A Cry for Newark

I’ve been thinking a lot about Newark over the last several months. In many ways, I feel like it represents a lot of the tensions, beauty, and ugliness that are happening in Black America, and a manifestation of what late-stage globalization means for Black people in America (I say “late-stage” because in my opinion, capitalism from its inception, was a global project–from early European trade with India and China for textiles, spices, and gunpowder to the African Slave trade and colonialization of the “Americas”).

Whatever the case, Newark has been on my mind, and in the press of late. Just this weekend, 4 young Black people were lined up and shot execution style in the Ivy-Hill section of the city in what news reports are calling a robbery attempt. One, a young woman, survived. Several were visiting home from college, or soon to begin this fall (Not that that makes their deaths more important than people who don’t go to college, but there is something tragic to me about young people striving for better, only to be cut down by the same fate they are so desperately fleeing).

Yesterday, there were protests by local people from the community, many calling for new mayor Cory Booker to resign, because he ran on a ticket of providing for Newark’s public safety. I understand the residents’ frustration, but one should not believe anything a politician runs on in hopes of being elected, no more than one should believe the whispers of a potential paramour after 11pm. No more than one would believe a crackhead in the throes of withdrawal.

Without fixing the education and health systems providing things for youth to do besides joining gangs or selling drugs, and jobs that are in communities where people live and other things that go the long distance towards stemming violence, the mayor cannot do anything but add more police. And the only thing the police can (or anyway, will) do is to threaten force, or to use it. And to call for the mayor to make good on increased policing will mean, perhaps, murder not by robbers or gang members, but by the police. And another protest for protection from the police will naturally follow.

And so goes the vicious cycle.

But I was in Newark on Sunday, apparently the day after the murders. I went to the Liberation in Truth Church (a Unity Fellowship Church), a Black LGBT congregation based in a liberation theology. I had been wanting to visit them for some time as I am now spending a lot of time in New Jersey. Well I finally made it to their 1:30pm service. It is held in the St. Phillip’s Cathedral downtown (they are fundraising for their own space). The attendees were small in number, about 20 folks, mostly women. But it was a beautiful service, led by Assistant Pastor Rose Hardy. The group also welcomed me with open arms, and it reminded me of the best things about what a Black Christian experience can be like—truly at its roots about community and creating the context to transform the daily violence we endure as Black people–if not systemically, then at least on a personal level, and it seems as though they are trying to do both. I’ll be going back.

As I am writing this, I realized there is much more I want to say about Newark, so much more thinking about Newark that I need to do, and much more time I need to spend there. I think this is the beginning of a longer essay—so I can’t give too much away. But I will say that there is something about Newark—40 years after the riots, Sharpe James to Cory Booker , Sakia Gunn to the Newark 4 (or 7) that holds something in it for us as Black people to think through the question we seem to be asking with much more desperation: What the hell has happened to us?

The End of Reality: Kimora Lee Simmons’ Life in the Fab Lane

I was initially excited to see that Kimora Lee Simmons was going to have a reality show. I know. It sounds ludicrous. But I was. What black gay man wouldn’t be? As she said last night on the premiere episode of her new show on the Style Channel, Life in the Fab Lane. Simmons noted (something to the effect of) I need my make-up to be more drag queen-ish. Kimora loves the kids, and knows we’re watching, but I had to wonder last night, what are we watching for?

The show seems to be set up to show how the successful fashion model-turned fashion mogul balances the fab lane and her family—the mother of two daughters. The first episode was largely the now-cliché “get to know the characters” kind of episode that reality shows employ. The plot for this episode revolved around a new Kimora Barbie doll being produced, and a new ad campaign that Kimora was launching for Baby Phat, where she would star as the model for the campaign as well.

When Kimora goes to meet with the executives from Barbie about her doll, I do think it was kinda fierce that she read those white women about the reason they wouldn’t give the doll, which bears Simmons’ (Korean-Japanese and African-American) likeness, the name “Barbie” which she clearly knows they only give to the white dolls. The fact that she was comfortable asserting her opinion, and letting them know what she was up to, was fabulous. (I know Barbie is a totally sexist creation and don’t think they’re good for girls’ self-image, etc., but I am making a different point here.)

But while her ability to treat these Barbie company execs badly was totally fine, what I didn’t like (in the same breath) is how she also treated other people in general, which mostly had to do with her staff, of mostly Black and Latino women and gay men. At least she’s hired them (I guess). But when she demanded that her Black (presumably gay) assistant order her another salad with all the fixins in one dish and the lettuce in another (while she was already eating a salad) I began to have questions. Then when she and her Latino (presumably gay) creative director get into a fight about the budget and he, he starts blubbering something to the effect of the only reason I have stayed here is because of you.

OK. Does that relationship sound a little weird?

I don’t know. All this started making me feel a little ill about the “Celebrity” reality shows. Do we watch it just to see A-listers like Kimora be shitty to other people? Do we watch the D-listers like Danny Bonaduce to make fun of how far they’ve fallen so we feel better about ourselves? What are these weird paternalistic relationships that (presumably) straight women and gay men have with each other, from Kimora saying things to her staff like “Mama’s not happy” to Kathy Griffin referring to gay men as “her” gays? It’s all a little to “Truth or Dare” for my taste. What weird misogynist fantasies to gay men play out by their need to be accepted by certain types of hi-femme personalities—and are quick to dis women we view as un-attractive or with bad fashion faster than other women will?

I feel dirty all of a sudden. So I’ll stop blogging, and let you ponder this while I take a shower.

Want a different opinion? New York Magazine loved it.

Cameo’s ‘Word Up’: So Black and So Gay!

This is the gayest video in the history of humankind.

Really. It is. Wait till you see it.

If you’ve seen it before, maybe when you were a kid, well, look at it now, with fresh Black and gay eyes.

Cameo, that funk band from the 1970’s and 1980’s that had their biggest pop hit with Word Up (though my favorite is the follow-up single, Candy). Larry Blackmon, the frontman, became famous for wearing that bright-red plastic cup–on the outside of his lycra pants. Leather jacket. No shirt. Handle-bar mustache.

I’m just stating the facts, people.

If I were a PhD writing an academic essay on this video, it would be titled Cameo’s Word Up: An Audio/Visual Exlporation Interrogation of Black Gay Club Culture, Policing, and Desire.

Confused? Let me break it down.

So the video opens with actor Lavar Burton as a police detective, flanked by two tall, dark and handsome officers (nightsticks in hand!), telling the Cameo crew to “come out” with their hands up. And they do indeed “come out” and then do a dance sequence and flee the scene on motorbikes.

Verse two. Alone by themselves in some seedy location, they take on hip-hop, and it’s hypermasculine images (in 1986!)with Blackmon singing:

Now all you sucker D.J.’s
Who think you’re fly
There’s got to be a reason
And we know the reason why.

You try to put on your airs
And act real cool
But you got to realize
That you’re acting like fools…

Those of you who know me, know I fully support that sentiment. In 2007. I suported it then, too. I didn’t like “rap” until De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, and Queen Latifah (aka the Native Tongues) would hit a couple years later.

Now, the duo makes their way into the club, where the gayest dance sequence ever choreographed happens–and boy is it long. Look out! in bursts The Village People Lavar Burton (as detective) and his two officers. After cruising getting a good look around, Burton spots Blackmon and the boys doing some obscene crotch thrusting dance, and he says “Get those queens” to his officers. Only one of his officers gets taken in by the music and dancing and red cupped crotch thrusting, and takes of his clothes and fuckin’ queens out right there!!!

So now Burton whips out his handcuffs, and handcuffs himself to Blackmon , and makes his way to the bathroom stall exit, only to be duped, and hadcuffed to a woman. He’s miffed. The last shot is of Blackmon with two band members walking under a bridge somewhere, when Blackmon grabs the dude to his left, and they walk off, arm in arm.

Don’t believe me? See it for yourself…Cameo’sWord Up” is so Black and so gay!

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

Grace Jones ‘Slave To The Rhythm’: So Black and So Gay!

People are afriad of Grace Jones. In the 1980’s a men’s magazine polled American men about the woman they were most afraid of. Grace topped the list.

The fact that she was tall, dark-skinned black woman who didn’t take any shit was too much for most men to handle. The fact that she also played quite a bit with gender–when waving a wand of mascara was all that was needed to take her from butch masculine to hi-femme.

I loved Grace, and really came to know her work via my older sister, who was also a Grace fan. She pushed boundaries. She was bold, and exciting, and I was a shy skinny black boy from the projects trying to figure out my own body, in a world that said black men were supposed to be brawny. She offered a window into another option–taking the body that you have, and performing people’s worst nightmare–black person who is willing to hold it up to your face, all the images you dispise and are attracted to at the same time.

Grace’s performance not only pushed the visual boundaries of race and gender, she has also been a friend to the Black LGBT community. Not only did she spend alot of her time and energy performing at black gay clubs, including DJ Larry Levan’s legendary Paradise Garage. Her video, Slave to the Rhythm, is the epitome of her will to push the boundaries of race and gender and sexuality. I think this video, and Grace’s work in general has inspired the video work of Missy Elliot.

For her love of her black queer brethren, and her playfulness around race and gender and sex, Grace Jones and her video, Slave To The Rhythm (below), is so Black and So Gay!!!

NOTE: This is one version of the video. There are two. The other, which is the one I wanted to post, is owned by Universal Music Group, who for some unknown reason has blocked people from embedding the video, and you can only watch it on YouTube itself. Why in the hell would they do something like that? I HATE RECORD LABELS!!!!

FIRE!: Five Black LGBT Emerging Playwright Series Begins Tonight!

ftpfireeviteweb.jpgTonight, and every Wednesday and Thursday this month Freedom Train Productions will show a new play in development by emerging Black LGBT playwrights.

Freedom Train Productions promotes new work written by up-and-coming Black playwrights. All of our plays feature Black LGBT hero and shero characters. Our playwrights have had work staged at Fresh Fruit Festival, Blue Heron Theatre, HERE Arts Center, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, WOW Cafe Theatre, and other NYC theaters.

Freedom Train Productions was launched in September 2006 with the support of a NYC Social Justice Fellowship from NYU Wagner School of Public Service and the OSI Foundation.

In 2007, we selected five exciting theatre artists: Andrea Davis, Jesse Cameron Alick, Nick Mwaluko, yvonne fly onakeme etaghene & Andre Lancaster to be our first Resident Playwrights in Development. All will be in a play development workshop facilitated by Djola Branner and Zina Camblin starting in April 2007. Their work will be presented as stage reading productions in August 2007.

Opening Night: August 1st!
Hosted by Djola Branner
Professor and Playwright (Mighty Real: Tribute to Sylvester)

And Every Following Wednesday and Thursday in August 2007
8/1, 8/2, 8/8, 8/9, 8/15, 8/16, 8/22, 8/23, 8/29, and 8/30

@ South Oxford Space
138 South Oxford Street in Brooklyn
All Stage Readings are free and begin at 7pm.

Opening Night, August 1st & August 2nd:
Are Women Human?
by Nick Mwaluko
Director: Alicia Dhyana House
What if as a child you were told by a deity that you were meant to be the opposite sex? Could you be courageous for your god or goddess in the face of intolerance? Are Women Human? by Nick Mwaluko (Columbia MFA) is a play about one person’s struggle for acceptance and love.

August 8 – 9th:
by Andre Lancaster
Director: Christopher Burris

Meet Shannon Tubbs Jr: activist, filmmaker, and professional cynic. Dumped by his boyfriend and jumped by a homophobic attacker, in Andre Lancaster’s Super, ancestral forces help Shannon re-discover the superhero and superlover, arguably, within us all.

August 15 – 16th:
Steal Away
by Andrea E. Davis
Director: C. Sala Hewitt
In Steal Away, Romi is a young Black woman who lives in the Underground, a community founded by runaway enslaved peoples. But after she comes out, Romi confronts this society’s sexism, homophobia, and stubborn sense of liberation.

August 22 – 23rd:
by yvonne fly onakeme etaghene
Director: Gloria Bigelow

If compassion became a contagious disease, what would it look like? Poet, performance activist & playwright yvonne fly onakeme etaghene answers this question in a play that is a poetic exploration of humanity in a brutally apathetic world. These characters delve to the depths of love, activism & madness, and must face their fears to survive & thrive: com/passionately.

August 29 – 30th:
by Jesse Cameron Alick
Director: Andrew K. Russell
Remember that guy who you swore was gay but turned out to be metrosexual? Or what about that best friend you always wanted to date? According to the world of Grace, you were lovers – in a past life! Playwright Jesse Alick calls Grace a remix of Judeo-Christian beliefs with Buddhist tradition weaved into a story about how some things in life are beyond our control. Freedom Train Productions calls Grace genius.

Freedom Train Productions is a member of The Alliance of Resident Theatres of New York.

Prince’s ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’: So Black and So Gay!

So Monday I gave you Ciara’s “Like A Boy.” Yesterday was Donnie’s “If I Were You.” Today’s video in the “So Black and So Gay” series is Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”

Warning: This video pushes the queer-o-meter into the danger zone! In fact, it’s so gay, I am gonna post a performance Prince did of this song, and the actual video that was cut. I remember when this song came out–I was about 4 or 5 years old–and people thought it was a woman. But I remember seeing the album cover at my uncle’s house, and he’s naked riding a white pegasus horse on the back, and I remember thinking, “Wow. He’s Puuuuurrrrty!”

It was from self-titled Prince’s second album, and it was the song that really put him on the map. He’s only about 20, and in the “live” performance (though clearly lipsynched) he is wearing purple satin shorts with purple leggings. No shirt. Rubbing up against so-Black and so-gay (looking) guitarist Dez Dickerson.

In the official video, Prince is rocking the feathered flip-do, a leopard-print unitard and stretch pants.

Prince is so hot. And regardless of how he actually gets down (my thinly veiled attempt to prevent a lawsuit), he’s always given us a visual culture that is, without a doubt, so Black and so gay!