Here we are once again on the issue of race. The incident that forced Shirley Sherrod to resign from the USDA and following apologies has America once again talking about race. Racial Politics has the  NAACP condemning the Black Panther Party and at the same time calling for the Tea Party to not let racist into their organization. The Tea Party is calling the NAACP a racist organization. Sherrod, a government official, who made a speech at the NAACP event was forced to resign  after a video clip was posted on http://biggovernment.com/site a site run by Andrew Brightbart. The NAACP immediately issued a statement saying that “Sherrod’s comments were Shameful”. The video clip contained a part of a speech where Sherrod mentions that prejudice made her think of not helping a White farmer. Media outlets jumped on the blogger’s post and soon it was national headlines and Sherrod was labeled a racist.  The full video  shows that Sherrod’s speech was about overcoming prejudice and helping people. The event was filmed by the NAACP, which for some reason acted like the video came from an outside source. Once the full video of Sherrod’s speech came to the public’s attention, the NAACP released a statement saying that the blogger “bamboozled them”.  The Obama Administration fired Shirley Sherrod on Tuesday, and apologized to her on Wednesday.

Sherrod blames the NAACP, Brightbart blames the Media, The NAACP blames Brightbart, The Obama Administration blames The Media and of course The Media blames Fox News.  Shirley Sherrod says that “The Administration wanted her to pull over to the side of the road and resign”. And that is how it always is with these things, nobody is to blame and everybody is responsible at the same time. We The People don’t want our problems solved, we just want to be able to live our lives without having to think too much, if we wanted the problems fixed we would have elected leaders that do more than just manage our problems. Racism is always in fashion and sadly, it is not in corporate or political America’s best interest for races to get along. If they did they would have deconstructed the lies and myths long ago. America is heading in a dangerous direction.

America is simply afraid of Race, that includes organizations like the NAACP. In their rush to become White Acceptable they allowed someone who wasn’t racist to be labeled racist, by their own fault. The NAACP can’t just use a new slogan and put red, white and blue on it’s website and then shy away from your guiding principles. I know that one of the A‘s in the acronym stands for Advancement, so Ben Jealous where is it? Instead of compromising such a storied organization why bring in new people with fresh perspectives, why not not come up with ideas to stay relevant. The ACT-SO program is great, but why not have a NAACP Entertainment Division or NAACP Record Label and the NAACP can promote actors, actresses, rappers, singers, song writers and others in the field of entertainment who generate positive images of African Americans and other people of color? You need better ideas, and kowtowing shouldn’t be one of them. As for the Tea Party,  since there are racist in every organization, if you are not a racist organization don’t promote racists and by all means don’t let them lead you.

Blacks have national forums on race and many of those forums exclude West Coast Speakers. Gays have meetings that exclude Blacks. Whitetopia’s have sprung up in the mid-west where minorities are welcome to visit, but not welcome to stay. Hollywood continues it’s White Wash of Actors as do our magazines. Racially-coded fair continues to populates our televisions and our radio stations. White rapper Eminem constantly talks about misogyny (in his latest song, Love the way you lie, he talks of tying a women to a bed and then setting the house on fire) and violence, is lauded for being artistry, while Nelly and other black rappers are vilified. The way it is now the Chinese don’t like Vietnamese, the Vietnamese don’t like Koreans, the Puerto Ricans don’t like Mexicans, the Mexicans don’t like Guatemalans, the Japanese don’t like Filipinos, Latinos don’t like other Latinos and Black aren’t very popular with anyone. All the while the police shoot unarmed black men in the street.

Books that are changing everything

Here is the deal both political parties want and need division, that’s how they get paid. Politicians don’t become popular from doing the right thing. Not from being right. If that were the case Dennis Kucinich would be in charge. The Radio, Television and Media were once used to inform the public. However, once it was realized that the constant imagery and bombardment can alter perceptions and attitudes these mediums are now being used to shape public policy, and instead of reporting the NEWS they have been making the NEWS. They can do this because most Americans are too caught up with our fears, or at the very least too busy watching what is going on a Football field or the Jersey Shore.

The facts always  matter. Do Native Americans have a legitimate gripe? Do the Japanese? Do the Blacks? Yeap. When the Klux-Klux-Klan killed Sherrod’s father over a cow that wasn’t even his, who could blame Shirley Sherrod if she was prejudice or even racist, and yet there are many who say “just get over it”. For anyone to try and vilify Birghtbard for airing a video is absurd, he is a blogger that is what he does. We point fingers because we want race to be someone else’s issue, and not ours. Race is a media’s issue, a corporate issue, a political issue and a, Obama administration issue. Our officials will point fingers, drink beers in rose gardens, apologize and offer jobs; while the media changes the subject to leaked war diaries or British Petroleum’s restructing all to give us this false sense that we are dealing with the problem.

The President will bend to the pressure of his administration. He will appoint, select and put people in certain positions who are sensitive to race, but ultimately they will be politicians. Racial Politics, Gender Politics, agendas and strategies  will creep in and yet again, and nothing will really be done. Real conversations on race will not take place. American’s, far longer that the term Politically Correct was coined, haven’t been speaking their minds. The only one saying how they really feel in America today is Mel Gibson and ex-American Idol Judge Simon Cowell.

Some of our leaders have people so whipped up on Socialism and Social programs and how bad they are for this country. When the truth is that 40% of the US economy comes from money right out of our social programs, and you wondered why Canada’s tax rate was so high.  Now take that 40% out of the economy and what happens?  Add another 40% of tax to your paycheck. Our elected officials for years have us believing that the invasion of Afghanistan was necessary. Last year the Afghan people earned an average of $1,000 per year for a total of 10 Billion gross national product. At the same time the United States of America spent $30 Billion dollars to win the hearts and mind of the Afghan people.  Why didn’t we just put the Afghan people on our payroll instead?  I don’t know about you, but if somebody tripled my yearly income I think I would be on their side, or at the very least I would have lost the will to shoot at them. And yet not one will bat an eye when congress passes a massive $60 Billion war funding bill. Spending the money to occupy Vs. actually trying to succeed–think about it. And that is the real problem, we aren’t thinking. We are being told what to think, what opinion to have. There will be multiple conversations, discussions and many articles will be written on this Race issue, but when you ask the wrong question to the wrong people you are going to end up with the wrong answer. As a nation we have to be ready to deal with the answers whether we like them or not.

These national organizations, The Media and the Obama administration should be ashamed of themselves for saying that the responsibility is Brightbart’s. Blogger Media, which is usually one sided and polarized. If the Obama Administration continues to allow “The Media” and “polls” to set public policy we are in big trouble. If the NAACP continues to allow the media and media perception to dictate their philosophy their legacy is in trouble  If the media continues to allow bloggers and unvetted information to appear as news the public at large who depend on them are in big trouble. As a nation we need to get beyond race. That is what Post-Racial was supposed to mean, but it actually means that we can be racist and not have to be so tongue and cheek about it. It means that now we can be overtly racist, or use coded racial remarks and if we get called out on it we can just apologize and all is well. Let’s face it they meant to say it, or they wouldn’t have said it. We need to grow together as a nation, after all you can’t legislate racism away. As evidenced bythe fact that articles like these are only written when something happens.

America we have a serious problem, and a lot of growing up to do.  The entire country needs to go on a national P90X program to get rid of prejudice, violence and unwanted notions. Perhaps, racism is America’s second biggest problem, because the first one is Denial.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_the_United_States

The ACT-SO program

http://biggovernment.com/

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome

http://www.naacp.org/press/entry/naacp-statement-on-the-resignation-of-shirley-sherrod1/

http://www.beachbody.com/product/fitness_programs/best_sellers/p90x.do?tnt=P90X_SHAKE_B1&code=P90XDOTCOM

Note: Now the NAACP and Shirley are joining forces to continue the discussion on race.

I have always been a big fan of Erykah Badu. She has in many ways shown the triumph of the uncompromising black female artist. At times she, through her music, has gotten personal, emotional, philosophical, and I love the way she is not afraid to show that she is political. Often, through her level consciousness, she has had the ability to bridge the gender and age gap and have everyone singing her catchy songs. She is unique from her organic sound to her style of dress both of which show her constant groove. Badu’s latest album ‘New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) has recently come out. I am sure that this album will be more of what we have come to expect from Erykah Badu, not over processed, personal, ambient even soulful, but the album is not what this article is about.

This article is about the video “Window Seat” Badu’s new video for her first single. If you haven’t seen it, basically Erykah Badu walks down a Texas street and strips buck naked in front of everybody and lies down near where JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

This is a powerful video that does with actions that her previous videos did with words and color and it stands in stark contrast to them and most videos out there. Now there will be many who won’t see the point of the video. And I won’t give you the point either, because it obviously wasn’t for you. And I appreciate the point and thusly salute Erykah for making it and I must say that Erykah has an amazing backside, but I digress.

Books that are changing everything

Is this really what entertainment has come to? Taking off all of your clothes just to make a point?

Dressing like a cartoon character to be heard?

Making yourself a pop-culture gender bender to become popular?

The answer sadly is yes. With the death of MTV entertainers have been getting more and more outrageous in this say or do anything business and all of it is about as real as a three dollar bill.

Did Erykah have a valid point to make? Could that point have been made without bearing it all in public? Is this really artist integrity? or a calculated risk over reward scenario?

Those are the same questions I asked when I saw a naked Serena Williams on the cover of last year’s ESPN Magazine, especially when I looked through the magazine and found no naked men, not that I was looking for naked men mind you.

Did either of these ladies have to go that far, probably not, but if they hadn’t we wouldn’t be talking about them right now. Let’s be real here, the “mainstream” is not checking for Badu. They are only interested in women of color when there is some kind of controversy. It does speaks volumes that a woman has to take off her clothes to be a viable artist these days and a man has to put on his to be successful. Personally I like Erykah’s counter culture attitude, but it isn’t cutting edge for her to go on television shows with her hair half-done.

How do a real artists compete with these manufactured pop-culture products? How do real musicians stand out in a time-period where the mediocre can go quadruple platinum? The answer isn’t an easy one, but it does depend on where we get our music from and whether the masses really wants to hear real music from real people, or packaged music from created products.  Two weeks ago I recently attended a small event in Long Beach of less than 50 people and the music I was given the privileged to hear there was better than all of the concerts I have been to. It was free, but I would have paid for the experience, you see where I am going with this.

Shocking videos, outrageous dress, and nakedness are not new to the industry, whether it was Elton John with his flamboyance, Prince and his innuendo, D’Angelo and Madonna with their boldness and others who were considered cutting edge with these types of statements. Not only were they out there, most of the time they were out there alone. Those artist never felt that they had to do something that wasn’t them to compete, or more shocking than what someone else did, they weren’t in the same market, but today’s markets are blended. Today we have a country star who isn’t from the country, Rappers rapping country, pop kids rapping, rappers on pop songs, R & B songs that are pop, and the blends go on and on. It is both a testament to the national oblivion and sort of  funny when you hear someone say that they don’t like rap, but the songs they listen to are actually rap.

These industries will feed us this type of empty fair until, or if we get fed up and complain loud enough and just like the media is moving the public from Health Care to Jobs, and Immigration the music industry will create something else for The Mob to follow. Did Erykah Badu have to go to such length to be heard, well we are talking about her now aren’t we? One thing is certain, it is no longer about the music and as long as the public continues to celebrate idiocy, promiscuity, those who will say whatever, do whatever, or those take off their clothes and pass it off as a form of expression I dare say that we should expect no less than the same kind of behavior from our citizenry, so Pack Light.

Today one of the biggest publishing markets is Urban Literature. However, Street Lit has come under fire from many angles. With urban novels being turned into Oscar nominated movies such as Precious, this is as good of a time as any to ask what is the state of Black Literature? There are those that say that Street Literature has no real value to Black Literature as a whole, and that it is equivalent to gangster rap’s relation to the larger genre of Hip-Hop. Then there are people who swear by Urban Literature, as they claim that is type of literary fair is the only kind they will consume. Surprising the people who swear by Ghetto Literature the most are middle class black women.  Many Black authors are  relegated to an existence of selling books out their car trunks at every stop, while their white counterparts enjoy the heights of respected best seller lists.  Thousands of black authors have to ‘grind’, and or’ hustle’, while their counterparts have no concept of those two words. Is it the literature that is the problem, or is it those who are writing the literature?

Before I became an author I knew that urban literature had a credibility issue, I just didn’t know how deep that issue really was. I won’t go into how many authors have four or five books, but still don’t know how to use a simile, yet and still street literature dominates the market. With so many titles selling like hot cakes and its proponents saying ‘I’ve sold X amount of books” , “people are buying it’. So why would anyone think that there is a problem with black literature? I have heard statements similar to these being uttered by crack dealers of the 80s, as  justification as to why they sold drugs.  At a book event I overheard an author say “I am an Essence bestseller”, followed by the publisher snickering, is that respect?  This is not to say that there are not some wonderfully well written positive African American books out there. There are many stories of black success and black triumph, but are black people reading those books? “Any story celebrating the beauty and strength of black family life, the power of education, and the desire to succeed in the workplace and in business is now out of fashion.” wrote Juan William in his article titled “Precious’ Little of Value in Ghetto Literature”.

Since “Urban Lit” began as an often overlooked subdivision of the Blaxploitation era, over 40 years ago. The Film genre was considered exploitative because they took place in the ghetto, played up stereotypes and were mostly written by whites. Today Urban Literature contains many element that were present in its now defunct film counterparts the only difference, no is that blacks are at the helm of these projects. The main argument for this type of literature is that it attracts new readers. It has also been said that Ghetto Lit provides escapism, but for many blacks this type of escapism can be had by not opening a book, but a door. After reading a novel filled with busty women and thugs, overflowing with misogyny, depicting female characters as “dime pieces” or “trophies”, novels that proudly display real gritty scenes of  infidelity, criminal activities and murder that go unpunished or they are glorified, one would have to wonder if Marva Allen owner of Hue-Man bookstore in Harlem was right when she said, “It’s not literature it’s fiction… they offer no literary advantages.” Or is there something more to this “Box” that these Black ‘Harlequins’ have put black literature in? Maybe it has something to do with where you find these books in the bookstore. I have never seen the White Literature section, though I have seen American Literature sections devoid of black authors, except for one dimensional books like Steve Harvey’s “Straight Talk, No Chaser” and sport stories of course. Is a book made urban by the skin color of its characters, the skin color of the author, or its content?

In the New York Times article “Their Eyes Were Reading Smut”, Nick Chiles said ,“On shelf after shelf, in bookcase after bookcase, all that I could see was lurid book jackets displaying all forms of brown flesh, usually half-naked and in some erotic pose, often accompanied by guns and other symbols of criminal life. I felt as if I was walking into a pornography shop, except in this case the smut is being produced by and for my people, and it is called literature.” Is Nick Chiles right? Maybe the problem is in the definition, What is literature? If you solely define it as it as publication of printed material then there is no issue, but historically literature has meant much more than that. Rebecca West once said, “Literature must be an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity.” Apparently many disagree, noting that literature can mean many things to many people Nick Chiles mused, “That leaves me wondering where we – writers, publishers, readers and the black community – go from here. Is street fiction some passing fad, or does it represent our future? It’s depressing that this noble profession, one that I aspired to as a child from the moment I first cracked open James Baldwin and Gabriel García Márquez about 30 years ago, has been reduced by the greed of the publishing industry and the ways of the American marketplace to a tasteless collection of pornography.” I do not believe that these articles, bloggers, or reviewers are trying to ‘hate’ on anyone, or ‘knock’ someone’s hustle and neither am I for that matter, but these are legitimate questions, what is black literature? Where do we go from here? Is Black Literature viewed as nothing more than a collection coming of age Pre and Post Prison tales? “A lot of people complain that most of the Urban Lit books are the same three or four stories with different titles, character names and locations . And that many of the authors have the same felonious background story in their bios. I have been to high profile author meetings where terms like “This is Crip Shit” and “Am a Blood” were tossed around with hand signs. It was comical and something I will most likely write about later, but I digress. “Urban List is just like Hip-Hop nowadays” Was Joey Pinkey correct in his widely viewed article, ‘Urban Lit is Dead? ‘

Part Novel, Part Graphic Novel, All Vampire It's going to take guts to walk around with this novel.

Part Novel, Part Graphic Novel, All Vampire
It’s going to take guts to walk around with this novel.

As an author I feel all of these sentiment, but I also believe that urban literature, like hip hop, is not dead and that the problem, with both forms of entertainment, lies in where you get it from. Many people have asked the question I have posed in the title, but there have been no definitive answers. Perhaps this literary dust-up is equivalent to the one going in among our “Black Leaders”, see Al Sharpton and Tavis Smiley.  Perhaps this was summed up in an  article titled ‘The Shaky State of Urban Literature (a book reviewer’s lament)’, “this new millennium of emerging writers and novelists are still struggling to find a place in contemporary literary circles.” For the sake of argument let’s say that the critics in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the blogs are all wrong, or at least mistaken. Let’s say books like mine and The Other Wes Moore are not “really Urban Lit. Let’s say that when you tell a publisher that you are an Essence Best Seller that they do not snicker, not even privately. Let’s say that the media gives black authors the same amount of press and credibility they do their white contemporaries. Let’s say that urban literature isn’t as watered down as hip hop. And let’s say that big publishing houses market African American works as they would the works of others. Does an author not want the respect of their peers? As a people we have always been told to wait for things, that everything takes time, this is what was said decade ago about urban literature. When street literature was young, we heard “it is just starting out, give it some time.” It is now 2011, so the question is has anything changed? Hopefully the documentary “Behind Those Books” answers some much needed questions, regarding the genre future.

Maybe, but now the question  is one of Credibility, but a question for who? Is it a question for The Relentless Aaron’s, Larry Wilson Jr’s, Vickie Stringer’s, and Zane’s of the literary world? Or is our new direction for the Aisha Ford’s, Eric Jerome Dickey’s, and Terry A. O’Neal’s to forge? Or do we follow the examples of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Phyllis Wheatley, and others? Chances are that those in Ghetto/Street/Urban/African American Literature wont stand up, but the hope is that they will coalesce around something more important than shelf space, money, the thrill of the hustle or fame. Maybe Black literature reader see more of themselves in Rachetville and Grimy than they see of themselves in the future, which is why they haven’t fully embraced black sci-fiction because of how omitted we see ourselves in the future. Unfortunately, like many forms of entertainment, it is all we got.

Perhaps the discussion can best be summed up by what Mo’Nique said when accepting The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Precious, “Sometimes you have to forgo doing what is popular, in order to do what’s right.”

The Shaky State of Urban Literature (a book reviewer’s lament) http://blogginginblack.com/?p=1076 Urban Lit is DEAD http://www.theurbanbooksource.com/articles/editorials/urbanlitisdead.php “Their eyes were looking at smut” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/04/opinion/04chiles.html “A critical look at Street Lit” http://www.theurbanbooksource.com/interviews/nick-chiles.php “Precious’ Little of Value in Ghetto Literature” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703740004574514260044271666.html