Waiting for A New Am-Erykah

Erykah Badu is a force unto her own. Though not an artist that puts out records every year, she continues to show that she’s pushing soul, hip-hop and R&B in new and interesting directions. Like her or not, you have to admit she never bores.

It seems as though she’s on a mission. She has said with her new album, New Amerykah, due out on February 26th, she’s out to save the soul of hip-hop. In fact, her website notes the release date is “Savior’s Day: Freeing the Slaves and the Slave Masters.” Saviors’s Day is a holiday for members of the Nation of Islam.

Her first single, Honey, is about being in love with someone who’s somewhat hard to pin down, perhaps a philanderer. She never asks the lover, named Slim, to be monogamous, but to simply get with her and “stick your pinky finger in my tea.”

What’s more interesting is the video, which follows Badu around a small (indy) record store, while she picks up LPs. The albums are all versions of Badu posing as many famous hip-hop and soul records (Soul Bounce.com did a break down of the classic LP’s she’s parodying. To see them, click here.).

The video is not only a nostalgic look at the experience of going to the record store and buying LPs (as opposed to sitting at your laptop and downloading iTunes singles), but also a commentary on commercialism and the loss of community space. I can hardly wait two weeks for A New Amerykah.

The Black Press Problem

Johnson Publications, the irrelevant venerable old institution that brings Ebony and Jet magazines to Black beauty/barbershops and grand mama’s coffee tables all over the country, is laying off a bunch of people.

I guess I feel bad for most people losing a gig, but Black people really need to ask ourselves–is Ebony or Jet worth saving?

I hate to be the one to say it. But it’s 2007. These publications still look like 1974. Why in the hell do we still have a “Beauty of the Week” in Jet magazine? It’s foolish. Most of the articles read like rehashed press releases. I know they don’t have a big budget, but they could do better. The Beauty of the Week, the Bourgie Black Society/Wedding page, and the Top Songs/Albums of the week just have to go.

Ebony has made some slight improvements since they got a new editor in chief last year, but it’s still full of corny articles about Black celebrities and has had some really problematic articles on issues they’ve tried to take on, like HIV/AIDS. They’ve improved the website, EbonyJet.com, which looks great and has decent writers & content, but it needs to be better promoted. They said to Richard Prince at Journal-isms that they plan to invest their dollars (saved in the print employee layoffs) in improving upon their web presence. Here’s to that!

The Black press grew out of a need to not only cover news in the Black community, but also to show the Black community in a positive light. But now, we only have fluff and no news–at least not reported or written well half the time. The short-lived Emerge magazine was probably the best news magazine to come up in a long time, but it was killed in 2000 after seven years in publication.

The black weeklies are usually a mess. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

Alternatives? There’s Black Commentator and Black Agenda Report. Both of which I used to read regularly, but they could really use a skillful web designer to make them more appealing and easy to read.

Also, The Washington Post (sensing this dearth) has just launched The Root.com–an online publication targeting African-Americans. Keith Boykin is the new Editor in Chief of The Daily Voice. As much as I’d like to write for a Black publication, I am rarely asked to do so–or am ignored when I do pitch them. Usually I am too radical for the Black gays, and too gay for the Black radicals.

Can we get a progressive Black left publication (online or print) that is well written, comprehensive in scope, and looks hot? Am I asking too much?

The Original “Yes We Can (Can)”

The web is abuzz (guilty as charged) with the will.i.am dedication to Obama. But I wanted to show you the original Yes We Can Can! The Pointer Sisters recorded this Allen Toussaint song in 1973, and represented a political optimism that was mostly gone in the Black community by this point in the 1970s.

For you skeptics, who think, as my friend Donald said, the Pointer Sisters began with “I’m So Excited”–think again! Watch the clip. No group since has touched their harmony, and moved so easily from soul and funk, to pop, jazz and country as the Pointer Sisters did throughout their career.

Obama #3: He’s Right On Healthcare

This morning I watched Obama on CNN talk about his health care plan as opposed to Clinton’s. They’re plans are very similar with one difference that Clinton’s camp is trying to exploit. Her plan requires everyone to get health insurance. His plan will provide access to health care for all, but would not mandate it.

So Hillary Clinton, because of her real expertise on the issue is being talked about in the press as having the upperhand. But no one has taken seriously Obama’s concerns about a health care mandate–enforcing a healthcare mandate when you haven’t made it affordable enough will do more harm than good.

Though Clinton says she would work to lower overall costs to make healthcare affordable, her plan would then fine people for not having it, or garnish people’s wages to ensure it. So, you fine me, garnish my wages so I may lose money to buy food or pay rent–how am I helped by that? Wouldn’t that ruin my overall health outcomes? And would you have more people dodging the healthcare system, and only showing up to emergency room when they are in the most dire of situations? Wouldn’t that drive costs higher in the end?

I think her plan, in all seriousness shows the intelligence of a policy wonk–brilliant in it’s scope, but falls short in terms of practicality for many poor and working class people.

Obama’s plan would give people universal access–would drive costs down, ensure all children, but wouldn’t force people into getting it. He has said that he thinks most people who don’t have health insurance don’t have it not because they don’t want it, but because its not affordable. In the last Democratic debate, he knows the mandate would create potentially more damaging public health outcomes than it would improve, especially for people who make too much for Medicaid but not enough to pay for their own out of pocket.

NY Times columnist Paul Krugman has repeatedly slammed Obama’s plan in his columm, most recently yesterday. But the reality is, Clinton’s plan won’t cover everyone either. The best critique of Krugman, and the naysayers of Obama’s plan I’ve read is from a health policy blog called the Sentinel Effect. The blog interviews Obama health policy advisor David Cutler in December, and here’s his take (Cutler is in quotations, Interviewer in italics):

Then the devil is in the details, isn’t it? What would premiums costs? Who would get a subsidy, and for how much? Nobody is debating these issues with any specificity, and yet that’s where – arguably – the real debate should take place.

“That’s why we’re suggesting that we lower costs first. Otherwise, you’re saying you want to force people to buy something, but we don’t know how much it will cost or what you’ll get in return.”

There’s been talk that a consensus is forming among policy analysts that 10% of income is the right number for total out-of-pocket health costs, including premiums, copays, and deductibles. But that’s a very high number for lots of people.

“Well, healthcare is 16% of the GDP now. Some of that cost is being borne through taxes already. So it depends what you want to count.”

But 10% for whom? $4,000 for a family of four with income of $40,000 is a devastating figure. Whereas there are probably very few people in the top 2% of income who spend 10% on healthcare.

“That’s where the subsidy debate comes in, and is another reason to address the cost issue first.”

The reality is, in order to have “universal health care” you’d hae to get rid of the insurance companies–or severely limit their role to one of simply administration. But why would you need them in a single payer system? The government would just pay the providers directly. Since the insurance companies aren’t going anywhere if they can help it, they best thing to do is to drastically lower costs and make it affordable and accessible for people to get. t

Obama #2: Oprah and will.i.am Out for Obama

The star power behind Obama’s campaign is almost dizzying. From the Kennedy’s–Ted, Caroline, and Maria Shriver, to Oprah and Black Eyed Peas lead will.i.am have been campaigning in different ways for the candidate. Will.i.am produced this song and video with the help of a whole bunch o’stars for Obama that’s been circulating the net the last few days (thanks for sending it my way Aishah!). Most impressive is will.i.am saying he did this without prodding from the Obama camp, and made this all happen in 48 hours.

And then there’s Oprah, who first spoke on behalf of Obama in December in South Carolina. But she delivered an incredible speech this weekend at UCLA. Agree with the contents of her speech, Oprah is one hell of a public speaker.

Obama Series #1: Exploring The Barack Obama Movement

I don’t think I have ever seen anything like the movement to elect Barack Obama. Like it or not, like him or not, he has touched something in people unlike anything I have ever seen in the American political landscape. People simply go crazy at his rallies it seems, and the energy is palpable through the telly or online, and I haven’t even seen him in person.

Now I am clear that part of the attraction is his charm and good looks. I mean, I wasn’t really following him until I saw him about a year ago on Oprah, and I found myself swooning from my living room sofa. I think if he were unattractive the “energy” around him, sapped of that sexuality, would we be so caught up?

Also I am aware that a lot of his efforts to “de-racialize” his campaign has given a lot of white people (liberals and conservatives alike) the idea that electing him would put to bed issues of systemic anti-black racism in our society so “we can all just get along,” and get on with it. They are sick of feeling guilty and are really hostile to Black people, and may in some ways see him as a way of shutting down Black political concerns around racial justice (To be fair, I heard Barack say recently that just because he decided to run a campaign that didn’t focus on his race as a candidate did not mean that the issues facing America did not have institutionalized racism at their very core.). It is this issue that I think unnerves alot of Black folks about his campaign.

But I think that it is not only whites (or I guess I should say, non-blacks) who want to stop talking about racism, I think that many black people are tired of talking about racism too–and I think this is a particularly new phenomenon we will need to grapple with. We know that Black conservatives are on that tip–Ward Connerly and the like–but that’s not who I am talking about. I think a lot of masses of Black people want to get beyond the conversation of race too. This is complicated, but I think it makes sense, whether I agree or not.

First, I think that many Black people may feel somewhere, that organizing our political issues squarely around race has failed. Nevermind the reasons why, but given the conditions the Black community currently faces, many people may feel it simply has not worked. Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, as Cathy Cohen, Angela Davis and Tommie Shelby have pointed out, the black community has not been able to successfully mass-mobilize around causes because they mostly affect particular aspects of the community we have never really organized to protect specifically–women, queers, poor people, youth, etc.

Secondly, I think being the most segregated and marginalized of all groups has meant that the community is not really in any position to organize solely on the basis of race. And I think a lot of Black people–because of our particular social/political isolation–want to feel apart of something beyond their race, whether it’s really possible or not–the desire is there. We also have to admit that we had help (albeit often problematic) during the Civil Rights Era, and other communities just don’t seem very interested in racial solidarity with Black issues as a whole. Black folks are well aware racism still exists, but what does it mean when we feel so marginalized from each other that Blackness may not be the place to organize from around most issues adversely impacting Black people? We can get on board with nooses around a tree in the South, but we can’t when we gotta talk HIV/AIDS–cuz it affects queers and women and poor people who don’t make good “innocent victim” types for bullet-proof campaigns.

These of course, aren’t the only reasons Black people are supporting Obama, but I think that there are some things at work more than just supporting him because he’s Black. Consider that it took a big Iowa win (a state with a 4% Black population) for Black support for him to turn in the polls in his favor over Clinton. It reflects a new cynicism that Blacks folks didn’t feel comfortable supporting him until they new he stood a chance at winning. We, as a whole, have never been that invested in supporting our own just because they could win before. To be sure, the more he campaigned, the more people got to get a better sense of him, since he is fairly new to the national stage. But sometimes we supported other Black people out of sheer spite–even when we knew that the Black person was DEAD WRONG! (Does the name R. Kelly ring a bell? Marion Barry? Sharpe James? I could go on…).

So here comes Barack Obama — representing in different ways, the hopes of people to move beyond divisive politics, be it along racial lines, political lines, etc.–and interests that are sometimes conflicting. He is, in that way, like Regan–different groups get different messages all from the same messenger. And tomorrow, Super Tuesday, people will begin to cast their vote for that sense of longing–either for the politics of yesteryear in Hillary Clinton or the longong for something new in the promise of Barack Obama (although some would argue that the first woman President would also be a promise of something new, but I think that narrative is harder for Clinton to claim because people feel as though they know her so well after being such a public figure for the last 15 years). He is capturing something that people, albeit for very different reasons, want–to belong and feel that they are apart of something. American culture not only has become politically polarized, but even more psychically alienating, and the longing to be included is something that he rightly recognizes and is pursuing as his brand, and it is this that many people have on their hearts as they go to vote.

The Left has paid far too little attention to this aspect of life, by trying to win on “issues” and trying to connect those issues to people’s sense of longing–as my friend Suzanne Pharr has been discussing in recent years. So, to those who do not like Obama, and feels he is promoting a shallow and hollow rhetoric, that’s fine. But understand, people just don’t vote their economic interest, as time immemorial has proven. The Left has a big job ahead–figuring out how to transform, curtail or destroy American (western or white supremacist) domination is going to necessarily require a different engagement in the emotional alienation that people feel, and working to transform that.

With this framework in mind, I’ll be bringing a couple other thoughts about his candidacy this week.

Boondocks Takes on BET

Remember just a few short weeks ago I said that Hillary Clinton’s campaign made a huge mistake to have choice of BET founder Bob Johnson stumping for her to the Black community? You don’t? Well here’s what I brilliantly predicted:

Bob Johnson, founder of BET had the unmitigated gall to stand up in front of a crowd and act as the authority on Black people, and defend Clinton’s record with Black people…As black as the Clintons think they are, they are white enought to not realize how many Black people actually despise Bob Johnson. Many of us blame him for cutting BET news programming (and firing Tavis Smiley), and turning the channel into a video channel replete with images of violent black masculinites, hypersexualized black women, with a hefy dash of homophobia. In fact, THE SAME NIGHT he made these comments, Black folks were protesting outside the taping of a BET Awards show in DC.

Not only were they protesting. Thet were actually organizing hunger strikes! Well, at least lil Huey from The Boodocks was. The rumor has it that BET has used its might to keep this episode from airing.