“Yes, I’m Black (And I Write For EBONY). No, I Don’t Want To Talk To You About Race”

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***The Champ’s latest at EBONY discusses why he’s not always interested in having race-related conversations with White people***

As soon as Mike learned I co-founded a website called VerySmartBrothas.com, work for EBONY.com, and frequently write about race and culture, his eyes lit up, and a strange look formed over his face. For Black people who do what I do and happen to find themselves at bars with conservative but “well-intentioned” White people who find out what you do and don’t interact with Black people that often, that look is unmistakable.

“Oh sh*t! A smart Black person! I can finally unleash all these thoughts about Obama, crime, Trayvon, democrats, MSNBC, “the Black community,” Don Lemon, and Al Sharpton! Let me buy him a round, and let’s talk about race!”

I obliged. We spoke about racism and the fallout from the Zimmerman verdict. Although I had to correct his “facts” a couple times, it was a good conversation. Actually, calling it a “good conversation” would be underselling it. Even while we were talking, I recognized how rare it is to have two people from opposite sides of the political spectrum sitting down, having a beer, and just sharing what’s on their minds. (An actual, completely organic Beer Summit!)

Yet, after 10 minutes or so, I took a gap in the conversation do to the “Well, it was nice meeting you.” thing people do when they want to end conversations, and started talking to other people. A couple minutes later, he came over and apologized, obviously thinking I left because he offended me in some way. I told him not to worry about it, and he walked away, still bothered.

What Mike failed to realize was that just because this was his rare opportunity to talk to a “smart” Black guy about those touchy race-related subjects doesn’t mean that smart Black guy actually wants to have the conversation right then and there.

Yes, I am very interested and invested in race, racism, and the effect bias has on our behavior and our culture. It literally fascinates me. Yes, I talk about those subjects frequently, and write about them even more frequently. And yes, I recognized the importance of Black and White people actually speaking to each other about this stuff instead of shouting at.

But, I came to that bar to drink, laugh, and talk about basketball, BBQ burger recipes, and the bartender’s ass…not George f*cking Zimmerman.

Read more at EBONY.com

Everybody’s Gotta Be Somebody To Black Folks

I ain't saying its not a real title. But if a ninja told you he was a penguinologist, would you believe him?

I ain’t saying its not a real title. But if a ninja told you he was a penguinologist, would you believe him?

First off, this isn’t Champ. It’s Panama. The other guy. Champ tossed back too many Shirley Temples and bottles of O’Douls after his non-pr0n “Digital Penetration” panel at SXSW and ended up hungover. So, you’ve got me today. Suck it up.

Be that as it may, I came across something interesting today. And it got me going in circles….around we go. I came across a notice for a 3-year church anniversary for a pastor in the DC area. The 3-year anniversary announcement was being sent out on behalf of the pastor…

…and his First Gentleman of the church. I found it interesting that this pastor was married to a man despite being a pastor of a church in a denomination that is steadfastly anti-gay. But what jumped out to me most was that…well, we really love us some titles in the Black community. And I wonder if other communities are as hung up on titles and status indicators? Mostly because I actually have no effin’ clue.

Like, the whole concept of the church “first lady” (or gentleman in this case), do white churches even do that? I was told and thought everybody was just “Sister” like, go ask Sister Gertrude. But it doesn’t even end there. Black folks we just love titles. If we start an LLC where there is literally one employee, we can’t just be the owner. Naw. We’re the owner, founder, CEO, COO, CFO, HNIC, and ABC123. I know people – seriously, I literally know more than one person – who list their degrees on their voicemail greeting. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. Those titles mean something to them.

And me too. When I hear and see those titles I generally want to kick squirrels and light lemurs on fire. Mostly because I don’t get too caught up in titles. Or do I? I don’t even know anymore. I’m a The Black so I’m sure that deep down I care but my rebellious natures keeps me from caring. Hell, if I was a pastor, I’d attempt to eschew that whole “First Lady” stuff since in my mind, there is only one actual First Lady. Right now her last name is Obama.

Being as I live in Washington, DC, aka The Bougie Pretentious Ninja Capital of The World, I see the “I’m a somebody” status indicators a hundred, thousand, trillion. Folks who make $18,000/year still manage to curry some sort of favor and influence by virtue of who they are in such and such’s office or where they went to school with such and such. Everybody has a title and everybody without one is trying to become somebody with one. Everybody needs to know somebody so that they can be somebody by osmosis. Not that there’s anything wrong with this lifestyle, and I’m fairly sure that’s common across upper echelon societies of the world.

Except we practice this in the lower echelon communities in the Black community. Ninjas with nothing but a dime and a nickel still outchea trying to claim to be somebody of note. Or at least that’s my perception. Or better yet, my interpretation, of the situation. Hell, why ELSE would a ninja have the audacity to not only be named the First Gentleman of a church, but be proud of such a moniker. No shots, as I don’t doubt the love and am happy for them. But there’s just something odd about that title. But its a title nonetheless. And it’s one that says, “I’m somebody around these parts. Recognize me; kids memorize me.”

Maybe that’s normal. I know as humans we all want recognition for what we do. So having folks know who we are matters. But is that only gained thru titular means?

Titular is totally not pr0n. But it should be.

And again, does this all go down in other communities at all class levels?? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Oh yeah, and I’m sure it’s all due to slavery. Mmhmm.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. SOMEBODY THAT YOU USED TO KNOW, BUT SOMEBODY NONETHELESS aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

 

 

Hey, Come Back Here With My Magical Negro!

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Now, if I die die, if I die…remember me….ballin’.

But if get the chance to come back reincarnated as something other than a boulder, I’d like to be a magical negro. What is a magical negro you say?

You know what a magical negro is. He (or she, though mostly it’s a he) is the Black gentleperson who shows up to help the white protagonist overcome his demons and rise to the greatness within….then he usually dies, disappears, or becomes Uncle Ruckus.

Zip-a-dee-do-da, zip-a-dee-day, my oh my, what a wonderful day. <;---- Uncle Remus, magical Negro extraordinaire.

Now, contrary to what you may think, I'm a big fan of the magical Negro oeuvre.

(You like that right? How I used oeuvre? All scholarly and sh*t. It was almost magical. RUH-ROH!)

See, I've always felt that The Blacks were a pretty insightful bunch, often being the spirit and soul of a country or the people. Hell, we have soul music. In fact, have you seen Beats, Rhymes, and Life, the documentary about A Tribe Called Quest? Q-Tip called Jarobi the spirit of ATCQ. Black folks...we just like that We are the pulse. We're the funk in your left thigh, trying to become the groove in your right. All that jazz. We're jazz. We're even Jazz being thrown out of the house.

So it stands to reason that if there are a bunch of white people around, that a ninja would show up, drop a cliche about life, the white people have moments of clarity, then the ninja disappears into the water even though we don't swim. In fact, that's my favorite part about magical negroness: the fade out we do. I tried that sh*t in real life. It didn't work so well. Apparently peopel could still see me for like 20 minutes after I started walking away...that's a long time to watch somebody make an exit. It loses its punch after like 20 seconds.

Anyway, since I loves me a good magical negro (I wish they sold them in stores!...actually I'll bet white people which they sold them in stores), here are a few of my favorite magical negroes.

Sidenote: Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I'm the magical negro for one of my coworkers. I can't tell you how many times he comes to me for guidance and asks me questions about life. He's also at least 25 years older that me. So maybe I've already gotten my wish, I just didn't realize it because, well I've yet to disappear on him. I'M WHITE, it'll get done! No I'm not. So it won't. Dammit.

1. Bagger Vance

The Legend of Bagger Vance is a great terrible movie. Not that I could see him playing the role anyway, but rumors that Will turned down DJango because of the racism have to be unfounded considering how much shucking and jiving he did as Bagger, who magically(!) showed up out of nowhere and not a soul questioned it at all. He was annoying but special and a total whiz on the golf course. He helped Captain Randolph Junuh overcome his demons and storm back from 12-under (!) against the two best golfers in the world. IN ONE ROUND. On a course where the other two golfers – the two best golfers in the world – can’t break par. As far as magical negroes, go…Bagger is a first ballot hall of famer JUST because of that.

2. John Coffey

The Green Mile is ALSO a great terrible movie. Hmmm, there’s a theme here. I know it’s Stephen King, but still. John Coffey might be the ultimate magical negro in that he “takes it back” and then sends it into the ethos with little flying things that disappear. He took a man’s urinary tract infection and gave his wife back some of that good lovin’. He took “the cancer” from another woman. The only thing he couldn’t take back was death. And he was electrocuted for it even though he didn’t do it. (He was accused of killing two (?) little white girls). Real spit, John Coffey – like the drink, only not spelled the same – might have been the sweetest, nicest giant of a man ever. And I can’t front, when they eletrocuted him, I almost cried. Hell, the prison guards all did. One of the best quotes ever in a great terrible movie, Paul: “On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That it was my job? My job?” John Coffey: “You tell God the Father it was a kindness you done. I know you hurtin’ and worryin’, I can feel it on you, but you oughta quit on it now. Because I want it over and done. I do. I’m tired, boss. Tired of bein’ on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. Tired of not ever having me a buddy to be with, or tell me where we’s coming from or going to, or why. Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time. Can you understand?”

3. Rafiki

Five words: “Correction…I know your fatha!”

4. Bubba

I’m not sure if Bubba from Forrest Gump qualifies, but he was a simple, sweet, caring, enterprising, young ninja who knew everything there was to know about shrimping and helped Forrest learn it all too. They were a perfect match with Bubba being just boring enough that you likely didn’t cry when he died. Forrest couldn’t save his magical negro, but he did save others trying to and he got the Congressional Medal of Honor. Bubba made Forrest better though I’m sure that’s not who Fab and Ne-yo were talking about in their smash single.

5. Chubbs

That damn gator took his hand and then his life at the end of the day…hmmm, what is it about magical negroes and golf? The movie, Happy Gilmore. The magic? Well, Chubbs turned Happy into the man who could get his grandma’s house back. Wallah, magic.

Those are my favorite magical Negroes? You got any?

Talk to me. Petey.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. WALLAH, MAGIC aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

So What Exactly Is “Black Love”?

Yesterday I wrote a post about Barack and Michelle and their love shining bright. They let their souls glo…and shine through. It’s a beautiful thing.

Well in the course of writing that post, I mentioned the term “Black love” quite a few times and began to ask myself what that actually meant. Now, for the purposes of most conversations in the community, saying Black love usually doesn’t require a definition. It’s like pr0n, it might be hard to define but folks know it when they see it. There’s never really been a need to place any boundaries or limits on the term. Conversely, I don’t think most of us really think about how deep the idea is in and of itself.

The concept of Black anything has always been an interesting. I’m no expert on any other culture and I’m sure I’ll be corrected on this, but Blackness is one of the few areas of most of us colored lives that gets questioned constantly. Not being Black enough is a real shot at somebody’s character. And it usually means that you’re attempting to be white. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If that’s who you are then that’s who you are. But nobody every says, you’re being too Latino or Chinese to a Black person. Naw, you’re just not Black enough. Does that happen to Latinos, Asians, etc? Are super proper speaking Asian kids sellouts? I doubt it.

Point is, Blackness is complicated and always will be. So the concept of Black love can’t be simple right?

If two Black people are dating or married and in love, does that, by default constitute Black love? Is seeing a woman pick up her son and give him a kiss on the cheek…is that Black love? Or two good friends doing the Black man handshake-hug combo that I’ve seen so many other ethnicities f*ck up with tremendous aplomb.

Seriously, why is that sh*t so difficult. I’m not saying that we, The Blacks, are just more dexterous and athletic than everybody else, but we definitely have coordination on lock. You know what, we’re more athletic too. It takes a real athlete to do some of these handshakes we do. In high school, me and two of my best friends had a 15-step handshake. It was as ridiculous as it sounds. I promise.

Is that Black love? I mean the dedication and loyalty we exacted in order to efficiently bust out that handshake? We were committed to one another because who the hell else would we be able to do that? That’s got to be it right?

In truth, I think the entire concept of Black love is just that…a concept. Its those horrendously cliche ass pictures that you see being sold in mall kiosks with some naked, rippled Black man holding some naked nubian black woman with their bodies intertwined. While I’d never ever put that type of picture up in my house – my tastes are a bit more discerning than that – I get why they exist. Black love is the ideal of unity and togetherness. It’s this ideal of strength shared between two people attempting to reach a common goal…

…which would explain why we care so much about the idea since, community wise, we have some serious issues with each one of those principles. That explains why seeing Barack and Michelle is an example because they look like they represent all of those things as a unit.

Hell, they’re a unit. My guess is that other ethnicities don’t necessarily dwell on the ideal because they don’t have to. Clearly those goals exist in other communities and are the bedrock for a long-lasting relationship, but for some reason, I do think we place more of a premium on those things in the Black community likely because of our shared history. We may not be monolithic but that history of ours can’t stop and won’t stop. Then again they said that about Rocafella Records and you see how that turned out.

There’s something about Mary…but Blackness has certain complex simplicity about it. No Teedra. That’s why we throw Black in front of so many things. Black power, Black love, Black box…was a good group, Black music, Black black. I’m not completely sure what they all mean but they all mean something. And it’s something that nearly all Black folks, even those of us who spurn most things of the diaspora, can acknowledge and accept.

But I ask of you, folks who love to wax poetic and philosophical, what exactly is Black love? Is there a definition or perfect example or do you just know it when you see it? And if you’re white or other…what do you think? Let’s talk shop.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. BLACK aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

You Had An Identity Crisis and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

10 bucks says it’s not Slim Shady.

I’ve always been a bit curious about people who had these experiences with outcastism in school and life. Mostly because I never dealt with them so I struggled to understand how people managed to feel so rejected by so many groups of people for doing nothing more than existing. Or at least that’s how it’s always presented. This was brought to my attention via one of those iReporter segments on CNN called “Being the ‘Token Black Guy’”.

I have no intention of making light of anybody’s struggles. Mmkay? Mmkay. Some of you all clearly had a hard time growing up. But I suppose what shocks me is that I feel like I should have been a prime target for the difficulties of life and school but wasn’t.

Let’s break it down. One, I’m mixed. According to Oprah and Maury, I should have all types of identity issues and complexes. But I did identify as “Black” so maybe that mitigated that issue. Two, I was probably 5’1″ until I was 16 years old. Do you know what it’s like to have a little sister who TOWERS over you? No? I do. That sh*t sucked. But despite my lack of height, I was always one of the most popular kids in school AND managed to make and play on the basketball team at various age/grade levels. And I ain’t no baller. I can ball, but there’s a reason I decided to become a thespian in 10th grade. Despite going to school in arenas where I was definitely in the minority – and being in all of the smart classes – I never ever felt like a token. Not once can I ever say that I felt like I was the representative for all Blackness.

Or like you know how people who tend to have some sort of racial identity issue tend to have gone through some phase of trying to fit into some box of what they were expected to be versus who they felt like they were internally? Yeah, never saw that box.

Okay, there was that one time – at bandcamp – where I was asked to teach people how to rap. And in one of my classes in high school, it was assumed that I could sing. I didn’t even have to audition for the lead singing role in our French Competition Chorus (yes, I was in one of those). I lost the hell out of that job though once it was determined that while I had no shame, I also had no real singing chops. Or at least I couldn’t sing like Aladdin. They still put me out front though. You’ve got to let a peacock fly.

Even then, I still didn’t feel any type of way about it. You want me to sing? Word. Bet that up. Let’s do it. Then again, I’ve always been okay with being a stereotype. And I mean that literally. One of my mottos has always been “you waiting for a n*gga to show up? N*gga here now”. I almost relish in it at times. I swear if I had a stack of one’s to throw up in the air right now, I’d do it. While drinking Hennessey. Through a straw. Even I’m amazed that I don’t have any tattoos.

Maybe my hindsight just sucks. Perhaps if I were to do a little examination of my own life I’d find the places where I wasn’t quite “Black” enough for the Black kids or “white” enough for the white kids. But at the same time, I’m not sure that my own temperament would ever allow me to give a f*ck. You might do you, but I’mma do me. And you will respect my gully at the same time. Life has always been that type of party for me. No matter where I go, I get along with everybody and never actually worry about how I’m being perceived. Well, that’s not completely true – I ain’t going full Trinidad James on anybody at work. But I did get spotted out in public by a coworker once while I had on a bandana and looked like an extra from Menace II Society apparently. That coworker never spoke to me that day but did tell a select group of my other coworkers that he saw me out and was damn near startled at what he saw. Mama say mama sa mamaku sah.

I never experienced an identity crisis of any sort though my little sister did. She wanted to be peach like my mama when we were little then then turned into Tupac’s wife when she was in middle school. I just chalk that up to self discovery though interestingly, my high yella sister had NOTHING but dark-skinned friends. She had one friend who was more brown than dark, but she was still a full oil change darker than my sister.

So I’m just curious about that experience. I also wonder if either I was too oblivious that I wasn’t accepted by anybody so I just didn’t realize it? Or maybe it’s more simple (humblebrag coming in 5…4…3…2…1) when you’re one of the popular kids, none of this stuff matters. SGA El Presidente? Check. Homecoming court? Check. Honor Society? Check. Sports? Check. But that didn’t happen despite anything. I pretty much Obama’d high school – got in good with the white women and the homeys. And I was smart. I always felt like the smart kids were as popular as the jocks where I lived. In fact, we were. But that’s neither here nor there

I guess the larger point is, how do these identity crises arise? Of any sort? Where does the tokenism come from? Is it a self-fulfilling prophesy or is it real and I just somehow managed to miss that whole boat despite some of my personal characteristics. Like I wonder how much of this type of stuff we bring on ourselves or if its just personality driven, so popularity is the great equalizer? Me no know.

What do you think? Did you have any identity issues or tokenism crises? When did your sense of self manifest itself?

Who are you?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. TEN WILL GET YOU TWENTY aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

DMVers: Along with REMINISCE happening this weekend on Saturday, December 1, 2012 (RSVP for free before 11pm here: http://reminiscedc.eventbrite.com), Panama will be a panelist at Busboys & Poets at 5th and K on Monday, December 3rd from 7-9PM. The name of the panel is The Black Man’s Wishlist moderated by Krystal Glass, and will discuss relationships from a male’s perspective, which is perfect for the holiday season! Head to krystalglassempire.com for more information and tickets!

Also, the homey Crystal Marie from AWordorThree.com reminded me that today is Giving Tuesday. What this means is that for all you folks who blew your wad on Black Friday, perhaps giving a few bucks to a worthy cause isn’t out of the picture. There are a ton of causes that organizations that can use any and all donations and help. No guilt trips or anything and I know most of us already do our parts in various ways, but if you can, then you should. I truly believe that. Just a thought…