Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pimpin' Ain't Dead: Are American Ministers Pimping the Pulpit?

I have always wondered whether preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the ‘gospel’ or philosophy of any deity for that matter, was a social calling of humanity or a profession-- which reaps massively grotesque amounts of financial benefits. I am not sure, but I do believe some ministers tend to get into the business as a means to create a self-worth and societal relevance that they could not acquire within the normal realm of social standing and hierarchical positioning.

The older I get, the more I realize that the preacher’s preaching is not necessary for one to live a ‘good’ life or to be smiled upon by God, or whatever name one calls their Creator and Higher Power. I come from a family with a history of males who have made a comfortable existence through the discipline of Christian Theology (i.e. Baptist, Lutheran), but I have yet to comprehend the notion of being ‘called’ by God to preach this Gospel. I believe ministering and preaching is a chosen field of occupation, a profession if you will. Living in the South, where ministers are as prevalent as maggots in a wet garbage can, I can hardly differentiate a preacher from a pimp. From their usage of smooth, if not slick, sounding words of manipulation to their chosen attire of peacock-colored suits to their jewelry to the vehicles they navigate through the city streets, a preacher is synonymous with a pimp in my book. Sure, a pimp manipulates the bodies of women by selling the sex of a particular whore for profit, but doesn’t a preacher do the same by sending members of his congregation or flock out into the workforce for five or more days a week only to bring their tithes back to the preacher’s church or ‘God’s storehouse’ so that the church can maintain their utilities and general maintenance? And in most churches, the head minister/preacher, or pastor, draws a salary that, in some cases, mirrors that of a Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘minister’ as “one officiating or assisting the officiant in church worship” or “a clergyman especially of the Protestant communion.” ‘Pimp’, as defined by Merriam-Webster is defined as “a man who solicits clients for a prostitute.” Now, by no means am I equating God to a ‘Lady of the Night’, but who are ministers soliciting parishioners for—God or themselves? Now, if the job, for lack of a better term, is for the preacher to preach the Word of God as a means to bring lost and wicked souls to salvation, then why is it that the preacher or minister, be they male or female, take a salary? Why do these ministers not live meagerly like the revered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or even Jesus the Christ for that matter? I thought, from my Judeo-Christian upbringing, that the goal of Man is to be more Christ-like? If so, would Jesus be riding clean in a high-end vehicle or dressing like a GQ model (although tackily with the fluorescent suits) or going around preaching for funds by being paid to preach at another pastor’s church? Why is monetary reciprocity always on the voucher submitted by ministers of the Gospel?

Well, maybe because the Bible tells us so; I Timothy 5:17-18 “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Basically, doing God’s work is the equivalent of doing our secular jobs. Need more scriptural evidence? 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 says, “13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

Even Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke 10:7-8 (and Matthew 10:10) suggested that the worker of his Father be given a stipend or payment for their duties; “7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.” Now, Jesus said to eat, not gorge, and some of these so-called ‘prosperity preachers’ or ‘poverty pimps’ we call men of God who claimed to have been ‘called’ to preach are gorging the communities, that are often times economically depraved and disadvantaged, of the little wealth they may have in hopes of being saved from their conditions. Not through Christ’s salvation, but through the preacher’s duplicitous rhetoric emitted weekly from the pimpin’ pulpit.

The American Preaching Pimp dates back to the 1930s when tent preaching became a huge draw for the desolate and displaced families and workers trying to recover and find some comfort in the word of God during the Great Depression. The tent preachers, who traversed from town to town, made their living by garnering donations from the crowds that attended their outdoor concerts (oops, I meant sermons). We can even go further back than the tent preaching and trace the popularized and celebrity version of our ministers to S. Parkes Cadman who was one of the first preachers to be broadcast on radio in 1923, and was eventually given a weekly radio spot on NBC radio and reportedly had a listening audience of over 5 million Americans (it goes without saying that donations were accepted). Though radio made celebrities out of preachers, the advent of the television in the 1950s and the popularization of the television in the homes of our average U.S. citizens in the 1960s would make little gods out of the American Minister.

From Fulton Sheen to Billy Graham to Oral Roberts to Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker to Creflo Dollar (what a name) to T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen, it is difficult to separate the salaries, and sometimes the opulence—particularly T.D. Jakes and his private jet, of these Holy Men from their ‘calling’ to preach the Gospel. Yes, many of these ministers, pastors, and preachers mentioned have done much for the communities in which their congregations reside and have probably saved countless souls from moral decay and an eternity of playing Marco Polo in the Lake of Fire, but why must they live better than the average parishioner?

I would bet a dollar to your dime that in most of these mega-churches (churches with an average weekly attendance of at least 2000 people) in the United States of America the pastor is one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, individual there (and there are politicians, CEOs, CFOs, professional athletes, entertainers, doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs who are members of their church, and they all give their tithes!). There are 50 mega churches in Tennessee, the state in which I reside, alone and ten of those are either in Memphis or the surrounding suburban cities that many consider a part of the Memphis-metro ‘area.’ The list is as follows: Christ United Methodist, New Salem Missionary Baptist, Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church, New Direction Christian Church, Temple of Deliverance, Pentecostal Tabernacle-COGIC, St. Stephens Baptist, Mt. Vernon Baptist, Central Church (Collierville), Germantown Baptist (Germantown), Bellevue Baptist (Cordova), and Hope Presbyterian (Cordova). This is interesting and alarming information for a city whose poverty level is 67.2% greater than the national average and has an average household income of $41000 per year (per the 2009/2010 census).

I guess the question is “What are these ministers peddling?” Do we really need a preacher to guide us to God? Is he or she a better discerner of the biblical texts than we are? I’ve even heard of a mega-church in Memphis that offers an automatic pay plan for their monthly tithes. Since when are our tithes a bill or the Church a creditor? How can we really know that the churches we attend are adequately allocating our monies to the people and places that need those monies the most? I think I can give my time and money in my own way and honor my God? You don’t have to fool or scare me into thinking that I must tithe to a specific ‘Church’ on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis (depending upon how often I get my direct deposit from my ‘secular’ or ‘worldly’ job) in order to gain favor and receive blessings from God. Don’t pimp me, pastor? I’m not na├»ve, and I’m not a whore.
                                                                                               -Gee Joyner

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We Are Family: The Veterans Hospital and the Communal Sense it Perpetuates


There is a sense of community that resembles no other when you enter a Veteran Hospital.  You see old people, young people, people from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds and some with limbs others without. Simply stated, you see an amalgamation of folks waiting to be seen by the doctors.  What never ceases to amaze me is how these great men and women recollect the past as they interact with other soldiers.

Some of these great soldiers were in the military prior to July 26, 1948, when Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 Desegregating the Military. They experienced the transition that took place in the military where all men were supposedly treated equal. Some may have been a part of a faction that still disobeyed that executive order and treated other soldiers indifferent. Some may have done harm or even killed another soldier because they had different ethnic backgrounds.  Others dealt with the Jim Crow military because of their devotedness to their country.  Nonetheless, pain has a way of being the equalizer from such misdirected thinking.

Once these great soldiers get out of the microcosmic world known as the military, they enter into the real world. In this real world they do not have the stripes or the uniform to hide behind so they have to be authentically human. No longer are their military codes to back your decision, you must deal with people on their own turf. Long gone are the days when being in the midst of battle you can get away with almost anything. Now you are forced to handle situations with calmness and without violence. Many are traumatized from the continual episodes of terror experience during their deployments. The battle scars are forever tattooed upon their flesh as reminders of the horror. Some have lost limbs due to explosion from landmines, while others deal with the mental aspects of having to slice enemy’s necks in order to save themselves or their team.

You quickly begin to see the transformation that takes place as you stroll through the Veterans Hospital. You get the chance to experience heroism in the midst of people who are not heroes. They are not idolized in the same vein as Lebron James for winning the NBA Championship. They are not given fame and fortune for winning the Super Bowl they are common men and women that took serious the call to defend their country. They did not have on colorful uniforms with special powers to fight against the perceived enemy; all they had was the sheer might and determination to win. Many did not return to a country laced with parades, they returned to angry mobs that despised what they had done.

Now, you see these men and women with the rewards of war-pain, suffering, PTSD, and lost limbs- trying to live a life of normalcy. As these soldiers sit and wait sometimes 4 to 5 hours to see the doctor, you begin to see how war and the military crossed the racial lines. You see old white men talking with young black men. You see young black women interacting with old black men. You see old black men sitting for hours having conversation with old white women.  The Veterans Hospital displays the impact of diverse community unlike any other thing you can imagine. There is a sense of brotherhood that surfaces as men remember what they have been through as soldiers. There is a level of sadness as they return every 6 months for their check up and learn that another one of their veterans has made their transition. You begin to see how soldiers of determination and strength process losing a part of the time. They celebrate by continuing to live themselves as an honor to the dead.  Rather racked with pain or mentally miserable these soldiers embody the true essence of community-willing to lay down one’s life for another.

There is no greater place to visit if you want to experience legacy and honor. There is no greater place to visit if you want first hand details of all the major wars over the past 70 years. There is no greater place to visit if you want to see what love looks like in public and in action. There is no greater place to visit if you want to see what happens when racism is thrown out of the window- The Veteran Hospital; A place where real people have no choice but to’ keep it real!’

                                                                                                              Brian Foulks

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day: Have Rappers Replaced the Black Dad?

     When I was growing up, most of the black boys I knew from school or church had idealized Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable (The Cosby Show) as the prototypical father. Not me though.  I was always a James Evans Sr. (Good Times) type of kid.  But then again, I never needed a father-figure for my father to emulate because my father was the best, and only, father I knew.  My dad was an entrepreneur like George Jefferson, intelligent and funny like Dr. Huxtable, and fierce, proud, and definitely Black like James Evans—not ‘Black’ as in being as dark-skinned as James, my father was a beige or taupe-colored man, ‘yella’ (yellow) as some Black folks call it, Black as in being proud of his heritage and instilling the same ethnic pride in my sisters and I.  Sure, I was lucky to have a nurturing and present father, but many weren’t.  Sure, all of us listened to Rap music, but we didn’t look for those young men for guidance.  We looked to our fathers, uncles, pastors, deacons, and Boy Scout leaders for models of manhood, not Eazy-E or Ice-Cube (though the reconstruction of Ice Cube in his Hollywood films make Heathcliff Huxtable and those numerous references to Black History during The Cosby Show era look like a Black Panther). The rapper entertained, and, in many cases such as ‘real’ Gangsta Rap and dope-ass Conscious Rap like Poor Righteous Teachers, KRS-One, Public Enemy and BDP (Boogie Down Productions), informed us of sociopolitical and socioeconomical deficiencies within our nation’s fabric.  But it didn’t raise or rear us.  The Black men we could touch, feel, see, and converse with did. 

     Proverbs 23:24 (NIV) states, “The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him.”  Is that not what all fathers want in their sons—and even daughters?  We want to cultivate humans that maintain a wisdom that aids and assists them in navigating carefully and safely through the tumultuous pitfalls of life.  We want them to digest words of wisdom and integrity and love and humanity that allow them to leave the world a better place than when they arrived in it.  But, the question is ‘Does the idolization or the creation of rappers as role models and father-figures and fathers hurt our young Black men?’  I guess it all depends on what rapper it is that squats more often in their IPod or PC or MP3 playlist. 

     Now, in no way am I questioning the artistic talents and expressions of your prototypical stereotypes of Black Hip Hop artists (i.e. Gucci Mane, Lil’ Boosie, Meek Mill, Yo Gotti, Lil’ Wayne, or Drake or the young yet washed-up Soulja Boy), but I am questioning their messages of misogyny, gratuitous vulgarity, unwarranted tomfoolery, and their rhetorical/lyrical shucking and caricature-like jiving that posits African American Millennials as carefree idiots that endorse criminality for profit (i.e. drug trade, pimping, prostitution), but I am questioning their societal contribution and ethnospecific responsibility. 

     On the contrary, there is Wise Intelligent (Poor Righteous Teachers), Mos Def, Talib Kweili, Nas, Scarface, Jay-Z, Kanye (on a good day), Common(sense), and numerous other Black male rappers that I wouldn’t have a problem “kickin’ knowledge”  or “spittin’ science” to my only son. Who knows? I would maybe even let them babysit him—while I’m in the other room.  But being an educator for a decade now, I see too many young Black males who seem to emulate the attire, attitude, and aspirations of their favorite Hip Hop artist.  The visual and psychological seem to have been coagulated with the gratuitous messages from mainstream ‘Trap Music’ or ‘Gangsta’ Rap that not only endorses but mandates the listeners’ incorporation of promiscuity, misogyny, wasteful spending, and materialistic one-upsmanship into their everyday lives. 

     I have had students, both current and former, who believe they are entitled to live a life of excess and irresponsibility.  And they believe education or obtaining a vocation or a trade or studying or saving is frivolous and the benefits thereof are miniscule if not fictitious.  The rappers that they patronize exhibit to them a life of expensive cars, international vacations, mansions, jewelry and all the accoutrements associated with American wealth.  These rappers become the fathers that are basically raising them via the bars on a Rap record and the videos on 106 and Park (BET).  Why should they believe that the father, if he is present in the home, or the uncle or the pastor that lives on a financial budget has better advice for their futures?  And if the males in the community aren’t vested enough in mentoring of our young males, then how is a child, particularly a young boy, to know what ‘truth’ to believe?  One has to be in a child’s life from the beginning to teach them how to discern fantasy from reality, good from bad, and up from down.  If no father is present, then whose job is it? Yes, the mother can do it, but the child also needs a masculine or a man's perspective just as they need a feminine critique and deconstruction of the nuances of life.   I am almost positive no rapper signed up for the task of raising our kids, but if the children buy their music, listen to their songs, buy into their messages, and become disciples of foolishness and return customers of commoditized Art, then don’t be upset when Rick Ross is a child’s ‘father’ and 2 Chainz is his step-daddy. 

                                                                                            Gee Joyner

Friday, June 8, 2012

Don’t Call Me ‘Nigga’, Honkey: Should Certain Whites Deserve a Pass on Racial Epithets?

First of all, I want to begin this text by saying, “I have called myself, family members, close friends, and Negroidian acquaintances, and even Black Americans I don’t know from Adam, ‘nigga’ for the majority of my life without pause.  As a matter of fact, I think I use the word ‘nigga’ more than a Southern planter during Reconstruction.  But to hear of Hollywood A-List actress Gwyneth Paltrow tweeting “niggas in Paris for real” during a ‘Watch The Throne’ tour stop in Paris, France this past week made me reevaluate my verbiage when verbally referencing my fellow brethren of (mostly)African descent—because aren’t most African Americans mixed with something?  What made Paltrow believe she had a rhetorical ‘pass’ in using this pejorative yet exclusionary term of endearment that, throughout the course of modern History has been infused in the psyches and American History textbooks, is sacred in the Black American community? Whether Jay-Z or Kanye made you ‘think’ it is usable by non-Blacks or not—Even though their duet “Niggas in Paris” is catchy, I believe this to be an epic fail on the part of the thespian Gwyneth Paltrow.  
I would like to avoid the issue of whether or not Blacks should use the word in a commodified form (i.e. slanguage, comedic endeavors, cinematic dialogue, and songs—particularly and gratuitously in Rap), but it would be impossible to deconstruct the ideological notion that non-Blacks cannot use the term when Black Americans have given the world the rhetorical ‘pass’ that Paltrow cashed- in via Twitter due to our exhaustive and haphazard use of the term whether it be used as an affectionate label of a friend or fellow brethren or as a checkmate of sorts to bring another Black American back to the reality of their social positioning within America’s, and the world’s, hierarchical structure that posits Blacks and those of African descent as different, or inferior, and even attempts to otherize the Negro with the persistent and consistent subjugation and discriminatory nuances of racial inequality and societal status.  But Paltrow used ‘nigga’ because it is a word used in a song with the word in the title?  ‘Niggas’ wrote, produced, arranged, and recorded this song and titled it in a studio with no overseers, police with German shepherds and water hoses or Anglo-Saxon mobs with nooses, torches, and white robes—so who’s  to blame?  The kings of Hip Hop, Sean Carter (Jay-Z) and Kanye West or their fan and friend, that just so happens to be a Hollywood and international celebrity, Gwyneth Paltrow?
Before we condemn Paltrow for taking liberty to use the term and Jay-Z and Kanye West and even the entire Hip-Hop community, including the ‘conscious’ and ‘gangsta’ and ‘pop’ artists for commidification of the term and profiting from the usage thereof, we must briefly and concisely address the original (though who really in the existence of the Earth known something’s definitive origins) of the signifier-turned-epithet-turned-salutatory term of ‘nigger’ and its variations (i.e. nigga, negra, negro, etc).  The original term for Africans or those of a darker skin hue was the Spanish and Portuguese noun ‘Negro’ which was a derivative of the Latin adjective ‘niger’ which is commonly translated as the color black and was translated to the French word ‘ne’gre’ meaning ‘nigger.’  True, these terminologies were used as signifiers because of the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and British colonization of northern Africa, but in and of themselves they were used as descriptors of people of a certain regional and visually definitive similarity.
 By 1619, when U.S. historians presume the ‘first’ Africans were brought to North America, colonists were writing the word ‘neggars’ when referencing the selling or purchasing or acquiring of African/Black slaves.  Whether or not the term had morphed from a signifier or label to a pejorative term of social subordination and demonization is debatable.  Yet, in the 393 years since the African ‘arrival’ in what is now the United States of America, ‘nigga’ and ‘nigger’ have been used to create a chasm between fellow citizens, enjoy windfalls of financial reciprocity via the entertainment industry, demoralize the internal spirit of the darker-melanined citizen in this nation, negatively categorize an individual’s worthlessness, and positively qualify the validity and authenticity of one’s ‘blackness’ in numerous, if not most, African American social circles. The question remains, “Who gets a pass?”
As a proponent of Black Arts and even the notion of  the Black Arts Movement (BAM) that Black Americans should embrace their culture, both past and present, I do not personally see a problem  with Black or African Americans using the word ‘nigga’ yet with the avid and exhaustive use of the term in popular culture and particularly within the African/Black American community which I am a proud part of, my mind wanders in the gallows of psychological perplexity when reconciling ‘nigga’ being uttered from the mouths of non-Blacks.  Well-known activist, professor, author, and social commentator Cornel West, once said, “There’s a certain rhythmic seduction to the word. If you speak in a sentence, and you have to say cat, companion, or friend, as opposed to nigger, then the rhythmic presentation is off. That rhythmic language is a form of historical memory for black people,” and I believe that is one of the reasons why the term should be acknowledged as sacred both within and outside of the Black American community which has such a shared heritage and history of both of negative and positive connotations.
 Sure, I believe that Paltrow was just tweeting her excitement through the guise of ‘tweeting’ the title of the song, yet she, just as any cognizant individual in the world (particularly ones that have lived in America if not only for a day), should feel some form of trepidation and exclusion from adding this lexicological quandary-of-a-term to their casual utterances and public vocabulary.  While most African Americans know the difference between being called a ‘nigger’ and a ‘nigga’ and are capable of discerning the intent of the intonation used when non-Blacks, and Blacks alike, say ‘nigga’, we must figure out if we will abolish the term all together or make it a normal and often used term synonymous with “friend” or even racial/ethnic adversary.  What if I was on a Hollywood set with Gwyneth Paltrow and I tweeted, “On a Hollywood set with my nigga—Gwyneth”, would you be offended?  Would you voice outrage?  Would you even be perplexed?  Better yet, would it make it to the media and the online blogosphere?  Would I even be writing this, ‘nigga’?

                                                                                                        Gee Joyner

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Blacks and the 'Black' Church: Monkey See, Monkey Don't


When the President made his stance regarding Same Sex Marriage I feared that there would be a certain backlash from a contingency within the black church.  What I didn’t prepare for, however, was the current media’s local and national recapitulation of the black preacher, church and community being consistent with the stance of a particular segment.  If one is novice or untrained regarding the particularities of the black faith experience it may be easy to assert that all black people of faith are homophobic, hypocritical, anti-intellectual and that black faith leaders are all pimpish priest and not prophets.  To be clear, there have been a few exceptions projected nationally (and even fewer locally, in Memphis).  Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. Otis Moss III, Pastor Leslie Callahan, Dr. Renita Weems and even a couple of those on the Faith in Memphis Panel and Rhetoric Race and Religion blog have expressed views in opposition of those opposing the President.  Yet, in a broader and more vast sense there has seem to be a strategy by some to demonize, reduce and re-project black faith as buffoonery at worse and misguided spirituality at best.  I believe this mythical, monolithic portrayal has compartmentalized our faith based expressions of love, hope in the American Democratic system, and the activism that is the bi-product of our spirituality. 
This strategy is not new.  In 2008 Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. was ostracized by pundits, public commentators and various others of the political and priestly persuasion.  We have recently seen the soon to be Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s constituency plan to represent Rev. Wright as the quintessential model of the “worst” of the black church.  To expose the irony here would be a convenient dissertation topic.  Instead, what I’d like to push back against is the notion that any ONE person, church, group or geographical location can adequately represent a people of faith with a legacy as long as the Nile and Mississippi River’s combined. 
People of faith, who are also people of color, many of whom have been actively involved in the political process, have never collectively been one value voters, in complete agreement with any theological premise or political legislative stance.  We are a complex people, and that is a good thing.  We never agree totally on anything, just like other ethnic groups.  The diversity of thought, theology, expression and practice of the black faith community is part of our beauty and when it is disregarding and reduced it becomes a tautology of xenophobic slave master sensibilities that stem from a hermeneutic of privilege. 
We have warred against this throughout our history in our attempts towards spiritual liberation, communal emancipation, racial desegregation and other issues of discrimination not limited to sexual orientation.  And to be honest, we have seen several setbacks on this sojourn.  This ought to be expected when a group of diverse and complex humans gather and seek to progress collectively.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemies; most responsible for our own stagnation. 
But we have never been defined by one group or one era.  The civil rights vein of the black prophetic tradition was not limited to the 50’s and 60’s.  The prophetic element can never be monopolized.  When the attempt is made to do so, the movement ceases to be prophetic.  It is commoditized for the sake of profit and disregards the voices of true prophets. But prophetic movements don’t succumb to commodification.  In all of our diversity we stay committed to the struggle for justice because of the call and cause of our Christ and never for the sake of compensation and conceit (even though sometimes money and notoriety accompany prophetic persona in a hyper-technological, social networking culture). 
It seems clear to me that faith in our current climate has political requirements and implications.  This is not to say that our ministerial leaders need to be politicians, but if our theology is disconnected from practical life and the political ethos, our theology becomes irrelevant.  This is why the prophetic narrative is not Ameri-centric.  True prophetic persona and presentation is universal at its core.  Therefore one cannot, in my opinion, faithfully interpret the life and ministry of Jesus devoid of his political realities (i.e. the treatment of lepers, Sabbath, the status of women and other politically affirmed cultural values of his day).  Doing so is to be reductionist relative to Jesus’ prophetic ministry, the prophetic tradition in which he stood and his divinity in general. 
I believe God CALLS us ALL in our various vineyards to raise our voice (not always in agreement, that’s unison, but still in harmony) to adequately represent the beautiful hues of our humanity and the complex cords and tones of our theology to continue to help us progress.  We must find a way for all of these voices to be adequately and authentically represented. 

                                                                                               Rev. Earle J. Fisher

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

This is America, Jack: The American "Fuck 'em"-ism of Gays and Blacks

Recently, the citizens of North Carolina decided to ratify an amendment to the N.C. State Constitution. Amendment One, as it was known, states, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”  The people of the state very clearly demonstrated how they felt about gay marriage. The people have spoken and American democracy has again proven its fairness.I, however, do not understand why some members of the gay community are surprised. This is America, Jack. This is what America does. You need to learn to stay in your lane; otherwise America will put you there. America doesn’t care that certain citizens want to enjoy the U.S. Constitution but can’t. America says, “Suck it up. Shut up. Play your role.” There is a long history of American “fuck ‘em”-ism, and this history can’t be ignored or dismissed, for understanding American aggression is requisite to successfully negotiate American aggression.First, we must look at how America has dealt with black folk.
An analysis of American history would easily provide a framework of systematic oppression. A force, described almost as a bogeyman in this world of colorblindness, works to oppress another group of people.  One person’s life of abuse is another person’s luxury and decadence. Rich white people have set out, since day one, to exploit other people. Africans, and later their descendants, were those “other people.” As soon as a rich white person set up some type of shop in the colonies, the exploitation started. These rich white people decided to use African as free labor. Furthermore, these rich white people showed no hesitation to murder, poison, torture, and/or rape millions of innocent people. These rich white people set up industries that created immense revenue. These new American industries generated so much revenue that no one cared that it only took a couple million families to be torn apart.  According to Michele Alexander, in her great book The New Jim Crow, “Before democracy, chattel slavery in America was born” (Alexander 54).
Starting in 1662, the colony of Virginia made slavery legal and protected by the government.  Contrary to popular belief, the legalization of slavery followed the social trend.  Society used some form of democracy and said, “Those people are not people, they are of an inferior race. Therefore, we can treat them like animals.” The rich white people made eleventeen tons of money, and created a society that supported that profit generation. Alexander says, “It may be impossible to overstate the significance of race in defining the basic structure of American society” (Alexander 54).
Following the abolishment of the slavery in 1865, rich white people found themselves in a strange predicament.  The foundation of all things economic and social was just made illegal. How can this 200 year old capital system survive? They concocted a series of laws that became known as Jim Crow.  Slavery was replaced with Jim Crow. For many black people, the only difference between slavery and sharecropping was that Master became Mister. And even though slavery was abolished, the murder, poison, torture, and/or rape still occurred.
In “The New Jim Crow,” Alexander argues that today’s new Jim Crow is mass incarceration.  Once a citizen is convicted of a federal felony, they can become slaves again.  A prisoner can become the property of the government, as per the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  These prisoners today are used as free labor for many of the world’s largest and most recognized brands. The War on Drugs, Alexander argues, is the legal justification for packing privately owned and operated prisons with colored bodies. 
American history is rife with change, so much so that in a scant 236 years, America has a black President. Even still, somehow—some way, the system has changed and adapted, but it has never gone away. Race, more specifically blackness, has always been used to cut a profit. Black folk have been exploited for so long, no one really cares what effect almost 400 years of American “fuck ‘em”-ism has had. So gay community, America has never just enacted sweeping legislation.  America changes grudgingly. America never wants to let go.  America says one thing but does another. America lies so many times, deception becomes truth.  But either way, understand the system you are fighting.
                                                                                                           Anjan Basu

Same-Sex Marriage: Barack’s New Black


   Is same-sex marriage the new black for Barack Obama? I think so. Since Barack Obama’s historic “support” of gay marriage, critics and defenders alike have kept a buzz alive about the issue, heaping both praise or blame on the president’s shoulders about his public statement, pondering whether or not his position makes him a good or bad president. Although Obama’s subject matter was groundbreaking, his actual words avoid the responsibility for taking any concrete action on gay marriage, and are therefore not very groundbreaking at all. In fact, Obama’s statements reflect his muted racial politics as much as, if not more than, they do his sexual politics. Same-sex marriage is in fashion with Barack Obama now, but it is only a passing fad, a by-product of political expediency.
            The president is using gay marriage as a “hot button” issue to boost up his street credentials as a progressive, while at the same time down-playing his “otherness” as an African-American. Once we look at Obama’s same-sex marriage rhetoric as rhetoric, we see that his “courageous stance” is primarily political double talk aimed at re-branding an embattled POTUS, making him seem edgy, yet non-threatening. Obama’s exact position on gay marriage is as non-committed as his position on African-American rights. According to Obama, “I've just concluded that-- for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that…sex couples should be able to get married” because “in this country we've always been about-- fairness. And-- and treatin' everybody-- as equals. Or at least that's been our aspiration.” Essentially, Obama is saying he is not against gay marriage, but his administration isn’t going to push the issue “because historically, this [marriage] has not been a federal issue.”
            I beg your pardon Mr. President, but marriage has been a federal issue since Loving v. Virginia (1967), which declared Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional, thereby  ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. This decision had bearing on the current gay marriage debate because what was at stake was which American citizens had the right to claim their relationship a “marriage.” Apparently, brother Obama (a law professor, mind you) forgot this little hiccup in American history. If he hadn’t, he could have been honest with Robin Robinson and said that marriage has a long-standing tradition of being a federal matter, and also that it has been so because the United States has never been a country that didn’t have to force citizens into “fairness.” That would have been controversial and progressive. “Equality” is not the oil that makes this machine run. Barack knows this, but he can’t say anything about it because he is the first President of the United States with clear African ancestry. His mere presence is as progressive as American politics is going to become during his tenure.
            Clearly, Obama’s rhetoric does not match up with the facts. Obama, considering the Loving case in his statement on gay marriage, would have reminded Americans of two things: 1) There is a precedent for federal intrusion into marriage laws. And, 2) Barack Obama is—in so many ways—a beneficiary of federal intrusion into state marriage laws. Unfortunately, this is an election year, and Obama is an unpopular president among progressive democrats and white independents. Although he is still wildly popular among African-Americans, his team has decided to boost his profile at the expense of a truth that would too closely associate him with his strongest base support. (This happens all too often in American politics.)
            I refuse to deride Obama for his wishy-washy stance, or his crafty political maneuvering to try to stay relevant. But I have to ask a question that has burning in my mind since May 9th.  Why is okay for Obama to be progressive on gay rights issues, but non-controversial when it comes to issues dealing with Blacks, and other minorities? It’s not a new question, or an unfair one. Despite his rhetoric claiming otherwise, I don’t think Barack’s championing of the gay rights cause was a decision he made with his heart-- it was made with his head. Public opinion and political expediency are the real culprits behind Barack Obama's public support of gay marriage.

                                                                                                     Armondo R. Collins

Friday, June 1, 2012

Shaft’s Mis-Education of the Negro

            The movie Shaft promotes a white racist agenda. The narrative arch of both Shaft films promotes African-American self hatred, as well as the superiority of white wealth. The subtlety with which these promotions occur are so nuanced, it’s as if they are designed to stay hidden from unsuspecting viewers. Shaft’s racist undertones are propaganda in the mental war destroying Blacks.

            Many will disagree with my analysis of Shaft, but I hold firm to my position that the Shaft movies embody is a negative fantasy designed to miseducate African-Americans about themselves and the world. Contrary to popular arguments in support of the films, Shaft does not portray a Black man challenging white authority and speaking truth to power. Quite the contrary, John Shaft was, and is, a pawn of the oppressor. Shaft embodies the veneer of a spirit of racial pride and resistance. But his character in no way transcends the inferiority heaped upon him and the masses of poor African-Americans. Nor, in his victory in any of his movies, does John Shaft not continually represent the power structure that he is given credit for subverting. A brief examination of the 1971 version of the movie, and its year 2000 counterpart will shed more light on the meaning of my statements.

In the original film, Shaft is a messiah-like champion, who saves Black people from the evils of whiteness. In this instance, white people, in the form of Italian mobsters, are plotting to push more drugs into the Harlem ghetto. In this version, detective John Shaft gets unwittingly sucked into a war between the Italian mob and the Black mafia, who are both fighting for control of the Harlem drug trade. Each faction in this war metaphorically symbolizes the racial category “white” and “black” respectively. In this drama, John Shaft is the underdog trickster, who through his wit and strength of conviction, winds up beating the white mob to a standstill. Shaft never rids the ghetto of crime itself, but the white criminals are at least put at enough of a loss that they leave Shaft and his friends alone.

In the 70’s, Shaft’s character gave Black movie goers hope that they could fight through the criminal capitalism heaped upon them by white thugs. In this sense, Shaft provided African-Americans with cultural clues about who they are, and how to behave, in order to “make it” in America. (i.e. You’ve got to be “cool,” and “take life as it comes.”) In Black folk lore, Shaft became a signifier of the African-American fight for survival in the United States. The problem with Shaft’s signifying, however, is that the hero narrative that demarcates Shaft’s cultural importance is narrative space that promotes the perpetual servility of African-Americans. Today, Shaft’s image has been co-opted by the status quo media again, and this time, he has been refashioned into a new type of training tool for racial inferiority.

In part, the Shaft movie series is a trick to get Black people to conform to white aesthetic values. By getting African-Americans to buy into the Shaft series, Hollywood studio executives are also getting Blacks to accept stereotypical notions of their selves, laden with negative connotations of what poor Black life truly entails. In essence, African-Americans are subjecting themselves to a subtle, yet negative, cultural training that has the effect of normalizing African-American inferiority. Phrased another way, an hour and a half of “feel-good” entertainment, is the man’s way of programming Black people to be America's continued slaves. Nowhere in the narrative arch of the original Shaft movie, for all of its critical praise, do we find any hope that Black people are actually saved by this so-called “Black hero.” In fact, Shaft actually does more harm to the Black community, inside and outside, of the movie than he does to help it. Rather than viewing Shaft as a champion, look at him for who he truly is: a pawn of the oppressor. Sure, Shaft defeats the mob, but only temporarily. In the process of his “win,” Shaft gets the entire Black liberation army slaughtered; he essentially becomes a hired gun for Black crime; and in the final analysis, none of the fundamental issues surrounding poor Black life in Harlem are resolved by any of Shaft’s actions. Movie goers are forced to settle for the fact that the hero gets a little money for himself and gets to have sex with pretty women. Now ask yourself, is this really a champion of the people? Compare Shaft to a character like Dan Freeman from The Spook Who Sat by the Door and it is easy to see the liberating ethos of Shaft may be a bit undeserved.

Shaft 2K serves pretty much the same purpose as the original. John Shaft is a shadow of a hero; or, rather, a villain in disguise. This latest incarnation is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek revival of the well-loved 70’s cinematic hero. But the 2000 version of the character does even more to undermine African-American progress than did the first. In this installment of the series, Samuel L. Jackson is the namesake nephew of the legendary private eye originally played by Richard Roundtree. He is assigned to investigate a racially motivated murder case. A black college student played by Mekhi Phifer is killed in front of a restaurant by Walter Williams Jr., played by Christian Bale. Walter Jr. is the son of a wealthy New York construction tycoon, accustomed to white privilege, and unflinching in his abuse of African-Americans. Williams flees the country rather than face prosecution for a crime he does not feel is actually a crime. Of course, Shaft eventually catches up with the bad guy, but true to form for the Shaft series, all of John Shaft’s heroic deeds only serve to reinforce white superiority, rather than nullify it. After catching Williams for a second time, he is freed by a white judge who has to bow down to the Williams' family fortune. When Shaft catches the bad guy for a third time, justice is not really served because an innocent Black mother, who knows the law is not on her side, is forced to exact vigilante justice against Williams in order to make sure he pays for her son's death. Although an act of retribution temporarily provides a feel good moment of release for the audience, the implications of the scene are that white wealth, power, and privilege have turned yet another African-American into a criminal.

One thing that most, if not all, Blacks should know about American society is that the media is not on our side. More pointedly, the U.S. media, in most of its different guises, is in fact the instrument used to mete out the racist education that used to be reserved for the school system and public square. No longer are African-Americans lynched, or fed an intellectual diet of social Darwinism, instead, today, they are bombarded with racist images that quietly creep into their subconscious mind conditioning them to conform to a world predicated on inequality that constantly operates at their expense. A book called Racism and the Press puts it this way:
Groups [Whites] can remain dominant only if they have the resources to reproduce their dominance…Hence, it is essential for the reproduction racism that also the ‘means of ideological production’, such as education and media, are controlled by the white dominant group…this means that white elites control the contents and structures of the system of ideological ethnic representation, which is essentially a form of positive group self-presentation. In other words, through education and the media the white group controls the definition of the ethnic situation…(Van Dijk, 32-33) 
Understood in these terms, Shaft in whatever form he is manifested, becomes the latest weapon in the arsenal used to assault positive African-American identity formation.

            African-Americans should be leery of elevating Shaft to the level of a “cultural hero.” John shaft is not a leader, and should not be emulated or venerated. As Carter G. Woodson warns, leadership of the Shaft type is usually “superimposed” for the purpose of “directing the course of the ostracized group along sane lines” (88). These supervisors of the conduct of African-Americans conduct prevent Black people from learning the truth which might make them “unruly” or ambitious to become free (88).

                                                                                                                       Armondo R. Collins

Works Cited

Parks, Gordon. “Shaft.” Los Angeles: Warner Brothers. 1971.

Singleton, John. “Shaft.” Los Angeles: Warner Brothers. 2000.

Van Dijk, Teun. Racism and the Press. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.

Woodson, Carter G. Miseducation of the Negro. New York: Clear Web. 5 April 2011.