Friday, May 20, 2016

Can you get to this?

Me on a Friday.


This is actually from the promo video for Funkadelic's Cosmic Slop. Peep.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Teardrops

What would happen if the daughter of Sam Cooke and the brother of Bobby Womack made a song together? This. Actually, Womack and Womack had a bunch of successful cuts. Just ignore me if you already knew all that, but do yourself a favor and put this song in your day. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Healing Power of Gratitude

To a three-year-old, there is nothing better than bubbles in the park. My daughter, Lucy, and I were at the playground last Spring, when our friend Jenn and her son, Jackson, came through with the ultimate party-starter: a bubble wand. Jenn waved the wand and filled the air with shiny, watery globes that wobbled along in the warm breeze. Even though Lucy’s a big girl who can swim and play piano and write her numbers, seeing her shrieking and giggling and running after bubbles was a good reminder that she’s still my baby.

But then disaster struck: Jenn’s wand ran dry. As the last bubble popped, Lucy’s smile faded and her shoulders hunched. She stomped over to me and looked like she was going to cry. I asked was she okay and she somberly reported that the bubbles were gone. I gave her a consoling pat on the shoulder, but asked if she’d thanked Jenn for bringing bubbles in the first place. My daughter looked at me like I was insane and her frown deepened. I told Lucy to go thank Jenn. She moped, but walked over and said thank you.

“You’re welcome,” Jenn said, with a smile.

Lucy’s face brightened. A bit later she was running around with Jackson, giggling like the bubbles never left.

That moment taught me the healing power of gratitude. Being grateful is not about having good manners or just being nice, it’s about making yourself whole. My daughter’s sadness wasn’t simply about bubbles. The pain of her need had lead her to feel anger and alienation toward someone who had shown her kindness. Not only had she lost the bubbles, she had lost the connection. The pain wasn’t released until she recognized the kindness, which strengthened her connection and helped her release her need. After she gave thanks, she could feel close, feel loved again.

A child without gratitude is a child in torment. Always wanting, never being able to appreciate the gift of the present moment. In the same way, joy is only possible when we show gratitude to those that help us, even in small ways. Bombarded in our daily lives by guilt, shame, and fear, witnessing and testifying about the kindness and blessings we receive takes hard, heart work. But our connection to other people, to ourselves, and even to God, depends on our ability to give thanks. All of us deserve to realize how much we should be thankful for. All of us.

Friday, September 4, 2015

What we talk about when we talk about Yo White Daddy...

Yo Daddy is so White, that all his slave ships were zero emission.

Okay, so in the past year or so, I've been tormented by a stream of White Daddy jokes. I'm not sure exactly where it came from, but I was always really fascinated and horrified by the specific genre of Mama joke that has to do with Blackness. You know: "Your mama so black she...followed by something hella racist about her blackness." If you need a reference, Google it.

Anyway, I started tweeting them to my friend Ross and we went back and forth with it. But then I couldn't stop because they kept coming to me. And I tried to tweet a few out, but it was around the time I was looking for a job and that didn't seem to be helping things, and plus it didn't seem like people really got them. Maybe they still won't; I don't know. In some ways I don't really get them.

But hopefully people get that a good Yo Daddy So White joke has nothing to do with actual skin color, but the color of a certain type of perception, a white supremacist perception. A perception that actual White people don't even have a monopoly on. A perception that dictates so much of our inner discourse, whatever your race.

The homie, Rion Amilcar Scott, published them on Queensmob, so check them out now before I have to issue my public apology and go into a racism treatment program.  

Friday, July 31, 2015

Cecil the Lion: No Angel


Haven't you had enough of these people getting all weepy-eyed for Cecil the Lion? Do you see any gazelles getting misty? Everybody's acting like this is some big loss. He had so much potential. He was getting good grades. He said he was gone buy his mama a house one day. Pfft.

Seems like every lion that gets shot these days was getting straight As in school. But let's stop being PC and admit that all it takes to make the honor roll in these safari schools is to take bullets and be on the news. Cecil was eligible for a 2Pac Pell Grant. Big deal. And so what he was headed to college. Community college doesn't count.

I had my suspicions, but I was ready to keep an open mind until I did a little digging and found his Instagram feed. Below are some of the disturbing images I captured before his account was taken down. Please spread the word about the brave White American man who had the bravery to fly half way around the world to make us safe from this super-predator.








And even if these images are not enough to encourage you to change your mind about the hunting, not killing, of that dangerous lion, please support Walter Palmer as he fights extradition to Zimbabwe. Do you know what they do to White people in Zimbabwe? Can you even imagine? We can't have brave White American Men called to account in racist countries that have not received the Light of Freedom.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Innocent Poetry

There I was, one morning trying to find the perfect poem to get my students to understand what I meant when I said that their poems were innocent and that they didn't need to mash them into pulp with all of their learned judgments. And then I found this amazing piece by Linda Hogan:

Innocence

BY LINDA HOGAN
There is nothing more innocent
than the still-unformed creature I find beneath soil,
neither of us knowing what it will become
in the abundance of the planet.
It makes a living only by remaining still
in its niche.
One day it may struggle out of its tender
pearl of blind skin
with a wing or with vision
leaving behind the transparent.

I cover it again, keep laboring,
hands in earth, myself a singular body.
Watching things grow,
wondering how
a cut blade of grass knows
how to turn sharp again at the end.

This same growing must be myself,
not aware yet of what I will become
in my own fullness
inside this simple flesh.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Innocence and Revision: The Life of Aaron Rushing


I've been thinking a lot lately about a student of mine, Aaron Rushing, who was a talented writer and guitarist killed in May of last year. The anniversary of his death passed just a bit ago and I wrote something for Gawker. You should check it out. The Chicago Tribune Jazz critic Howard Reich put together a really powerful piece about his life. Below is a video that accompanied the Tribune piece.



Thursday, June 4, 2015

Open up the door

Give me schools
and give me better books, 
so I can read
about myself
and gain my true looks

Thursday, May 28, 2015

You need Death in your life...

If you haven't heard the proto-punk band Death from Detroit, you need to remedy that. If you haven't seen the excellent documentary about these brothers, A Band Called Death, you also need to handle that as well (it's on Netflix). 


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Naming Innocence

Written before the birth of my son Benjamin:

I am the father of a yet unborn son. I see him squirming around in his mama's stomach, and I imagine that he's ready to be in this world. But there is this business of birth and this business of a name. The birth, I'm pretty much an awed witness of, but the name I can help out with. As a man, I know how powerful your name can be to the people you encounter, and how you encounter yourself. 

My name, Abdel, is actually a bit strange. Not in the way that I'm usually prepared for it to be strange, like when I met people in Minnesota and they thought my name was Ed or Bill. Confused white folks thinking I'm strange, Nothing really new there. Or strange like when I served in an Americorps program in the Baltimore public schools, and I introduced myself to a school volunteer, a black woman who could have been my grandma, and she spit my name back at me like a piece of rotten cheese. What is that, foreign? she said. (Luckily, I wasn't a girl because I've been told I would have been Assata and ended up on terrorist no-fly list.) I didn't know how strange it was until I started writing news stories about the Somali community in Minneapolis. My name actually made people smile, for maybe the first time. Abdelshakur. Abdelshakur. Abdelshakur. One day somebody took me aside and let me know how rare (strange) it was to have just Abdel as a first name. "Abdel" is something like servant, or slave, of God, and the second part would be an attribute of God. Shakur means the most thankful. My name says I am the servant of a thankful God. Sounds about right. I had kind of a fuzzy perception about the meaning of the name, but connecting with these Africans made me feel more at home in Minnesota, of all places. My parents didn't know it, but they had given me an entry point into a whole other culture. A whole other experience. A name does that.

So, naming a son is no small task. It bears a heavier burden than naming a girl. The possibilities are much greater. You can name her Amy or Diamond or Tulip or Faith or Apple or Blue Ivy. Guys are Greg or Paul or Marcus or James. If you get too creative with Black male names, you're likely going to cost them a job (or worse) somewhere down the line. Outside of professional football, I can't think of too many career fields where having a name like Barkevious Mingo wouldn't hold you back.

And that's the real issue. With this son, we want to give him entree into a world beyond just what goes on in our neighborhood or city or nation. But it's far too easy for black boys to lose their innocence. Or at least to have their innocence unrecognized and then taken from them. And really, what else do we have if we do not have our innocence? What name do you give a Black boy to give him an entry point into a world that recognizes him for who he is, not what history says he should become?

Really, I don't know that I have an answer. We decided on Benjamin, but if you need a nickname, just call him Loved.