Thank you, Ida Harris, for sharing yet another example of a difficult truth

I wasn’t ready for what I read this morning. The Root.com writer Ida Harris did everything right. When her date became physical without her permission, she gave non-verbal cues, when that didn’t work she said explicitly said “no,” when that didn’t work, she physically fled. None of that kept her safe. Discussions of consent are too often reduced to a woman’s ability to say no. That if she experiences unwanted sexual attention or touching, that it’s her fault.  This means by default that a man is entitled to her body. Even if and when she says no, it means that there is still another chance.  And if he doesn’t take no for an answer, well, it’s her fault for putting herself in that situation.

I had a family friend who said no to a man’s advances in a crowded bar where her boyfriend worked. She wasn’t “coy” or ambiguous about her no.  She clearly wasn’t interested. She walked away. She was shot dead in the street. Saying no does not keep you safe. There is never a guarantee that a man will honor your resistance. There is no cultural expectation for them to do so.

There were still people in comments sections who asked why she was out at that time. It is never a woman’s fault for going out, spending time with friends, or on a date that by all indications appears safe.  After immeasurable accounts of stories like this, too many people still blame women. Among the many truths and ultimately disturbing information Ms. Harris shares is this:

“We must also ask why we continue to court a tradition where boys will be boys and men will be men, no matter their indiscretions; while women are held to a five-star standard of awareness, action and responsibility. We are centuries invested in men’s entitlement and audacity, and their retarded understanding and disrespect for women’s bodily rights. We live in a society where patriarchy is well-established and chronically practiced.”

Think about the way we talk about sexuality. Men are taught to “score,” have “game” with the ultimate goal of “getting some pussy.” Her body parts are labeled as if they exist outside of her. She has to play defense. And if she loses, it’s her problem. A woman’s failure to scream and flee, even at her own peril, does not excuse what happens to her.

There are no new rules to consent. No has always meant no. The only difference now is that people are listening to our stories and violators are facing real consequences. We have to place the onus of ending sexual and violent assault squarely on the people who perpetrate these crimes.

Read Ida Harris’ essay here.

 

The only Kwanza(a) I acknowledge is Hall

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I’m know I’m gonna catch hell for this. First of all, if you celebrate Kwanzaa, I’m not judging you. The Nzugo Saba are real and valuable. For me, it simply it never felt natural. Sure, I’ll go to a Kwanzaa social engagement, but I have no desire to purchase a kinara and do the whole lighting biz.

My reasons are many. Like most American holidays, Kwanzaa is rooted in myth. I’ll get to that in just a moment.

The Kwanza I actually do celebrate is Atlanta District 2 Councilman, Kwanza Hall. He never gave me a politician vibe, as he seems totally at ease at events throughout the city. I chatted with him as I sipped a beer at a 2015 A3C Festival gathering to promote use of the streetcar. I rooted for him when he first announced his later unsuccessful bid for mayor. I was also pleased when he introduced and later helped pass legislation to reduce penalties for the possession of marijuana under one ounce – the closest Atlanta has come to decriminalization. Most recently, I was happy to see his wife Natalie sworn in as Fulton County Commission, District 4.  All these things make me feel hopeful, but this is not a political endorsement.

If anything, it is a way to honor a Facebook status I posted last spring where I said, “Cheer for the guys you know.” It’s a way to acknowledge that the people closest to us are most worthy of our support and attention. In an attempt to look for some grand, shining leader, you miss the leader next door, or even the one in the mirror. As the expression goes, “heroes don’t always wear capes” and they most certainly don’t lead violent sexual assaults or remain silently complicit in the murder of others.

This is the legacy of Ron Everett, better known as Dr. Maulana Karenga. In 1965, Karenga founded a group called Us, a black nationalist group, who engaged in confrontation with the Black Panther Party. In 1969, at a UCLA Black Student Union meeting, after reports that BPP members spoke negatively of Karenga, tensions rose between the two groups, ending in a hail of gunfire, killing Bunchy Carter and John Huggins.

Lesser known, is Karenga’s torture of two women, Deborah Jones and Gail Davis, former members of his own group. There are multiple accounts of sexual assault and violent terror including soldering irons placed in the mouths of the women and one having her big toe squeezed in a vice grip. In 1971, Karenga spent four years in prison for the assaults. The myths created for him lead me and many others to believe he was imprisoned as part of an FBI takedown of black nationalist groups. We know now that the truth is just as ugly and has greater implications for the holiday and its leader as more people become aware.

Karenga’s long legacy of leadership (he is still the Chair of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach) also reveals another sad truth. Too many black leaders’ conflicts, both violent and verbal, have ultimately devolved into a pissing contest to have one man emerge as the HNIC. In the search of a political messiah, the abuse of women was never a barrier to leadership, respect, money or historical honor. Women are treated at best as sacrificial lambs and at worst, collateral damage on a convoluted premise of black liberation. Black solidarity cannot come at the expense of women and if a movement excludes or devalues women, it is simply white patriarchy in blackface.

I also resent the notion that questioning the history of black leaders is somehow a rejection of black nationalism itself, an acceptance of white oppression, or the idea that anything other than monolithic, emphatic yesses are just “divisive” reasons why “we can’t have anything.”

The principles of Kwanzaa are worth celebrating daily and annually, but who among us is truly lacking, especially in Atlanta? The thriving black-owned businesses, black-led media, black cultural institutions, HBCUs and more are indicative of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Yes, we have a long way to go, but we can uphold these principles and more while rejecting a “leader” with a history of violence and misogyny.  I know several people who celebrate, Kwanzaa, though most of my friends, family and colleagues don’t, which I don’t think is likely to change as more people learn about the founder’s past.

So if you’re celebrating Kwanzaa, Habari Gani, but as for me and my house, the only thing being lit will be my social media after this post.

Why Afropunk Atlanta was everything and yes, Solange killed it

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Yes, Solange killed it, but Afropunk is so much more than a show.

In front of the entrance and on both sides of the main stage, there are signs in bold black and white that read: “No sexism. No racism. No ableism. No ageism. No homophobia. No fatphobia. No transphobia. No hatefulness.” Looks like a lot of rules for a celebration of freedom.

On the surface, this may not sound revolutionary until you consider how even the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. was long mired in the respectability politics of clean, heteronormative appearance and as recently as last spring, black girls at a charter school were punished simply for wearing their hair in braids.

See my full reflections on Afropunk Atlanta at Creative Loafing Atlanta here.

Note I took all photos except for the one of Solange.

 

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(Photo: Shannon Barbour, Green Stage)
Solange
(Solange @saintrecords, Instagram)

20171015_230449(Photo of V. Her hair was in my peripheral vision as I watched Solange perform “Don’t Touch My Hair” I loved her Afro and freckles and she allowd me to take her photo: Shannon Barbour)

 

Dear Dilla: Hip-hop will always love you

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I can hardly believe it has been eight years since hip-hop lost James “J.Dilla” Yancey. February 7 would have been his 40th birthday.

Since his untimely passing from a rare blood disease, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, and complications related to lupus, the posthumous tributes have been ongoing. They were never simply a trend, or a rallying cry to gather performers and fans.

It is literally impossible to pay homage to the late Golden Era to the mid 2000s hip-hop without honoring J.Dilla. I dare you to try. Not only did he largely construct the sounds of the A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Erykah Badu and Common, there are some pop songs – Janet Jackson’s “Got Til It’s Gone” and others, some of which he did not receive credit.

So while Dilla is gone from physical form, he will never be forgotten. To do so would be to forget who we are as MCs, writers, producers, DJs and individuals that keep powerful beats and rhymes in their everyday lives.

Photo: Dilla Day in the A, Friday November 22, 2013, with Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey

Welcome 2014!

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Last year was the year of the selfie and I got some really good ones.

But more important than the mobile phone enabled exercises in mental masturbation, were the real connections with people. I was very fortunate to meet many folks I’ve admired in music, film, makeup artistry and other creative media.

So go ahead and touch someone (or yourself) as we reflect on 2013.

The highlights:

I moderated an International Music Conference panel discussion on publicity.

I did makeup on a film set for the first time. More to come…

I met Young Guru.

I wished Talib Kweli happy birthday.

I met a really nice guy with whom I have A LOT in common.

I talked to CeeLo again in a brief, but meaningful conversation.

I got a quick interview with Erykah Badu.

I got a good sit-down interview with MC Lyte.

I met people living in other countries that are better at keeping in touch with me than people a few neighborhoods over in ATL.

I was blessed with a new career opportunity very late in the year.

Finally, I took a selfie with Questlove.   Yes, ?uestlove.  Quest-freaking-love, the drummer of the Legendary Roots Crew that I’ve jammed to before Fallon, before he was named Time magazine’s coolest person of the year and long before the global acknowledgment his group are hip-hop’s preeminent, improvisational, badasses.

That, as the kids say, was everything.

The Commemoration

50th Anniversary march

Most of my peers, both personally and professionally, were born at least a decade after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led August 28, 1963 March on Washington. While we are not total strangers to racial inequality, we have nothing in our collective experience even remotely close to life in the turbulent Civil Rights era.

Some of us witnessed the dangers of crime and violence in neighborhoods where the opportunities had gone away to suburbs or lands overseas but none of us knew a world where the mere act of assembly, especially with friends of a different color, could end your life or land you in jail.

Today, none of us even knows the difficulties of gathering. We do not know the challenges of organizing closed strategic meetings in undisclosed locations through word of mouth – phone lines were tapped and for some families a home phone was a luxury. Today, global communication is as close as a few words in a text or social media application away. We exact rapid change online. We even have change.org to expedite our processes. Social activism is literally in our hands.

To put it bluntly, we have it easy. If you are a person of color with post-secondary education, live and work relatively safely in or near a major American city among people of multiple racial and ethnic groups, chances are your general quality of life is significantly better than it would have been 50 years ago. Of course, job discrimination, unemployment and economic strife are still regular realities for many Americans, but the possibilities to escape through education, career or with help through public and private assistance are numerous. And regardless of where you stand in the political strata, a black identifying biracial president is incredible progress.

All we have to do now is commemorate the past. Remember, pay homage and learn. Talk to your children, young family members or other youth. Because we will never understand, we can only look back in reverence.

Read the full text of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech here.

Read the full text of Obama’s August 28, 2013 Commemoration speech here.

Linking up with 2 Chainz

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I first met 2 Chainz, then Tity Boi, in October 2009 after the BET Hip-Hop Awards. I was watching performers exit and chatting with fans and anyone else who wanted to talk. He introduced himself and gave me his cell phone number.

We did not talk again until this interview from fall 2011.

At the time, the artist formerly known as Tity Boy talked collabos, codeine and what he really thinks about hair weaves. This all went down before the release of his Grammy-nominated album,  Based on a T.R.U. Story, and his part as a major component to radio rap singles – “The Birthday Song,” and “Mercy,” – with Kanye West, “I Love Dem Strippers,” with Nicki Minaj, the Juicy J and Lil Wayne banger, “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” “I’m Different,” and the A$AP Rocky, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar posse cut, “F*ckin’ Problems” –  in a flurry of releases of the past year.

Well-spoken and polite, he’s different, yeah he’s different – very much so than his strip-club and round-rumped birthday gift loving video persona. A lot has changed since my phone conversation to the College Park, Ga. native, born Tauheed Epps. Tity Boy was no more and he was busy re-introducing himself.

“My fans understand me as an artist. I believe in prosperity so I grow with every project. I know each one is better than the last one,” he says. “Everyone has to be better than the last one.”

His previous mixtapes, Codeine Cowboy and T.R.U. REALigion generated only moderate buzz. In 2011, he was promoting his now shelved mixtape, Hair Weave Killa. Instead of breaking down the song content, he made a point to tell me that he doesn’t have a problem with women’s hairstyle choices.

“Hair Weave Killa is just another a.k.a. My whole take is pulling hair whether in the bedroom or partying hard, just sweating it out,” he says, laughing.

As for his “Tity Boi,” moniker, the true meaning has nothing to do with mammary objectification. “It’s a country name,” he explained. “It’s nothing derogatory towards women. It comes from my family. It has to do with being spoiled, being an only child.”

He continues, “My name has always been 2 Chainz. I had them on in my 8th grade yearbook picture. It just kinda happened one day.”

His unceremonious name change came after the release of Playaz Circle’s 2007 album Supply and Demand while on Ludacris’ Disturbing The Peace imprint.  The single “Duffle Bag Boy,” featuring Lil Wayne, was their biggest hit. Chainz is still grateful for Wayne’s contribution.

“Not as many people would know me if it wasn’t for Dwayne Carter. I’ve known him for a decade,” he says, “Shouts out to Young Money.”

His connection to Weezy and their shared passion for “purple drank” also had a major influence on Chainz’s mixtape, Me Against the World 2: Codeine Withdrawal. Followers of southern hip hop are intimately familiar with several artists’ love for the sweet but dangerous stuff – Texans DJ Screw and Pimp C are among the drug’s best known casualties.

“If you do too much of anything, it’s bad for you,” 2 Chainz warns. “[Codeine] is prescribed by doctors to help, not abuse.” (At the time of the interview, I was battling a cold and cough. He he said that I could use codeine cough syrup. I stuck to Mucinex).

Whether he’s still sippin’ on sizzurp or not, he’s focused and been since he hit the scene through DTP with childhood friend Earl Conyers a.k.a. Dolla Boy. They chose the name as an acronym of Playaz (Preparing Legal Assets from Years A-Z) to let fans know that they planned to be around for the long haul.

“We had the same common denominator, talking about hustling and making money,” 2 Chainz says about his now long defunct duo.

The two met up with Ludacris through a mutual friend when they lived in the same apartment complex near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. While he and Luda have known each other for more than a dozen years, online rumors circulated that their friendship was strained at the time of the eventual departure. Ludacris cleared the air in a June 2012 interview on New York’s Hot 97, stating that “I still call him Tit. That’s the homie man, that’s family…I’m extremely proud of him.”

At the time of our interview, 2 Chainz offered no details on his relationship with Luda.

As the conversation moved deeper into his past, he was reluctant to talk – particularly about the violence and incarceration of his Playaz Circle rhyme partner that stalled his career. “Where I come from we call that puberty; we consider that part of adolescence. I don’t even want to elaborate on that,” his becoming seriousness. “People get shot.”

Nowadays, 2 Chainz  is mostly concerned with shooting videos. When we talked, there was nothing anything unique or unusual happening, nor was there anything indicating that he was on the brink of new success.

Despite the protest of parents, women and proponents of lyrically meaningful hip-hop, his star continues to rise.

His new single is set for debut at the Hot 97 Summer  Jam in New York City.