Monday, June 19, 2017

We Talked on Friday

This is not the blog I was supposed to write. My original plan was to write a two-for-one on fathers in honor of Father’s Day. But life changed the trajectory of my plans.
I sit here as the rain beats against the window pane in perfect sync with the pain piercing my heart. 

We talked on Friday; he sounded fine.

It was like any other weekend. I had a laundry list of things to do —retirement party, day out with my girls, writing class, dance class, selling books and as life would have it—unexpected things happened, too. One of my former students passed away, so I went to the wake on Friday after leaving the retirement party. On the way home, I called my friend Charleston but couldn’t reach him.

Regardless of what my mind says, my body says rest on Friday. I can rip and run the rest of the week, but by body demands I rest on Friday. I was obeying my body when the phone rang. It was Charleston calling me back. We met when I was 15, and it seemed like we had known each other forever. There was always a Commodores easy-like-Sunday morning-ness between us.
We had not spoken in years, but had recently reconnected a few months ago and fell into the groove that had always been us. He thought I was out and about because when we talk, a lot of times I’m in my car. He laughed when I told him I was at home. He was always teasing that he needed some of my energy.

We talked for a long time about everything and nothing. We laughed and reminisced. No matter how much time had passed, we always managed to pick up right where we left off. That’s a rarity to be treasured. We leave people behind, and they us in our evolution. 

We talked Friday; he sounded fine.

His parting words as our conversation ended were, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Saturday came and went. We didn’t speak, but that was not unusual. We didn’t talk or text every day. Sunday I was trying to get ready for the book selling event. It crossed my mind to send Charleston a “Happy Father’s Day” text as a joke. Like me, he didn’t have any children. I got busy and as easily as it crossed my mind, it slipped my mind. I thought about him a couple of times throughout the day, I’d sometimes think back on something we said, so that wasn’t unusual either. I was trying to sell books, so I stayed focused on the task at hand. I knew it would be late when I left, and he was an early riser so I figured we’d talk or text on Monday like we had been doing. 

We talked Friday; he sounded fine.

I had loaned my sister my car. She picked me up and drove home. I unlocked my phone and had a notification that my Charleston had been tagged in a photo. I clicked on it. It was a photo of him and a message stating that he had died earlier. I shook my head in disbelief. I told my sister my friend died and we had just recently spoken. I said it, but I didn’t believe it. He wasn’t on Facebook that much but I went to his page anyway--my heart thumping. More R.I.P., R.I.H. messages.

We talked Friday; he sounded fine.

I know that tomorrow is not promised to us, but the truth of this is sometimes cruel. My emotions are all over the place and instead of fighting with them; I’m forcing myself to sit with them. I sit with my anger: I want to know why him? Why now? I sit with my guilt: Why didn’t I text when I thought about him? Would it have made a difference? Did I miss something in the times we spoke? I sit with my sadness: The broken promise that he’ll never call me tomorrow. And through my tears I sit with my happiness: we shared a life time of memories, and we reconnected even for a short while. I can cherish that.

We talked Friday; he sounded fine. He died of a heart attack on Sunday. I write this on Monday as I grapple with the grief of losing a dear friend. 

Charleston Lee. Gone, but never forgotten.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When “Woke” White People Fall Asleep at the Wheel

Comedian Bill Maher was driving the social justice bus and he fell asleep behind the wheel.  Maher dozed off and called himself a “house nigger” on his show during a conversation with Republican Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska. The comment set off a firestorm again about the use of the N word. Why are we still talking about this? But since we are, I’m going to add my two cents worth to the conversation.

Full disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Bill Maher. His brand of humor doesn’t appeal to me. That said I want to explain why we should not be surprised. In watching the clip, I thought the word slipped too easily from his mouth for it to have been an accident. The N-word is part of Maher’s vocabulary. Even so-called allies are not immune to thoughts of bigotry. Allies with the best intentions are still white in a world where white is still right.

Maher apologized and admitted that he “did a very bad thing” and even had a sit-down conversation with his friend sociology professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Rapper/Actor Ice Cube. Even though Maher apologized and appeared willing to listen to what his guests had to say, it came off to me like, hey, I said I was sorry. Can we move on? I don’t know if he fully understood the weight of what he said and why so many people were offended. Cube was right when he said that Maher was a little too comfortable. He thought his Black friends and girlfriends, his support of Black Lives Matter and his contributions to Barack Obama’s campaign gave him a pass. For some it did; for many it did not.
It was pointed out in both clips that it was a teachable moment, and it was. I just hope people were paying attention. Probably not. We’ve been down this road before, and this won’t be the last time. 

 And while Maher might be a cool guy to many, let’s not forget that he too perpetuates stereotypes about Black people. Remember when Maher said that President Obama wasn’t Black enough?  Maher called Obama a Wayne Brady kind of Black which created tension between him and fellow comedian Wayne. What does that mean? That all-Black-children-are-born-to-single-mothers-on –welfare-with-different-baby-daddies-who-grow-up to-be gun-toting, drug-selling thugs.

I took issue with Dyson and Cube constantly trying to reassure Maher that when they were talking about white people and their use of the N word that they weren’t talking about him. Why wasn’t he one of them? Because he’s supposed to be woke? Well, he fell asleep and slammed into the median of inappropriateness. I belong to a few groups on social media and we discuss race. The white people in my groups never use the N word. How woke does one have to be to get a nigger pass and how is Maher any different from the liberal, I-voted-for-Obama undercover racist dad in Get Out? Just asking.

I liked the Daily Show and I loved John’s Stewart’s passion for social justice issues. And though I was disappointed, I was not surprised when one of Stewart’s former writers, Wyatt Cenac said Stewart told him to “fuck off” during a heated debate about a segment that Cenac said was racially insensitive. Remember when Matt Damon another liberal and Obama supporter fell asleep behind the wheel? During the 4th season of HBO’s Greenlight Project, Damon interrupted Black film producer Effie Brown to explain diversity. He nodded off and drove right off the road.

And who can forget the Queen of driving while white and fighting against injustice? Rachel Dolezal’s advocacy is overshadowed by a blatant lie. For years she passed for Black knowing that one day it was going to blow up in her face. She did great work, but she lived a lie.  She still doesn’t understand the wreckage she left behind when her lies and the truth collided head on. Some of us are still trying to recover from that one. I think it’s hard because Dolezal denies even being at the scene the accident.

In each of these scenarios, the actions of our allies left us bleeding on the side of the road. And white people are good for whitesplaining and mansplaining away the blood dripping from our faces when our heads hit the steering wheel. (See previous examples). When woke white folks fall asleep behind the wheel, they need to be held accountable for the injuries they cause. “I’m sorry,” is not enough to take away the pain.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Black Music Month

image courtesy of Google.
“When you say ‘black music,’ understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag." Bruno Mars

Though it’s still spring, it feels like summer. I hear the voice of Randall’s father on This is Us telling Randall to roll the windows down, and turn the music up. I’m riding in my car with the windows down listening to the soulful sounds of my satellite radio. I flip back and forth between the Groove and Soul Town singing along to the sound track of my life. Music—especially good music puts you in a wonderful space. There’s a story behind every song; there’s history. So, I nod and sing along as the songs take me back to a simpler place in time.
June is Black Music Month and I am going back down memory lane as Gladys, Aretha and Patti, Michael, Marvin, and Stevie—no last names needed speak to me like ghosts from the past. Music is intricately woven into the fabric of my life. And it feels wonderful to wrap myself into something so comforting and familiar. There is no place in my life where music is not.

 Mashed Potatoes is a song before my time, but it is a song deeply embedded in my memory. I heard it growing up. It was one of my mother’s favorites.With a little begging and pleading we could get her to dance the mashed potatoes for us. Before there was steppin’ there was boppin’, and I used to love watching my sister, Linda and my brother, Ray bop in the front room (Living room wasn’t in my lexicon yet). I step, but I never learned to bop. 

Our house was/is a dancing house. If my sister and brother weren’t cuttin’ a rug, we were going down the infamous Soul Train line. Ain’t Gone Bump No Mo with No Big Fat Woman was another house favorite as my nephew Steve bumped with his TT Julie. At any family gathering you can find us dancing to the oldies, wobbling, shuffling, cabbage patching it or perculating. Maybe the family that dances together stays together.

The theme song from Shaft comes on and a smile creeps across my face. When I was young, my sister, Debra choreographed a dance for me and my niece Rhonda and our friends Aviva and Vontella (who we called Bonnie). So many memories flood my mind as I ride along. James Brown, Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud and my first afro. Basement parties at Mendel Catholic Prep when I was in high school. Heart pounding, body sweating as the music goes from fast to slow and the boy I like from around my cousin’s house asks to me to dance to the Commodore’s Zoom.

So, this month I’m enjoying listening to music that is my life.  I’m reminiscing on the contributions that so many artists have made not only to my life, but to the world. President Jimmy Carter initiated June as Black Music Month on June 7, 1979. In 2009, former President Obama renamed it African-American Music Month. In his 2016 proclamation, Obama said that Black music and musicians have been instrumental in helping America “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Whatever name you call it Black music is simply American music. It is our story.

Join me in celebrating the contributions of Black music. Music really is is a healing force in the world.

What’s playing on the soundtrack of your life? I’d love to hear about the songs and artists that you love. Leave me a comment and let me know.