Sunday, July 01, 2007

New Home for The Night Shift

Not quite the end of an era, but The Night Shift Chronicles is exploring new housing options. We now reside at Feel free to drop by when you're in the area to get and check out what we are up to.


The Nightshift Chronicler

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Race Matters

The candidates for the Democratic Party nomination gathered in Washington on Thursday for a debate hosted by Tavis Smiley and billed as the first "all-america" debate, one in which black and latino votes, journalists, and politicos demonstrated our collective strength by putting the question of racial justice at the center of the conversation. It's a good first step, however long overdue. Read more ...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Easy Going Evening


My mom cooks like Stevie Wonder makes music. Her recipes channel the spirits of our ancestors just as his notes bring the bouillon of Black sound and expression to the listener’s table. “Easy Goin’ Evening” is his rendering of the subtle spiritual sounds that serve as the backbone of so much of Black music and culture. It’s his homage to the great-great-grandmothers and -fathers who sang when they couldn’t speak, who played instruments so that their hands could feel the silk of sound after enduring so much contact with the pointed teeth of labor.

Composing something as touching as “Easy Goin’ Evening,” or as epic as Songs in the Key of Life, requires an overwhelming sensitivity to what moves people. We can all respond to sound, but it’s through the processes of seasoning and basting that sound turns into music. How artists cook their sound goes a long way toward getting us to take it in, find it delectable, or want to share it with someone else. For me, long before I knew what that bit of magic called “Mom’s cooking” was, or before I figured out what music was, I knew that it had the ability to make people happy when done up right.

I spent the first five years of my life in ­Pétion-­Ville, Haiti, before coming to New York in 1981. My dad’s four teenage sisters and my paternal grandparents used to watch over me. My aunts would often choose me as the lucky chap with whom they could practice their imagined dances with the boys who battled for their attention after school. They would take me out onto the front porch of my grandparents’ house and hold me in their arms or place me on the top step. They pirouetted and spun as I played the role of ­Jean-­Pierre, Jacques, or whoever else they decided was their suitor. My most common response would be to clap enthusiastically to the beat of the sounds coming from my grandparents’ little transistor radio. And when my aunts bypassed the radio in favor of their own voices, my response became even more animated. As an audience consisting of my grandparents and a few other family members looked on, I hopped up and down on that top step, teetering, on the verge of falling off and potentially sacrificing a tooth to the tooth fairy. Those moments seemed so exciting. I hoped they would never end.

But in the winter of 1981, those experiences did indeed come to an end. It was a few weeks after the day I had spotted a ­scary-­looking white woman walking up the hill to my grandparents’ house. I’ll never forget my aunts and grandparents’ response when I reached the top of the hill and warned them that there was a white woman (a ghost!) wearing big brown sunglasses in our midst. They started laughing. And then my grandmother asked: “How does she look?”

“She looks white,” I responded, sending them barreling over in laughter. I’ve yet to live that response down because “white” is the last word that anyone would ever use to describe my mom’s deep brown skin. However, at five years old, having never seen this woman before, having been blinded by the sunglasses she wore, I should have been forgiven for thinking this woman might be one of the ghosts who chased after me in my nightmares.

The ­scary-­looking lady was not a ghost, but she was coming after me, and a few weeks after she arrived I boarded a plane to return to the United States with her. The laughter that accompanied the woman’s arrival had passed, replaced by the tears of people who had spent the past five years taking care of me. I carried a heart full of those tears all the way to New York.

When my mom and I got to Kennedy airport, a tall, thin, brown man was waiting for us. I vaguely recalled seeing him in the pictures she had brought with her to Haiti. When he crouched down and spread his wings open, she gave me a slight nudge on the shoulder to suggest that it was okay to go greet him. Before I could take one step, I was swept up in his arms and being spun around. I felt a kiss on my cheek, but I was so dizzied by the sight of all the people milling and scurrying about the airport that I couldn’t settle into the affection enveloping me. As I began to unleash some of the tears I had stored away, I felt the thin giant’s five o’clock shadow grazing my skin as he bounced me up and down and sang a diddy. I stopped crying, trying to make out what he was singing, but before I could understand any of the words, he had already stopped. His lips were now locked with my mom’s.

My stomach and mind were spinning as I continued taking in the scene. I was confused and scared because I didn’t really understand who this brown eagle was and the sounds and faces floating around me were totally incomprehensible.

We soon arrived at our apartment in New York, the place I was to call home. The only sounds I can remember from that moment were the last remnants of my crying pleas to be returned back to “Papa,” my grandfather. My noise was enveloped by a cold, wintry silence that someone born and reared in tropical Haiti had yet to encounter. There were no aunts scurrying about exchanging stories about boys. There was no yard where people could convene to swap stories as they roasted corn or sweet potatoes. There were no animals, chickens in particular, milling about on the periphery. It was just me, my mom, and my dad amidst a gaggle of closed doors.

They lived in a one-and-a-half-bedroom apartment that had a vestibule to the side that was to serve as my room. The vestibule had its own door, a little closet, and a bed with a few toys scattered on top—including a stuffed dog that I would go on to call “doggie” just like every dog we ever had in Haiti.

This being the first time my parents were putting their son to bed—surrounding him with all these riches, in the home they had been working for the past five years to put together—I’m sure they weren’t prepared for my response. I was scared by the combination of darkness, solitude, and silence that took over my imagination as soon as my mom and dad kissed me and closed the door (something which I’m sure they had learned to do from the television shows they were fond of watching). So I wailed like an elephant that had just been speared.

My dad immediately came back into the room and tried to comfort me. I remember him sitting on the side of the bed and rubbing my stomach as he told me that everything was going to be alright. He had this smile on his face that indicated that he was laughing not only at me, but at himself and my mom for their naïveté. It was his way of wiping away the tears. When I appeared to have calmed down, he got up and, this time, left the door open but again turned off the light.

Before he could make it back to his room, I was already crying again and screaming for “Papa.” Thinking that I was calling for him, Dad came back into the room, but I just kept on screaming. He tried reassuring me that he was there, but my father didn’t get it. He wasn’t my “Papa.” And the more he tried to make me believe that he was, the more I cried.

He took me out into the living room and turned on the lights. First he went to the stove to start warming up some milk. Unaware that it was too hot to drink right away, I took a sip and burned my tongue. Dad thought this was funny and laughed at me as he tried to console me to keep me from crying. After the milk had cooled down, I took a gulp again, but a leathery film had settled on top of the milk, and that made my stomach turn. My fear was quickly being compounded by an upset stomach.

Leaving the table, Dad strolled from the kitchen area to the living room and crouched down in front of the shiny gray contraption nestled in the corner of the living room between the worn navy blue sofa and matching recliner. As he sat in front of the shiny contraption, he stroked the fuzz brimming across his chin. I tried my best from where I was sitting in the kitchen to figure out exactly what he was doing, what this contraption he was surveying was.

After a few moments of crouching, he seemed to have found what he was looking for and removed this object from the bowels of the contraption. It was a big flat square, about the size of his abdomen. He looked it over, spinning it top over bottom in his hands to get a look at its underside. It must have met with his approval because he stood up and pulled out a shiny black disc that glistened like caviar shells and proceeded to blow on it. Reaching down ever slightly, he flicked a button on the machine, drawing a sound out of the two brown columns that sat beside it—boof. Carefully, he lifted the hood of the contraption and placed the disc underneath a silver branch that had a point at the end. Then he reached his arm down, touching the front of the apparatus again, and gradually the twin columns began emitting more familiar sounds.

The silence in the room was vanquished by a series of trumpet blasts and a sinewy series of bass guitar chords. The musician whose voice was being broadcast through the columns welcomed everyone to the party and told them that tonight was going to be great. A special plea was made to the men to take their woman and advance to the dance floor with her before someone else did. Upon hearing this, Dad chuckled and began to limber his body to the pulse of the sounds.

His body wasn’t the only thing beginning to loosen up; little by little, I felt myself being transported back home on the wings of this konpa, the musical form developed in Haiti that incorporates elements of other Caribbean sounds, including merengue, salsa, and zouk. This bit of konpa was like sweetbread, and my stomach and soul took to the treat. For the first time since I’d arrived, this place felt a little like home.

My mother must have recognized the sounds as well because she was drawn out of her room. She smiled as she brushed the slumber out of her eyes. When she realized that she had my attention, she sashayed over to my dad and told me to watch because I would have to do this with my wife one day. My dad’s long arms made their way across my mother’s back as they danced around the room in perfect time with the song. I watched and gradually began to smile. During one of their turns, my mom caught a glimpse of me smiling and she motioned for my dad to look at me. A few more turns and she sashayed over to me, her hands well out in front of her, so that they would reach me long before she did. She pulled me away from the table and the three of us danced together, my mom on my left side holding my left arm, and my dad doing the same on my right. I remember staring up and looking at these ­grown-­ups and watching them being reborn as my parents, for the first time feeling as if we were family.

The combination of laughter and music sealed my relationship with my folks that night. I wish I could give you the name of the exact artist and song my dad played that evening, but I can only relate the feelings my heart and mind imbibed. What matters most is that the sounds that filled the room made my parents happy, and I let myself get swept up in their glee. To this day, Haitian artists such as Tabou Combo, ­Ska-­Shah, System Band, and Coupé Cloué hold a special place in my heart, much the same way that artists and bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, the O’Jays, the Whispers, and Curtis Mayfield have a strong hold on the imaginations of my peers born and bred in the United States. Many of my peers would eventually be able to go back to these artists by finding echoes of their voices in ­hip-­hop samples, whereas my relationship with konpa—like my relationship with my parents—would grow blurry the more “American” I became.

I’m glad I haven’t lost the sense of wonder that swept over me the first time I saw my dad turn on his stereo. Even as I grew older, I still continued to be amazed when he went to turn on the stereo; he appeared to drift off to an enchanted island as he closed his eyes, drew his lips into a smile, put his right hand over his belly, his left one suspended in the air, and started to dance. After doing a few turns across the living room, he would either go into the kitchen and regale my mom with a story about Haiti or call a friend to talk about the days when they were young studs roaming the streets of ­Pétion-­Ville.

Nothing ever seemed to bother my dad. He was often silent, seemingly introspective, sitting in the living room with his long legs extending far beyond the front of the couch, and his pants unbuckled to liberate the paunch that was becoming too much for his trousers to contain.

Regardless of whether I was studying in the next room or even asleep, he would still play his music loud—often inciting the neighbors to complain. It was loud enough for him and my mom to hear it in their room on the other side of the apartment with the door closed. Back then I never gave a second thought to what might be going on in their room during these retreats because, well, I didn’t have a second thought to give. Since my brother was born a year after I came to the States, I eventually realized they were dancing indeed. Horizontally.

Years later, when my parents had long stopped retreating to their room to “listen to music,” my dad would still sometimes turn the music up and go to his room, but he would simply fall asleep, leaving it to my mother to turn off the stereo when she was ready.

Since she was always doing one form of housework or another, having the radio on was a soothing accompaniment for her. The radio generally stayed on for most of the day, and if I needed to have some quiet in order to concentrate, I would have to turn off the stereo myself.

The first time I turned off the stereo I was about seven years old. I made sure to lower the volume knob, and returning the record that had been on the turntable back into its sleeve, I felt powerful, as if I had undergone a rite of passage. That first time, as my dad floated off into slumber and my mom ­hummed-­sang a tune in the bathroom as she washed her uniforms for the upcoming week, I felt as if I had taken another step toward becoming a man.

The other sound I came to love soon after my move was my mother’s voice. Whether she was washing dishes or scrubbing one of her uniforms, once she recognized a tune on the stereo, she sang along. Sometimes she sang a song word for word, but more often there was a bit of singing interspersed with long stretches of humming. And there were times where she just made up her own words.

Her singing was undoubtedly the best type of music in the house. Whenever she sang, it felt as if we were all being given a reprieve from whatever ills were afflicting us. Her feathery alto had the strength to drive any talk of bills, work, or other disenchanting topics out of the house. Unlike the blaring sounds and machismo posture of heavy metal and rap music, or the übertailored images of Black boy bands that I eventually imported into the house, my mom’s singing voice held no traces of aggression or cosmetic enhancement. Her voice was pure in the sense that it never called attention to itself; no one ever asked my mom to sing, but she somehow found her way to singing. It was another form of expression for her, a way to convey feelings, memories, and ideas that needed a medium other than regular conversation or speech. Indeed there was often sorrow in her spirit sounds, but aggression? Never. Her singing seemed to be telling me that the male artists I was bringing into the house might be able to teach me how to dance or walk, but she alone could teach me how to fly.

Her voice could carry my father to Haiti and transform him into the young man she thought so fondly of, perpetually reintroducing him to the young woman he had fallen so deeply in love with.

My mom also had the ability to transport me to hysteria whenever she tried belting out the latest Lionel Richie or Michael Jackson song. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a woman with a deep Kreyol accent singing “Beat It.” Sometimes I would run in from a baseball game in the parking lot to use the bathroom or get a bite to eat and would find Mom in the bathroom, washing her uniforms in the sink, her knees slightly bent, head down and moving side to side trying to keep time with the hands that were dutifully engaged in their labor. As she washed, she shimmied from side to side singing “Beat it, beat it . . . tatoodoo, too, doodooo, toooot . . . Meb bop, pop pop pop, pop . . . Beat it! Beat it!” For her, the beat and the lyrics were one. Not a word of it made sense to anyone else, but it was worth seeing the joy her singing brought to her face.

Mom mashed up “Beat It” like it was a garlic clove in the bowl of her mortar. However, for a song like “Easy Goin’ Evening,” she was bound to be gentler. When this song came on she’d hum it as Stevie wrote it. If she was particularly moved or troubled by the never-still waters of Black womanhood, she’d conjure up poignant Kreyol lyrics to go along with the song. During these moments Mom sounded like a Haitian Mahalia Jackson appealing for “Jesus Christ to kenbe mwen [Jesus Christ hold me].” Often such appeals were offered as she baked chicken, fried plantains, cooked red beans and rice, and kept her eyes on the gravy in a kitchen that seemed on the verge of melting under the weight of all this activity in the July heat, all the while keeping her eye on the clock to make sure that she had enough time to get ready for “work.” Easy going evenings were as rare for Mom as the musical acumen needed to compose a song such as “Easy Goin’ Evening” and the rest of the Songs in the Key of Life.

On “Easy Goin’ Evening,” Stevie honors the legacy of all mothers with four minutes of subtle elegance, just like my mom honored her own mother’s life by wearing at least one article of black clothing—even wearing a black t-shirt underneath her nurse’s uniform—for seven years after her mother passed away. It was her way of paying her dearest respects to the woman who had brought her into the world. After seven years, her sartorial elegy complete, she started wearing bright colors again: orange linen skirts, red shoes when she and my dad went dancing, and her pink robe, which replaced the black one that had become a morning staple. Mom’s seven years of wearing black is like the ­verse-­less “Easy Goin’ Evening” because both reveal an affinity for tradition and their power lies in what is not said.

Monday, June 04, 2007

By Any Means [Unecessary]

During a recent news report about the Guyanese men arrested on "suspicions" of conspiring in a terrorist plot to detonate John F. Kennedy airport in New York the broadcaster mentioned that the FBI has reported that "homegrown terrorism" was receiving a boost in African American communities because of the teachings of Malcolm X. If I had been watching Fox News or the Colbert Report I would not have given a second thought to the matter-of-fact delivery of this statement. It makes sense that Bill O'Reilly for example might jump on a soundbite like this because it presents a unique opportunity to tackle one of the icons of the radical left, and more specifically a black political leader whose legacy liberal whites arguably have to reconcile on their own right. On the other hand, Stephen Colbert limns out statements like this in order to point out peculiar facts such as Malcolm X has been dead for over forty years, and at the time of his death he was reviled by "black Muslims" in the Nation of Islam and there have always been subtle rifts between African American Muslims and those from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Therefore, to say that "the teachings of Malcolm X" are suddenly inciting Islamic fundamentalists in the United States is akin to saying, the US economy is threatened by the resurgence of John Reed Clubs on college campuses throughout the country.

This is not too suggest that Malcolm X bears an irrelevant/impotent political legacy, I actually believe quite the contrary. Still, I am rather suspicious of any accusations that "his teachings" are inciting insurgents in African American communities. I will gladly accept that poverty, the expansion of the prison industrial complex, police brutality, and even hip hop is spurring dissident activities in the US at this time, but not the teachings of Malcolm X.

But does the FBI seriously believe that there are radical sects in Brownsville, South Central LA, the 9th ward or the south side of Chicago reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and plotting to blow up the world? If they do, we are in more trouble than we thought, because not only do I believe that the FBI believes this, but also because there are stations like B.E.T. reporting this without any second thought.

Seriously, why is that we can be inundated with hours of conversation dissecting the word "nigger," or "ho," its usage by rappers and other members of the African American community, but the insinuation that Malcolm X's writing is inspiring terrorists is presented so matter of factly. Secondly, why does the 60s generation get all the credit for trying to upend the political system in this country while those in their 30s and 40s like myself are presented as flip flopping followers of the generation that preceded us, and too scared of the generation that came afterwards to offer anything relevant?

By suggesting that the "teachings of Malcolm X" are suddenly causing African Americans of any religious persuasion to rise up, the FBI and anyone in the media disseminating this information is misinforming the public in order to evade discussions of the issues currently facing African Americans. Exhuming the legacy of Malcolm X brings to the fore a controversial African American political figure at a time when other enemies of the state such as Al Sharpton and rappers continue recreating themselves as either affable political commentators (a la Sharpton), or marketable icons like many of today's rap artists. Without any other option on how to combat "homegrown terrorism," because after all creating jobs and stalling police brutality wouldn't help, the FBI proves that if anyone has bought into Malcolm X's teachings, they definitely have, and by any means necessary, they are continuing to misinform the public.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Slow Down Heart

Slow Down Heart
Michael A. Gonzales
copyright © 2007

In the fall of 1965, when Dawn Rodgers was fifteen years old, the sleek boogie of Motown music had been as vital to her existence as blood and water. Living in a regal Harlem building on a 116th Street and 8th Avenue, Dawn had converted her bedroom into a soulful shrine of her favorite singers: countless seven-inch 45s were sprawled on the carpeted floor, and Ebony magazine pictures of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Little Stevie Wonder and The Supremes hung on the white wall.

Across the room, on top of an antique dresser, was the blue record player that had been a Christmas gift from Dawn’s father before his sudden death from a heart attack two years ago.

When she first unwrapped the present, it reminded her of a magical, aqua hued jewel box. With its mono-speaker and hard cover, the record player was her most prized possession.

On the weekend, Dawn and her lanky girlfriend Barbara Jean played the records repeatedly, dancing like American Bandstand regulars as their wavy press combed hair flipped.

As Barbara Jean belted “ooohhs and aaahhs” in the background, Dawn grabbed a broomstick from closet and strained her vocal chords singing lead on “Baby Love,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “Where Did Our Love Go” and other soon to be classic tracks.

Yet, since buying the sweet swoon of “My Girl” from Shadow’s Record Store-the first record Dawn had bought-the sweet song held a special place in her heart. As Barbara’s charm bracelets jiggled, Dawn perfectly pantomimed those silky moves.

For the rest of the story go to...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Youth Uprising

The Nightshift Chronicler had the pleasure of trailing along with author Ferentz Lafargue on his stop at Oakland's Youth Uprising. Lafargue, in town promoting his memoir Songs in the Key of My Life, visited the organization to conduct a creative-writing workshop with some of the young people in the organization's media arts program.

Youth Uprising is a Bay Area seeded youth service and development organization that delivers programming for 2500 young adults between the ages of 13 - 24 in the Oakland area. Their programs range from film and music production, to career enhancement, to peer mentoring, all of which are housed in their immaculate center. The program's mission is to be "a leader in the advancement of youth leadership development as a means of affecting positive community change by ensuring that youth and young adults are supported in actualizing their potential"

Lafargue's workshop started off slowly as the author sought to find his bearings in front of these tech-savvy youth. Finding his nook in a shared appreciation for music, Lafargue drew those in attendance into the activities by asking the attendees about their favorite songs and artists. Selections brought up were varied as expected--except with the surprise that three of the male students selected Tupac's "Dear Mama" as one of the most influential songs in their lives. The testimonies delivered by the participants were moving and often drew long pauses from Lafargue as he sought to compose himself and get back into the role of facilitator.

As he milled around the center after the workshop, Lafargue had this to say about his experience at Youth Uprising:

I've done a number of these since publishing Songs, and each time I learn so much from the students. Each time I am surprised by what they bring to these workshops. In fact I am having to consider what precisely I am doing in these conversations, what am I really offering, because of how deeply affected I am after doing each of these sessions. What was striking about this group at Youth Uprising is how passionately the students were making use of the space. They respect each other and earnestly cherish the opportunities afforded through this program. I could tell that as many of them were sitting there they were chomping at the bit to get back to their own work. It's inspiring to see such a band of youth committed artisans in their studio.

Lafargue hopes to continue engaging young people long after his tour, or as he says, "as long as I can make a contribution."

The Nightshift Chronicler

Hip Hop Literati

On May 13th, The Nightshift Chronicler had the privilege of attending The Hip Hop Literati reading curated by Adam Mansbach at La Pena in Berkeley California. Mansbach, author of Shackling Water and Angry Black White Boy curated this evening as part of the Hip Hop Theater Festival currently happening in the Bay Area. The evening toasted the work of writers such as Jeff Chang, who read from a forthcoming memoir, co-author of Grub and renaissance man Bryant Terry, spoken word luminaries Chinaka Hodge, Tomas Riley, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai and George Watsky, as well as American Book Award winning poet, Matthew Shenoda.

I am still waiting on pictures from this event to share with everyone because the murderow's line-up was as good as advertised. Everything from Watsky's duel with the infamous "Mc Hardcore," to Chang's poignant reflections of life in Hawaii, to Tsai's searing meditation on the ramifications of falling in love with an artist. Riley also neatly captured this author's imagination with his heartfelt rendering of a lotto line bearing a boatloads of San Francisco's proletariats assembled under a mango manicured telephone pole.

Mansbach's offering from his forthcoming novel, The End of the Jews, was layered with a piquant wit and manipulation of the languages of coming of age in a Black and Jewish world worthy of invoking comparisons to Roth's Goodbye Columbus and Beatty's White Boy Shuffle, Mansbach's book is sure to captivate readers.

Terry began the evening discussing his work since Grub and desire to take the words off the page and toward pronounced action by readers and citizens committed to making healthier food and lifestyle choices. A living representation of anti-nihilistic impulses of the 70s baby hip hop generation, Terry walked the audience through a conversation about food justice and options for sustainable development on a local level.

The evening concluded with Songs in the Key of My Life author Ferentz Lafargue reflecting on Stevie Wonder's masterful tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in the song "Happy Birthday." After recanting a story from his book about hearing Wonder perform this live in South Africa at a conference in honor of Nelson Mandela, Lafargue led the crowd in a rendition of "Happy Birthday," for Stevie Wonder and two audience members celebrating birthdays on May 13th.

En fin the six score in attendance to see this coterie of writers experienced a savory blend of art and activism, testimony and critique, and some dope beats courtesy of the Bay Area's own DJ Max Champ.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Black Panthers, Basquait, and more

Sloth normally prevents me from going further than circling gallery shows I should go see in Time Out or the New Yorker, and then, two weeks later thinking, Whoops! Guess that's closed now. But now that my semester is over and the sun is shining, I managed to shake off my torpor long enough to see four great shows currently up in Chelsea ...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

There's no other way to put this, but I miss Arrested Development. Part of it is nostalgia, and part of it is prompted by seeing a quartet resembling them perform last week. 1992's 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... still holds up really well and they had a great stage show.

I really don't have much else to say, except I miss Arrested Development....

Thursday, April 12, 2007

She’s Stooping to Conquer

She’s Stooping to Conquer

Every once in a while you’ll hear a stand up comic crack a joke about reading Playboy magazine for the articles. As with all jokes, its irreverence relies on the imagined possibility, in this case a person flipping past the nude beauties in order to read articles like this 1965 profile on Martin Luther King Jr. Playboy editors have always incorporated fascinating profiles and recruited notable writers to make a case that the magazine provides its readers with more than naked women, but also provocative commentary on the world in which we live.

That said, many people also do not read the magazine because it is populated by images of naked women. Some believe that these images are pornographic, and if not that, then they commodify women’s bodies. These two arguments are grounded in the belief that the pictures represented are not art…

I bring this up because I find myself facing this dilemma now that one of my favorite bloggers, JB of She Real Cool, has started blogging at KING magazine. KING is a lad magazine in the vein of Maxim and FHM geared toward African American men, or lovers of the Afro American woman’s body. JB has an undaunted critical eye and an ever evolving engagement with jazz and poetry. In other words she’s someone who’s judgment I trust, and trust enough to read wherever her words might take her.

Which brings me to my dilemma: now that she’s writing at KING, do I, can I, should I, just read the articles? Do I disregard the alluring images of women captured beneath the headlines, “Bad Seed,” “Class Act,” or “Double Team,” as I read one of JB’s latest musings? What if I were to do so while at work and of my students were to walk in, wouldn’t it just confer some of their suspicions that my gender analysis may not be as acute as theirs?

These questions, or rather this quandary interests me because it sounds like the one gripping rap fans torn between the beats and rhymes, a conflict, that these days is only really important because we have allowed it to fester long enough. Indeed, it’s one that should have been done away with years ago, much the same way that the doo-wop, be-bop, blues and early African American rock n roll musicians helped do away with minstrelsy, thereby paving the way for the glorious harmonies of the sixties and seventies that people often wax nostalgic. Of course this did not stop blaxploitation or the emergence of an ethically irresponsible commercial music industry, but it did provide us with a half-century of glorious music.

Writers have never been divorced from this conflict either as practictioners or citizens in the culture industry. A writer’s life and writing often involves breeding intimate relationships between sinners and the saved, vices and those who have fallen prey to them, and of course conflict and content. The content needs conflict to be good and great writers like all great artists exude conflict from their pores.

If this sounds like trivial rambling, I encourage you to ponder this, what must it feel like being an anti-misogynist at a lad magazine. She Stoops to Conquer, JB’s blog at KING functions as the antithesis to everything the magazine represents. JB operates as part writer, part ombudsman, and part conscientious objector---in other words the conflicted content.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Don Imus Must be Fired

Don Imus must be fired. We should all honor freedom of speech, but freedom of speech does not condone insensitive and seemingly incorrigible comments. Freedom of speech should not protect Don Imus in this situation because if he retains his job, we face a greater risk, the declining significance of the apology in America.

Ok, in all honestly, public apologies really do not mean anything. Let me take back that last comment because if we look at the litany of public figures who have offered apologies over the last twelve months,George Allen, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, and Isaiah Washington have all offered for derogatory remarks that they made in public., we see that these apologies rarely really a sincere conviction to changing. This makes sense because in a homophobic, misogynist and racist society, virtually everyone will at some point trip and make an offending comment. However, the fact that we are inevitable to make mistakes does not mean that we should not face the consequences.

Thus far, Imus has been suspended two weeks for calling members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team “Nappy headed hos.” In an era where media outlets repeatedly push compromising pictures of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Tara Reid one understands where Imus finds the precedent for his disregard for women. The lives of these young white starlets is often presented as a never-ending episode of “Girls Gone Wild” on the entertainment news programs and tabloids.

However, these women are young, white, extremely wealthy, and there is clearly an industry invested in their exploits. There is no comparable coterie of young black women and clearly no one is interested in the exploits of young black women—no—B.E.T. does not count because it’s often the male rappers and r&b heartthrobs that drive that machine.

In most cities women college athletes are often minor stories with the majority of the attention going to their male peers. The success of women’s college basketball teams at the University of Tennessee, Connecticut—and—Rutgers over the past two decades has indicated that women’s athletics have the ability to anchor a universities athletic department. C. Vivian Stringer’s team at Rutgers has done the most impressive job in this arena because unlike her peers at Tennessee and Connecticut, her team has kept that athletic department afloat without a national powerhouse in either men’s basketball or football.

Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, another woman coach, a white woman coach, has been the only member of the holy trinity of college basketball coaches extending her support for Imus’s firing. Summitt arguably realizes that Imus’s comments disparaged her team members as well, and just as importantly, it is unlikely that Imus would have made these comments about members of Geno Auriemma’s team at UConn. Imus would have surely found more subtle ways of disparaging the white male Auriemma’s athletes, if at all.

As you could have guessed Stringer is the lone African American woman coach in this trinity. What does that matter you ask? Imus wasn’t calling her a “nappy headed ho.”

Oh he was, he may not have thought he was, or rather he thought he wouldn’t get caught doing it, but he was calling C. Vivian Stringer a nappy headed ho. It’s not his fault, someone had to do it, she was too big for her britches, Rutgers couldn’t go on being a school known for women’s basketball. Rutgers’ football team had finally come alive this year and awakened to national prominence under head coach Greg Schiano, the man who turned down a job offer at the vaunted University of Miami this year to remain at Rutgers.

No, I’m not implying that Schiano or anyone else at or affiliated with Rutgers put Imus up to making his racist and misogynist comments.

What I am clearly saying is that a week after playing in the women’s national championship game C. C. Vivian Stringer has to defend her players who were assaulted as “nappy headed hos.” Weeks after their bowl game appearance the members of the Rutgers men’s football team were still being feted at NBA games and award dinners. Their white male coach did not have to defend the integrity of his players because no one dared to challenge his own integrity. He had made history and was treated as such.

At a point in time when she should be hosting boosters, raising more funding for her team and the athletic department that she has helped keep afloat, C. Vivian Stringer has to spend her time holding press conferences answering back to disparaging comments made against her team, and arguably herself. Knowing that he couldn’t call C. Vivian Stringer “a nappy headed ho,” to put her in her place, Imus instead chose to attack her players because that would have the same effect.

Don Imus should be fired because by calling the members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy headed hos” he defamed the team and their coach. He should be fired because his actions have undermined the success of one of the most respected women in her profession, and a public institution’s revival. Don Imus’s comments have initiated a racist and sexist maelstrom that in any other workplace are grounds for dismissal.

He doesn’t work at Rutgers you say. Correct, Don Imus, does not work at Rutgers. However, he does work at a public forum which implies that he works everywhere. He’s the voice of listener’s everywhere, and his firing is an apt sign that calling African American women “nappy headed hos” is not permitted anywhere.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Raging Bull

While I can not prove this, I have a hunch that Maurice Clarett is laughing as he watches Ohio State's resurrection to national prominence in basketball. Most media outlets carelessly present Clarett as a thug or a pariah without ever acknowledging that not only was his decision to challenge the NFL's early entry rules legitimate, but when compared alongside what occurs every year in college basketball, it's downright sacrilegious that Clarett's case was overturned. Throughout this entire NCAA basketball season analysts have fawned over "one and done" NBA prospects Kevin Durant and Greg Oden. Many commentators speak of Oden and Durant as if they already have their NBA contracts lined up and there was a recent article pointing out that this was the better year for Durant to turn pro because if he waits until next year, he will have to compete with other stars in the making OJ Mayo and Derrick Rose, both of whom are currently high school seniors, for lucrative sneaker contracts once they've done their year of college service during the 2007-08 NCAA season.

As their basketball peers run off to the professional ranks college football phenoms must compete until either their junior or sophomore years in order to qualify for the NFL. The difference between spending one year in college versus two years may seem trivial to most people, but for star athletes like Adrian Peterson, Ted Ginn Jr., and Michael Bush, three football players who have had to work their way back from major injuries and reassure NFL scouts that they're worthwhile draft prospects, that extra year sometimes means playing in the NFL or tearing your ACL.

Although, it's not just the double standard that applies to college basketball players that I think has Clarett smiling and shaking his head, because after all the basketball players are still pawns in the same NCAA monopoly. Clarett isn't the only oracle who sees through the duplicitous nature of big-time college sports. He's the one to have been most prominently publicly undressed by his bid to challenge the NCAA corporation which treats athletes like property, chattel even, particularly when you hear broadcasters calling football and basketball players "thoroughbreds," "beasts," "horse," or "animal."

The most fascinating thing about this current NCAA tournament is how Tubby Smith's decision to leave Kentucky has caused such an upheaval in the coaching ranks. From the moment he went left college basketball analysts on ESPN have been besides themselves with glee over the potential coaching changes and insider information about how other coaches will use Smith's departure to siphon raises from their universities. This morning it was reported on ESPN's The Sports Reporters that Kentucky is supposedly considering offering Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan 4million per year to become their head basketball coach.

To put it in realistic context, that's the equivalent of IBM paying someone 4million dollars a year to run one of their internship programs. The fact that IBM would not do that even if the interns were the top programmers at MIT, Caltech and Stanford speaks volumes to the absurd and unwieldly salaries currently tended to high profile college coaches. It continues to amaze me that boosters, college presidents and athletic directors fail to realize that coaches at smaller colleges are doing the same job for much less, and the high school coaches from whom they inherited these young men, are doing it for even less. There is no rationale explanation for why two of the most non-nba coaches in the last thirty years are being so far outpaced by their collegiate peers in terms of salary. Dematha High's Morgan Wootten and St. Anthony's Bobby Hurley Sr. have been two of the best basketball coaches at the high school level in the last 30 years and neither of them command salaries that are even close to being on par with what their (sometimes lesser talented) collegiate peers make.

When Donovan's alleged Kentucky offer was raised during the Sports Reporters conversation, the response by one of the guests was "there's no way that Florida is going to pay Donovan more than 4million because Urban Meyer only makes 2.5. million."

Urban Meyer is the coach of Florida's football team, the same team that beat the Ohio State team, which if he had stayed in school for four years, Maurice Clarett would have been starring for. He would have been playing alongside classmates Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., well at least alongside Smith, because Ginn injured broke his ankle on the first play of the title game, an injury that dealt a fatal blow to OSU's title hopes and a minor blow to Ginn's NFL prospects.

As this drama plays out Maurice Clarett sits awaiting trial. He's on no one's draft list for the upcoming NFL draft and has been eclipsed by Smith, Ginn Jr, Oden and Mike Conley as OSU's favorite sons. Clarett on the other hand exists as a tragic lesson about what "greed" and looking out for "your own best interests," or daring to "challenge the system" can do to a young man. And while Florida and OSU's basketball thoroughbreds get ready for their tilt on Monday night, Clarett is the raging bull who has been securely locked his pen--for whom there will be no breakout game.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Bling: Planet Rock

I attended a screening of Raquel Cepeda's documentary "Bling: Planet Rock" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night. It was part of the Creatively Speaking film series curated by Michelle Materre spotlighting films that "convey a realistic universal portrayal of people of color." "Bling" recounts the experience of rappers Raekwon, Paul Wall and Tego Calderon as they travel to Sierra Leone to learn about that nation's diamond trade and the violent war that it spurred in the 90s-2001. These rappers were invited by Cepeda who was already in the process of developing this documentary exploring the broader relationships between violence and bling in the United States and war and diamonds in Sierra Leone. Cepeda's documentary hinges on the keen connection between the ostentatious buying habits of rappers and Sierra Leone's alternative narrative of violence and struggle. In other words, if American rappers are often talking about war and suffering what happens if they are brought face to face with members of a society who have been ravaged by one of the deadliest civil-wars in recent memory.

"Bling" has many elements working in its favor, not the least of which is the incredibly charasmatic Raekwon. Without the presence of his more gregarious Wu-Tang brethren Method Man or the late ODB, Raekwon, aka Raekwon the Chef, has a forum to exhibit an extroverted persona that some might find as a departure from mello Wu-Tang manner. He emerges as the lightning rod to which the camera remains fixated as the rappers make their way through Sierra Leone. Raekwon is at times silly and sullen, seemingly negligent, vulnerable and undoubtedly touched by what he witnesses.

Paul Wall and Tego Calderon operate on two different realms. Wall plays the dual role of artist and jewelry store owner. This latter career enables him to capitalize on rapper's cultish affinity for diamonds in very tangible ways that eclipse the everyman attitude he strives to relay. Calderon on the other hand is intimately connected to his African roots--declaring in one of the films more profound moments, "I didn't go to school but I did go to Africa." He does not play the part of naive actor in this film. Instead throughout the documentary Calderon maintains a conscientious demeanor that gives it a much needed bout of gravity.
Further grounding the film is the presence of former child soldier Ishmael Bael who makes his first trip back to Sierra Leone during the filming of this documentary. Bael fills in the gaps that rappers by no means could and gives Cepeda an eloquent authorial voice through which to relay the factual/historical background of life and conflict in the country. Bael receives support in this task from current residents of Sierra Leone who survived the war and who work in various rehabilative shelters serving various segments of the nation's population. These survivors range from women who were raped to the former child soldiers.

While there are still a number of issues that need further analysis, not the least of which is the plight of women survivors, and the post-war relationships between men and women, the film is a notable accomplishment for helping to bring forward the complex relationships between art and capital in these very different yet interconnected societies. It is a production well worth seeing.

As mentioned earlier the screening was part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Creatively Speaking film series curated by Michelle Materre. The series continues on April 1st 2007 with a line-up of films focusing on women directors and films homing in on the plights and stories of women in the African diaspora. A full schedule can be found here....

The Nightshift Chronicler

Friday, March 09, 2007

Two Voices on Obama

Nightshift Contributors Kamau B and D-Nice recently chimed in on the Barack questions.

Kamau B begins a series of Obama posts on his blog with the following:

For Blacks, Blasting Barack a Myopic Mistake

Black Americans are cool, at best, in their support of Senator Barack Obama. Central to that lack of enthusiasm is the criticism that he is not really black in the specific African American sense of the term. It is repeatedly noted that his father is Kenyan, his mother is white, he did not grow up in the United States and he was not outraged by Senator Biden’s simple remarks; therefore, he cannot intimately relate to the legacy and identity of the black American....Read more

Writing for Color Lines Magazine, Dorian Warren-aka-D-Nice offers the following:

Rainbow Redux
By Dorian Warren

I never thought I’d think or say this: I miss Jesse. With all the distracting hubbub about Barack Obama’s blackness, I’ve been missing the Reverend’s voice. Where is Jesse Jackson and why is he M.I.A.?

It’s hard for me to think about Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s campaign for presidency without immediately contrasting it with Rev. Jackson’s two runs for the Democratic nomination in 1984 and 1988. We’ve gone from “Keep Hope Alive” to “the Audacity of Hope”, from the “Rainbow Coalition” to “There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America..." Read More

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Postmodern Porgy and Bess?

A Postmodern Porgy and Bess?
By T.N.

Now that Jennifer Hudson safely got the Oscar and had her day, I can finally voice my reservations about Dreamgirls and that song.

Firstly, as Jennifer Holliday explains in a recent interview, that song basically ruined her career. She was more or less Effie herself when was cast in the role, which she played a significant part in expanding into both acts of the musical (originally, that song was meant to be her swan song). Just a teenager, whose talent and ambition got her basically used and dumped by show business. It was pretty desperate and ungracious to sing it Oscar night from a neighboring roof-top, but basically, whose to tell her she hasn't the right? The song both made and ruined her career.

As for the song itself...Read More at Blue Gum

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Black History Month

Black History Month?

As a person who’s been in school all his life Black History Month, which draws to a close today, has always been a peculiar time for me. In elementary school, it meant teachers taking time away from Social Studies class to instruct us about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. In junior high school, it meant history teachers taking time to discuss Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. And in high school, it meant history teachers…you get the point. Harriet Tubman and Phyliss Wheatley were thrown in there somewhere, and at some point, some teacher filled us in with this “neat” bit of trivia, Carter G. Woodson started Black History Week.

Later on in life, McDonalds and other conglomerates really got in the mix and offered Black History Month Calendars, or other promotional materials bearing the face of Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. It eventually got to the point where by mid-January I’d see posters advertising Black History Month in stores in my neighborhood and on campus. Black History Month was the time for public television stations to introduce new documentaries, and television shows to premiere their sentimental tales about notable African American firsts or obscure sports and entertainment figures. February was also the month for my friends to joke about “why did we get the shortest month of the year?” or declare that “every month should be black history month.”

However, this year, I could honestly say I did not have a black history month. For the first time since I lived in Haiti I did not attend one event that was specifically designated a Black History Month event. I did not get a free Black History Month gift with my “Value Meal Purchase,” nor did I learn about someone recently uncovered by 20/20 or ESPN. No one came up to me this month and said, “I just saw [insert either Michael Eric Dyson or Cornel West] give a talk, what do you think of him?”

This was not intentional at all and I actually attended other gatherings focusing on the contributions made by Blacks to history, but which for reasons that I do not know the intricacies of, were not promoted as Black history programs.

I haven’t figured out whether to be incensed or indifferent about this occurrence. Should I be concerned or consider it an anomaly? If the djembe drummers tap Black History month in the forest and I’m not there to hear it, is it still Black History Month?

Then again, maybe I’m the only one experiencing this absence.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Spike Lee is 50!

While reading Black Enterprise the other day I saw something that took me by surprise. Spike Lee is 50. BE’s special entertainment issue did a profile on Mr. Shelton J. Lee who’s better known as Spike Lee, and guess what, Spike Lee is 50 years old—or at least he will be on March 20th.

But since I’m a proponent of the New Afrikan birthday system, he’s already 50.

Let that marinate for a second, Spike Lee is 50.

So what you say?

A friend of mine Phil likes to tell this story about when Lee’s movies first appeared in the 80s they were like rock concerts, or rather rap concerts, because previously white movie theatre lines were now teeming with young black moviegoers. When She’s Gotta Have it came out in 1986 The Beastie Boys had people rocking out with Licensed to Ill, we were swooning under Anita Baker’s Rapture, Run DMC was instigating us into Raising Hell, and the Notorious one was Duran Duran not B.I.G.

Public Enemy, the rap group, who Lee was often associated with earlier in his career were signing their first Def Jam contract back in 1986. Now as Chuck D tours college campuses and Flava Flav blurs the line between reality and minstrelsy, Spike Lee instructs us about what really happened with the Levees.

Spike Lee is 50?

As rappers beef between being 80s or 70s babies, make videos about chicken soupin’ it, makin’ it rain, walkin it out, or showcasing how they can get buxom black women to poke it out, Spike Lee turns 50, gives credence to the idea that getting older with dignity beats out fanning the flames of one’s status as a celebrity.

He doesn’t own the Nets or the Knicks, he’s just 50.

Another anecdote: last spring a student in one of my classes was doing a paper on School Daze. Usually when students come into my office to discuss their research papers, I’m good for throwing out a couple of selected readings off the dome. However this time, nothing was coming up. In fact, I had to work to submerge a few smirks and giggles as I thought of the countless hours, dorm rooms, coffee shops, couches and bottles of wine I’ve exhausted with friends over the past twenty years talking that film. These conversations are not documented anywhere else but in fond memories and broken hearts. Spike Lee is 50?

Oh Lee’s films do take and have deserved many of their critical beat downs. He’s been accused of being everything from color-struck to paternalistic, heavy-handed to vain (for his habit of inserting himself as characters in his movies). People will debate for hours whether Girl Six or She Hate Me are perverted, quirky or just outright offensive. More than likely, someone will scream out during any discussion of Lee’s filmography “he got robbed on Malcolm though. That film should’ve won the Oscar.” Was that really fifteen years ago? Is Spike Lee really 50? He is, ain’t he? Spike Lee is 50?

Now that Martin Scorsese has finally won his long-deserved Oscar, and American cinema needs a new legend who has yet to win an Oscar to fawn over, it appears as if Lee is now set to step into the role. He has the long career, the grey hair, ornery personality, and vision that stars flock to regardless of the budget. Now that Spike Lee has turned 50 black cinemaphiles can wait for the glorious day when Lee is feted for his body of work, and not just his latest work. The thought of what kind of film he’ll create to garner this illustrious prize inspires goose bumps. Maybe he’ll do a Thelonious Monk biopic. No, maybe he’ll do a story of a black upper middle-class family whose lives are torn asunder when their eldest son is arrested. I don’t know, but I can’t wait to see it.

Spike Lee is 50….

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Theorizing Blackness

Please drop in next week Thursday for this symposium at the CUNY Graduate Center.

"Theorizing Blackness"

A Symposium:


William E. Cross Jr. Professor of Social Psychology, CUNY Graduate Center

Leith Mullings (Anthropology, Poli Sci) Presidential Professor of Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center

Jerry Watts (English, Sociology, Poli Sci). Professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center

Moderator: Ferentz Lafargue, Assistant Professor of Literature Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts Thursday

Thursday, March 1, 2007

4:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Martin E. Segal Theatre

The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

365 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10016

(between 34th and 35th Streets)

This event is FREE and open to the public

For more information contact:

212- 817-2076


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A New Crew is Born

Today is a new day at The Nightshift Chronicles. There are nine new contributors joining the blog. Their presence is a blessed occurence, so please keep an out for their postings, and support their ventures both here on The Nightshift Chronicles and elsewhere.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bastards of the Party

Growing up in NYC I didn't really become familiar with the gang scene in LA until the emergence NWA. And even after they came out, crews like the Decepticons, A.T.C, and the Hollis Crew were fierce and time consuming enough that the Bloods and Crips barely entered my imagination. As I matured and "gangsta rap" and west coast rap artists become more popular so did the Bloods and Crips. The movie Colors also, played a major role in spurring my voyeuristic intrigue about what was really happening over there in LA. When the Stop the Violence and We're All in the Same Gang movements took hold, I was one of the many people asking why are we killing each other, but asking this question from the comfort of my Jamaica Queens home, that was divorced from the gang conflicts in LA. We may have had crews, crack and kingpins in New York, but it's hard for New Yorkers to really fathom the genocide that has been slowly mounting in Los Angeles. Worst of all, we may have mocked our brothers and sisters out west, threw up W's, and shaken our heads as our younger cousins Crip-walked, but for the most part most New Yorkers of my generation were spared the atrocity that our friends in Cali lived through.

New York, as is the case with many urban centers across the country has been infiltrated by Bloods and Crips offshoots in the last decade, a situation that became increasingly prominent during my time away from the city from 1998-2003. When I returned home in 2003, it was unsettling hearing younger cousins talk about friends who professed to being down with the Bloods, and watching news broadcasts of raids occuring in Brooklyn.

When The Game came out in 2005 he professed to put the West Coast back on the map and help set the record straight, and in some ways he did. He's the anti-Ice Cube in the sense that Cube was the gangsta that Amerikkka was not ready for, while Game was the latest in the calvalcade that America has been perversely embracing. With Game's record contract came shoe endorsements, a movie deal, none of which could have materialized without a platinum selling album, and the transposition of the Bloods from the organization that Americans hated and feared to the one that became a common place marker for the expendability of black life, and the indiscriminate nature of consumerist appetites for entertainment.

Now, in 2007, filmmakers Antoine Fuqua and Cle "Bone" Sloan have done what rappers have failed to do in 17years, put LA gangs in their proper context. Bastards of the Party documents two organizations, the Bloods and Crips, that are as American as the Democrats and Republicans, Coke and Pepsi, Yankees and Red Sox, except rather than settle their battles with ballots, bottles or baseballs, they do it with bullets. Bastards of the Party is a narrative about forty years of political disenfranchisement that stretches from the tail end of the Vietnam War to the current war in Iraq, a time period that also features the dramatic historical markers known as the Cold War, Iran-Contra, Apartheid and now Darfur.

It's an incredibly moving experience told through a cinematic lens as eloquently honest as a Morrison novel, and just as brutally vulnerable. Sloan's vision is not that of the outsider, but rather the insider. Like all great narrators he's the soldier that survived the war, the death camp and in return for escaping the grave, he's offered a medium through which to tell his story. Watching the documentary you'll notice that he's not as much offered a medium, but rather called up or haunted upon to bring this story to life.

In a generation that has long lived on the false dreams that Biggie or Tupac may have been the next Malcolm or Martin, Cle Sloan has come along to give us hope yet again, not that these slain civil rights leades will be revived, but instead that someone, somewhere will again show an appreciation for black life. This film asks if not now, when? If not Darfur, Haiti, then how about Compton? If not reform our schools, our streets, then how about our prisons?

I urge everyone to check their local listings to see Bastards of the Party, because as the documentary grimly implies, as each passes, so do the lives of the men and women seeking nothing else except survival.

HBO Viewing Schedule

NYTimes Review

Friday, February 02, 2007

Most Important Draft Pick Ever

While talking about the NBA with my brother the other day it finally dawned on me that the 2003 NBA draft is the most important draft of this decade, and may well have decided the future of some NBA franchises for the next twenty years. In fact, one can make a case that the 2003 draft was more important than the 1984 draft that yielded Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. It remains unclear whether the 2003 draft will produce as many Hall of Famers as the 1984 class, but from a sure business model for many franchises, if not the league as a whole, it will have a far greater impact. The teams with the last two picks in the first round the Phoenix Suns, did better than most of the teams in the middle with their selections of Leandro Barbosa and Josh Howard respectively. The Bulls found a point guard in Kirk Hinrich and with this group the NBA found a nice blend of international and American talent that helped the league make further inroads in the worldwide market, while restoring the interest of fans in the United States.

You must think that I am crazy for saying that there is a more important draft than the one that produced Michael Jordan. And if you think that’s crazy, listen to this, I think Darko Milicic was a more important draft pick for the future of this league, than Michael Jordan.

Blasphemous. I know. But hear me out, I am not suggesting that Darko is a more important player for the history of the league, just a more important draft pick. My brother didn’t buy it either, but I’m still going to try to persuade y’all.

It was amazing to hear Darko blame the Pistons for the setbacks in his career while reading a recent article on him in the NYTimes. In his mind, it’s as if there was no way off of the bench for him. The strange thing about this is that Darko has been a bench player during his entire career. He was on the bench on his club team in Europe, rode the pine for the Pistons, and is now riding the pine for the Orlando Magic. Given that piece of information, it seems ludicrous that an organization would invest upwards of 15million dollars in a player with that resume. Making matters worse, is that he was surrounded by the most talented group of players to be appear in the same draft in years; Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Josh Howard, Kirk Hinrich, TJ Ford, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw. If you’re keeping count that list includes the league’s current scoring leader, Anthony, a defending championship MVP, Wade, and the reigning most improved player, Diaw.

In hindsight everyone knows that Jordan would go ahead of Hakeem and Bowie, but Bowie was an All-American at Kentucky and were it not for the injuries that derailed his career, he would’ve still been a lottery pick. The comparison to Kwame Brown is also off base because Brown was selected over high school peers Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, neither of whom have become the superstars that Darko’s classmates have become, and in the case of James and Anthony, already were.

If you’re a Pistons fan it must pain you to watch Chris Webber limp up and down that court knowing that your team could’ve easily had a frontline of Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Chris Bosh. Worst of all, it must really hurt to hear Joe Dumars refuse to admit his error.

But none of this really explains why I think Darko might be the most important draft pick in NBA history. There have been other players who did not live up to expectations, and Darko may very well end up being another Raef LaFrentz, who is the player he most reminded me of when I heard about Darko in 2003. However, there has never been a player in the annals of sports so gratuitously mythologized—nor has there ever been an organization to so blatantly fall for that myth. Sure the NFL produces a workout freak every year during its draft, but those players are still often alumni of top football programs, and not semi-pro players off of the street, which is essentially what Darko was when the Pistons drafted him. I’d go a step further and say that Darko was the NBA version of the fake pitcher that Sports Illustrated chronicled in an article in the late 80s who had a 110mph fastball and sundry other skills that were off the charts. In that article SI was poking fun at the cult of baseball scouting and the legendary characteristics often attributed to phenoms. No baseball team was misguided enough to draft that player, but for some reasons, with a wealth of NBA ready talent in their backyard, the Pistons saw fit to travel to the outskirts of Europe to check out the 18 year old seven footer who can run, jump, shoot threes, block shots and chew gum at the same time.

How ironic, that while Darko continues putting up inconsistent nights for the Magic and tries to convince himself that he’s actually an NBA caliber player, the magical 18 year old prototype who the Pistons were fawning over will be making his first all-star start. Although his name isn’t Darko, it’s Chris Bosh.

As of now we should be prepared to measure Darko not by his career output, especially in comparison to his other draft classmates, but to critically consider how deftly he and his agents, and their number one cheerleader at the time ESPN’s Chad Ford, hustled the Pistons into drafting him.

Jordan may have pulled many a magic trick during his NBA career (especially when playing the Knicks), but he could never have pulled off the caper that Darko pulled off on draft night 2003.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Saturday, January 13, 2007

M.L.K. Weekend?

It’s really startling to consider that less than forty years after his assassination and just as we are entering the second decade of the federal holiday recognizing his life and work, so many people see Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a party weekend. I am not opposed to partying during “King Weekend,” as long as these parties have a purpose. For example if promoters for weekly parties decided to give a portion of that weekend’s proceeds to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or countless other organizations working for the public good, I would have no objections to such a party on “King Weekend.” Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Instead, what has occurred is that many people have turned what was to be a holiday honoring the African American crusade for freedom into a niche-marketing angle. If this is already occurring within our lifetime, I am afraid to imagine what this holiday will look like when our children are in their thirties. Will they be subjected to car salespersons promoting huge price slashes because it’s “King Weekend?” Better yet, will “King Weekend” be designated as the first major shopping event of the New Year, and department stores all across the country will roll out their Kente print banners to lure people in their aisles? I can see it now, someone will coin the phrase “The Dream Shopping Weekend,” and business owners will follow suit and offer 75% discounts on all items in their stores.

All of this may be light years away, but then again….

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Uncle Bush Needs You

President George Bush’s announcement last night that he intends to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq has been forthcoming for weeks. The fact that it comes on the heels of the disclosure that over 3,000 American soldiers have already died in combat in Iraq and another 10,000 have been injured severely enough where they could no longer perform, made the President’s proposal even more alarming. Bush’s desire to rebuild Iraq is rapidly decaying into a Sisyphean tragedy. The debate over the mission that the President has sent American troops is no longer over whether it’s noble or ignoble as was during the earlier days of the war in 2003, but now strictly over whether it’s suicidal. Considering that, the falsified evidence put forth to stir this latest stage of the Iraqi War was that Saddam Hussein possessed “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs), it’s worth pointing out that the President’s policies have seemingly become their own WMDs. The steadily increasing casualty rate, that in addition to the American military lives lost, more than 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians have died since 2003 tragically iterates this last point.

The war in Iraq bears particular significance for the various installments of hip-hop generations. While broadcasters like Bill O’Reilly and the various sports networks are quick to identify controversial figures like 50-Cent, Allen Iverson and Eminem as members of the “hip hop generation,” they never discuss the connection age-wise and in terms of musical interest between the soldiers fighting in Iraq and those striving to make their way through poverty and despair in America’s inner-cities and rural areas. While they are fighting very different types of battles, many in this generation are inspired by the same music and artists, and I do not necessarily mean rap artists. Being a member of “the hip hop generation” does not mean that one solely listens to rap music much in the same way that being an American does not mean that one is automatically Christian. Yet, pundits have no qualms about invoking God and Christ when discussing whom these soldiers are turning to for guidance, while often being paradoxically muted about the connections between soldiers and hip-hop.

To bring this meditation to a close, poor people in the United States, particularly poor Black and Latino-Americans have been lured into military service as a means of escaping poverty for the almost a century now. Since the late 1970s, military enlistment has often been presented as a way of escaping prison, the other institution that preys on young Americans. However, there has been no other period in the last thirty years where the stakes have been higher for young people in the United States. Before he can send out those 20,000 troops to Iraq, President Bush must first find them and train them. This means that those of us with younger brothers and sisters, cousins, etc. currently graduating from high school we have to be particularly diligent in educating them about the realities they are facing. They cannot use military service as a means to pay for college or economic mobility without honestly being prepared to risk their lives. Failing grades, schools and poor job prospects/economy places poor people at an extreme disadvantage and we must resolve ourselves to make sure that prison and military service in an unjust war are not the prevailing options for our brothers and sisters. We must be determined in acknowledging that President Bush may need us, but he need not kill us.

The Nightshift Chronicler