duminică, 23 ianuarie 2011

Don Imus in 2047: Precedents & Presidents

More than 40 days have passed since Don Imus was terminated, and it seems that everyone, including this author has put in their two cents. Yesterday's news? Not even close. Now that we've had a little time for reflection we must now ask ourselves how Americans might judge the Imus-Rutgers affair in 40 years? Will it be a footnote on our media history only known to historians and old guys with really good memories? Or is it one of those watershed moments where media and race intersect that will be difficult and embarrassing to explain to our grandchildren? What will I say to my grandchild in 2047 when he/she is working on a high school term paper and stumbles upon a poll from 2007 that shows that half of all Americans thought that Imus should have kept his job? What if my grandchild shows me the long rap sheet of Imus bigotry during America’s “shock jock era”? If he/she ever asks me how Imus received support from that era’s presidents, what will I say? Please excuse me while I pontificate away, but haven’t we been down this road? Are Americans caught up in that movie “Groundhog’s Day”, just with a 40 year delay?

“Imus and Andy”: Don Imus has been known to “mimic” famous African-Americans[1] from Al Sharpton to Vernon Jordan with an over-the-top stereotypical dialect reminiscent of “Amos and Andy” fame (review). Imus grew up in an era where A & A was still an enduring American phenomenon. Amos and Andy was rooted in a long legacy of minstrel show tradition that had whites in blackface; it was a pioneer in radio broadcasting in 1928; its 30+ year run is the longest in radio broadcast history; at its peak in 1930, it spawned a movie and had ONE-THIRD of the nation tuning in on a NIGHTLY basis; and in 1951, with whites-in-blackface no longer socially acceptable, CBS introduced A & A as the first ever all-black cast on network television. The NAACP immediately protested its airing and issued its 7-point bulletin[2]. After A & A won an Emmy award in 1952, the NAACP responded by initiating a boycott of Blatz beer. By April 1953 Blatz withdrew its sponsorship and CBS announced: "The network has bowed to the change in national thinking."[3] At a time when network TV was about as racially diverse as national talk radio is today, such "change" came with a backlash. It would be 20 years before another show with an all-black cast was aired. Defenders pointed to A & A’s witty character-driven scriptwriting as the primary reasons for its popularity. Like the wit of Imus, that entertainment came as part of a “package deal”.

Some 40 years after its final TV (1966) and radio (1960)episodes were removed from syndication, the vast majority of Americans agree that the "Amos and Andy" shows are unfit for broadcasting today. But at the time, network executives and large masses of white Americans just couldn't understand what all the hubbub was about. Even some African-American fans, saddled with the unenviable choice of an unflattering comedic depiction or no depiction at all, wanted the show to remain on the air. Despite the dialects, stereotypes, and minstrel roots, many who considered themselves fair-minded people, thought that it was just good clean fun. After all, didn’t Abbot and Costello make fun of themselves? What’s the difference? Why is the NAACP meddling with our entertainment anyway?

Birth of a Collaboration between Big Media and Bigotry : By 1960 most white Americans DID view the 1915 landmark movie “Birth of a Nation” (review) as racist and unacceptable. But it took more than 40 years and an emerging social consciousness for THAT to happen. BOAN was America's highest grossing movie in American history[4] until it was repaced by ..."Gone with the Wind" -- another epic that glorified the old south. BOAN revolutionized the field of cinema before Amos and Andy did the same for radio. It also sparked the rebirth of the previously dormant Ku Klux Klan which used the movie as a recruiting tool.

With few exceptions, strong protests led by the NAACP were not respected by the white masses whether they were southern segregationists or northern progressives. Citing artistic double-standards, the Mayor of Boston objected that claims of racist propaganda were “no more valid than protests against Shakespeare’s Henry VIII for maligning the Roman Catholic Church”[5]. Many scholars and northern white critics --including The New York Times-- sidestepped the racial aspects, and put high-minded arguments together on purely artistic grounds that separated the film from its ugly pro-KKK elements[6]. Interestingly, Director D.W. Griffith vigorously rejected the notion that he or his work was “racist”. More accurately, he viewed himself more as a victim of unfair criticism. He argued that if BOAN attacked any group of persons it was “whites who led the blacks astray during reconstruction”[7]. In response to critics he produced a pamphlet entitled: The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America where he frequently argued against the political correctness (he used the word “intolerance”) of the times[8]. These rationales seemed perfectly reasonable to enough people to produce remarkable turnout all across America. While there are certainly notable distinctions between the "art" of Birth of a Nation, the satire of Amos and Andy, and the quips of Don Imus, the unfolding of mass public reaction remains remarkably similar.
Presidential Precedents: All of these pop culture media landmarks were directly or indirectly validated in varying degrees by our country’s highest leadership. After receiving a private screening of Birth of a Nation, President Woodrow Wilson allegedly remarked: "It's like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all terribly true." (Amidst protests Wilson later denounced the movie as an “unfortunate production.”) In the late 50's, president Dwight Eisenhower could be found vacationing with friend Freeman Gosden, the creator and original radio voice of Amos. In this generation, presidents and candidates (Bill Clinton, both Bushes, John McCain, John Kerry, Rudy Guliani, etc.) continue to enable Don Imus and his history to protect their own reputations as past guests on his show. A little presidential backing can go a long way towards shaping a nation’s moral attitude. US presidents have never been too good at leading when it comes to racial matters. After all, most didn’t get elected by contradicting the popular thought of their times.

"40/40 Vision": So with opportunistic presidents and divided public opinions on Imus, where do we look for moral leadership? The answer is… history. Viewing "Amos & Andy" and "Birth of a Nation" in "40/40 vision" can not only shed light on our future mass reaction to Imus, but it can tell us so much more. In his essay on “The Absurdity and Consistency of White Denial”[9] author and educator Tim Wise explains that in ANY era, white masses have grossly misdiagnosed the true extent of systemic racism in our country. These pop-media examples are merely symbolic of a greater collective white denial that Wise describes as an "intergenerational phenomenon":
“… what does it say about white rationality and white collective sanity, that in 1963--at a time when in retrospect all would agree racism was rampant in the United States, and before the passage of modern civil rights legislation--nearly two-thirds of whites, when polled, said they believed blacks were treated the same as whites in their communities--almost the same number as say this now, some 40+ years later? What does it suggest... that in 1962, 85% of whites said black children had just as good a chance as white children to get a good education in their communities? Or that in May, 1968, 70% of whites said that blacks were treated the same as whites in their communities… In other words, even when racism was, by virtually all accounts (looking backward in time), institutionalized, white folks were convinced there was no real problem. Indeed, even 40 years ago, whites were more likely to think that blacks had BETTER opportunities, than to believe the opposite...

…Truthfully, this tendency for whites to deny the extent of racism and racial injustice likely extends back far before the 1960s. Although public opinion polls in previous decades rarely if ever asked questions about the extent of racial bias or discrimination, anecdotal surveys of white opinion suggest that at no time have whites in the U.S. ever thought blacks or other people of color were getting a bad shake. White Southerners were all but convinced that their black slaves, for example, had it good, and had no reason to complain about their living conditions or lack of freedoms. After emancipation, but during the introduction of Jim Crow laws and strict Black Codes that limited where African Americans could live and work, white newspapers would regularly editorialize about the "warm relations" between whites and blacks, even as thousands of blacks were being lynched by their white compatriots…”
See No Evil: Wise’s commentary demonstrates a “blind spot” that the majority of white Americans have historically had when asked to fully recognize institutional racism WHILE IT IS OCCURRING and without the luxury of 40 years hindsight. Even some of our most educated presidential scholars from Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson had this blind spot. So where does this blind spot come from? Lack of education or intelligence? Nope… just PRIVILEGE + human nature. Most people who have privilege never want to give it up. Enter “privilege” and very smart people might suddenly become very stupid right before our very eyes. If we like our privileges enough, we might actually convince ourselves, in our own time, that: Columbus discovered America, slaves were happy, separate was equal, domestic violence is a "family matter", "no" means "yes", "trickle-down" helps the poor, homosexuality is just “a preference”, and torture is okay. History shows that most privileged people will rationalize just about ANYTHING before giving up a benefit. Many otherwise smart and level-headed people will even convince themselves that Don Imus really did learn the "n-word" from Snoop Dogg before they willingly give up their favorite morning show. Want to turn a Mensa member into Forest Gump? Just try and take back a cookie from the top of their stack. Psychologists like to call this phenomena "cognitive dissonance theory". My mother likes to call it "being spoiled rotten".

What side of history will you be on?: If our past is any indication of our future, Imus apologists and enablers will be on the wrong side of social history in 2047. But unfortunately, we don’t have another 40 years to burn before we “get real” about understanding how racism and bigotry operate in our country. Smacking that racial snooze button one more time is not an option. Consensus must be reached on the simple stuff like Imus, so that we can tackle the more complicated and less visible institutional discrimination that permeates our schools, employment, health-care, and criminal-juvenile justice systems. There is a national high school dropout crisis going on in our country that must be a part of every presidential debate. On the strength of draconian drug laws (see crack vs. cocaine), mandatory minimum sentencing, and the emergence of "prisons for profit" our criminal population has multiplied FIVE TIMES OVER in the last 30 years (after stability in the previous 50 years) on the disproportionate incarceration of African-American men while study after ignored study reveals major institutional biases[10]. Just exactly what has to happen for people “of their times” to know what time it is?

When my grandchild asks: “Why did so many Americans, media members and politicians support and enable Imus back in 2007?”, followed by “and why didn’t anyone do anything about the crisis in the school system and the prisons?”, I don’t want to get into intellectual discussions about the invisible workings of “institutional racism”, the phenomena of "white denial”, or the social history of “40/40 vision”. We must clean our house now. Our crystal ball could not be more crystal clear.

How YOU Can Save Hip Hop!

Guilty as charged! Although I am a hip hop fan, I am admittedly underqualified to write a column titled “How YOU Can Save Hip Hop”. Thousands of other individuals who live, eat, and breathe hip hop culture will forget more about rap music than I will ever know. And under normal circumstances, I might pull back. But these are drastic “post-Imus-blame-hip-hop-for-everything-but-9/11” times where every media pundit, blogger, and visitor to the office water-cooler seems to have an opinion. I’ve heard enough and have concluded that if this national hip-hop exam is going to be graded on a curve, then I am “qualified-by-default”. A special thanks goes out to Bill O’Reilly!

Rapper "Common" recently advised: "If criticism [of hip hop] could come with love, we can make some progress." Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Hammer, meet head of nail. Common loves hip hop the same way my big brother used to love me: He would routinely beat my ass, but still vigorously protect me from others who loved me less. "Love" has definitely been a missing ingredient in this whole “clean-up hip hop" national conversation. Questioning the sincerity of many critics comes easy when: the mainstream media disingenuously uses Don Imus, and not the countless past hip-hop summits led by concerned activists to spark the discussion; blatant hypocrisy exists where so much other music and art gets “let off the hook”; many pop blood vessels discussing the music in the iPod of a 14 year old, but won’t raise an eyebrow when you bring up the piss-poor school that same kid attends. And of course, there is that ever-present racial subtext which ain’t always so “sub”. Is it even possible to enter the hip hop fray without validating such a hypocritical backdrop? I really don’t know, but I'm shooting for "progress".


Is “hip hop” and “radio rap” the same thing? Not according to legendary rap emcee Nas who, citing corporate takeover, argues that “hip hop is dead”. If so, others have argued that Bill Clinton killed it on the day he signed the bipartisan Telecommunications Act of 1996. If it can be revived, Jay-Z’s own words should provide us with a moment of clarity on where to start:

And the music I be makin
I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell "Holla"
If skills sold
Truth be told
I'd probably be
Talib Kweli
Truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did five mil
I ain't been rhymin’ like Common since
When your sense got that much in common
And you been hustlin’ since
Your inception, fuck perception
Go with what makes sense
Since I know what I'm up against
We as rappers must decide what's most impor-tant
And I can't help the poor if I'm one of them
So I got rich and gave back
To me that's the win, win
-- Jay-Z, Moment of Clarity

If Jay-Z’s message is not clear enough, one might also want to listen to Eminem’s REAL first album. It’s called “Infinite”, it was never published, but the bootleg can be found on ebay. While Eminem’s signature lyrical prowess can be found on the album, two things seemed to change after he signed an official recording contract. One, his musical production improved (courtesy of producer Dr. Dre), and, two, the messages in his music declined. The more positive content that could be found in “Infinite” was replaced in favor of an alter-ego character (“Slim Shady”) who specialized in a rather sinister, misogynistic, and homophobic brand of comedy.
Jay-Z and Eminem have a lot in common with one another. Both grew up in poverty and neither has plans to go back. They are: lyrical masters whose artistic talent is simply undeniable; poets who serve as “voices for the voiceless”; change agents whose crossover appeal has improved race relations; and most relevantly, they are two of the greatest commercial successes in the history of rap music. They have also parlayed that success into additional millions through business dealings. They have clearly told us that they aren’t simply “artists”, they are capitalists! They are as American as apple pie. They think like Bill Gates -- they are just a tad less rich and a tad more hip. Both musicians have admittedly altered their art-form to fit the demands of the marketplace. By doing so, we were robbed of: the chance to hear the purity of Jay-Z’s skills in its truest form; a more authentic and rounded version of Eminem; and a whole other cadre of young aspiring, but unsigned poets. If 50 Cent, a rap artist signed by Eminem and a very savvy, shrewd, and successful businessman himself, is willing to “get rich or die trying”, why not provide him with a more lucrative option and see where the chips fall.

The message is clear: If you want artists to be more “positive”, then compensate them for their sacrifice. If the radio industry and consumers reward violence, misogyny, and materialism then those artists that don’t conform will often be replaced by those that do. If at your workplace almost every colleague you ever saw get promoted cursed in meetings and smacked their co-workers, then you just might be inclined to follow suit. (And don't we all have that ONE coworker...) The cold hard truth is this: we are a nation of hip hop “hypo-critics”. We sit around hoping that Young Jeezy finds Jesus, yet we refuse to buy his CD after he gets baptized.


Routine Interruption #1 (Free Speech): This column is anti-censorship. Art is art. All voices have a right to be heard --even if not necessarily subsidized on our airwaves. And "voices for the voiceless" often deserve our ears even if we don't always like the delivery. Having stated that, the pendulum has swung an awful long way since NWA came "Straight Outta Compton" in 1989. When yesterday's "voiceless" become today's "industry standard" then a new batch of muzzled artists deserve protection. True first ammendment advocates must now fight to remove the de facto censorship that drowns out the voice of hundreds of lesser-known, but more talented artists who end up selling CD’s out of the trunk of their car (if they are lucky). Here is an example:

“We don't wanna hear about dimes and dope
We don't wanna hear about nines and smoke
We don't wanna hear about movin’ packs and foolish cats
Who lie and boast”

-- Lecrae, "Jesus Muzik" w/Trip Lee

Routine Interruption #2 ("Artist Pass"): This criticism usually includes something about giving “gangsta rap artists” a “free pass” soon followed by calls for their “personal responsibility” as the ultimate solution to radio's lack of diversity. ...If I ever become friends with 50 Cent (or Quentin Tarantino for that matter), I’ll surely schedule that “heart-to-heart” with him. Until then, I’ll have to settle for taking those closest to me to task about the personal responsibility of their own purchasing power. Ironically, focusing on artists is not only short-sighted and unproductive, but it diverts attention from and often gives that very “free pass” to the REAL power brokers —top industry executives and consumers.

The REAL Free Pass: Who is more powerful: Redman or Sumner Redstone? The latter is Viacom’s chief boss and controls hundreds of radio stations plus MTV, BET, and VH1 -- home of many wholesome videos. Clear Channel controls the playlists of 1200 radio stations across America. How often is a tirade directed at CEO Mark Mays after Snoop is turned into Dogg food? Are we so caught up with Snoop’s boasting, that we can’t recognize the REAL pimps? You may not know the most powerful industry executives, but longtime DJ Davey D does. In his informative essay, a letter is referenced that Lisa Fager, president and co-founder of the media-watch group Industry Ears, recently sent to US Senators. She asks this simple question:
“If NBC were to show a porn movie at 5 p.m., would you call porn star Jenna Jameson or NBC President and CEO Jeff Zucker to the carpet?”
No reply is necessary. Let's just agree on a moratorium on all "artist bullying" until some much bigger fish are fried. Great! Questlove of The Roots explains how "payola" works and how it cost close to a million $$$ to get a positive song on the radio (go to 4:45 marker of video clip for his explanation). Crazy, isn't it? We’ll address fighting the super-corrupt music industry in another article. The rest of this column is all about you and me!
"I have finally realized that EVERY person is either a part of the problem or part of the solution and that is why I have decided to take a stand!" -- Rapper Master P’s recent open letter.
This author did not deliberately capitalize "EVERY", Master P did. However, his words have been taken to heart, and the rest of this column follows his lead.
The Complaining Critic Responsibility: If every citizen in America who has ever complained about commercial rap purchased just one CD – JUST ONE -- from some of hip hop's more positive artists (as a gift if rap is not your cup-o'-tea), the rap industry would be revolutionized overnight. If they say non-voters forfeit their right to complain about politicians then shouldn't it follow that...

The White Consumer Responsibility: Any honest discussion on improving today's radio rap would be highly irresponsible if the white consumer wasn't specifically addressed. Why? Whites purchase almost 80% of rap music and, thus, ultimately control the marketplace. Trust me, 50 Cent is well aware of this little factoid. So if the the vast majority of consumers (and top execs) are mostly white, how exactly did fixing commercial rap get reduced to a "black problem"? With all due respect to Oprah’s town hall meetings, the Essence "Take Back the Music Campaign", the NAACP’s “Stop Campaign”, and Al Sharpton’s Decency in Music initiatives, these efforts from various sectors of African-American leadership will garner limited results without a separate complementary movement in white communties that addresses white purchasing patterns. For starters, white community leaders, pastors, educators, parents, and young people would all have to assume communal responsibility in creating a culture that promotes, educates, and supports diverse and positive hip-hop amongst other whites. A good place to start might be the social adoption of...
...The "3-to-1 Rule": When a new authentic and skilled voice emerges even this sometimes self-righteous author might support them despite content unfit for Nikelodeon! In such cases, it is helpful to adhere to a "3-to-1 rule" where three more positive CDs get purchased as a package deal. This allows true artistic "voiceless representatives" a place at the table without spoiling the entire meal.
Finally, not everyone can be influenced into supporting diverse artists. My mother would rather get her teeth drilled than listen to a rap album no matter how virtuous the lyrics. And I would rather get mine extracted before burning good hard-earned money on a crappy CD. But thankfully, there is no shortage of top-shelf diverse and positive musicians to choose from. ...So is "hip-hop dead" as Nas claims? Has corporate radio successfully killed it? ...Only if we, as consumers, allow it. Now let’s create a movement and revive it -- one purchase at a time:


Seriously, I mean RIGHT now! Pick a CD. Any CD. See sample videos below and purchase with one click. You don’t like hip hop? Perhaps someone you know does. Get them a gift CD or email them this article asking them to choose one. The list below focuses on current artists whose talent far exceeds their album sales. Of course, there is still a treasure trove of older musicians and underground artists that is not represented here (please forgive me!). Now whip out that credit card, and show Nelly what else can be done with it! WARNING!: These videos do not have half-naked women gyrating in them!

PICK 1 of 20 and Pass on!

Lupe Fiasco (video - purchase) is arguably the best new young poet to emerge this past year. (Note to poetically-challenged - video lyrics are IRONIC)
The Roots (purchase) are a hip hop BAND who built a following the old fashioned way: non-stop touring. They are innovative (video), classic (video), and can also rock (video). In contrast, "Nappy Roots" are a band of voices who have something to say in their country way. NR is 2 for 2 in quality albums (purchase) and will be back again this summer.
Common (video - purchase), Talib Kweli (video; purchase), and Mos Def have sacrificed income for integrity for years. Their music contains intricate lyrics and messages of social uplift and social justice.

Grits (video; website/purchase), Cross Movement (video; purchase), Lecrae (video; purchase) and KJ-52 (video; purchase), represent a growing movement of Christian rap artists who show that religious-based messages are as much a part of hip-hop as anything else.

You won’t find too many catchy hooks with poet Jean Grae (video - purchase) just profound and complex lyrics. Floetry (video) who blends hip hop with soul, and C-Mone (purchase) represent a growing rap movement out of the UK.

Common Market (website/purchase) and hip hop band The Procussions (video – purchase), should appeal to “old school” fans who wax nostalgic about hip hop’s “good old days”.

Voiceless? You can learn more about life on a north american reservation in two videos (#1 - #2) by War Party (purchase) than in two years of watching CNN. Chinese rapper Jin (audio; purchase) is no novelty act and his lyrical skills prove as much. Joell Ortiz, who won't be confused for a boy scout, has a voice, skills, and spirit that deserve to be heard.
“Strength of a Nation” by YDRF (Purchase – Scroll Down) and Youth Under Construction (purchase) represent compilations by youth-serving organizations who for years have been promoting positive hip-hop AND positive youth development without media attention. They have used hip hop as a successful educational tool. Join their youth movements.
This starter list does not include many other worthy artists. Just add what has been missed to your feedback in the comments section!


"Strength of a Nation 2 Contest" from YDRF: $500 Youth Awards for 10 Best Songs! Targeted for Youth Programs and Schools
Supersista's Video Contest: Make a Hip Hop Video. Win $1000! Submit by July 1
Essence Take Back the Music: 2007 Songwriting Contest - See who won!
CONGRATULATIONS! You are now part of the movement! Let’s keep it going!

"The Devil" Brings Death in Darfur... and to Indifference

I really thought that I was done with Darfur. I signed the petition, sent in my 20 bucks, and even bought a “Save Darfur” t-shirt to boot. It wasn’t enough to stop the genocide… just my conscience. Don’t get me wrong: I often remarked to others “just how terrible what was going on”… usually somewhere before passing the potatoes and sometime after checking the New York Yankees daily box scores. I mean, I really did want to do more; it was just that Sudan seemed soooooooooooooooooooooo far away. That was before yesterday. That was before I saw “The Devil Came on Horseback” (view trailer) at SILVERDOCS annual AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival. Other viewers can decide just how much that is a statement on my own character flaws or the power of this documentary.

Documentary Review: “The Devil Came on Horseback”, co-directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, chronicles how Sudan’s Arab government and its Janjaweed militias have systematically destroyed villages and displaced, raped, tortured, and killed Darfur’s black African citizens since 2003. The story is told through the eyes of former US Marine Captain Brian Steidle who was transformed from “soldier-assigned-a-mission” to “activist-on-a-mission”. His old cause was taking pictures to make a few extra dollars. His new one is waking up the American people and American government to wield its unique power. The documentary includes factual background information behind the unfolding of the genocide, graphic photographs depicting the worst of atrocities, and perhaps most importantly, rarely-heard voices from displaced Darfur survivors. Like the photographs, this documentary simply cannot be ignored.

Post-Screening: After the viewing, a panel discussion ensued of guests who have been intimately involved in the trenches of raising awareness and spurring action. John Prendergast who along with “actor-vist” Don Cheadle (see news video) co-authored the book,
Not On Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond, said: “if America spent one quarter of 1% as much effort diplomatically as it does with regard to Iraq, we can end the genocide in Darfur overnight”. He mentioned that such a US led multilateral effort should include Sudan trading partners such as China and France. So what’s the problem? The more I listened, the more I realized that I was definitely part of it. He stated: “Unless we have a constituency of Americans continually urging their local congressmen to make Darfur an urgent priority, nothing is going to change”. Co-director Sundberg expressed optimism around the documentary’s scheduled June 26th screening for US congressional members. She hopes that the screening will help lead to a “tipping point where awareness turns into action”. She added that this all depends on whether those congressmen even show up to the viewing, which in turn, is dependent on whether people in their districts urge them (1-800-436-6243).

Personal Reflection: I have seen many documentaries on genocide and human atrocities. Movies too. Hotel Rwanda? Killing Fields? Roots? Schindler’s List? Been there, done that, and after each time I incredulously asked: "how did all the 'good people' allow this to happen?" “The Devil Came on Horseback” was different. The others were always past tense. This one is “in progress” or as Prendergast puts it “genocide in slow motion”. So what if President Clinton could have made good on what he admits today to be his biggest presidential mistake (that’s Rwanda, not Monica)? And what if we could turn back the clock and intervene at the Holocaust’s “3 million dead” marker? No need for time machines. From what I learned yesterday, each American can still play the role of Oskar Schindler. Prendergast calls it “moving from a bystander to an upstander”. Sounds like a good move to me. Like most of our elected officials, I have been far too quiet on this. However, when it comes to fighting for "the side of right", I'd always rather show up late, than not at all. Even still, it should not have taken a documentary for me to get focused. Everyone should see "The Devil Came on Horseback", but no one should wait for it to act. And no, I have no idea how many hits Derek Jeter got last night.

What Now? The amount of Darfur citizens driven from their homes equal THREE Katrinas, the amount of deaths far exceed ONE HUNDRED “9-11s”, and the percentage of screening audience members who wanted to do more was 100%. Thankfully, all members were handed a “TAKE ACTION NOW” card before they left which I will now share with you.

This information has been reprinted below verbatim.


-- Check out your elected leaders’ record on Darfur:

-- Call the President, Congress, and your governor: 1-800-GENOCIDE (436-6243)
Demand: Immediate UN intervention in Darfur
Unrestricted Access for Humanitarian Aid
No-fly zone and economic and military sanctions


-- Divest in Companies doing Business in Sudan

-- Contact the Save Darfur Coalition: www.savedarfur.org
Learn how to generate media coverage, lobby elected leaders and pressure the international community to do more to help the people of Sudan.


-- The Devil Came on HorsebackSee the film:
Read the book: www.publicaffairsbooks.com/steidle.html

-- Enough www.enoughproject.org
Enough uses field and policy analysis and strong policy advocacy to empower a growing activist movement to stop and prevent genocide


-- Global Grassroots:
Global Grassroots offers training and seed funding to help women genocide survivors launch social projects. Proceeds from this film will help Darfur refugee women rebuild

-- Three Generations:
Three generations is compiling evidence of genocide in Darfur, especially through the making of this film. Make ending genocide a personal commitment.

-- Join HOPE:
The HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere) Music Campaign empowers individuals to take action on Darfur through music.


Clean Our House!

stole this from a blog
(Why Am I Not Surprised?)

who stole this from a blog
(White Anti-Racist Parent)

who stole this from a blog

Thanks! Feel free to steal!

Stephon and Sarah: American Retail Revolutionaries

"The vision that we have is basically to change the world." – Stephon Marbury
For all the "isms" that rear its ugly head in our society, Americans are perhaps most schizophrenic about… “materialism”. Despite their existence, most will agree that diseases such as racism and sexism are wrong. However, when it comes to materialism, the “haves” employ history’s worst possible teaching method to the “have-nots”: “Do as I say, not as I do”. If all social issues were confronted this way, then Keith Richards would tell us not to do drugs, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman would lecture us about healthy eating, and Ike Turner might preach about the dangers of domestic violence.

We glorify and commercialize materialism nearly every chance we get. Four years after he retired, young boys all across America are still willing to pony up to $200 dollars “to be like Mike” ("Jordan" for cavedwellers). After "Entertainment Tonight" is through celebrating $50,000 dresses at the Oscars, young girls will pay more for a Louis Vuitton or Gucci purse than the amount of money it will ever hold. In America: clothing labels = status. Rich parents will often buy status for their kids. When this same value system is adopted by those who can least afford it, kids may get very creative to obtain it (even rich adults – see Winona Ryder!). What I have personally and professionally learned about materialism is that you get applauded for challenging the symptoms (youth who can’t afford “status”), but get lambasted for challenging the disease (greater American values championed by adults). Confront the former and you are “teaching good values”, confront the latter, and you are, well, un-American. What this hypocrysy all adds up to is youth getting many high-handed lectures, but few low-end options.

Enter NBA basketball player Stephon Marbury and actress Sarah Jessica Parker. They aren’t just trying to change consumers; they are trying to change the world. Ironically, both come from industries renowned for the glorification of materialism. In the past year each has recently started a clothing line at "Steve and Barry’s” discount sporting goods store where no piece of clothing exceeds $19.98. By lending their popular names, they are also lending their “status”. How do they keep costs so low? The elimination of what is often clothing's #1 cost: paid advertising. S & B's rely solely on word of mouth and free press (special thanks to Oprah!) . Having already personally purchased sneakers, t-shirts, caps, and sweatshirts from the “Starbury” line, I can attest that there is absolutely no drop-off in quality. (Note: I really hope that last disclosure didn’t just eliminate the “cool factor” for some kid!)

If “The Devil Wears Prada” then Sarah Jessica Parker is an angel for introducing her new “Bitten” clothing line earlier this month (no, I am not qualified to give a fashion review). This should come as great news to many women who consistently pay higher prices for the same exact amount of material and labor that is often required for men’s clothing. Before discussing fashion trends as “Carrie Bradshaw” on “Sex and the City”, Parker, one of eight children growing up within a modest family income, was no stranger to “hand-me downs”. In this
Glamour interview Parker states: “You’re going to be able to buy $200 worth of clothes, leave that store with six bags and be able to pay your utilities and take your kids someplace special for their birthday. It’s a very different philosophy about shopping. It’s the first and only time I’ve wanted to design.” While some skeptics will state that it was merely “a business decision”, we must ask why so many other celebrity fashionistas chose not to do business this way. If you are wondering where Parker got her inspiration, she states: “When I first heard about Steve & Barry’s "Starbury" shoe, I burst into tears…”

When Stephon Marbury first introduced his $14.98 sneakers last August, ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (usually a decent show) ran with the storyline: “Can Marbury Repair his Image?”… Huh? What? How did ESPN
[1] just miss this one? Perhaps the sneaker revolution will not be televised... While the most insignificant spats with his now-fired coach would often garner negative back-page tabloid headlines for Marbury (not the coach), the mainstream sports media rarely ever reported his substantial history of community activism. While Marbury-the-visionary was now selling sneakers, the image of Marbury-the-villain was good for selling newspapers. But when it comes to sports media, such is life for your average NBA player where big buck donations get ignored altogether, and strip club altercations get covered forever[2]. If you didn't really know about Marbury’s past good deeds, it is only because no one really tried that hard to tell you.

American Hero: Marbury has donated thousands of hours and millions of dollars to various causes; has been named as one of the
“Sporting News Good Guys” three separate times in his career; he runs basketball tournaments every summer (fair warning: before you decide to enter you must read 3 books and write an essay); and his emotional breakdown at the Knick’s “Post Katrina Conference” (go to 3 min marker of video) shows the depth of his heart to even the most hardened of cynics. Oh yeah, unlike ESPN’s website[3], we won't forget to mention that last week Marbury announced a pledge of FOUR million dollars, $1 million each to the NYPD, New York Fire Department, the NYC teachers and EMT? …But no amount of money and personal time might be as socially significant as the sneakers he now wears to every NBA game. Nowadays, mothers hug him wherever he goes. Mark Cuban, the self-made billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, called the product "the biggest business story of the year.” Given Marbury’s body of work and the movement that he seems to have started, Sports Illustrated, Time, and Forbes should all have his picture on their cover. How effective Stephon and Sarah’s efforts are at undermining an exploitative clothing industry remains to be seen. And while Steve & Barry's are members of the Fair Labor Association, some still question whether any clothing with the tag "made in China" can be free of ethical concerns. In any case, there are many multi-billion dollar companies rooting very, very hard for them to fail. Industry executives know full well that that a young person will do just about anything to feel special and accepted amongst their peers. Stephon and Sarah are American “retail revolutionaries”. They are trying to “change the game”. They are trying to redefine “status”. They are providing solutions for American values-gone-bad. They are trying to change you and me. They are… oh, I’m sorry… I’ll have to finish this column later… “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” is about to come on!!!
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." -- Elie Wiesel

[1] In fairness, weeks later ESPN ran an excellent piece on its more serious, but less watched, “Outside the Lines” show.
[2] One of many examples: Just last week Stephon Marbury pledged 4 million dollars and ESPN did not contribute even one article. On the same day, NBA player Stephen Jackson pleaded guilty to a felony count of criminal recklessness (no jail time) for firing a gun in the air from 9 months ago and ESPN contributed 5 separate articles.
[3] Rumor has it that the website story of Marbury's 4 million pledge was bumped to make way for ESPN's 657th headling article (by unnofficial count) on the latest trangressions of football badboy Pacman Jones.

Happy Independence Day!

Yes, I know it’s only July 2nd, and no, I haven’t started drinking early! But I think we should start the party right now. Why? Because it was July 2nd when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was officially signed into legislation by Lyndon B. Johnson. And because of this fact I like to be two steps and two days ahead of the crowd!
While I certainly have bigger fish to fry than what day our country chooses to drink a beer and light some firecrackers, I never have been able to fully embrace the whole “independence” thing on July 4th. To me independence means freedom, and in the past when I have reminded folks that not everyone was free back in 1776, I would often get some form of the “details, details” response. How about this detail: after America fought the British over “taxation without representation”, a new system was installed where the vast majority of Americans still would pay taxes, but were not allowed to vote (even white males had to own land). Believe it or not, less than 1.3% of the entire US population voted in the 1789 Presidential Election. And in these “patriotically correct” times, it is really hard to squeeze these little factoids out before someone invariably asks: “So, why do you hate your country?”

The thing is, despite the fact that we have some major housecleaning to do starting from the very top, I don’t hate my country at all Mr. Hannity. I love my country, and when you love someone you want what’s best for them. I want my country to be the best that it can be, and it will only be best if we are honest about its past and current flaws. ...
Since July 4th, 1776 we’ve updated a whole lot of stuff. You know, the Bill of Rights, lots of new amendments, and that whole “three-fifths of a man” thing that slipped past our founders. After all that progress, is a mere 48 hour bump up on “independence day” a whole lot to ask? Besides, we could have all had a three day weekend this year! Okay, okay, how about a compromise: we start today and party straight through until July 4!

Now I realize that there are other viable “Independence Day” date candidates. Usually, the leading alternative is “Juneteenth
which commemorates America’s emancipation of slaves, is already a holiday in 14 states, and it is encouraging that it seems to be gaining steam in recent years. Now despite its most obvious appeal, Juneteenth also has its own set of shortcomings: It came before sharecropping, mass lynchings, segregation, women’s suffrage (a good case can be made for August 18), the New Deal, and the Civil Rights Movement. Even still, if there is no law against multiple “independence days”, then my vote is to have one big two week party starting on June 19th and ending on July 4th. Not only would that eliminate much of the in-fighting, but employers would have no trouble scheduling everybody’s annual vacation! But since I have a funny feeling that this radical plan just won’t slide through a congressional vote, then I’m coming right back to the July 2 - 4 concept. It just seems that honoring these two dates would best symbolize a fuller evolutionary legal circle of the liberty of our country AND its people. Also, I bet that many initial opponents will soften their stance once they realize they will get two extra days off from work!

This just in! I just clicked over to “Why Am I Not Surprised” to see about a recent article (“History Lesson”) where I read about the 1964 Act and the amazing 83-day filibuster that intended to block that legislation. In doing so, I inadvertently learned from a separate article that July 2nd was also Thurgood Marshall’s birthday! Since Brown V. Board of Education laid the constitutional foundation for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it is officially “a wrap”. Let’s get this party started already… we can always go non-stop until Wednesday! Please feel free to join me.

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." -- Elie Wiesel

History's Hit Job on Thomas Paine

"I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last 30 years than Thomas Paine." – John Adams, 1805
Today is the 4th of July, so it seems as good a day as any to pay patriotic homage to our country’s greatest American revolutionary... Thomas Paine. Unlike George Washington, there is no holiday in his honor. Unlike Thomas Jefferson, there is no memorial in the Washington mall. And unlike many other of his dead revolutionary peers, you won’t find his picture in your wallet no matter how big a spender you are. And despite history’s hit job on his legacy, it just doesn’t get too much more American than the man who created the phrase: “United States of America"[1]. Paine was simultaneously a revolutionary during his time and 230 years ahead of his time.

Good American Revolutionary! –When it came to the American Revolution, General Washington was the fighter and Thomas Paine was the writer. John Adams stated: "Without the pen of the author of 'Common Sense,' the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain". Paine’s American Crisis Papers may have been equally as inspirational in winning the war as “Common Sense” was able to galvanize popular support for it. His “Rights of Man” which supported the French Revolution and, more broadly, human rights, quickly became one of the most popular books ever published. It called on Englishmen to join France and the US in a government “of the people and for the people and by the people”[2] at a time when Abraham Lincoln was not even born. Had Paine not escaped near execution in a Luxemburg jail he was committed to in 1793, he may have very well gone on to become our country’s most iconic founder. While mention of Paine’s ‘Common Sense’, and perhaps even “The Crisis Papers”, can usually be found in your average 8th grade textbook, his legacy often ends right there. Perhaps intentionally so.

Bad American Revolutionary! – Some freedom fighters just don’t know when to quit! Paine was a staunch and outspoken abolitionist. In this essay
African Slavery in America, Paine, not one to mince words, published one of the very first articles in the US advocating the emancipation of all slaves. Its publishing date of March 8, 1775 may be just as significant as the essay itself. Paine also believed that women should be afforded equal rights and participation in the political process. And unlike many other founders, by 1895 Paine had come to advocate universal suffrage[3]. Paine was a free thinker and philosopher whose writings supported every forthcoming freedom movement (Civil War, Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, etc.) on American soil. While he was initially beloved for his role in the American Revolution, he was told to go back to his corner the more he kept talking all crazy about freedom for ALL its citizens. And when he openly criticized Christianity (see AGE of REASON) which, in his time, formed the backbone for monarchy, slavery, and inequality, well THAT was the last straw. Ultimately, he was ostracized, his hero status withdrawn, and his accomplishments minimized in our history books in the early 1800s. By 1809 he died broke and only a handful attended his funeral.

“Men of Their Times”: While our country continues to pay homage to popular slave-holding founders through schools, streets signs, and memorials, Paine is not nearly as well-known or celebrated in comparison (
although gaining some recent ground). The sins of slaveholders are often overlooked, and iconic status is often granted through the common “men of their times” (MOTT) pass. This pass, otherwise known as the “but-mommy-everyone-else-is-doing-it” pass, has an awful lot of holes in it. For starters, the founders weren’t “men of their times” at all: They were REVOLUTIONARIES! “Men of their time” liked to sip tea, not throw it overboard. Their chosen specialty was freedom fighting. Besides that, Jefferson’s writings and Washington’s freeing of his own slaves at death offer a pretty good clue about their actual belief systems vs. their actual actions. Finally, the other founders were quite familiar with Thomas Paine. His ideas and writings (honorable mention to Benjamin’s “Rush” and “Franklin”) were not only well-known, but also served as the central backdrop that informed the Declaration of Independence. ...Many slave-holding founders didn’t suffer from “ignorance of their era”, they suffered from being spoiled from spending a lifetime never having to plow the fields, plant crops, pick cotton, clean their house, install a new deck, mow the lawn, wash dishes, do the laundry, and take out the garbage. The benefit package of human bondage was nothing to sneeze at, and not all freedom-fighters were ready to give up those perks. And even if the “men of their times” pass was actually true, shouldn’t we raise the bar a tad bit before assigning iconic status? (Note: This is not to suggest that that we no longer teach historical facts about TJ’s writings or GW’s military generalship, this is a commentary on who our country decides to glorify and memorialialize all across America.)

Man of OUR Times: Thomas Paine was ahead of his time, and this fact gives us options that few know exist. If saddled with “men of their times” vs. “men of our times”, shouldn’t it be a no-brainer who gets the historical love? Shouldn’t our history books make it self-evident that all white men in white wigs were not created equal? Unfortunately, I never did learn anything about Thomas Paine “the abolitionist” or “women’s rights activist” in school. And I wonder why that is.

Reversing History’s Hit Job: With 230 years hindsight, why have we not adjusted who is most deserving of our historical praise? Are the textbook-writing, building-naming, and monument-sculpting communities just really lazy or is there something else? While
some still hold Paine’s criticism of Christianity against him, those critics tend to forget the lethally oppressive context of the 1790’s, not to mention our constitution itself. And it is hard to come to grips with logic that gives the "men of their times" pass to slaveholders, but resists celebrating those that fiercely fought against the religious foundation for that very bondage. ...But there may be a much greater issue at stake. To be aware of the FULL story of Thomas Paine is to force many to reconsider the lasting popular status and personal legacies of many of America’s other founders. Paine shines a greater light on their personal crimes (human, if not legal), and also allows his readers to uphold and fight for the values of our constitution in ANY era. To know Thomas Paine is to glorify our American values of freedom and equality WITHOUT HYPOCRISY, and to challenge hypocrisy wherever we find it; to simultaneously commend the best and condemn the worst in America; and, in the words of President Eisenhower, to "never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion". To celebrate Thomas Paine is to celebrate American patriotism in its purest form. His legacy could not be any more relevant on July 4, 2007.
"We have it in our power to begin the world over again" – Thomas Paine

[1] Nelson, Craig, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations[2] Fleming, Thomas, Liberty! The American Revolution, p. 369[3] Keyssar, Alexander, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States p. 10