Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Negro Leaguers Enter Hall of Fame (but not O'Neil)

ManleySeventeen deceased former members of baseball's Negro League and pre-Negro Leagues were elected by special committee today into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

From the Hall of Fame site:

The electees include seven Negro leagues players: Ray Brown, Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Biz Mackey, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente, and Jud Wilson; five pre-Negro leagues players: Frank Grant, Pete Hill, José Méndez, Louis Santop, and Ben Taylor; four Negro leagues executives Effa Manley, Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, and J.L. Wilkinson; and one pre-Negro leagues executive Sol White. Manley, an owner in the Negro leagues, becomes the first woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

(The AP File photo above is from ABC News, and shows inductee Effa Manley, at left, who co-owned the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. She's reviewing a scrapbook with one of her former players, Don Newcombe, later one of the Brooklyn Dodgers' star pitchers, at her home in Los Angeles in August 7, 1973. An interesting aspect of Manley's story is that although she was White, she was married to a Black man and passed as Black.)

Shades of GloryIn addition to the election of these individuals, the Baseball Hall of Fame conducted an extensive study of the history of Blacks in baseball, going from 1860 (that's right, before the Civil War) up to 1960, at which point there were Blacks on nearly every team in the major leagues (since Jackie Robinson had broken the color line in 1947, permitting Blacks and Latinos of visible African ancestry to participate, ushering in the era of some of the greatest players of all time, including Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Lou Brock, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Luis Tiant, and many others). National Geographic, in conjunction with the Hall of Fame, published a book entitled Shades of Glory this month based on some of the research. (I will be getting this ASAP.)

O'NeilThere was considerable controversy, however, because one of the chief figures behind the honoring of former Negro League players and affiliates, and a notable player and manager himself, former Kansas City Monarchs player and the Black coach in the major leagues, with the Chicago Cubs, Buck O'Neil (at right) was, unconscionably, not inducted. Nor did the special committee elect another fomer Negro Leaguer and one of the first great Black Latino MLB stars, the Cuban player Minnie Minoso, who actually made comebacks with the Chicago White Sox at the ages of 53 and 57!)

O'Neil led the Monarchs to five pennants and two Black World Series, and later played a key role in advancing the careers of "Mr. Cub" himself, the great Ernie Banks, and Elston Howard. (But for whatever reason, he wasn't elected.)

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann (one of the few journalists still appearing regularly on TV) interviews Buck O'Neil here.

The San Jose Mercury News features on article on the controversy here.

Sports Illustrated reports that the 94-year-old baseball veteran "is keeping his spirits up."

Even some members of Congress are upset about O'Neil's snub.

On a related note, Bernie Tarver of Bejata will be in the Hall permanently as well, because he's lent his mellifluous vocals to the exhibition narration for the 18th admittee this year, former St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Bruce Sutter, as well as to spots for other inductees and exhibits at the museum! Congratulations again, Bernie. This is yet another good reason for me to finally get my ass up there and visit the place.

Monday, February 27, 2006

One Year Blogiversary

Today marks my 1-year blogiversary.

Although I was initially skeptical of some blogs, which appeared (and still do) to be nothing more than private, unedited journals displayed for all the world to see yet which probably should stay private (is the idea of private space totally lost in this superlinked, supermediated, supersurveilled world?), I was nevertheless profoundly inspired by a number of blogs--including Bernie's Bejata, Charles Stephens's blog (though long gone and wiped clean, it still remains one of my favorites and never ceased to get me thinking), Larry Lyons's blog, Mendi Obadike's multiple sites, and Donald Agarrat's photogallery with commentary--as well as by the many political and arts blogs and websites I came across and was checking daily.

So I decided I'd start my own blog. My aim was to focus on the arts, particularly by Africans and African-Americans, and other African-Diasporic and diasporic peoples, as well as LGBT topics and themes, while also bringing into the mix anything else I found interesting--arts and letters of all kinds, sports, philosophy, science, factlets and gossip, and so on. I wanted to create a little forum, a theater in the original sense, where my and others' ideas might (come into) play. (Though I'd hoped to keep politics-specific posts to a minimum, I soon realized it was impossible not to talk directly about the horrors of life in the Imperium, and the destruction it was wreaking outside the country. The Emperor's war in Iraq, which I publicly protested against back in 2003, was already nearly two years old last winter, but since then, the ever-worsening situation there, the sputtering economy, the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the revelations about the domestic warrantless spying, the ongoing Plamegate investigation, the Vice President's tipsy shooting spree, and so much else impressed on me that I had to post on such topics, however inartfully.)

I initiated my posts last February 27 with a short bit of commentary on one of the poets I most treasure, Jay Wright, and followed that up with a photo and critical thoughts based on C's and my visit to Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates in Central Park, a public art event that continues to elate me, even in retrospect. (Why are these kinds of positive, public, communitarian, quasi-sublime event-spectacles so rare?) My second post invoked another poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, and my (double) tribute in verse, to him and to the blues, a strange enough combination but the very sort of juxtaposition that's always been typical of my life and interests.

I haven't been able to write half as many original pieces of commentary or thoughts as I would like to, or as I used to be able to do, because I spent almost all my time these days reading-- student creative and critical writing or committee file work (of which there always seems to be an exponentially increasing number!), and commenting on them--but I am pleased that I've been able to nearly meet my goal, even if sometimes only barely, of posting every single day for the year. So far I am only 4 posts short (really 3, since I've occasionally had 2 different, discrete posts on a given day, like on the very first one).

It's also been amazing to see the growth of blogs by friends and acquaintances and to connect to and with people through this new medium. Some of the blogs, like Gukira, KeithBoykin.com, Letras de Cactus, 0r EJ's and Ron Silliman's, have been in existence for at least a few years while others, like Rod (1.0 &) 2.0, Ms. Soucouyant, Monaga, Christina Springer, Ryan's Chronicles and Brooklyn Boy's Blues, are only a little older or younger than my own. I often debate whether I'll keep my blogging up once I reach my 365 posts, and as I've said, I really don't know. I have a leave coming up and so much I want to acccomplish during it, but I shouldn't put the steering wheel before the engine. Instead, I'll just say this past year has been a busy and exciting one, and it's been a real delight (and hard work too) to keep this theater open almost every day!

As I always say, thank you supporting this blog and for dropping in!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Octavia Butler: RIP

ButlerI just heard the saddening news this evening that Octavia Butler (1947-2006) passed away after falling and suffering a severe head injury outside her home yesterday.

Butler was the first major African-American female speculative fiction writer, and her pioneering, extraordinary work, which included novels, novellas, books of short stories, and essays, redrew the genre through the lens of a Black-centered, politically conscious feminism, in the process opening up new imaginative and discursive spaces within speculative and science fiction, in African-American and African-Diasporic cultural production, and in the larger American literary and cultural fields. Indeed, Octavia Butler found original and very accessible (to a broad readership) ways of treating many of the central and pressing concerns of contemporary society. These include the sociopolitical inequalities of racism and ethnocentrism, misogyny and gender concerns, class discrimination and poverty, as well as issues surrounding community and collectivity, sexualities, history and memory, and so many other themes, locating them, with her consummate artistry, within the speculative literary frame. Her work is, at its core, deeply humane and, I don't think she would deny this, utopian in the best sense. Amidst the complex difficulties that she often portrayed, which are so true to our lives, you could find her faith in our basic and utter humanity and in the possibility of social justice offered readers.

Here's what I wrote on the Cave Canem list this evening, when I learned of her passing:

This is devastating news. Thanks to [poet, professor and literary activist] Q[uraysh Ali Lansana] and everyone else at Chicago State University who made the Gwendolyn Brooks Writers Conference possible this past fall, I had the opportunity to hear her chat about her writing with Sandra Govan, read from her newest novel, and talk about her life and work. Gregory Hampton of Howard [University] gave a brilliant paper on her work. What the experience underlined for me once again was how important and vital her work was and is, and how deeply she connected with people across multiple boundaries. Very sad news--I can see her at the long table in that large atrium at Chicago State and hear her, laughing, patiently answering questions, and sharing her brilliance with everyone who was there. She will always be one of my s/hero/in/es.


At that same conference, I offered some brief and informal remarks, focusing on locations and dislocation,s on Butler's work. Here's a short selection:

In Octavia Butler's works, one of the first things a reader notices, and one of the things that's so exhilarating, is that she finds characters who are, and who situate themselves--whose identities and identifications--are different from the standard norms of science and speculative fiction, fantasy and futurist works. In fact, Octavia Butler is one of the progenitors of what is an increasingly large body of work, that includes her own, written by Black people, Black women in the US across the diaspora, that writes Black people into works in these literary genres.

Her characters, her heroines, usually are women, and usually are Black, or of color. But Butler often complicates this. She doesn’t allow or afford them an "easy place to be," to use that phrase. She engages a poetics of struggle--Kobena Mercer has spoken of Diasporic writing, Black writing, as a "struggle in language"--and when you look at Octavia Butler's various series, her plots, her characters and their narrative journeys, this struggle comes through.

I would say then that one of the locations in Butler's work is this "struggle," which is to say, one of the key places in her work is a place of movement, not stasis, a movement of survival and resistance, of empowerment and self-empowerment, of negotiation.
For the last few years, I have used at least one of her stories in my introductory fiction class, and though I have written nothing that could be called speculative fiction, except in the very broadest sense, I consider her work to be very important to my evolving understanding of the possibilities of creative writing and of art and artistic practice in general. Her superb vampire novel Fledgling, which she published last fall (and spoke about at Chicago State University), is one I highly recommend.

Writer Tayari Jones posts a series of links to other blogs and websites that remember and memorialize Butler in very personal ways.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, her hometown paper, has prepared a fine obituary.

From my post on her work last October--how remarkably prescient she was, as always:

Choose your leaders
with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward
is to be controlled
by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool
is to be led
by the opportunists
who control the fool.
To be led by a thief
is to offer up
your most precious treasures
to be stolen.
To be led by a liar
is to ask
to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant
is to sell yourself
and those you love
into slavery.

--Octavia Butler, an excerpt "From EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING,"
in The Parable of the Talents (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998),
p. 167.
Let us read her work, listen and learn. Gods and Goddesses Bless Her!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Quote: Retort

Afflicted Powers"This [Mohammad Saddique Khan's suicide video manifesto before his participation in the 2005 London bombings], sadly, is the voice of our time. It is the New Old speaking. Of course it is possible for art to reply even to this extremity--did we not start our set of answers with a prose-poem ["Parade of the Old New," from Five Visions] by Brecht? And does it not still apply, all too vividly? Do we not begin Afflicted Powers [: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War] by putting [John] Milton beside Abu Ghraib? And go on to describe the Bush administration's panic in the face of Guernica?

"But we look around at the existing art world of the Empire and see no reason to expect much in the same vein. We shall refrain from putting alongside Mohammad Siddique Khan's last testament a brief listing of the themes and styles of this week's gallery offerings in New York and Los Angeles, or a sample of the "ethical stances" of their reviewers."
--Retort*, from "An Exchange on Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War," in October 115 (Winter 2006, MIT Press), p. 12.
____
*Retort is a "gathering of antagonists to capital and empire, based for two decades in the San Francisco Bay area. Afflicted Powers arises from the group's efforts to confront the current political moment and forms of resistance to it. Involved in the writing were Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Joseph Matthews and Michael Watts."

Friday, February 24, 2006

Carnival/Mardi Gras

The season of pre-Lenten celebrations (which are also among the more important cultural manifestations and ritual and performative repositories, particularly in the Americas) has begun: Carnival/Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is underway, despite the absence of one of the two major sources of its Carnival traditions, Black New Orleanians. I'm of a mixed mind about this: on the one hand, I understand the desire to continue this vital tradition and am well aware of the dire financial straits the tourist-dependent city is in, but at the same time, with hundreds of thousands of Black and other poor, working and middle-class citizens still displaced from the city, can New Orleans hold a real Mardi Gras celebration? (Yes, I'm appealing to a certain notion of authenticity...) Is it too soon?

Mardi Gras in St. Louis, my native city, is a smaller, once far more Eurocentric affair that's now a bit more diverse. It takes place in the historic French colonial Soulard neighborhood, though pre-Mardi Gras parties have already started.

There are also Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations now across the US, and not simply in formerly French or Spanish-colonized cities. The oldest US Mardi Gras (or Shrovetide) celebration, first held in Mobile, Alabama, dates back to 1703.

In Brazil, the chief Carnaval celebrations are taking place, as always
and in São Paulo, though Carnavals (or Carnavais) will be held in cities across the country from the far north all the way to the far south. This year, the government is giving out free condoms, which led the leading Roman Catholic archbishop of Brazil, Gerald Majella Agnelo of Salvador, to urge public moderation. Officials in Salvador itself will be distributing the "morning-after pill" free of charge.

In Trinidad and Tobago (photo at left, Christine TriniSoca Gallery), "making mas" marks one of the most important African-derived Carnival celebrations in the world and the best known in the Caribbean. The month-long season having already started, the culminating parades and performances will begin next week (February 27th and 28th).

Haiti's Carnival/Kanaval celebrations have already taken place in some cities, like Jacmel, and will continue through early next week. A number of Kanaval videos are already online. This year's events will coincide with some hopeful recent news. Last Thursday, former president René Préval was elected to a new term, after deliberation between members of the electoral council, the UN, representatives from the US and France, and other significant parties (meanwhile, his "twin," exiled ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has signaled that he intends to return). In addition to lespwa (hope, and also the name of Préval's political party), one hopes that lapè (peace) is a central theme during this year's celebrations.

Carnaval VeganoIn Dominican Republic, Carnival/Carnaval doesn't start until March 4 and 5. In addition to Santo Domingo's processions and events, there is the famous, 496-year-old colorful Carnaval celebration in the provincial capital of La Vega, el Carnaval Vegano, which is particularly rich in Spanish rituals and traditions, such as the máscara (mask/masque), as the photo at left (J. Marcano) shows.

Panama's Congo Carnival, which artist and Spelman College professor Arturo Lindsay talked about at the university last year and which I blogged on, is a lively and a veritable religious and cultural matrix.

Other noteworthy Caribbean Carnivals take place in Aruba, Curaçao, Saint Thomas, and Barbados.

Canada's major Carnival tradition is the Quebec Winter Carnival, the biggest winter celebration in the world. It's over, having run from January 26 to February 11, 2006. Les québécois savent bien comment s'amuser à l'hiver!

Cologne CarnivalEuropean Carnivals, whose origins lie both in the pre-Christian pagan era and in Roman Catholic Lenten traditions, are also in full swing. They take place in Germany (known as Karneval/Fastnacht/Fasching, at right, Cologne Carnival), Italy (Carnivale), Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, and, through reverse (post-)colonial influence, in the UK (where they get going in the summer).

Sydney, Australia's Mardi Gras celebration, a gay pride extravaganza, is one of the best known outside Europe and the Americas, and gets underway in early March.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

South Dakota Bans Abortion + Iraq Civil War + Food Kitchens + Andrew Hill

I knew the day was coming soon when I'd have to type these words, as I made clear in my remarks about the Alito hearings and the Roe v. Wade anniversary, but I wasn't sure exactly when, or which state would distinguish itself by going first. South Dakota gets that honor, by banning abortions in almost every instances, with the aim of forcing the even more right-wing US Supreme Court to redecide the landmark 1973 ruling. The legislature of that state beat out Kentucky, Indiana, and several other states in enacting the legislation, which the Republican governor, Michael Rounds, has said he would sign.

The lawmakers voted down proposed amendments to allow abortions to protect the health of the mother, in cases of rape or incest. They also refused to allow voters to decide the fate of abortions by referendum. The lone exception would be if the fetus died during a physician's attempt to save the mother's life.

Planned Parenthood of South Dakota has said that it will sue to have the law overturned once it's signed, and it will probably make its way to SCOTUS fairly quickly, especially if the South Dakota appellate and supreme courts uphold it. Once it reaches SCOTUS, the chief question would be how would Anthony Kennedy, the lifelong Roman Catholic, Republican Reagan appointee who's become increasingly moderate in the last few years, would rule, especially now that there are four solid blocks on either side of this issue (on the left, Souter, Stevens, Ginsberg, and Breyer, and on the right, Alito, Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia).

Today, Associate Justice Alito's first day, the highest court signaled its eagerness to hear another abortion-related case, involving a revisitation of its prior ruling on the 2003 partial birth abortion ban law. If the earlier decision is overturned, some states, such as Wisconsin, have said it would de facto make legal abortions almost impossible, but that would only be a prelude to the outright banning of them by SCOTUS. I will go so far as to say that if the Supreme Court does manage to ban abortions either partially or outright in the remaining years of Bush's presidency, no matter how disastrous everything else turns out (Iraq, Plamegate, the domestic spying, the corruption scandals, the incompetence and cronyism, the Medicare prescription drug plan, the economy and deficit, you name it), he will be extolled as one of the greatest heroes of the far right, for generations. He could literally permit another 9/11-style attack, and be championed for having put the judges in place who banned abortion. I hope it doesn't come to that, but I knew when Roberts floated in that we were in for serious trouble.

Update: I saw online that the Ohio state legislature, controlled by Republicans, aims to take an even more extreme step: in addition to banning abortions in almost all cases, it wants to penalize women if they leave the state to get an abortion. So, under this law, if the Supreme Court has not fully banned abortions (yet), but Ohio bans them and the law is under appeal but without a judicial stay, thus not invalidating it, and other states could still have the power to permit them, then a woman whose residence is in Ohio could potentially be penalized for going to the neighboring states of Michigan or Pennsylvania, or even to Canada, to have an abortion. As far as I know, this previously hasn't passed muster as a legal principle (a state barring its residents from engaging in activities in another state), but hey, if the fanatics can try it, why won't they at this point? They see the green light hovering before them...

+++

Shiite enraged
LEFT, REUTERS; RIGHT, GETTY IMAGES
Not that the current scenario in Iraq wasn't imaginable to a great degree as far back as the late summer of 2002, when the W Unltd. mafia began their Goebbelsian propaganda campaign to launch this war (which they'd been planning for years, and which, according to recently released notes, they decided to launch on 9/12/2006), to which the Congress and the national media (though not millions of Americans and people around the world) completely and utterly capitulated, but still--

Horribile dictu, visu, scitu:
Guardian UK: Sectarian violence explodes attack on mosque (Shiite holy shrine)
Guardian UK: On the road to Rubicon
Guardian UK: Iraq slips towards civil war after attack on Shia shrine
UM history professor Juan Cole: Sistani threatens to turn to militia, al-Sadr calls for calm
Christian Science Monitor: Attack deepens Iraq's divide
New York Times: More clashes shake Iraq, political talks are in ruins
The Nation: Ari Berman's The Notion: Days of rage in Iraq

+++

Today's Washington Post reports that 25 million people visited a food bank in 2005, up 9 percent from 2001. (It doesn't say what the percent increases were for the three interim years). To quote

The organization said it interviewed 52,000 people at food banks, soup kitchens and shelters across the country last year. The network represents about 39,000 hunger-relief organizations, or about 80 percent of those in the United States. The vast majority are run locally by churches and private nonprofit groups.

The surveys were done before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. After the hurricanes, demand for emergency food assistance tripled in Gulf Coast states, according to a separate report by the group.

The new report, being released Thursday, found that 36 percent of people seeking food came from households in which at least one person had a job. About 35 percent came from households that received food stamps.

Cousin said the numbers show that many working people don't make enough money to feed their families. She said the food stamp numbers show that the government program, while important, is insufficient.

"The benefits they are receiving are not enough," Cousin said.

Government reports also show the number of hungry Americans increasing.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last year said 13.5 million American households, or nearly 12 percent, had difficulty providing enough food for family members at some time in 2004. That was up from about 11 percent in 2003.

Not that this is any surprise, as the average family income dropped 2.3% from 2001 to 2004, according to USA Today. It seems there is a domestic price for outsourcing jobs and creating only low-wage service ones, gutting unions, and shifting the tax burden onto the poor and working-classes:

Average family incomes fell in the USA from 2001 to 2004, pulled down by a sluggish recovery from the downturn and the sharp stock market drop, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. The decline — the first since 1989-92 — was accompanied by the smallest increase in net worth in that period.

In its comprehensive Survey of Consumer Finances, released every three years, the Fed said the median net worth of the bottom 40% of families declined, while those at the top saw gains. The percentage of families investing in stocks fell 3.3 percentage points to 48.6% from 2001 to 2004, a level last reached some time between the 1995 and 1998 surveys.

***

From 2001 to 2004, average family income fell 2.3%, to an inflation-adjusted $70,700 from $72,400 in the 1998-2001 period. By contrast, from 1998 to 2001, average income jumped 17.3%. Median income — the midpoint of the income range — rose 1.6% to $43,200.

Fed economists said the figures were "strongly influenced" by a more-than-6% drop in median real wages during the period. Also, investment income was less than in the stock market boom years of the late 1990s. (Related: Full report)

Real net worth — the difference between family assets and liabilities — rose only slightly from 2001 to 2004. Median net worth rose only 1.5% to $93,100 during the period, vs. a 10.3% gain from 1998 to 2001. And liabilities rose faster than assets, due largely to a big rise in mortgage debt.

+++

HillOn another beat, the New York Times features an insightful conversation with composer and pianist Andrew Hill (photo at right, by John Ballon). Now 69 and battling lung cancer, Chicago native Hill is one of the remaining pioneers from the major wave of experimentation in jazz that occurred during the late 1950s and 1960s. He chats with Ben Ratliff about CDs* he's listening to, his teenage performance with Charlie Parker, and calls attention to one of my favorite pieces, Max Roach's "As Long as You're Living" (though I like the version with Abbey Lincoln's vocals best). A charming piece that offers a window into this very talented and original musician's mind.
___
*Why does the New York Times persist in adding apostrophes to pluralize acronyms? Don't they realize they're one of the sources behind people adding apostrophes to pluralize everythign these days? CDs. Radars. IUDs. See? It's very simple. Just add an "s" or "es" (if the word ends in an "s" sound) and be done with it. Apostrophes signify possession or contraction--is this so hard for the New York Times to figure out?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

African Diaspora in Hollywood + New Orleans Libraries Need Books

Perhaps another blogger has already covered this topic, but since it's Black History Month and when I was watching Manderlay, it struck me that recent studies on the shifting ethnic and national origin cast of Black America (as Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture's Black Migrations site and similar studies on this topic have made clear) are being reflected in some of the brown faces on screen in Hollywood these days. Each of the following actors was born in another country, or grew up there, and several have at some point played not only played foreign roles (as Africans, as Black characters of indeterminate national origin, etc.), but African-American ones. In fact, I remember that some fans of the excellent HBO series "The Wire" were very surprised to learn that the gorgeous Idris Elba was British and had a pronounced accent (when not in his role as "Stringer Bell"). Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who first came to wider US notice through her superb performance in the British film Secrets and Lies, now plays Vivian Johnson on the US TV show Without a Trace (which I believe also stars Australian Anthony LaPaglia as an American).

ElbaJean-BaptisteAkinnuoye-AgbajeWint
Clockwise, from left: Idris Elba [UK], Marianne Jean-Baptiste [UK], Maurice Dean Wint [UK/Canada], Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje [UK]

NewtonHounsouOkonedoChevolleau
Clockwise, from left: Thandie Newton [Zambia], Djimon Hounsou [Benin], Richard Chevolleau [Jamaica/Canada], Sophie Okonedo [UK]

KodjoeSaldañaLesterAdoti
Clockwise, from left: Boris Kodjoe [Austria], Zoe Saldaña [US/Dominican Republic], Razaaq Adoti [UK] Adrian Lester [UK]

de BankoléBeauvaisEjioforChong
Isaach de Bankolé [Côte d'Ivoire], Garcelle Beauvais [Haiti], Rae-Dawn Chong [Canada], Chiwetel Ejiofor [Nigeria/UK]

I was trying to think of others who might fit this category; any suggestions?

Roles for Black actors from any background in Hollywood still far too often fall into stereotypes and are nowhere near as numerous as for White actors, but over the last 30 years, things have improved, in terms of there being more films directed (and produced) by Black people, more TV roles, especially on cable, and more race-blind casting opportunities, which benefits not only African Americans and other Blacks living in the US, but other non-American Black actors, especially from Britain and Canada (Rae-Dawn Chong's father Tommy Chong is Canadian, but several of her siblings, like hottie brother Marcus Chong, were born in the US.)

I wonder if there have been any discussions among American-born Black actors about the presence of foreign-born Black actors in Hollywood, and what sorts of conversations have occurred between and among the two groups. Is their presence even on the radar screen? (I know some Black writers and directors have written non-US roles into their work, and for many years African-American actors have played non-US Black characters.) I also wonder if the majority of African-Americans, especially outside the Eastern seaboard and larger cities, realize how great the immigration of Blacks from Africa, Latin America and Europe has been over the last 10-15, and if folks are even aware that these actors are not US-born, though I'd argue that at some level, people may be aware, since there are foreign-born Blacks (and not only just people from the Anglophone Caribbean) living in predominantly Black and non-Black communities across the US. Whether the presence and representation in film and televisual media of non-US born Black actors may be reshaping perceptions is another question, though it's one I think that could and should be posed.

±±±

From an email I received from the wonderful Carolyn Micklem of Cave Canem:

Seeking Book Donations
The New Orleans Public Library
(New Orleans LA)

The New Orleans Public Library is asking for any and all hardcover and paperback books for people of all ages in an effort to restock the shelves after Katrina. The staff will assess which titles will be designated for its collections. The rest will be distributed to destitute families or sold for library fundraising. Please send your books to:

Rica A. Trigs, Public Relations
New Orleans Public Library
219 Loyola Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70112

If you tell the post office that they are for the library in New Orleans, they will give you the library rate which is slightly less than the book rate.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Props + P-Funk on PBS + Meth & BSGLS + Summers Out + Shani's #2

First, I want to thank Rod McCollum of Rod 2.0, one of the most exciting and wide-ranging blogs on the Net and one my daily essentials, for his very nice mention. Thank you, Rod, and I hope you're feeling better soon!

Second, and it's grossly tardy, but thank you also to Keguro for his beautiful meditation, last December, on Annotations, on Gukira, a blog that where I know I can always find singular, provocative, playful, lyric reflection on display. He takes his brilliance lightly, but as my uncle James would say, "The brotha's heavy." His comment section is also a delight!

˘˘˘
ClintonTonight, in addition to the Olympics, I'm catching Independent Lens's feature on one of my favorite bands: Parliament Funkadelic: One Nation under a Groove. The show details the history of one of the most original and influential groups of the 1970s and 1980s. I've been transfixed by story of the band's evolution, from a conked-out doo-wop group called the Parliaments to a Motown band that had its first big hit in 1967 to a group that began to include elements of free jazz, psychadelia, protest music, science fiction and afrofuturism, and rock & roll, all the while pushing the limits of their self-presentation and public performances. When the show got into the discussion of how they split into two identical groups--Parliament and Funkadelic (remember "Chocolate City"? Ray Nagin, we understood where you were coming from), I found myself getting very excited, because I knew what was coming...P-Funk, Dr. Funkenstein, Sir Nose, and the Mother Ship!!! It's also great to see how Clinton and Co. utilized all sorts of media to create a holistic aesthetic that matched P-Funk's burgeoning collective creative community, drawing in all sorts of fellow musicians (like Bootsy Collins, who described his work with George Clinton in terms of the latter's "laboratory"--tell it, Bootzilla!) And their influence--on subsequent R&B musicians, new wave, rock, hiphop of the 1980s and early 1990s, first generation gangsta rap... One nation under a groove, baby! If you're interested, check out the Website to learn more about the film and when it'll rebroadcast.

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PNPReading Andrew Jacobs's "Battling H.I.V. Where Sex Meets Crystal Meth" in today's New York Times, I felt a sense of déja vu, sadness and anger. He discusses what has been broached insistently in community forums and online, but not much in the mainstream media, even though the effects of crystal meth in the White gay community have gotten quite a bit of attention. To quote:

Like AIDS itself, which was once largely confined to the world of white gay men, the abuse of crystal meth is beginning to find favor among those who live far from Chelsea.

In a recent New York University study of 312 crystal meth users, 32 percent were white, 23 percent were Latino and 22 percent were black. At a methamphetamine support group run by Gay Men's Health Crisis, blacks now make up more than 10 percent of the participants, up from fewer than two percent in 2001.

Dr. Perry N. Halkitis, an applied psychologist at New York University who led the study, said that "the problem has been brewing for the past year, but now it's beginning to boil."


Back in late 2004, just before I started blogging, GayCityNews's Tyler Pray wrote an article on a joint effort by on Harlem United, Gay Men of African Descent, the LGBT Community Center, and NY Panthers Leather Club, all groups I'm affiliated with, to create outreach materials, which included flyers and public posters, to raise awareness and provoke discussion at the dangers of meth use in the Black gay/sgl community, and then in January 2005, GCN's Duncan Osborne wrote an article about a town hall meeting on the topic in Harlem that drew 75 attendees.

Also, last August, the inimitable Rod 2.0 also featured a long, thorough piece on another anti-meth campaign, by Crystal Breaks, in Chicago.

According to Jacobs' article, the preventive efforts are underway, but low-cost, easily available drug, which users have described as powerfully enhancing sexual experiences, unfortunately continues to make inroads, which people like the young man profiled in the article, Terry Evans, and organizations like Harlem United and Crystal Breaks are trying their hardest to slow down and halt.

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summersToday the Lawrence Summers, the 27th president of Harvard, resigned after five contentious years at the helm of the nation's oldest and richest university. He'd faced a Faculty of Arts and Science vote of no-confidence last March, and after an international fraud investigation and payout involving his friend, economist Andrei Shleifer, and after having forced the resignation of FAS dean and historian of China William Kirby, it appeared that another one was coming up on February 28. As a result, the governing Harvard Corporation seems to have pushed him out. (Its previous lone Black member, financier Conrad K. Harper, had resigned in protest last year because of Summers's behavior and called for his resignation).

Summers, the second-briefest serving president in Harvard's history, began his tenure with controversy when, as is well known, he confronted one of the university's star faculty members, acclaimed theorist and activist Cornel West, over West's outside activities, which led the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor to resign and head to Princeton, where he'd taught some years before. In fact, Summers' short tenure saw a temporary decline in Harvard's African-American Studies Department, as other leading figures, including philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, sociologist Lawrence Bobo, hiphop archivist Marcielyna Morgan and others departed. Though African-American Studies had once been the neglected stepchild of the institution, under the leadership of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and then-president Neil Rudenstine, it became the preeminent department of its kind in the nation, eventually expanding to become the department of African and African-American Studies.

Yet Summers's problems didn't end with West and African-American Studies. There were repeated stories of his boorish and bullying behavior and his privileging of the sciences over the humanities. The university's record on hiring and promoting faculty of color also was faltering. Then, he appeared to be stumbling in dealing with the university's development of its large plot of land in Allston, one of Boston's neighborhoods right across the Charles from Cambridge. An eminent economist who'd gotten his SB from MIT and PhD from Harvard, and the former Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, Summers seemed to lack the temperament, diplomacy, charisma and persuasiveness to lead a fractious organization like FAS, let alone a vast and multifarious corporation of Harvard's size. His most notorious moment came when he offered provocative comments about "differences in intrinsic aptitude" between men and women, which sparked outrage and led one of the nation's leading biologists, MIT professor Nancy Franklin, to walk out. Both his comments and response to the controversy were the sparks that lit the dynamite that had continued to explode up to today.

Although some internal and external commentators have described the internal conflicts surrounding Summers as a battle between conservatives and liberals, or between the objective, science crowd and the subjective, humanities camp, the fact is that it appears to have been much more complex. Summers is a Democrat who, though not an especially fervent supporter of some progressive policies, did institute a truly liberal (and long overdue) financial policy with regard to low-income students. In addition, some of his harshest critics have been scientists, while some of his diehard supporters, like controversial historian Stephan Thernstrom, are humanists. According to the Harvard Gazette, he supposedly will resign at the end of the academic year, in June, after which he'll go on a year's leave, then return to hold a distinguished chair in economics and public policy. I cannot see how he could bear to stay at Harvard, particularly knowing that so many of his colleagues were so opposed to his leadership, but his wife, poetry scholar Elisa New, is on the faculty. I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up moving to MIT or Yale. Derek Bok, the president of Harvard from 1971 to 1991, will serve as acting president until a new person is chosen.

I will add that Derek Bok was the president of Harvard when I was an undergraduate there. I don't think I ever saw Bok except in passing, but like most of the students, I knew about his national leadership in higher education, particularly on the topic of racial and ethnic diversity (though divestment from then apartheid South Africa was a terrible blind spot). I remember wishing that Bok would do more to improve Af-Am when I was a student, though it was functioning enough that through its graces that I got the opportunity to study with Ishmael Reed, one of the best educational experiences of my life. (I always want to give them credit for the late South African writer Richard Rive's presence that very same spring 1987 term, though it was the English and American Literature department that had brought him.) Bok was a firm champion of affirmative action and of academic excellence, and with Princeton's former president, William Bowen, went on to publish a well-regarded study bearing out the idea that affirmative action was and is a public socioeconomic good. Though he's quite old, he should keep Harvard in good stead until they find someone who combines Summers's forcefulness of mind with Neil Rudenstine's graciousness and Derek Bok's vision. Had Brown not already done the do, I'd have said that Harvard should have chosen another of its outstanding graduates, Ruth Simmons. Ah well, Cantabs, live and learn.

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Chicago native Shani Davis (at left, on left) won his second Olympic medal tonight, a silver in the 1,500 meter speedskating race. He was on pace for the gold before he entered the final turn, when he tired and lost to Italian Enrico Fabris (at left, in center). Teammate Chad Hedrick (at left, on right), who'd been pitching a fit over Davis's refusal to participate in the team pursuit, finished third with the bronze. After the race, the two maintained their ongoing spat, when Davis commented on Hedrick's failure to shake his hand or hug him after Davis made history by winning the 1000 meter race, thus becoming the first Black person to win a gold medal in an individual sport in the Winter Olympics.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Quote: Teshome Gabriel

Gabriel"The 'wretched of the earth,' who still inhabit the ghettos and the barrios, the shanty towns and the madinas, the factories and working districts, are both the subjects and the critics of Third Cinema. They have always '[smelled] history in the wind.' Third Cinema, as guardian of popular memory, is an account and record of their visual poetics, their contemporary folklore and mythology, and above all their testimony of existence and struggle. Third Cinema, therefore, serves not only to rescue memories, but rather, and more significantly, to give history a push and popular memory a future."
--Teshome Gabriel, from "Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetics," p. 64, in Questions of Third Cinema, Jim Pines and Paul Willemen, editors (London: British Film Institute, 1989).

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Review Notes: Manderlay

I finally got to see yet another film I'd been wanting to see, Danish provocateur and Dogme 95 co-founder Lars Von Trier's 2005 parable-as-film Manderlay. This film is the second in his "USA-Land of Opportunities" trilogy after the excellent Dogville (2003); the concluding movie, Wasington, either is scheduled for production in 2007 or has been shelved, depending upon which source you read. Below are some of my thoughts on the film; I may have more, so I'll add them either later or in a subsequent post.

Watching Manderlay, I had in the back of my mind the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten cartoons mocking the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which have led to outrage, riots, and deaths all over the world. A narcissistic, cynical insolence verging on disrespect, similar to that right-wing paper's actions, also animates Von Trier. Yet I imagine that unlike the Jyllands-Posten, Von Trier holds little sacred, and would not hesitate to send up Jesus Christ were the right script doing so in front of him.

At times this cynicism, which is also inherently critical, results in rather caustic, but also visionary art, as in Dogville or the less well known The Idiots (1998); at other times, it blooms, like a toxic flower, in such compellingly disturbing explorations as Breaking the Waves (1996), or Von Trier's horrific but remarkable masterpiece, Dancer in the Dark (2003). Danish and European liberalism, the contemporary family, male-female relations, religion, sexuality, and the developmentally and physically disabled, have all been prior targets. With Dancer and Dogville, a strain of anti-Americanism rises to the fore. The United States--or quasi-US--depicted in both films barely resembles anything, from a realist standpoint, that most Americans would recognize, and yet...there is are aspects of the American ethos, as imagined by a European, that do bear out. In Dancer, it is the power of bureaucracy, the struggles of working-class life and our societal emphasis on punishment, to the point of cruelty, rather than rehabilitation, especially for the socially marginal, that hit the target. In Dogville, is the false kindness, selfishness, greed, envy, xenophobia, and desire to dominate and destroy lurking beneath the sometimes placid surface of the small-town life that seem so true; Sherwood Anderson captured it nearly three-quarters of a century ago in Winesburg, Ohio, though one must raise the grains of cynicism found in that work by several powers of ten to approximate Von Trier's ethical--and in the case of Dancer, I would add, amoral--optic.

And so it is with Manderlay. The story in brief: it's 1933, and after Grace, the star of Dogville (Nicole Kidman in one of the best performances of her career in the earlier film, the younger and less adroit Bryce Dallas Howard in this one), has taken care of business out West, she and her gangster father (Willem Dafoe) head back east by way of the South. Passing through Alabama, they happen upon a plantation called "Manderlay." A young Black woman flags her down and asks her to help stop the punishment of one of the Black men living there, Timothy (Isaach de Bankolé, in the photo at right, bound up on the left, with Glover at right), which is when she learns that, despite the Emancipation Proclamation, Union victory in the Civil War, and the 13th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution some 60 years before, the Black residents of Manderlay are still living as slaves--not merely in the economic sense, as in sharecropping--but in the literal sense of bondspeople. She's horrified, and using her father's well armed assistants, commandeers the estate, forcibly liberating the slaves and forcing equal relations between the White family members who'd been in control. The immediate result is that Mam (Lauren Bacall), the mistress of the estate, expires, but before she does, she urges Grace to destroy the book beneath her mattress which contains the keys to how she's maintained control. It's a heinous document, which includes every manner of rule and some viciously racist categorizations to dominate, not only physically and socially, but psychologically, the Blacks who remain. Chief among them is Wilhelm (Danny Glover), the elderly house slave who was Mam's main confidant and attendant. Grace, however, decides she'll keep the book to study it, partially as means of countering it, because she's determined to transform the slaves, and their former masters, into "Graduate Americans. She institutes a series of actions aimed at enlightening them. The very picture of humanity and good will, backed by brute force, Grace is so assured of the rightness of her view of the situation she's encountered and of her actions that she's even willing, when the opportunity presents itself, to forgo returning to her father's side and resuming her old life as his apprentice. Instead, with a retinue of gangsters and her father's lawyer, which are her patrimony, she will reform Manderlay such that it is the very model of freedom--and democracy.

This being a Lars Von Trier, film, however, things don't turn out so well. No good deed goes undone--that is, fails to backfire. I won't give any of the plot points away, but suffice it to say things are hardly as they seem, or as Grace has seen them. The utterly horrid system, which lies at the center of "The Book" and by which Mam has pitted the slaves against each other to control them, into numerical categories, with 1 being the "Proudy N*****," or rebel, and 7 being the "Pleasing N*****," or chameleon, who changes at will to get his or her ways with the other slaves and with White people (see the film poster above), ends up having an ironically perverse origin. Grace's own sense of things proves to be terribly off; she orders than a stand of trees be cut down to make repairs on the crumbling infrastructure, only to learn that they served as a windbreak preventing the terrible dust storm that inundates Manderlay and nearly starves those who remain on it. Then there's Timothy himself, played with superb skill by the still stunning de Bankolé, who is the epitome of the trickster figure. He is, we learn early on, not a Mensi, but a Munsi, a descendent of aristocratic African lineage and the repository of ascetic, spiritually grounded, but powerfully resistant cultural traits and attributes. He doesn't eat pork, he doesn't drink, he doesn't gamble, and he keeps himself apart from the other Blacks, who so eagerly follow Grace's plans. That is, he's a Number 1. Which means that he, and Glover's mumbling, docile, rather dim-appearing old house slave will naturally be the agents of Grace's comeuppance. Unlike Dogville, the blowback is upon her, and a deviously powerful one it is.

To put it bluntly, things turn very ugly, bloody and nasty. On top of this--and I tossed the thought around a bit--the film is racist. The racism, which is an essential aspect of the theme and plot, is also an inherent element in the film's vision of Black Americans and our struggle to overcome the experiences and legacy of the 200+ year, brutal, dehumanizing "peculiar system"; yet it's also cartoonish. In fact, the film's articulation of its own racism made me laugh out loud more than once. (At several other points, the few Black people I'd spotted in the theater, as well as some of the White people, were also laughing at the same moments.) The sheer absurdity--remember, that cynical insolence--of Von Trier's vision here should not be underestimated. Or maybe the right word is "misunderestimated," since one of the clear aims of the film, in its allegorical mode, is to smack America--and in particular, George W. Bush and his neoconservative folly in Iraq--hard across the face. Von Trier swings several times and while he does get in some wallops--including one that essentially captures the horrid scenario the US now finds itself in in terms of an exit strategy, or lack of one--I don't think he really strikes the blow he wanted, particularly not in the way that Dogville did. (On the film's website, under one of his interviews, he makes clear that this reading is indeed correct, as he sings an adaptation of "Springtime for Hitler in Germany," only substituting George W. Bush and Iraq in key places.)

Dogville casts a long shadow over this one; here, the racial context serves to obscure the essential critique of neoconservatism, that liberty cannot be opposed from the outside, even as it fits much more clearly within the American historical context. But even in terms of our history, Von Trier appears to mock the long struggle, by the enslaved people themselves (from 1643 onwards) to be free. Yet he doesn't; the one ex-slave who took Grace up on her initial charge finds something other than freedom waiting for him. And after the film proper has ended, Von Trier presents us with a series of images from the American racial and racialist archive--from the Black Civil Rights movement, from the racist archive (the KKK), lynching photos, etc.--as a way of establishing his liberal bonafides and anti-racist outlook. Even the film's counterheroes, though seemingly drawn from the same pen as those Jyllands-Posten cartoons, strike me as models, in a certain light, of resistance. I could even see mapping Timothy not only onto Eldridge Cleaver, say, but in a strange way, onto Moktadr Al-Sadr....

Manderlay is a truly fascinating film, highly original and definitely worth seeing, but I think Dogville is the better movie; it had the stronger script and a stronger lead, and was narratively more coherent. Von Trier's often stilted, sometimes ridiculous English dialogue grates or comes off as, well, ridiculous; his starkly Brechtian, expressionistic sets lose a bit of their novelty and bite if you've seen the earlier film; and Howard suffers by comparison with Kidman. (Supposedly Black Britons play 9 of the 12 adult Black roles because many African-American actors refused to take the parts, and Glover himself allegedly signed on, then off, then back on.) Also, the filmmaker's cynicism blunts the power of the film's critical aims: the real history and stories of racial and socioeconomic and political domination, in the US and between Europe and the rest of the world--that is, colonialism by another name--which are playing out in a very different way in Iraq, fall by the wayside, as does the reality of the ongoing African-American (and by extension Third World) struggle for autonomy, to be sovereign agents of our destiny (if that is really possible), even at the psychological level. Though it may seem to be the case, no one--no mass of people--really want to be slaves, or be enslaved, even if they don't know what to do with liberty or how to achieve it. (The issue of religious submission, which isn't really slavery, begs a different question.) Too, Von Trier's fantasy of America is more off here than he would probably care to admit. But there was another revelation in the film, which was that Von Trier can't help exoticizing Black (male) bodies; just as Grace stands in as a proxy for George W. Bush, she also stands in for a particular European gaze and fetish, which must ogle those brown, (frontally) nude (sex[ualized]) objects (of desire)--washing themselves under cover of darkness, strutting about the quarters with ebony, smooth, muscled biceps and pecs on full display, lying in bed after a vengeance-filled, annihilating bout of sex, the prodigious manhood of the "buck" too magnetic to pull (the camera) away from...because ultimately that's what it's about, isn't it? Control, desire, lust--control of desire and lust, desires and lusty fantasies, structures and practices of control, over Black and female and other bodies, acted out along the spectrum of humanism to outright intentional brutality so that it ultimately benefits the gangsters of the world?

Ultimately, the reality is that most Americans won't see this film, and certainly not the objects of his provocations--the neocon cabal in power, nor most White or Black Americans, most Southerners, most Alabamans--though they (we) should. You don't believe me? I'd bet the Edmund Pettus Bridge on it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gumbel Olympics Furor + Davis Makes History + Bode Busts

On the Net a firestorm has erupted around comments that Bryant Gumbel (at right, HBO) the host of HBO's "Real Sports" program, made about why he wasn't watching the Winter Olympics. Bill Russell of the Sporting News reports that Gumbel said:

Count me among those who don't care about them and won't watch them. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.


Gumbel went on to diss his former employer, NBC, and to express his excitement about the NCAA basketball playoffs. Russell turns this into the opportunity to denounce Gumbel for racism (i.e., saying that the lack of Black athletes=lower quality of athletes), calling for him to be "blown out" (huh?), while the commenters on his message board in some cases engage in the typical ahistorical racial diatribes (according to Steve Gilliard's News Blog, the HBO boards are far worse). Gumbel's comments strike me as stupid, ill-informed, and petulant, more than anything else. I'd also say he also be a bit envious, given that he's no longer with under the peacock's (NBC's) wings.

Perhaps Gumbel missed the Washington Post article on the noteworthy diversity of the US team (it's a racial and ethnic rainbow). Perhaps he's missed the fact that in addition to the US and the handful African teams, Britain, France, Brazil, Canada, and even Germany (yes, Germany!), among other competing nations, have Black and other athletes of color in competition. Some of them, like Canadian hockey star Jarome Iginla, are among the best in their sport. Then again, the absence of Black athletes in general, let alone Black élite athletes, doesn't mean that the non-Blacks competing aren't the best; this almost treads on a reverse racial essentialism I'd imagine Gumbel would reject. Certainly he realizes and has articulated before the central role that economics and class, and resources and geography (yes, NYC, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, etc. get very cold, but there aren't a lot of mountains or speedskating rinks nearby) play in the various winter sports under contest. So I think he was just spouting off, as he's sometimes wont to do, without thinking his comments through.

Meanwhile, on Slate, Reihan Salam expresses his disappointment that no "brown sugar...on ice" has come along. (Except that he has--see below.) Since Salam's of South Asian descent, s/he notes, s/he was particularly hoping for India's luger, Shiva Keshavan, to finish higher than the 25th out of 36th position that he did. Oh well. So Salam is skipping these Olympic games. Salam's loss.

Nevertheless, Chicago native Shani Davis (in the race, at left, Brian Bahr/Getty Images) whom I mentioned in my prior post on the Winter games, has become for the first black person to win a Winter Olympic gold medal in an individual competition, finishing first in his 1000 meter speedskating race over teammate Joey Cheek. Davis had previously created some controversy when he stated that he wasn't competing in the team pursuit race to concentrate on his gold; teammate Chad Hedrick, who finished 6th in the 1000, responded to Davis's win icily and only congratulated Cheek. They will all race each other again in the 1,500 next week. I heard Davis say on the radio that he doesn't claim his victory as any sort of racial triumph, but wants to be viewed as an athlete regardless of race. So perhaps Davis isn't the sort of Black athletic pioneer Gumbel is talking about; who knows? Maybe he's no D'Angelo in the looks department, but he's still handsome and given how he and the other skaters fill out their aerodynamic suits, maybe Salam will switch the competition back on.

I've been enjoying some of the Olympic contests quite a bit. I've become particularly taken with the snowboard cross, which is one of those X Game-style competitions that combines skill, speed, danger, determination, and luck. The competitors also look like they're a lot of fun and having a lot of fun. Last night, the top-ranked female snowboard cross competitor, American Lindsay Jacobellis was on the verge of winning the gold medal that everyone expected her to pick up, but instead she hotdogged it almost at the end of the race, fell, and lost to her Swiss competitor. The TV commentators were quick to chastise her, but Jacobellis knows full well she handed her win to someone else, and will have to live with her silver, at least until the next Olympics, if she's still competing then.

As for American alpine skiier Bode Miller (stumbling down the mountain at right, REUTERS Ruben Strich), it's been a bust so far. He's finished out of the medal hunt in one race, been disqualified in another, and left the course in a third. According to news accounts, he does, however, appear to be hitting all the nightspots in and near Turin. If he won one of his races blitzed, maybe he should...no, I'm not really advocating that. Really. Perhaps he'll win the "Most Convivial" medal, if someone's handing that out. He still has the slalom, which is not one of his better races, and the Giant Slalom, to go.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Michael Bracey's "Africans within the Americas" Exhibit

Tonight I went with my cousin, artist and designer Raquel D., to a reception for an exhibit of photographs by a friend of hers, Chicago-based photographer Michael Bracey. Titled "Africans within the Americas," the exhibit of African Diasporic images opened on January 30, 2006 at Northeastern Illinois University's Fine Arts Gallery, and runs until February 24. Tonight's even coincided with the publication of Bracey's book of the same name.


Bracey has traveled throughout the Americas and Africa photographing people of African descent, and one of the aims of this show was to show the commonalities across national, ethnic and linguistic boundaries, which his fine, evocative photographs achieve.

He took the photos in this exhibit in the US, Belize, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Jamaica, and Ghana, and in some cases, it was hard to tell, at least at first glance, where the people captured in the images were from. I played a little game where I would not look at the captions but just guess, and the only ones I got correct were the photos from Salvador da Bahia (which has very distinctive architecture), and one shot of Dominican men laughing (though it could easily have been a shot of non-Dominicans photographed in, say, Maryland or Virginia).

The photos in the exhibit are all black-and-white; their formal strength lies in their assured composition, framing, and use and contrast of light and shadow. What appeals to me about many of them is their in medias res quality, which is to say, how they mostly do not feel staged and plunge us right into scenes from lives as they're playing out. There are a few portraits, which interested me less (though the one of the young Baiana featured below is lovely) than the others freezing a moment in the subject's everyday experiences that gain poignancy because of Bracey's artistry. Perhaps my favorites were a shot of a young Jamaican guy, from the back, his dark back contrasting against the sky, his short twists peaking from beneath his leather cap; a triptych of an old man walking up a street in Panama; and another featuring a father and child in rural Bahia, the child stretched out, its arms up, waiting to be embraced or even lifted, between his father's legs, as the rural homestead and parched landscape hovered in the distance.

One thing I wondered was what would sort of photos might result from visiting spots in these countries that are not particularly known for having a strong "African" imprint, but which do have distinct populations of African-descended people? So for example, in Brazil, in addition to Salvador, what about Rio de Janeiro (which struck me on each visit as a "Black" city) or São Paulo, or even somewhere in the south of that country, like Porto Alegre, which has a small Black population (and a slave history, etc.)? In the US, what about Denver, or Los Angeles, or Oklahoma City? What sorts of commonalities, both to the better known Black metropoles (Washington, New York, Port-au-Prince, Santiago de Cuba, etc.) and in transnational, transdiasporic terms, might arise? Another thing I thought would be to see what Black Europe or the Black Middle East (problematic as these terms are) looked like, as well as what I think of as the imaginary African-America in other parts of the non-African-Diasporic world (say, in Fiji or New Zealand). Oh well--Bracey is only one person, and this is an ongoing project. He did mention that his next project would involve photographing Blacks in Mexico, which I think is incredibly timely, so I'm going to look out for it.


Here's Raquel checking out one of my favorites of the photos. It depicts a young Bahian woman taking a break from her job as a restaurant tout.

Some of the people at the reception

The artist Michael Bracey.

If you're in the Chicago area and are interested in catching the exhibit, it's at

5500 North St. Louis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625
773-442-4944
The show runs until February 24.

To see a lot more of Michael Bracey's photos and purchase his book, you can check out his website.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Brazell Panel Discussion at Princeton 2/22

I came across the following announcement, of an event based in part on the unsolved murder of Rashawn Brazell, on Frank Léon Roberts's Brooklyn Boy's Blues site.

I'm borrowing the image, which is linked to the event site.
Rashawn_Brazell

From Frank's site:

A panel discussion on “Injustice, Intolerance and Intersectional Identity” is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, in 101 McCormick Hall at Princeton University.

Featuring Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton, the discussion will explore the roles of the media, the police and the public in normalizing violence against individuals who stand at the intersection of marginal identity categories.

Appiah will be joined by Clarence Patton of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and Rashad Robinson of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in analyzing how intersectional identity informs the management of hate crimes in America.

The discussion will draw primarily upon the unsolved murder of 19-year-old Rashawn Brazell, a black gay man from Brooklyn whose dismembered body parts were found in garbage bags throughout the borough's subways in February 2005. Desire Brazell, his mother, will make the opening remarks.

The panel will be moderated by Larry D. Lyons II, a PhD candidate in Princeton's department of English and co-founder of the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund.