International Year for People of African Descent

Posted in Uncategorized on July 9, 2010 by danceandkiwis

I am really at a loss when it comes to love, hatred and indifference. Love in itself doesn’t present much of a problem. I think it can generally be agreed that love is good and there should be more it, etc., etc. But the other two …

No, my question doesn’t involve the goodness or badness of either one, but rather which is more difficult to deal with when sensitive issues are at hand.

About three months ago, at work, two colleagues were editing a document when one called out to me in the next room, “Hey, next year is the year for people of African Descent!”

I thought that was a bit of an odd thing to say, and for more than a second I thought that might be an odd thing to celebrate for an entire year. I thought to myself and did say in response, “So what? Do I get some sort of prize?”

There was a bit of an uncomfortable silence – at least on my side. I mean, what could be said in response? What possible turn could the conversation take at that point? Not an easy one, certainly and so it was just better to put it to rest. But I did pull out my notebook and my pen because I felt the nigglings of a beginning which I am still seeking to bring to fruition.

The idea of taking all of 2011 to celebrate the descendants of the Black Diaspora did not leave me indifferent, though I pretended for a moment that it did. Frankly, it’s just that often when I express myself clearly on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, continued racism, or any of the slightest issues that have affected me as a person of African descent, I find myself in trouble. I am either met with rationalization, denial of any direct personal involvement with those issues or sometimes a “you know, you people just need to get over that!”

Get over what exactly? Over roughly half a millennium of slavery? Racism and stereotyping? What some experts refer to as Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder and the havoc that that continues to wreak on minority communities?

I say no. I say it again even. No. And please don’t label me as afrocentric because of that refusal. Please do not diminish the importance of the past and the desperate need to continue open dialogue to a word for which the connotation evokes little more than, say, “smelly hippy”.

I certainly questioned the importance of celebrating such a year or holidays like Juneteenth. And I’m not alone in that questioning if the amount of published artices doing just are an indication.

If there is anything that I have gathered just from the experience of life itself, it’s that there is lingering anger, hatred and indifference when it comes to celebrating black persons as a people. And there are efforts to cast shame on any such celebration. To me, it’s as if the joys and sorrows are being pushed down into an air-tight box – and then sat on … by someone very large …

Really taking the time to learn about the issues facing our neighbors would be a wonderful way to give air back to groups that are positively gasping for it. Instead of doubting the validity of a person’s fears and prejudices, if those very things are the product of the society that produced the person, it would be good to remember that remembrance in itself is a positive tool for reconciliation and a way to move forward.

So, I apologize if I’ve gotten preachy on this one, but I did feel a bit heartsick from what I feel to be indifference to feelings that do not deserve to be discarded. I’m really interested in knowing what people have to say on this topic – so leave a comment!

Can Books Help You Love Yourself?

Posted in Uncategorized on July 7, 2010 by danceandkiwis

Because I love books so much I tend to think that if you put what you need in a book, you can solve just about anything. I know it’s not the most reasonable of opinions, but since they do exist, why not make them work?

Why does anyone like a book? What are we looking for? Sometimes a book can act as a window or a doorway. We simply open it and step through into a new adventure – or an old one if there happens to be some adventure we’d like to relive.

But it’s the idea of the book as a mirror and a tool of reflection that intrigues me, because though there is something to be said for being swept away into the unknown, part of me wants to see me there at the end of the broom. And now that I’ve had the time to do what I do best, meaning read, I can better explain why.

We are bombarded with images on a daily basis. These images can come from billboards, video, television, newspapers, magazines, books, any type of medium really. Without being a top university researcher, I can vouch for the fact that repeated product placement will somehow make me want to get my hands on CoverGirl, maybe more so than on Maybelline. I might want that brand of nachos over another. So isn’t it feasible that images of beauty, and specifically images that seek to define beauty, can cause observers to see things the same way?

So, just as I said in my previous post, when looking for a “different” kind of beauty than what is served up on a typical magazine cover or television ad, you may be forced to look harder – you know, somewhere to the back, maybe.

Such images, and more importantly, the barrage of these images and the frequency at which they come across to us may have an effect on how we see ourselves. Is it logical to say that positive images of the group one identifies with provide room to grow, and frankly to like oneself just a little bit more, whereas negative images of that same group or even images that extol the virtue of another while ignoring the first, nurture a hole where a healthy sense of self might have been?

Some would think that that particular battle is lost. The ready availablity of surgery to make the eyes wider and rounder, the banality of hair straightening and the still-frequent appearance of skin bleaching creams in the same media that encourage self-love would indicate that we sometimes allow ourselves to fall prisoner to cultural standards as they are advertised to us.

So, where do books as a mirror come in? Depending on what’s in one, a book can help to establish a person’s, or better yet, a child’s sense of self-worth (it’s good to start early!). A child will eventually have to make sense out of the swarming mess of advertisements, tall-tales, movies, Christmas specials, sit-coms and the parade of dubious materials that will enter his or her head.

If only the could take from it some shelter, one with mirrors and windows to see in, out and without, where no one is hidden behind a door.

Separate and Still Not Equal

Posted in Uncategorized on June 24, 2010 by danceandkiwis

“I am an invisible man.
No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe;
nor am I one of your Hollwood-movie ectoplasms.
I am a man of substance, flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind.
I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why books that have minorities as their main protagonists are relegated to that lonely shelf in the back of the bookstore dedicated to African-American interest.

Is it silly to assume that African-Americans want to read books about African-Americans? No. But is it silly to then assume that a non-African-American would? Apparently.

Of course, we all want to see a reflection of ourselves in the society we live in. The issue lies in the fact that apparently that reflection is too risky to market to the general public.

When walking into your general bookstore, you’ll find what bookstore owners, distributors, publishers, editors, marketers and just about anyone involved in the production of reading material deems marketable. Apparently vampires are quite marketable. Girls with dragon tattooes are marketable. And, geez, vampires are really marketable. But take a look at all those marketable books and then think about what you don’t see.

At some point, someone decided that multicultural literature is not marketable. No matter how well-written, how beautifully constructed, once the main character goes from Charles to Kwami or Suzie to Aminata, stocks begin to plummet. And why? Do minorities not read? Are minority characters not sympathetic heroes and heroines? Someone sure seems to think so. In almost all aspects of media, positive representations of minorities (who, despite being “in the minority”, actually do exist) are few and far between. And because many of the more powerful authorities in the business decide not to take the risk to present images that differ from what appears to be acceptable and, more importantly, marketable, that lonely shelf in the bookstore becomes the only place where minorities can find any attestation to their beauty, intelligence or even to the simple fact that they exist and merit being marketed to in the first place.

So, where is the problem? Aren’t the needs for minority representation being addressed then? Why should anyone then complain about not being able to adequately participate in society?

Well, just like in the days of segregation’s end, when Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decided that the races could not logically be separate and equal, that tattered, unwanted, leftover books for black schools, inferior accomodations, services and treatment for black Americans were not to be tolerated, why should representation of anyone a few shades darker than pale be banished from general interest media, slapped with a “Black interest” sticker and relegated to the back of the bookstore? Are our interests really that different that they have to be divided along the lines of color?

Now, I won’t lie. When I was a kid I would have given anything to pick up a book with a character that looked, dressed and talked like me. I was an avid reader of the Baby-Sitter’s Club series, but I have to admit, I read and re-read Jessi’s books with particular fervor.

But where did that enthusiasm come from? Certainly not from wanting to distinguish myself from the crowd, but from wanting to feel a part of it.

Just file books by authors’ last name, fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, period! By giving minorities a separate shelf, we are only closing the door to the possibility of ending society’s emotional segregation.