyal following among young African-American, Latino, and white members of the hip-hop generation (particularly in New York City). Sharpton embraced young people and hip hop, as other public civil rights leaders chose to alienate the youth, like Rev. Calvin Butts III, the head of one of the most historical and important churches in Black America (The Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem) who literally instructed his congregation to steamroll hip hop cds, or C. Delores Tucker who partnered with rightwing congressmen in an attempt to censor hip hop artists.

Instead of following in the footsteps and tradition of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Malcolm X (who had the foresight and understanding to listen to, embrace and engage young people through dialogue) the majority of the civil rights crowd dismissed hip hop, failing to recognize not only its power and influence, but also the fact that when they dismissed hip hop, they dismissed the younger generation that belonged to it. They didn’t “get the culture” and they clearly didn’t listen to the lyrics. Instead of using the momentum of what many view as the most politically conscious time period in hip hop’s history, the elders thumbed their noses at it, and young people by extension.

Consider myself a case study. Despite being warned to the contrary, I first came to respect Sharpton in 1991. Weeks before Sharpton was set to speak to a small crowd at my undergraduate school, he was stabbed in the chest, moments before he was to lead a protest march in Howard Beach. Yet, still ailing from his wounds, Sharpton made it up to my school and not only spoke in front of us, but did so powerfully, intelligently, and was 100% politically in tune with the outrage we felt by everything from police brutality, racism, sexism, homophobia, and corrupt U.S. domestic and foreign policy. From that moment forward, Sharpton moved us and mobilized us. Say what you want about the man, but for 16 years he consistently fought against oppression and forced those who would otherwise ignore our point of view to listen.

That said, myself and others are utterly disappointed and frustrated that Sharpton has seemingly chosen to turn his backs on us. Instead of keeping with a tradition of dialogue, Sharpton has followed the misguided lead of Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, NAACP, and for that matter Bill O’Reilly and his Klan, in deciding that hip hop (and for that matter us) is Public Enemy #1. Instead of mobilizing hip hop artists to battle for the Jena 6, against the war in Iraq, for the environment, or other issues that really matter and impact our lives, Al has chosen to attack the same movement that made him a respectable household name. And while I don’t mean to discredit his past contributions, in a few short months Al has done more to distance and damage his-self among those who built him up, than any outside force could have done. As difficult as it has been to keep an open dialogue between generations, it is simply discouraging to see Al choose this path.

Talib Kweli, one of the most gifted, well respected, and progressive hip hop artists expressed Sharpton’s abandonment, in a recent interview with SOHH, “First, I’m an artist and I’m gonna say what I want to say. Nobody’s gonna tell me what I can or can’t say. [While] I do think that people like Al Sharpton and Oprah and Russell Simmons are our vanguards and our elders and that we should respect them. They have been here representing for us since before even hip-hop was here. What they say is important and it’s relevant but I think we need our own leadership so that we can respectfully disagree and say ‘I hear you uncle Russell, I hear you Al Sharpton’ and be respectful about it. But we can’t cow tow to them either.”

And while Talib Kweli chose a measured tone, David Banner, whose post-Katrina work has been just as important as Sharpton’s (in fact the National Black Caucus presented Banner with the Visionary Award for his contributions and efforts in helping to raise millions of dollars for victims of Katrina), most likely represented the way most youth felt, “The next time you see Al Sharpton, tell him I said fuck him and he can suck my dick! I might change the name of my album from The Greatest Story Never Told to Fuck Al Sharpton. I hate Al Sharpton. This is the kind of shit that I’m talking about. They’re killing kids in New Jersey and all across the country and all a nigga got to talk about is rap lyrics? Fuck that about they’re our elders and we gotta respect them. I’m tired of this. They’re like the parents, but the parents are crucifying the kids. They tried to crucify Nelly and Akon…we need to come together because they’re only doing this because we’re not saying anything. He’s [Sharpton] a permed-out pimp. Him and Jesse Jackson are out here charging people to do rallies with them. They’re more worried about their investors than our kids. Tell him David Banner said it. Niggas talk a good game about we need to clean up the hood and the lyrics and all that. But I’m out here doing it. Who can say that?”

Take out the profanity and anger and what you have is nothing less then pain and truth. I’m done.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

It's Our Turn: The 'Jena 6' Need Our Help Now!

The idea that the news out of Jena, Louisiana today was good is a laughable notion, considering that the reduction in charges on two of the ‘Jena 6’ from attempted murder to aggravated second-degree assault and conspiracy would still mean teenagers Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw would face 22½ years in prison (like Mychal Bell before them) if convicted. While atrocities occur daily around the nation and the globe, for those of us in Generations X, Y, and below – this case ought to shake all of us – because of its blatant racist nature.

Sometimes I hear that our generation is apathetic because we don’t deal with in-your-face racism like Black folk did during Jim Crow. While that sentiment may have had its merit, how can we still hold onto it after Katrina? I cannot imagine a more horrific event in the past 40 years that involved and continues involve historic and barbaric levels of overt and covert racism than Katrina. Americans (and for that matter non-Americans) watched Black people drown, starve to death, and plead for life night after night on the news. The local, state, and federal government, instead of jumping to action, watched with the rest of us.

At some point New Orleans became a third world country, as Americans began to tune out, with the same “fuck it” attitude that is held as most of us routinely switch the news if they’re talking about genocide in an African country. Often times I will hear people of all political persuasions even whisper, “Why rebuild there anyway? It’s not worth the money given the risk it could happen again.” The idea that people think this way about a major American city should be a frightening thought in an era where we will all increasingly feel the effects of climate change more often. Like the ‘Jena 6’ – I’m not buying and will never buy the idea that the way most Americans think about pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans has nothing to do with racism.

If this were one of America’s beloved vacation destinations, say South Beach, does anyone think for even one moment that if the same thing happened we would not only see the full force of the U.S. government and military to save lives, but also the full support of insurance companies and corporate entities to rebuild it the way it was?

But don’t get it twisted, they are indeed re-building New Orleans, but in this “New” New Orleans (which is getting built on the backs of undocumented workers getting paid peanuts) those whose rich histories date back hundreds of years, like the Native American before them, are simply not welcome home. For renters (the masses of the Black and poor of New Orleans), builders have ensured that rents are high enough to discourage a return. And for home owners, the insurance companies have been let off the hook by the courts in one of the biggest highway robberies in American history. Toxic, temporary FEMA trailers are the most your federal government will do for those who just lost their homes by government neglect.

Adding insult to injury, a little over 4 hours northwest of New Orleans, in the small town of Jena, 6 Black teenagers who (along with the high school’s other Black students) had been threatened, intimidated and one, Robert Bailey Jr., even beaten with beer bottles (for attempting to enter a party hosted by white students) are fighting for their freedom. The ‘Jena 6’ – real life heroes who fought back against white students who assaulted them and intimidated them with mock lynchings have already had over a ½ year of their lives taken away thanks to a racist town, and District Attorney. In fact it was District Attorney Reed Walters who infamously threatened the Black students of Jena with these words, “I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. With a stroke of my pen, I can make your lives disappear."

While words like mine and others are important, the real life ‘Jena 6’ need real support. It is unlikely that anyone who reads this will be able to leave their jobs, or schools and camp out in Jena for weeks if not months. And while protests have their place, these kids need the best legal representation money can buy. I issue the challenge to each and every one of you to open up your wallets and send money to support the ‘Jena 6.’ As a matter of fact it’s the least you could do. We don’t need another Katrina or another Jena to happen, we have a real up-in-your face fight right now.

By now your minds and hearts have probably been awakened. Now it’s time to skip a weekend of church (Jesus was an activist now wasn't he), the movies, the club, or the concert and send your hard earned money to help save the lives of the ‘Jena 6’ - Jena 6 Defense Fund, P.O. Box 2798, Jena, La. 71342.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Looking for Hip Hop? Dig Deeper

A lot of us have become frustrated and irritated w/hip-hop's direction..this is not new news. The art form is suffering, and has been creatively for a decade. But let's be real - any change in the direction is not going to come through corporate pressure (not that there is any), issue-of-the-day codemnation from so called political and religious leaders, Oprah Winfrey, or the Right. The only change will come from within the art form itself. Nas - while flawed - helped create a dialogue and an atmosphere where we could question what happened to hip hop in the context of hip hop.

The phony 'lets blame hip hop for everything shit' that was sparked a few months back, after a career-racist-radio-guy named Don Imus decided to call a group of Black, female college students "nappy headed hoes" - had nothing to do with hip hop and I'm not going to argue or even entertain that point of view. For a long time, most of us "real hip hop headz" have been tired of not just the "bs" and "ns" but also the gross materialism, false concepts of manhood, advocation of black on black violence, selling of crack, pimps and hoes glorification, and flat out lack of lyrical and musical creativity.

All that said - while there has always been a slightly above ground (Mos Def, Little Brother, Talib Kweli, Dead Presidents, Black Thought), and an underground - it will take established artists like Nas, to help create spaces for a movement. And it can happen. At the end of the day it's about dollars to the industry. Labels could care less if they are pedaling Public Enemy or T.I. or 50 Cent. As long as it makes money, they really don't give a fuck. But - it's got to be good - not just good - but great.

All this to say I'm putting my faith in an artist that me and a friend discovered in cyberspace a while ago named NYOIL ( The buzz is already there, and the "underground" backing is it's time to help this movement blow. The music is tight. The content is challenging. The time is right. I'm insisting you support, listen, pass the word, and just enjoy. And if anyone is wondering - no I don't know this artist, or anyone affiliated w/him.