Monday, May 19, 2014

Anthony Bourdain - Parts Unknown

I found out a little late that Booker's story, or at least part of it, was going to be included in one of Anthony Bourdain's food shows.  Parts Unknown is the name of the show.  I'm hoping to be able to get my hands on  the episode to see it for myself, but I did hear that they aired Booker's monologue.

I'm thrilled, beyond thrilled really, because more people are learning about his story. No one in my family even knew my grandfather made those statements until about seven years ago.  He protected his daughters and my whole family from his thoughts and feelings about his work at Lusco's.  When we finally found the footage it brought both joy and heartache.  Joy because we could see him, moving and speaking and laughing.  Heartache because of how much shame he endured every night just to make a living.

I read Anthony's blog post about the Delta.  Yes, it is an amazing place.  It's virtually impossible to measure all the things we have as Americans that originated there.  But like an Achilles heel, the history of slavery and the legacy of segregation will always be a part of the South's rich inheritance.  The story of man's subjugation to man is written all over the Delta.  It's painted on people's faces, it's in the space that often still separates whites and blacks, it's in their laws, their customs, and is an integral fiber in the every day lives of today's Mississippians.

If you find yourself interested in the Mississippi Delta's rich, tragic past try not gawk as though observing a car wreck or even a horrifyingly beautiful work of art.

Howard Zinn, one of the nation's most beloved historians, said the South is a mirror.  When we look at her, we're seeing a concentrated version of the rest of the nation.  The Mississippi Delta is not some random, scandal-ridden anomaly, a stain on our nation, and the excuse for why the state ranks last in almost every barometer that measures quality of life.

The Delta is none of those things.

What is it?  It's us.  It's all that we're capable of - good and bad.  It's what is beautiful and tragic about the human spirit.

It's really not all that different down there after all.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Public Speaking Do's and Don'ts Number #1 When In Wisconsin in February

When in Wisconsin in February:

DO realize that it might be colder outside than in a deep freezer.

DO bring winter boots with you.  They can even be adorable (picture to be posted soon).

DON'T act surprised when you go for a pleasant mid-day stroll and get frostbite on your ears.  Okay, according to the Mayo Clinic, what I had was probably Frost Nip, but saying I had Frost Bite sounds way more dramatic.

DO retell your Wisconsin stories using dramatic overstatements like "Frost Bite" as opposed to "Frost Nip," because 1) you will sound like an adventurer, even if you were just trying to find a Starbucks and 2) future venues will know that you're willing to die for the cause.

DO tell all of the lovely people you meet (most of whom will be hard to see because they'll be covered in layer upon layer of fabrics created in a lab to withstand the coldest temperatures) that you'd be happy to return to Wisconsin to share the story with more people, as long as it's in July.

DO realize that many of Wisconsin's towns are connected by land and nothing else.  I just completed six talks in four days in four cities and there isn't a greyhound or train that travels between them.  At first I thought I could rent a car, then realized that if it was snowing and I rented a car - well, I am from California, so basically it wasn't going to happen.

DO Remember to thank the amazing people who made it all worthwhile.  Most of the venues were kind enough to drive me all over the state (note the use of dramatic overstatement) in order to make it to my events.  THANK YOU Melanie, William, Marvette, Dorothea, Josephine, and the sweet ladies (whose names I don't even know) who drove me back to my hotel tonight.  All of these wonderful people endured  my presence in their warm vehicles for hours on end so that I could share my grandfather's story.

Even though you were colder than Alaska in February (and I know because I was in Alaska last February) I LOVE YOU, Wisconsin.  Remember, "Ya Gotta Keep That Smile"!!!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Kanye West and the Race Problem

The other day I saw a news story about something called Bound 3, a spoof on Kanye West's Bound 2 music video.  Bound 3 features James Franco and Seth Rogen acting out the parts of Kanye and his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian.  The video had me in stitches.  What cracked me up most, what was seriously hilarious, were the lyrics coming out of Franco's mouth.

He talks about how he is tired and the girl in the song must be tired as well because apparently they've been hurt in love, etc.  At one point Franco sings: "I'm tired, you're tired...Jesus wept."  And then puts his arms out to the sides as if he is on a cross.  I laughed so hard that I almost peed my pants.

I decided to check out West's original video to see which parts Franco and Rogen had grossly exaggerated. To my complete and utter shock, the answer was: none.  Every body movement was the same and the lyrics were the same.  I started Googling  "lyrics Bound 2" because I was sure that something must be wrong with my computer.  Maybe Kanye's video was up but Franco's singing was in the background?

No, those were the real lyrics.  At one point, West actually says, "I want to f--- you on the sink and then give you something to drink."  Also, for no apparent reason other than maybe needing a rhyme, he says, while rubbing his head "Got a fresh cut straight out the salon b----." If you don't believe me, Google the lyrics for yourself.  Also....Here's a side-by-side version of the two videos.

I honestly, sincerely could not believe how Kanye West could take himself seriously.  Then, I theorized that maybe reporters act captivated when he talks and so he believes that he is some sort of genius, a prophet, Shakespeare no less.  In case you don't want to follow those links, all of these are things he's said about himself.  Then, I thought that maybe he is surrounded by assistants and handlers who are impressed with his money and good looks and he reads that as them being in awe of his "theories."

That's the conclusion I came to.  Ultimately, I didn't care, I had some really good laughs that night.  He won't be the first or the last person to be polluted by celebrity.  I didn't think anymore about it, until I read "In Defense of Kanye West," an article by Rawiya Kameir.

I think one of the people who commented put it best when they said that calling every criticism of a black male "racist" dilutes the term.  I am a black woman who makes a living writing and speaking about issues of race, class, and privilege.  This is my wheelhouse and Kameir, you got it wrong.  Your heart is in the right place, but with this article you are hurting the movement, hindering progress, giving people an excuse to keep the phrase "playing the race card" in our vernacular.

Being racially sensitive is not about giving blacks a pass to act idiotically.  The bar of logic, sanity, art, genius, or anything else doesn't get lowered for us because our ancestors were slaves.  Being able to take criticism and respond to it point-by-point is what it means to be grown up.  It's what it means to be in the arena, to be a businessman, to be equal.  That's what we wanted, right, equality?

It's okay if some people think West is a genius.  They can love his music.  They can even believe that he is a radical, a visionary.  Historically, when someone has gone way outside of the box there have always been those, and will always be those, who laugh at them, ridicule them, call them crazy.  So, if you believe that Kanye West is some sort of musical messiah, go for it, but don't call me a racist for thinking he is nothing more than comic relief.

Kameir, if you need a Kanye-related soap box to stand on, why don't you theorize about the reasons why Bound 2 uses the phrase "b----" four times.  As a woman, that is something I do have a problem with.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Facing My Fears

Only a few people in the United States (I think the number might be 2) hold a degree in library science AND have a genealogy certificate.  I spent my morning with one of these experts today.

There are details about my grandfather's life that I need to confirm.  One of the possibilities is mind-boggling and amazing, but unlikely.  One of the others is downright scary.  It's kind of the 11th hour.  I've known that I need to nail down these pieces for some time now.  I have to finish this book, ideally by the end of the year, so I'm running out of time.  I won't to go to print without diligently completing my research.

People have memories.  I've relied on those memories to construct a story, a story that's been painful to bear at times, but that has redefined my entire life.  But I'm making a public statement in the form of a book and I can't do that without knowing for sure that every stone has been turned over.  But I feel so afraid.

A few summers ago I was in Mississippi and I was learning things about my grandfather.  Even though he'd been dead for 38 years he was still a volatile figure.  People (both black and white) still loved or hated him.

How can you hate someone whose been dead for 38 years?  There were people who couldn't wait to come out of the woodwork to share their stories about what a horrible man he was.  I was devastated.  Looking back I don't know why.  Nobody is perfect.  But somehow I had let myself believe that his excellence would rub off on me, that he would shine bright from the beyond and that I'd be able to feel his rays warming me when I needed him most.

When people shared those negative things about him two years ago I was shattered.  I remember being in Greenwood and having to remind  myself to walk, to exhale, because all I wanted to do was curl up in a dusty cotton field and waste away.  My tongue felt heavy on the rough of my mouth, my palms were sweaty, lips shaking.  I'd worked so hard to construct a hero and he was being torn down, in part, because of my own research.

I'm kind of in that place again, only in some ways it's worse.  Now I'm not just up against people's memories, but facts.  It's a good thing.  I have an incredibly talented and generous woman helping me.  But I'm still afraid.