Category Archives: Books

Reading Gay Pride: Queer Book Review

This year’s NYC PRIDE is filled with not so mixed emotions, and we approach the big parade here this Sunday. Yep. I am pretty much bitter all around. First, two of my favorite queer spaces are closing. 275 Grand, the best (mostly) Black, bohemian, grown and sexy, queer lounge in Clinton Hill (and the only space like it in the city) is closing its doors Friday night. And I JUST found out that Meshell Ndegeocello is playing there tonight! So I’ll be there twice before they close.

My other favorite place in the meatpacking district in Manhattan is Florent, the 24 hour eaterie, is closing this weekend as well. Florent was one of my favorite places to eat, and Florent, the man himself, was always very sweet to the customers. It will sorely be missed as well.

If you’re a grumpy, anti-capitalist, nearing middle-aged queer like myself, the June Gay Pride festivities can be really annoying — especially in New York. Because there are five boroughs, the events seem to go on forever. Rainbow striped flags, key chains and booty shorts sprout all over the city, defying the drab earth tones of your camouflage shorts and black tank top. Cheesy dance remixes of even cheesier top 40 songs drown out your reflective folk tunes. Yep, June is no bowl of organic free-trade cherries for the political queers.

What I do in these tough times, as the happy-go-lucky gays parade up and down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue this last week of June, is curl up with some good queer (non-fiction!) reading. Reading helps me get in touch with my inner, bitter queer, and I want to share some of the latest books I’m reading with my queer comrades out there who are throwing anti-Pride pity parties in our miserable little hovels across the tri-state this season. READ THE REST OF MY “READING GAY PRIDE ARTICLE” IN THIS ISSUE OF THE INDYPENDENT!!!

Alice Walker On the 2008 Primary

LEST WE FORGET, An Open Letter To My Sisters Who Are Brave

From Alice Walker

I have come home from a long stay in Mexico to find – because of the presidential campaign, and especially because of the Obama/Clinton race for the Democratic nomination – a new country existing alongside the old. On any given day we, collectively, become the Goddess of the Three Directions and can look back into the past, look at ourselves just where we are, and take a glance, as well, into the future. It is a space with which I am familiar. When I was born in 1944 my parents lived on a middle Georgia plantation that was owned by a white distant relative, Miss* May Montgomery. She would never admit to this relationship, of course, except to mock it. Told by my parents that several of their children would not eat chicken skin she responded that Of course they would not. No Montgomerys would. My parents and older siblings did everything imaginable for Miss May. They planted and raised her cotton and corn, fed and killed and processed her cattle and hogs, painted her house, patched her roof, ran her dairy, and, among countless other duties and responsibilities my father was her chauffeur, taking her anywhere she wanted to go at any hour of the day or night. She lived in a large white house with green shutters and a green, luxuriant lawn: not quite as large as Tara of Gone With the Wind fame, but in the same style. We lived in a shack without electricity or running water, under a rusty tin roof that let in wind and rain. Miss May went to school as a girl. The school my parents and their neighbors built for us was burned to the ground by local racists who wanted to keep ignorant their competitors in tenant farming. During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from ten dollars a month to twelve. Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man and she certainly wouldn’t pay it to a nigger. That before she’d pay a nigger that much money she’d milk the dairy cows herself.

When I look back, this is part of what I see. I see the school bus carrying white children, boys and girls, right past me, and my brothers, as we trudge on foot five miles to school. Later, I see my parents struggling to build a school out of discarded army barracks while white students, girls and boys, enjoy a building made of brick. We had no books; we inherited the cast off books that “Jane” and “Dick” had previously used in the all-white school that we were not, as black children, permitted to enter. The year I turned fifty, one of my relatives told me she had started reading my books for children in the library in my home town. I had had no idea – so kept from black people it had been – that such a place existed. To this day knowing my presence was not wanted in the public library when I was a child I am highly uncomfortable in libraries and will rarely, unless I am there to help build, repair, refurbish or raise money to keep them open, enter their doors.

*During my childhood it was necessary to address all white girls as “Miss” when they reached the age of twelve.

When I joined the freedom movement in Mississippi in my early twenties it was to come to the aid of sharecroppers, like my parents, who had been thrown off the land they’d always known, the plantations, because they attempted to exercise their “democratic” right to vote. I wish I could say white women treated me and other black people a lot better than the men did, but I cannot. It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that white women have copied, all too often, the behavior of their fathers and their brothers, and in the South, especially in Mississippi, and before that, when I worked to register voters in Georgia, the broken bottles thrown at my head were gender free. I made my first white women friends in college; they were women who loved me and were loyal to our friendship, but I understood, as they did, that they were white women and that whiteness mattered. That, for instance, at Sarah Lawrence, where I was speedily inducted into the Board of Trustees practically as soon as I graduated, I made my way to the campus for meetings by train, subway and foot, while the other trustees, women and men, all white, made their way by limo. Because, in our country, with its painful history of unspeakable inequality, this is part of what whiteness means. I loved my school for trying to make me feel I mattered to it, but because of my relative poverty I knew I could not… Read the rest at The

Interview with Writer/Director Stanley Bennett Clay

I don’t read a lot of novels, but when I read a good one, I definitely have to pass it on. Recently I read Looker, written by Stanley Bennett Clay. The novel’s basic story is of two black gay men, best friends, living in Los Angeles who struggle to find love—or to run and hide from it. But the novel is so much more than that. It’s a complex read of how Black people negotiate their own sexuality and inner desires through a lens that is often distorted by all the isms and phobias—class, race, age, (trans) gender. Some of the characters find sexual liberation. Some do not.I had a chance to talk to the author, Stanley Bennett Clay, a couple weeks ago. Clay has received three NAACP Image Awards for writing, directing and producing the critically acclaimed play Ritual, as well as the Pan African Film Festival Award for the film adaptation. He is the author of three novels, Diva, In Search of Pretty Young Black Men, and of course, Looker.

KF: I just finished Looker, and thought it was a really amazing novel. Can you tell me what inspired it?

SBC: I guess it was a part of my whole process of writing stories about the gay scene in Los Angeles and gay people in Los Angeles. I found oftentimes in reading a lot of black gay stories, there were few times when there was a discussion of the Los Angeles scene, and most of the stories were set back east. And being a really fanatical Los Angeles kind of person, I really wanted to put a spin on it and show the differences as well as the uniqueness of black gay life in Los Angeles, especially middle class black gay life. And just getting the landscape out there and introducing it to the readers.

KF: One of the things I really liked about Looker was that it explored people’s inner desires, particularly their desires around sex and sexuality, in a way that’s really complicated. Why did you decide to take on sex and sexuality in such an explicit way as you did in this novel?

SBC: I think that’s probably a trademark one would find in all my writing…I’ve always had a sort of a problem with America’s timid-ness and immaturity in regards to sex. I find it interesting that we live in a world were a movie can be shown and we can see dozens of people killed and maimed and mutilated and that gets a PG rating, but if you see a couple, a married couple, making love, and that gets an R rating or even an X rating depending on what is shown. There’s just this thing that really ticks me off which has to do with the way America views sexuality. I look at sex as very normal, and as this God-given thing, so I just show it very normally.

KF: I want to ask you specifically about the Black community and sexuality. For me, on one level through hip-hop videos and other kinds of media, you see a lot of overt sexual imagery of black people, but at the same time in the community you have a very conservative attitude or response to sex and sexuality. The characters in Looker deal with the full spectrum of that—either liberation or shame around his or her own sexual desires. So what do you think the take away is for the black community on sex and sexuality.

SBC: I think it goes back to slavery in a lot of ways. We don’t want to seem out of line with what society sees as acceptable, and because of that we have a tendency to be even more conservative when it comes to sex for fear that the white man is looking. And we don’t want him to do that we are doing some of these things. It comes back to the old cliché that there are black people who are ashamed to let people know that they eat watermelon simply because of the old stereotype, or who won’t buy a Cadillac because of the old stereotype of it being a pimp-mobile. We have to liberate ourselves from that sort of belief, and to be free enough to express ourselves any way we want to. Continue reading

Bill Cosby on Meet the Press

Bill Cosby has caught hell in recent years for his controversial speeches about the hip-hop, poor black people, and the state of Black folks in American in general.

Today, Tim Russert’s Meet the Press hosted Cosby and his longtime collaborator Alvin Poussaint, MD., to talk about their new book, Come On People–a treatise on the state of African-Americans and what they think needs to shift. He doesn’t seem to be saying anythign that isn’t knew or innovative, but another hand-wringing book about the lack of Black fathers in the lives of their children, Black women have “made it” while men suffer in prison, that AIDS is the result of our “behaviors,” etc. I guess I have to say I am glad that there is at least a conversation happening in the Black community about what we need to be doing poltiically and socially, but I hate that the conversation never seems to evolve past the “we need the strong black man to take his rightful place” type of foolishness.

I guess it’s too easy to make fun of him as some doddering old fogey–I think the sentiment of his fears is sincere. I share his basic concerns. I do think something has to be done to improve the conditions of young Black men. But I don’t think that the people who currently hold the mic on the discussion, have much in the way of useful answers. has posted the entire first chapter of the book, and you can read it here.

BET's 'Read A Book' PSA Causes Controversy


Now that you’ve watched it. What do you think? I gotta say, I kinda LIKE IT! Before I go into why, I’ll say upfront that it is not without its problems. Who’s watching this video? Will this create another case of people laughing at us, and not with us? Does it further stigmatize black youth? This seems specifically targeted to black boys/teens–why are black women’s bodies still exploited as the vehicle to carry this “message” to them? And does this undermine or outweigh the messages it’s trying to hit home?

I think these are all questions I have watching this video. And they are more than just rhetorical questions, I think they bear some thinking about, and demand answers.

But what I like about this video, as someone who is uber interested in media messaging, is that it does, in a really clever way, intervene on what can no longer be denied as problematic behavior. It’s especially interesting in a time where there is an ever-growing conversation in Black communities and on the left about how do we “reach” black youth. It does what the hip-hop activists and scholars, and “conscious” hip-hop artists have failed miserably at doing over the last decade–which is to use the language and visual culture of hip-hop to drive home messages to create what public health folks call behavior change. I think this has the potential to do that–albeit with the problems it has.

Certainly has come a ways since School House Rock!


Much love to Pop Gumbo for writing about this first.

Two New Articles Move Prisons to Public Sphere

joy-james-book2.jpgIt is interesting in this election year, while the Democrats are out to get out the vote to pull off success in 2008, and Senators Clinton and Edwards trying to out-Black Obama, the issue of massive imprisonment has only come up once (that I know of) in this whole course of courting the Black vote.

The issue is still dangerous territory for the Democrats. First, they have anxieties of appearing soft-on-terrorism, which has, at least momentarily, supplanted a conversation about being soft-on-crime. But that doesn’t mean the implication isn’t there. After all, a President willing to “use military force” against some unknown others over “there,” can be assumed to be willing to do as much against criminals “over here.” In short, the war on terror has allowed the national politicians to skirt talking about criminals here. But the spook, if you will, is never far in the distance (Note to academics: Because this is a blog doesn’t mean you get to not cite my ideas. Thanks.).

But whether prisons and prisoners are a part of the national dialogue, they are still very much a part of the nation. And two recent articles are seeming to try to bring them, and the issue into view.

Professor Glenn C. Loury, Economics Professor and Chair of the Institute on Race and Social Division at Boston University, tries to explain both the political and social forces for the growth of the prison population in the United States. He writes for the Boston Review:

One cannot reckon the world-historic American prison build-up over the past 35 years without calculating the enormous costs imposed upon the persons imprisoned, their families, and their communities. (Of course, this has not stopped many social scientists from pronouncing on the net benefits of incarceration without doing so.) Deciding on the weight to give to a “thug’s” well-being—or to that of his wife or daughter or son—is a question of social morality, not social science. Nor can social science tell us how much additional cost borne by the offending class is justified in order to obtain a given increment of security or property or peace of mind for the rest of us. These are questions about the nature of the American state and its relationship to its people that transcend the categories of benefits and costs.

Also, Daniel Lazare writes for The Nation on the same subject (and also a longerruthie-gilmore-book.jpg piece on Alternet), although he is reviewing several recent books about prisons (noticeably absent are new books written/edited by Drs. Joy James and Ruthie Wilson Gilmore). Lazare writes for Alternet:

Where will it end? As Martinson’s story shows, American mass incarceration is not what social scientists call “evidence based.” It is not a policy designed to achieve certain practical, utilitarian ends that can then be weighed and evaluated from time to time to determine if it is performing as intended. Rather, it is a moral policy whose purpose is to satisfy certain passions that have grown more and more brutal over the years. The important thing about moralism of this sort is that it is its own justification. For true believers, it is something that everyone should endorse regardless of the consequences. As right-wing political scientist James Q. Wilson once remarked, “Drug use is wrong because it is immoral,” a comment that not only sums up the tautological nature of US drug policies but also shows how they are structured to render irrelevant questions about wasted dollars and blighted lives.

Happy 83rd James Baldwin Tonight at the Brecht Forum

There is too much for me to say about James Baldwin. No writer means more to me than him. But I cannot write all of that now, because I gotta get some sleep (I am writing this the night before I post it). But I encourage you to watch the following video, and to post your own Happy Birthday wishes to Baldwin, wherever he may be watching us from right now.

If you’re in NYC, please come tonight to celebrate his would be 83rd birthday (and the 20th anniversary of his death.)

Thursday, August 2
Brecht Black August Events Series
7:30 pm
James Baldwin: Life and Legacies
Activist and Writers Roundtable/Open Mic
Bring Your favorite Baldwin passages

Speakers Include:

Kenyon Farrow, co-editor, Letters From Young Activists
Reggie Gossett, Critical Resistance
Anika Lani Haynes, Writer
Ajamu Sankofa, Healthcare Activist
Joan Gibbs, Lawyer, Professor


More on American Soldiers, Violence and Iraq

This week guest writer Tamara Nopper wrote a piece here detailing her top concerns for the anti-war’s movement’s growing focus (and deference to) veterans. The Nation has published an excerpt from an upcoming Nation Books project called Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Citizens, written by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian. The book, according to is due out this fall.

Many people commenting to Nopper’s piece took issue with her assertion that there are some people who go into the military because they want to inflict harm or even kill people. Well this book seems to be asking soldiers precisely what is happening in those moments when they or other soldiers inflict violence, especially on civilian populations. From The Nation:

Over the past several months The Nation has interviewed fifty combat veterans of the Iraq War from around the United States in an effort to investigate the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians. These combat veterans, some of whom bear deep emotional and physical scars, and many of whom have come to oppose the occupation, gave vivid, on-the-record accounts. They described a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts.

Their stories, recorded and typed into thousands of pages of transcripts, reveal disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq. Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit. The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasized that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings. Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported–and almost always go unpunished.

As I asserted in the comments section of Nopper’s piece, “the anti-war movement needs to really begin to take seriously the point that people get involved in the military for more than purely economic reasons.”

The photo chosen above while seemingly innocent, illustrates these issues even further. The soldier, grinning, seems to have given these two young boys this sign to hold, which reads “Lcpl. [Lance Corporal] Boudreaux killed my father and he knocked up my sister.”

Whether these things acually happened is unclear, but the outcome is: Murder and rape (even if as a supposed prank) with a photo taken as a souvenir.

Full Disclosure: My book Letters From Young Activists was also published on Nation Books. But that is not why I am writing this blog.