Sunday, July 30, 2006

Howardena Pindell at G.R. N'Namdi Gallery

Yesterday I ventured out to Chelsea to see Howardena Pindell's (1943-) installation at the G.R. N'Namdi Gallery (526 West 26th Street #316). (Pindell, who teaches at SUNY-Stony Brook, delivered a gallery talk last Wednesday, and had I known about it, I would certainly have attended.)

I've followed Pindell's work for years, and have always been intrigued by her negotiation between formal abstraction and conceptualism on the one hand, perhaps best represented by her colorful hole-punch pieces of the 1970s, and outright sociopolitical polemic on the other, which she distilled in her 1980 video short "Free, White and 21." The N'Namdi gallery show, "In My Lifetime," which is up until August 31, featured more of the latter works, culled from the last 35 years of her oeuvre. The majority of the pieces were wall-mounted mixed-media constructions and installation pieces, though there were also some drawings, the video, and a series of quiet, brightly colored photo collage-paintings that Pindell created after recovering from a life-changing car accident around 1980.

I especially enjoyed the dialectic that the show engaged, and which is emblematic of Pindell's work itself, between the less overtly political and more conceptually oriented works, which included examples of quite beautiful delicate, elaborate map-like charts drawn on handmade paper, as well as drawings on videographic images, and the larger, less subtle and sometimes less technically polished polemical mixed-media pieces. (I should add that Pindell's career itself, as a Black female abstractionist pioneer, has always represented a political statement in itself.) What came through in some of these larger and more direct works was the utter insistence, the sheer stake that Pindell felt the political topics and subjects were proposing. In the face of the first Iraq War or this second one, they appeared to be saying to the viewer, or children dying from HIV/AIDS, or inequalities in the labor market, or the effects of the slave trade, would and could a seamlessly brushstroked surface or perfectly aligned stencils possibly be the point?

This isn't to say that these larger pieces were not well-made, but they were rawer, less elegant; their entreaties were evident in and articulated by their craft. I also don't want to imply that polemical art isn't compatible with and representable by and through formal abstraction and technical polish, but rather that it was clear after viewing the larger works where Pindell's overall focus and aims, the screams and shrieks that the injustices, the history, the narratives she was trying to pass on to the viewer, actually lie.

(I cannot find my notes with the artworks' titles, so I'm going to post the pictures and then post the titles when I locate them.)

The Big Lie: this mixed media work developed as a critique of the Gulf War in 1991. The record, though not broken, keeps on spinning into the present.

One of the Cibachrome and acrylic works that Pindell began to make after her accident.

Another one of the Cibachrome and acrylic works.

Ancestors: Memorial/Slavery (93 x 71.5 in. Mixed Media on Canvas): one of the more beautiful and most moving pieces in the exhibit.

This wall installation, showing an array of laminated imagery featuring labor costs, was an interesting commentary on low-wage, especially female, labor.

Separate But Equal Genocide : AIDS (Parts I and II) (75.5 x 42.5 in. Mixed Media on Canvas): from a distance, I wondered what these flags were calling attention to. They draw the eye from across the room. Up close, it's clear that they feature the names of people who've died of AIDS, and the tension between their material beauty and their critical commentary was palpable. The video monitor, which was off, is visible at bottom left.

I believe this piece was titled Slavery Memorial/Lash. Pindell drew upon sources on the slave trade, Black inventors, and the recreations of the reconstituted Black family in the New World.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Slain Lesbian Couple in Jamaica + Velvet Lounge Back in Business

Inaction on Lesbian Couple Slain in Jamaica
Myrie and WilliamsRod 2.0 reported yesterday that it's been a month since the brutal murder of a lesbian couple (at left, from Rod 2.0) in Jamaica, and yet the prime suspect, the former boyfriend of one of the women, has yet to be questioned. Rod writes that

On June 29th, the mutilated bodies of Candice Williams and Phoebe Myrie were found in a sealed septic tank behind the house they shared. According to the Jamaica Star, at that time the police identified a lead suspect. That man is Dwayne Lewis, Williams' former boyfriend and the father of her year-old infant.
Human Rights Watch has pressed the government on its failure to investigate Lewis. Several weeks ago, Jasmyne Cannick wrote about the horrific killing, and the police's discovery of sheets, pillowcases and a lesbian-themed DVD that were found with the buried bodies of the women, as well as the burnt mattress in their home.

Rod goes on to note the persistent downplaying of homophobic violence by some quarters of the Jamaican media, a criticism that others have also lodged. This goes hand in hand with the Jamaican government's failure to aggressively deal with the ongoing problems of homophobic and misogynistic rhetoric (and I am not saying that Jamaica is alone in this), some of it fueled by the very musicians who were targeted in the recent LIFEbeat protests, which creates a climate ripe for violence and murder. In light of this story, the denialist comments of WBAI host Ian Forrest, which Colin Robinson criticized in an email I posted yesterday, assume a particularly grim irony.

Velvet Lounge Concerts Resume
Toni Asante Lightfoot
sent an email to say that Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge, the place to go for distinctive Chicago-sound Jazz, resumed its concerts last night. Its new location is 67 East Cermak Road, between Michigan & Wabash in the Chicago's historic Motor Row District, which is right around the corner and within sight of the old Velvet Lounge site. The phone number is the same: 312-791-9050.

The lineup for this weekend is:

Friday, July 28: Isaiah Spencer & Friends
Saturday, July 29: Karl E. H. Seigfried Trio
Sunday, July 30: Greg Ward & Friends
Monday, July 31: Tim Daisy Group

The grand opening is still a few weeks off, so this is really just a test run, but if you want a preview of the space, now's the time to do, and consider donating to help Anderson keep the new space running.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Corral

All week I've been suffering from mental lethargy when trying to blog; I've been able to work on my creative projects, but for whatever reason, when I've tried to post even a poem, let alone type out a full paragraph, it's like my mind shifts into shutdown mode.... But things are clicking today, so here goes:

No Fats! No Fems!
Well over a month ago, Charles sent me an email about a post on "No Fats! No Fems!" at Kevin Bynes's Kaleidoscope blog. I responded with a simple post almost immediately after reading through what I thought was a provocative entry that compared the racist Jim Crow system to the exclusionary policies and politics of some folks in the Black gay community. (I specifically use the word "gay" here rather than LGBT, queer or sgl, since I see each of these terms marking out communities that are constitutively more accepting of various kinds of diversities and pluralities, particularly with regard to body size, and image (self-)representational norms, self-fashioning, and so on.) I checked to see if there were any responses after mine, saw none and unfortunately forgot to bookmark Kevin's site (which I'll add to my blogroll). Yesterday, C alerted me to the fact that a scintillating exchange (WORK!) involving Kevin, Charles, Herukhuti, Larry, and Frank Léon Roberts had opened up not only in the comments section, but also on Larry Lyons's blog (actually this was the earlier post.) Kevin has subsequently added a new post on his blog as well. While I abhor the personalized acidity of some of the discourse, I am also delighted to see these men conducting their arguments at such a fierce level. You could get a mini-quick course in current critical conversations around the politics of sexual desire from this exchange. To reformulate one of Heru's questions, what would a non-normative, disidentificatory politics and practice, particularly around body size, image and gender performance look like? Who is taking up the mantle and who's watching and listening? To point to Larry's arguments, what are the effects of his particular critical practice and how do they call into question the forms and modes of representation that are so common in our communities? Are we looking critically enough at what he's up to? To follow Frank, how can we present and practice critiques which escape the always lurking threat of essentialisms, and, I would ask, don't we all fall prey to essentialism and binarisms? Also, would we recognize an innovative, liberatory political practice around sexual desire and social empowerment if it didn't fit our preconceptions? To echo Charles, artists like Lyle Ashton Harris, Ajamu and others do offer models. (I know, I'm being pollyannaish and positing some sort of consensus here (or misrepresenting the whole damn thing, which is why I provided the links!) which the complexity and occasional enmity of the exchanges belie, but hey, it's my blog and this is how I see it.)

Marcellas's Queer Desire
MarcellasSpeaking of femmy men and representation, I've noticed an interesting thing occurring on a show that I'd vowed weeks ago not to watch but have been following somewhat nevertheless: CBS's mind-shredding, mechanical, voyeuristic spectacle Big Brother 7: "All Stars." (TV, TV, TV...if i have even 1/4th of a brain left down the road I'll be lucky.) Back on July 7 (the day of my initial post on LIFEbeat), I'd called attention to the addition of celebrity stylist Marcellas Reynolds (at left, from his site) to the cast; he is the out Black queer Chicagoan from season 3 who notoriously sacrificed himself for a fellow player (an obnoxious, cheese-obsessed Southern White woman if I recall) and was quickly voted off the show. It was one of those moments where you have to speak back to the TV screen and say, "What on earth are you thinking, chile???" Well, Marcellas is still in this new season's game, and he's been serving up his characteristic drama, which has included overemoting to the point of tears, while also praising, primping and pining over a fellow male cast member. Sometimes his behavior veers into minstrelsy--although on this show all of the houseguests are minstrels at times, which is the point--but one particular aspect of his performance caught my attention last night. Since the show began, Marcellas's chief object of desire has been Kaysar (below right), a gorgeous, ostensibly hetero Iraqi-American graphic designer from California who committed a game-ending tactical error similar to Marcellas's last season. Marcellas has sung Kaysar's praises openly more than once, and last week in the immunity challenge he even engaged in the very erotic (and for some folks fetishistic) act of shaving Kaysar's head of its lustrous black locks, after which he pronounced to Julie Chen, his housemates and America that Kaysar looked even better shorn. For his part, Kaysar, a practicing Muslim, seems to be taking it in stride and even enjoying the attention. KaysarI said to C that I thought it was pretty interesting first to see an out, fem Black queer man not only extolling but expressing sexual desire for another man of color, an Arab American no less (a man whose braininess, in addition to his physique, is one of his most appealing attributes), especially during this politically and socially fraught period, on a popular, national, non-cable TV program. Now, in the large scheme of cultural representations this is a minor thing, but I also thought that at the same time, it's pretty significant. How often are Black fem queer men--or queer people of color in general--afforded the opportunity not only to represent themselves (and yes, the show is heavily edited and edited, so I am talking about a mediated representation) on the national airwaves, but also to present and enact--to voice--narratives of desire that venture outside the sociopolitical norms which are reinforced every minute of every day? How often are Arabs--or Asians or Latinos or even dark-haired Caucasians, or older women, or overweight people (cf. above) etc.--the objects of that desire? Isn't it usually policed and left on the cutting floor? I say this because on the show there are many attractive people, including several fit straight White guys who would usually be the objects of what would be considered normative American gay male enthusiasm (and were I to check Big Brother's boards I'd probably find out that they are). In fact, Marcellas very well might be fiending for them as well. But he has singled out Kaysar, and to me, it marks an interesting moment that I think that has passed completely under (or over) the usual critical radar screens; Marcellas, I would imagine without even realizing it, is showing CBS and America what one version of Black/queer desire might look like.

More Nonsense about LIFEbeat
You would think that the issues surrounding the LIFEbeat protests, which a group of Black and Latino LGBT bloggers led and which resulted in LIFEbeat's cancelation of its Reggae Gold 2006 concert to promote HIVAIDS awareness among Caribbean and Caribbean-Americans, would be fairly clear by now. But as the Caribbeat Magazine insert in Thursday's New York Daily News (which I wasn't able to access online) makes clear, this isn't the case.

Colin Robinson sent me the following email the other day about yet another statement of ignorance:

In "Caribbeat," the periodic Caribbean supplement to the New York Daily News. The lead piece in today's p. 24 supplement, that does not appear on the Daily News website and has no by line, is a 400-word piece headlined "Jamaican Americans React to Forced Cancellation of AIDS Benefit." On the one hand, it opens, "A gay rights effort that led to the recent forced cancellation of reggae concert -- aimed at combating HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean community -- has been met with surprise by members of New York's Jamaican-American community," and attributes to three Jamaicans statements like "says to me very clearly there is no value placed on the lives of Caribbean people" and a description of the protest as an attempt for gay activists to push their own agenda, as opposed to working with the reggae industry to create dialogue and fight...AIDS. On the other hand it does clearly identify Caribbean participation in the protest and our assertion that "the primary victims of dancehall homophobia are the same groups most hurt by...AIDS stigma."

Sadly, however, it concludes using a young Jamaican and WBAI personality, Ian Forrest, to trot out the increasingly popular denialist line on violence in Jamaica that "1,674 people were killed in Jamaica last year" and "contrary to what people would have us believe, half of them weren't homosexuals" and the conclusion that "Jamaican musicians and Jamaicans in general pose no threats to homosexuals."

And it misses the point, suggesting we "called for the cancellation," and ends with Beenie Man's publicist's line about "It's not a gay or straight thing..."

After reading the article, which hopefully one of you will post on your site, folks can e-mail
I agree and urge readers to let them know how off the tracks they are. The point--or at least one point, at I see it--is that homophobic lyrics and rhetoric in dancehall music and other popular musical forms contribute to an environment which fosters violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people or even those who are merely perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender., in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean and across the globe. It also promotes ignorance about the ways in which HIV/AIDS is transmitted, and makes people less likely to address openly and thoroughly HIV/AIDS transmission or to treat those who are PWAs, especially LGBTs, with full equality. Rather than canceling the concert, LIFEbeat could have required Beenie Man and TOK to address their homophobic lyrics, acknowledge the terrible effects they've had, and denounce them, or simply dropped these artists altogether. Another move might have been to have the artists engage in a public dialogue with Caribbean LGBTs, including some who are PWAs, before the music began. Instead, they copped out by canceling the event and issuing a misguided press release that benefitted no one. Caribbeat Magazine would go a long way towards educating their readers, and those they so freely quote, if they could and would recognize these basic facts.

Face Transformer
I came across this site a while back and as with everything else, have been meaning to post about it for some time. Created by psychology researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, it's called the Face Transformer and it allows you to roughly transform an uploaded image of your face by age, several large racial and ethnic categories, and even into a manga figure. I did it and am posting the result of the "Modigliani" image at left. It reminds me of a Kabuki mask. If you keep clicking the links, you'll access some pretty interesting online experiments.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sports Bar SDQ Closes

C alerted me to some sad news that Anthony posted today on his Monaga blog: David Lee has decided to close the Sports Bar, on Calle Palo Hincado in Santo Domingo's Colonial Zone, one of the highlights of any visit to the DR. (David explains the bar's closing here.) C and I both always looked forward to dropping in and saying hello to him, and spending time at this very welcoming space when we were visiting. The low-key, friendly atmosphere, conviviality of the patrons, the mix of Dominican, Caribbean and US hits, and the hum of conversations, in Spanish, English, Spanglish and non-verbal gestures, are all memories I'll cherish. When I visited SD this past spring for the International Book Fair, I actually had the opportunity to have brunch with and just hang out with David, and the experience confirmed for me what a lovely person he is. I'll definitely miss this spot tremendously, as I know C and so many others who've spent time in SD will. We thank David for having opened this wonderful space and for having persevered with it, against the odds. We also definitely wish him the best in whatever he does next and look forward to seeing him in the future.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pynchon Posting on New Novel?

PynchonThomas Pynchon (1937-, at left, in his youth, from may be the most famous publicity-averse writer in the world, matched perhaps only by J.D. Salinger (1919-). But while Salinger's strange, hermetic bubble has been pierced several times, by writer Joyce Maynard in her tell-all 1972 Time article and subsequent 1999 memoir, and by his daughter Margaret's illuminating, corrective 1999 account, and while Salinger hasn't published (as far as anyone knows) a book or any short fiction since 1965 (nor given an interview since 1974), Pynchon's private life since his mid-1960s seclusion remains mostly a mystery for the reading public, his Cornell friend Jules Siegel's Playboy article notwithstanding, but he has published several acclaimed novels since then, including one of the greatest novels in the English language, Gravity's Rainbow (1973), as well as the widely panned Vineland (1990) and Mason & Dixon (1997). Because of the absence of any information or publicity about Pynchon and the rarity of publications, announcements of a new book have tended to stir up a hullabaloo, send fans and the media into overdrive.

So it is with his new novel: this past Wednesday on Slate, Troy Patterson created a hubbub by writing about a synopsis of a 992-page work of fiction, titled Untitled Pynchon Novel, that appeared on's Website. Literary bloggers and the media had already begun spreading the news about the book last month. The Amazon synopsis not only bore all the hallmarks of Pynchon's style, but carried his byline as well. Real, or a hoax? Patterson initially wrote that the publicity chief of the book's publisher Penguin "disavow[ed]" all knowledge of the writeup's authorship, and added that hadn't sorted out what its response would be and that, unsurprisingly, Pynchon wasn't returning Patterson's phone call. The next day, however, Patterson posted a clarification. The blurb was Pynchon's handiwork after all, according to Penguin, which, Patterson corrected, did not disclaim the post. What a great bit of PR! The novel is entitled Against the Day, and spans the period between the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and the end of the First World War. One of its central characters may or may not be based on the mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya; the former German culture minister, Michael Naumann, alleged he'd assisted Pynchon in conducting research on her. Did Pynchon just call him up? When people work with Pynchon, do they sign non-disclosure and non-photography agreements? Penguin supposedly will be publishing the new novel in December of this year. I hope it's more Gravity's Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49 than Vineland. (I haven't read Mason & Dixon...there are only so many hours in the day....)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Harlem Book Fair 2006

Here are a few pictures from this year's Harlem Book Fair, which QBR: The Black Book Review hosted for the 8th time at venues on and near 135th Street, between 5th Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. Over 50,000 people were expected to attend the fair, which included bookstalls, live performances, and panel discussions. For the few hours this afternoon that I was there, it was packed. I ran into an old colleague from the university and several fellow writers I hadn't seen in a while, and had an opportunity to witness once again the vitality of African-American and African literary and cultural production.

Young people at an exhibit in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Promoters of Marvelous World, which they described as the "Black Harry Potter"

Author Dashawn Taylor with fans

M. W. Moore, author of For What I Hate I Do

Poet and fiction writer Jacqui Johnson and Cave Canem director Carolyn Micklem

Poet Dante Micheaux at the Cave Canem table

Former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields

Poet Reginald Lockett, visiting from Oakland

Mutiya Vision at his booth, with his children's books

Best-selling author Omar Tyree, recipient of this year's Harlem Book Fair Wheatley Book Award

Two authors addressing fans under one of the tents

86-year-old Guyanese-American author, critic, scholar and activist Jan Carew; one of the major luminaries of Caribbean and pan-African literature and culture, he was also one of the first professors of African American studies at Northwestern University, and his work and presence paved the way for my colleagues and me. Meeting and speaking with him was one of the highlights of my visit to the fair.

Author Valerie Chandler Smith, proudly showing her posterboard ad for her book, To Each His Own.

Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., the first African-American president of the American Cancer Society and of the American College of Surgeons, chair of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and the Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery at the Howard University College of Medicine, at the Howard University Press book table, with his book, No Boundaries: A Cancer Surgeon's Odyssey.

I didn't get this guy's name, but he was discussing financial planning to an enthusiastic audience

A demonstration of the "Toy Exercise Machine"

Two of the actors in the Urban S.L.A.M. videos

Fellow blogger, writer and actor Bernie Tarver (Bejata), and author David Moore (wearing shades, at right)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Reviews: Chronicles of Narnia; Match Point; Nothing but a Man

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeI've been watching far fewer movies of late than I tend to in Chicago, and the ones I've caught haven't made me want to see more. I finally saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, dir. Andrew Adamson) the adaptation of C. S. Lewis's eponymous 1950 novel which I'd read and loved when I was a child. One of the reasons I rented the movie was because of all the media hype surrounding the underlying Christian themes, which run throughout all of Lewis's works, and because the film in part was bankrolled by billionaire right-winger Philip Anschutz. Before I saw it, I wondered how the film would realize the Christian elements and if the director would go too far, thereby overwhelming the central narrative of the children's exploration of the magical realm of Narnia. What I found was that you could watch portions of the film and enjoy the sheer adventure of it, especially if you were a child (though there were several scenes that I don't think were appropriate for very small children); the acting, the cinematography, and the overall translation of the novel into a film succeeded. But I found the talky good vs. evil and sections, which brought the Christian subtext to the fore, so boring that I fell asleep--three times! (I also fell asleep during the first Lord of the Rings movie, and never saw any of the subsequent ones.) I also think I've seen enough battle scenes to have become jejune at this point. Whether neo-DeMille or CGI, I usually start yawning and looking for something to read as the forces gather, etc. Tilda Swinton has received wide acclaim for her performance, and she was very good as a literal Ice Queen Witch, but I've seen far more malevolent representations of evil on screen. What I found particularly annoying were the Hollywood touches--the endless, heart-tugging music; the cutesiness of the some of the dialogue and direction; and those moments when the literalization of the religious subtext grew clumsy. I haven't read the novel in years, but I almost decided to reread it to see how Lewis handled the symbolic and allegorical elements, which can be harder to achieve--or require a different form of realization--in cinema. But I probably won't reread it, and would say that it will probably charm lots of people, especially youngsters, but I doubt I'd watch it again. And one final question: how did the devout Christians Anschutz and Disney were courting deal with the presence onscreen of human-animal hybrids, talking animals, literal witchcraft, and scenes of torture? Just wondering.

Match PointI also recently watched Woody Allen's Match Point (2005), starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johansson. I'd read and heard wildly divergent critiques of this movie, but I have been a fan of Allen's work particularly since childhood, and when I saw it compared to Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), one of Allen's masterpieces, I vowed to watch. I'm sorry to say it's nowhere near the excellence of that earlier work, though it has its moments. Allen essentially transposed a slightly improbable, East Coast urban-and-suburban rich-people narrative onto London. Although I've only visited that city a few times and never lived there, I could perceive that things were somewhat off. (Perhaps having read British writer Alan Hollinghurst's Booker Prize-winning novel of upper-class London during the Thatcher period, The Line of Beauty, earlier this year tuned my antennae more than usual.) But once you get past this aspect, there's the secondary problem of the narrative itself, which feels imbalanced. The film races through the story of social climber Chris Wilton's (Rhys-Meyers) ascent into the upper classes, which for some reason I wasn't fully buying, and then hunkers down when he begins his affair with Nola Rice (Johannson), the ex-girlfriend of his brother in law, Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode). It starts to drag as things spin out of control, and I kept thinking, yes, the rich may overlook certain things and Wilton's wife Chloe (Emily Mortimer) may be a bit clueless, but...? Wilton's resolution of his personal problem doesn't really seem in character, comes too quickly and sort of struck me as over the top. All of which is to say that in terms of the script's time apportionment of narrative time, which I felt as the lived, diegetic time of the film, things just felt off. And then, instead of craftily tying things up or leaving them open, Allen throws in a concluding twist that felt mostly like a cop-out, as if he weren't sure how to wrap it up, had gotten too deep into things, and then said, Oh, I know, here's what we'll do. Another issue was that I have been spoiled by prior Woody Allen films, or at least the ones up to Husbands and Wives (1992). I mean, it is asking quite a bit for a director to elicit from his or her actors the level of performances that Allen was able to get from Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Martin Landau, Jerry Orbach, Louise Lasser, Angelica Houston, Michael Murphy, etc. But then they had brilliant characters to work with. The acting in this film wasn't bad, per se, but I just wasn't persuaded so much by Rhys-Meyers or Mortimer, and Johannson started to get hysterical (in the problematic sense) at a certain point, which sent up flags. I usually enjoy her performances, though she essentially plays the same role, the radiant ingenue. And at 20 years old, with her looks, why not? Everyone is competent and at times, good to very good, and Allen excels at the nuts and bolts; you can learn something even from his worst movies, a category into which this one doesn't fall, thankfully, though I wouldn't rank it among his best.

Nothing but a ManCable broadcast, and I'd queued up Michael Roemer's still stunning 1964 film Nothing But a Man. 42 years later it's lost none of its power, and is one of those films that I couldn't watch every day, but feel I need and want to see periodically just to recalibrate my ideas about what constitutes the elements of a very good movie. For any readers who haven't seen it, Roemer and Michael Young wrote a script about a young Black Alabaman railworker, Duff Anderson (Ivan Dixon at the height of his talent), whose personal views embody the growing assertiveness and militancy of the mid and late 1960s Civil Rights movement. For Dixon, it's all about freedom and dignity--he is "nothing but a man," and wants and expects to be treated like one. He falls in love with Josie (played with striking, nuanced assurance by Abbey Lincoln), the middle-class daughter of a local preacher who's reached the sort of accommodation with the White world around him that permitted a certain level of personal and social success in that era (as now). Things proceed from there, and eventually Duff and Josie marry, to her parents' consternation; the couple's growing frustration with how things turn out because of Duff's refusal to get along is the meat of the narrative. Initially Duff, who has experienced a tremendous amount of freedom working on the railroad, can't deal, and flies the coop, but he comes to realize that rather than turning out like his own father, he should try to be the man he hopes and must be, as difficult as that will prove. Dixon and Lincoln so fully inhabit their roles that the film feels like a documentary; Roemer even pushes the matter with a few scenes that verge on ethnography. Their restraint in fact produces the kind of affective surplus that I tend to associate with other forms and genres, like poetry. But everyone's acting is fine, and some are exceptional; Gloria Foster, playing Lee, the fierce companion of Duff's dissolute and dying father (Julius Harris), basically puts on an acting clinic. What also sets the film apart is its rich depiction of working-class Black life, and of the truth of race relations, at a time when it was rarely shown on screen. In addition, Roemer's subtle direction, the crisp and yet lyrical cinematography, the consistently pitched tone, and the avoidance of sentimentality, even in some scenes that where it would seem most likely to arise, elevate the film to the status of a masterwork. I highly recommend it.

I also rewatched Michael Haneke's award-winner from last year, Caché, and my verdict remains the same: one of the best movies of 2005.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Latino Immigrants' Stereotypes About Blacks + GOP Outreach Failing + Report Issued on Chicago Torture

Latino Immigrants Come to the US with Negative Stereotypes of Blacks
About a week ago Reggie H. and another friend sent me a fascinating article from Duke University's News and Communications online site, penned by Kelly Gilmer and entitled "Latino Immigrants Come to the US with Negative Stereotypes of Black Americas, New Study Shows." It details research by Duke political scientist Paula D. McClain, in conjunction with a series of colleagues (Niambi M. Carter, Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto and Monique L. Lyle of Duke; Jeffrey D. Grynaviski of the University of Chicago; Shayla C. Nunnally of the University of Connecticut; Thomas J. Scotto of West Virginia University; J. Alan Kendrick of St. Augustine's College; and Gerald F. Lackey and Kendra Davenport Cotton of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), that examined racial attitudes among a small cohort of Latino immigrants--most of them Mexicans, Whites, and African Americans in Durham, North Carolina. One of the main findings in the study (now online), which was funded by the Ford Foundation and will be published in August in the Journal of Politics, was that rather than adopting negative racial attitudes about Blacks from White Southerners, the Latinos tended to arrive in the US with the stereotypes already, and to identify more with Whites than Blacks. In addition, living in neighborhoods with Blacks reinforced, rather than diminished the negative feelings and beliefs. Almost 60 percent of the Latinos studied believed that Blacks were not hardworking; about 56 percent felt that Blacks could not be trusted; and about 33% or a third felt that Blacks were not easy to get along with. Among the Whites in the study, the corresponding percentages were 9.3, 8.4, and 9.6. (Of course White Southerners have depended upon the hard, low-cost labor of Blacks, for much of the country's history.) The study also showed that Latinos with higher educations held fewer such negative stereotypes.

Also interesting, but not surprising to me, was the finding that the White respondents identified more strongly with the Blacks than the Latinos, with only 22 percent saying they had the most in common with Latinos, whereas almost half (49.6) of the Black study participants did, with 45.5 saying they had the most in common with Whites. The findings "depressed" McClain and the other researchers, who noted the strong recent increase in Latino immigration to the South, where more than 50% of the US's Black population lives, and whose problematic racial history and climate have never been adequately addressed.

I had some immediate thoughts about the report, and here is an excerpt of my response to Reggie's initial email:

Very interesting, and sort of what I expected, particularly in terms of whites' and Blacks' views of the Latinos. I hope that McClain and her co-researchers expand their study to look at a diverse group of Latino immigrants, because right now, it appears to be based on a very small cohort of primarily Mexican immigrants (who admittedly constitute the majority of immigrants from Latin America, and who may also be the majority in the South and West), and therefore does not represent the broader spectrum of Latino immigrants nor the particular socially inflected perspectives of people from different countries, or even different areas within countries. What are the nuances, for example, between Latino immigrants from a country that has fewer people of African descent (Guatemala, Chile, Argentina) versus those from a country that has a large or preponderant such population (Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia)? How have the internal national discourses on race inflected with various kinds of discourses and imagery from the United States the immigrants encounter before arriving here? Also, it would be interesting to connect this with information from the Census on self-identification in terms of race among Latinos. I rarely see it mentioned, but a large number of Latinos in 2000 identified as "white," certainly more than many people might imagine based on the media's constant rhetoric invoking "Hispanic" as a "racial" category, rather than a constructed ethnicity. How does a homegrown rhetoric of white supremacy and possibly an identification with "whites" elites in their home countries, along with a negative view of blacks and black Americans, result in self-identification as "white" when they come here if they're asked to racially self-identify? Even after asking these questions, however, it gibes with studies and anecdotal accounts I seem to recall. The anti-black and white supremacist rhetoric, even in countries like Mexico which do extol mestizaje and the nation's mixed roots, are very strong. It also jogs my memory about the Memin Pinguin scandal of last year, and the apparent lack of understanding about the racist iconography that those images represented.

To put these comments more felicitously, I hope that McClain and her colleagues continue and expand their research inquiry and study pool. I hope they'll closely at the nexus between the historically raced and racist hierarchies and ideologies in the immigrants' home countries and the raced and racist rhetoric and ideology coming from the US, though sorting these two strands out may be quite difficult. What are the mechanisms through which these racial constructions and racisms are produced in the immigrants' native countries? What structures and systems inculcate and reinforce them before they arrive? Numerous studies across a range of fields have explored the history of racism and racial constructions throughout Latin America; Rout's history of Blacks in "Spanish America" is one of the best overviews, but numerous others, looking at specific countries (Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, etc.) and regions have described the development of racial hierarchies, racism, ethnocentrism, and related ideologies outside any US influence, which is also unsurprising given the historical development and preponderance of racist ideologies and rhetoric in the very European nations (Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal) that colonized the Americas. It is also important to consider the effects of immigrants returning from sojourns in the US, as well as more recent American and Black American popular culture's effects in the immigrants' countries of origins. For example, what effects have personal experiences with American forms of racialization had on immigrants from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama who return to their native countries, and how do their beliefs and experiences effect the attitudes of their countrypeople who have not yet come to the US? How does the situation differ for the above five countries, whose populations largely consist of people of African ancestry, versus other countries, such as Mexico (which does have an identifiable Black population), Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, or Argentina, with smaller populations of Afrodescendents?

I also decided to check the 2000 US Census, because I recalled from my readings of that ast report that there were some important findings on race and ethnicity. One that I think relates to this self-perception among the Latinos studied in McClain's research was that almost half (48%) of self-reported "Hispanics" listed their "race" as "white" only, while 42% listed "some other race." A very small number, less than 4 percent, listed either "black or African-American" or any of the other racial categories (Asian, Native American and Pacific Islander) alone. (From another report I read I recall that the majority of the "Black" Latino respondents were Puerto Rican, followed by Mexicans). It would be fascinating to learn which Latinos/Hispanics tended to identify as "White" alone versus who identified under some other category; as I've seen noted elsewhere, were the longstanding US notions of Whiteness applied, ironically many of the self-identified "white" Hispanics would not meet the criteria. Moreover, another irony of the findings is that right now in the US, the major animus against Latino immigrants, and in particular against undocumented Mexican immigrants, isn't coming from the very people these immigrants not only don't identify with, but find difficult to befriend or trust. For the most part it isn't Blacks (save Vernon Robinson, Jesse Helms's protegé) uttering the extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric that has come out of the US Congress (cf. Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King, who compared undocumented immigrants to cattle), that's being bandied about in the media, and that underpins the racist elements among groups like the Minutemen. It wasn't Black US House members who pushed the harshest anti-immigration legislation in the last 75 years, or who're behind anti-immigrant measures in Georgia and other states...

GOP Outreach to Blacks Faltering
On Steve Gilliard's blog, I came across his writeup of Adam Nagourney's New York Times article yesterday, "G.O.P.'s Bid for Blacks Falters." He says, "Until they get serious about opportunity, like changing some of the drug laws and felons getting the franchise back, people aren't going to take it seriously. And they aren't going to do that." I would add that despite the few high profile candidates the GOP has fielded for Congressional and state house races (Steele in Maryland; Swann in Pennsylvania; Blackwell in Ohio, etc.), there's little sign that the party is serious about finding African-American candidates who connect with African-Americans as well as non-Blacks. Steele has repeatedly hankyheaded for the actions of the Maryland GOP and his patron, Maryland Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich, while Blackwell's efforts to disenfranchise Black voters in the 2004 election would make any real Black support for him a miracle. Swann, as far as I can tell, is running on his celebrity as a former Pittsburgh Steeler. The New York GOP refused to back a Black candidate to replace George Pataki, going so far as to initially fall behind a candidate who'd been governor in another state, and few other state GOPs have found credible Black candidates. In general, the Republican Party continues to push policies that would do not benefit the majority of African Americans. Endless war, a burgeoning deficit and trade imbalance, failure to craft a reasonable immigration policy, a degraded environment, neglect of public education, hostility to affirmative action, misogynistic policies involving women's rights and reproductive rights, indifference over the health care crisis, the Medicare prescription drug boondoggle, privatization of social security benefits, and so on, are policies that are going to disparately harm African Americans. The GOP may or may not realize this, but the people they claim to be courting do. Well, most of us. Then there are the folks like my cousin who repeat the Republican nostrums ad infinitum, whether they match reality--his or anyone else's--or not.

BTW, tomorrow, W will be speaking at the NAACP's annual conference, his first such appearance in five years. What version of the half-baked crap that he regularly serves up will those present be expected to sit through?

Report Issued on Chicago Police Torture
I recall that before I left Chicago back in late March, I heard a short radio report about the ongoing investigation of police torture of criminal suspects back in the 1970s and 1980s. But I'd forgotten about it completely until I came across Jodi Rudoren's article in today's New York Times. Rudoren writes that based on a wealth of evidence, special prosecutors believe that "scores" of suspects were tortured, but also believed that the statute of limitations have run out, preventing them from indicting any of the people involved. While about half of the 148 other cases also showed credible evidence, three cases in particular struck the special prosecutors as very strong. So strong, in fact, that Robert D. Boyle, the chief deputy special state’s attorney, stated "ruefully" that “we want to make it really clear, we only wish we could indict in these three cases.” The prosecutors' 292-page, which took 4 years to prepare, involved over 700 interviews, and cost $6 million, documents what has long been alleged and in some quarters dismissed: that Chicago police abused numerous Black suspects on the city's South Side for more than two decades. Those accused of presiding over this horrorshow include the former chief of police, Richard Brzeczek, and a fired police commander, Jon Burge. Also fingered, though gingerly, in the report is Chicago's Dictator mayor, Richard M. Daley, who was Cook County's chief attorney when some of the most heinous allegations were made, and who, along with his deputy, Richard A. Devine, delegated the inquiries, essentially quashing them. Brzeczek for his part is claiming that politics tainted the results of the investigation, and that Daley got off too lightly. It wouldn't be the first time. According to Rudoren's report, for the torture victims and their attorneys, this was one of the most disappointing aspects of the investigation and final report. I doubt it'll go anywhere, but it should dog Daley for as long as he clings to his office.

Nevertheless, one major effects of the report will be to provide even more material proof to critics' longstanding criticism of police brutality, especially against people of color and the poor. It will also buttress efforts to impose and maintain a death penalty moratorium, such as the one that Illinois' now-disgraced, Republican ex-governor George Ryan signed into to law. Some of the tortured suspects confessed or provided evidence under duress against others in capital cases, meaning that innocent people may have been put on Death Row or even slain. What the report underlines above all, I think, is that community oversight over the police is absolutely necessary, and that people in government who have the power to act must do so positively and decisively when allegations of police brutality arise.

Also: today was International Day of Protest against Homophobic Persecution in Iran. As Direland announced yesterday, there were protests all across the world, from New York to against the rising tide of violence and murdered directed against LGBTs in Iran. But as with the protests that led to LIFEbeat's cancelation of its benefit, the activism should be ongoing. Today, tomorrow, and when you can, please write to the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) to offer your support.

And speaking of the LIFEbeat debacle, social personality Michael Musto manages to write about it in his column in this week's Village Voice without ever mentioning even one of the Black or Latino lesbian, gay and bi bloggers--or that there were Black and Latino lesbian, gay and bi bloggers--who confronted LIFEbeat. Ms. Musto Girl, you know that ain't right!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bush Acting Out at G8

Because Generalissimo Katrina a/k/a Warrantless Wiretapper a/k/a Torturer Semierectus a/k/a Emperor WMDecider a/k/a Pretzelcoatl a/k/a George W. provides something to cause equal measures of exasperation and despair on a daily basis, I decided a few months ago not to mention him or his administration for a while. Yesterday we learned about his boorish, simplistic comments at the Meeting of the Overlords, also known as the G8. A small taste of his impressively presidential rhetoric, courtesy of the W-friendly Washington Post:

Bush : Gotta go home. Got something to do tonight. Go to the airport, get on the airplane and go home. How about you? Where are you going? Home?

Bush : This is your neighborhood. It doesn't take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home?

Reply is inaudible.

Bush : "Eight hours? Me too. Russia's a big country and you're a big country."

At this point, the president seems to bring someone else into the conversation.

Bush : It takes him eight hours to fly home.

He turns his attention to a server.

Bush : No, Diet Coke, Diet Coke.

He turns back to whomever he was talking with.

Bush : It takes him eight hours to fly home. Eight hours. Russia's big and so is China.

Today, yet another display made it into the international newspapers. I am posting this sequence of photos, from via AmericaBlog, because they illustrate perfectly what sort of idiot we have at the head of our government. They say more than 1,000 words of critique can, and no one should be surprised to learn how little respect this man has for the female leader of an ally nation of 80 million people. Maybe he's so used to doing this with Condi and Harriet and other women and men on his staff that he didn't realize it was totally inappropriate, but then again, look what he's done to the United States, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Haiti, to our longstanding relationship with our allies....

The images, with my translations of the German below (the video is online at Bild):

Bush and Merkel

"Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks directly with Italian PM Romano Prodi--here comes George W."

"Merkel consults with her neighbor at the table, doesn't notice, as Bush approaches"

"...begins his Texan One-Second-Massage"

"...suddenly the US President lays both hands on Merkel's shoulders"

"The Chancellor, frightened, twitches her shoulders together, raises her hands high, doesn't know who's grabbed her from the rear..."

[Corrected German--thanks, Bill!]

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Come Back to Me @ Fresh Fruit

There's always so much happening in the New York area that I often learn about events only after they've happened. Until I received an email from my friend, artist and cultural warrior Ella Turenne, I hadn't realized that Fresh Fruit: The Fourth International Festival of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender Arts and Culture was underway at a number of venues in lower Manhattan. The festival, comprising visual art exhibits, musical, dance and theater performances, staged readings, and films, began on July 10 and runs through this upcoming Sunday.

Ella was performing in Jesse Cameron Alick's play Come Back to Me, a Smokin Word Production, at the Collective Unconscious Theatre on Church Street. Claudia Alick directed it. One of my immediate thoughts at the end of the play was how wonderful it was to hear a writer trying to think through thematic complexities, and to see him try to dramatize them, even if I didn't think that the heavy philosophizing always worked. Come Back to Me tells the story of three siblings, a sister, Isis (Kyana Brindle) and two brothers, the older Jude (Jas Anderson) and Ryokan (Marcus D. Harvey), who've reached a familial impasse, in part because of the brothers' dogmatic adherence to their religious beliefs. Jude is a devout Christian, while Ryokan is a Zen Buddhist, and Alick weaves stories, quotations and allusions from religious texts throughout the work, sometimes very skillfully. Isis serves as mediating link between them, striving to reconcile them after a five-year rift; she understands their limitations, and at one point suggests that their focused hardheadedness equals the literal psychological problems their mother has endured, though the analogy stretched too far, or at least wasn't well grounded. What she is willing to give them is what they badly crave, especially Ryokan, from each other, but are too proud, too obstinant, too wounded, too wedded to their ideological fixations to share: unconditional love. That both are ill presses the issue, leading to an ending I found too neat and almost pat; why couldn't the narrative end with the same sort of complexity the play offered throughout?

In general, Alick's sharp and frequently humorous writing kept me as a viewer on my toes. Eschewing naturalism or straighforward realism, he drew from the toolkit of drama's history to knit together a lively text that was often unpredictable. Some of these techniques included actors announcing the scene titles to a Wilderesque moment where Turenne and Brindle, representing the citizenry of Sodom and Gomorrah, start posing questions of the audience, to choreopoem-style recitations in unison. Often the monologues were fresh and provocative, but sometimes they reach for more than they could truly handle, and in a few cases the monologues were simply boring. The interruptions of the forward-moving text were sometimes effective, sometimes less so, but usually jarring--and I think this is what the author wanted, to shake us out of our usual ways of thinking. Alick often dared to push his thoughts beyond conventions, which made me want to see the play again in order to catch some of what I know I missed, and to look out for more of his future work.

The staging was at times ingenious, and the use of the stage space was one of the best aspects of the play. Using a minimum of props, the actors constantly reformatted the set, sometimes to moving effect. What they were able to accomplish with a single black bedsheet in particular impressed. The acting was very good; all of the actors convincingly inhabited their parts, showing skill with timing and sometimes tricky dialogues and monologues. One area that they really excelled in was their ability to make what could have been an inert device, chatting on the telephone, which played a central role in the narrative, frequently come alive. If even a few of the other events on the program approach this one in terms of its ambition and execution, this year's festival will definitely be a success.

Jen (Ella Turenne) and Ryokan (Marcus D. Harvey)

Turenne and Harvey

Jude (Jas Anderson) and Jill (Sameera Luqmaan-Harris)

Turenne, Harvey, Kyana Brindle, Luqmaan-Harris, and Anderson

Harvey, Brindle and Anderson

The cast

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Blackberry Mojito Sorbet

A few years ago, C. and I planted gardens in the front and back of our house. Though both gardens have gone through various plantings, the front border garden currently is all flowers and bushes: roses, azaleas, hydrangeas, stargazers, and ivy. (We've also had moonflowers and a gardenia bush.) The back garden, however, has included fruits, vegetables and herbs. This year only the strawberries, rosemary, English and Spanish lavender, thyme, and several types of mint have come up. But we also had a surprise with two blackberry bushes C. planted. Originally he'd put blackberry, blueberry and cranberry plants in the ground, but the latter two died off, while the blackberries didn't bear any fruit last year. This year, however, both the thorned and thornless plans, both of which are huge and still growing, began to show fruit about a month ago, and slowly but surely, the berries have come in. I finally harvest a few last week, and then again some more today, which are visible below.

The bowl of fresh blackberries

One of our cats, Patsy, inspecting them

There aren't enough for a pie, so I decided to use them in a sorbet, but there weren't enough for a straight blackberry sorbet, so I experimented with another recipe I found online, and here it is.

Blackberry Mojito Sorbet (heavily adapted from San Franciscan Erik Ellestad's Mojito Sorbet on What's Cooking America)

1 3/4 cups of sugar (you can use a little less or up to two cups)
4 cups water
5 sprigs of mint
1/2 cup of fresh or frozen blackberries
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
1/8 cup of rum (I like dark Dominican or Haitian rum, but you can use vodka or light rum too)
zest of two limes
2 tablespoons of mint chiffonade (a garnish)

In a large uncovered saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture becomes a syrup. Add the mint sprigs, and stir until the sugar begins to boil (you can cover to speed this up, but do not keep it covered). Then reduce heat to a simmer, add the washed blackberries, and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir intermittently. Remove from the heat, and let stand for about 10 minutes.

Remove the mint sprig completely. Take 3/4ths of the mixture, including all of the blackberries, and place in a blender. Blend until the the berries are liquefied. Then strain the blended mixture into a chillable bowl, combining it with the remaining berry-less 1/4th, to remove all the seeds. Gently use a wooden spoon to press all of the liquid into to the bowl. Add the lime juice, rum and lime zest to the bowl, and stir to combine. Then chill for at least 1 1/2 hours.

NOTE: In the original mojito sorbet recipe (which I've made and which is delicious!), the author adds that the liquor is the secret to a soft sorbet. Since alcohol doesn't freeze, adding a little keeps the sorbet from becoming too hard. Vodka has no taste, and dark, high-quality rums add only a subtle flavoring. You can forgo it completely if you intend to serve to this to children.

If you have an ice cream maker, place the chilled mixture in your ice cream maker's frozen metal churning bowl, put in the mixer, and then let it turn for about 25 minutes. You can check it to see if it's freezing properly. If the mixture isn't chilled enough, you can place it in the freezer or a cold refrigeration, and then try it again. Transfer the completed sorbet to a sealed container in the freezer.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, chill a stainless steel or pyrex pan in your freezer. The sorbet mixture shouldn't come up more than inch along the side of the steel pan. Add mixture to pan, and stir with a metal fork or spoon every hour until it's well frozen. After it has frozen, place in batches in a blender or food processor ("whip" lightly for a few seconds) to get the correct sorbet consistency, stir in mint chiffonade, and then store in a sealed container in the freezer.

When it's done and you're going to serve it, garnish with an uncooked sprig of mint or the mint chiffonade. You can also add a dash of rum, just as you would with the plain mojito sorbet.

The finished blackberry mojito sorbet (in freezer bowl)--it's delicious!

In honor of the blackberry picking, which you really have to do with a pair of gloves if you have the thorned bushes (and they are sharp!), here's a famous poem by Seamus Heaney, from his early volume, Death of a Naturalist.


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.
Copyright © Seamus Heaney, 2006.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bastille Day

ZidaneOriginally I was going to post about how a recent PEN anthology of contemporary French writing, introduced by France's current ambassador t the US no less, predictably failed to include the work of even one writer of color or out gay, lesbian or trans author, but I'll save that for tomorrow or Sunday. Instead, I'm posting a short entry on some of the things that have occurred since the French team's appearance and loss in this year's World Cup final last Sunday. As scribes have recounted across the globe, the French side effectively lost the game when star captain Zinédine Zidane (at right, BBC/AFP) headbutted Italian defender Marco Materazzi, which led to a red card and Zidane's banishment from the game. Having already lost co-star Thierry Henry to an injury, France paid the price during the penalty kick phase as sub David Trézéguet could not score, handing Italy the victory. One of the major questions was why Zidane reacted so abruptly and violently, especially since he knew how important the game and his presence in it were. In my prior wrap-up post, I surmised that a physical incident, followed by trashtalking, provoked Zidane. I believe a French anti-racist group, SOS Racisme, had suggested that Materazzi called Zidane a "terrorist," although Materazzi denied this and implausibly claimed that he didn't even know what a terrorist was. (!)

Yesterday, Zidane explained to France and the world why he'd attacked Materazzi. According to a BBC report, Zidane stated on French TV that Materazzi insulted his mother and sister. He refused to utter the exact words that Materazzi had spoken, perhaps out of respect, but I have seen one report that suggests he called the sister a prostitute. One would imagine that whatever Materazzi said, the words must have crossed some sort of line for Zidane to take such an extreme response, though the facts that Materazzi had scored the equalizing goal and had been combatively marking Zidane could also have led to a temporary loss of control. Zidane's explanation was good enough for most in the French media, who resumed praising him (his sparkling playmaking throughout the tournament was undeniable, and earned him the top award), though left paper Libération appears to have wanted greater contrition. The overwhelming majority of French soccer fans also support Zidane.

Most interesting to me was Zidane's discussion, in his second interview, of racism in international soccer, supposedly the first time he had spoken so extensively and explicitly about a long-acknowledged scourge in that game. He requested that FIFA take a stronger stand in dealing with it. The French team, which comprised more players of African and Arab descent than any other European team (or the US, for that matter), had faced down racist commentary by right-wing politician Jean Marie LePen at the start of the tournament and some racist behavior during the match against Spain (whose league and international matches have been marred by racist actions against Black players), only to have to encounter another post-World Cup go-round when far-rightist Northern Leaguer and Italian senatorial embarassment Roberto Calderoli claimed that France had sacrificed its identity "by fielding a team of Negroes, communists and Islamists." (Some reports have slightly different translations.)

French defender Lilian Thuram's eloquent rejoinder to LePen deserves to be repeated to Calderoli and others:

What can I say about Monsieur Le Pen? Clearly, he is unaware that there are Frenchmen who are black, Frenchmen who are white, Frenchmen who are brown. I think that reflects particularly badly on a man who has aspirations to be president of France but yet clearly doesn’t know anything about French history or society.

That’s pretty serious. He’s the type of person who’d turn on the television and see the American basketball team and wonder: “Hold on, there are black people playing for America? What’s going on?”

When we take to the field, we do so as Frenchmen. All of us. When people were celebrating our win, they were celebrating us as Frenchmen, not black men or white men. It doesn’t matter if we’re black or not, because we’re French. I’ve just got one thing to say to Jean Marie Le Pen. The French team are all very, very proud to be French. If he’s got a problem with us, that’s down to him but we are proud to represent this country. So Vive la France, but the true France. Not the France that he wants.

I would add that not only Le Pen, but the Chirac-Villepin-Sarkozy axis, and the entire French establishment have failed to come to terms with France's longstanding diversity, which is steadily increasing, not diminishing. Is there a leading Black or Arab French figure among the political opposition? If the Hillary Clintonesque Segolène Royal or another Socialist were to win the presidency, what Black or Arab or even Asian French political figures from the left could she draw upon for her cabinet? This is a problem, because France has the largest numerical population of Black, Arab and mixed-race citizens of any European country, and they effectively have little representation, politically or socially, except in popular culture. The ideal to which Le Pen, like a long line of ultraconservative nutcases appeals, disappeared around the time the Romans conquered Gallia. The banlieue uprisings of last year and earlier this spring were only the most recent expressive symptom of this, but it has been manifest in many other ways. CRAN, the association of Black French organizations founded by scholar and activist Louis-Georges Tin, linked this issue to Zidane's response as well.

So vive les Bleus, Zidane et la France, whose leaders perhaps might realize how much the Zidane incident could spark a badly needed national dialogue on a range of issues, rather than waiting for the next uprising to erupt in their faces, generating the customary but ineffective reaction.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Press Conference @ LIFEbeat Offices

"Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!"--Bob Marley
This morning I went to the 10AM press conference in New York City that members of the Black LsGlBT online and offline activist communities had scheduled concerning LIFEbeat's July 18 Hearts and Minds Reggae Gold Summer 2006 concert at Webster Hall, which the organization abruptly canceled after criticism over its decisions to invite and not disinvite or dialogue with Beenie Man and T.O.K., two leading dancehall musicians who've released songs advocating violence against and murder of lesbians and gay men.

Today's speakers, introduced by Kenyon Farrow of the New York State Black Gay Network, included author, activist and board member of the National Black Justice Coalition Keith Boykin; Gay Men Of African Descent president Tokes Osobu; Bishop Zachary Jones of the Unity Fellowship Church; poet, performer and Jamaican native Staceyann Chin; Caribbean-American author and activist Colin Robinson; Clarence Patterson of the New York Anti-Violence Project; and former candidate and New York AIDS Coalition Executive Director Joe Pressley. A number of the bloggers who participated in the mass action by posting information and commentary and the Blood on Their Hands banner designed by Donald Agarrat were also present. As far as I know, even though the press conference took place right in front of the offices of LIFEbeat, no members of that organization, whose representatives were invited to attend, showed up.

Although the press conference speakers touched upon a spectrum of points, some of the common threads were
  • their appreciation at the effectiveness of the focused collective action the blogging community displayed; their disappointment that LIFEbeat had chosen to cancel the concert and smeared the bloggers through its claims about "violence" rather than disinviting the homophobic musicians, asking them to denounce their homophobic lyrics and take responsibility for the actions they provoked, or at the very least engage them in a dialogue about the repercussions of their work;
  • their insistence the larger goals of raising awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and ending violence against LGBT people, both in Caribbean and elsewhere, were paramount and a major part of the objections raised;
  • their belief that this was only one aspect of a broader, ongoing battle for what are human rights;
  • their understanding of the power of popular culture (music, art, TV, movies, videos, video games, etc.) in shaping the life experiences--the social and political imaginary--of all of us, and thus the importance of not acceding to, but criticizing and dialoguing if possible with those whose powerful and widely enjoyed words and cultural products are ultimately harmful and dangerous;
  • their reiteration of the fact that homophobia and heterosexism, racism and ethnocentrism, misogyny, and other forms of ontological and symbolic hatred and violence are interrelated, and that any dialogue has to take into account this often forgotten notion.

Kenyon, Staceyanne Chin (at right), and Joe Pressley

Andre Lancaster of A Journey into Light and Donald Agarrat of Anzidesign

Reporter Andy Humm, Colin Robinson and Keith Boykin

Photos by Andrés Duque
Press Conference
Kenyon Farrow, Colin Robinson, Staceyann Chin, and Keith Boykin
Press Conference
Kenyon Farrow and Keith Boykin
Press Conference
Staceyann Chin and Colin Robinson
Press Conference
Kenyon Farrow, a young man (I didn't get his name), and Tokes Osubu
Press Conference
Clarence Patterson
Press Conference
Kenyon Farrow, Rev. Bishop Zachary Jones, Colin Robinson, Tokes Osubu, Bernie Tarver, Andre Lancaster, and yours truly (in the back, on the right)

This afternoon, LIFEbeat posted the following press release, which definitely takes several steps in the right direction:

JLM PR, Inc.
(212) 431-5227


LIFEbeat - The Music Industry Fights AIDS, wants the Caribbean American, AIDS activist and gay communities to know that we remain deeply committed to utilizing the power of music and the music industry to fight AIDS and we have learned many lessons while organizing the Reggae Gold Live concert. "In our desire to do something positive within the Caribbean American community, we didn't realize the depth of the hurt in the GLBT community around the lyrics of these artists," commented John Cannelli, Executive Director of LIFEbeat. "Once we saw how deep and real it is, it became very clear that canceling the concert was the right thing to do. We want to extend a heartfelt apology to those we offended and thank the individuals who raised their voices and helped us to see a more effective way to realize our mission. We also want to clarify the concerns of violence we felt. Those concerns didn't stem from any threats from activists or members of the Caribbean American community. They stemmed from threatening phone calls our office received from random individuals that led to concerns for the safety of our staff and others."

Moving forward, the concert is cancelled but the issue still exists. * " We're not giving up and are continuing our commitment to this community," Cannelli adds. "The issues of homophobia, sexism, racism and poverty, key factors in the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS, need to be addressed openly. In looking at the bigger picture with the lessons we've learned, this concert wasn't the right forum for this important topic. Over the next few weeks, we will be reaching out to key members of the Caribbean American community and to AIDS organizations to join together in creating an appropriate forum, where our individual strengths as activists and the power of coming together under one important cause can make a real difference in this community."

* LIFEbeat will have no involvement in nor benefit from any attempted resurrection of the Reggae Gold Live concert by any parties.