Sunday, August 30, 2015

I love Michelle Obama laughing in this picture

Right now I'm doing something that people on the Internet used to do a lot more of, informal reciprocal linking. An example of that would be Bob links to one of Susan's post for good reasons and without any prompting from her, and when Susan finds out that Bob's linked linked to her post, she finds something of Bob's she'd like to link to at her blog. People used to do that automatically back in the day.

And I'm not talking about link farms, web rings, etc. I'm talking about the honest exchange of links without one party pushing the other to do anything. But as more people came online and more marketing schemes came about to formalize reciprocal linking, people began to do it less. Also, I think as more people came online, the web became less about community building and information providing and more about trying to get hits at your blog or website to become famous. JMO.

Checking my stats (the lowest they've ever been because I don't post enough), I saw a lot of hits from Parade Magazine to my article about the music industry and the California band Gooding. It turns out a Parade writer interviewed the band, which is a good thing since Gooding deserves attention.

While poking around at Parade afterward, I discovered this great photo of Michelle Obama. It happens to be in a post by the same writer who linked to my music article.

This picture is from one of the White House Nerd Proms, the one last year. It shows here genuinely laughing at something Jimmy Kimmel's saying. The article at the Parade link, however, covers an amusing exchange between the First Lady and Kimmel in a PSA about her program FNV, (Eat your Fruits and Vegetables) a campaign to brand vegetables the same way junk foods are branded to sound cool to youngsters. The FLOTUS appeared on Kimmel's show last week.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Born to the Beat: NOLA poets prepare for The National Beat Poetry Festival

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In conjunction with the National Beat Poetry Festival, a New Orleans poetry event, Born to the Beat is in the works. The poetry and prose reading is set for Saturday, September 12, outside Morning Call Coffee Stand at City Park, New Orleans, 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. (inside if it rains).

Some of the poets who will be reading are former Louisiana poet laureate Julie Kane, Dillard University professor and poet Mona Lisa Saloy, Kelly Harris-DeBerry, Carolyn Hembree, A Scribe Called Quess?, and John Gery. Local Indie band The Shiz will provide music, and Nordette Adams will be joined by Megan Burns and Alex Jennings as emcees.

It's free! So, if you'd like to attend why don't you let us know on Twitter (@BeatPoetry504) or Facebook.

There's more to say, but until next time . . .

Sunday, June 21, 2015

When Christians praise themselves for not rioting . . .

Dear fellow believers in Charleston, South Carolina, who are also black like me:

I thank God that you have praised Him through this trial. The loss of nine sisters and brothers is a tremendous burden for a church and family to bear. The recognition that racial hatred still breeds in your state and this nation is frightening, but as witnessed on national television, you have a strong faith.

From this tragedy Americans have shared the moving experience of grieving family members offering forgiveness to the killer. That obedient response was a testimony to their faith and the teaching they have received. Indeed, I think what we’ve witnessed through you in Charleston is an instance of how God may be glorified in suffering. And yet, I must caution you.

In Charleston, I have also observed on television a troubling response. A few black Christians speaking to reporters have patted themselves on the back for “not rioting.” I cannot help but think that they praise themselves in reference to the #BlackLivesMatter protests that have turned violent in the last year in places such as Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore. So, it sounds to me that what these black Christians in Charleston want the world to believe is that they are better people than those who have rioted since the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray.

Yes, it’s good that more violence was not the result of the massacre at Emmanuel AME Church, but comparing the response of mature Christians to the reaction of young black people in Ferguson and young black people in Baltimore is not fair.

First, the comparison sounds similar to the Pharisee praying “I thank God that I am not like that sinner over there,” not that you are pharisees, but it does seem strange that you would praise yourselves and appear not to understand what has happened in the rest of the country. Second, in terms of protest, your situation in Charleston and what has happened elsewhere are not truly the same.

The shooter in Charleston was not a government representative, such as a police officer, and your police department did not behave as though nothing had happened (as Florida police did following Trayvon Martin’s death). Your police chief and mayor sprang into action to condemn the murders and find the perpetrator.

So, who would you have rioted against, the police department and mayor for doing their jobs? Or is Dylan Roof someone to riot against? Did you pay taxes for Dylan Roof to protect you? The white supremacist culture in general may seem like something to riot against to some people sometimes, but who riots against a wind?

It's understood that peaceful people prefer peaceful protest. Still, even Dr. King understood why oppressed people sometimes riot. Understanding rage and condoning its actions, of course, are not the same thing. Then there's the reality that Christian people who actually believe what Jesus taught tend not to become violent.

The question for you is this, Has your dignified response to these murders and the evil acts against you come by your own grace and power or by God's?

My heart goes out to you and the nation, but I hope none of you, including preachers, will use this tragedy to compare yourselves to other black people in pain in order to condemn them. I hope that you will not stand on the necks of other black people to lift yourselves in America’s eyes.

But I'm sure you will move forward in grace because you have the Humble Servant in your hearts. And nothing will separate us from His love.

Peace and Grace to you,
your sister, Nordette

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Everybody Loves Rachel Dolezal (Video)

If you used to watch "Every Body Loves Raymond," then you may have seen the episode called "Robert's Date" in which Raymond's brother begins to dress and behave like how he thinks black people talk and behave. Robert also quickly jumps to a conclusion about how Judy thinks of him.

I immediately thought of that episode when I first heard of Rachel Dolezal pretending to be black for years.

UPDATE: Rachel Dolezal has resigned as head of the Spokane Chapter of the NAACP. MSNBC interviewed her parents. Her mother thinks she still hasn't taken responsibility for her deception, but hopes Rachel gets the help she needs. Her father got a tad choked up thinking how she used to call him "Papa." And then there's the news that while at historically black Howard University, she identified at white and sued the school alleging that they had discriminated against her because she's white. However, the courts disagreed.

Late night, June 13, I wrote this post but did not get back to it until today. When I heard about this perplexing and vexing story last week, I thought I would not comment, but I've found myself dropping thoughts everywhere such as tweeting about what's wrong (partly) with applying a term like "transracial" to Dolezal's identity issues.

I ended up writing that tweet after watching Melissa Harris-Perry's show on Saturday. I was surprised that discussing this mess with Alysson Hobbs she risked playing into the hands of white conservatives by accepting the term "transracial" could be legitimately applied to Dolezal's presumption. What an unwise move!

Also, the discussion on the MHP show Saturday did not clarify how passing for white and passing for black are not the same. They seemed eager to legitimize the possibility that Rachel Dolezal truly has a black identity. Hobbs said, "There certainly is a chance that she identifies as a black woman and their could be authenticity to that."

But on today's show she attempted to clarify what she meant. As you may guess, I was among many who found her position troubling. She said today that she is trying to find the language to discuss that some people may feel like they belong to another "race" more than to their biological kin. (Of course some people feel that way, but should they do what Dolezal did?)  However, on Dolezal herself MHP slowly backed away, saying Dolezal's lecture on black hair was too much. Finally, the depth of the woman's deception hit her.

Regarding the term "transracial," Megan Willett at Business Insider has already covered why it" should not be applied to Dolezal's misrepresentation of her ethnicity, and I add to her point that I wouldn't use it for no other reason than how the term will be used politically.

I could have also also written a long piece arguing that the head of the Seattle NAACP's actions -- wearing dark make-up, kinking and braiding her hair, claiming a black man is her real father when that's not true--are proof of her white privilege, but Michael P. Jeffries writing at the Boston Globe has covered that point well.

I think some people are cutting her too much slack by applying identity theory inappropriately to this woman. However, there may be any number of psychological issues underlying her condition.

The Huffington Post interview with her parents (end of this post) touches on the possibility that she may be unstable.

Also, today a fellow blogger sent a link to Alicia Walters's article at the Guardian addressing why she, as a black woman, objects to Dolezal's masquerade, "I became a black woman in Spokane. But, Rachel Dolezal, I was a black girl first." Walter writes:

"Rachel Dolezal may have perfected her performance of black womanhood, and she may be connected to black communities and feel an affinity with the styles and cultural innovations of black people. But the black identity cannot be put on like a pair of shoes. Our external differences from the white majority might be how others categorize us as black, but it’s the thread of our diverse lived experiences that make us black women."

I've considered that she may have resented her parents' adoption of black children. My daughter tossed that notion aside and generously suggested that Dolezal has some kind of "racial dysmorphia" akin to body dysmorphic disorder.

And while others have decided Dolezal is simply another narcissists on the loose, Elisa Camahort noted on her Facebook page the high number of racial harassment incidents the woman's reported and decided she may have some kind of one-off  Munchausen's By Proxy syndrome, a Blackhausen By Proxy, if you will. An amusing concept, but that notion occurred to me as well when I first began reading about the controversy.

I do have some sympathy for Dolezal if her pretense is rooted in some kind of mental distress and self-loathing. Never healed, that sucks no matter how it comes about. As I wrote on Elisa's page, in some situations whites have been known to wish they were black. Harry Connick Jr. said he used to wish it as a boy because all the great jazz musicians he knew were black men.

Then there is the "race is a social construct" crowd. I agree that race is a social construct, but I also believe Dolezal's choices indicate she may not. She thinks race is physical;

But who really knows. I find this mess all rather headache-inducing, which is why I think I'll just watch the "That's Not My Baby" scene with Katt Williams again, and remember the funny clips from the Everybody Loves Raymond episode I've posted above. Both involve someone trying to pass whiteness off as blackness. In both cases the people fail. But for more video commentary, try this link.

The video below is an excellent interview with Rachel Dolezal's parents followed by commentary from scholars and journalists. It's moving. No parents who love and believe they've done their best with a child wants to have that child reject them.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Slave ship ruins reveal horrid conditions Africans endured

Yesterday's New York Times featured the article "Grim History Traced in Sunken Slave Ship Found Off South Africa." People have been sharing the story on Facebook and Twitter.

The article tells some of the disturbing details of abuse 400 to 500 Africans endured on the São José Paquete Africa before the slave ship sank not far from the Cape of Good Hope. Unfortunately, the detestable conditions they faced were typical of slave ships.

Some people reading the article have been shocked to hear how Africans were forced onto these ships and squeezed into cargo holds like livestock for a four-month journey to the shores of the Americas and Europe.

But Lonnie Bunch, the founder of the African American History Museum at the Smithsonian knows this horrid history and of even worse traumas the enslaved suffered. So, he gets that the lives lost during these treacherous journeys, also known as the Middle Passage, and the lives of those who suffered in bondage later deserve a dignified remembrance.

Here's how their memories will be honored at the museum Bunch runs.
The space in the museum for the items pulled from the sea, he said, will include recordings of voices describing the slave trade — “a place,” Mr. (Lonnie) Bunch said, “for you to mourn and to remember.”
This is the attitude we've hoped the architect behind the current design of the proposed National Slave Ship Museum would have adopted. But his vision as shared with the Times Picayune last week reveals again that he just doesn't get it. Remembering the humans who traveled to this country in shackles as well as those that did not survive the journey should not be an entertaining moment or a time to make everyone feel better than he felt at the Holocaust Museum.

James doesn't understand that a slave ship replica as a tourism boat and the Middle Passage as an indoor "simulation ride"he claims will let museum visitors "experience as a slave their journey at sea" is just wrong. The only outcome of such a presentation will be a distortion of history that creates more tension and misunderstanding between ethnic groups in America.

Please sign the petition, if you haven't already, and share it so we can stop the current plan for the NSSM from moving forward.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

National Slave Ship Museum Board denies slave ship replica to cruise Mississippi but I've got video proof of their plan

Supporters of the National Slave Ship Museum, including New Orleans City Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell, participated in an interview that made false claims to Times Picayune reporter Jarvis DeBerry about plans for the National Slave Ship Museum.

Board member Debra Morton unequivocally denied that the museum plans have a full-scale replica of a slave ship that will sail the Mississippi River selling rides to tourists. She, Cantrell, and the architect Clifton James seem to think it's ludicrous that anyone would think the plan included such a thing. And yet they never bothered to contradict the numerous reports about the sailing ship over the years.

However, the video above shows an economic development committee meeting in which the cruising slave ship plan is mentioned twice. Once it's mentioned as a revenue source. So, clearly they planned to sell tickets to board this ship.

I also discovered planners have already received a letter of intention from the Port of New Orleans agreeing for them to use the proposed area of the Celeste Street Wharf, and that they've named their celebrity spokesperson, actor and activist Wendell Pierce (SELMA, Suits, The Wire, Treme).

More surprising however, is the proposal's plan for a simulation ride inside the museum that the architect says will let riders "experience the journey as a slave as they did at sea, a realistic ride that would probably take 4 to 5 minutes."

If these people can't be trusted to tell the plain truth in a media interview, can they be trusted to ensure the integrity of history such as suffering and death during the Middle Passage?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

National Slave Ship Museum: A fully-functioning slave ship sailing the Mississippi to entertain you, how about that?

Today I find myself in a bit of an emotional quandary. The National Slave Ship Museum, a project that I thought had died quietly already, appears to be alive and well. According to a local station, the New Orleans City Council approved last night a proposal to build this museum. But raising my eyebrow at this questionable endeavor proposed for the New Orleans Riverfront is not what troubles me. What's really tearing me up is that I must write my objections about a project that is the dream of an elder and a fellow lover of Black History in Louisiana, and encourage him to do no harm.

The National Slave Ship Museum is the dream of black, “amateur historian” Lloyd Lazard, 74. He first proposed the project in the mid-90s, going so far as to lobby the Department of the Interior and gain a thumbs up, reports New Orleans City Business, and he's been at it ever since. I applaud this kind of tenacity, but what will happen after Mr. Lazard passes on?

In 2005, the proposal for the museum was included in a riverfront revitalization plan for New Orleans (.pdf). In 2013, the key players stepped forward again and registered National Slave Ship Museum, Inc., with the state of Louisiana as a non-profit corporation. Antoinette Harrell-Miller of Kentwood, Louisiana, a genealogist, is listed as a director. Clifton James of the Urban Design Research Center, the architect who designed the proposed complex that's pictured above, is listed as its agent along with Lazard.

I'm not against museums about slavery or any attempt to educate the public about this sordid era of American and world history. Also, I'm glad that a group of black Louisianans have taken the initiative to stand up for Black History amid idealizations of the past fostered in this state.

My concern is that this project sounds like something that could easily devolve into a garish, Disneyesque-knock-off theme park (Epcot not Magic Kingdom). If not so grand as Disney, then maybe it will be the colorful Yeehaw! of Opryland in Nashville. So, one minute a slave ship, the next a party on deck with a brass band. I mean, this is New Orleans.

On the Council's approval of the plan, WVUE reports:
The proposed $170 million museum will include a life-size interactive slave ship built inside a new five-story building and a riverfront park with an amphitheater and two replica African villages.
The museum complex will also include a Creole Caribbean African restaurant, an herb and vegetable garden, a DNA lab, an exhibit and meeting space.
As a part of the museum experience, visitors will have the opportunity to travel aboard a fully functioning replica slave ship that will sail to Natchez, Miss., and Scott's Bluff in Baton Rouge, located near Southern University.” (emphasis added by me)
Does this sound like a museum that will educate the nation about the loss of thousands of lives during the Middle Passage and the enslavement of millions of Africans around the world through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade? Or does it sound more like a Fantasy Land complete with riverboat rides?

A "fully-functioning replica slave ship" sailing down the Mississippi River with tourists would be an abomination.

The loss of black lives under the slave trade and the enslavement of black people in America should be treated with the same solemnity and sacred care shown victims remembered with the United States Holocaust Museum not the brashness of a theme park passing for museum.

The people involved in this project (Lazard, Harrell-Miller, James) seem to be sincere, community-oriented people and activists. Lazard wants to not only feature American slavery but slavery around the world. Still, their vision for a museum about the dehumanizing horrors of the slave trade feels short-sighted and distorted. As you may grasp, this vision to approach slavery as consumable amusement "museum" is the root of my objection.

Louisiana has a problem reconciling with its slavery history. The tourism industry here repeatedly prefers to sugar coat or blatantly lie about slavery's atrocities, and it sounds like this proposed venture will be no different. For instance, one article at the Uptown Messenger, after mentioning that Lazard sees a vision similar to the World War II Museum and the Holocaust museum (or the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center), continues with this quote from someone else who may be involved:
“One component of it is incredible horror and destruction, but they’re mostly places of hope and victory and heroes,” said Michael Mayer, a West End boat builder.
Well, that's just what America needs given its current dysfunction on race and the Black experience, a slave ship museum that lets visitors leave feeling they've been in a place of hope surrounded by victory and heroes. Instead of grasping the depravity and horror of it all, folks can stroll along with their children saying, "See that! Everybody's overcome. Slavery all worked out for the mutual good."

I hope that's not what Mr. Mayer meant, but that's what I envision happening. How would that outcome be helpful?

Also, any comparison between the Underground Railroad and a slave ship is ludicrous. Through one black people seek self-determination; through the other they are chattel.

This project calls to mind that slave-ship video game that turned out to be a promotion for a slavery documentary. Thinking it was real, people protested, wondering who would want to interact with slavery as entertainment.

And another thought arises: How strange that the white man who turned Whitney Plantation into a slave museum painstakingly ensured visitors could not leave comforted and thinking "it's all good," but with this proposed slave ship museum we see a group of seemingly sincere black people bending over backwards to make a slave ship experience enjoyable, to fashion black suffering as an attraction. Is it possible this project needs a dash of white guilt?

I can't help but feel this project has probably mushroomed into a toxic cloud of imprudence since Lazard first shared his dream.

Gena Haskett of Los Angeles, writing on Facebook, also cannot fathom how such a presentation of the Middle Passage and slave trade would be acceptable to anyone concerned about education and African-American history.
"Will they re-create the rapes, the physical abuse and the tossing overboard of sick and dying Africans? Sea water and feces are not good smells to have near a restaurant. I have more questions but I'm feeling queasy from the ones I just presented. Not good. Not good at all to base it on abduction ships."
New Orleans, my hometown, has a rich history that includes being a major port through which slaves came from Africa, and as anyone can gather through the state of Louisiana’s plantation tourism, the enslavement of Africans was big business throughout the state. But this plantation and slavery tourism has always been painful and problematic.

With the exception of the Whitney Plantation exhibit that focuses on the lives of slaves instead of the "genteel" lives of their masters, the cruelty and horrors of slavery have been largely sanitized by the local tourism industry. Certainly this sanitizing has served not to tell the public the truth but to glorify and mythologize the antebellum South.

So, despite the most likely good intentions of the people involved to date, I am concerned that the proposed National Slave Ship Museum ultimately will fall into this same kind of minimizing that trivializes the hellish lives of the enslaved or turn the tragedy of the Middle Passage into some kind of amusement park ride.

I am also concerned that in the end the slave ship museum will be little more than a money-making operation no matter its “non-profit” status now, and so it will become just another way black bodies are exploited by the local, state, and Federal governments as well as major corporations. Nonetheless, I am not asking simply that this museum project end.

I am asking for national dialogue and complete transparency in the process, including sourcing, research, staffing, management, and funding. Also, since it’s called the National Slave Ship Museum, I ask that that the national community be made more aware of the plans. We need a deeper discussion about whether this is project is on the right road and much broader oversight. New Orleans, after all, is not the guardian of the legacy of slavery alone nor may it alone presume to speak for the millions killed or crippled by the slave trade.We are, after all, still living with its damage.

But how did this slave-ship museum project get this far? Why didn't one of our black city council members declare, "Hell no! On our ancestors' graves and again, no! Not like this. Never like this."

Please sign the petition demanding that the New Orleans City Council sends this museum's planners back to the drawing board. Click here and sign.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Let's take race out of the Freddie Gray case a moment and see what we have

While I agree there is a racial bias element in the Freddie Gray case that needs to be addressed, let's just remove that important factor for a moment. Let's remove it and see if we can all agree that the Baltimore police officers who arrested Gray did not do their jobs well and that failure resulted in a young man's death.

In one critical point, the Baltimore officers did clearly not follow state law. So, they are at the least guilty of criminally negligent homicide (or whatever Maryland calls it when you put another person's life in danger). Let's calmly consider the facts we know.

In 2013, the state of Maryland adopted a seat-belt law. Every passenger and driver must wear one. According to news reports, despite that law, Freddie Gray was not secured in the police paddy wagon by a seat belt.

Since Gray was handcuffed and shackled, he could not be expected to put on his own seat belt. He was in police custody and therefore at the mercy of the police. So, when the officers did not secure him in a seat, the put his life in danger. Since he died as a result of the officer's failure to follow state law, they are responsible for his death,

In a recently released report, "investigators say that Gray was mortally injured in the van and not during his arrest." Further, it's said that his spinal injury was the result of him slamming against the back of the van (Gray's spine was severed at the neck).

Another prisoner who was in the van says that Gray appeared to be trying to injure himself. I argue that it doesn't matter in this case. If the officers who put him in the van had put a seat belt on him, he would not have been able to throw himself anywhere.

According to a CNN report, the officers did not seat belt Gray because you have to get into an intimate space to put a seat belt on some. They were afraid he would bite them. Oddly, they could handcuff him, and later an officer shackled him, but they say they couldn't get close enough to him to put a seat belt on?

Most people in Baltimore city police custody are not seat-belted in paddy wagons, says CNN's source, but police have begun to seat-belt paddy wagon passengers since the Gray incident.

Bottom line, it doesn't matter how crazy Gray was in the back of that van. If he had been seat-belted, he would not have been slammed into the back of the van. Whether he did it on purpose is irrelevant. Once someone is in police custody, his body is under care of the police, and in this case police actions prevented a man from putting a seat belt on himself, and then they did not do it for him. That's negligence.

I can't help but think here about the meaning of Habeus corpus -- "you have the body." They had his body.

Where is the compassion of the people excusing the police in this case? Is a nation that never holds police accountable for anything really a free nation?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

That Baltimore riot: Black people are America's canary in the coal mine and more tales of global unrest

As I said on Rita Arens's post at, I'm ready to say more about police brutality and the Baltimore riot, but it's probably the more of what's already been said. When will it all stop? 

Of course, I'm "against the violence," which is why I agree that police officers need to be held accountable for being so violent and aggressive with black people, our youth included.

We have grown men and women officers who repeatedly get shoulders to cry on when they overuse force--people who are sworn to protect and serve the people--but many of us have no compassion for young people rioting in the streets of a Ferguson or a Baltimore. We lose all patients even when those young people have good reason to be angry, and science tell us their brains have not reached maturity yet. 

Yes, some of the people rioting are violent-loving opportunists who saw a chance to be destructive or loot and they took it. But make no mistake here--a lot of those people are also angry and lashing out because they believe there is no justice in America for people who look, sound, and live like them and no chance for a productive future. People without hope have little to lose.

But to put this last week in a global perspective, white European youth (Spain and Greece) have been rioting for at least the last five years. First it was for lack of economic opportunity and against austerity measures (reduction of government help), but some in Greece have rioted this year because of the increase in police violence against them and the crackdowns on young activists that have happened in the wake of these riots.

Really, I've been surprised that we haven't seen more black and brown youth rioting across America. They have higher rates of unemployment and are hassled more by the police. 

Hassled is such a weak word when I recall that Trayvon Martin was presumed to be guilty although he was the one dead in the grass; Mike Brown was shot at least five times and described as a beast; Tamir Rice was gunned down like a rabid dog at age 12; and Freddie Gray was stopped for essentially being afraid of the police yet died with broken ribs, a lacerated spleen, a crushed vocal box, and his spine severed at the neck. (As you can see I haven't even addressed the Latinos, Native Americans, and older black people who've been killed recently such as Walter Scott nor the myriad instances of increasing police overreach or negligence that did not result in death.)

There's a saying that "when America's white community catches a cold, its black community gets pneumonia." I submit that a similar thought works: In America, black people are the caged canary in the coal mine

If America doesn't pay closer attention to the real issues stifling the lives of poor black people -- if America keeps isolating issues in the black community as "the black problem," it won't be long before the whole nation needs gas masks.

Related: Baltimore Fox station stokes racial tensions with fake story, December 2014