i am

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harlem, usa
same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. mjt975@msn.com.

Friday, November 25, 2005

'The Boondocks' On Cable TV: Is it too grown up for kids?

A few weeks ago, I watched the cable television debut of Aaron McGruder's popular cartoon series "The Boondocks." I've come to love the antics of pro-Black, hip hop youngsters Huey & Riley Freeman, whose old-school Grandad has moved to the suburbs, to both retire & raise them - on his terms. In fact, I have the series on my computer screen & begin each day w/ another episode.

I was concerned about the transition from cartoon to cable, but McGruder has a capable team working on his behalf, including Reginald Hudlin, who serves as Executive Producer. The beautiful, hard-working, smart & talented actress Regina King is the unlikely voice of Huey & Riley. Some folks might recognize actor & comedian John Witherspoon as the voice of Grandad. McGruder said the first season will primarily feature these three characters, as others will be introduced slowly over a period of time.

One of the things which struck me while watching the show was the raucous language. The debut used the 'n' word an inordinate amount. Webster's Dictionary decided to take the word out of the dictionary, due to pressure from community-based & civil rights groups who've voiced their rage towards the word's historical degradation of Black people. I was alarmed to hear the kids using the word, though not necessarily offended.

What I particularly appreciate about McGruder, however, is his willingness to challenge pop culture & other socio-economic issues from a cultural context, which serves to educate, inform & affirm the Black community. Huey, Riley & Grandad have been critical of the Bush administration, including Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice & Dick Cheney. They've also taken on the likes of Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Kobe Bryant & Michael Jackson. The show basically leaves no stones unturned.

The Cartoon Network has a new (at least to me) level of programming, known as 'Adult Swim,' which features a variety of cartoons offering viewers ethnic diversity in a historically lily-white field. I've yet to view any other of their shows - I'm just not interested in cartoons or sci-fi shows. I'm 45 years old, you know? In speaking to others, I find their level of intrigue varies from wonder to why.

Lately, the cartoon strip has focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the 'Bird Flu' & 50 Cent's new semi-autobio film, "Get Rich or Die Tryin." I love the irreverence of Huey & Riley, as well as their Grandad's seemingly oblivion to how these conflicting forces compete for our attention, money & soul. I get a chuckle every day. My intentions are to support "The Boondocks" each week. Its clear McGruder is a man of integrity who loves Black people enough to speak truth to power. I hope his audience will write the station to let them know how we feel about the show: good, bad or indifferent.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Did Bloomberg Get Re-elected Mayor By Default, Or Was Freddy Not Ready?

A week ago today, less than 40 percent of NYC's three million registered voters turned out to re-elect Michael Bloomberg as Mayor, defeating Democratic candidate Fernando Ferrer by a historic margin of nearly 20 percent. Bloomberg received just under 730,000 votes, or 58 percent, which is remarkable, considering five out of six registered New Yorkers are Democratic. But how did he do it? Why did folks not show up at the polls? And finally, does anybody care?

Bloomberg is a billionaire businessman. Money talks. He paid for his campaign using his own money. I ain't mad at him. My quarrel rests w/ the so-called democratic process, which, in a capitalistic society, champions wealth, elevates class & ignores race. Ferrer didn't have a chance, because he didn't take care of his side of the street. As a result, we've seen four successive Republican victors on Election Day.

Ferrer has over 20 years of public service, a record even Bloomberg can't pay for. Latino New Yorkers outnumbered Black New Yorkers in the last U.S. Census, 29 to 26 percent. So much for the old 'minority' myth. Ferrer had an opportunity to seize the moment by developing a grass-roots coalition, but was unable to establish a clear political message that resonated w/ regular, working-class folk.

A number of issues unique to the Black & Latino community - high infant mortality rates, HIV/AIDS prevalence, illiteracy, mental health & unemployment - were ignored. Ferrer's Democratic primary opponents seemed to support him, as well as the Democratic Party, by default. At the eleventh hour, we'd see C. Virginia Fields, Gifford Miller & Anthony Wiener by his side. He would also get a nod from former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, former President Bill Clinton & former Presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton. Yet, these efforts never registered w/ the people.

I'm not sure what Ferrer's marketing strategy entailed, or if he had one. He certainly could've spiced things up a bit (no Big Pun intended), using his ethnicity to mobilize Latinos, who seem to be captivated by economic opportunities offered by Republican Party candidates. Personality politics often sway voters' minds, so you'd think Ferrer would've taken to the streets of 'El Barrio' for community-based guidance & direction, right? I was expecting him to speak a little Spanish, but...

...all he could talk about was "we need affordable housing in this city." He sounded like a bootleg CD.

Ferrer didn't mobilize folks around the Hurricane Katrina disaster, as it related to the disenfranchised, low-income & working poor citizens of Alabama, Louisiana & Mississippi. He didn't offer support for the historic Millions More Movement. He was eerily silent around the recent Iraq War rally outside of the White House. Hell, he didn't even let us know what he thought about All-Pro wide receiver Terrel Owens' ongoing feud w/ the Philadelphia Eagles. Frankly, I've seen more fire from a crack pipe.

Meanwhile Bloomberg, a savvy politician, aligned himself w/ the Black Church. In fact, he doubled his share of the Black vote from four years ago, persuading 46 percent of Black folks to pull his lever. I think by running on three different parties his visibility was enhanced. Bloomberg was supported by several major unions. He's made numerous deals w/ real estate developers, resulting in Harlem's gentrification makeover. Most importantly, weeks before the election, he orchestrated winning contracts w/ firemen, police officers, sanitation workers & teachers. And, he got bank.

A number of community analyzers suggested part of the problem w/ Black & Latino voting communities has to do w/ our narrow-minded approach. For many of us, historically, elections are basically a one-shot deal. We neither plan well, nor hold our officials accountable before, during & after the process. Nearly six out of ten folks in NYC are Black & Brown, yet we are not united as a people. Marcus Garvey said, "people who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it." When P. Diddy got involved in the last Presidential election w/ his 'Vote Or Die', celebrity-charged effort, some of our youth answered the call.

Today, the current line to our political & economic salvation is either broken, disconnected, or on hold.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Author Terry McMillan Sets Her Gay Ex-Husband Straight on OPRAH

I was troubled viewing best-selling author Terry McMillan's appearance w/ her ex-husband on 'OPRAH', Wednesday, November 9. A number of interesting, but complex & intersecting dynamics took place. Yet, even w/ the assistance of Oprah's now, resident Black female psychologist, Dr. Robin Smith, certain issues were not addressed, which is not unusual when her guests are Black, male and/or homosexual.

McMillan admitted (on the show) she met Jonathan Plummer, a Jamaican native 20 years her junior, while vacationing in Jamaica. She caught him gazing at her while having breakfast one morning. At some point, a conversation developed, she fell in lust & asked him to have sex w/ her. Does this sound like a novel?

The critically acclaimed author of love & relationship books like "Disapperaring Acts", "Mama", & "Waiting To Exhale", McMillan's 1996 novel, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back", captured the fancy of Black women everywhere. The book later hit the silver screen - to mixed reviews - w/ Academy Award nominated actress Angela Bassett in the starring role.

Most folks assumed the book & the film articulated McMillan's real life, because she eventually married Plummer (three years later). McMillan said the book was written before they were married, in order to "give herself permission to have an affair w/ a younger man." The two were married for six and a half years. They both agreed the first four years were full of good times. McMillan found Plummer a capable & satisfying lover, surprised any (!) man had his particular skills. But during the last two years of their union, Plummer 'awakened' to his same sex desire, which, apparently, led to a bitter & nasty divorce.

Before Plummer joined the two women on camera, Oprah asked McMillan, who seemed anxiety-riddled throughout the whole show, did she "see any signs of him being gay." McMillan said, "he's not the most masculine man in the world...he spends more time in the mirror than I do...he's narcissistic." Still, his desire to love another man was NEVER affirmed. Why? From the start, Plummer's character was framed by having or hiding a gay identity. And we all know how Oprah loves gay men...

McMillan suspected Plummer had been having sex w/ other man while they were married, so she took an HIV test, which produced a negative result. The primarily female studio audience clapped thunderously when she admitted this fact. Oprah neither challenged nor questioned her motives. McMillan's fears, whiich are prevalent in today's families, churches & social arenas, feed the media hype which suggests homosexuality is a leading co-factor to HIV.

Plummer, a tall, handsome brother casually dressed in white shirt & jeans, was, at times, playful w/ his ex-wife. He struggled, though, when talking about his oppressive upbringing. Plummer shared the anti-homosexual bias prominent in most Carribean nations, stating, "people look down on you, they think its wrong & nobody wants to be gay." Neither Oprah, nor Dr. Smith affirmed Plummer as he shared his pain. Seemingly frustrated, Oprah - who is not a behavioral scientist, counselor, social worker or therapist - asked, "how can you be 20 years old & not know you are gay?" Did she ask Ellen the same?

Western society assigns, expects & imposes gay identities & politics on homosexual men, regardless of their unique cultural, familial or spiritual background. Plummer shared how (known or perceived) homosexuals in Jamaica are regularly tortured & sometimes killed. Admittedly "confused about my sexuality", his trauma was, again, not affirmed. Initially Oprah conceded to Plummer the challenges inherent in "coming out." Later, she said she knew men who "knew they were gay when they were four", but couldn't understand why Plummer couldn't "just tell the truth."

Oprah's ignorance, insensitivity & internalized racism pissed me off.

Over the years, Oprah has interviewed a number of high-profile gay-identified white men, including singers Boy George, Elton John & George Michael, as well as Olympic Gold Medal diving champion Greg Louganis. Never did she equate their same sex desire w/ negative character traits like dishonesty, greed, infideltiy & mistrust. Though he tried to redeem himself, Plummer's media-induced perception will undoubtedly haunt him, as will the lingering affect on homosexual Black men across the globe.

McMillan, who offered she has "no problems w/ gay men", shared her angry feelings of betrayal & deception. She asserted his unwillingness to identify as gay is "similar to alcoholics who deny they can't handle a few drinks." The couple separated soon after Plummer admitted he was gay. Along the way, she left a number of profanely rageful telephone messages, some of which were heard on the show, fueling a climate of 'gay-o-phobia' in the audience. I suspect they could both benefit from therapy.

Plummer later sued McMillian for an undisclosed amount of money. Both parties shared their stories w/ the press - who profit from Black pain. After Plummer's appearance on 'Good Morning America', his ex-wife went on Tavis Smiley's PBS show the same night, stating, "he's a liar & a sociopath & he's trying to get my money, but he will not get it." Tavis looked dumbfounded, but the audience, watching a clip of her on Oprah, roared w/ approval. Perhaps they empathized w/ her sense of "being victimized by a man who cheats." Even if he's gay.

McMillan publicly accused Plummer of marrying her (primarily) to receive his U.S. citizenship, which he has categorically denied. The immigration laws are inherently racist, yet the issue was never challenged by Oprah, or Dr. Smith. Historically, European immigrants are able to navigate the complex legal & social barriers w/ less drama than their Carribean counterparts. Black & brown immigrants have class issues that ignore race: another social construct Oprah is uncomfortable addressing.

Dr. Smith asked McMillan if she still loved Plummer, who replied, "I love the man I married." Dr. Smith suggested McMillan was somehow "swept away by the fantsay of what a man is." Again, the implication here: a homosexual is not a man - but, a gay man. McMillan reluctantly said though she's "not big on forgiveness, I accept him as he is. I forgive him for being gay, but don't like the way this happenned."

Towards the very end of the show, Oprah, w/ the help of McMillan & the audience, got Plummer to admit he was on the 'DL.' Before she asked him about it, it was clear Plummer - aware of society's assumptions around homosexual activity - didn't want that particuar label attached to him by default. Oprah joked 'it' would be better left for another show, as she looked to the audience to define what 'DL' means. After talking to J.L. King, Oprah has become the world's formeost authority on the 'DL' phenomenon, thereby rendering Dr. Smith's contribution neutral.

Finally, Oprah revealed the titile of McMillan's new book, "The Interruption of Everything." She quickly added, "I loved it so much I bought the movie rights to it & we are now in pre-production." Doesn't that sound like a conflict of interest? Her motives for interviewing the unlikely duo were already suspect. Did this remind anyone of the Clarence Thomas/ Anita Hill spectacle? Clearly, we need honest, open dialogue in the Black community around issues of sexuality. Oprah, despite your best intentions: you got punk'd.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Does My Anti-Bloomberg Vote Count?

It's a little after 9:00 pm & I've yet to weigh in w/ local and/or national newscasts regarding the mayoral election results. Why? I suspect Michael Bloomberg will win decidedly. Besides, I've got a couple of more free NBA games to watch on their NBA League Pass channels. And, I don't feel good about the economic, political & social condition in NYC as it relates to Black men.

The unemployment rate for Black men in NYC is around 60 percent. HIV transmission rates among Black men who engage in homosexual activity are near 50 percent for that population. Black and Latino men - many of whom are illiterate - comprise nearly 96 percent of the prison population in NYC. Additionally, hepatitis rates outnumber HIV transmission 15 to 1 in NYC prisons. But did you hear Bloomberg, or his Democratic candidate Fernando Ferrer address these issues? Hell no!

Historically, talking about issues involving race and homosexuality incite controversy. When you add HIV you've got a volatile mix. Most politicians, by default, like to keep things safe. Both candidates rant about the need for affordable housing, but how can you pay the rent w/ out a job? I live in Harlem, where the current reality is gentrification, though some folks like to call it 'diversity.' Columbia University students are shacking up four to a room - rents for a one-bedroom apartment are as much as $1,500 a month.

Bloomberg is a millionaire white businessman who wants to run the city like a corporation; a Republican in a widely Democratic city is not unusual. Yet, he's running on both the Independent Party & Liberal Party. Lenora Fulani, a capable & impassioned Black woman who once ran for Mayor as an independent candidate, suggests Black people should vote for Bloomberg - as an independent! But independent from what? He's rich, white, male & heterosexual.

The late Harlem historian & Pan Africanist Dr. John Henrick Clarke, when asked what his thoughts were about white, male politicians on the Liberal Party, answered, "liberated from what?" I agree. When you live w/ white male skin privilege, what are you being liberated from? As I stepped into the voting booth today, I exercised my right & my responsibility to be accountable. As my 97-year old great grandmother used to tell me as a young boy, "let your conscience be your guide."

Ferrer is still hurting from the wounds he's endured for embracing 'New York's finest' when they were acquitted of shooting Ghanaian immigrant Amadou Diallo 41 times. Many people in the Black & Latino community feel betrayed by his NYPD alignment. Though he's been in public service for a number of decades, most recently as Bronx Borough President, Ferrer lacks the courage, passion & vision to deal w/ the varied complexities of NYC daily life.

So often Black people are expected & encpuraged to vote for 'the lesser of two evils.' Why vote for evil in the first place? I hope folks turnout this fall. Last week, NY1 was issuing polls showing Bloomberg ahead by a two to one margin. I hate when the media does that. We live in tough times & folks are ambivalent about politics to begin w/, but when you temper their concerns w/ polls from 700 or so voters, the message becomes diluted & people stay home to watch television.

Which reminds me, if I hurry, I can catch the next episode of MTV's "The Real World."