Moving Out Of The Boondocks

Boondocks-2014So Aaron McGruder is out at The Boondocks. Somebody asked me to care. And I tried.

But you see, Aaron McGruder wrote his own personal farewell so to speak on his own Facebook page for a new show…also on Adult Swim:

As the world now knows, The Boondocks will be returning for a fourth season, but I will not be returning with it. I’d like to extend my gratitude to Sony and Adult Swim for three great seasons.

I created The Boondocks two decades ago in college, did the daily comic for six years, and was showrunner on the animated series for the first three seasons. The Boondocks pretty much represents my life’s work to this point. Huey, Riley, and Granddad are not just property to me. They are my fictional blood relatives. Nothing is more painful than to leave them behind.

To quote a great white man, “Hollywood is a business”. And to quote another great white man, “Don’t hold grudges”.

What has never been lost on me is the enormous responsibility that came with The Boondocks – particularly the television show and it’s relatively young audience. It was important to offend, but equally important to offend for the right reasons. For three seasons I personally navigated this show through the minefields of controversy. It was not perfect. And it definitely was not quick. But it was always done with a keen sense of duty, history, culture, and love. Anything less would have been simply unacceptable.

As for me, I’m finally putting a life of controversy and troublemaking behind me with my upcoming Adult Swim show, BLACK JESUS.

AM

It seems almost as if McGruder had some sort of realization that what he wanted versus what he could get weren’t aligned and also realized in the same breath that he was fighting a battle he couldn’t win. Except, again, he got another show on the exact same station. This confruses me. Word to Young Buck.

Confession time: The Boondocks, the television show, never quite lived up to what the comic strip was to me. I realize we loved the show – similar to Chappelle’s Show – almost in a way that what it represents its greater than what we actually got. Don’t get me wrong, the shows I enjoyed, I truly thought were well executed. But I just don’t know if it ever truly lived up to what I expected. Also my fault, you know what they say about expectations.

Somehow, McGruder being either put out or leaving almost makes sense at some point to me. I’m not even sure i can articulate why, but the show seemed to be successful despite not being, to me, what I thought Aaron McGruder was trying to accomplish no matter what he says via his FB message.

At some point, perhaps we all outgrow the very things we created. Now perhaps that can be spurred on by the powers that be or maybe it can be created from our own demons. But in the case of somebody like McGruder who is so closely tied to the show and its very ethos, I wonder how this might potentially affect its brand and its fanbase going forward. McGruder wasn’t a central character and yet we felt his fire and passion through the characters he created, envisioned, and executed finally turning them into television characters. It was McGruder editorializing via characters. It’s Family Guy with an urban edge.

Boondocks holds a special place amongst the urban professional and thinking sect. While I may not think it was as good as it should have been, I can’t pretend that it doesn’t occupy a certain rebellious space and a counter in ratchetry that most of us can relate to.  I do wonder if leaving the ship to the mateys and a captain that might be just learning how to navigate can maintain its significance.

All this to say and to ask, does McGruder being out at the Boondocks matter in the grand scheme of things? Seems like he’s okay with it, but can it maintain its relevancy without its captain? What do you think? Does anything matter…at all?

-VSB P aka MR. MISTER aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Shit Bougie Black People Love: 13. Being Racist

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Do not be fooled by their blazers. Or their support of gentrification. Or even their love of Phish. Bougie Black People love being Black. Collectively, they are Blackness mavens, preternaturally obsessed with the concept of Blackness and all it entails.

Naturally, they’re also aware of the rules governing Blackness’ placement in America. Especially the one where, as an extended apology for 400 or so years of systematic oppression, America has given Black people a guilt-free pass to say whatever the hell they want about White people.

If you happen to have a Black parent, a Black uncle, or even a Black high school principal, you’ve surely seen this practice in practice. You likely have fond memories about the first time Uncle Derek told you not to hug any of your White classmates because “White people don’t use washclothes.” (The fact that Uncle Derek had a White wife made this even more confusing.)

Bougie Black People have found loopholes in this rule, realizing that maintaining legitimate friendships with a member of each non-Black group (Whites, Asians, Latinos, etc) gives them a pass to say racist things when they’re not around.

Of course, it’s all just jokes. They don’t really believe that all Indian women are “built like snowmen.” They don’t really think all Mexicans have lice. They don’t really think all White women sound the way they do when they do impersonations of them. And they don’t really want to deport every Chinese man back to “whichever country Chinese people come from.”

Read more at Shit Bougie Black People Love

On Kobe Bryant And Collective Black Thought

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The idea of better and opportunity-filled lives for ourselves and our loved ones is something we all aspire to. The means we take to get to that point will differ — and perhaps some of us want it a bit more than others — but we all want the increased access that opportunity provides us. We all want to enrich our lives. And we all want to leave a legacy.

This is why half the people reading this have six-figure student loan debts. And why so many of us are so determined to see – and eat food from – every corner of the globe. And why we make sure to send our children to the best schools we can afford. And why we make pains to surround ourselves with people who’ll add something to our lives. Because education gives you more opportunity. And opportunity can give you more access. And access can give you more freedom.

And that’s it. We want to be free. We want to accomplish enough that we’re able to do the things we want to do. And, if we’re not able to ourselves, we want that for our children.

This freedom isn’t just about action, though. What we’re really aspiring for is freedom of thought. The ability to just think and imagine and dream without any limitations or constraints.

Or maybe not.

The reactions to Kobe Bryant’s statements about Trayvon Martin suggest otherwise.

Kobe comes from wealth. His dad was a professional basketball player, he grew up in Italy, and before he was a teen he’d already seen parts of the world many of us will never see. He did not have to deal with the complexities, contexts, and constructs of race most of us have had to. At least not on the same level. Basically, he was able to just be. Which, again, is what we’re all aiming for. If not for us specifically, our children. Those expanded horizons. That freedom.

But, when Kobe said something that wasn’t aligned with how Black people are supposed to think — something that really wasn’t all that controversial — this privilege became a problem because it cultivated a disconnect to Black people and Black thought. And, while Kobe is the most recent example, this same idea is brought up whenever Jaden or Willow Smith or any other high-profile person of privilege says or does something outside of the realm of generally accepted Black behavior.

Thing is, this is something we all know. We know that the person who grows up with more privilege and more freedom probably just isn’t going to see and process things the same way as the person who wasn’t afforded those things. The rich Black kid from Italy just aint gonna see the world the same way the poor Black kid from Baltimore will. And we criticize the mindset that often comes with that privilege and freedom.

But we still want that privilege and freedom. It’s still an aspiration. It’s still something we work for and pray about.

I’m not a fan of Kobe Bryant. And I do think his statements about Trayvon Martin suggest a certain race-based naivety. I do plan to have children one day, though. And I’d love to be able to provide them with the same experiences and opportunities Kobe’s parents were able to give him. But how will I feel when those experiences and opportunities lead to them thinking and feeling…differently about what it means to be Black?

I wish I could say “What’s the point of all the education, experience, and opportunity if you feel the exact same way about shit that I do?

But, honestly, I don’t know. Cause right now, I think it would bother me too.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

No Church In The Wild

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My mornings usually begin the same way. I’ll wake up at 7:30, immediately pick up my laptop, and spend a half hour reading emails, checking VSB, and doing EBONY-related work. I’ll also pray. By this time, my fiancee is usually awake too, so I’ll lay back down with her for a couple minutes. By 8:15-8:20, I’ll get out of bed again and make my way the bedroom upstairs, my de facto office. Sometimes I’ll stop in the kitchen and grab some orange juice or a granola bar before heading up. From then until approximately 9:15, I’ll work exclusively on EBONY stuff.

While upstairs, I’ll hear my fiancee get up. This usually happens around 8:45. Within five minutes, the shower will begin to run. 15 to 20 minutes later, I’ll hear her:

“Morning babe. I need to be at work at 9:30. I’ll be ready in 15.”  

Sometimes it’ll be this instead:

“Morning babe. I need to be at work at 10. What do you want for breakfast?”

(These are my favorite mornings)

If it’s one of those “9:30″ mornings, I’ll stop working, put on whatever sweats and sneakers are near, and come down stairs. The dog — who usually sleeps upstairs — will follow me. I’ll put food and water in his bowl. He’ll ignore it — for now — and I’ll take him to the backyard to pee and shit. If it’s cold, I’ll throw on my parka.

If you looked out our front window then, you’d see a collection of well-manicured brownstones. You’d also see (mostly Black) families and various young professionals doing their morning routines (Taking the kids to school, going to work, walking dogs, jogging, etc).

The back of our house is a different story. Behind our backyard is an alley. Behind that alley is a group of three dilapidated row houses. And behind those houses is where the “hood” part of our neighborhood begins.

One of these houses is boarded up. One houses an interracial couple (Black man, White woman) who used to argue so loudly that it would wake us up. (They haven’t argued in months. Maybe they went on Marriage Boot Camp or something.) And one houses a drug dealer who sees light traffic throughout the day.

The drug dealer guy and I are usually cordial. If our eyes happen to meet, we’ll nod at each other. Sometimes you might even get a “Hey. What’s good?” out of both of us. His friends and customers, on the other hand, aren’t as friendly. They’re usually not out there. But when they are…let’s just say I pay very close attention to my surroundings then.

I’ll go back inside. If it’s a “10:00″ morning, we’ll sit down and eat breakfast together. Usually some combination of eggs, bacon, and fruit. If it’s a “9:30″ morning, she’ll be in the kitchen making and packing her lunch, getting ready to go.

We’ll leave five minutes later. She only works five minutes away, but in that short time we’ll use our shorthand to share a half hour’s worth of information with each other. I’ll drop her off, we’ll kiss, and I’ll head back home.

My route back home takes me through the hood part of the neighborhood. Sometimes there will be cops circling around. I do not consider the police to be an antagonistic entity. But I do not feel safe around them. I don’t necessarily feel unsafe either. I guess the best word to describe how I feel is aware.

They’re just doing their jobs, I’ll say to myself. Don’t pay them any mind, and get back home so you can finish your work.

But there are also times when I notice them paying me more attention than I’m comfortable with. I might even get followed for a block. And then, at that point, I realize nothing matters. I’m a popular published author and professional writer with a fiancee. A fiancee with multiple degrees. We’re renting a brownstone with hardwood floors throughout and 12 foot ceilings. We’re getting married in July. We go to gallery crawls and board meetings. I own t-shirts proclaiming my love for Bougie Black People. We have four corkscrews, collected over time from the parties we throw and attend. I have a morning routine. And a dog.

But, in that moment, I’m a Black man in a sketchy neighborhood wearing a parka, sweats, and sneakers, and driving a Charger. To them, I am a potential suspect. Or, even worse, a potential threat. One awkward move or one overzealous officer could end everything for me.

I’ll eventually make it home and I’ll finish working. Maybe I’ll moderate comments on VSB. Or, maybe I’ll make some edits to something I’m writing for Complex. I’ll forget about the morning. And I’ll forget that, between the people across the alley and the cops on my way home, I’ve had to be on guard every moment I was out the house. Because I’m Black in America. And when you’re Black in America, there really are no safe spaces, no recluse from potential danger, no time when you can be certain that what you do and who you are will not cease to matter because someone considers you to be a threat. Nowhere I can relax without reservation. Nowhere where I can be me and not worry.

But I will forget about all of this. Because it’s everyday. And when something happens everyday, it becomes forgettable. Mundane, even. I’ll relax in my chair, play with our dog, and moderate comments on my blog. It’s just another day.

  —Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

When A Black Man Breaks Up With His Barber

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Allen Iverson often gets credit for making both cornrows and visible tattoos more, for lack of a better term, “mainstream.” But, although this isn’t brought up as much, he’s also somewhat responsible for what’s been the single most popular hairstyle for African-American men over the past two decades: The Caesar. He had one as a freshman at Georgetown, and he was so popular that it convinced thousands of young Black kids to eschew the fades, tapers, and cornrows that sat on our heads. I was one of those kids. This was 1995. And I’ve had the same haircut since.

Now, there have been some variations. I used to line up the back, and now I fade it out. I also went from sideburns, to the point thing, to the faint beard line when I could finally connect my beard, to the (somewhat) full beard I have now. And the actual amount of hair on my head has varied. But, the basic template — an even cut all around — has remained the same.

Despite the Caesar’s simplicity, its maintenance requires effort. It needs to be brushed a couple times a day, it needs to be shampooed at least twice a week, and you need to have a barber who knows what the f*ck he (or she) is doing. The last point is the most crucial. A Caesar with a jacked-up line-up is a perpetual practical joke, a public gong show where the only prize is dry vageen and you have to stay on stage until enough time has passed (usually between 10 and 14 days) for your hair to grow back enough for someone to fix it.

But a fresh Caesar with a perfect line? Man!!! That’s the shit dreams are made of. Seriously, every Caesar-ed man reading this can probably name the five best haircuts they’ve ever had — when the shape-up and the beard and the fade in the back and the sheen of your scalp all aligned perfectly. And each of those men can probably also give you the names of the five or six women whose numbers they got the week of the perfect shape-up because, even if you look like the construction workers from Fraggle Rock, the perfect shape-up will have you feeling and acting like an Idris/Leonidas hybrid.

And this is why a good barber is the best friend any Black man can have. It’s also why you do what you can to hold on to one. I’ve had the same one for 12 years now.

And this is also why I’m probably going to break up with him.

As you can imagine, the decision to break up with my barber hasn’t been an easy one. I’ve read before that it takes a fourth of the time you’ve been with someone to break up with them. (Basically, If you’ve been with someone two years, it takes six months. Three to convince yourself breaking up is the right decision, and three more to gather the courage to do it.) If this is true, I’ve been breaking up with my barber for three years now. Seems like a long time, but it sounds about right.

He’s not a bad barber. The relationship wouldn’t have lasted this long if he wasn’t. And, when he’s focused on cutting my hair, he’s actually good. The problem is that those moments of focus are occurring less and less often. He takes breaks to text. And to check the messages on the dozens of dating sites he belongs too. And to show me pictures of the women he’s dating. And to talk to me about the NBA draft. And to run across the street to play the lottery. And to run to the corner store for a Cherokee Red. And to run to his car to make sure the windows are closed.

I wouldn’t mind any of this if he was still able to make my line even — well, I wouldn’t mind it that much — but the more distracted he gets, the worse my haircut is going to be.

Also, I’ve traveled quite a bit for panels, conferences, festivals, and parties over the last few years. Sometimes, this travel will be last minute, my barber won’t be available, and I’ll have to go to someone else in the shop. And sometimes I’ll just wait to get a haircut in the city of the event. And, when this happens, my haircuts are always better. Always. 90% of my Leonidas Elba weeks since 2010 have been because of “new” barbers.

So why is it so difficult to get a new barber? If he’s not providing a service I’m paying him for, why not just pay someone who will? Well, it’s not that easy. As I mentioned before, I’ve known him for over a decade, which makes this one of the longest relationships I’ve ever been in. Aside from family, there are only maybe 10 people who’ve been as consistent in my life in that time period as he has. We’ve seen the neighborhood change together. We’ve changed too. Both personally and aesthetically. I’ve been there long enough to see an entirely new group of barbers man the chairs beside him. I also remember his “old” shop — a raggedy storefront on an off-brand corner — and I remember how he got the money together to move to the much, much nicer location he’s in now. I look forward to going there, and talking shit with him and the other barbers about the Steelers or sneakers or strippers or credit scores or whatever the hell else happens to be the topic of conversation that day. And I know he looks forward to my visits too. He’s not my best friend. But he is my friend.

There’s a shop I pass a couple times a week in route to my barbershop. I started paying attention to it last summer after a guy randomly complimented my cut, gave me his business card, and told me he works at the new shop on Baum Blvd. I actually think it’s owned by one of the Steelers.

Since then, I’ve become increasingly tempted to take him up on his offer. But I haven’t. At least not yet.

What’s stopping me? Two things:

1. An irrational fear that my barber will see me walking out of the new barbershop shop, and having to deal with that awkward moment.

2. Who gave me the extra-sharp line up that compelled that guy to compliment me? My barber.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)