Category Archives: Navel-Gazing

In Memoriam: My Grandma

My paternal grandmother died this past Friday.

My grandmother was not a knitting and baking kinda granny. She chained smoked Pall Malls (she switched to the filtered kind only in the 1990’s). She loved to drink gin and juice. She listened to the Blues– and one summer many years ago she took off work and followed BB King on tour all over the country–from 5,000 seat venues to juke joints and “sugar shacks” all over the South.

She had a roaming spirit too. She travelled all over the country and the world. She especially loved Egypt, and had been several times over the years. I remember one year she went to Cairo with a friend. They flew to Paris, dropped their bags at the hotel, partied in Paris all night, and flew to Cairo the next morning.

She took shit from nobody and no-one. She could out-cuss anybody I’ve ever known. Many of the choice phrases I have come to use over the years came from her. She was a cross between Della Reese’s character in Harlem Nights and Tyler Perry’s “Madea.”  

As tough as she was, and she was not one to show alot of emotion or be overly affectionate, she was a retired registered nurse for the Veteran’s Administration. She was also really very proud of her grandchildren, and revelled in our success. I found out from a cousin a few years ago that that she cussed out someone who had something to say about “gay people,” which he knew was mostly for my benefit, and her unwavering support of me. 

In many ways I feel like I am who she might have been, in a different era, with no children and more opportunities available to her, but I definitely learned from her example. I learned from her how to be independent, that I could travel and see the world, that I could love clubs and bars and cocktails and that was alright and there was no shame in it! Most importantly, I learned from her (and other women in my young life) that a Black woman did not have to be anybody’s Mammy, and they didn’t have to be anybody’s punching bag, either!

I have been told by several people in the last several months that I am, or at least can be, somewhat of a mystery. There are aspects of my life that I don’t always discuss and whatnot. Well, I don’t know why people think they deserve or have earned the right to every aspect of one’s life. Is is because I am a writer? Is it that some people close to me, desire to be closer? And what does that mean, anyhow? What is it that they seek to gain? I am not sure. But I know that I don’t lie–if you ask me, I’l tell you. If it comes up in conversation and it seems relevant, I disclose. But I am not a fishbowl–clear ’round on all sides. Nor do I want to be. I am in many ways my grandmother’s child–a person in love independence, a person who digs nightlife  and club culture (but knows how to keep it at the proper distance). A person who can kick it with you or just about anyone–but that don’t mean we’re best friends. And if you cross a line, you’ll get cussed out!

I’ll miss you, Grandma.

Shock of The Week: Remy Ma Gets 8 Years

The hip-hop world had better get it together. Fame and celebrity will not protect your ass from the prison if you’re Black. Wesley Snipes just learned that lesson (OK so he’s not a hip-hop star, but he’s Black and he’s famous, so stay with me!), and Lil Kim and Foxy Brown have as well, and Snoop Dogg seems to get pulled over by the cops every time he leaves his driveway. The list could go on.

The latest hip-hop star to face prison time is Remy “I look too good to be fcukin’ you” Ma for shooting her homegirl in the gut over $3000 and fleeing the club in the meatpacking district of Manhattan where the incident took place. She was sentenced to 8 long years in prison. The details from E-Online:

In March, a jury convicted her on four counts, including assault, weapons possession and attempted coercion, for shooting Makeda Barnes-Joseph in the gut last July in a dispute over $3,000. She faced more than 25 years behind bars.

After State Supreme Court Justice Rena Uviller handed down the punishment, Ma’s fiancé, fellow hip-hopster Papoose, sparked a melee as he screamed invective at the victim, who took the stand earlier asking for a harsh sentence.

“Get the f–k off me. F–k y’all. F–k jail,” the performer [Papoose] yelled as the hearing ended and bailiffs escorted him out of the Manhattan court. “I don’t care. Lock me up. Lock me up. Take me to jail. Arrest me. It’s all about money.”

Papoose was caught by Rikers Island corrections officers last week allegedly trying to smuggle his betrothed a handcuff key as the two were about to tie the knot in a jailhouse wedding. He wasn’t charged, but the nuptials were nixed.

That key smuggling bit is so sad I can’t even laugh at it–obviously an act of desperation, if in fact it’s true. I do feel bad for her. I don’t think prison will solve anything–and I am not big on punishment as a form of social redress more generally. But can we just not shoot people?

Come on, people!

Just kidding.

But really. It’s been very clear that hip-hop stars are being widely surveilled (sp?) over the last several years, and the police, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are clearly sending the message that if you’re associated with hip-hop and do some shit out of the bounds of “law,” you’re going to prison. Besides that, I find myself in between a rock and a hard place. I know the systemic issues at play that creat accessibility to guns and the kinds of urban poverty (in the face of gluttonous and violent wealth accumulation) that drives the kinds of acts of violence that seem senseless. I am from the same kind of community. I get the fact that I only made it “out”(not that I, as a Black gay man, escape the scrutiny, disgust, and violence of the state) because of the push of family, friends and some teachers who decided I was the one worth giving a damn about.

But sometimes I am at a loss for defending or even trying to put to words this kind of foolishness. What is the language for critiquing institutional racism, sexism and capitalism while also critiquing the fact that these systems support and drive individuals to be alienated, disaffected, and violent? I want to see a way out of this mess, but I sometimes come up short.

How People Find

I thought I’d share with you how the people using search engines (like Google) came to my blog today. It’s amazing how many hits I get from people looking for porn. Note the person who typed in “kenyon kenyon gay porn.” I have never done porn, whomever was looking to catch me out there!!

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When Popularity Breeds Contempt

My blog officially blew up today. My hits are up ten-fold overnight. I guess that post on Hillary Clinton‘s 3AM ad got picked up by Yahoo’s site called “The Buzz” and now every Jackass, Dick and Harry are posting a bunch of ludicrous and hateful comments. In addition, guest blogger Tamara Nopper’s piece on her incident on Southwest Airlines has also brought a lot of new readers to my blog. My usual readers who have some sense have been overrun by people I really never intended to read–much less comment on–my work. But I guess that’s how it goes.

What’s interesting is the utter hostility towards me, for even suggesting that Hillary’s 3AM ad is an act of covert racism, playing on the fears of white people of racialized “criminals” or “terrorists” lurking out there waiting to disturb their sleep. Somehow, my calling attention to racism, makes me a racist.

Similarly, Nopper’s analysis of the racial and gendered dynamics of her experience while flying have been somehow interpreted as her “fault” for not taking on the airline (when at this time, she could have been quite easily arrested or subject to worse assaults by TSA). That kind of thinking is the height of white male heterosexist supremacist thinking–having no sense of the powerlessness women and people of color and queers are made to feel. No idea what it is like to be intentionally and systematically made to feel that in one personal interaction, the power of the state can be on your neck in a split second, snapping it.

From this point on, the one’s I find just so hateful, I am simply going to delete. Fuck it. It’s my blog and anything posted that I feel like is threatening or doesn’t actually foster debate or conversation I can simply get rid of. There are enough spaces on the net for that. Moreover people with email addresses like “wm4amerika” I could really give less than a damn about what they think or have to say. Period.

I am not looking for adoration or ass-kissing. But if you are gonna have the nerve to post something, actually know what it is you’re speaking about. I don’t intend for this blog to be a free-for-all for anybody and everybody. If you can’t (with some level of intelligible acumen) make a well-formed argument, even if we disagree, keep it movin. Just calling me a reverse racist or some other hostile (and inaccurate!) shit, simply won’t cut it.


New Orleans: Army Corps Washed Away Accountability

My good friend Davell Crawford (the Piano Prince of New Orleans) recently covered a classic Randy Newman song called Louisiana 1927 (you can hear it by going to his home page). The lyrics chronicle the Mississippi Flood of 1927, and in Newman’s lyrics, he declares “They tryin’ to wash us away.” Davell re-writes a lyric originally about President Calvin Coolidge, and replaces him with George W. Bush.

Maybe they really are trying to wash “us” away again. It’s interesting that yesterday, John Edwards chose New Orleans to announce the halting of his presidential bid, that a federal judge begrudgingly threw out a clas action suit by the people of New Orleans against the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Associated Press reported that “Judge Stanwood Duval said he was forced by law to hold the Corps immune even though the agency failed to ‘cast a blind eye’ in protecting New Orleans and ‘squandered millions of dollars in building a levee system … which was known to be inadequate by the Corps’ own calculations.’ But, Duval said, ‘it is not within the Court’s power to address the wrongs committed. It is hopefully within the citizens of the United States’ power to address the failures of our laws and agencies.'”

What’s so sinister is the ruling was based on a law written conspicuously after the 1927 flood–the Flood Control Act of 1928–which made the federal government immune from lawsuits when flood control projects like levees break.

* * *

I was in the 9th ward just a few weeks ago–the week leading into MLK Day. It was the first time I had been back since Spring of 2005, and I had lived in New Orleans for a year. The failures of the city, state and federal government are so egregious that it is difficult to imagine that they are in fact, failures, and not actually a contrived negligence. And the failure, conspiracy or negligence (you choose!) that caused the death and displacement in the aftermath of the hurricane Katrina, is not so much about the weather. It’s about the profound racism that forced hundreds of thousands of Black people into the conditions that would mean their certain demise just by virtue of being redlined for generations on the downside of a canal, or kept in substandard public housing. Or warehoused in Orleans Parish Prison.

I was accosted one night in the French Quarter during my trip 2 weeks ago by 2 unidentified plain clothes security officers who looked like professional wrestlers–and I know they were not the NOPD. I was accused of trying to rob my friends I was just a few feet behind on my bike. So for those of us who weren’t washed away in the storm, or carted off to destinations all across the nation–the prison and the jailer awaits.

They tryin to wash us away–and absolve themselves of the responsibility.

Politics Aside: Find Some Place to Party Tonight!

With all the heavy-ness and seriousness of the world right now–primaries, violence in Kenya and proposed troop surges in Afghanistan, remember to find some space for you to have some fun! Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers said it best: “Though the world cruel and blind/Let’s have a good time.”

Even though I have decided to embrace my passion for politics in my blog and do much less entertainment fluff, that doesn’t mean I don’t need to find ways to decompress. I am looking to get my party on tonight! For me, there’s nothing better than house music, and house-heads to truly shake off the oppression, violence, and degradation we are forced to encounter on a daily basis. S

o after going to see Classical Theater of Harlem’s production of Trojan Women, I’ll be headed to the NYC’s Sullivan Room for the in2Deep party, with Roger Sanchez and Ace House Nation on the turntables serving you beats and vocals.Tonight, as Lady Miss Kier of Deee-Lite once said, I JUST WANNA HEAR A GOOD BEAT![googlevideo=]

So so does everbody. Including news anchors. NBC’s David Gregory couldn’t resist shaking it to Mary J. Blige’s irresistible new single (and guaranteed dance floor classic) Just Fine, when she recently performed on the Today Show. And he ain’t doin such a bad job either. Stay fierce, stay sane, and find your space to breathe.[youtube=]

Bitten By The Obama Bug: New Hampshire Be Damned!

I’ve been obsessed with the election. I admit it. I guess that makes me a bad radical. Good revolutionaries (at least in America, for some reason) aren’t supposed to be concerned with elections and the political process (I think leftists in Venezuela, Kenya, and Iran–to name a few–would beg to differ.). But I have been somewhat bitten by the bug. My cynicism is somewhat on hold, and I am trying real hard to show some restraint and not run out and get one of those “Barack The Vote” hoodies I saw for sale. Maybe that’s what’s different here–elections as commodity, politicians as celebrity. But I am joining my homie The Black Snob and am allowing myself to get caught up. Fuck it!

Well, CNN and the Associated Press have just declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the New Hampshire primary. So I guess white people in New Hampshire got in that voting booth and pulled a stunt! Barack is now addressing the audience in NH. He asked them to give Senator Clinton a round of applause–did she do that for him when she lost last week?. He’s dreamy!

It’s interesting because he’s still using the “there’s something happening in America” line. Instead of using it to refer to his historic candidacy, he’s using it to talk about the new dawn of American politics that are about compromise and not about screaming matches. He is calling his voters, and America by extension, “the new majority.”

They clearly love him. They’re chanting O-ba-ma with such fervor! I do have to say it is interesting to see a candidate that inspires so much hope in people.

To my fellow readers, friends, admirers, comrades: I haven’t lost my mind. I don’t agree with everything he says, but hell, I don’t agree with half of what you all say or think half of the time! I am worried about what his role as “Commander in Chief” is going to mean in terms of militarism and policing and prisons and what not. But I do feel inspired by a vision of something less arrogant, less violent,. Can I have that, please? LOL! I feel like I am betraying the $11,000 debt I just racked up for J-school (so I guess I’ve officially given up a conventional career in journalism. The one progressive news outlet I was trying to write for, blew me off, so the hell with it) by publicly supporting a candidate, and betraying my leftist community by being involved in electoral politics, which is a movement faux pas, from what I understand.

He ends his speech with Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” The pundits on CNN seem to think it was a funny thing, given the fact that he didn’t take the #1 slot (he’s now only 2% points behind with 79% of the vote–not exactly a blowout) Clinton’s speech is good, but she’s not fire like Obama, who seems to be on nothing short of a mission.

Speaking of speeches? Wanna know something about the editor behind Obama’s speeches? Read this Newsweek story.

What Is the Iowa Caucus to The Black Radical?

Every few years, at election time, I feel very conflicted. I was raised to understand the importance of voting, and more directly, Black people lost their lives for the right for me to do so.

My mother made sure me and my sisters watched Eyes On The Prize on PBS. That documentary chronicled all the different ways Black people in the 1950’s & 60’s organized to fight desegregation (of which protecting/restoring their right to vote unencumbered was a part), and the myriad number of ways white citizens, the states and the federal government were involved in keeping them disenfranchised.

So with a heavy heart full of gratitude and sagging with the debt of my ancestors, I usually find myself treading into some mildewy church basement or pissy school gymnasium to exercise my God-given right pull the lever–an excercise meant to turn the tides of 500 years in one fell swoop.

And so here we are. It’s 2008 and not only can we now vote (mostly), but we have the first viable Black candidate running for president. Barack Obama’s ascendancy to this place, seems rife with all right thoughts of “fulfilling the dream” and “keeping America’s promise,” which has certainly been helped by his PR machine. That’s not to say he’s a phony or a fraud. I have never met him but I do, like most of the people who seem prepared to cast a ballot his way, seem to trust he believes what he says most of the time, which is more than I can say for any of the other frontrunners.

But there are others who feel that this very narrative, the Moses/Jesus/Lincoln/MLK-like prophet come to deliver the people and the nation, is the thing they despise about what he represents most. There are people who feel as though his election will say to the nation and the world, “The US is now beyond race (at least beyond the black & white paradigm). Racism is over. They’ve gotten the Presidency. Now, stop complaining and get to work. Come On, People!”

There are others who feel that he, whose “Black genes” trace most directly to Kenya and not Kentucky, is not Black enough to be even considered the first Black president.

There are more of us, knowing too well that he is Black, who feel he faces the certain and decisive bullet of an assassin if elected.

There are some of us who simply feel the US Presidency will never be a place to transform the United States. Some of us would in fact, rather undo it.

So, if his election may be fraught with such tension, hope, ambivalence or disillusionment for Black people in America, why should I vote? Why should any Black person in America vote?

I don’t honestly know the answer to that question. I don’t know why I do vote most of the time. But I know that there isn’t an easy answer to how the descendants of chattel slaves should position themselves trapped as we are in this strange paradigm. But as much as I feel–in the deepest core of my being–somewhat anxious about Obama and wanting to see him do well, I am under no delusion that his Presidency (nor Clinton nor Edwards nor any of ‘em) will save any of us.

And so I will watch the Iowa Caucus tonight, and all the other election broughaha over this year, with a good deal of hopefulness and anxiety, highly skeptical that freedom can ever be found in a ballot box, but knowing full well that budgets, laws, and public policy can shrivel or spread misery.

The choice is yours.

May the ancestors be with us.

What's Goin On In 2008?

Happy New Year!

2007 was a really difficult year for me personally, and for the first time in more than a year I feel rejuvenated, refocused, and ready to get to work!

With that in mind, I thought I’d update you what you can expect in 2008:

NEW BLOG FOCUS: I am re-inventing this blog. I got bored with it, but I think I have figured out my niche: The other black queer bloggers have entertainment/pop culture on lock. I can’t keep up with the Jenkins’. But we have fewer folks profiling arts and culture, politics/policy and community organizing–book/music/theater reviews, and profiling people and organizations and artists work that is a little off the radar. I am also interested in talking to folks who can help break down complex issues of the day. I know all these smart and talented people doing work all over the country, and nobody ever asks them shit!

AUDIO/PODCAST: I am going to try to include with at least one blog a week, an audio recording related to the prose I post. For instance, if I review a book, why not post an interview with the author? I was going to have one for this week, but their are some sound problems with the Skype recorded interview. If I can fix it, I’ll post the audio , otherwise I’ll transcribe.

SO…Look for an accompanying podcast of interviews with folks in 2008!!! I want to be a radio show host, but since no one’s knocking down my door just yet, I’ll make my own damn radio! So if you are out there, and got something happening in your community, or have a book, CD, or something else you want to talk about, hit me up. Let me know what it is, and maybe we can do something with it.

OTHER WORK: In addition to working on this blog, I am continuing to work with Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, and my work as board co-chair with Queers for Economic Justice. I am also working on another anthology called A New Queer Agenda, with Lisa Duggan, Richard Kim, and Joseph Defilippis, which should be in bookstores by the end of the year. I will be quietly working away on some fiction too, which is new territory for me, but here goes nothin!

Beyond Lady Marmalade: Why Patti Labelle is Legendary!

It annoys me to no end that people think Patti Labelle is just hair and loud voice. Steam will pour from my ears when people only know “Lady Marmalade.” If you think the song started with Aguilera, Mya, Pink and Lil Kim, you betta stand arm’s length away: I may just slap your ignorant face! Anyhoo…

In honor of Patti’s special show “Clash of the Choirs” this week (which begin last night), I thought I’d post this video from Labelle (which , children was an entire group comprised of Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash). It’s the Nona Hendryx penned tune “You Turn Me On.” (And a HUGE THANKS to my sister for pointing me to this video, and then kicking my ass to blog about it. Smooches!)

Patti’s vocals are so rich, so layered, and so urgent, you forget about the costumes and all you can think about is the last person that made you “come like the pourin rain each time they called your name.” It should tell you why Patti is legendary, and if she never recorded another record since Labelle disbanded, she’d still be an icon! Without further ado, “You Turn Me On!”


(For a fierce remake of this track, check out Joi’s version, featuring the late Myrna “Screechy Peach” Crenshaw. Joi now usually sings this live with Keisha Jackson (daughter of R&B blues legend Millie Jackson).